House Of Commons
Thursday 13th February 1975
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many detainees have been released from Long Kesh in 1975.
Fifty-three persons have been released from detention since the beginning of 1975, 50 of whom were detained in Maze Prison at the time of their release. Of the 53, I released 38 by executive action and the remainder were released by the Commissioners and the Detention Appeal Tribunal.
Is the Minister satisfied with the rehabilitation system?
Last year, while my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was responsible for all the detailed work, I set up an independent resettlement association. I believe that the work it has done has been a precursor to what I hope we can do under the Gardiner Report, which made certain recommendations.
Does the Secretary of State remember the figures he gave last year about the proportion of released detainees who returned within six weeks to their former criminal activities? I believe that something like one-third of those released went back to terrorism. Has the right hon. Gentleman any assurances to give to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland that that proportion will not be a feature of releases this year?
The vast majority of those released last year were released by the Commissioners and not by me. Even so, this is a judgment I have to make. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will read carefully the statement I have made about releases. There must be a genuine, sustained cessation of violence.
Will my right hon. Friend indicate what his policy will be if the cease-fire continues in the foreseeable future? Does he intend to release detainees, and, if so, at what levels?
I have made it abundantly clear in three statements to the House that if there is a genuine, sustained cessation of violence I can move quickly. If I know that during a cease-fire arms are being moved, that explosives are coming into the Province and that there are knee-cappings, kangaroo courts, and all the other apparatus, that will inhibit what I hope to do. I have to make a balance. It is not easy, but I hope to do it correctly.
Reverting to the rehabilitation of released detainees, can the Secretary of State give the number of detainees who have been helped by the scheme? Will he tell us how much money is available for their rehabilitation and whether any of these men have been successfully employed?
The total grant made to the independent body was £15,000. I do not have the precise number—I can give it to the hon. Gentleman—but many people have been helped to obtain jobs. I regard it in many respects as a pilot scheme on which to work. I hope that we can do more. I should say that in some instances those coming out of the Maze do not wish to be helped.
My right hon. Friend keeps referring to a "genuine, sustained cessation of violence". He seems to believe that he has switched off the violence from the Provisional IRA in relation to the truce. The violence at the moment is emanating from the Loyalist community. If that violence continues, will it mean that no Republican detainees will be released?
Obviously, in the judgment I make I shall take into account where the violence comes from. I do not have the full details. They were coming through as I came to the House. I understand that today a number of Catholics—I put it that way—in Northern Ireland have received Valentine cards and that on the backs of the envelopes were the letters "SWALK", which we all knew of as children. Those letters contained bombs, which have caused injuries to people in Northern Ireland. A bomb has been placed in a Catholic area. Do these people want peace, or do they just want the situation to be perpetuated for ever?
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are the latest unemployment figures for Northern Ireland expressed as a percentage; and how they break down for the areas to the east and west of the Bann.
The latest unemployment figures for Northern Ireland are for 13th January 1975. Total unemployment on that date was 6·7 per cent. (males 8·1 per cent.). Unemployment is measured by employment office areas, some of which straddle the River Bann. The best estimates which can be made are that the area east of the Bann has total unemployment of 4·5 per cent. (males 5·5 per cent.) and the area west of the Bann has a total of 11·9 per cent. (males 14·6 per cent.).
Does not my right hon. Friend think that those disturbingly high figures, especially the shocking disparity between the eastern and western areas of Northern Ireland, will, unless remedied, constitute an ever-present threat to my right hon. and hon. Friends' hard-won peace? Will he take urgent steps to redress this neglect in past years of the area west of the Bann and preferably employ measures of public enterprise?
I thank my hon. Friend. I agree with him that this situation is completely unsatisfactory. In fact, it has existed in North Northern Ireland for a considerable period. I can tell my hon. Friend that, for example, 1,500 training places west of the Bann represent half of the total for the Province in an area containing 30 per cent. of the working population. Enterprise Ulster has helped to create 860 jobs, and the Government are putting a great deal of time, effort, intervention and money into Northern Ireland. I hope that we may have the support of all right hon. and hon Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies for this policy.
I welcome and support the right hon. Gentleman's comments about assistance to the area west of the Bann. However, he has now been responsible for the former Ministry of Commerce for nine months. In that period, has he uncovered any evidence of a policy in the past to direct employment to certain areas of Northern Ireland on the ground of political expediency?
The difficulty of my job in Northern Ireland, especially as regards the employment situation there, has directed my mind to the present and the future and not to an analysis of what happened in the past. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have grappled not only with problems west of the Bann but also with those affecting the shipyards, of IEL, of Coleraine and of many other parts of Northern Ireland. I am concerned about unemployment in Northern Ireland wherever it appears. We want to eradicate it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's intervention in industry in Northern Ireland is to be welcomed and that in his help to IEL, to Hughes Bakery, to Ben Sherman and not least to Harland and Wolff he is pursuing positive Socialist intervention policies? The support they are getting in Northern Ireland makes rather ironical the letters sent by the titular Leader of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland to the newly-elected Leader of the Conservative Party. If they accept Socialist policies, ought they not to consider on which side their bread is buttered?
I should not like to intervene in the events which have been taking place among members of the Conservative Party or to comment on what the Leader of the Unionst Party has raised with the new Leader of the Conservative Party. To deal with these problems, the Leader of the Unionist Party and his colleagues have come consistently to the Government to seek Government aid. The Northern Ireland Finance Corporation, which we hope to tailor into a development corporation, is the forerunner to the new proposals for industry of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. We welcome that.
May we take it, then, that the congratulations of the Prime Minister to the new Leader of the Conservative Party imply wholehearted acceptance by the right hon. Gentleman of the capitalist principle? Does the Minister of State consider that the employment statistics for Northern Ireland, especially west of the Bann, are in any way comparable with or on the same basis as statistics for Great Britain, or is the comparison vitiated by the entirely different conditions prevailing in the Province?
I do not accept that last comment. The Department of Manpower Services is altering the assessment and creating a travel-to-work area record of the situation, which then will bring the compiling of statistics into line with those of the remainder of the United Kingdom. The fact remains, however, that unemployment in Northern Ireland is higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom.As for the Prime Minister's congratulations yesterday to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), that was yesterday and we will wait for what my right hon. Friend has to say in the future. Let me direct this question to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). [HON. MEMBERS: "This is Question Time."] I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want me to ask him this, but I pose the question to the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman, together with his Unionist colleagues, support the Government's intervention policy to save employment in Northern Ireland?
I want a little help from the House. We have devoted 10 minutes to only two Questions.
Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent complaints he has received about the conduct of the RUC involving criminal acts; what investigation he has made of these complaints; what action he has taken; and if he will make a statement.
From 1st August 1974 to 31st January 1975 my right hon. Friend received four complaints alleging criminal acts by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They were passed to the Chief Constable for investigation in accordance with the procedure in Section 13 of the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970, and reports of the investigations have been, or will be, submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of an advertisement which appeared in the Irish News last month, inserted by a Roman Catholic Priest, the Rev. Dennis Fall, in which he listed a number of reasons why the Roman Catholic community should not support the Royal Ulster Constabulary? He made a series of very serious, slanderous remarks against the RUC including one alleging that 4,000 Roman Catholic people had been picked up by the RUC for brutal treatment. He also said that the RUC was employing a black-heat room in Ballykelly and torturing people in it. He went on to assert that the RUC was not responding to the sectarian murders which had taken place in the Portadown, Armagh and Dungannon triangle. Does not the hon. Gentleman think he should answer those very serious charges against the RUC, since they have caused great concern among the rank and file of the RUC?
The advertisement in the newspaper to which the hon. Gentleman referred is without foundation. The RUC has made a very determined effort to hunt down sectarian murderers and has had considerable successes since Christmas. As far as I know, members of the RUC are not the least bit disturbed by advertisements of this kind, and they do not show signs of being so in the future either.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the great difficulties of a political nature which confront us in Northern Ireland, we are not helped by sectarian attitudes between the two communities? Will he agree, further, that any hon. Member of this House who engages in sectarianism is only exacerbating a difficult situation and failing to grapple with the real political problems which are at the root of all the trouble in Northern Ireland?
I agree with those general statements of principle by my hon. Friend.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the RUC is doing a magnificent job in extremely difficult circumstances and that very few other police forces about the world could deal with the situation which it faces in a similar manner?
We have every confidence in the RUC to carry on the policing of the Province under the general arrangements which are made. I might say that at least half of the members of the RUC are new to the constabulary since the trouble started. It is to a large extent a new force compared with the one which existed in 1969.
Eec Development Funds
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what funds have been allocated to Ulster by the European Economic Community for industrial development since the United Kingdom entered that Community; what estimates his Department is able to make of the likely Ulster share of the regional development fund over the next three years; and upon what firm commitments the estimates are based including the formula or agreement for sharing the United Kingdom allocation with the regions of the Kingdom having an entitlement.
Just over £12 million has been paid or committed from Community funds, some £2½ million of which is loan, for purposes broadly related to industrial development in Northern Ireland. As the information is in tabular form I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report. Draft regulations for the Regional Development Fund are under discussion. The Government's aim is fully to utilise the United Kingdom quota according to our regional policy requirements.
Will the Minister say whether the United Kingdom Government have full control over the allocation of funds to Northern Ireland? Further, will he say whether these aids to industrial development in any way prejudice existing Government aids such as fuel subsidies and rate relief for new industry?
These are matters for discussion within the Common Market, but it is the policy of the United Kingdom Government to allocate regional aid in accordance with their priorities and to secure the continuance of our present policies.
When the United Kingdom provincial Parliament debates the distribution of the regional fund, will it not be a slight curiosity that those from the Province of Ulster should be underrepresented when it comes to voting on the actual distribution of the fund?
That is slightly wider than the Question on the Order Paper. If the hon. Gentleman will table a Question to the appropriate Minister, I have no doubt that it will be answered.
Following is the table:
Subventions from EEC funds for purposes related to industrial development in Northern Ireland:
|1. European Social Fund||8·262|
|2. European Farm Fund (FEOGA)||1·278|
|3. Regional studies||0·028|
|4. European Investment Bank (loans)||2·650|
Provisional Sinn Fein (Talks)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the recent discussions which his Department has had with the Provisional Sinn Fein.
I have reported regularly and openly to the House on 14th January, 5th February and also last Tuesday on the actions of myself and my officials.With regard to the incident centres which I announced on Tuesday, I have decided that they will be set up at North Belfast, West Belfast, Armagh, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Londonderry and Newry. I repeat that, if developments occur which seem to threaten the cease-fire, these incident centres will act as a point of contact in either direction with Provisional Sinn Fein, which I de-proscribed last May. This is their sole purpose. They will not take complaints from the public. They will not in any way interfere with the work of elected representatives or of the security forces or of any other organisations.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent, during the discussions which his officials have had with representatives of Sinn Fein, those representatives have accepted that there will be a continuation of the Province of Ulster within one United Kingdom?
The matter has never been discussed. As I reported to the House, we explained Government policy and we discussed practicalities. As I have often said, the future of Northern Ireland is for the people of Northern Ireland. There is to be a Convention later this year.
Is my right hon. Firend aware that the statement which he made to the House on Tuesday is causing a great deal of confusion in Northern Ireland? Does he realise that spokesmen for the Provisional Sinn Fein movement have been taking every opportunity of which they can avail themselves to try to indicate to the people in Northern Ireland that they have been given a responsibility for the policing of the areas in which the centres have been set up? Further, is he aware that my constituents in West Belfast and constituents in other areas of Northern Ireland are bitterly resentful that this should even appear to be so? Will he give, through me, to my constituents an understanding that in any talk about policing or law and order in the areas concerned the elected representatives will be listened to before the Provisional Sinn Fein spokesmen?
I shall always be pleased to meet the Leader of the SDLP to discuss policing. That is a most important matter in Northern Ireland. There is no question of policing being passed on to anyone else. The Army has not withdrawn from the areas in which it is involved and the police have not withdrawn from other areas. I have made the situation clear. I cannot be responsible for statements that are made by anyone else.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Provisional IRA is investigating the incidents in Belfast and passing on information to the security forces? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman as he is the only Secretary of State who has encouraged the police forces of Northern Ireland to take over law and order, but will he assure the House that he will endeavour to involve the police in the areas in which the incident centres have been set up? Does he agree that there is still a long way to go in involving the police?
I have always willingly given support to the police. In general, the security forces are the only bodies responsible for security in Northern Ireland. I must make it clear that anyone who has any information—for example, information concerning today's bombings—is entitled to pass it on to the police. That has nothing to do with the incident centres that I have set up.
Bomb Damage Compensation
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that Government compensation for bomb damage to property is being used for purposes for which it is intended.
Compensation for bomb-damaged property is payable under the Criminal Injuries to Property (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. This provides that any person having an estate or interest in the damaged property who suffers loss from that damage may obtain compensation for his loss. There is no requirement in the Act that the recipient shall apply the compensation for any particular purpose. But all aspects of the administration of the Act are naturally kept under constant review.
Will the Minister confirm or deny recent reports in the Press that under present compensation arrangements for bomb damage the British taxpayer has subsidised the IRA to the tune of £5 million through protection rackets from property owners or through property owners absconding south of the border? If that is true, will he amend the Criminal Injuries to Property (Compensation) Act to stop that scandalous situation?
Obviously I have seen the reports in the Sunday Telegraph, but I have no evidence to confirm those reports. Fraud and extortion are criminal matters which the police will investigate if evidence is given to them. Section 4(1) of the Act reads:
The Act is constantly under review."the amount of compensation may be reduced by such sum as is just and equitable having regard to the general conduct in the circumstances of the person suffering loss, including, in particular, his conduct as respects any precautions which might reasonably be taken by him or on his behalf to avoid loss."
Is my hon. Friend aware that a report was issued on Sunday of last week on this subject which suggested that the family of a person who was the owner of 26 betting shops had received compensation amounting to several thousand pounds arising from the loss of his life and that the compensation given to the wife of a soldier who lost his life at about the same time compared most unfavourably? Has my hon. Friend any comments to make on that disparity?
The Question concerns compensation for property damage. I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to table another Question on the matter he has raised.
Housing Executive (Cottage Sales)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many labourers' cottages in Northern Ireland have been sold to sitting tenants by the Housing Executive; and what was the average price in 1973 and 1974.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive advises that 348 cottages were sold to sitting tenants up to 31st December 1974. The average price was £594 in 1973 and £767 in 1974.
Is the Minister aware that the houses were built more than 50 years ago at a total cost of £150? Does he realise that there were no facilities in them and that facilities were subsequently provided at the expense of the tenants, who have remained virtually the same families throughout? Is he aware that the houses are being offered for sale this year at £3,000? Taking into account all inflationary factors, how can people be convinced that there is nothing wrong when in 1974 they were offered for sale at approximately £700 and they are now being offered for sale at £3,000?
The average figures which I have given cover a wide range. In 1974 prices ranged from £170 in some cases to £2,700 in others. We are ruled by the district valuer's assessment.
Will the Minister seriously consider as a matter of urgency the decision to sell cottages to sitting tenants? Many of the families have lived in the cottages for two or even three generations. They have certainly bought the cottages by now. Many of them would wish to keep the cottages in their families.
That is the position despite the remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Will the Minister please urgently consider this matter?
The Housing Executive has put its review policy to me for a decision. I hope to make a decision upon that policy in the near future.
Is the Minister aware that when the Housing Executive offered these houses to sitting tenants it made the proviso that they must be brought up to proper standards within two years, but that when the sitting tenants said "No, we will continue to be tenants. Will you bring up the houses to the proper standards?" the Housing Executive said "Certainly not"?
The rehabilitation of these houses is a matter of great concern. The Housing Executive has put to me some new proposals which I am considering. I think that in the interim my announcement on 13th January will help in this respect.
Public Ceremonies (Firearms)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what instructions he has given regarding the apprehension of persons unlawfully discharging illegal firearms at public ceremonies in Northern Ireland.
Local commanders must decide what action is appropriate in the circumstances.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if it appears that those who publicly commit criminal offences are not being brought before the courts, that is an invitation to others in other ways to break the law?
I agree, but I feel very strongly about this matter. It is a matter for interpretation by the commander on the ground. He knows the law that he has to interpret and the emotive situation at funerals. When I investigated what happened in Newry, I was told that vehicle check points were put around the town when there was a big funeral to check people carrying arms into the town. No shots were fired over a funeral last year. However, either that night or the following night people came in and fired shots over the grave long after everybody had gone. Most of the funerals have been for the IRA. But there was one in Northern Ireland, at the time Mr. Tommy Heron was buried, when 30,000 people were present, an oration was delivered by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and shots were fired over the coffin. It happens both ways. I understand the situation in Northern Ireland. On that occasion, with 30,000 people present—it was the Protestants on that occasion—it would have been extremely foolish to have gone in with soldiers to try to do something about it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that when a minister of religion is asked to take a funeral service he is not responsible for what happens there? Will he assure the House that on that occasion I immediately dissociated myself from the shots that were fired over the coffin?
I fully understand that. I was trying to show my understanding that ministers of religion are in a peculiar position.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement about the implementation of the report of the Gardiner Committee on civil liberties in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about his attitude to the Gardiner Committee's report on civil liberties, human rights and measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.
I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on 30th January and to what he told the House on 11th February.—[Vol. 885, c. 287–8, Vol. 886, c. 212–13.] The Government are examining the committee's recommendations and the effect on the Emergency Provisions Act and my right hon. Friend will be making a statement in due course giving the Government's views.
Has the Minister noted the powerful criticism of the continuation of special category status for convicted prisoners which is contained in this most valuable report? The special category status was introduced in 1972 in a vain attempt to win a lasting cease-fire. Would it not be right to reconsider the continuation of special category status if the present cease-fire should unhappily break down?
My right hon. Friend will be replying to one of the cardinal points in the Gardiner Report. It was much easier to start than to stop this. One of the major problems that the Government must face, apart from political considerations, is the physical issue of accommodation. We are now dealing with about 1,100 special category status convicted prisoners in Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to take that factor into account.
The Gardiner Committee said that the policy, pursued by both Governments, of holding detainees as political hostages was contrary to social justice. What comments has my right hon. Friend to make on that matter?
We noted what the Gardiner Committee's report stated. The Government will want to consider that matter. But the Gardiner Committee also said that detention was a matter for political decision. My right hon. Friend looks forward to a sustained cessation of violence which will end detention.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his statement on Tuesday about the cease-fire the Secretary of State said that he would sign no more interim custody orders? Does not that mean, or may I make the assumption, that he is disregarding the proposal in the Gardiner Report for revised detention procedures?
My right hon. Friend said that he would not do so if there were a continued, sustained and genuine ceasefire. My right hon. Friend is judging the matter against the current situation. The longer-term views of the Government on the Gardiner Report will depend on the outcome of the current situation.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the more positive proposals in the Gardiner Report relates to the implementation of a Bill of Rights for everyone in Northern Ireland? Is it the Government's intention to try to implement that recommendation as speedily as possible?
The Government will certainly look at that aspect of the report.
Bearing in mind the Gardiner Committee's proposals, the legacy of inadequate prison buildings and the compound system in particular, what is the Minister's view on the assertion that it will be possible to evacuate existing Government premises and start building quickly, possibly within a few days?
One of the problems is obtaining planning permission for creating new accommodation. No Government can ride roughshod over people and land. Inquiries have to be held. The normal procedure must be gone through. Apart from the cost, this logistic problem faces the Government.
Does the Minister agree that this report is of considerable importance in both the short and the long term? Will he urge his right hon. Friend to arrange an early opportunity for this House to debate it?
We will certainly facilitate that suggestion, because we understand the importance of the report, but we would like to have a debate within the context of an improving situation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as the person who was fairly criticised in the Gardiner Report for a decision that I took at the time, but in different circumstances, I accept that criticism? I realise the difficulties facing the right hon. Gentleman in the present situation. However, I should like the House to know that I fully understand the new position and hope that we can debate it and help to achieve a new situation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is only fair to point out that at the time he introduced the special category status my right hon. Friend and I, from the Opposition Front Bench, supported his action because we believed that they were politically necessary. We are now moving into a new situation. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he can now announce the date for the constitutional Convention election.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he can now say on what date he will hold the forthcoming constitutional Convention on the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now announce the date of the Convention election.
The date on which the elections should be held is still being considered. I intend to give about a month's notice of the election.
May we assume that the delay may be due in part to the difficulty of finding and obtaining the services of a chairman for the Convention? If not, may we be given the name of that person in the fairly near future?Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the referendum on the EEC may now take place in June? Does he therefore accept that it would be desirable to separate the two polls as widely as possible?
I had no problem in finding an excellent Ulsterman to be chairman and shall announce his name shortly. I am aware of the problem of time and am also aware that the new register comes into force at the end of this month. I shall announce the date of the election at the appropriate time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the new register will be published within the next two or three days? Is he further aware that at present there is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland which should be filled as soon as possible since it is necessary to know who is speaking for Northern Ireland? Is it not vital that the Convention elections should be held at the earliest opportunity?
I have not noticed any political vacuum in Northern Ireland. There may be a vacuum in the sense that I have not announced the date of the convention. I shall announce it at the appropriate time and give a short period of notice, because I shall have to publish the order which will dissolve the Assembly. Indeed, I shall publish two orders. I am aware of my responsibilities.
If the Secretary of State cannot announce the date—and we understand his difficulties—will he at least announce a deadline?
I can get plenty of deadlines in Northern Ireland without bringing in one myself.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many houses are blocked up in the Belfast area; and what plans are in hand to recover these and make them habitable.
There are about 3,000 blocked-up houses in the Belfast area outside current or proposed redevelopment areas. The Housing Executive has already taken steps to bring some of its own houses back into use and has further rehabilitation schemes in hand.However, the major part of the problem lies in the areas of older housing owned by private landlords or owner-occupiers. The Housing Executive is considering acquiring the blocked-up houses in two carefully selected pilot areas with a view to repairing and letting them. In addition, the executive is purchasing blocked-up and empty houses for families on the emergency housing list or families displaced from redevelopment areas which it cannot otherwise rehouse.
Is the Minister aware that the figure he has given is not very acceptable to groups which have taken this problem as seriously as he has done and which estimate that there are about 8,000 blocked-up houses? Will he also accept that these houses depreciate the value of nearby property?
I mentioned a figure of 3,000 houses in proposed redevelopment areas. There are a further 6,400 dwellings which have been closed in these areas under the housing and planning legislation. I do not accept the situation and would like to see every house inhabited. I am not a proud chap, and if the Opposition will back me in future housing legislation I shall take over these dwellings in order to rehouse people.
Are these houses subject to Government compensation? Will my hon. Friend say how much compensation has been paid as a whole for each year from 1969 to the present day?
My hon. Friend is referring to compensation of a different kind. I shall write to him giving the figures for which he asks.
Firearm Certificate Fees
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will reduce the proposed new level of firearm certificate fees.
Is the Minister aware that the recent increase has multiplied fivefold the cost of these fees—in some cases from £1 to £5 and in other cases from £2 to £10? Is he further aware that this step has changed the licensing system from one which was formerly based on merit and need to a system based entirely on the ability of one's bank account to afford a licence?
I would not go so far as to agree with the hon. Gentleman that the purchase of a firearms certificate depends on the size of one's bank account. The object of the increased licence fee is to cover the substantially increased administrative costs arising from the investigations carried out by the RUC into firearm permits and licences.
Ben Sherman Shirt Company
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Ben Sherman Shirt Company and what financial aid it is receiving from the Government.
Last November the Ben Sherman group, which employs about 600 people in the Londonderry area, told the Government that it could not continue without financial help. As closure would have doubled the number of women unemployed in Londonderry, it was decided to support the group temporarily through extra-statutory payments.The Department is now seeking to acquire the assets of the group so that a new company financed wholly by the Government can carry on. Negotiations have been prolonged for legal reasons. Assistance to date has cost about £350,000; it cannot continue indefinitely. In any case, if the company is to be made viable it can only be on a reduced scale; two of the four factories will have to close.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Ben Sherman Shirt Company is using British taxpayers' money to produce a shirt which costs £1·80 and is forcing competitors in Northern Ireland out of business? Is he also aware that the shirts are selling in Liverpool at £1·20 and that on 160,000 shirts there is a net loss of £100,000? Does he agree that there should be a Government representative on the board of the company?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman on the last point that the Government will have full control of the company when we have the assets. As for the unfair competition instanced by the hon. Gentleman, on which he brought a deputation to meet me, I can assure him that the matter is being looked into and I shall write to him.
Press (Royal Commission)
asked the Prime Minister what further progress he is making with regard to preparing and submitting his evidence to the Royal Commission on the Press.
asked the Prime Minister what further progress he has made in the preparation of his evidence for the Royal Commission on the Press.
In the absence of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Moscow for talks with Soviet leaders, I have been asked to reply.I have nothing to add to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) on 16th January.
That reply comes as no surprise to me, but it is now five months since the Prime Minister made serious allegations against the Press. How does the Lord President of the Council justify the Prime Minister's continued failure to substantiate those accusations?
My right hon. Friend will submit his evidence to the Royal Commission. He is still awaiting some information, as he told the hon. Gentleman previously. As soon as the information is to hand, he will submit his evidence.
On a more serious note, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, since a considerable amount of time has already elapsed, perhaps there is a case for an interim report from the Royal Commission, possibly in September? Will he also convey our good wishes to the new Chairman of the Commission?
I am delighted that Professor MacGregor has taken over the job. There is nothing to prevent the Royal Commission from submitting an interim report if it wishes to do so.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a ministerial broadcast.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a ministerial broadcast.
asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to make a ministerial broadcast.
I have been asked to reply.My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.
While welcoming the Chancellor's blunt but belated warning the day before yesterday that wage awards in excess of the social contract would inevitably lead to mass unemployment, would it not be better for the Prime Minister to take over the necessary rôle of Cassandra-in-chief in order to leave the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the full-time task which has been assigned to him—namely, that of curbing the activities of the Secretary of State for Industry?
My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister have given purely objective views about the state of the economy and the danger of over-large wage claims. Therefore, there is no question of anybody dodging these issues.
Will my right hon. Friend ask the Prime Minister in any broadcast he makes to stress the savage and deleterious effect on British industry, particularly in the North London area, caused by the activities of notorious asset-strippers whose behaviour a few years ago caused much more damage to the British economy than is likely to result from any form of trade union activity?
My hon. Friend is quite right. There are many factors in our present difficult economic situation, and wage claims are only one of many. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken of this more than once recently.
If the Prime Minister does make a broadcast, would it be a good idea if he explained how it is that, although during the election he grandly claimed that Britain was top of the inflation league, figures published yesterday by the OECD showed that Britain last month had the highest rate of inflation among the OECD countries and that in Britain, alone among these countries, inflation was accelerating? Surely the Leader of the House, as one of our chief economic thinkers, must have an explanation for this change.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would pay tribute to the fact also that Britain is bottom of the unemployment league among the developed countries. [Interruption.] Indeed we are. The Government's task is to control inflation without causing unemployment.
Although the Prime Minister has no plans at present for a ministerial broadcast, will the Lord President confirm that he will presumably make such a broadcast when the Government have decided what recommendation to make to the people on the European referendum? If so, will the Prime Minister in that broadcast say what percentage of the population of Britain would be sufficient in the Government's view to commit the Government to taking us out of the Common Market?
I have already discussed the first point with the hon. Gentleman and many other right hon. and hon. Members. That would be a most appropriate subject for a ministerial broadcast; but this is for consideration. The White Paper which I hope to publish in about two weeks will deal with the hon. Member's second point.
Returning to the procedure for a ministerial broadcast, can my right hon. Friend ascertain from the broadcasting organisations whether broadcasts containing the statutory right of reply of the Leader of the Opposition can in future be recorded or transmitted in the Carlton Club?
asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to make arrangements with the Prime Minister of France to make an official visit to the New Hebrides.
I have been asked to reply.No, Sir. My right hon. Friend sees no need for such a visit. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited the New Hebrides last month at the same time as the French Minister concerned with the territory.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) gained conspicuous success in negotiations and co-operation with the French in this British and French condominium? Does he agree that equal success is required in persuading the French to join the International Energy Agency? Irrespective of any membership of the EEC, is it not a fact that Britain can co-operate in many international agencies of this sort to gain many of the world-wide advantages that international action can bring?
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said in the first part of his question. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State achieved a great deal of success. I understand that the first elections for a representative assembly will be held next year. There is, therefore, real constitutional advance in the New Hebrides. I will put the second point to my right hon. Friend.
On the subject of the recent visit to the New Hebrides, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is much good will in that country for the initiative that Her Majesty's Government have taken? Will he ensure that this is maintained in close co-operation with the French Government?
Certainly. Again, I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. This is a success story which is not generally known. There has been a second meeting in London since then between my hon. Friend and her French counterpart. I hope that this process will go on and that there will be real advance towards self-government.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we greatly welcome the progress that his hon. Friend made on her visit? In the course of her conversations with the French, will she bear in mind that the New Hebrides, alone of the territories of the earth, is not entitled to any nationality of its own? Will he consider this point?
This is one of the aspects of the problem being discussed. It is hoped that a basis for a distinctive New Hebrides nationality can be worked out.
asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Ministers respossible for carrying out Government responsibilities in regard to industrial development.
I have been asked to reply.Yes, Sir.
Will my Friend confirm—[HON. MEMBERS: "Right hon. Friend."] Will my Friend confirm that the Government's interpretation of full employment is a figure less than that at which it now stands? If that is so, will he also confirm that it is absolutely essential that we now get right the allocation of all the resources we have for industrial investment? That being the case, will he further confirm the inadequacy of the 1972 Act and the fact that we are not likely to get the Industry Bill through in the next seven or eight months? If that is so, is not now the time to bring together emergency measures in the Cabinet so that we can start now to allocate all the resources we have to the maintenance of full employment?
Certainly. I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The question of industrial investment is worrying and very important. This is why, in his measures last month, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made available £1,800 million more for industry in 1975. This is the basis for the new and justified confidence in industry, which is reflected on the Stock Exchange—[Interruption.] I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that. Secondly, the Bill for the establishment of the National Enterprise Board, which will make a great deal of money available to industry, is now before the House. This again will contribute enormously to the whole range of investment.
Order. Could we have those tributes at the end of Questions?
I should like to congratulate you, Mr. Speaker, on your great discernment—
Order. Could that, too, be done at the end of Questions?
Not everyone would have discerned a tribute in that cackle from Labour Members.Will the right hon. Gentleman accept the respectful congratulations of this side of the House on the way in which he believes everything his colleagues tell him, founded or unfounded?
Perhaps I could congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on surviving to fight another day. I selected the criterion for the returning confidence which I thought the right hon. Gentleman would have accepted. There are others, of course. Perhaps I could add a third point to the two I put to my hon. Friend—that is, the money available through Finance for Industry. So there is £1·8 billion made available by the Chancellor, there is the National Enterprise Board legislation before the House and there is a large amount in Finance for Industry. Those are the causes for the returning confidence of industry.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that certain industries, particularly textiles and footwear, are now particularly susceptible to imports? Will he draw to the attention of his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and the Foreign Secretary the need for an early decision on the imposition of import quotas?
I discussed this with my right hon. Friend after I was last asked about it, I think last week. Certainly this matter is concerning the Government a great deal at present.
Quite apart from the overwhelming confidence in the Government's industrial policies so well displayed in the investment figures just published, will the right hon. Gentleman seriously consider the question of industrial development certificates, which undoubtedly is holding up a great deal of investment? Whatever the Government may say, whether it be this or another Government, the fact is that industry will move only where it wants to move. Can the right hon. Gentleman look seriously at the whole question of industrial development certificates, which is holding up, especially in the West Midlands, desirable industrial development?
This is certainly an important point, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember that we adjusted the criterion for the grant of industrial development certificates on 1st September last year. This has helped a great deal. In this matter we have to hold a balance between the desire of industry to move where it wishes and the important aspect of regional policy to correct the imbalances in our economy.
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me the assurance that he has more than 11 supporters on the Government side of the House? At the same time, will he reassure those of us who represent constituencies in the Northern Region, where unemployment is consistently far higher than it is in any other part of Great Britain, apart from Northern Ireland, that he will not relax or see his right hon. Friends relax such things as industrial development certificates or suppress his efforts to promote the National Enterprise Board and other aspects of Government policy which will help to develop industry in the region which we represent?
I quite agree with my hon. Friend. Being the Member for a constituency adjacent to his, I am not likely to forget the matters he raises. But certainly the fight against unemployment is our major preoccupation in 1975, together with controlling inflation.
Railway Signalmen (Dispute)
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a further statement on the disruption to the services of British Rail as a result of the signalmen's dispute.
Rail services in some parts of the country are again being seriously disrupted by a 24-hour unofficial strike by some signalmen. The areas mainly affected are the lines into Liverpool Street, Fenchurch Street and Waterloo Stations, the south-east section of Southern Region, the Cambridge and Swindon areas, and the West Midlands. I understand that about 130 signal boxes out of some 2,500 on the railway system are affected.The signalmen involved are reported to be seeking a 15 per cent. increase in pay through a "responsibility allowance" in addition to the improvements they obtained under the major restructuring agreement last year for all railway workers. Following the report of a joint working party between British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen, the NUR executive agreed earlier this week to the reclassification of some 1,800 signal boxes. This will result in pay increases of between £2·95 and £5·35 for about 1,350 signalmen. In addition, some 850 signalmen will benefit from a doubling in "isolation allowances'. I understand, moreover, that negotiations are to begin tomorrow between British Rail and all three railway unions on a new annual settlement to be implemented on 1st May when the present arrangement expires. The strike is wholly unofficial. The National Union of Railwaymen has deplored the action being taken and has urged the men to work normally. In all these circumstances I hope that the House will once again join with me in urging the men involved to resume normal working and bring to an end the disruption, hardship and inconvenience they are causing.
Is it not clear, however, that this action, long experienced by the commuters on Eastern Region, is now escalating in total disregard of the convenience of the travelling public? Is the Secretary of State wholly satisfied that British Rail and the NUR have taken as decisive action as was possible, remembering that this dispute relates back to the beginning of October? Finally, if he is not satisfied that British Rail and the NUR can, together or separately, bring this dispute to an end, does he not have a clear duty to the House and the country to appoint an independent inquiry, perhaps under the auspices of his conciliation machinery, so that the men can put their case and, hopefully, an end can be brought to the inconvenience being suffered?
Certainly I agree with anything that the hon. Gentleman says about the distress, hardship and inconvenience caused by this action to people travelling. That is why I urge most strongly that it should be called off. I certainly believe that British Rail and the NUR have done their best to deal with the whole situation. I do not think that it would be advisable to set up an independent inquiry, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. So far from such an inquiry leading to a settlement of the matter, it could only intensify the difficulties on the railways. I believe that the only course open to the House is to appeal to the signalmen to call off this action. It is the only way in which it can be settled.
One appreciates my right hon. Friend's statement and, indeed, all the work that he has put in over the last few months on the dispute, which has been of critical concern to those of us who have constituencies in the area affected. Perhaps my right hon. Friend might like to think in terms of the suggestion of an independent inquiry, but not necessarily on a round-table basis with all the parties concerned. Will he not give some thought to the possibility of individual meetings taking place with the parties and possibly, if it were not possible for Jim Mortimer to do it, certainly someone acting as an honest broker? We want to see this matter brought to an end at the earliest possible moment.
I certainly want to see this matter brought to an end at the earliest possible moment. But I say to my hon. Friend, as I have said to others, that I do not believe that this is a case in which the Conciliation and Arbitration Service could successfully or properly intervene. I do not believe that this is the way in which we should go about it, precisely because we would thereby run the danger of reopening the whole of the restructuring arrangements that we have made which were agreed by all the three unions involved in the industry. That could lead to much greater difficulties. I do urge the House to recognise that the course that some people recommend—not my hon. Friend, but others—has great dangers. I urge the House most strongly to support what I am saying in urging the signalmen to call off their action. This is the only way that this can be dealt with.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the hundreds of commuters from my constituency have long since lost patience owing to the troubles on the Liverpool Street line? We all appreciate the delicacy of this matter, but can he assure the House that if these talks do not bring a promise of settlement shortly, he himself will stop doing virtually nothing and take some constructive initiative in the interests of the travelling public? [Interruption.]
It may be easy to raise a few occasional cheers by putting a question of that character. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that we have examined the matter with the utmost care and that we believe that in a situation such as this, if the Government were to intervene, as the hon. Gentleman and others have suggested, we would run the risk of reopening much greater difficulties. The House must recognise that this is a dispute which cannot be settled by the means that some hon. Members recommend.
Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government as a whole pay special regard to the hardships endured by rural dwellers? First their buses are cut, then their petrol prices are doubled, and now they cannot travel by train either. Does not this add additional force to the very reasonable case for differential petrol pricing?
The question of differential petrol pricing is a separate matter altogether. But, of course, I understand and appreciate, as I am sure do all hon. Members, the distress which is caused by this action. What I am seeking to do is to find the best method of settling the matter. I do not believe that intervention in the way proposed could have the desired effect. I think it would have the opposite effect and would cause much greater disruption on the railways.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although this is a very complicated situation, nevertheless the signalmen are doing grave damage not only to themselves but to the established procedures clearly laid down and, therefore, doing grave harm to my constituents and others nearby? Does he agree that the only answer to the dispute is for the signalmen to come back into the procedure and back to normal working?
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. The last restructuring agreement, which was accepted by all three trade unions in- volved, was a great advance for the overwhelming majority of railwaymen, including the signalmen, and for us to talk of reopening that settlement would have the very opposite effect. In any case, the best course for the signalmen is to use the democratic machinery of their union in order to raise their case. Already fresh arrangements have been made by the NUR, agreed this week, in the interests of signalmen and others. I believe that when that fact becomes properly known, perhaps that will also help to lead fewer signalmen to engage in this activity.
Will the Secretary of State get his figures up to date? Is he not aware that it is now anticipated that no trains will leave London this evening? Will he not roundly condemn the attitude of the signalmen in view of the extreme hardship which will be caused to many people who have come up to London today but will be unable to get home tonight?
I do not think there has been any hesitation on my part to condemn the action of the signalmen. I should have thought that everyone would have understood what I said about their action on this and on previous occasions. I condemn it as strongly as I can. The signalmen are doing an injury to themselves as well as to others.My figures indicate that about 500 signalmen out of a total of 9,000 are involved. I accept that the up-to-date figures might be slightly different, but I do not think the overall proportion is much changed. The figures illustrate that the overwhelming majority of signalmen are opposed to this action.
Does the Secretary of State realise that hundreds of thousands of commuters have been denied their right to get to work over a three-month period, and that condemnation of the signalmen's action is not enough? Does he realise that the assurances that he has given about action by British Rail management and the NUR are precisely the assurances that he was giving in December and January? Will he now stir himself and give the House a definite assurance that if these new negotiations break down he will intervene with the Conciliation and Arbitration Service with which Parliament has equipped him?
The hon. Member is mistaken about what I said on the previous occasion. I did not give assurances. I made the same appeal then as I am making now, that the men should call off their action. I said on the previous occasion that British Rail and the NUR were engaged in reclassification of some of the signal boxes and that I expected they would soon be able to make an announcement. In my answer I said that British Rail and the NUR had carried out that reclassification and had made an announcement about it.It is no good the hon. Member suggesting that British Rail and the NUR have not taken any action since the last discussion on this matter in the House. I repeat to the hon. Member that the House is greatly mistaken if it thinks that this dispute can be settled by an independent inquiry or by Government intervention. That course of action would disrupt procedures in the railway industry. Hon. Members may recall that there have been occasions on the railways when, for other reasons, the unions have been officially engaged in strike action. If we were to take the action recommended by some Conservative Members we should be courting those difficulties. I therefore urge the House, whatever criticisms it may wish to make of me, to accept that the dispute can be settled only if the signalmen go back to work.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has the support of management and the unions in the railway industry for his sensible attitude? Will he join me in condemning the hypocrisy of some Conservatives who enjoyed dismembering the railway system under Dr. Beeching with total disregard for the needs of the travelling public? Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that the benefits for all signalmen under the recent agreement concluded between the NUR and British Rail are as widely publicised as possible? That would be far better than the Press being full of nonsense from a 75-year-old pensioner who has not worked on the railways in the last decade?
I will not yield to the temptation held out to me by my hon. Friend to comment on Conservative Members. I always seek to keep the temperature as low as possible, but I am strongly in favour of the reclassification agreement receiving the greatest publicity. I hope also that in deciding whether to call off their action, which is causing deep distress to large numbers of people, the small number of signalmen engaged in this action will take into account that fresh wage negotiations are now being initiated.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition are glad that he is trying to keep the temperature low, because it seemed from his previous answer that he was trying to zip things up a bit? Many of my hon. Friends who have raised this matter feel very strongly about what is happening to their constituents and are, therefore, quite right to raise the issue and get angry about it. On the other hand, as the right hon. Gentleman has also said, there are very strong reasons why the House is not the best place to settle issues of this nature. I therefore agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that score, but I take very strongly the view expressed by my hon. and right hon. Friends that this matter must be raised in the interests of their constituents, and their condemnation of the signalmen is absolutely right.
I have not complained in any sense about hon. Members raising this matter in the House of Commons. I would have no right to complain on that score, and that is why I have not done so.
Order. We must move on to the Business Statement.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I make it clear for the record that the lack of intervention on the question of the rail dispute on behalf of those many commuters resident in Hertfordshire has not been due to any lack of desire to intervene on the part of the hon. Members concerned but was because you, in the undoubted exercise of your discretion, have seen fit not to call any hon. Member representing the area?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's point could equally well be made by many hon. Members from other areas who are just as concerned about this issue. If I were to call every hon. Member whose constituency is affected by the dispute my job would be made impossible. I have to do the best I can for the various areas.
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House to announce the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 17TH FEBRUARY AND TUESDAY 18TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Industry Bill. At the end on Tuesday, motion on the Financial Assistance for Industry (Increase of Limit) Order 1975. WEDNESDAY 19TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill. Remaining stages of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. THURSDAY 20TH FEBRUARY—Second Reading of the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill. Motion on EEC documents on milk (COM(71)64 and COM(71)1012). FRIDAY 21ST FEBRUARY—Private Members' Bills. MONDAY 24TH FEBRUARY—Debate on Broadcasting the Proceedings of the House.
May I raise two subjects with the Leader of the House? First, on the debate on the broadcasting of our proceedings, will there be two motions, one on sound and one on television, and shall we have the chance to vote separately? Will the right hon. Gentleman give some information on the demonstration he is arranging in advance of the debate?On the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill, may we be told why the name of the Secretary of State for Industry is not on the back of the Bill, bearing in mind the asurances that the right hon. Gentleman gave earlier last year that led to some people losing their money as a result of the Court Line collapse?
On the right hon. Lady's first point, yes, I think that this is the general wish of the House, and I gave assurances to that effect some time ago. There will be two motions, and the House will be able to vote for radio, for television, for both or for neither. I hope to arrange the demonstration on Thursday next week, possibly repeated on Monday, in one of the Committee rooms.On the right hon. Lady's final point, my right hon. Friend's name is not on the Bill because he is not the Minister who is responsible for it.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us represent constituencies connected with the car industry have constituents who have not worked more than two or three days a week since the beginning of the year, and that their prospects do not look very bright? May we please have a debate in the very near future on the employment situation, particularly in the car industry?
I cannot offer a debate in the near future, but there will be an opportunity for a long debate on the economic situation on the Budget before very long.
Reverting to what the right hon. Gentleman said about demonstrations in a Committee room next week, may I ask him to note that the idea refers merely to a demonstration of television equipment? Will he include a repeat of a listening demonstration of the radio experiment conducted by the House some years ago, because many hon. Members have entered the House since then and it is only right that they should be given a chance to hear those programmes?
There is always a danger that the tapes have been destroyed—[Interruption.]—but I shall certainly look into the possibility. I do not know where the tapes are, or who has them.
In view of disturbing rumours that the cost of the car park in New Palace Yard is greatly in excess of the original estimate, and as there seems to be no activity, or very little activity, going on in connection with the resurfacing of New Palace Yard, may we have a report from the Services Committee at the earliest possible moment on what is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs?
I was wondering about the activity, or lack of it, myself. I shall look into the matter and see what is happening.
How many days is the right hon. Gentleman planning for the Report stage of the Finance Bill? Will it be six or five? Is he aware that already more than 1,000 amendments to the Bill have been tabled, and that Ministers are clearly incapable of answering the many questions being put to them in Committee? If the Bill is not to go down in history as the worst Finance Act ever thought up by the Labour Party, it will need very full discussion on Report to try to put it right.
I think that it will go down as one of the great Finance Acts of all time. We are planning to give five days.
Has my right hon. Friend given any further consideration to the necessity to allow the House an opportunity to discuss foreign affairs? Does he not agree that when that opportunity is eventually found it will be desirable, in view of the delay in finding it, to have a two-day debate so that all the subjects which hon. Members will wish to discuss may be raised?
I cannot promise two days, but I undertake to find one day for a debate on foreign affairs before Easter.
The Leader of the House will be aware that this week will have witnessed three extremely important meetings of the Council of Ministers in Brussels. Can he assure the House that statements made in respect of those meetings will allow the meetings to be separately discussed? The issues involved in the meetings of the Agricultural Ministers, Foreign Ministers and Energy Ministers can hardly be comprised within a single statement.
I shall consider that. There is to be a statement next week on agricultural policy. I shall examine the other points as well.
As we are to have a two-day debate on the Industry Bill on Monday and Tuesday, will my right hon. Friend consider limiting the number of Front Bench spokesmen to two, one to open the debate and one to wind up on Tuesday night, to enable more back benchers to take part in this important debate?
Following the comments made after the devolution debate, I suggest that we try an innovation this time, with the agreement of the Opposition, and have only two Front Bench speakers in the whole two-day debate, one to open and one to wind up.
May I intervene with a respectful suggestion from the Chair that the possibility of an extra hour for a debate on the first day should not be ruled out?
Has the Leader of the House had his attention called to Early Day Motion No. 139, relating to firearms control in Northern Ireland, which has been signed by a number of hon. Members?[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Firearm Certificates and Permits (Variations of Fees) Order (Northern Ireland) 1974 (S.R. & O. (N.I.), 1974, No. 301), dated 29th November 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be annulled.] Can the right hon. Gentleman find time for a debate on the motion? Apart from the fact that a number of hon. Members have signed it, it is almost unique in that the fees have been multiplied by five although it is less than five years since the previous level was arrived at. That demands the attention of the House.
I shall consider that. It might be an apropriate subject to discuss in the Northern Ireland Committee. I shall communicate with the hon. Gentleman.
Will my right hon. Friend have discussions through the usual channels to expedite the passage of the Industry Bill as there are to be Bills to set up a Welsh Development Agency and a Scottish Development Agency, and in those areas we do not want them to be delayed?
I do not think that that legislation will be delayed in any way. The Bills are not quite ready. They have not been introduced, but the other Bill is before the House now. There is no question of the first Industry Bill holding up the other two.
Order. May I clarify my intervention on the question of the Industry Bill. I was suggesting that the usual channels should not rule out the possibility of the debate on the first day continuing until 11 o'clock, because it is very difficult for the Chair to call every hon. Member who wants to speak in a debate of that sort. An extra hour on the first day might be a considerable help.
I believe that it is also an innovation for the Chair to intervene at Business Question time. I shall certainly consider that point.
After all, I am not altogether unconnected with the business of the House.
Will the Leader of the House reconsider the words he used a few weeks ago about a statement or short debate on the whole problem of dumping which is now occurring in large sectors of industry and is having a grave effect on employment? May we have a statement by the Minister concerned or a short debate on the Government's attitude to the problem?
I shall examine that question, and let the right hon. Gentleman know. He has a good point here.
What opportunities will the House have to discuss in detail the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the Civil List?
The order can be prayed against. I understand that a Prayer has been tabled, and I am prepared to find time for it. There will be 40 days in which to pray. There is no opportunity for debate next week, but I shall try to find time in the following week. The House will wish to debate the matter.
As the Secretary of State for Energy desribed his important statement of 9th December as an interim statement, may we be assured, so that we may know what the energy saving has been so far, and so that we may hear the plans that the right hon. Gentleman no doubt has for the future, that we shall have another statement from the Secretary of State in the very near future?
I do not know about the very near future, but I shall pass on the right hon. Gentleman's point to my right hon. Friend. There will be a statement eventually on the rest of the package.
Since the Government are most concerned about the problems facing the textile industry, as my right hon. Friend has confirmed again this afternoon, when will he be able to provide time to discuss the problems of the industry, particularly those of short-time working and imports, which are posing a severe challenge to the British industry?
I have already said twice this afternoon that I am aware of this point, that I have a great deal of sympathy with it, and that I will see what can be done about it. The Government have taken action recently in respect of two other countries, but my hon. Friend and his colleagues have real worries, and I will see what can be done.
With reference to small businesses, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on 6th December the House carried a resolution that the Government should urgently
May we expect progress on the matter? May we look forward to a statement next week?"consider measures necessary for the encouragement of individual enterprise and initiative."?
I am sure that those are the motives which guide the Government in all their consideration of industrial matters, but I shall examine the matter, consult my right hon. Friends about it and see what can be done.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving time to debate Early Day Motion No. 251 on the Business Rents Decontrol Order?[That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Counter-Inflation (Business Rents) (Decontrol) Order 1975 (S.I., 1975, No. 21), dated 12th January 1975, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13th January, be annulled.] I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) about providing time to debate the order relating to the Civil List. As a matter of great urgency, I request my right hon. Friend to give time to debate the deteriorating position of the textile industry, both cotton and woollen, which, in the West Riding in particular, now faces severe problems caused by cheap imports from developing countries.
I have already replied on the last point raised by my hon. Friend. I know that he has worries about the situation in his own constituency, and I assure him that I shall bear it in mind.I cannot, of course, give an undertaking that I can find time to debate every Prayer that is put down. That would be an impossible commitment. I have to judge whether it is the general wish of the House that a Prayer should be debated, and I will look carefully at the Prayer relating to the Civil List to see whether such a general wish exists. I cannot go further than that today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and I two weeks ago raised with the right hon. Gentleman the important question of the shares in Burmah Oil. The right hon. Gentleman said then that he would consult the Secretary of State for Energy with a view to a statement being made. This matter affects the position of many thousands of small shareholders. Will the right hon. Gentleman take account of that and arrange for a statement by the Secretary of State, perhaps next week?
I consulted my right hon. Friend and I will mention it to him again.
What measures does the right hon. Gentleman propose in view of the resounding and humiliating defeat suffered by the Government this morning in the Scottish Standing Committee, bearing in mind that the defeat was on one of the principles of the Bill?
I must confess that this is the first I have heard of the matter. I will look into it and consider what the Government should propose in view of that resounding defeat in Committee.
My right hon. Friend is aware of the great concern among hon. Members at the heavy concentration of unemployment in the regions and the unacceptably high level of unemployment on Merseyside. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) last week, my right hon. Friend said that he would look into the possibility of arranging regional debates on unemployment. Has he done so? If so, what are his conclusions? Are we to have debates on the regions?
I have been looking into the problem but have not yet concluded my examination. I believe that there is a case for innovation and having some mechanism for debating regional matters. But it is difficult to see how the House can find the time if the Opposition will not find time. I have always considered regional problems to be a worthy subject for Supply Day debates. When in Opposition, we divided many Supply Days into half-days on regional matters. It is an appropriate subject for Supply Day debates. There is a case for looking into the matter to see whether we can devise some means of debating regional matters.
Early Day Motion No. 236 proposes the setting up of a Select Committee on agriculture. What do the Government intend to do about it? Agriculture has many short-term and long-term problems, and the setting up of a Select Committee on agriculture would go a long way towards helping the industry to regain some of the confidence lost under the Socialist Government?
[ That, in view of the present problems facing the agricultural industry, of the need to study and make suitable proposals to improve the Common Agricultural Policy, and of the need to expand agricultural production, to ease balance of payments problems and to consider the detailed regulations on agricultural matters issuing from Brussels, the Government should now move to appoint a standing Select Committee on Agriculture.]
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will be making a statement on agriculture. Although the hon. Gentleman's proposal would not be paticularly relevant to that statement, it might be in order, if you would allow it, Mr. Speaker, for him to put that question to my right hon. Friend.
Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) about an early debate on the car industry? Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration that the problems of the industry stretch into the London boroughs of Ealing and Hillingdon, where there is great concern in many subsidiary and related companies about the present organisation of the industry? The whole matter is causing great concern and anxiety.
I well understand the anxiety, but I cannot find time in the House for a debate in the near future. We fought the election on a very big programme. We have an enormous legislative programme, and it is extremely urgent, in the interests of the economy, to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible. In addition, we have the problems of EEC legislation and of direct rule in Northern Ireland, which complicate matters on the Floor of the House. I think that a debate on the car industry is the kind of thing that might be debated in a regional context.
First, I acknowledge the granting by the right hon. Gentleman of five days for the Report stage of the Finance Bill. The sufficiency of that time will depend upon the extent to which the Treasury Ministers have been able to master the almost non-existent arguments in favour of the horrors which they have planned.Secondly, may I revert to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition? The Secretary of State for Industry may not be responsible for the Air Travel Reserve Fund Bill, but it was his irresponsibility which caused it. Will the Leader of the House bear that point in mind? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman make sure that the Minister of Agriculture responds to the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) and includes in his statement on Monday a reference to the question of eggs? The import of French eggs is having a disastrous effect upon our own egg producers. Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the news which my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) brought him? I am sorry that news takes so long to reach him.
I have forgotten the first point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
The Finance Bill.
My memory is directly related to the importance of the subject. My right hon. and hon. Friends the Treasury Ministers are putting up a masterly performance in Committee and will repeat it on Report.On the second point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I can only reply that if irresponsibility were one of the criteria for names on a Bill his name would be on a great many more Bills than has been the case so far.
Will my right hon. Friend try to find time to debate the HS 146 aircraft proposition, which will have a great deal to do with the future success or failure of the aircraft manufacturing industry?
I realise the importance of the matter and I will look into it.I apologise to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) for not replying to the last point he raised. I imagine that the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will deal with the question of eggs.
Order. I think that this matter must be clarified between the two right hon. Gentlemen themselves.
Will the right hon. Gentleman have a fundamental reconsideration of the Government's legislative programme so that we can have the long-delayed debate on the Finer Report on one-parent families for which we have been asking for a long time? Will he also arrange for a statement on Cyprus to be made tomorrow if the situation warrants it?
I cannot guarantee that there will be a statement on Cyprus tomorrow. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is away, but the Minister of State is watching the situation carefully.I have discussed the question of the Finer Report with the hon. Gentleman. I think that there should be a debate on it, and once the legislative programme is further advanced I hope it will be possible to find some time for one.
Did the right hon. Gentleman observe, from the questions put to the Secretary of State for Employment, that there is genuine and widespread concern about the Secretary of State's complete failure to deal with the problem of the unofficial strike of signalmen? As the custodian and guardian of our privileges in this House, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a chance to debate the situation? However delicate it may be, it should be debated in the House so that the Secretary of State and the Government as a whole can be reminded of their duty to speak out and speak up for the commuters who are so inconvenienced.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has made a forthright statement on the situation. The General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen has appealed to the men to go back. I do not think that a debate at this stage would help.