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Commons Chamber

Volume 886: debated on Wednesday 19 February 1975

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 19th February 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has been able to make of the position of British citizens resident in the Turkish occupied part of Cyprus, following the visit to Cyprus of Mr. Peter Scott.

They have suffered hardship and are now experiencing some inconveniences. Some foods are scarce in Kyrenia but British residents can shop in Nicosia. Except in the Varosha district of Famagusta, the Turkish Cypriot authorities are encouraging British residents to return to their homes—which is the best way of looking after their property.

Will the Minister of State accept the political realities of the situation, as must the many British residents in the Turkish sector, especially in the taking out of identity cards, registration cards, and so on? In those circumstances, will he reconsider the view which he expressed in his letter of 16th January 1974 and open an office of the British High Commission in the Turkish sector to deal with these and other matters? Finally, will he take this opportunity of urging the British residents to make themselves known to the British High Commission so that their whereabouts can readily be ascertained in the event of further difficulties?

We have done our best to establish close relations with the British residents who live in the northern area of Cyprus. The realities of the situation are not simply political. I cannot think of—nor can anyone suggest to me—any positive advantages in establishing such an office. Although there would appear to be an advantage in that course, on examination no advantage has been found.

Will the Minister say a little more about the way in which the High Commission makes contact with the Turkish military authorities, since several hon. Members are still receiving reports of looting, irregular requisitioning, and so on? What are the means of communication?

There are a variety of means of communication. The High Commission is in touch with the de facto authorities. We have made constant representations to the Turkish Government in Ankara and to the Turkish Ambassador in London. On Friday I gave an assurance to the House that further representations were being made on that day.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the latest developments in Cyprus.

The House will be aware that a meeting of the Security Council to discuss Cyprus is likely to take place. It may begin later today. Her Majesty's Government hope that the meeting will help stabilise the situation and enable the intercommunal talks to resume.

In view of the damage being done to NATO, the many interests involved, and the anxieties among the Cypriot community in London, is not it time the right hon. Gentleman treated this crisis as his highest priority and pulled out every stop of British diplomacy in the search for a constitutional settlement? How else does the right hon. Gentleman consider that Her Majesty's Government should interpret their rôle as a guarantor Power?

This is a very serious matter, in which we are involved in constant discussions with the principal parties concerned. I shall be happy to receive any specific suggestions from the hon. Gentleman or anyone else as to what should be done further.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have now reached the stage where the whole future of the United Nations is in balance, especially as a member nation—Turkey—has totally ignored Resolution 3212, which presumably is the basis of this afternoon's discussion in the Security Council? Does not the question now arise whether Britain should consider the possibility of the expulsion of Turkey from the United Nations, failing her acceptance of complete adherence to that United Nations Resolution? If not, it is obvious that sanctions will have to be applied if the United Nations is to be taken seriously in the future.

I do not believe that the future of the United Nations is in balance on this issue. It has suffered many shocks in its lifetime, and it will probably sustain others. As my hon. Friend says, it is true that the resolutions to which he referred have not been carried out, and I am certain that Mr. Clerides will refer to that if he addresses the Security Council later today. I do not believe that the expulsion of any member of the United Nations is likely to bring about a better result, either to this situation or to others.

Is not the lesson to be learned that whereas in the past we had obligations and great powers, in the future we should be much more careful in throwing about guarantees and offering to be a guarantor State, unless we are certain that we shall be able and willing to implement the guarantees?

It is not for me to attack, in the language which he chooses to employ, guarantees entered into by the hon. Member's own Government. But there is no doubt that we should relate our influence to our power to carry out our obligations. I do not accept the view that we have not carried out our obligations under the Treaty of Guarantee. It would be unfair to suggest that. The obligation upon us is to consult with respect to representations or measures necessary to ensure observance of the provisions. We have done our best in this matter. We might be said to have gone the second mile towards it. But if others will not join us, it is impossible to get agreement. This is an issue which concerns us every day, and we are trying to take action to help the situation.

Bearing in mind that it would be unfair to condemn the Republic of Turkey for responding to what was, after all, a coup by the Greek colonels supported by Fascist elements in Cyprus, if my right hon. Friend is looking for positive steps that the British Government could take, will he consider making representations to the United States Government in respect of aid to Turkey? Will he also accept the offer which I understand has been made to reopen the port of Famagusta for trade, to reopen Nicosia airport under the ægis of the United Nations, and accept the Turkish offer to take another 8,000 Greek Cypriot refugees back into the northern enclave of Cyprus?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for those suggestions. Alas, none of them is new. All these proposals have been canvassed before. That does not depreciate their validity, and I should be happy to see them accepted. But no one yet has shown me the way to get people to accept these recommendations.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with existing arrangements for vetting applications for new passports at the Passport Office.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Miss Joan Lestor)

We would be more satisfied if the Passport Office had the facility to obtain irrefutable proof of identity, whilst still being able to issue over 1 million passports annually without unreasonable delay or inconvenience to the public. That is the objective of the present procedural review.

Since the Minister admitted to me in replies to questions that no effective system existed for vetting passport applications, to ensure that none were issued to dead people, will the Department look into this matter to see whether a vetting system can be set up? How can the Department be sure that no passports are being issued to dead people?

The hon. Gentleman has had extensive correspondence with me and with my right hon. Friend on this matter. The production of the death certificate or the birth certificate, be the person dead or alive, is irrelevant. The Passport Office relies for identity verification upon the signature of the professional person who testifies as to his personal knowledge that the details supplied are correct. I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in this matter. One of the difficulties involved in checking people's deaths in relation to applications for passports is that there is no central record which includes details of all deaths in the United Kingdom and deaths of United Kingdom citizens which take place overseas.

Deaths in England and Wales are recorded in one place, deaths in Scotland in another place, and deaths in Northern Ireland in yet another place. It is an administratively impossible task to try to set up such a system, but we are doing our best.

Will my hon. Friend consider making it obligatory for those responsible for the estates of deceased persons to return the passports of those deceased persons to the Foreign Office? At present it seems as though there are thousands of passports lying about the country in the hands of people who have inherited them from dead people.

I shall consider that suggestion and write to my hon. and learned Friend about the possibility of doing this, because, on the face of it, it seems to provide one way, at least, of making some sort of check.

Hong Kong


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will appoint a commission to investigate the allegations made recently concerning corruption in the Hong Kong Police to which individuals could give evidence in camera if they so wished.

No, Sir. The Independent Commission Against Corruption set up by the governor has been in operation for just over a year, and has already achieved distinct success. It has received a large measure of support from the Hong Kong public and must be given a proper opportunity to fulfil its task.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there is widespread disquiet about the allegations which are being bandied about regarding the standards of the Hong Kong Police, that the public and the police in Hong Kong need an assurance that those allegations will be properly investigated, and that in their opinion that can be done only by an inquiry set up by the right hon. Gentleman's office? Is it not also necessary to assure potential recruits from this country to the Hong Kong Police that they are entering a force which is as good as it should be?

I am aware of the widespread disquiet, which has existed for some time. It was because of that that an independent commission was set up. Nothing which I say or which anyone else says in this House should undermine the confidence of the people of Hong Kong in that commission, and the commission must be allowed to continue its work.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the many charges laid at the door of the Attorney-General's office by a Councillor Mrs. Elsie Eliot, who is well known to many hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will my right hon. Friend say how many prosecutions laid before it have been dropped by the Attorney-General's office, on instructions of that office? Would not it carry more conviction and give far more confidence to the people of Hong Kong if a Royal Commission were sent out there, based on and advised by officers of Scotland Yard itself?

On the specific allegations by the lady to whom my hon. Friend referred, I am afraid that I can give no information today, but I take note of what my hon. Friend says, and I shall try to answer his detailed question. As for a Royal Commission, I say again that the commission in Hong Kong must be allowed to carry out its work. Suggestions that it will not or cannot do so will not help it in doing so.

Is not speed of the utmost importance in this matter, and is not an objection to the appointment of any further commission, especially any further commission from the United Kingdom, that that would delay considerably the very necessary rooting out of corruption which the Cater Commission is doing so well?

Although I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about the necessity for speed is a good one, the main point about alternative forms of investigation must be the implication that the present form is not working well. We have no evidence to suggest that that is the case.

Namibia (Ovamboland)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of the 50 per cent. turn-out in the Legislative Assembly poll in Ovamboland in South West Africa despite the total boycott recommendation by the South West Africa People's Organisation, Her Majesty's Government will cease to recognise that organisation as the sole representative of political opinion there; and if he will instruct Her Majesty's Government's representative at the United Nations to raise the matter in the Assembly.

Her Majesty's Government have never regarded SWAPO as the sole representative of the inhabitants of Namibia, and have made this clear at the United Nations. But SWAPO will have an important part to play in any negotiations for the self-determination and independence of Namibia.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that answer. Will she bear in mind that the people who voted in contradiction to the views of SWAPO amount to more than 50 per cent. of those who turned out on polling day? Does she realise that there is a large body of opinion in South West Africa in favour of working with and co-operating with South Africa to their mutual future benefit?

I said in my original reply that we did not regard SWAPO as the sole representative of the people of Namibia, but it would be foolish to imagine that it did not represent a very large portion of opinion there. However, if other groups care to contact us, we shall be prepared to talk to them.

Bearing in mind that Ovamboland is a long way from the centres of white population, as I know only too well, having been to South Africa, does my hon. Friend agree that it is very difficult for people in Windhoek, the capital, to know what is going on in Ovamboland and that it is almost impossible for them to get there? Therefore, it is not possible to say how accurate these election returns in Ovamboland were.

I do not have full details of the results of the elections and it would be difficult to hazard any conclusion at this stage. But my hon. and learned Friend's point should be borne in mind.

New Hebrides


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to bring forward legislation relating to a representative assembly and local government bodies for the New Hebrides.

The need does not arise. Local legislation will be sufficient to provide for the establishment of a representative assembly, subject to any necessary amendment of the Anglo-French Protocol of 1914 concerning the New Hebrides.

Legislation providing for the establishment of local government bodies has already been enacted in the New Hebrides.

As I recently visited the New Hebrides, may I say how glad I am that the hon. Lady has been there herself. Will she confirm that the representative assembly will be elected this year and that the Lord President, in answer to a Question last Thursday, was incorrect when he said that it would be elected next year? Further, will she try to ensure that in any future projects the unity between the British and French administrations is emphasised, rather than their separation?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoyed his visit to the New Hebrides as much as I enjoyed mine. I am grateful for his interest in this matter. First, I confirm that, arising from the visit of the French Minister and myself a short while ago, work on the elections is now in hand. It is hoped that the first local government bodies will be elected in May and that the representative assembly will be elected before the end of 1975. Part of the reason for our joint visit and the talks which took place here before our visit—and, hopefully, our visit later in the middle of this year—is to try to establish a framework which will erode the separations that have existed for so long and have been so damaging to the New Hebrides.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the title to land of many of the non-indigenous purported owners of land in the New Hebrides is very shaky? Before Britain finally relinquishes control of the New Hebrides, will my hon. Friend use her good offices to try to sort out the problem as quickly as possible?

I know something about the dispute over land tenure in the New Hebrides and I believe that it would take more than my good offices to sort out that difficult and complicated problem. However, while I was in the New Hebrides I had a great deal of discussion on the problem. In fact, discussions are still taking place. I assure my hon. Friend that we are hoping very much that we shall get somewhere in the future on that problem.

What measure of co-operation has the hon. Lady been receiving from the French on this matter?

I am pleased to assure the House that when the French Minister and I met in November of last year we had a broad base of agreement for the sort of situation that we wished to suggest to the people of the New Hebrides. That was appreciated by the people of the New Hebrides. We are hoping to meet again later this year to review progress. I hope to return again after the elections to see what is taking place in the New Hebrides.

South Africa (British Emigrants)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the amount paid out by his Department in the last year for which figures are available of repatriation of British citizens who emigrated to South Africa and who wished to return to this country; what amount of this was recovered; and if he will make a statement.

During the year ended 31st March 1974, £5,608·88 was expended on the repatriation of United Kingdom citizens who had emigrated to South Africa. Of this, £526·58 has been recovered.

If British citizens are to be tempted to a life of game reserves and black housemaids by the South African Government, why should the British taxpayer have to pay for them to come back if they do not like it? If British citizens are to be lured by the South African Government with free passages and false promises, should we not make it clear that they do so at their own risk?

First, we do not supply public funds to people solely because they do not like the country in which they have chosen to live. We take the view that people who are destitute in a foreign country, whether it be South Africa or anywhere else—for example, widows—have compassionate claims on the British Government to ensure that they return to this country. My hon. Friend is well aware that I share his view about people who emigrate to South Africa to bolster up the régime.

Let us put the matter into perspective cost-wise. Has the Minister any figures today—if not perhaps she will make them available to the House—to indicate what percentage of British people who leave this country each year express a wish to come back with or without the help of British funds?

I do not have that information available. If the hon. Gentleman cares to table a specific Question I shall find the information for him.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the state of Anglo-Portuguese relations.

During my visit to Portugal on 6th and 7th February I had talks with Dr. Soares and a meeting with the President and Prime Minister. I expressed our support and understanding for the forces in Portugal working for democracy. Relations between Britain and Portugal are excellent.

I have placed in the Library a copy of the joint communiqué issued at the end of the visit.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's expression of support for the democratic element in Portugal, but how does he now assess the prospects for democracy there? How does he propose to implement his intention of bringing Portugal closer to the EEC? In view of his promise to help the African territories, did he receive assurances about our facilities in Cabo Verde?

As to the prospects for democracy, the elections for the constitutional assembly have now been announced for 12th April. In so far as my judgment is worth anything, I judge that the elections will be held and that the people of Portugal will be able to express their opinion through the ballot box. As regards the EEC, when the Foreign Ministers met in Dublin on 13th February—my right hon. Friend was present—they reiterated their interest and the importance that they attach to close relations with Portugal. I know from my conversation with Dr. Soares that that feeling is reciprocated. I am afraid that I had no conversation with Dr. Soares about the Cape Verde Islands.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether, as a result of the return towards a more democratic situation in Portugal, the British Government are supporting, or will support, Portugal's membership of the Council of Europe?

I think they will want to go, as a matter of fact. As far as the Council of Europe is concerned—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should listen.

I am referring to the Council of Europe, to which I hope my hon. Friend, among others, is dedicated. He should not get so cross about these matters. If Portugal wishes to make an application to join the Council of Europe, that application will have the support of Her Majesty's Government.

European Co-Operation And Security


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the Conference on Co-operation and Security in Europe.

The conference continues to make steady progress. Useful agreement was recorded before the Christmas break on the principles of human rights and self-determination, on family reunification and on marriage. Since then we have been trying, with our partners and allies, to push matters forward on some of the central issues which remain outstanding, and my right hon. Friend and I had useful discussions in Moscow on these matters.

In view of what the Prime Minister said yesterday about the possibility of a summit conference arising out of the CSCE, will the right hon. Gentleman now state specifically what provisions and guarantees the United Kingdom and its allies still require and which they have not obtained from the Soviet Union regarding, first, prior notice of troop manoeuvres and, secondly, the freer flow of people and information, before they will agree to a summit conference?

These are the issues—two of which the hon. Gentleman outlined—which are at present holding up the summit conference. They are confidence-building measures, such as the prior notification of manoeuvres and the areas in which the manoeuvres should be notified. I was interested to read that, unusually, the Soviet Union made a public announcement of manoeuvres only on Monday last. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, about human contacts, the principle has still to be worked out. It is not yet in a condition which is final. There is a third problem to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer—the question of how frontiers can be changed peacefully. That is particularly important not only to Germany but to other countries.

Has my right hon. Friend noted that included in the joint statement issued with the Russian Government was a phrase about the need to translate political détente into a military détente? Does this mean that there is any hope of successful progress and that the security conference can be used to break the deadlock in the mutual and balanced force reductions talks, which show every sign of being about to grind to a halt?

I do not think that they are about to grind to a halt. I think that that conference has been very slow but this will continue until the CSCE, to which the question is addressed, come to a conclusion. My hope is that, when the CSCE is coming to a conclusion, we will then find more movement in the mutual and balanced force reductions talks in Vienna.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss with Russian Ministers while he was in Moscow the question of broadcasts in the English language by the Soviet Government? Is he aware that there are regular morning broadcasts in English appealing to the British people to vote "No" in any referendum on our membership of the EEC?

No. I was not aware of that, but on the whole I think that outside propaganda is likely to be counterproductive. I would not think it necessary to make representations on that issue.

West Germany (Foreign Minister)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next proposes to meet the Foreign Minister of the Federal German Republic.

I expect to see Herr Genscher next at the meeting of the Council of Ministers of the European Community on 3rd and 4th March.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take that opportunity to discuss with the Foreign Minister the recent speech in which he pointed to his fears and forebodings about the future—not only for this country, the EEC and the whole of Europe, but for the rest of the world—if we were to withdraw from the Community? Does he share in whole or in part the views expressed in that speech?

I often discuss this matter with Herr Genscher and I do not suppose that the talks on 3rd and 4th March will be any exception. It is true that Herr Schmidt and Herr Genscher have both expressed a desire that Britain should remain a member of the Community, because they believe that that would strengthen Europe's position in the world and that this is a necessary step. The British people themselves will express their decision on that in due course.

In view of the strength of the German economy and its favourable balance of trade, when the Foreign Secretary meets his German counterpart will he discuss with him the shortfall, over the years, in the offset agreement? Does he not agree that if that agreement were examined in terms of the past 20 years it would prove that the Germans had fallen behind by hundreds of millions of pounds? In view of their strength now and our relative weakness, would this not be a good opportunity for them to clear that moral debt?

I do not know that it would be accepted as a moral debt, because it is presumably to our advantage as well as theirs that we are there. I realise that my right hon. Friend has asked questions on this matter of the Secretary of State for Defence. When I was Chancellor I took some steps to get a better balance in this situation, and I am sure that the present Chancellor will continue to do the same.

Strategic Arms Limitation Talks


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the US Government concerning the recent talks on strategic arms limitation between Warsaw Pact countries and NATO countries.

Consultations take place at regular intervals with the United States about the US-Soviet strategic arms limitation talks. The talks between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries in Vienna are concerned with mutual and balanced force reductions in Central Europe and do not cover strategic arms.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the basis of the SALT, which provide for a considerable increase in strategic arms over their present levels? If he is so satisfied, how does he reconcile it with the Government's repeated statement that they hope for a successful outcome to the review conference on the non-proliferation treaty, when the main stumbling block will be the failure of the nuclear Powers to achieve genuine nuclear disarmament?

We welcome the Soviet-American agreement at Vladivostock—it was an agreement—and we look forward to further limitation of strategic offensive weapons and to reductions in their numbers. I realise that there is some arithmetical and statistical dispute about this, but there can be no doubt in my judgment that, as a result of Vladivostock, there is a growing understanding and confidence between the two super-Powers who hold these weapons. I believe that agreement there can lead to limitations in their use and to reduction in their numbers.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement with regard to the replies he has had from Rhodesian authorities to British representations concerning the release from restriction of Mr. Garfield Todd, former Prime Minister of Rhodesia.

I have nothing to add to the reply I gave the hon. Member on 29th January, when I said:

"We are urging all concerned to carry out the terms of the agreements reached in Lusaka last month which provide for the release of all detainees and restrictees. That would, of course, include Mr. Todd, whose continued restriction I deplore."—[Vol. 885, c. 157.]

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Does she appreciate that it appears now that Mr. Garfield Todd has been specifically excluded from the terms of the Lusaka agreement and that he is one of the few Europeans in Rhodesia who has the almost complete trust of the African population? Will she renew the Government's efforts to persuade the Rhodesian Government to realise that the success of the forthcoming conference may at least partly depend on the release of Mr. Todd?

First, I repeat that I deplore the continued restriction of Mr. Garfield Todd, just as I do that of many Africans in detention whose names will not be so well known to hon. Members. I do not want to lay down preconditions, but we continue to press for their release. We regard it as part and parcel of the outcome of some of the discussions held recently. If people are to be true to what they have said about their hopes for settling the problems over Rhodesia, they will take heed of the agreements which were reached in Lusaka.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) are highly commendable? Will she also bear in mind that as time goes on the bargaining power of the Smith régime will be diminished and our ability to put the heat on it to bring about the release of the detainees—Mr. Garfield Todd among them—will increase accordingly?

The situation in Southern Africa has moved very fast. Without going into detail, I agree that time is not on the side of Mr. Ian Smith in this situation.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had in Washington about the situation in Vietnam; and if he will make a statement.

Did my right hon. Friend draw to the attention of the people with whom he had these confidential discussions the concern felt by many people all over the world about the continuation of the fighting two years after the signing of the Paris Agreement? Did he draw to their attention the concern felt at the continuing supply of American war materials to the Saigon Government and the imprisonment of about 200,000 political prisoners in Saigon's gaols? If not, why not?

It is public knowledge, irrespective of any representations or discussions I had, that the British Government have been in touch with both the North and the South Vietnamese Governments to express our grave concern about the fighting which is going on. The United States itself, as is also public knowledge, has made it clear that the way to tackle this problem is for the talks provided for in the agreement to be resumed between the parties. As for arms supply, that is going on on both sides and is not contrary to the agreement signed in Paris. Indeed, it is specifically provided for, in the matter of replacements. Clearly, however, the right thing here is for the fighting to stop and for the two parties to engage in the talks which both agreed in Paris to undertake.

Meanwhile, will the right hon. Gentleman admit, in common fairness, that the fighting which is going on is by North Vietnamese or North Vietnamese-sponsored troops against positions in the South, and that there are no South Vietnamese or South Vietnamese-sponsored troops engaging in hostilities in the North?

It is true that hostilities are not being engaged in in the North. I think it is the PRG which is conducting much of the fighting going on in the South at present.

Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will discuss with his counterparts in WEU the implications of Article II and Annex III of the Brussels Treaty, as amended in 1954, which precludes the Federal Republic of Germany from the manufacture in its territory of certain types of armaments including bomber aircraft for strategic purposes, for the construction of the multi-rôle combat aircraft jointly with German and Italian firms.

The MRCA is not intended for strategic purposes and there- fore does not fall within the provisions of the Revised Brussels Treaty to which my hon. Friend has referred.

That is an amazing answer. How can it be said that the MRCA is not banned by the treaty when two of the aircraft which we are told it is to replace are the Vulcan and the Buccaneer bomber? Secondly, is he aware that when, recently, 34 Socialist deputies in Bonn voted against the aircraft, they did so not merely because of its colossal cost but—greatly to their credit—because they were opposed to their country's making strategic bombers in conflict with the treaty?

Both my hon. Friend and the Bonn deputies to whom he referred have to face two simple semantic facts. First, the Vulcan was originally employed in a strategic rôle but was then regraded and used for a different purpose. It is the non-strategic rôle which the Vulcan recently occupied for which the MRCA is equipped, and it is fulfilling that rôle—[interruption.] That is what "strategic" means, and my hon. Friend must realise it.

Secondly, there is a standard definition of "strategic". It refers to definite operations designed to effect the progressive destruction and disintegration of an enemy's war-making capacity. That is not a capability to which the aircraft he mentioned applies, and therefore my answer is right in every particular.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will list the outstanding items in the United Kingdom's renegotiation of membership of the EEC.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are now the main problems still unresolved in the EEC renegotiations.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what items of the renegotiation which he outlined on 1st April 1974 remain outstanding.

The principal matters still to be settled are those listed in my right hon. Friend's reply of 29th January to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), but we have made further progress in dealing with them in the last three weeks.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whenever or however renegotiations are completed, there are some Members on both sides of the House who do not want the negotiations to succeed? Will he reaffirm his commitment to the Labour Party manifesto, namely, that the objective of renegotiation is to stay in the Common Market? Will he also assure the House that when renegotiations are completed there will be a free vote not only among members of the Cabinet but on the Floor of the House?

My hon. Friend is too old a bird to expect me to comment on the subject of free votes, certainly when my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is not present. As regards the first part of his supplementary question, having been given that task by the Labour Party through our election manifesto, it was my job to try to carry out that task, and I shall negotiate for success, not for failure. That has been my object the whole way through. I am sorry if any degree of success I may achieve causes other people pain, but it seems to me that that is the only way in which to go into negotiations.

The negotiations are not yet complete. There are still some important subjects on which agreement must be secured. I shall do my best to secure agreement on them on the conditions laid down in the Labour Party manifesto.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that since the original Six in the Common Market had no fisheries policy until the British application for entry was received, and since they then rapidly got together to "cobble" one up, the moratorium until 1982 is one of the vital issues that must be renegotiated, otherwise Common Market vessels will have the same rights in our fisheries as do our fishermen, and if they employ their methods of fishing here our waters will be as clear of fish as are the waters around other Common Market countries?

The question of fisheries is an important matter for the whole of the United Kingdom and, indeed, for some other members of the Community. I should not like to give the hon. Gentleman a detailed answer, but I undertake to send him a written reply when I have considered the matter.

As the present Prime Minister's chief objection to the terms of entry into the Common Market was the absence of any provision for long-term free access for New Zealand produce, may we assume that the present Government are pressing for long-term free access for New Zealand produce? If so what success has there been so far?

There have been conversations between the New Zealand Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself. We are making substantial progress on the question of access for New Zealand produce. I believe that it will not be impossible to secure a reasonable solution to the problem.

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that there should be a debate at the conclusion of the Government's negotiations when the terms are known and before the House discusses the Bill on the referendum?

That is not a matter for me, but if I may be allowed to advance an opinion as one member of the House, it is surely inconceivable that the House would not want to debate the result of the renegotiations.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he can now give a firm date for the conclusion of the negotiations with the EEC.

My aim is to complete renegotiation by Easter and we are continuing to make reasonable progress, but I cannot yet give a firm date.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot afford to waste any more time on these rather trivial exchanges that are constantly putting up prices, and that we should get down to some real negotiations, which have not been evident so far? Has my right hon. Friend seen, for instance, the trade deficit figures for the last quarter of 1974, which show a minus of £614 million? Is it not time we stopped this external bleeding? Soon we shall not have enough money even to buy the bandages.

The deficits that we are running are extremely serious. They show that British industry is not taking advantage of the opportunities available to export. I am not ascribing blame. I am describing a simple situation that exists. But I do not believe that membership of the Community has affected one way or the other British industry's capacity to export.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people will feel that the remarks he has just made are the correct assessment of the figures bandied about on both sides of the argument? As renegotiation is about terms and not principle, will he, when the renegotiations are complete to the Government's satisfaction, emphasise to the country that the original aims of the Community include an underlying European political unity?

That was one of the original aims, but I think that the passage of years has altered the way in which many people thought that it would be approached. The kind of political unity that is achieved now is achieved through meetings of the Council of Foreign Ministers, at which, attending as sovereign members, each carrying our own Parliament behind us—at least, we hope we are—we reach common agreements on issues of common importance.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether the retention of parliamentary control over fiscal, regional and industrial policies is one of the objects of renegotiations with the EEC.

Yes, Sir. It is the aim of renegotiation to ensure that the effective policies which the Government and Parliament adopt in these matters are not frustrated by the operation of the treaties.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Question and the election manifesto on which it is based specified parliamentary as distinct from ministerial control? Does he not agree that Parliament can reassert such control only if the constitutional relationship between the House and the law makers in Brussels is changed?

I do not accept that. The concept of Government control and ministerial control clearly implies parliamentary control. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I stand at this Box only because I have the support of my hon. Friends. [Interruption.] If I did not have it, I would not be here. It is on that basic that our control will continue to be exercised. I remain answerable to the House, as does every other Minister.

In order to save the right hon. Gentleman from having to answer such questions, so that he may devote his time to other matters, will he refer his hon. Friend, and everyone else who asks similar questions, to all the excellent speeches made by the Prime Minister before 1969, in which he dealt specifically with the point of sovereignty, assuring the House and the country that there was no question of Britain's giving up her sovereignty and that we would remain an independent sovereign country? Will he see that those excellent speeches by the Prime Minister are made available to his colleagues?

I always regard my right hon. Friend's speeches as excellent, whatever they are about, but I am becoming increasingly aware that even if I bring back a crock of gold from Brussels it will not satisfy some people. Because that is so, and because I wish to adhere to the contents of the Labour Party manifesto and to conference decisions, I shall continue to take that stand. It is the only safe ground for me to rely upon.

Is it the object of the renegotiations or is it the right hon. Gentleman's view that he already possesses the authority to implement import controls, as has been suggested by the Cambridge Group of Economists?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his answer to this Question and to earlier questions demonstrates clearly both the farce and the dishonesty of the original application to join the Community, in the sense that the whole case was based upon our trading position improving as a result of joining a much enlarged home market? Yet the existence of a home market depends entirely upon monetary union. As Government policy is now to move away from monetary union, does not that give the lie to the original intention that we could talk in terms of an enlarged home market?

I see part of the point made by my hon. Friend, and it has considerable relevance as long as we do not move to economic and monetary union. As the House knows, it is not only my view but the view of the Community that we shall not move there. On the other hand, there has been a substantial and continuing reduction of tariffs between the members of the Community and, I hope, under the multilateral trade negotiations, between the Community and countries outside. To that extent the market is growing. However, I have never believed that the creation of this larger market would of itself improve our trading conditions. That remedy lies here, at home. The National Enterprise Board and other measures being taken by the Government are steps in that direction.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in the two years that we have been members the Community has never interfered in our fiscal, regional or industrial policies on any material matter?

Offhand, I should think that is broadly true. There are areas where it has got close to it. I think that if we remain members of the Community—we must face all these facts, so let us face them fairly—there will always be areas where the Commission will try to extend its authority and where individual national governments will resist that extension. There will be this continuing tension between the two. If I had to make a summary at this stage, I should say that on my experience so far, broadly speaking, I am satisfied that the United Kingdom Government and Ministers, if they have the will, can look after us in Brussels.

Can my right hon. Friend deny that whether or not such powers have been used in the past two years the Commission has power to intervene in our industrial policy? For example, yesterday we gave a Second Reading to the Industry Bill, which is of great importance. If the Commission decides that that will distort competition, it can overrule the intentions of this House and of the Government.

That is a pretty general question, but I think that my answer must be "No". My hon. Friend's appreciation of the situation is not correct. I do not think for a moment—

I am giving the answer. It may be that my hon. Friend has a different view. I do not think for a moment that the Commission will put itself into the position that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) thinks it might take. That is my view about the situation. Others will no doubt have different views. But let us not destroy ourselves with hobgoblins. Let us look at the reality of the situation.

In the renegotiations, will the right hon. Gentleman insist on his right to apply our regional policies within the United Kingdom? May we have a clear answer on that matter?

Yes. I hope that the House will very soon debate the co-ordination of regional aids. Indeed, I should like the opportunity of joining in such a debate if I manage to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. The co-ordination of regional aids is an issue to which I attach great importance because, like the hon. Lady, I represent a development area. Therefore, I am not anxious to be put into a position in which our attempts to deal with unemployment or structural problems can be overridden by people outside this country. There is a difference between that proposition and the other proposition, that competition between countries in their regional aids can be self-destroying if they run to excess. If the Commission's proposals are based on trying to co-ordinate the extent of regional aid, they could turn out to be of advantage to this country, as to others.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, in the context of his last answer, that in almost any international economic agreement, whether in EFTA, in the free trade agreement between Sweden and Austria and the Community, or in the European Economic Community, there are inevitable restrictions on some national policies to prevent that kind of wasteful competition?

Yes. That is true, for example, in the sphere of giving credit and of what can be done in the matter of supporting exports. If it is a bargain that is worth this country's while making, let us make it. If not, let us say so and come to a clear conclusion on the issue.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he had at the Council of Ministers on 10th and 11th February about the United Kingdom's contribution to the EEC budget; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress he has made in his negotiations with the other member States of the EEC relative to Great Britain's contribution to the Community budget since the EEC Summit of 9th-10th December 1974.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is now able to make a statement on Great Britain's contribution to the EEC budget.

We had a useful discussion in the Council on 10th February. We examined the Commission's proposals for the budget-correcting mechanism, which follow the lines laid down by Heads of Government in December. It was agreed that work should continue at official level to prepare for the Council or 3rd and 4th March, when I would like to see the matter settled.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we achieve what it looks likely we shall achieve on this front, it will meet our objectives in the renegotiations, and that some of my hon. Friends cannot say, on the one hand, that our contribution as negotiated by the Conservatives was crippling, and, on the other, when we have negotiated a solution, that it was of no account at all?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary reminds me that they can say that, but it is up to us to judge whether they are reasonable or unreasonable in taking that view. As for the proposals made by the Commission, they are the basis for successful renegotiation of that item on the agenda. I hope and believe that certain improvements could be made in the coming weeks. I hope that those improvements will be concluded by the first week in March. If adjustments of an important nature are obtained on that date, I hope that the renegotiations will end successfully.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the accusation that the Commission is "faceless" is correct, and whether the Commission has taken a useful and constructive rôle in the negotiations?

The Commission is to be thanked and congratulated on the way it has assisted in the renegotiations. Its officials were given the task by Heads of Government and they carried out that work with a great deal of success. If the renegotiations succeed part of the credit must go to the Commission.

Beside our budgetary contributions, does my right hon. Friend feel that we should go on indefinitely subsidising inefficient French farmers to produce surpluses which are then sold to Russia? Does he not feel that the point of these renegotiations should be the final disposal of the common agricultural policy?

There is a certain ambivalence in my answer to this question. I think it unjustifiable for us to go on subsidising inefficient farmers, but I want to go on enjoying the comparatively cheap foodstuffs from Europe.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in the context of the Government's renegotiations they are committed to the view that both the taxes and the budgets are unacceptable, and also the purposes on which most of the money is spent?

The right hon. Gentleman is quoting from a manifesto which he and I supported in the recent elections. I promise him that we are doing our best to carry it out.

Political Union


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards political union in the Common Market before the referendum is held.

I would refer to what I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman on 18th December 1974.—[Vol. 883, c. 439.]

But, with the passage of years, is not political union now moving to political unity, as the Foreign Secretary has just said? If that is so, will not the Government and my right hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench make a clear declaration—that would satisfy the people before the referendum—that this country is totally opposed to any move towards a federal Europe?

Yes, Sir. I have no difficulty in stating that. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have said on many occasions that I do not believe that we are in sight of moving to a federal Europe by 1980 or by any later date. But it would be absurd for the hon. Gentleman or any of the rest of us not to commit ourselves to some form of unity in the future, if it can be achieved. There is nothing wrong with unity, as such. It would be an absurd proposition for anyone to say otherwise. It is the conditions under which it is achieved, and it is whether people desire it—

I appeal for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

As far as I know, no Community Government regard themselves as committed to political union in this way. We are certainly not committed to it. It would be for the House to decide, if and when it wanted to take steps in that direction.

Reverting to the supplementary question asked by the Leader of the Scottish National Party—the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart)—may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that just as important as the common agricultural policy is the common fisheries policy? Is he aware that it must be settled before we get near a referendum? Having fished out their waters off Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France, Common Market inshore fishermen are now fishing in waters off our coasts. The matter must be settled before we decide, by vote or otherwise, whether our future is in the EEC.

I do not believe that political union is concerned with this issue. I do not believe that it affects it one way or the other. I have already said that I shall look into the question of the fisheries policy again. There is a derogation until 1982. We can consider the matter on another occasion at greater leisure. It is not related to political union.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to rule out full union, as not being on the agenda, but when the Government make their recommendation on the question of remaining in the EEC or leaving it, will they make clear their intention about political and democratic involvement in Europe through the European Parliament?

I do not know whether that would come at the end of the renegotiation period. Obviously, if the country decided to leave the Community the question would not arise, but if it took a decision to remain a member, the subject would come up for immediate decision.

Council Of Ministers


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will state any changes in the provisional agenda of the Council of Ministers which he announced on 29th January last.

The agendas of the meetings of the Council during February have closely followed my forecast. The main additions were the budgetary powers of the European Assembly and the Regional Policy Committee discussed by the Foreign Affairs Council. The main items which now seem unlikely to be discussed are the "stocktaking" report on the CAP and the draft Regulation on European Monetary Co-operation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Is he aware that of the 13 items discussed only three were discussed in the House before those meetings? In pursuance of our manifesto, which stated that the powers of the House would be protected, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the method of reporting the outcome of these discussions is such that the House can be fully acquainted of what happened and call Ministers to account for their performance at the Council?

As my hon. Friend knows, a Select Committee is examining the procedures. He will recall, from his close study of the subject, that the Government are observing to the letter the assurance we gave about the Scrutiny Committee, its examination, recommendations from it, and debates on those recommendations on the Floor of the House. That has applied during February 1975, as during previous months.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he does not expect that at the meetings any issues will be raised in connection with our renegotiations other than those that have already been discussed, and that in particular the general question of sovereignty is not one of the items for renegotiation in them?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has made clear since his 1st April speech that we had a list of renegotiation objectives, that we could withdraw none of them, but that we did not intend to add to that list. Sovereignty is involved in many of those items. Our intention to obtain assurances about the ability to have the regional policy of our choice is concerned with sovereignty. Where sovereignty is related to our legitimate aims, we shall of course pursue its ensurance, but only in those terms.

North Sea Oil

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he will make a statement about his recent discussions with the leaders of the main United States oil companies.

May I ask the leave of the House to answer Question No. 45?

I have explained to the leaders of both the British and the foreign oil companies that we are seeking to participate in commercial oilfields in the North Sea, on terms which will be fair to the companies and to the British people. The British people's fair share of the profits will be secured by taxation and existing royalties. What we are now seeking is to give the British people the title to a share of the oil itself on terms which are fair. We are now considering with each company how this objective might be achieved in its particular case.

I should like to indicate briefly to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House more particularly that the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] I will get round to that. This is the first—

Order. If this is a point or order I will hear the hon. Member later—

—but I should prefer that he first asked his supplementary question. I will hear his point of order later. I must ask him first to put his supplementary question.

It spoils the effect, but that does not matter.

I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend here after he has visited so many countries. Is my right hon. Friend aware that consistently in this House in the period prior to the October election it was said that we would be wanting about £4,000 million, that would otherwise be taken in profits by the oil companies, for the benefit of the British taxpayer? How can that be consistent with his oftrepeated remarks in America and elsewhere to the US oil barons that he was out there to protect their interests as well? Does he, in his rather lofty position, understand that the Labour movement is showing tremendously deep concern about what is happening regarding activities on the energy front and, in particular, about the way in which he has been negotiating with the American oil companies and other companies involved in the North Sea?

First, I should like my hon. Friend to know that I appreciate his comments on my absence. I am sure that if he were absent more frequently he might be as well received. I am not clear about whose election speech my hon. Friend was referring to when he gave those interesting figures. It was certainly not mine.

I do not think any member of the Front Bench would have committed himself—and he certainly would not have been wise to commit himself—to particular figures about the nation's share of the North Sea revenue. That share will be decided by the rate of petroleum revenue tax. There is no limit to that rate other than the limits placed by fairness and wisdom. That rate is at the disposal of the House and is not a question of participation. The participation proposals will, I think, be welcomed by my hon. Friend in that we are seeking to ensure a title for the British people to the oil itself.

The share of the profits is quite another matter which can and will be dealt with by the PRT without limit other than the limits of fairness and wisdom.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we all recognise the great importance of the future ownership of the oil but that there is great and growing concern that an excessive preoccupation with the sharing of the oil is slowing down the speed at which it will become available?

Far from slowing down the getting of the oil, our participation proposals will speed it up because in many cases where participants are not able to find the funds the Government are involved in giving the necessary financial help. That is speeding up the contribution of some of the lagging members of syndicates who cannot move because of the shortage of funds—shortages which the Government are in many cases invited to make good.

I invite the hon. Member in this context to reflect upon the situation with Burmah Oil, which was a member of a syndicate. Without the Government's intervention by way of participation, the whole syndicate might have been held up indefinitely.

It will be widely understood that my right hon. Friend has to make a careful judgment as to what would ensure the further large-scale participation of the oil companies for the good of the new oilfields and the people of Britain. On the other hand, there is the question whether a propaganda campaign is not at present in progress in which some of the oil companies are deliberately exaggerating the difficulties. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will be very watchful that the Government do not fall for any such exaggerations?

I am not aware of any specific campaign. There has been a reaction to the proposal by my right hon. Friend to impose petroleum revenue tax, but taxes are normally not received with cries of enthusiasm by those who are to participate in the contribution to them. One must allow for a certain pardonable vigour with which taxes are received. I am not aware of any campaign. Indeed, I have had very amicable discussions with the oil companies. I found them most responsive and understanding to the need to gratify the purposes of the British people in respect of the title to a share of the oil. We are proceeding to discuss this very problem.

Did the Chancellor of the Duchy say to any oil company in regard to existing licences that unless it was prepared to accede to a 51 per cent. Government stake he would use legislative pressure to gain it?

I made it absolutely plain to the oil companies, first, that the Government would scrupulously honour all their contractual and commercial obligations. Secondly, I made clear that if they did not feel able to participate on the terms I outlined, or if they preferred not to participate at all, I had no statutory powers. I had to tell them that it was very possible that if they did not feel free to participate, the Cabinet would be free—the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) does not need to lean forward in his seat as if to leap upon me. I told them that the Cabinet might feel obliged, if it were unable to satisfy its objectives, which seem to us fair and reasonable and not incompatible with the interests of the oil companies, by voluntary agreement with them, to nationalise—

The hon. Member should permit me to answer the question. I was saying that the Cabinet might feel obliged to nationalise that proportion of the licences that it thought right to nationalize, I made it absolutely plain, however, that if the Government did so—and I could not say whether they would or would not—there would be full and fair compensation as we have always provided on such occasions. There was no blackmail—merely an indication of a legitimate objective which I hope we may achieve voluntarily but which, if we do not, we would achieve only on terms of complete propriety and respect for our obligations.

I was amazed to hear my right hon. Friend say that he was not aware of the campaign by and for the oil companies. On this important question of the fuel and energy resources of Britain will my right hon. Friend listen to the back benchers who had perforce to serve on the Oil Taxation Bill Standing Committee and who are now trying to tell him of the campaigns and pressures by the oil companies in the interest of profit. We in the Labour Party are concerned that the oil resources of this country should be conserved for the people of Britain in the first instance. My right hon. Friend should listen to his hon. Friends who served on that Committee.

I am never obliged to listen to oil companies but I am always obliged to take into account what is said by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It will be for the House to decide what the rate of PRT will be, for it is that rate which will determine what is an appropriate division of the fruits of the North Sea between those who have brought their capital, know-how and effort to bear and the British people to whom the North Sea belongs.

Did the right hon. Gentleman explain to the oil industry in New York what conceivable purpose there is in trying to get 51 per cent. participation if the Government are not looking for any additional revenue from participation, and if, as will be the case, they are to take express statutory powers to control the development, destination and rate of depletion of the oil? What is in it for the taxpayer?

We want 51 per cent. participation in order to achieve for the British people the title to a great part of the oil itself and so that it may be at the disposal of the British National Oil Corporation for such national purposes as we think desirable and for such developments of the corporation as well appear appropriate when the oil is flowing.

Order. I would like to call everyone who wishes to ask a question on this topic, but it is a matter for debate and we must move on to the next business.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that I raised some time ago the question of the appearance here of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Today his presence has been welcomed and he has answered at least one Question, but the matter has not been satisfactorily or completely resolved. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to be here as often as I am, but I expect him to be present to answer Questions not on an ad hoc basis but according to a system which is similar in content, perhaps if not in time, to that of many other Ministers who have to present themselves at that Dispatch Box. We want a properly regulated system in which the Chancellor, with his new-found responsibilities, as described in a Written Answer to me today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, is to answer on a proper and regular basis.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I may be permitted to point out, or to invite you to point out, that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and that it is not a decision for me. However, it follows automatically from the Written Answer referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that I shall be available to Members who desire to question me on my duties.

I was about to say that for once—and not necessarily for the last time—I had sympathy for the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Bolsover—

So far as my rulings are concerned, I can manage without the hon. Member's. As the Chancellor of the Duchy has pointed out, this is a matter of ministerial responsibility. It is not a matter for the Chair but one which must be arranged by the Head of the Government, the Leader of the House and the usual channels. It is not a matter for me.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you saying that if the Prime Minister decided that his Ministers should not answer Questions, the House would have no power over them?

There is already a power of transfer of the right to answer, over which the Chair has no control. It is perfectly possible, for example, for the Secretary of State for Energy to say, if a Question is addressed to him, that he has asked the Chancellor of the Duchy to reply, and the latter, in replying, would say, "By leave, I will answer this Question," or "I have been asked to answer this Question." That is a practice over which the Chair has absolutely no control.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 7Th March

Members successful in the Ballot were:

Mr. Ernest G. Perry.

Mr. Marcus Fox.

Mr. Roger Moate.

Statutory Instruments


That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Amendment) Scheme 1975 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.—[ Mr. Harper.]

Life Insurance (Interests On Benefits) Bill

3.51 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the payment of interest on delayed payments of life insurance benefits.
Although not of earth-shattering importance, this Bill will, I believe, correct an existing anomaly which arises from time to time in life insurance. At present, when a policy holder dies or when the life on which the insurance policy is based comes to an end, the beneficiary, often a widow in rather straitened circumstances, frequently needs every penny available, since the capital sum due to her under the policy will most likely be much reduced in value as a result of inflation.

The beneficiary is dependent upon the insurance company in the matter of how soon he or she will be paid out after the insurance claim is made. No doubt in the majority of cases there is no particular delay in meeting a claim and the widow goes off thankful that her widowhood has been taken into account by her dear departed spouse, albeit on a scale considerably less in most cases than originally contemplated. But this is a somewhat idealised version of what happens when we come down to concerted examples. What if her husband, though suitably aware of his moral obligations in the event of his wife becoming his widow, happens to be rather untidy in his habits, does not place valuable documents such as life assurance policies in safe places and, as a result, the policy about which he has talked to his wife over the years is nowhere to be found when he dies? What if the policy is stolen or "tidied up" so that it disappears from sight or is lost for a lengthy period?

Or, what about the situation, where, though her husband was careful in his habits, unfortunately he employed as his legal adviser a man who was idle and incompetent and who, far from offering aid and comfort to his client's widow, neglected even to advise her that she should promptly claim on the life assurance policy referred to in the will? As a result, the widow would forgo a considerable amount of interest—close to 1 per cent. a month nowadays or, say, £500 per annum on a £5,000 policy—which she may well need in the years ahead.

There is the case where husband and wife do not exchange family information of this kind, or where the wife leaves "all that" to her husband. In those circumstances she may well be unaware that a policy is available to be claimed upon, and she may, consequently, overlook the matter, especially if the husband did not discuss his will with her before he died.

There can be a number of circumstances in which substantial delay occurs in paying out a claim. It is sometimes due to the dilatoriness, or worse, of the insurance company, and sometimes to other reasons of the kind I have mentioned.

The important thing about delay, however brought about, is that what may be a large sum of money is left unclaimed in the coffers of the insurance company and, one way or another, earns interest for the company. I believe that interest on this sum of money should accrue to the benefit of the beneficiary and not to the company if delay occurs.

My Bill specifies that the company paying out has one clear calendar month after the death of the policyholder to complete the documentation that must accompany the paying out of an insurance policy but, from then onwards, the capital sum insured will automatically be enhanced by the payment of compound interest at current Bank Rate on the policy, until it is finally cleared.

The basic purpose of the Bill is to avoid a serious loss of money to the beneficiary if any delay should occur, for whatever reason, in the discharge of the policy. At the same time, the Bill removes from the insurance company any temptation to delay payment on the policy so as to help the funds of the company at the expense of the beneficiary.

Some hon. Members may say that this kind of protection should not be necessary, that people should be able to insist on their rights without being mollycoddled by the law. If any hon. Members incline to this view, may I remind them that the shock produced by the death of a loved one can, in some cases, be quite traumatic and some people emphatically do need protection of the kind indicated in the Bill at such a time.

It is regrettable that the astronomic interest rates applicable today should account in some measure for the need for this Bill. But whatever level they reach, up or down, does not destroy the principle embodied in my Bill, that delay in the paying out of a life assurance policy should not be to the financial disadvantage of the beneficiary once the first month after death has passed.

I am confident that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members in all parts of the House will be in sympathy with the objects of the Bill and I therefore commend it warmly to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Russell Kerr, Mr. Ron Thomas, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Mr. Roy Hughes, Mr. John Lee, Mr. Ioan Evans, Mr. John Ovenden, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Ray Carter and Mr. Ernest G. Perry.

Life Insurance (Interests On Benefits)

Mr. Russell Kerr accordingly presented a Bill to require the payment of interest on delayed payments of life insurance benefits: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18th April and to be printed. [Bill 89.]

Orders Of The Day

Coal Industry Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.59 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is the first Coal Industry Bill we have had since 1972. The purpose of that Bill was to clear up the mess after the first of the two coal strikes which marred the last period of office of the Conservative Party.

This is a much smaller Bill. But let no one doubt its significance. It ushers in what we look forward to as a new future of harmony, security and prosperity in the coal industry after these recent turbulent and unhappy years. The past 12 months have seen a determination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board to co-operate in ensuring that the coal industry shall be able to live up to its new opportunities and its new place in the energy scene.

This is the first major debate in the House on coal since the Conservative Party left office. There has been no need for one before. There has been no crisis, no drama, and only intermittent excitement. We ended the coal strike in our first few days of office.

Then I moved speedily to set up the tripartite examination by Government, unions and the National Coal Board into the future of the industry, which we promised in our February election manifesto. That tripartite examination reported well within the three month timetable we had allotted, and I was able to present the interim report to Parliament last June and to enlarge upon it at the NUM Conference in Llandudno in July. The relations between this Government and the unions have been warm and cordial.

The interim report signified agreement to an extra £600 million investment in the coal industry over the next 10 years. It also endorsed the foreshadowed compensation scheme for sufferers from pneumoconiosis and their widows. We had been faced with the squalid and degrading prospect of scarred and battered men having to fight their way through the courts for compensation which it might have taken them years to win, years which many simply did not have ahead of them. We were not prepared to suffer such a sorry spectacle and, therefore, readily backed the compensation scheme, to the tune of £100 million.

Clause 1 of this Bill will empower me to make the necessary grant to the National Coal Board for that purpose. I think it is one of the noblest clauses ever to be embodied in a parliamentary Bill. The scheme is well under way. More than 55,000 claims have already been received. More than 20,000 claims have been checked and offers of settlement made. Benefit has already been paid in more than 12,000 cases.

Assuming that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, I intend to commence making grants to the National Coal Board in accordance with Clause 1. I am sure the House will agree that it is right that the Government should start to honour their commitment to contribute £100 million just as soon as practicable. The Winter Supplementary Estimates provided for grants of up to £55 million to be made during this financial year.

The final report of the tripartite examination was published last November and set the seal on a period in which we also decided to go ahead with the exploitation of the massive new coal find at Selby, subject to the necessary planning approval. During these months I was also able to announce that the first coaifired power station for many years would be built at Drax.

Since then we have had the prolonged negotiations on the miners' pay claim that ended successfully last week. Before anybody indulges in any destructive comments about that pay settlement and its cost, it is necessary to point out that it is not as costly as the £1,100 million provided by the Coal Industry Bill 1972 for, among other purposes, setting right the National Coal Board's finances after the pit strike of the previous winter.

Anyone who is critical of this settlement should also tell us whether it is more costly than the hundreds of millions of pounds which last winter's strike cost, not only in lost production for the country but in the great damage it did to the industry. We all know that it left the Conservative Party with an incomes policy that was shattered beyond repair. And before anybody starts to decry the social contract he had better tell us what he would put in its place.

The hon. Member who is to speak for the Opposition—the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson)—will doubtless have had his attention drawn to recent statements by his right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), both of whom over the last few days have publicly accepted the settlement.

As the right hon. Member for Lowestoft put it on the radio last Friday,
"I don't think that we"
—that is, the Opposition—
"could have done anything other than what has happened."
Nor do we make any bones about the necessary price increases. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have during the past year repeatedly told the House how essential it is to get realistic pricing of energy both in the interests of the proper financing of the nationalised industries and in the cause of energy conservation.

The right hon. Gentleman is making some fascinating, rather challenging and coat-trailing remarks about the social contract. I am not quite clear about whether the settlement to which he has referred is or is not within the social contract. Is it clearly and explicitly within the guidelines?

I thought that that question would be asked. I strongly support the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment yesterday

"that the miners' settlement was a good one for the miners, the industry and, above all, for the country.—[Official Report, 18th Feb., 1975; Vol. 886, c. 1087.]

I hope that before Conservative Members get too excited they will pay tribute to the fact that restructuring has taken place in the industry and that there is now a greater differential between those underground and those on the surface. It is still necessary that we get men to go on to the coalface and probably spend 40 years of their life there. It is therefore right that there should have been an element of restructuring.

I was saying that we make no bones and offer no excuses about the necessary price increases. Over the last 11½ months we have constantly made it clear that we must have proper and realistic pricing within the nationalised industries in the interests of the industries themselves and in the cause of energy conservation.

As the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, (Mr. Jenkin) so aptly put it in the House last March, quoting a previous utterance by Lord Barber, as he now is:
"at a time of the most acute energy shortage .. it is anomalous … that we are subsidising coal and electricity prices at a mounting rate." [Official Report, 13th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 325.]
We can hope, therefore, that the atmosphere of conflict in the coal industry is being replaced by a determination to achieve genuine co-operation. This has been publicly accepted and demonstrated by the joint efforts of Sir Derek Ezra and the miners' leaders to boost coal, its market and its output. The after-effects of the overtime ban and the strike have almost gone. Since October there have been only two weeks—Christmas and the New Year—when the national average output per manshift was below 45 cwt. In the six months from April to September it exceeded 45 cwt on only four occasions.

After years of decline, the industry's manpower is rising again. For the first time in more than 10 years recruitment is more than replacing the number of men leaving the industry. It is likely that for the year ending next month the manpower in the pits will be about 4,600 up. Last year recruitment was little more than half what the NCB needed if targets were to be met. This year recruitment is running at a rate well above the required average.

The rest of the Bill after Clause 1 is designed to remove certain impediments to achieving further increased output. It is concerned with various measures to ease the way for the deep-mined and opencast coal developments which are urgently necessary. I want to stress that the Government have no wish to override the rights of the individual and environmental interests.

Following publication of the final report on the coal industry examination, my Department has had informal consultations with local authority, land-owning and environmental interests. The views they expressed have been most helpful to us, and I think we have been able to set at rest a good many of the fears aroused by some misconceptions of the proposals.

If I might deal first with deep-mined coal, Clauses 2 and 3 are intended to remedy what might be termed legal technicalities that could put obstacles in the way of much needed developments. I take first Clause 2. The present rights of the NCB—and those enjoyed by its predecessors—to withdraw support and let down the surface when extracting coal are contained for the most part in Schedule 2 to the Coal Act 1938. As the House well knows, when coal is extracted the land directly above it often subsides. But the adjacent land beyond the vertical limits of the coal which is being worked may also be affected.

The board has always believed that those rights permitted it to withdraw that "lateral" support from adjacent land. Recently, however, doubts have been cast on this interpretation and it seemed wise to resolve them. Clause 2 seeks to do this, and to put the matter straight by giving the Board a new general right to withdraw support from any land whether the coal concerned lies under that land or under adjacent land.

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is negotiating with the industry about a revised compensation code? What stage has the negotiation reached?

I am coming to that matter. I shall mention it in remarks that I have to make in explaining other clauses.

The purpose is simply to protect the boundaries of the Board's operations, which are changing from day to day, from threats of legal action arising from uncertainty about its powers under the 1938 Act. In practice, the effect of the clause will be minimal. Where the Board has not already done so, the clause requires it to publish, in newspapers circulating in the district, advance notice of its intention to withdraw support, giving full details of the areas likely to be affected. And it must pay proper compensation or rectify any damage done.

The right hon. Gentleman is probably referring to Schedule 1 when he talks about paying compensation or rectifying any damage done. There seems to be uncertainty in the schedule about whether the Board intends and will insist that plans for new buildings should be submitted to it in advance so that it can prescribe special provisions in the structural details of the building and compensate the constructors for the extra input required. Is it the Board's purpose that that should occur, or does it intend to let the building settle and then pay compensation for the damage?

It could be done either way. Those who have it in mind to erect buildings can ask the Board about its future developments and receive from or discuss with the Board suggestions about reinforcing the structure. If the Board agrees that it would be wise that there should be some reinforcing, it could pay for the cost of the extra reinforcement. If it says that it is not necessary and subsequently damage occurs, compensation will be paid in the normal way. I know that the hon. Gentleman has an interest in this matter because he represents an area in which Selby will be developed and I dare say that he will deal with it in Committee.

Is there any advance under the Bill in the compensation payable under the 1957 Act?

There are some amendments in that respect and I shall deal with them when I reach the question of land as it affects opencast workings.

Clause 3 of the Bill deals with an exceedingly complex matter—retained copyhold interests. Copyhold was a form of feudal land tenure granted by the lord of the manor. Under this, the lord retained ownership of any minerals while the copyhold tenant had possession of them. This meant that the coal could not be worked without the tenant's consent. That situation was continued when the ownership of the coal was vested in the National Coal Board by the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946.

Therefore, although the Board owns the coal under land subject to these retained interests, it cannot work it without the consent of the owner of the interests or alternatively securing an order from the courts under the Mines (Working Facilities) Act 1966. This is an anomalous situation compared with the generality of land, where the Board has full rights to work the coal—subject to conditions laid down in any inherited leases and so on.

The Board is able to overcome the copyhold obstacle in its old-established coalfields where most of the retained interests were registered in 1938, when coal reserves were first nationalised. But in areas remote from the then known coal reserves they are difficult, if not impossible, to track down and identify with any certainty. If the Board had to pursue the matter through the courts this could cause delays which are quite unacceptable, for example, when the development of so important a project as Selby could be at risk.

Clause 3 therefore gives the Board the right to work coal under land subject to retained copyhold interests. It applies in England and Wales but not to Scotland, where this system of tenure was not used. The NCB must publish notice of its intention to exercise this new right and pay compensation for it. In the event of dispute, the amount is to be settled by the Lands Tribunal.

Nothing in either Clause 2 or 3 interferes with established planning procedures. The development at Selby is subject to normal planning procedure.

I now come to Clauses 4 to 6. In the coal industry examination the mining unions joined fully with the Government in endorsing the Board's plan to increase opencast output by 50 per cent. from 10 million to 15 million tons a year over the next three years. But this necessary expansion cannot be assured under present arrangements because of difficulty and uncertainty in securing access to sites.

In most cases the Board is able to buy the land or negotiate the necessary rights with the owners. But perhaps one of the landowners concerned will seek a quite unreasonable price or try to impose unreasonable conditions, and this can frustrate the whole scheme. This uncertainty makes nonsense of the sensible planning of a production programme, and the Board requires the backing of additional powers which, subject to appropriate safeguards, it can use in the last resort. Clause 4 therefore stores the power originally provided by the Opencast Coal Act 1958 to make compulsory rights orders. Such orders will continue to be subject to the confirmation of the Secretary of State which, I assure the House, would not be lightly given, and, just as important, the provisions of the 1958 Act relating to compensation will continue.

Clause 4 provides for the maximum duration of compulsory rights orders to be increased to 20 years. I would emphasise that this is maximum duration. It does not mean that all sites will be occupied for this length of time. But some sites are now much larger than was the case in 1958 and can be worked to greater depths.

Then we must allow five years for the full process of restoration and return to full productive fertility. Enough time must therefore be allowed for all these factors in the exceptional case. The average time of occupation will be very much shorter, and even on a large site I know it would be the Board's aim where possible to operate so that parts of the site could be restored and released propressively as the work proceeded.

Another problem in connection with site authorisation is dealt with by Clause 5. In many cases a site needed for opencast working is traversed by footpaths which need to be temporarily suspended or—in effect—diverted since, where there is a need, the Board must provide an alternative way. Then the original route is reinstituted when the works are finished and the site restored to normal use. That is what happens where footpaths have to be suspended or diverted. The procedure for these temporary suspensions is separate and different from that for authorisation to work an opencast site or, indeed, from that used for the permanent suspension of a footpath for other purposes.

The aim of Clause 5 is to provide a straightforward procedure which minimises unnecessary delay in deciding an application while preserving full opportunity for those concerned to make their views known and have them taken properly into account. The new procedure is similar to and is designed to operate alongside, and in combination with, the existing procedure for dealing with applications for authorisation to work opencast sites.

Clause 6 will improve the compensation available to the farmers against whom a compulsory rights order for the temporary use of their land may be made. After the site has been worked, the restoration process takes five years; a new drainage system is installed and the land is fertilised and cultivated. When handed back to the farmer, it is virtually new land. The new compensation proposed in Clause 6 is designed to help the farmer through the period while he is getting to know the new characteristics of the land and learning how to get the best out of it.

The remaining clauses and the schedules are consequential and spell out the details of these proposals.

In effect, what my right hon. Friend has said in relation to the very important proposals about opencasting is that local authority planning procedures and planning permission processes are to be bypassed. Will he comment on that matter?

They will certainly be shortened—I want to make that absolutely plain—because there have been experiences in the past of unnecessary delays in the NCB getting access to sites. The new era of coal means that we must have a proper working programme for increasing opencast production, as I have said, from 10 million to 15 million tons a year. That is widely accepted by those working in the industry. As I thought I had indicated, there is provision for appeal to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State can exercise his powers and order a public inquiry if he deems it necessary. I hope that that answers the point raised by my hon. Friend.

Some of these matters, although I know that they are very large issues in some areas of the country, may be regarded as minor proposals—"minor" in the sense of bringing them before the House. But they concern an industry which has been through such very great drama so often and so recently. For myself, I believe that it is healthy that the coal industry should now get down to a workaday routine. The Government's aim is to keep it out of the headlines and in full production. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.

4.24 p.m.

The Secretary of State need have no fears about my indulging in any attacks upon the wage award made to the mining industry. I am content, for the time being, to leave it to the Government and the National Coal Board to resolve that matter. But the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that the Bill appears against the background of an industry which has emerged from real difficulties in the recent past.

Of course, the Bill embodies many of the recommendations which were set out in the tri-partite report on the industry—namely, it seeks to deal with the problem of the hazards to health and the rest, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and to provide better access to resources for the industry.

We have to regard this debate against the background of a continuing energy crisis. It is a crisis which is as much, perhaps more, economic than it is volumetric. The coal industry's fortunes have fluctuated very considerably ever since certainly I have been concerned with this subject in the House. Those who have studied the industry remember very well how the desire to flood the markets of the Western world with cheap oil began to eat into the fortunes of the coal industry. It certainly appeared to all Governments at that time, that oil provided the answer to many of our economic ills. The coal industry, for reasons which are now old history, was allowed to contract and to become dangerously small. As a result, markets for that industry were lost—some of which will never ever come back again. Indeed, it is fair to say that without the electricity generating market, the industry's fortunes would have been even more gloomy than they are already.

I remember very well winding up a debate for the Opposition side of the House on the Coal Act 1965, which was the Act which closed down so many areas of coal mining in this country. It was, of course, legislation brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors. It was then that we moved away from the target figure, which was almost sacrosanct to many, of 200 million tons down to the now hard-to-believe 120 million tons. I am advised that we shall be lucky if we miss that by no more than 5 million tons this March. But that hard-to-achieve figure is very much lower than the target figure of the past.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House warned in those days about the danger of putting all the eggs in the one basket and about the danger of the effect on the security of this country of letting this industry sink.

Therefore, I regard this piece of legislation and, indeed, the new feeling of confidence which I detect in the industry, as putting the coal industry back where it was 30 years ago—back where it was, perhaps, at the end of the war. Once again the cry now is for production and more production. That is something which I, certainly, have not previously heard since I have been debating this subject in the House.

It is not at all surprising to me that those who are engaged in the industry, those spending their lives in one of the most hazardous occupations in this country, should be demanding better bay and better general conditions. All that I am concerned about is that when we do manage to create an industry with high morale, we also manage to meet the essential production which this industry must provide for Britain's economic survival.

I want to see the real strength of machines added to the strength of the muscle of the miner.

Admittedly, there have been false dawns in this respect in the past. We have all heard of various devices which were to rip coal out of the seams of this country and to provide the answer. We shall not go into the history of Bevercotes. Those familiar with the industry will perhaps know the over-ambitious plans put forward there, and the Colins robot miner that was going to get down to those narrow seams. I understand that another robot miner is now being considered. My right hon. Friends and, indeed, the Secretary of State, were among the first to see the ROLF remotely operated long-wall face when we came to the House in 1964. Now we hear of less sophisticated but even more important automated ways of raising coal.

I am absolutely convinced that the experience of all these various pieces of technology will bear fruit and is, indeed, bearing fruit, and that a new mechanical age of coal cutting is at hand, every bit as important as the remote radio-controlled conveyor and the self-advancing roof supports. This is absolutely right. Capital investment is dramatically increasing, with about £1,400 million being spent over the next 10 years. A new era is dawning, which I welcome, because coal and oil still carry the base load of our energy requirements.

The Bill aims to accomplish a number of objects. It aims to make provision for those who, through no fault of their own, have had their health damaged or ruined by working in this industry. The Bill also provides opportunities for us to exploit what will be the biggest mine in this country, namely the Selby coalfield, which has a potential of about 2,000 million tons in resources under the ground. In the early stages we are talking about the Barnsley scheme, which has 500 million to 800 million tons in all. With a production of 10 million tons a year, that area is as significant as some of the major liquid hydrocarbon finds in the North Sea. This legislation will enable the NCB to recover that coal.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Clause 1, which deals with the compensation scheme. Although that is a major step forward, the Opposition have misgivings that not every sufferer or sufferer's widow will benefit as much as they should because of various time barriers which exist. We are now talking about three distinct groups of beneficiaries under the pneumoconiosis scheme. There are 39,500 pneumoconiotics. There are two groups of widows—those whose husbands died between January 1970 and October 1974, and those whose husbands died before 1970. The distinction between the two groups exists for a simple and real reason. Records covering many of those individuals no longer exist because, after a five-year lapse, they were destroyed. We must look again at that problem in Committee.

There is a serious gap in the provisions of the Bill for the 8,000 to 10,000 people who commuted their rights before 1948 for what may in many cases have been little more than a few hundred pounds and who are now totally excluded from the new scheme since their rights have been removed. The Opposition wish to look at that matter seriously.

The Secretary of State explained that the £100 million writen into the Bill would perhaps not be sufficient. The NCB will make a contribution. However, we must realise that we have a moral responsibility—I put it no higher—to make up the difference to those who have commuted their rights. The Minister will be able to ascertain that figure. Those people form a hardship group which should receive additional support.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the report in The Guardian on 17th February in an article headed,
"Cancer and arthritis, the price the miners pay".
The article said:
"Two new published surveys have highlighted the high price of coal in human terms. A study in The Lancet says that Lancashire miners with pneumoconiosis show an incidence of lung cancer much higher than that of the general population. And an Arthritis and Rheumatism Council booklet puts miners high in the back-pain league table.
The Lancashire figures contradict a long-held belief based on surveys carried out by the National Coal Board and independent authorities largely in Welsh mines, which showed no apparent, additional cancer risk for miners.
The new survey carried out by Doctor Francis Mooney at St. Helens Hospital, Lancashire, says that of 300 miners who had pneumoconiosis and have died since 1967, 14 per cent. had lung cancer compared with an average for the whole of the area's population of around 9 per cent."

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should like his comments on the two surveys which were made in the mid-1950s in relation to the incidence of bronchitis amongst mine workers. I put a political point straight to him. If he now appears to be sympathetic to the higher incidence of cancer in miners who suffered from pneumoconiosis, why did not the Conservative Government take action on the 1956 Report which showed a higher incidence of bronchitis amongst miners suffering from pneumoconiosis? Why did not the Conservative Government, who were in power longer than this Government have been, take that into account and put bronchitis on the schedule industrial diseases?

I respect the views of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). I know that he is an expert on the subject. I take his point. All Governments must take an element of blame. However, we must look forward and recognise that new research will throw up worrying situations and that it is for Parliament to alleviate them.

The right hon. Gentleman described Clause 2 in some detail. I have always thought that the best description of coal mining was trying to get the jam out of the sponge cake. It is not easy because the two sides, the roof and the floor, come together. Since the support referred to in the Bill is the coal in the seam, and since the rock tends to fall into the open space, there is subsidence. The right hon. Gentleman referred to lateral support. He will also know that the phenomenon which causes subsidence is the result of lateral draw—the filling up of this gap and the pulling in of the land on either side.

I understand that the geological concept indicates that one should regard 35 degrees as an angle arising from the coal working out to the surface which provides the limits at which lateral draw will take place. That depends to a considerable extent on the depths at which mining is taking place. If the depth is different, the angle can also be different. In Committee, we shall wish to be certain that the effects of lateral draw do not create situations in which the Bill will not provide the necessary compensation and other requirements which should be present.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that there has been considerable concern in Yorkshire about the work that will take place in this coalfield, not because people in Yorkshire are strangers to coal mining but because sewers and other public works might be severely damaged. The right hon. Gentleman will have seen many Press reports of that concern. For instance, he will have seen that worry was expressed by many members of the Yorkshire Water Authority that the damage to sewers and drainage would be considerable. He has probably seen the report in the Yorkshire Post on 31st January which, referring to the situation, also referred to a meeting which had taken place about Selby coalfield. It said:
"As reported in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday, sewers could collapse as a result of the mining, but the meeting agreed that measures must be taken by the NCB to prevent any damage.
Under the agreement the NCB must supply information on its mining operations to the water authority in order to see any deterioration on land drainage because of mining."
I am delighted to see that the NCB will provide information to the water authority. It is also desperately important that the maximum amount of information should be supplied to the people in the area, rather than that no notice period be given between the decision to start working and the time that it might begin, as provided in the Bill. I also feel that, information being so desperately important in this situation, we must ensure that the widest coverage exists in all the local Press and not, as I think it says in Clause 2, just in one or two local newspapers. I do not wish to make too much of this point, but it is extremely relevant.

Recently, there was a report by some students from Aberdeen University pointing out that there are some 33,000 old working in the country which are totally uncharted. We may well hear of examples—and I have no doubt that we shall in Committee—where, as a result of old workings, real subsidence has occurred. For many years I worked in South Wales, in the Swansea Valley, and I am very familiar with the situation.

Clause 3, dealing with copyhold rights, again is very important to this coalfield. About 8¼ per cent. of Selby is in a situation where these rights could apply. The rights themselves are no longer being granted. As the Secretary of State said, they stopped in 1926. But the Bill describes the situation whereby a copyholder will relinquish his rights on the basis of a willing grantor and a willing grantee. Those words are imprecise. The alternative is compensation based on 1p—i.e. one new penny—per ton of estimated coal. When we consider the clause in Committee, we shall want to look at that definition in rather more detail.

The opencast argument is well known to us all. As the Secretary of State said, there is a need for increased production. We want it up by 5 million tons. That means that about another 20 sites—from 50 to 70—will be needed to produce this figure.

When opencast coal is worked, it produces necessarily a great scar on the land. There are environmentalists who put amenity ahead of energy. This is a balance which has to be struck. It is a balance which also applies to the use of land for agricultural purposes, and the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the National Farmers' Union, especially the Morpeth Branch in Northumberland, is concerned about this problem and has registered unhappiness about existing plans there. There are examples of animals suffering from scouring, which is dust in the intestines, which can have a serious effect on herds. The effect upon farming land of opencast mining is a matter that we must look at carefully when we consider this clause in Committee.

The future for the coal industry is brighter than it has been for a very long time. The export possibilities for the industry long term are very good. There will be a great market for power station coal in the EEC. Provided that we can get production to the right level, I believe that the industry will show itself to be every bit as important as anything which is happening today in the North Sea.

It was the Prime Minister who said that Britain was made of coal. He is not the first politician to make that comment, of course. What is more, that in itself is not the complete answer. But I believe that, if this legislation is able somehow to alleviate the hardship and suffering of those who have had to give their health in the interests of everyone in the country, be they domestic consumers or industry, my right hon. Friends and I will welcome it. Equally, if the legislation can assist Britain in the urgent quest to make the country independent of imported energy, subject to the proper scrutiny, the Opposition will support it.

4.44 p.m.

First, may I ask the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to ponder at least one question? We all hope that this Bill will help the coal industry and help Britain. However, when we talk about more mechanisation in the mines, we have also to consider one other factor. I have said this often in the House, and hundreds of hon. Members representing mining constituencies have said it before me. We cannot get coal without the miners and, when we consider the extra incidence of mechanisation in the pits, we have also to look at the resulting dust hazards. This, for me, is the main part of the Bill.

Dust hazards used to be considered reasonably safe if the content was 850 particles per cubic centimetre. Today, with different types of mechanisation, we are producing between 2,000 and 2,500 particles per cubic centimetre. That is not a state of affairs in the mining industry which any hon. Member will want to see continue.

We must ask the Government to look very seriously again at the health of the miner, not merely waiting and then having to plead and fight for compensation after a man has contracted what is considered to be an incurable disease.

For more than 20 years, I have been working for miners who have contracted pneumoconiosis, and I have had to fight for justice for their widows and dependants all that time. If ever I was proud of having a Labour Government, it is today when they introduce this Bill providing the basis for giving justice to men who should have had justice many years ago.

I have seen young men dying a slow painful death from silicosis, especially in South Wales, with no compensation other than two or three measly bob a week. I have seen wives housebound because their men were literally bedridden, with oxygen cylinders at their bedsides, gasping for every breath, fighting a losing battle against pneumoconiosis and knowing that at the end of the day poverty would come, not to speak of the deaths of their husbands.

Although I welcome the Bill, it contains two distinct anomalies. The hon. Member for New Forest referred to one of them when he spoke about the commuted cases under the old Workmen's Compensation Act—the pre-1948 cases. The Government should extend the scope of the Bill. Already we know that the £100 million allotted to the pneumoconiosis benefit scheme will not be sufficient for the estimated number who will benefit under the scheme already drawn up by the National Coal Board and the NUM and accepted by the Government. Those persons who were forced to commute their measly two or three shillings a week were offered £200 or perhaps £300. I estimate—and I am open to correction because I do not want to overstate the case—that there are still betweeen 8,000 and 10,000 such people in this country. By coercion or by pressure they relinquished their legal right to compensation. I believe that a Labour Government have a moral duty, if not a legal duty, to do something about the extension of the financial provisions contained in the Bill to take care of the pre-1948 commuted cases.

Besides the people who commuted their claims under the old workmen's compensation legislation, there were two cases of which I am aware—I had something to do with one of them—in which common law damages were awarded out of court. The case for which I had a responsibility was settled for a meagre sum, bearing in mind the substantial degree of disablement. That sum was accepted because of the almost impossible legal tangle in which the man found himself and the difficulties that would have ensued if he had tried to establish his claim in court. I hope that people who were in a similar position will not be prevented from obtaining an award under the scheme to which my hon. Friend is referring.

My hon. Friend has probably had more experience in the industry than myself and perhaps greater experience of fighting for those in the industry. I accept his proposition and I hope that the Government accept it as well.

Apart from the activities of the famous or infamous indemnity societies in coercing or badgering people to accept a commutation of their compensation after men were certified as unfit, the men concerned were, in fact, suspended from the industry. The moment that they were certified they were suspended. That carried with it not just the meagre sum offered by the indemnity societies but, in most cases, almost immediate homelessness. That was because they were living in colliery houses. There was no nationalisation then. When a miner could not work, the coal owners had no hesitation in putting him out of the industry and out of his home. We must look back in order that we may go forward.

Even if those who were turned out of the industry were able to continue in other work because they did not suffer the most serious effects of pneumoconiosis, jobs were so scarce in the mining areas that they were virtually at the door of the poorhouse whenever they contracted the disease. I am not putting it too strongly when I say that they were faced with uncertainty about their housing because of the conditions which were laid down in relation to employment in the coal industry. Continuity was the issue that was thrown at the men and women in the industry in those days. There had to be continuity of employment. The disease that they contracted by virtue of their work for the owners was the reason for which they lost their homes. They could not possibly get another job in the mining areas.

In The Guardian of Tuesday of this week there is the example of a Mr. Griffiths, who is now 67 years of age. He worked in the pits for 25 years. On being diagnosed as pneumoconiotic, he lost his job in 1948. After being out of work for a year he commuted his weekly pension of 32 shillings for a lump sum of £375. If he had not commuted his pension and if he were allowed to participate in the Government's scheme I estimate that he would receive £6,000.

The question that the Government must ask themselves is why a man in Mr. Griffiths' position should not get that sort of money. Let the Government take into account the circumstances which governed his life at that time. All the commuted cases were faced with uncertainty. The lump sums given by the indemnity societies were very small and reflected only in a small part the loss of earnings as a result of the certification of pneumoconiosis. They did not include and could not include—and the money that is allowed now could not include—compensation for the pain and suffering and the loss of amenities that those concerned had to suffer because of the contraction of pneumoconiosis. I ask the Government to consider seriously the position as I have tried to explain it. I believe that I have dealt with a serious anomaly in the Bill. I hope sincerely that we shall be able to do something about it in Committee if my right hon. Friend is not prepared to make a concession at this stage.

Would it not be fair to say that it is not just an anomaly in the Bill but an anomaly in the agreement made between the NUM and the NCB on 13th September 1974? As well as blaming the Government, I believe that we should direct a fair degree of criticism to the other two parts of the tripartite agreement.

No matter what percentage of blame is apportioned to each party, my job—and I believe that I am doing it—is to get extra money for those who are suffering. The blame can be divided among any of the parties concerned, but all I want is justice for every one of the commuted cases not included in the Bill.

I adopt the phrase used by the hon. Member for New Forest, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. Let us look forward and let us ask the Government to commit themselves to giving justice to the commuted cases. As I have said, I estimate that there are about 8,000 to 10,000 such cases.

Next, I deal with the pre-1970 widows. I think that the sum being offered to them is even worse than that which was offered under the old indemnity society rules. It is a disgrace and it cannot be justified morally by the Government. It can be justified only in the sense that red tape is responsible. It seems that the National Coal Board and the Department of Health and Social Security do not have the necessary records previous to 1970. In my opinion, that is the only thing that is holding up justice for the widows and dependants. When the scheme was devised by the three parties, the political situation was uncertain. It was not uncertain in my eyes because I knew that a Labour Government would be elected.

What the hon. Gentleman was not sure about was when that would take place.

The fact is that we are back. That proves that I was right. The political situation was uncertain, hence the hasty drawing up of the agreement and the implementation of the scheme. It was agreed that there should be a lump sum payment to pre-1970 widows of £300 provided that it could be proved that their husbands had died from pneumoconiosis. In other cases, the sum was £150. I want the payments to these widows considerably increased.

The Minister has ample scope under the Bill to double the £100 million. I hope that I shall not be told that we cannot afford it in present economic circumstances. He could get the other £100 million by clearing Holy Loch of Polaris submarines. The Explanatory Memorandum says that Clause 1
"gives power to the Secretary of State to make grants to the National Coal Board (not exceeding £100 million) … (or any variation of that scheme approved by the Secretary of State with Treasury consent).
There is nothing there to prevent my right hon. Friend from making the two concessions for which I have asked.

The mining industry and the unions need this compensation. The men and women to whom I pay homage have waited too long for this measure. This essential financial support will provide a base for the expansion of the industry. This has been forced upon the House now that it has accepted that coal is and will remain for a long time our main fuel. The Bill gives a large measure of justice to miners and their families. This is one of the truly Socialist Bills presented to the House. On behalf of the Miners' Group I welcome it, but I hope to amend it in Committee.

5.3 p.m.

I, too, generally welcome the Bill. If all Socialist measures were like this, they might get through the House much more quickly. I hope and believe that, unlike some coal Bills, this one will not create antipathy between the two sides of the House. We respect the experience and feelings of Labour Members, who have much more practical knowledge of this subject than all or most of us can ever hope to have, but I hope that they will accept our genuine interest in the future of a profitable industry and a prosperous work force.

This is a relatively small but nevertheless important measure to ease the future mining of coal and to compensate for some of the harmful effects of accelerated production in future and for the most harmful consequence of working in the pits—namely, pneumoconiosis. I will not be drawn into any discussion of wage settlements, except to reiterate the point that I have made frequently before, about the need for some meaningful and effective productivity scheme, based either on a single pit or on a group of pits, as the best way of boosting production and improving wages still further.

It is perhaps easier for an outsider, particularly someone with experience of a variety of factories and plants, to look objectively at mining as a job. Face working and roadway development are undoubtedly hard work. Conditions can be tough and unpleasant, but so can those at some other places of work. What distinguishes mining from almost any other occupation is the continual hazard to health, to the lungs of men working week after week underground.

I am glad that recruitment figures are good, that the increase in wages is having the effect that one would hope. However, I would say without any shame that, although I have worked in many different conditions, some less pleasant than others, I would not work down a pit, because of pneumoconiosis. I have said that before and have pressed many times, here and elsewhere, for generous compensation for the victims of that disease. I therefore very much welcome the scheme for past sufferers. I would add my weight to that of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson), and of my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in asking that the question of those who commuted their rights should be looked at again as generously as possible.

It would be fair to say that this payment and the sums to be paid under the new compensation scheme should be seen as part of the industry's "social wage". I think that it is correct to say that, in wage negotiations, the present Government see the social wage element as one factor in the social contract. No one will begrudge the payment of compensation to the minority who suffer from pneumoconiosis and I hope that no one will begrudge the miners a high wage, part of which is to compensate for the risks that underground workers run. On the other hand, those taxpayers who contribute to the sums authorised in the Bill would not be human if they did not look for some practical gratitude.

It must be right to develop ways of minimising the risks of this disease in future. I was impressed the last time that I went down one of my local pits to learn that they were experimenting with steam rather than water at the cutting face in an attempt to suppress dust better than at present. One must work, where practicable, towards such technological advances as the radio-controlled shearers which have been mentioned.

Turning to compensation of a different kind, I welcome the additional compensation for farmers for the effects of opencast mining. I would, however, warn that the Board is likely to stir up hornets' nests in trying to divert or close footpaths. Local residents and parish councils will inevitably put up some resistance.

There is one important omission in regard to compensation. I have already tried to press the Minister on this matter. One effect of, in the slightly quaint expression, "withdrawing support from land" is subsidence, the worst effect being that of drag. I am concerned here mainly with the effect on private dwellings. The 1957 Act, even if interpreted with leniency, as it generally is nowadays, provides adequate but not generous compensation but it does not cater, for example, for consequential loss.

Where is the review? The Conservative Government set in train a review, and whenever I have asked about it I have been told that it is just around the next corner but one. Perhaps it got lost when the Department of Energy was set up. One of the effects of accelerating mining operations must be an increase in subsidence damage. Those who mine coal must not have 100 per cent. of the attention, since there are many people who suffer from the effects of subsidence. Will the Minister dig out the review to which I referred and come forward with proposals to improve compensation?

The Secretary of State commended the Bill to the House. I welcome it as a valuable contribution to the long list of coal legislation. It is designed to assist the production of coal and to ease the troubles of those who suffer, and who have suffered, through no fault of their own, from the effects of the coal production which is so necessary for our nation.

5.12 p.m.

I wish to thank the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) for his helpful and kind remarks on the Bill.

As an ex-miner of 40 years service to the industry, and representing a constituency in which 70 per cent. of the electorate are miners or are connected with mining, I claim to be able to convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, the feelings of those directly affected by the provisions in the Bill, especially those in Clause 1. Although I can tell my right hon. Friend that there is wide acceptance of the broad issues of the Bill and of Clause 1, I wish to draw his attention to the wide concern at the drafting of the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme. My right hon. Friend may reply that the drafting of the scheme was left to the National Coal Board and to the unions concerned and that they drew up the scheme without interference from the Department. I accept that, but I still wish to draw his attention to a serious anomaly which has been brought to my attention, mainly by beneficiaries—that is to say, by widows of former pneumoconiosis sufferers.

I am referring to the fixing of the date of 20th January 1970 for a variation in the benefit due to widows under the provisions of the scheme, commendable though those provisions are. I repeat that the broad outlines have been widely accepted, and indeed applauded by those directly and indirectly concerned. However, there is still widespread unease about this anomaly which I can best explain by outlining a particular case.

Let me refer to the situation of a widow of a man who died from this terrible disease before 20th January 1970. The man in question died on 19th January 1970 and his widow could receive under the scheme only £300. Yet the widow of a man who died after 20th January 1970, probably on 21st January, would receive—depending upon the husband's age and degree of certified incapacity—a sum of several thousand pounds. Although there were only two days difference between the dates of those deaths, there was that great difference in the amounts of compensation due to the respective widows.

As I have stated, I have received—as I am sure have many of my right hon. Friends and colleagues who represent miners—many representations about this anomaly. Protestations have been made to me by widows who benefit the most—namely, those widows whose husbands died since 20th January 1970. Their view is, "Why not call in the money and share it out again equally?" They say—and they should know—that there is little difference between a man coughing his life away and dying fighting for breath, certified at 50 per cent., and a man who is certified at 100 per cent. In other words, they say that there is no difference between men who died before 20th January 1970 and men who died after that date. The widows' view is that the men are dead anyway and the widow in one case is just as much a widow as the other.

I appreciate that when new schemes such as the present scheme, laudable though they may me, are introduced and dates are set, lines have to be drawn. Consequently somebody is left out in the cold. However, I should like to deal with a specific case in my constituency. I refer to a Mrs. Dobinson of Brierley, the widow of George Dobinson—as fine a man as one could wish to meet. George was severely injured at Frickley colliery in July 1947 when the new Industrial Injuries Act was being brought in. Had George died then, or shortly afterwards, Mrs. Dobinson would have received the princely sum of £300 under the Workmen's Compensation Act. In fact, due to her loving care, devotion and attention to his daily needs, George lived—if one could call it that—until 30th November 1973. On that day George died in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, and was certified to have died from spinal cord degeneration and quadreplegia—in other words, from the injuries which he had received 26 years earlier.

However, due to the date fixed in the new National Industrial Injuries Scheme in 1947 Mrs. Dobinson was awarded £300 payable under the old Act. As far as I am aware, the sum of £300 is still being held by the court because Mrs. Dobinson refuses to accept it. She looks upon that sum as an insult to her husband who suffered so much over a period of 26 years.

Furthermore, due to the date fixed in the 1947 Act, Mrs. Dobinson cannot be accepted as an industrial widow and thereby loses a sum of 55p per week payable to industrial widows. I have submitted these facts to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health and Social Security, but they regret that nothing can be done in Mrs. Dobinson's case.

In the opinion of many—and this is one of the heartbreaks which union secretaries and Members of Parliament have to face—nothing can be done and they have to say, "Sorry". These are the pitfalls, to use a mining metaphor, in fixing dates in schemes such as these, commendable though this scheme undoubtedly it. There are always anomalies. I would ask whether the Minister, even at this late stage, could amend Clause 1 (4)(b) of the Bill relating to this very much-needed and desired scheme.

Finally, I wish to underline to those who say harsh things about miners that mining is a hard, dangerous, monotonous and unrewarding job which must be done by somebody. I would remind them of the heartbreaks that mining often leaves behind in some mining families.

The House should be aware that by Clause 1 the Government are providing £100 million to recompense pneumoconiotics. There are 35,000 known sufferers and 10,000 widows of former sufferers. These are in addition to all those who are killed and maimed daily in the coal mining industry.

I should like at this point to ask the Minister a question, and I echo the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Wilson). Is £100 million enough to cover all past known cases? Fortunately, the figures for those killed and injured in the industry during 1974 are the lowest on record. I agree that these figures are probably helped by the strike that took place earlier in 1974. However, I trust and hope that this favourable trend continues, but all those who are critical of the miners should ask themselves several questions.

What is the true price of coal in terms of human suffering? Is the coal that we burn as expensive as it at first appears? We must have miners, and the only way in which we can retain and recruit them is by offering better pay and better working conditions.

Pneumoconiosis is one of the great scourges of mining. It behoves us to look after the pneumoconiotics. When they pass on, often after many years of suffering and disability, their dependants should be properly provided for.

On behalf of all miners, and especially pneumoconiotics and their dependants, I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he has provided in the Bill. I hope and trust that we have the support not only of the hon. Member for Bosworth but of all his right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that the Bill will have an unopposed Second Reading.

5.21 p.m.

I welcome the Bill not only because of the beneficial effect it will have on the sufferers from pneumoconiosis, whose fate is so well understood by Labour Members who have worked in the industry, but personally because it will give me an opportunity over the weeks in Committee of putting many questions which are of deep concern to my constituents.

The Bill is entitled the "Coal Industry Bill". In my eyes, perhaps understandably, it is more aptly to be entitled the "Selby Coalfield Bill", because half of this coalfield, destined to be the largest in Europe, is in my constituency. This half of the coalfield is under a completely rural area. The people who live there live in small villages, and the majority of them work in agriculture or commute to Selby or York.

The community there is unfamiliar with coal mining. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that Yorkshiremen are not strangers to coal mining. I can assure him that they may not be strangers to it in South Yorkshire or West Yorkshire, but they certainly are in villages such as Naburn, Riccall and Escrick. The community is naturally apprehensive of the effect the coalfield will have on the farms, on their livelihoods and on the environment of their villages.

This does not mean that they take a negative or hostile view of the project. The coalfield committee of the Selby District Council has done a superb job in gathering information and expressions of opinion from relevant bodies and individuals for the benefit of the county council and in preparation for the coming public inquiry. Such ad hoc bodies as the Escrick and Deighton Residents' Association have approached, with professional advice, this possible threat to the environment of the area in a positive and constructive way.

The county council planning department has already invited the views of the public on five alternative plans for accommodating the influx of people expected to move into the area over the next 15 years. As this influx will consist of some 3,000 miners, paid at a much higher rate than the average wage in the area, I hope that they will be given opportunities to buy their houses rather than have to depend on subsidised housing supplied by the local authority.

The National Coal Board has done its best to inform the public about its plans, but now the public relations exercise is over. The time has come to answer detailed questions, many of which will be put during the public inquiry in April. It will save time and worry if some of them can be answered in advance during the Committee stage of the Bill.

This Second Reading debate is short, and it behoves us to make short speeches. I shall use my ration of time to give notice of a few of the subjects I shall wish to raise, and the amendments we shall want to put down, in Committee.

I start with the question of compensation. A constituent writes to me from the village of Stillingfleet, where one of the satellite pits is to be sited. He complains that his house, for which he had received a number of offers, suddenly became unsaleable on the news that the satellite pit was to be there. He asked the National Coal Board what compensation was available for the loss he had suffered in the value of the house. He received the following reply:
"The Board cannot accept liability for the effects of their proposals on local property values. The carrying-out of any new industrial or commercial development in any area inevitably causes some fluctuation in the value