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Commons Chamber

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 28th January 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

British Railways (No 2) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

British Transport Docks Bill

British Waterways Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Corn Exchange Bill

Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Dart Harbour And Navigation Authority Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Friends' Provident Life Office Bill

Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill

London Transport Bill

London Transport (Additional Powers) Bill

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Milford Haven Conservancy Bill

Read a Second time and committed.

Ocean Transport And Trading (Delivery Warrants) Bill

Standard And Chartered Bank Bill

Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Oral Answers To Questions

Social Services

Invalid Care Allowance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether the entitlement to an invalid care allowance under the Social Security Benefits Bill will be treated for the purposes of granting credits as though it were an entitlement to full class 1 benefits.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security
(Mr. Brian O'Malley)

Yes, Sir.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has taken this small step towards meeting the case of the Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants. Will he take one more step and bring in this benefit at the same time as he brings in the other benefits under the Bill? As this is International Women's Year, will the right hon. Gentleman remove the astonishing sex discrimination and make these allowances available equally to men as to women?

I thought that I should be unable to satisfy the hon. Lady. We may have the opportunity to discuss wider issues on Report later this week.

Mentally Handicapped Persons (Nursing)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations she has received on the Briggs Report.

I have received representations from a number of organisations and individuals on various aspects of the Briggs Report. Mostly, opinion has favoured early implementation of the recommendations and asked that adequate resources be made available, but there has been criticism of some of the proposals.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that both the training and the practice of nurses for the mentally handicapped has increased rapidly in the last few years and moved increasingly away from general nursing? Will she, therefore, give an assurance that in legislation on nurses' training she will continue to provide for the separate registration, enrolment, training and examination of nurses for the mentally handicapped? Will my right hon. Friend further give an indication whether, and if so when, we are likely to have a separate caring profession for the mentally handicapped?

I appreciate that there has been uncertainty as to their future among nurses in mental handicap hospitals following the references in the Briggs Report to a new caring profession. All I can say to my hon. Friend at this stage is that I hope to make a statement soon about our policy on the mentally handicapped.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in hospitals for the mentally handicapped there is a higher ratio of patients to consultants than there is in any other type of hospital in the United Kingdom? The patients, therefore, have a special dependence on the nursing staff, and if the Briggs Report were implemented, recruitment of nurses for the mentally handicapped would be devastated.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not at this stage wish to add anything to what I have just said.

Pensions (London Weighting)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will consider introducing an element of London weighting to all pensions paid to persons living in the Greater London area.

No, Sir. The National Insurance Scheme is a contributory one, and people in all parts of the country pay the same rates of contributions to qualify for the same rates of benefit. As regards supplementary pensions, there is already some differentiation in the levels of entitlement in different parts of the country, because these vary directly with the housing costs incurred by an individual supplementary pensioner.

My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I am somewhat disappointed with his reply. Does he not accept that many of the factors identified last year by the Pay Board as contributing to the much higher cost of living of people living in the London area apply equally to pensioners, particularly having regard to the low take-up of rent rebates? Is there not a case for reviewing the basic pension in this locality?

It is true that last year the Pay Board showed quite clearly that higher costs were incurred by people living in London, but the main additional costs arose in connection with housing and travel to work. Supplementary pensions take account of housing costs, and other pensioners can claim rent and rate rebates. Just as there may be costs which are in some ways unique to London, or which are higher in London than in other parts of the country, so it might be argued that, for example, climatic conditions in other parts of the British Isles could lead to a similar conclusion in those areas.

Will the Minister resist the idea advanced by his hon. Friend? If he were to accept it it would cause bitterness in areas just outside the Greater London area? Will he accept that one of the principal reasons for having London weighting is the necessary use of public transport? Does he not agree that this does not necessarily apply to pensioners?

The extra cost of travel to work does not apply to pensioners in general, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that if any attempt were made to run a system based on defined boundaries we should run into serious administrative problems, and deep resentment would build up in all parts of the country.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she will make brucellosis in humans a notifiable disease.

I have no plans to make brucellosis notifiable. Cases are few and there has been no marked increase in recent years. Moreover, diagnosis is often un- certain and transmission between humans is virtually unknown.

Does the Minister recognise that if notification figures were available, figures for those areas, such as Northumberland, where eradication is failing would be very startling indeed? Does he agree that in the case of a disease such as brucellosis, which is incurable and has lifetime effects, it is important that his Department should be notified and actively involved, and that it should not be seen simply as a problem for the agricultural industry to solve by itself?

We are closely involved with the Ministry of Agriculture. The most important reason for making diseases notifiable is to enable speedy action to check their spread. In the case of brucellosis, the time needed to establish diagnosis reduces the value of notification.

National Insurance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied that the insurance principle remains the appropriate basis for financing the National Insurance Scheme.

Yes, Sir. We regard the contributory basis of national insurance as valuable and important, and we are proposing no change in this respect in the way our new pension scheme is financed.

Does the Secretary of State agree that since the levels of national insurance benefits are fixed by political decision and not by reference to the state of the National Insurance Fund, and since most benefits are already financed from general taxation, the notion that we are applying the insurance principle at present is a sham and an illusion? Would it not be more sensible to acknowledge that factor and to do away with contributions, since it would save a great deal of administrative time and also avoid a large number of unfair and anomalous cases?

My hon. Friend is right to say that national insurance has never been "insurance" in the commercial sense of the word. None the less, there has been an enduring feeling in this country, particularly among the trade unions, that there is a kind of guarantee about a contributory scheme—a guaran- tee that would not obtain in the same way if the scheme were financed entirely out of taxation. It gives some assurance that Governments will not use the lack of a contributory principle as an excuse to economise in the important matter of pensions.

The more favourable traeatment that we are giving to the self-employed, compared with the actions of our predecessors, shows that the self-employed are already beneficiaries.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the retention of a contributory system enables the Government to pay lower benefits than if supplementary benefits were to be got rid of?

No, I do not accept that. I believe the way to get rid of supplementary benefits is to do as we are proposing to do in our "Better Pensions" scheme, namely, to lift the whole level of provision for security in old age.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is one point we cannot avoid in what was put to her by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould)? I refer to the fact that since we are now going over to earnings-related contributions and they are now being collected in large part by the Inland Revenue, contributors will feel that their contributions have the impact of a social security tax. Will the right hon. Lady accept that it will be indefensible to have a special rate for the self-employed which is unfair compared with that paid by employed persons?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are proposing to give earnings-related benefits in relation to earnings-related contributions. As our predecessors have shown, the two things do not always go together. It is a question of what are the principles and what is the level of the whole pension scheme. The existence of the contributory principle does not prevent the development of a non-contributory, non-means-tested benefit, such as the attendance allowance and our new non-contributory invalidity pension. As for the self-employed, I find it remarkable that any Con- servative Member should pretend to act as their protagonist, in view of past Conservative policies.

Hospital Consultants


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement about the progress she has made to date with the negotiations with hospital consultants.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on the state of her discussions with the British Medical Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association about a new contract for consultants employed in the National Health Service.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further discussions she has had about the pay and conditions of service of hospital concultants; and whether she will make a statement.

Following my statement in the House on 13th January—[Vol. 884, c. 33–42]—an initial clarification meeting between Health Departments' officials and representatives of the consultants took place last week. I understand that the professions will be considering later this week the response I am sending them.

What is the Secretary of State doing to dispel the distrust which the consultants now feel of her?

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has contributed her quota to any sense of distrust. I made a statement to the House which was widely recognised as being a very forthcoming one, to which the vast majority of the people in the country felt the consultants would respond. I then suggested that an initial exploratory meeting could be held to clear away some of the doubts and misunderstandings about our proposals, with a view, hopefully, to our going into negotiations in the joint negotiating committee. That exploratory meeting has been held and the profession's representatives will be considering my response.

We are glad that talks about talks are now beginning, but does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many of us believe that talks should not go ahead until the sanctions called by the BMA and HCSA have been called off?

The consultants have frequently said to me that they did not wish to be pressured on the kind of contract they took under the National Health Service. I sympathise with that view and I have tried to reassure them. But, equally, I say to them that Governments cannot negotiate under pressure and duress, and that therefore the purpose of the initial exploratory meeting was to lay the foundations for sanctions to be withdrawn.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many members of the public are very worried about the continuation of the dispute? What information has she about the number and proportion of consultants who are participating in the work-to-rule?

Without notice, I cannot give the actual number and proportion. As I said in my last statement, the action is widespread but uneven in its incidence. In certain areas consultants have decided to take no action and have pressed for negotiations to be resumed. I am only too anxious for that to happen, and I hope that the initial exploratory meeting will have paved the way.

Does my right hon. Friend envisage that the settlement—when it comes—will be within the social contract, as at present outlined by members of the Cabinet at least, and in line with the pronouncements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the past 10 days?

The settlement, when reached, will of course be priced by the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body, which in any case is due to review consultants' pay this April. The body has shown great care in taking the social contract into account in, for instance, refusing to recommend a breach of the 12-months rule. I have made it quite plain that since the body has clearly shown that it has the social contract in mind the Government will feel under strong obligation to implement its recommendations.

Will the Secretary of State take the House a little more into her confidence by saying what response she has sent to the consultants? Will she tell us, bearing in mind that the existing contract is based on a six-day working week, that she is confident that in this unhappy matter she has behaved in a way which is consistent with being a good employer?

I am not prepared to give the House more details, partly because the response has not yet reached the profession's representatives. In any case, I do not consider that it would help towards clarification of the issues, and, therefore, a settlement of the outstanding points, for me to disclose any of the details at this stage.

What has been the effect of the consultants' actions on the patients, particularly in relation to waiting lists and out-patient clinics?

Here again, the results have been uneven, though I am deeply sorry to say that waiting lists have lengthened in some areas.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the senior medical staff at Blackpool and Fylde hospitals are deeply concerned about the effects of the present situation on patients, the medical profession and the whole future of the health service? Is she also aware of the anxiety of these consultants about the need to bring this ugly dispute to a swift conclusion by reasonable negotiations rather than by attempts to impose an inflexible ministerial decision?

I am delighted to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment, because it provides the hope that the consultants will help to resolve this difficulty, first by lifting sanctions immediately and, secondly, by playing their part in meaningful negotiations.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of those replies, Mr. Speaker, I beg to give notice that I reserve the right to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

Kidney Transplants


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is her most recent estimate of the number of patients suffering from kidney disease, and unable to undergo a transplant operation for lack of matching tissue.

On 17th January there were 873 United Kingdom patients registered with the national organ matching and distribution service as waiting for a kidney transplant. This compares with a figure of 791 one year ago.

In view of those 873, are Ministers from my hon. Friend's Department planning to ask Government Whips to shout "Object" when the Kidney Transplant Bill comes up on 7th February?

Perhaps I should declare an interest. I was once a sponsor of a similar Bill introduced by my hon. Friend a few years ago. My sympathy is not, therefore in question. My hon. Friend must try to persuade my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip on this matter.

Will the Minister say how many kidney transplant operations took place in the last year for which he has figures?

Benefits (Repayments)


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what study she had made of repayments of overpaid social security benefits by elderly people, amounting in some cases to hundreds of pounds, evidence of which had been supplied to her by the hon. Member for Cannock; and what instructions are given to social security offices on the question of obtaining such repayments.

My right hon. Friend is aware of the circumstances in which repayment of overpaid social security benefits is required. Instructions to staff in local offices concerning recovery of overpaid benefits are based on the relevant statutory provisions. I have written to my hon. Friend about the individual case and issues he has raised.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the case to which I brought his attention it seems completely wrong that an elderly widow should be asked to make large repayments of this sort to cover money which had been received mainly by her husband? Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance, which so far I have not had, that in these cases the local social services officers, for whom I have a great respect, have absolute discretion whether to ask for payment?

I understand and sympathise with the difficulties that can arise in the case of a widow where her husband received supplementary benefit both for himself and his wife. I assure my hon. Friend that the Department does all it can to spare old people unnecessary anxiety. On the other hand, the Department and my right hon. Friend have a clearly-defined statutory responsibility to effect recovery where payments have been made in excess of the correct amount. Recovery is not enforced if it would cause real hardship, and elderly persons are discouraged from attempting to repay at rates that are clearly beyond their means.

I would not want to embarrass the lady in the case referred to by my hon. Friend, but I assure him that there was certainly no attempt by the Department to enforce repayment by a lump sum. The letter I have sent to my hon. Friend fully explains the situation and the background to the case.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will bring in a Bill to tie the disregards, for income from both earnings and savings, in retirement and other pensions, to the retail price index.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how galling it is to my constituents and others when those who earn find that they are penalised as inflation proceeds, because what they can earn is reduced, whereas those who do not earn have their pensions increased in line with or in excess of the increase in the cost of living? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter and protect those who earn rather than those who live on the State?

I agree that under the Tories it must have been galling for the sort of people the hon. Member described, since his Government did nothing about it. However, his constituents will be far happier with the situation now, because since Labour came to power the disregards of both capital and earnings have been and are being increased substantially under the Bill now before the House.

We all welcome what is being done about disregards, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider the situation in relation to the average level of weekly earnings? The old figure represented 10 per cent. of average weekly earnings when it was introduced in November 1966, whereas the new figure is only 8 per cent. of the level in October 1974. Will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that supplementary beneficiaries are not disadvantaged too badly because the Government have allowed the average level of weekly earnings to soar at uncontrolled rates?

People are not disadvantaged now in the way that they were under the Conservative Government, judging that Government by their record—

It is not rubbish; it is a question of the facts, and the hon. Member should consider the facts before she comments. Increases in capital disregards represent a substantial improvement on what had been given before, and the simplification and the changes in the earnings disregards certainly give price protection. There are other priorities, too, however. At a time when the Conservative Party is complaining hypocritically about levels of public expenditure it should take that into account before asking questions of the kind it has been raising with me today.

Dental Service


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied with the present situation in the National Health Dental Service; and if she will make a statement.

If the hon. Member is referring to dentists' remuneration, we accept that this has fallen behind during the period of statutory pay controls and we have assured the profession that the Government will accept the forthcoming recommendations of the independent review body on doctors' and dentists' remuneration, unless there are clear and compelling reasons for not doing so.

I thank the Minister for that statement. In view of the enormous increase in capital costs that the dentists have had to face compared with the much lower sums spent by the Government on dentistry, will the Minister make sure that when a substantial increase is given in April it will not be affected by any incomes freeze?

I cannot give any more reassurance than I gave in my reply, but I recognise the problems facing dentists, whose practice expenses are rising in a time of rapid inflation. Last year I authorised special advance payments to dentists to help them with those expenses.

Will the hon. Gentleman say a word or two about the future? Will he confirm that all the signs indicate that there will be a serious shortage of dentists within a fairly short time? Can he say anything about the surveys which indicate that the nation's teeth—in particular, the children's teeth—are in a very bad state? Does he think that the dwindling number of dentists will be able to cope with the growing causes of dental decay? As trained dentists are welcomed in many parts of the world, is it wise to clobber the dentists with the self-employed tax, in the same way as other groups of self-employed are being clobbered?

We are reviewing the whole of our dental services. No one can be happy with the present state of the nation's teeth. In particular, the report dealing with children's teeth showed that there were many instances of decay and a considerable amount of periodontal disease. It revealed a generally very worrying situation. We are urgently considering the matter and are examining preventive methods of dealing with the problems of children's teeth in particular, including, perhaps, increased dental services to children in schools.

As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) indicated to the House yet another of the deplorable legacies left by previous Conservative Governments—rotten teeth—will my hon. Friend give serious consideration to a matter on which he could make a decision quickly, namely, the use of fluorides by both dentists and water authorities in the conservation of teeth?

That is a controversial issue on both sides of the House, but I think it is time the House discussed it. Towards the end of the year the Government hope to put to the House a White Paper on preventive measures affecting many aspects of health. The report drew attention to children's eating sweets and snacks between meals as one the major causes of dental decay.

Maternity Grant


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will end the national insurance contribution qualification for maternity grants and raise the level of the grant as a matter of urgency.

While I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern in this matter, I am afraid that resources will not at this time permit us to make either of the changes which she suggests.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. I assure him that when I have an interest to declare I shall do so. My hon. Friend cannot expect me to be happy with his reply. Is he aware that the maternity grant is the one benefit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would perhaps consider to be eligible to become that noncontributory, non-means-tested benefit? Is he also aware that the 10 per cent. of mothers who are not eligible for maternity grant are likely to be those most in need—that is, the very young mothers, who do not have their own national insurance contributions, and the unsupported mothers? In the light of that, will my hon. Friend reconsider the question of making the benefit dependent on national insurance contributions? The benefit was last raised in 1969. Is my hon. Friend aware that the cost of living has gone up since then?

If I were not aware of certain of those facts before, I am well aware of them now. Both the level of the maternity grant and the qualification for receiving it are matters which are kept constantly under review in my Department.

Is the Minister aware that if there is a case for giving the young unmarried mothers a non-contribution maternity grant there is an even better case for giving a death grant for the elderly who were unable to contribute because they were too old in 1948?

As soon as the hon. Gentleman rose I realised that he would point out the difficulties of deciding priorities. If we increased the maternity grant even to a level of about £30, that would cost £4 million, in addition to the £1·75 million needed to make it noncontributory. To accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on top of that would mean making decisions on priorities.

Speech Therapists


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many health authorities have applied for permission to appoint senior speech therapists; and how many appointments have been made.

I understand that about 30 authorities have made inquiries of my Department about appointment of area speech therapists; I am anxious that they should proceed as soon as agreement has been reached on salaries and selection procedures.

Is the Minister satisfied that this new branch of medicine is properly appreciated? Does he realise that it helps the rehabilitation of patients? Will he do all he can to encourage its further use?

I am so satisfied. My Department is doing all it can to reach a speedy agreement with staff interests on salaries and conditions of service for the post. As members of the profession know, I have the highest possible admiration for them.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she is satisfied with the development of the social services in Sheffield, in the light of the last report of the old Sheffield social services department, a copy of which has been sent to her.

This is an excellent report, which reveals pressures on the Sheffield social services department which are common to many authorities. It is impossible to be satisfied while needs are unmet; but it is clear that the former authority sought to deploy the resources available to it as effectively as it could. The new authority is, I believe, pursuing the same realistic aim within the expenditure and manpower ceiling which the Government have had to set.

My hon. Friend has highlighted the alarming picture of under-staffing and inadequate resources for social service provision that the report shows for Sheffield. Will he see to it, so far as he can, that when resources are available they are diverted to the deprived areas of that city? What has happened to the 10-year plan for the development of social services in Sheffield that was prepared for his Department?

We are encouraging local authorities to plan on a 10-year cycle, and we have retained the plans. There are very few hon. Members who are not aware of the strong pressure on social services departments. It is claims on resources, not least the problem of housing, which put tremendous pressure on them. We shall do the best we can with the limited resources at our disposal.

Will my hon. Friend take steps to prevent the gamble whereby the area in which one lives determines the sort of social services one receives? Will he get my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take powers to put in commissioners to take over social service functions where local authorities are not carrying out the provisions of the Alf Morris Act?

The whole question of local authority independence and of putting in commissions is highly contentious. My hon. Friend will be aware of the view we took on this issue in another aspect of local government powers. We shall continue to use our powers of persuasion and to issue circulars of guidance. We shall, hopefully, rely on giving advice.



asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations she has had from the Abortion Law Reform Association in connection with its campaign for abortion on demand; and what answer she has given.

In common with other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend has received a letter setting out the association's current aims. It did not call for a reply.

Many who would not wish to see the Abortion Act repealed would nevertheless resist a movement towards abortion on demand. Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that this is a social matter of continuing controversy and that any move by the association to gain Government approval for the object of its campaign should be resisted by Ministers?

Abortion on demand is the case in which a woman asserts a legal right to abortion, regardless of medical opinion. Abortion on request is the case in which she has a right to abortion without regard to statutory criteria but subject to medical approval. That is the present situation. Views on the matter are usually expressed in free votes in the House.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the enormous amount of money being made in this area by private consultants, many of whom can best be described as butchers? Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State any evidence of offers made by such consultants to those who wish to open private hospitals in hotels?

We are deeply concerned about the way in which the Act has operated in the private sector. A good deal of toughening up has taken place in recent years. We have started, through administrative means, to take further toughening-up measures to try to control the abuses that were demonstrated by the Lane Report.

In view of the rather technical, medical nature of the changes needed in the law following the Lane Report, do not the Government think that it would be better if they introduced their own Bill to make those changes, because the changes need to be carried out quickly? Cannot the Government act?

Many of the powers that the hon. Gentleman sought, in his Private Member's Bill, to take through statutory power we are now attempting to take through administrative power. We shall leave the House to judge whether that is sufficient. We are still consulting on some of these measures. We have already announced a considerable toughening up in the private sector in the past few months.

In view of the concern expressed throughout the country on this matter, will my hon. Friend give the House the opportunity to have a debate at the earliest possible moment on the reasoned approach of the report of the Lane Committee? Such a debate might help to overcome some of the fears of women generally on the question whether abuses occur in the national health sector or the private sector of medicine.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The House is likely to have the opportunity to discuss this subject on 7th February, by means of a Private Member's Bill. The Government will then give some indication of their attitude on various aspects of the Lane Report. We had hoped for a rather longer time, but the initial period of consultation has taken place and we shall give as much advice as possible on the recommendations contained in the report.

Healing Allowance


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what steps she is taking to ensure that those supplementary pensioners who would be entitled to extra heating allowance do in fact receive it, in view of the risk of hypothermia amongst elderly people who cannot afford adequate heating.

I have discussed this matter with the Supplementary Benefits Commission and I understand that a variety of practical measures is being taken to ensure that those who are entitled to extra heating additions do receive them.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is hardly an answer to refer to a variety of measures. I think that the House will be interested to know of what that variety consists. Will my hon. Friend take into account that there are reliable estimates, such as that of Coventry's social services department, which indicate that about 70 per cent. of those who may be entitled to heating allowances are not even aware of the fact? It is intolerable that people should die of cold without receiving allowances which the House has already agreed. Will my hon. Friend specifically instruct his officials that all new supplementary pensioners must have the heating allowance explained to them, and that this must be done at regular intervals, so that no one suffers through ignorance?

No one would want any supplementary old-age pensioner to suffer from hypothermia. It is unfair of my hon. Friend to suggest that nothing is being done. I can tell her that we have the usual annual review. That is one item. Over the past two years a physical examination of all existing claims has been undertaken and domiciliary visits have been arranged when considered appropriate. A special leaflet entitled "Help with Heating Costs" was published and issued to a wide variety of statutory and voluntary organisations. The Department's regional information officers have been active in ensuring that all people interested are aware of the criteria for awarding heating allowances. We published the criteria in the Pensioners Voice. That is the newspaper of the old-age pensioner organisations. I think it is fair to say that I have justified my claim that a variety of practical steps has been taken. If my hon. Friend can think of any further steps we shall be only too pleased to consider them.

Does the Minister agree that pensioners who are also householders have special needs and should have a special householder's allowance?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is chasing another hare on this issue, which I am sure he will pursue on another occasion.

Invalid Vehicles


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she is satisfied with the present standard of invalid tricycles; and if she will make a statement on their use value.

Invalid tricycles provide independent mobility for as wide a range of disabled drivers as possible; this is their purpose. My hon. Friend will, however, be pleased to know that, wherever necessary or appropriate, modifications to improve the vehicle have been undertaken, and that this process will continue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is much concern about the standard of the vehicles and their initial construction? Is he aware that many people, including users, those who are sympathetic, and hon. Members, believe that there is only one way in which to proceed, namely, to scrap the vehicle in favour of a rapid and progressive policy either of providing much better vehicles or of adapting existing vehicles? Does he agree that following the researches of his own Department the vehicles have been deemed by many to be hazardous on the roads?

We have published the MIRA Report. It is available in the Library. I am actively studying the accident reports to see what can be done to minimise the number of accidents. Our basic decision was for cash and not cars, so as to give disabled people, including those who are too disabled to drive, some freedom of choice.

There seems to be a curious contrast between the Minister's performance now and what he said on this matter before the election. Until the day comes when we have a Government who feel that they can be more generous, would it not make sense to commission a series of studies on four-wheeled vehicles, including the Daf as well as the Mini, so that we can find out what may provide a better and safer means of transport?

We are being five times more generous than we were asked to be by Lady Sharp. We are about to double expendiutre on the inability of disabled people. That entirely defeats the hon. Gentleman's point. We have published the MIRA Report. In Opposition I pressed again and again for the publica- tion of that report. I am glad that that Report and the Sharp Report were published quickly after we took office.

National Economic Development Council


asked the Prime Minister when he next proposes to take the chair at the National Economic Development Council.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

In my right hon. Friend's absence in Ottawa and Washington this week, I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend took the chair at the last meeting of NEDC on 8th January, and he hopes to do so again about once a quarter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the country is facing a serious economic crisis the Government must take decisive measures to solve it? Will he confirm that the fact that there is a serious economic crisis is an overwhelming reason for measures to be taken to help low-paid workers and disabled people, and that they should be advanced rather than postponed?

Certainly. One of the essential features of the social contract is that people who are at the greatest risk in society should be safeguarded.

On the Government's own calculations, inflation appears to have risen from 8·4 per cent. in October to about 25 per cent. now.

When will the Government, together with those who attend the NEDC meetings, finally be prepared to take positive action to endeavour to cure inflation?

The Government are taking positive action all the time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the Government. The social contract is the key to the Government's efforts to control inflation.

When will Professor Frank Jones' little NEDC report on the burden of taxation on industry be published? A summary was given in yesterday's Daily Express. Do the Government accept the conclusions of the report about the burden of taxation on British industry compared with the burden in other countries? If so, when will they act about it?

I am afraid that I cannot answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I shall find out and let him know when it will be published. On the second part of his question, the Chancellor lightened the burden on companies a great deal last November.



asked the Prime Minister whether he will now pay an official visit to Rhodesia.

Is the Lord President aware of the growing concern that the détente in Central Africa is going a bit sour with the continuation of terrorist and counter-terrorist activities in Rhodesia? Does he accept that the time has now come to consider reopening a British diplomatic presence in Salisbury, at the level that existed several years after UDI, to ensure that a British direct relationship continues or is reopened with both European and African opinion in the country?

Whether we could have observers in Salisbury is another matter. My right hon. Friend has been in touch with Mr. Smith and the Africans in Rhodesia since his statement in the House. However, at present I am afraid that I have nothing further to say beyond the statement issued today on the matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are likely to get a satisfactory settlement in Rhodesia only by uncompromising opposition to racial policies—whether in Rhodesia or in South Africa itself—and that we must intensify our pressures on Rhodesia and on South Africa to that end?

I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. On the second part, sanctions must obviously be maintained.

Motor Industry


asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to have discussions about the state of the motor industry, in view of the American involvement, during his visit to the United States of America to see the President.


asked the Prime Minister, during his forthcoming visit to the United States, if he will discuss with President Ford the problems of the British motor vehicle industry, particularly those parts under the control of the American parent companies.

I have been asked to reply.

As my right hon. Friend explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Edelman) on 16th January, his talks with President Ford will provide a useful opportunity for a full exchange of views on the economic problems in Britain and the United States which are of concern to the motor industry.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate to the Prime Minister—although I am sure he does not need to be reminded—the importance of the prosperity of the motor industry and the fact that for every worker employed in it, 10 are employed on accessories or the servicing of cars? The country's prosperity is bound up with the motor industry, and many employees in the industry are very concerned about the investment policies of the American multinationals which dominate it.

I agree with the fears of many hon. Members, but with regard to Chrysler, my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler Corporation about its operations in this country. He has not yet had a reply. As my hon. Friend will know, Ford plans to increase its United Kingdom production in 1975 by about 50,000 cars.

Does the Lord President agree that, in relative terms, ownership of the industry is secondary to operating efficiency and organisation? Does he further agree that while discussions in America about these matters may be relevant, interesting and worth while, it is much more important to discuss them with the unions in this country, particularly the British Leyland unions?

In my political philosophy, ownership is not secondary. I believe that efficiency is improved by an element of public ownership. [Laughter.]

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in the interests of the ongoing alliance between Britain and the United States, it is important that the Prime Minister should at least attempt to persuade the American President that he should use his good offices to prevent the very powerful multinational companies based in the United States making decisions based on their own present-day very difficult economic situation in North America at the expense of their subordinate parts in the United Kingdom, thereby disrupting the United Kingdom economy?

I am sure that this is the kind of consideration that my right hon. Friend will have in mind when he talks to President Ford. Regarding the hysterical outburst which followed my previous answer to a supplementary question, I think that if hon. Members compare the efficiency records of the publicly-owned industries and the privately-owned industries in this country they will see how true it was.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if, in his previous answer, he had used the words "employee participation" instead of "public ownership", some of us might have been disposed to agree with him? Is he not further aware that all the evidence is against his proposition, and that public ownership, as such, is incompatible with both efficiency and industrial democracy?

I am surprised at the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is usually so objective in these matters. If he looks at the facts and figures on productivity and efficiency generally he will find that publicly-owned companies in Britain are much more efficient than privately-owned companies. With regard to the first part of his question, I very much agree with him that an element of worker participation is desirable in both publicly-owned and privately-owned industry.

I should much prefer to hear the hon. Gentleman's point of order at the end of Question Time, if the hon. Gentleman would raise it then.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that with an American unemployment figure of 8 per cent. and with the Chrysler Corporation in the United States reducing its domestic output by at least one-third, it is quite laughable to expect either President Ford or the American motor corporations to make concessions to this country? Is it not time we started to prepare a strategy for the survival of the British motor industry, involving import controls and public ownership—otherwise, in 10 years' time we may not have a motor industry at all?

I did say something about Chrysler a short time ago. I pointed out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has written to the President of the Chrysler organisation. As my hon. Friend will know, that organisation has been one of the hardest hit by the recession in the automobile industry in the United States, but it has given repeated assurances that it does not intend to withdraw from the United Kingdom.

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider circulating in the Official Report the evidence on which he founds his quite extraordinary opinions?

I shall be very glad to publish and send to the right hon. Gentleman the evidence to support the answer I gave to a previous supplementary question.

Will the Lord President tell the House whether, in the talks in Washington, the subject of energy will be at the top of the agenda and whether part of it will be about oil in the Scottish sector of the North Sea? In the dispute between President Ford and the Congress about United States policy with regard to the pricing rights of oil-producing countries, will the right hon. Gentleman say on whose side the Prime Minister will be?

The Prime Minister, as always, will be on the side of Britain. I have no doubt whatever that energy will figure very largely in the discussions in Washington. I have no doubt whatever that those discussions will include the subject of British oil in that context.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the incomprehensible nature of the answers given by the Lord President to questions on nationalisation, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity. I hope that we shall have a full House then.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the Lord President say why he answered Questions Nos. Q3 and Q4 together but omitted to refer to Question No. Q12, which deals with the same subject?

Economic Affairs (Prime Minister's Broadcast)


asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of the transcript of his interview on the economy in the programme "The World This Weekend" on 29th December 1974.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend did so, Sir, on 13th January.

As for most of this year one person's large pay increase is likely to be someone else's redundancy notice, or three-day working, will the Lord President clarify the question whether the Prime Minister, in his broadcast, was ruling out the possibility of any form of statutory pay restraint this year, or whether, alternatively, he was simply ruling out the possibility of a statutory pay freeze this year?

The Prime Minister was ruling out any form of statutory incomes policy by this Government.

A week being a long time in politics, is my right hon. Friend aware that I have forgotten what the Prime Minister said on 29th December? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what all the fuss is about?

As I have said, there is a copy in the Library. No doubt my hon. Friend will go along there and read it.

Would it not be fairer, as well as more honest, to tell the people of this country now about the higher unemployment which inevitably lies ahead, rather than let it take them unawares?

If the hon. Gentleman will read what the Prime Minister said and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Leeds speech, he will agree that there is no lack of honesty, frankness or openness in discussing the great danger of unemployment this year.

How does my right hon. Friend reconcile what he said earlier at Question Time—about treating those in the lower income scales and disabled people more favourably than those at the top end—with the announcement made just prior to the Prime Minister's statement on television, about salary increases of up to £8,000 for judges and people in the armed forces and the established institutions? Does he understand that this is causing a great deal of worry, not only on the Labour benches but generally in the movement outside?

I understand that there are a number of points of view about this. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has answered questions on the matter. This is something which always causes difficulties for all Governments. There is never a right time to do this.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the social contract is likely to close the gap between the rate of inflation of 19 per cent. and the rate of wage increase of 28 per cent. over the past 12 months? Do the Government accept that that gap will remain for ever? Since the right hon. Gentleman has ruled out any form of statutory control, how do the Government intend to ensure that wages do not increase faster than prices?

We intend to make the social contract work. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the settlements since July he will see that approximately 75 per cent. of them have been within the terms of the social contract. Of course, we are changing over from a rigid statutory system to one of free collective bargaining, and we have always said that there would be initial difficulties. The social contract is working, and if the parties opposite will support it it will work a good deal better.

Ministerial Statements

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not raising this matter earlier. I wish to refer to a matter concerning the rights of back benchers. Have you any powers to prevent Ministers, like the right hon. Member the Secretary of State for the Environment, making major statements on housing policy by way of Written Answer?

Bomb Incidents

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the bomb explosions in Enfield, London and Manchester.

As the House knows, yesterday afternoon and evening several terrorist explosions occurred after a period of some weeks comparatively free from such incidents.

At about 4.30 p.m. the first explosion occurred in Lewis's department store in the centre of Manchester. Nineteen people were injured, one seriously. Later in the evening there were five explosions in London—the first in Bond Street, then two at Ponders End, then one in Kensington High Street and another in Victoria Street. One person was injured in Bond Street, four in Kensington High Street and one in Victoria Street.

Two further devices were defused in the early hours of this morning: one at a shop in Putney High Street and one at a restaurant in Hampstead.

On behalf, I am sure, of the whole House I should like to express our sympathy with those who have suffered injury and shock as a result of these incidents, and our gratitude to the emergency services for their prompt response to them.

It is difficult at present to appraise what yesterday's incidents suggest for the future, but it is clear that a period of the utmost vigilance is called for. The police are well aware of this, and I am sure that their efforts should be sustained by an equal awareness on the part of the public.

I am sure that my constituents would also wish me to express their condolences to those who have suffered injury. Although two of the explosions took place in my constituency, happily my own constituents were not badly hurt. Since a novel feature of the explosions in Enfield was the fact that they concerned industrial establishments may I ask the Home Secretary to say what measures are being taken to strengthen the security of industrial establishments throughout the country, bearing in mind the fact that the situation in Enfield would have been worse had not the chemical firm in question operated the most up-to-date security and safety measures for the withdrawal of staff?

I will certainly take note of what my hon. Friend says. It is not the case that yesterday's incidents were directed wholly or even primarily at industrial establishments; they affected retail shops and a wide range of public places, too. I will certainly consider whether there is any useful additional guidance which police forces can give to industrial establishments. Those in charge of such establishments should consult their local police about whether their security could be strengthened. Our desire is to maintain the utmost degree of vigilance, bearing in mind that a wide range of public targets can be selected. It is difficult to give guidance about where such attacks are likely to be made. The police will give attention to this and will be glad to give what advice they can to anyone who asks for it.

May I join in commiserating with the people in Manchester particularly the two still in hospital, who were hurt by the explosion at Lewis's? May I ask the Home Secretary two questions about the Manchester situation? Can he comment on the statement in the Press that there was a delay of 19 minutes between notice being given by the Press Association and Lewis's being evacuated? Second, can he say what part the persistence of hoax calls plays in delays of this kind?

I can give the hon. Member and the House a little more information on this. The warning was received by the Press Association in Manchester at 4.7 p.m. It was passed to the police, and the police informed the store security officer at 4.12 p.m., which I think was reasonably expeditious and would be recognised as such. The explosion took place at 4.24 p.m., by which time the management had decided to evacuate the store. So far as the police know, no announcement had been made to the public.

There is a difficulty here for managements of stores in deciding how they deal with this position. This particular management had received many hoax calls. It is difficult to strike a balanced judgment. It is easy to say, if someone does something too quickly—it happened in London recently—that their nerve has failed. On the other hand, if they act too slowly it can be said that they have been lax. This is a difficult balance of judgment.

I have given the hon. Member and the House the facts as they are available to me. I think it will be agreed that there was no delay on the part of the police in informing the store of the warning passed on to them.

May I add my condolences and, I am sure those, of my hon. Friends to those injured in the explosions in Manchester and elsewhere? Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to ensure that where there are warning systems—and I am sure that they must be provided in the future—they are understood by the public as well as the staff of establishments? Since there is the danger of panic when an alarm system sounds, will my right hon. Friend urge such establishments to do all that they can to ensure that there is orderly withdrawal and that the public is aware of what is happening?

I will, through the police forces, endeavour to see that that is done. I am not sure that there has been any case of disorderly withdrawal. As I said earlier, it is a delicate balance to strike and to decide how hastily to arrange for withdrawal. I have very much in mind what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that the police forces and the Home Office will take action.

Is it not clear that the terrorists can strike at any British city, after the events in London, Birmingham and Manchester? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether there is any guidance which can be given to store owners and the like in connection with the use or non-use of the code in distinguishing between hoaxers and reality? Would the right hon. Gentleman undertake to consider the suggestion made today by the Chairman of the Police Federation, that the Bomb Squad should be organised on a national basis on the lines of regional crime squads?

On the last point, regional crime squads do not, of course, operate on a national basis they would not be called "regional" crime squads if they did. However, they operate with a high degree of national co-ordination. But it is desirable to achieve this, as we have already done to some extent, in relation to the Bomb Squad. As the right hon. Gentleman and the House know, there is already a Metropolitan Bomb Squad which works in close co-operation with the detective branches in provincial forces.

Arrangements have already been made, were made before this attack, for detectives in the provinces to be attached for a period to the Metropolitan Bomb Squad to gain experience. There is broadly the same degree of co-ordination as we have in relation to the regional crime squads, but if anything could be done to tighten this up I would of course gladly do it. I shall pursue the matter as vigorously as I can.

On the earlier question, yes, alas, it is indeed the case that attacks can be made against any cities. If further guidance could usefully be given to store owners, this would be put out. They and all those who are responsible for running establishments where large numbers of the public congregate should keep in close touch with their local police forces as to how best to deal with this threat.

As I have said, it is difficult at present to appraise what this means for the future, but a period of vigilance is clearly highly desirable. I can assure the House that the police and the security forces will accept this and will operate on this basis. I hope that those with particular responsibility for congregations of people, and the public generally, will do so, too.

When the Minister has occasion to make a statement to the House on outrages of this kind, would it not be proper to arrange to include in the statement a reference to all outrages of the kind which have occurred in the relevant period in any part of the Kingdom?

Yes; of course I in no way underestimate or seek to differentiate between outrages in any part of the United Kingdom. However, under our ministerial responsibility, I am responsible for England and Wales, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for Scotland, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is responsible for Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is not unnatural that I should answer, as do all Ministers, with regard to my own responsibility. But the right hon. Gentleman should not assume—nor should the House—that for that reason I in any way downgrade outrages which happen in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Although one agrees with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot see into the future in these matters and that one must not jump to hasty conclusions, does he feel that the present insurance arrangements in this country, as distinct from Northern Ireland, are satisfactory? Would he not agree that the retail trade and, indeed, others providing services to the public have not only suffered severe losses but are in danger of suffering more? Would he not agree that the insurance arrangements in this part of the United Kingdom should now be brought into line with those prevailing in Northern Ireland?

I do not think that I would at this stage although this is clearly a matter that will have to be kept under review. The point at issue here is not, as it were, a moral judgment. It is a judgment as to whether the scale of attacks in this part of the United Kingdom is such that people cannot secure normal commercial cover under ordinary arrangements. So far this has not been the case, and the differentiation in this respect between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is based on that commercial criterion. If, most regrettably, a position arose—which it has not yet done and which I hope will not—in which normal commercial insurance for property could not be secured in this country, of course we should have to look at the matter afresh. That is the essential difference—it is a question whether it is still possible to obtain normal commercial cover.

May I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy to the victims of the bombs in Manchester and elsewhere yesterday? Would the right hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure that, when next his officials are having discussions with the IRA, they convey to them the fact that the people of Manchester and, indeed, the British people as a whole will not be intimidated by these baboons and hyenas who seek to maim, mutilate and murder innocent men, women and children in the cities of our country?

I do not think that there is any question of anyone being intimated. I know that my right hon. Friend feels very strongly indeed on this matter. He has certainly not been intimated in the way in which he has dealt with this matter, which I think has shown great nerve and great judgment, in recent difficult weeks.

Eec Development Ministers (Meeting)

With permission, I would like to report to the House the outcome of the meeting in Brussels last week of the Council of Development Ministers.

In the context of our renegotiation objective in this field, further discussion took place about the need for a Community world-wide aid policy, based on the criterion of relative poverty and need in developing countries, and requiring a roughly equal balance in aid to associated and non-associated countries. At my suggestion, the Commission presented a framework or "fresco" paper. The Council agreed that the Commission will now draw up specific proposals on the financial application of this. I hope that it will prove possible for the Council to take firm decisions at its next meeting in March. I gave the Council a note setting out my own views on the types and amounts of additional aid to non-associates we believe to be appropriate.

In addition, a major item of ongoing business was finally resolved. The House will know that since last June I have been urging the Community to release the whole of its original offer of$500 million towards the United Nations Emergency Measures to assist those developing countries most seriously affected by the rise in oil and commodity prices. It was finally agreed in October that a first part, $150 million, would be released.

I am afraid that, in spite of a great deal of support for my own view, which was strongly shared by some other Governments, the final decision of the Community is disappointing. A further $100 million is to be released, but there will be no further direct Community contribution, unless, by June, it is apparent that the total of the $250 million from the Community, some ongoing food aid, and bilateral contributions reported directly to the United Nations by individual member States do not amount to $500 million. That is, in my view, highly unlikely.

In the light of this, the Government have decided to make a further bilateral British contribution to the emergency measures. In round figures we have already contributed £40 million bilaterally. I am now providing a further £20 million as direct help to India, and, subject to parliamentary approval, I will provide a further £5 million to the World Food Programme, to be directed principally to Bangladesh, and a further £5 million in cash to the United Nations Special Account for the hardest-hit countries.

Including the £13 million which is our share of the contribution being made from the Community budget, our assistance under the emergency measures so far totals, therefore, some £83 million—over $200 million. The House will appreciate that I worked hard for a different decision last week, but I am sure that it will be generally agreed that, in the circumstances of the developing world this year, we must now do all we can independently.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that statement. Can she say something more about the factors which contributed to the disappointing result? In particular, what is the attitude on the world scene of the United States and the oil producers? Would she also agree that, while it has always been assumed that bilateral aid would supplement whatever the Community might give, we shall be in a better position to support the other countries in the Community which share her view if we make it perfectly clear that we intend to remain full members and act as such?

As regards the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, I trust that he will use whatever influence he has to convey to the other member States of the Community how urgent it is that a decision shall be reached in March on the world-wide aid proposals which I put to the Community as part of our renegotiation objective. What happens in this field of our renegotiation will depend upon its decision.

The answer to the first part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question is that from June to the end of the year, and certainly until October, the debate within the Development Council concerned what was called conditionality—that is, should the Community make a contribution unless there was an adequate contribution from the oil-producing countries on the one hand and the United States on the other? The new factor introduced last week, which came as a surprise, was the insistence by one or two countries, which was slightly changing the rules in the middle of the game, that bilateral contributions should be counted as part of the Community contribution, which was, clearly, not an acceptable proposition to several of us.

Is there anything more which my right hon. Friend can do to ensure that all the Governments of the Community are aware of the urgency of reaching a decision in March?

I have done my best in various circles to ensure that they are fully aware of that. I think that there is now a considerable amount of good will to our proposals. However, the point is that it is one thing to have a general understanding, and, indeed, a resolution in principle, but what matters in this area is that it should be translated into hard financial proposals for the future. That is the question which will be at issue in March.

First, may I compliment the right hon. Lady on what she has sought to do in trying to make the Community's aid policy more outward-looking and liberal?

May I follow up the question asked by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon)? Do I gather from the right hon Lady's response that the main opposition to her proposals was based on a feeling that the oil-producing countries and the United States should give more proportionately than they are giving and that, unless they did so, the Community should hold back? Is that the basis of their opposition? Is she yet in any position to say, in view of the fact that there has undoubtedly been movement, as she would freely concede, whether she is optimistic that in March we shall reach a decision which can be reconciled with the Government's renegotiation objectives?

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, that was the position until October. Much of the conditionality which certain countries were imposing—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is conditionality?"] I am sorry. Brussels has a terrible effect, because one tends to use Community jargon at times. "Conditionality" means that other countries in the Community sought to impose conditions before the Community contribution to the emergency measures could be released. I sought not to impose such conditions. I apologise for the noun.

That was the position until October. Since then I think that the Opposition on those grounds has to some extent softened, but the new factor which was brought in last week, which was unacceptable, was that the contribution from the Community should not be financed purely from the Community budget but should also consist of bilateral contributions, which several countries are making in any case.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, there is a very good chance that this matter will be very seriously discussed in March on the basis of the Commission's paper. However, as to whether other member Governments will be prepared to reach the kind of decision which I regard as necessary at this stage, I cannot tell.

If I understood my right hon. Friend aright, is not this EEC offer of aid to the most hard-hit developing countries an extremely disappointing one? Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear whether she is satisfied with it?

I think I made clear in my statement that I regard this as a disappointing result. This was ongoing business at the Community. There was a possibility. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is 'ongoing business'?"] I think "ongoing" is a sufficiently accustomed word to the House of Commons in this matter.

There was a possibility here that there could be, in addition to what each member country did towards the emergency measures, an additional contribution from the Community, which would incidentally have made it possible for one or two member countries to have made a contribution, because they could not do it on a bilateral basis for various reasons. Therefore, it is disappointing that the final Community figure is only half of the one originally proposed. However, it is in those circumstances that I feel, having fought since June with a great deal of assistance from a number of other countries in the Community and then having reached this result, that we must now do what we can on a bilateral basis.

Bearing in mind the sheer gravity of the world food crisis, is the right hon. Lady aware that many of us share her disappointment at the inadequate response to the United Nations emergency programme not only from the EEC but from other countries far richer than ours? I applaud her decision to take bilateral action, and I hope that that decision will be followed by other nations.

Will the right hon. Lady not agree that all that gives extra emphasis to the conference of Commonwealth Ministers which is to be called in March to look into practical means of raising food production in Commonwealth countries? Will she indicate what changes she thinks are necessary to the British aid programme to further that end?

As always, the hon. Gentleman has valuable comments to make on these matters. The likely result of the Commonwealth Development Conference will be an even greater emphasis on a policy which my Ministry has always adopted in the course of the last eight months—that is, to give a priority emphasis to rural development. I hope that we shall be assisted in that policy by the proceedings of the Commonwealth conference.

Will my right hon. Friend say what progress, if any, was made last week in preparing the Community's mandate for the negotiations with the 46 ACP countries for the convention, and, in particular, whether there was any discussion as to what would happen with the Commonwealth ACP countries if we withdrew from the Community?

No. As I think my hon. Friend probably knows, there will be a further meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday of this week, to deal with the question of Protocol 22, which I shall be attending. That will begin with a meeting of the member States of the Community to take further the proceedings that were interrupted two weeks ago.

I agree wholeheartedly with the principle of overseas aid, but may I ask the right hon. Lady how she justifies the amount of £20 million to India, whose Government have been guilty of the crime of wasting the substance of her own starving people in constructing a nuclear bomb? What conditions will the right hon. Lady attach to the money?

The conditions attached to the money are that it is programme aid—that is, it is money which will make it possible for India to buy goods which she needs from Britain. All our views on the Indian nuclear explosion are clear. However, the fact remains that India is one of the countries most hard hit by the rise in oil and commodity prices and that she is a desperately poor country. Our aid will be directed solely to helping the people of that country. I think that we must be very careful to separate the provision of aid to benefit the people of the country from the criticisms we may have of unrelated policies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that her statement, as far as it dealt with the achievement of the renegotiation of our aims at Brussels, has an ongoing, conditional optimism? To which issue does my right hon. Friend attach great importance and which issue does she think will be most difficult to resolve in the next month or two?

I think that will be the basic question whether we can persuade the Community to share our view about the distribution of Community aid as between countries which are associated and those which are not associated. The countries which are not associated include some of the largest and poorest countries in the world. The question will be whether we can sufficiently persuade all the members of the Community to share our view. Certain members share our view. Others are so far hesitant. I do not think that I am unduly optimistic, but my hon. Friend will recognise that in any negotiations one does not succeed unless one tries to succeed.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her policy of ensuring that Community aid is given on a more worldwide basis and on the basis of need will be supported on this side of the House, bearing in mind that the first impetus in that direction was given by the summit conference in December 1972 where the principle was accepted by the Community on the initiative of my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister?

If I can correct the hon. Gentleman, not quite. That resolution was finally adopted by the Community only at a meeting in July.

Albeit second best, if there is to be an expansion in bilateral aid is there not a case for reconsidering the scheme of 13 years ago whereby aid is in some way tied to under-employed industries in this country, unsatisfactory though this may be in principle?

To do that precisely and directly would obviously present many problems. I think that my hon. Friend will recognise that when there are orders for British goods that follow either a parlicular aid project in a particular country or a technical assistance consultancy, it is very likely to involve engineering and the kind of goods for which we are now urgently seeking new employment opportunities in Britain.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that fresco papers proposing ongoing procedures for infrastructure purposes can on occasions prove to be counterproductive and perhaps it would be better to concentrate on debt reduction and décollage, in the interests of multilingual jargon?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that one of the unfortunate aspects of the membership of the Community that we inherit was the jargon that was already ongoing there.

Motor-Cycle Crash-Helmets (Religious Exemption)

4.3 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exempt turban-wearing followers of the Sikh religion from the requirement to wear a crash-helmet when riding a motor-cycle.
Put in another way, I seek to persuade the House to support a Bill to enable turbanned Sikhs to ride motor cycles. It is especially important to those Sikhs who wish to motor cycle to work when public transport is not available or to ride a motor cycle as part of their employment.

News of my move to bring a Bill before the House has evoked much ill-informed talk and newspaper correspondence. There must be no doubt that the long coiled hair and the turban go together as one of the five Ks; as they are called, of the articles of the religion dating back over 500 years. Definitions have been clearly made by the gurus from time to time.

There are obviously occasions when the turban is unwound and removed, but that does not mean that any other head covering may be put on in its place. It is this religious fact which I did not at first understand and which others may not have understood.

Some Sikhs have cut their hair and have thus turned away from the full faith and would not qualify for exemption under the Bill. It is because of the devout Sikh's firm attachment to the long hair coiled and the turban that it is not now possible for him to ride a motor cycle. Because of the present law, he has, so to speak, lost a freedom.

It was the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) who as Minister of Transport brought in the present law. There was a debate, but the religious exemption argument was not made at that time. Some hon. Members opposed the law on the ground of individual freedom as a number are opposing the compulsory wearing of car seat belts. That debate is still before the House. I will not dwell upon it, except to say that in that case there will be exceptions on pure grounds of expediency and not on any grounds of principle. It is possible for those who support crash-helmets and seat belts in general also to support my Bill.

I must admit that I was slow off the mark in the previous Parliament when the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) led a motion on this question. I became convinced when I realised that to uphold the Sikh's religious belief meant in reality not being able to ride a motor cycle.

As most hon. Members know, there is a long historic tradition of toleration in this matter. In battle time the Sikh has never been called upon to discard his turban in favour of the war hat or tin helmet worn by other soldiers under battle fire. It has been known for bullets to lodge in the hair of Sikhs. No one would care if at that time a Sikh was not wearing a tin hat. So far as I know, right up to the present time the long hair and turban are freely accepted in the three branches of the British Armed Services. I cannot imagine that the true Sikh is ever told that his services are no longer required in any shape or form.

As citizens of the Commonwealth, many Sikhs from the middle-1950s onwards have come to the United Kingdom. They are hard working and are winning their way in British society. In the past, because of native prejudice and misunderstanding, they have had to struggle for the right to wear the turban, particularly at work. We have overcome objections to the right to wear long hair and the turban, notably in transport in the Midlands and in London. Some factory cases have been fought and overcome. Uniformed caps and helmets are not enforced against the Sikh's religious belief.

In the Post Office and in the police forces the turbanned Sikh is tolerated. Seldom was the turban question raised by employers and workpeople until the motorcycle crash-helmet question arose.

The turban is tolerated on building sites, where all workers except Sikhs are to be seen wearing protective headgear. Hon. Members will recently have witnessed this when our new car park was being built. I have a turbanned constituent who is a steel erector. The fact is that if compulsion to wear any type of headgear came into being on building sites many would leave the building industry and do something else.

Last year, with other Members and Sikhs from various parts of the country, I saw the present Minister for Transport. We found his attitude as mulish as that of his predecessor—argumentative with no imagination. He seemed to think that the Sikh's exemption would lead to other clamours for exemption. I do not think that the House will believe it probable. No other group is distinguished by long hair and the turban and can be identified by their names.

Sikh representatives are eager to enter into discussions on style, colour and helping to secure enforcement if the law is changed. Long hair and several yards of cloth in the turban is a form of head protection and could in certain circumstances prove to be an even better protection than some ill-fitting crash-helmet.

The present Minister for Transport challenged me to show how the requirement to wear a crash-helmet might impair the Sikh's equal employment opportunity. Although my right hon. Friend said that he might reconsider this position, in fact he has not done so. I cited to him the case of the turbanned policeman. We are trying to recruit more Sikhs into the police forces. A turbanned Sikh would not under the new regulation be able to grab a motor cycle to chase a criminal. A devout Sikh cannot apply for a job as a Post Office messenger boy. My right hon. Friend replies to those two cases I have cited—"Let the Sikhs throw away the turban."

This is why I have presented the Bill. I am sure that the House would not wish to take the attitude—"Let the Sikhs throw away the turban". I recall to the House the civilised words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. In 1966 he defined integration thus:
"Not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance."
As far as I know, no other country gives less than the fullest tolerance to the turbanned Sikh, which means the occasional man on the motor bike.

The Bill is supported by the British Council of Churches. Our country is world-renowned for its hard-won principles of religious and political freedom. The Bill has wide support from both sides of the House and groups. It would upset no one. It would be a small step for us to take based on a great principle of religious freedom. Without it, we are not civilised and are lesser people.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sydney Bidwell, Miss Janet Fookes, Mrs. Winifred Ewing, Mr. Frank Hatton, Mr. Daffyd Thomas, Mr. Bruce George, Mr. Cyril Smith, Mr. Neville Sandelson, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Churchill, Sir George Sinclair and Mr. Andrew Faulds.

Motor-Cycle Crash-Helmets (Religious Exemption)

Mr. Sydney Bidwell accordingly presented a Bill to exempt turban-wearing followers of the Sikh religion from the requirement to wear a crash-helmet when riding a motor-cycle: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 21st February and to be printed. [Bill 69.]

The Right Honourable Member For Walsall, North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before the Leader of the House moves the motion on the Order Paper, I ask for your guidance on a matter of some importance of which I have given you notice.

Does the High Court of Parliament constitute a court of law in the context that debate, either by the House on this motion or by a Committee set up pursuant to the motion, of actions by an hon. Member which might constitute infringement of the law of this country would or might enable the hon. Member concerned to plead either autrefois convict or autrefois aquit in bar of trial at subsequent criminal proceedings in the normal course of justice outside this House?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having given me notice of this matter. Whether the notice was adequate, or ever would be adequate, I am not sure. I am not prepared at this point to give my views on the nature of the High Court of Parliament, nor is it for me to give instructions to a Select Committee, should it be set up. However, I do not see how this House, either by debating the matter or by agreeing to the motion, can bind any court of law. In any case, should any right hon. or hon. Member appear before a court of law, it must be entirely a matter for that court to decide upon its jurisdiction and the issue before it.

As the hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order, may I add this. We have quite a difficult discussion before us, and I should like to remind the House of the rule on pages 361 and 362 of Erskine May that
"no charge of a personal character can be raised"
against a Member in debate
"save upon a direct and substantive motion to that effect".
That remains the position. There is no motion on the Order Paper making charges of a specific nature. Nevertheless, it would be almost impossible to have this debate without referring to various allegations which have been reported in the Press. Hon. Members must confine themselves and, if I may say so with great respect, perhaps rise to the occasion in accordance with the best traditions of the House, by being very careful about what they say. One of our colleagues is being discussed without substantive charges being made against him on a motion.

4.14 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I beg to move,

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the position of Mr. John Stonehouse as Member for Walsall North:
That the Committee do consist of Ten Members:
That Mr. Arthur Bottomley, Mr. Edward du Cann, Sir Michael Havers, Mr. Cledwyn Hughes, Mr. Sydney Irving, Mr. John Peyton, Sir David Renton, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Michael Stewart and Mr. George Strauss be Members of the Committee:
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House; to report from time to time; and to report Minutes of Evidence from time to time:
That Three be the Quorum of the Committee.
I am very sad indeed to have to move the motion standing in my name, which proposes that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the position of Mr. John Stonehouse as Member for Walsall, North. This is a time for very few words. The point of order of the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) underlines the importance of that: at least, it raises a rather big question mark. I therefore propose to move the motion very briefly. If it is accepted, we shall later have a full opportunity to debate the Select Committee's report. However, I shall be ready, if necessary, to reply to any points made this afternoon.

There will, I think, be widespread agreement that the sequence of events in which the right hon. Gentleman has been involved raises questions and creates a problem which the House would wish to have considered. This is essentially a matter for the House as a whole and not for the Government. I suggest that much the best and fairest way to establish the facts of what has happened and to find the right course to take is to refer the whole issue to the corporate wisdom of a Select Committee.

There is a number of precedents for referring personal cases to a Select Committee, some of them relatively recent. After careful consideration and consultation with a large number of right hon. and hon. Members, I think that this is the better course to take than referring it to the Committee of Privileges for which, of course, there is also a number of precedents.

Reference of the right hon. Gentleman's case to a Select Committee will enable him to give his own account of what has happened and will allow the facts to be thoroughly and impartially examined. At the moment the facts are only partially known, largely through Press accounts. I hope that the House will agree to await the Select Committee's report before attempting to discuss them in any detail.

Is it intended that the Select Committee should sit in public and that the public should know what evidence is being given to it—which is as a court would hear evidence—or is it intended that it should sit in private? Or is this a matter for the Select Committee to decide?

The Leader of the House said that the setting up of a Select Committee would give the right hon. Member the opportunity of giving evidence to it. Can he say whether the right hon. Member has given any indication that he would be prepared to return to this country to give evidence to the Select Committee?

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I quote from a letter which I have received from the right hon. Gentleman today:

"I welcome the proposed composition of the Committee. They are all men of integrity, and I respect their judgment. Apart from adding another eminent Privy Councillor, I could well have chosen them myself. Although I do not intend to return to the United Kingdom, I will co-operate fully with the Committee in its inquiries, as I believe the Committee might establish some valuable points from my experience which would help to obtain protection for parliamentarians from blackmail and deliberate, calculated Press smears."

4.18 p.m.

It is, fortunately, a rare occurrence for the House to have to consider the position of one of its Members in relation to his or her colleagues, and, inevitably, as the Leader of the House has said, it is a sad occasion when the House is requested to do so.

Fortunately, in the last 50 years, since just after the end of the First World War, there have been only three occasions on which such consideration has led to the Member concerned leaving the House—two for legal reasons which occurred outside the House, and once because of a decision by the House. But I believe, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that when the House considers such a matter, it should do so on the fullest possible information. Therefore, that is the justification for the motion proposing that a Select Committee be set up to examine in detail and thoroughly, as Select Committees do, the position of the right hon. Gentleman.

I suppose that the two questions which we have to ask ourselves as a result of the motion are: do the circumstances of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) justify setting up a Select Committee; and is the timing of setting up the Select Committee right?

There are varied views about these matters, and that is why I posed two specific questions. I believe that they merit consideration.

The Government have taken the initiative. I agree with the form of the motion. It is a broad motion to consider the position of the right hon. Gentleman. There can be no implications in it such as those which, rightly, worried my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) when he put his point of order. It behoves the Leader of the House to move the motion because it refers to a member of his own party, the Government having taken the decision.

When one asks oneself the precise reason why this should be done, it is difficult to define. The Leader of the House and many other right hon. and hon. Members no doubt feel that the real reason is the confused and contradictory position as we understand it. It is perfectly true that no charge has been preferred against the right hon. Gentleman as far as I am aware, and the Leader of the House has given no indication that there has been any charge. The right hon. Gentleman has been away from the House for a certain time, but we all know of instances when an hon. Member is away for a considerable time—for example because of sickness—and his colleagues together help to look after his constituents and their interests. In neither of those cases would there appear to be a clear reason for setting up a Select Committee.

I return to the point that the situation is an extremely confused and contradictory one. The right hon. Gentleman apparently said, first, that he wanted to ask for the Manor of Northstead and then that he did not. He said that he might come back to this country, but said later that he wished to make his life elsewhere. The position is so confused and contradictory that I have come to the conclusion that a Select Committee should be set up to examine the matter. Some, I know, will put forward the view that the timing is too soon and that we should have waited longer before considering such a motion. But I do not oppose the motion, because the House will still maintain control of the position after the Select Committee has reported.

In dealing with a matter of this nature a Select Committee is bound to take a certain time. I know from my experience of the Committee of Privileges as Leader of the House that that is often inevitable. I take into account that, as we have just heard from the Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman wishes to co-operate with the Committee but not to appear in person. That means that there will have to be a process of correspondence. This is not the first occasion on which a matter has been dealt with by correspondence. In the last Parliament, the previous Parliament and the Parliament preceding that the Privileges Committee dealt with one matter by a process of correspondence. But that process takes considerably longer, and by the time the Select Committee reaches the end of its proceedings it is inevitable that a considerable time will have elapsed.

I take into account that the House will have control of the timing when the Select Committee finishes its proceedings and reports to the House. If the matter is to be dealt with by correspondence, by the time that period has elapsed the House will, I think, have come to the conclusion that it should reach a decision.

I have no desire to indicate to the Select Committee how it should conduct its proceedings or the matters that it should consider. In view of the question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, I am sure that with the legal advice that is available through its membership the Select Committee will take every precaution not to do anything to jeopardise the position of the right hon. Gentleman in the House should he return to this country and should any matters legally be raised with him.

The right hon. Gentleman has said publicly, if the reports are correct, that he will not return to this country and does not wish to return to the House or to appear before the Select Committee because he does not believe that he would receive fair play or justice here. May I say this to him—if my words ever reach him? I and many others in the House ask him to reconsider his attitude. Of course, he may proceed by correspondence if he so wishes, but we in the House understand full well the weaknesses and frailties of our fellow human beings. Above all, we understand the consequences of strain and conflicts in individual personalities. The House is widely known to be compassionate and understanding in difficult personal matters of this kind. To my mind there is no question of the right hon. Gentleman not receiving every consideration by the Select Committee, if it is set up, and afterwards by the House, and I believe that he should have no justifiable fears about receiving fair play and justice in this difficult matter.

If the right hon. Gentleman has come or comes to the conclusion that he wishes to start life afresh either in this country or elsewhere, surely, on consideration, he would prefer to do so after personally clearing up these matters once and for all with his colleagues in the House. Surely he would prefer to start again with a mind which is clear of the cares and the conflicts of which he has spoken in Australia. I very much hope that that will be his decision after he has considered the matter.

I support the Leader of the House, and ask my hon. and right hon. Friends to do so, although, of course, it is entirely a matter for them. I support the Leader of the House in setting up the Select Committee and very much hope that the right hon. Member will decide to co-operate by coming back to his colleagues to enable these matters to be disposed of in a way which is acceptable to the House.

4.26 p.m.

After the speech which has been made by the Leader of the Opposition there is little I wish to add. I should like to emphasise and agree with everything he said. Such episodes as this are fortunately rare, and it is not a happy episode because we are discussing one of our colleagues. Since 1927 there have been only four references of matters relating to colleagues in the House to a Committee of this sort.

I would not presume to give advice to the Select Committee save that, as we are setting it up, it might perhaps be appropriate to indicate how we hope it will approach its task. I say that as one who has complete confidence in the right hon. and learned Members who have been selected to serve on the Select Committee. I hope that the members of the Select Committee will proceed with extreme caution, because collectively we are considering one of our colleagues and by doing so we shall create a precedent for the future. The right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) is a colleague in respect of whom no offence has been charged; still less has he any conviction.

It is true that a charge or conviction has not always been necessary for action to be taken. As far back as 1856 when a true bill had been found in the case of James Sadleir in respect of fraud, the House refused to take action because it wished matters to proceed along normal lines. Only when, a year later, the Crown Solicitor and the officers of the constabulary established that they had made efforts to apprehend him and bring him to trial and had failed did the House of Commons bring action and expel him.

There are those who say in the somewhat old-fashioned sounding phrase that Members can be investigated if their conduct is "unbecoming the character of an officer and gentleman "—which sounds extremely nineteenth century. That is the view of "Erskine May". But of the two cases that are recorded, those of Colonel Cawthorne in 1767 and Mr. Verney in 1891, the first had already been convicted of embezzlement by court-martial and the second had been sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment by the Central Criminal Court. Although it is not necessary for charges to have been preferred or brought, that has been the usual practice.

I make only one plea: that when the Select Committee proceeds the standard of proof it demands will be no less strict than that which would apply in a court of law. Clearly, what has been reported in newspapers is not evidence, and no body of men and women have less need to be convinced of that than do hon. Members.

There are matters which have been mentioned and allegations which have been made, and I shall go into none of them. If those matters are to be investigated, they must be proved by evidence adduced either by individual witnesses coming forward or by the right hon. Member for Walsall, North writing or, if it be thought proper, perhaps even by the taking of evidence on commission in Australia.

I have every confidence in the members of the Committee who have been selected. I am fortified by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself appears to show a confidence in those of our colleagues who are on the Committee. I ask them to remember that they will be creating a precedent in which we in this House shall sit in judgment of one of our colleagues. That being the case, whether it be in adducing evidence that comes before the Committee or the whole way in which its members comport themselves, they must be no less strict and determined to see that justice is done than would any court of law.

4.32 p.m.

I believe that the motion—and this applies to its timing and presentation by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—is the best way in which to deal with what to us all is a distressing situation. I should like to echo what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition about my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse). I have made similar utterances, but I hope that full cognisance will be taken of the way in which the matter was put by the Leader of the Opposition.

The events involving the right hon. Member for Walsall, North leading up to the consideration of today's motion, have possibly plucked at the most human emotions ranging from grief and anger to shock, amazement and frustration.

In the early days of this bizarre chronicle of events it was inevitable that conjecture, allied to premises real and imaginary, would play a significant rôle. When, in the language of journalese, the story "broke" and rapidly developed, for those who at some time had worked for or with the right hon. Member in one capacity or another it became a period of anguish and bewilderment. Neither was it an easy period for the Press, which had a duty and responsibility to fulfil. Regrettably, in some instances there was occasional tarnishing of standards, but the issue was fraught with such possibilities. Ultimately, for some of us, a situation had been reached where, in Burke's words
"An event had happened upon which it is difficult to speak and impossible to be silent."
It became necessary not only to show that innuendo and rumour could conceivably and ultimately receive the accolade of truth but that at the time they were merely innuendo and rumour.

Furthermore, there was a history of public endeavour on the part of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North wnich belonged very much to the honourable and credit side of what was being reported. In this connection the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ended serious and distasteful speculation and brought much-deserved comfort to the mother and family of the right hon. Member. There is also marked appreciation for the manner in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has handled this worrying and almost unique situation—with coolness coupled with fairness, and also with determination, patience and throughout with the quality of fair play.

Therefore, I support the motion as the best means for the House to be able to reach a just, honourable and informed determination. I hope that we shall take as our guidelines the words of that great lawyer and advocate of the eighteenth century, John Philpot Currun, who said:
"I know that truth is to be sought only by slow and painful process. I also know that error is in its nature flippant and compendious. It hops with airy and fastidious levity over proofs and arguments—and perches on assertion which it calls conclusion."
I hope that we shall accept the motion because I believe that, whatever the outcome of the examination and the searchings of the Select Committee, in the interests of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North and his constituents and all those who have worked with him and assisted him in the past, his family, and, indeed, for the people of this nation and for the honour of the House of Commons, this is the best way to deal with the situation. I trust that detailed and careful inquiry will ascertain the true situation and that innuendo and rumour will in the end give way to the triumph of truth. I hope that justice may be done in a manner that is honourable, and that in this way the great traditions of the House of Commons will be upheld for our nation and for all the world to see.

4.38 p.m.

It was said by Mr. Speaker at the beginning that this debate was a difficult one. There cannot often have been a more severe understatement, for this debate in many respects goes to the root of the independent position and right of individual Members of the House and of the sovereignty and independence of the House itself.

It is true that in form we are discussing only a motion to set up a Select Committee, but we would be humbugging ourselves if on that ground we pretended that in deciding to do so we were not taking a great decision which, as the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) said, may well create an important precedent.

We should not be considering whether to set up a Select Committee if we did not think that it was in present circumstances within contemplation that the House would wish to take steps in regard to the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse)—to be more blunt about the matter, to take steps which would cause him by the action of the House to cease to be a Member of the House. Therefore, it is the question whether such steps ought to be in contemplation in present circumstances that must underlie the decision of the House on the motion.

Indubitably, this House is the arbiter of the behaviour of its Members as Members of the House. It is the guardian of its privileges not only against the outside world but also where those privileges are in any way damaged and when its respect is in any way insulted by one of its Members. But the privileges of this House and the contempts against which it has the right and duty to protect itself are not something at large. They are privileges and contempts fixed and determined by precedent. We cannot suddenly invent new privileges, nor can we suddenly discover that behaviour which previously was not a contempt to the House has suddenly become a contempt of the House and, as such, censurable and punishable. Like our privileges, like our own existence, the right to defend them depends on precedent.

Whatever may have been the case in earlier centuries, within relevant modern times there is no requirement upon a Member of this House of attendance at the House. It has never within relevant time been considered to be a ground for expulsion from this House that an hon. Member has ceased to attend the House. I know that quotations may be found on this point, that antiquarians may discover instances, where in former centuries the attendance of Members has been required upon penalty. But it would be as proper for us to appeal to those antiquarian data as it would be constitutional for Her Majesty to refuse her Royal Assent to a Bill passed by both Houses on the ground that Queen Anne did so in 1707.

The fact we have before us is that, rightly or wrongly, absence from the House is not a ground for a Member being expelled from this House or ceasing to be a Member of it. It so happens, though I make no special point of it, that another hon. Member in this Parliament has been absent from the service of the House longer than the right hon. Member for Walsall, North. We do well, therefore, to consider what we do, if it is on grounds of absence, however protracted, that it might be in our contemplation to deprive the right hon. Gentleman of his seat.

It might be said that we have a duty in this House to have regard to the relationship between the House and the electorate, to the duties of hon. Members to their constituents. I agree. Of course, it is implicit in the character of a Member of Parliament that he attends the House to represent his constituents, and incidentally, that he takes such steps as may properly render him available to his constituents to know what is their mind. But there is a proper way to reform any abuses which the House may think exist in such a matter. If requirements are to be imposed upon hon. Members in the public interest, in the interest of the principle of representation, they cannot be imposed by an extension of the notion of contempt of this House. They cannot be imposed by the unilateral private action of this Chamber. They can be imposed only by law.

If we think it appropriate that those who are elected to this House should perform, as a condition of belonging to it, certain services to the House and their constituents, let us lay that down, as we lay down other requirements for being Members of this House, in the proper way—by law.

If we do not, the most grotesque results will follow. If we are to cause an hon. Member to cease to be a Member of this House because of his absence, the House will find that it will have to inquire jealously into the circumstances and background of every protracted absence of hon. Members. It would have to know whether the absence was approved by the hon. Member's constituents and whether he had indicated at the election that he intended to be absent. We enter an absolute maze when we attempt in this way to substitute a decision of this House to discipline its own Members for what, if it is right at all, ought to be a matter of law.

It may be said that in this case we are not concerned with simple absence. I do not know what would be the meaning of "simple absence"; for every case of absence is in its way unique. There has been mention of an hon. Member being absent by reason of sickness; but there is sickness and sickness, and there are causes of different kinds which are very difficult to classify and determine. As I was saying, it is said that this case is not only one of absence, however complex and difficult the notion of absence may be if it is to be defined. It is said that the fact of absence is somehow cumulated or aggravated in this case by what are alleged to be the actions and what are to alleged to be the offences of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North.

It has been given as a ground for setting up this Committee that we should determine through a Select Committee what those actions are. If those actions were simply actions which went to the respect of this House, actions which if proved would constitute a contempt of this House, then it would be right and proper that, as with other matters of privilege, they should be investigated and reported upon; for there exists no other authority or court to judge contempts against the House. The moment we permit another court to judge contempt against the House, we become subordinate.

But the nature of these actions—if not all of them, then the most part—is that, if they are as alleged, they are or might be offences against the law of the realm. Here, too, precedent is very clear. I accept that there is a certain penumbra around this to which the right hon. Member for Devon, North referred; but broadly speaking, there are certain offences and circumstances in which, when hon. Members have been duly tried by process of law and convicted, they are removed from membership of this House. However, the relevant condition there is "duly tried and convicted by courts of law". We have no right to say that this is a case in which that is inconvenient, that it is a case in which it does not look as though that will happen or in which we do not see how it can happen, and that therefore this House is justified in breaching one of the most important constitutional barriers.

Of course, there have been times in the past, though they have been evil times for this House, when the House has purported to act as a court of law, to judge offences against the law of the land; but I think it has for long been accepted that the judgment of offences against the law of the land or of actions which might be such offences belongs to the courts and not to this House. That is why it was a cause for great anxiety when the Leader of the House said that it would be the business of the Select Committee not only to advise the House on the right course to take but to "establish the facts". That was underlined when the right hon. Member for Devon, North expressed the hope that the Select Committee would require proof, procedure and evidence "no less strict than in a court of law". For, indeed, the Select Committee would be acting in supersession of a court of law and would be arrogating to this House and to a Committee of this House the function, long wisely forsworn, of determining the facts of a case where those facts bear upon the commission of an offence against the law.

The Leader of the Opposition put before the House the question whether the motion is timely. There may come a time when the setting up of this Select Committee will be appropriate, when it will involve none of the evil precedents which it inevitably brings with it at present. All that I have said about the motion is related to circumstances as they stand.

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the time may arrive, does he not agree that in the context of what he was saying it could only be after the next election?

I do not know when the time may be, or how circumstances may change. What I know, and what I submit to the House, is that in present circumstances to proceed with the motion, knowing what it implies for the course of action in contemplation by the House, is a dangerous incursion upon the rights of individual hon. Members and a dangerous breach of at least two constitutional principles as to the functions of the House.

That is why I appeal to the Leader of the House to take back the motion for the time being, because to persist with it at this time brings with it the risk of creating for the future precedents the consequences of which we cannot foresee, but which could be damaging and even irreversible.

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I make it clear that I do not accept the implications on which he based his speech? I do not accept that there is any implication in the motion or in anything I said in my speech. But I do not see any other way in which a matter which, we must say quite frankly, many people outside regard as a public scandal can be clarified and dealt with.

If the Select Committee were to say everything the right hon. Gentleman has just said, I for one should say that it had put forward substantial arguments why the situation should remain as it is. Therefore, I must make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the allegation that there are implications in the motion that the House will expel this man.

The right hon. Gentleman, in his intervention, has made exactly my point, because he included the words "and dealt with". The whole meaning of the motion is that in certain circumstances as things stand, and upon certain reports from the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Walsall, North would have to be dealt with.

4.54 p.m.

As one of the three Members representing the town of Walsall in the House, I support the setting up of the Select Committee. I hope that the motion will be accepted, because the issue that has arisen in respect of the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) cannot be ignored by the House.

The actions of any hon. Member reflect upon the whole of public life. The great tragedy of the circumstances surrounding the actions of the right hon. Gentleman is that there has been far too much speculation and that far too little evidence has been produced of precisely what has occurred.

Having dealt in "surgery" with many of the right hon. Gentleman's constituents, I know very well that they feel a sense of bewilderment moving through disillusionment towards outrage at what has happened. Their feeling of anger and disillusionment will not go away if the House simply ignores the problems which have arisen because of the right hon. Gentleman's actions. Those constituents have repeatedly told me that they need an active Member of Parliament.

As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has said, it is not a rule of the House that a Member should attend. It is not a rule that he should be a good constituency Member or that he should speak in a certain number of debates. If such criteria had existed, the right hon. Member for Walsall, North could have been argued to have satisfied all of them up until his disappearance.

The point is that the right hon. Gentleman has taken actions which give grave cause for concern. As far as we can ascertain, he has deliberately gone to two widows, Mrs. Markham in my constituency and Mrs. Mildoon in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of Mr. Speaker's injunction at the beginning of the debate is what the hon. Gentleman saying in order?

I see nothing to be gained for the House by reciting what the Press has told us. I hope that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge) will bear in mind Mr. Speaker's words.