House Of Commons
Monday 24th February 1975
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a further statement about Government policy to conserve energy.
An energy conservation campaign is of necessity a long, hard slog but there are already encouraging signs of worthwhile achievement.
Will the Secretary of State say what progress he has been able to make to ensure that the cost of energy represents the true cost of producing that energy? Will he also say what discussions he has had with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to ensure that any increased costs do not bear unfairly on the weakest section of the community?
The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that in the last 11 months my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have made it plain that energy pricing must be undertaken on a much more realistic basis. I am sure he will also have noticed that there has been a record increase in social security benefits. There is to be an uprating in April this year and a further uprating later in the year.
Is it not a fact that Conservative Members persist in demanding that my right hon. Friend should take stern action to conserve energy and then criticise every step he takes?
That is true of some hon. Gentlemen, but there can be a massive reduction in energy use only by strict allocation, rationing and electricity rota cuts. I think that this is well understood.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what progress is being made towards a European conservation programme? What contribution are the Government making to it, and what view do they take about Dr. Kissinger's proposals for a floor price for oil?
On the last point, we are examining the proposals which have been made about downside risk and are considering them seriously. As for the EEC, I remind the hon. Gentleman that our measures are probably in advance of anything that is being done in the Community.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received concerning proposals for a two-tier system of petroleum pricing; and what replies he has sent.
My right hon. Friend has received representations from a number of quarters, including hon. Members, motoring and other organisations. He has explained that two-tier pricing is only one of a number of energy saving ideas currently being looked at.
Do I take it from that reply that no decision has yet been taken about a two-tier pricing system? Is anybody examining the administrative costs of operating such a system?
There has been a great deal of speculation in the Press and elsewhere about this matter, but no decisions has been taken by the Government. The costs of fuel rationing would be very considerable, but the cost of a two-tier system would be less. We calculate that it would be about £5 million. However, I emphasise that no decision has been taken.
Will the Minister accept that many of us feel that the two-tier system is the most fatuous suggestion that has ever been made, and that it would be far more sensible if help could be given to those in rural areas by allowing them to offset a certain portion of the expenditure against tax, but that subsidies should not be accepted?
In the initial stages most of the representations about a two-tier pricing system came from Conservative Members who represent rural constituencies. Obviously, they changed their tune when they realised what the likely allocation would be.
Perhaps not the hon. Gentleman, but some of his hon. Friends took that view. There is a real problem in rural communities, which the Govern- ment accept, but it is difficult to pick out people in the rural areas as distinct from those in other parts of the community. It is difficult to see what can be done to assist them. The question of taxation is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the problem in rural areas exists because of the inadequacy of public transport there, that many of my constituents have to use their cars to travel to work, and that great embarrassment and difficulty is caused to them because of the high and increasing cost of petrol? Will he take that factor into account when the scheme is being worked out?
We have the problems of rural areas very much in mind. My right hon. Friend will appreciate that if a certain type of two-tier pricing system were introduced people in rural areas might be worse off rather than better off, in terms of the allocation of petrol. We are aware of the difficulties which face people because of insufficient public transport. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is currently carrying out a review of public transport services.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a further statement on petrol pricing policy, in the light of the latest indications of crude oil prices for the rest of 1975.
There are no indications of a major change in crude oil prices this year and I do not think, therefore, that a further statement is called for.
Is it not a fact that users of petrol, including many who have to travel to work in my constituency from outlying country districts, are bearing a disproportionate share of the total level of oil taxation? Will the hon. Gentleman urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he is considering the relative oil product tax levels before the next Budget, to introduce some alleviation within the total for petrol?
Many people suffer from the increases which have had to be imposed in the price of petrol. The hon. Gentleman referred to people in rural areas. We understand their problems, but it would be a mistake to think that the difficulty is confined to them. Many shift workers in urban areas have to pay substantial extra costs to get to work. It would be difficult to work out a scheme to help people without creating even greater problems. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have noted the suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman.
National Nuclear Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if the integration of the nuclear design and construction industries into the National Nuclear Corporation has now been completed.
Not yet, but I expect this to be accomplished in the very near future.
It is a matter of great concern, when fuel costs are rising so sharply, that the nuclear programme is being delayed in this way. Is it not a matter of great urgency that the matter should be resolved at the earliest possible moment?
Yes, it is most important that the matter be resolved as quickly as possible. I know the hon. Gentleman will accept that the decision about the choice of reactor was put off for three and a half years. That decision was taken by this Government within five months. Steps have been taken to get the programme under way.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Opposition cannot afford to be critical about his reactor policy or about decisions generally in that area, as they did absolutely nothing during the whole of their period of office? Further, does he recognise that a decision on the National Nuclear Corporation is crucial to the future of our nuclear energy programme?
Yes, it is crucial. I hope to make a statement shortly about the NNC and the Nuclear Power Company.
Does the Secretary of State accept that, contrary to the purport of the past two questions, there is now considerable anxiety about the policy of nuclear energy? Is he aware that people are becoming disturbed about the problems which we might be laying up for the next and future generations? Before the policy is expanded, will the right hon. Gentleman consider having a thorough investigation of where we are going on nuclear policy?
I recognise the anxiety that exists in all parts of the United Kingdom about the build up of nuclear power. I think that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured when I tell him that the independent Nuclear Inspectorate is careful about issuing site licences for nuclear stations.
Is my right hon. Friend's statement likely to include a reference to an increase in the extent of the State shareholding, as recommended by the all-party Select Committee on Science and Technology?
I would rather ask my hon. Friend to await the statement that I hope to make shortly. I think that it is likely that an increased Government stake will be acceptable.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the co-operation arrangement with the State authority in Canada over CANDU cannot be implemented until the NNC is set up? Does he realise that he has wasted far too many months already, and that we cannot go ahead with the SGHWR system?
I do not accept that criticism. Already preparatory work and discussions have taken place with the Canadian authorities.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what plans he has for amending the pneumonconiosis compensatory scheme to include commuted cases certified before 1948 by increasing the grant for the scheme; and if he will make a statement.
The Pneumoconiosis Compensation Scheme is a coal industry scheme which has been negotiated between the mining unions and the National Coal Board. It is not for the Government to amend it. As I and my right hon. Friend emphasised in the debate on the Second Reading of the Coal Industry Bill last week, what the Government are doing is to provide a grant of up to £100 million towards the costs of the scheme.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House what extra grant will be required to meet the needs of the 8,000 or 10,000 people in this category? Does he agree that if a grant were allocated specifically for this purpose—I recognise that this is a National Coal Board matter—the National Union of Mineworkers would be only too willing to have the money allocated?
I regret that I cannot tell my hon. Friend the precise cost, but it certainly would amount to several million pounds. As I have explained to my hon. Friend, the scheme was drawn up between the National Coal Board and the union. The Government have made a £100 million grant towards the scheme. Any amendment to the scheme is a matter for the National Coal Board and the unions concerned.
I accept my hon. Friend's answer, and I think that he will accept that we give full credit to the Labour Government for finally redressing injustices that have existed in this respect over the years. Nevertheless, if representations are made by the National Union of Mineworkers, in consultation with the National Coal Board, that extra funding is required for the commuted cases and for the widows, will the Government be prepared to consider that matter seriously in Committee and to provide the necessary funds to implement the wishes of the Labour movement?
I am grateful for the comments made by my hon. Friend on the Government's generosity. As he knows, the pneumoconiosis scheme was born out of the tripartite inquiry into the industry that was set up by my right hon. Friend when he gained office last year, the tripartite team being the National Coal Board, the union and the Government. I must tell my hon. Friend that this matter has already been discussed with the appropriate authorities. Therefore, it would be unfair if I were to suggest to him that the Government would be capable of increasing the £100 million. This has already been discussed. By any standard and by any measure the £100 million is a most generous donation towards the scheme.
Offshore Oil Industry (Government Participation)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the negotiations being conducted about Government participation in the oil industry operating on the United Kingdom continental shelf.
I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 19th February—[Vol. 886, c. 1338].
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the negotiations are being conducted on a different basis for the large operators in the North Sea as distinct from the smaller companies? Will he confirm or deny that it is the Government's policy to squeeze the smaller companies out of the North Sea into the hands of the proposed British National Oil Corporation? That is a step which may please Labour Members, but it will drastically delay the day when Britain can achieve self-sufficiency in oil.
No, it is not the objective to squeeze anybody out of the North Sea. We recognise that there will be continuing and profitable rôles for those who have taken risks in the most hazardous waters in the world. At the same time, there is a Government political commitment that must be met, namely, the intention behind the negotiations to achieve participation.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a tremendous campaign being waged by the oil companies to get, as a result of what could be almost termed a capital strike, the greatest possible amount of profit that can be obtained? Does he agree that it is his job, as the representative of the Labour movement, and in line with the Labour manifesto, in concert with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to ensure that we get the maximum amount of money out of the North Sea, even if that means a slight delay in terms of the poker match or bluffing match presently being engaged in by the oil barons in this country and outside?
I can assure my hon. Friend that the manifesto commitment will be maintained. Further, we have taken steps to fulfil that commitment. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be reassured when the Petroleum Bill is published, I hope, next month.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the cost of acquiring majority participation in the North Sea oil industry; and what is the estimated cost of providing 51 per cent. of the development capital.
These costs will depend upon the outcome of the negotiations with the oil companies.
If the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster claims to have reassured the American oil companies that nationalisation is to be a voluntary book-keeping exercise to appease the left wing of the Labour Party, how did the right hon. Gentleman reassure the American oil companies that he was speaking on behalf of the Government?
Of course my right hon. Friend was speaking on behalf of the Government. As he made absolutely plain, the major take will come from the tax, but we need a British stake in the oil and an entitlement to it. That is the objective of the participation negotiations.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the view being conveyed by some oil company executives that a significant reduction in the price of Middle East oil would make the British medium-and small-size fields economically unviable? What is his opinion on that view?
It would depend how far oil prices came down. I hope that oil prices do come down in traditional oil supplying countries, but I do not see a great deal of evidence that that is likely to happen within the near future. That is one of the imponderables. All the statistics available to the Government show that North Sea oil is still a profitable undertaking.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any proposals to acquire a majority shareholding in British Petroleum; and if he will make a statement.
As I told the House on 15th January, the question of the BP shareholding is a matter for consideration, and further thought needs to be given to this complex issue. In reaching a decision we shall have to take into account the needs of Government policies and the interests of BP.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that an assurance has been given to the Chairman of British Petroleum that whilst 20 per cent. of the BP shares formerly owned by Burmah Oil are held by the Bank of England the Government will not attempt to exercise any extra control of BP that a 70 per cent. holding would give them? Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is a fundamental principle of this Government's industrial policy that the investment of public money should carry with it public control and public accountability, and that we are being prevented from exercising such control until the shares are transferred from the Bank of England to my right hon. Friend's Department? Further, will he accept that it is highly desirable that the Government should reassert their majority holding in BP?
I do not think that I have much to add to the reply that I have already given and to the statement I made on 15th January. I can assure my hon. Friend that the disposal of BP shares that the Bank of England now holds is still under consideration, and that no decisions have been taken.
Will the right hon. Gentleman now assure the House that the Government will adhere to the undertaking which they gave to the takeover panel about the exercise of the Government's voting power in BP?
Certainly we shall adhere to that undertaking. The disposal of the shares is still under consideration. We have by no means ruled out the possibility of moving to a majority stake in BP.
Electricity (Ripple Control)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will issue a general direction to area electricity boards to install ripple control in order to save fuel.
No, Sir. Both my Department and the Electricity Council are actively studying the potential advantages of ripple control. The possible benefits would lie mainly in capital savings rather than in fuel savings.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that ripple control is widely used on the Continent and that recent cost-benefit analysis has shown that a return of more than 50 per cent. would be achieved if this country adopted the same control because of the reduction that would be possible in investment in distribution and generation equipment?
Yes, we are aware that it is being used in other countries, but it would be naïve to assume that techniques used overseas could be transplanted untouched into this country. We are studying the matter with various organisations, and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be made aware of the results of those studies when the reports have been sufficiently assessed.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that as a result of recent developments there is likely to be a substantial increase in the price of electricity, which will automatically result in a substantial reduction in demand for it? Has he had any estimates from the electricity authorities of the effect of that likely increase in prices?
That is a different question. However, no doubt my hon. Friend read in the Press during the weekend the various assessments that have been made in this respect. No doubt my right hon. Friend will be making a statement when the time comes.
Fuel Industries (Co-Operation)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is satisfied that there is sufficient co-operation and co-ordination between the competing fuel industries in the United Kingdom.
The industries certainly co-operate well with me and have demonstrated their willingness to work together when this is appropriate, for example, in the current energy-saving publicity campaign. But I shall be glad to consider any particular point my hon. Friend has in mind.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that sometimes in the past there has not been much co-ordination, and that that has probably encouraged various Governments to undertake pit closures? When he is giving guidance to the chairmen of the nationalised fuel industries will he bear in mind that the abundance of coal in this country far outweighs the value of what we shall receive from the North Sea in oil and gas? Because of that will he ensure that the chairmen of the fuel industries get together to formulate a national fuel plan, so that we can develop our coal mining as we should? Further, cannot something be done to encourage young people to go into the mines?
It is certainly our intention to encourage the development of coal mining. My hon. Friend will be aware of the tripartite examination and the additional £600 million expenditure to be incurred by the industry over the next 10 years. Certainly he will have seen that the recruitment figures have improved over the last few months.
What co-operation can there be among the electricity, coal and gas industries when the retail prices of all those commodities are going up? What competitive pricing policies can there be when the industries are not allowed to compete?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is complaining about the pricing policy. It is our intention that there should be more realistic pricing policies for these industries, and we have said so over and over again in the past 11 months.
Electricity Supplies (Free Allowances)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what studies his Department has made of the practicality and cost of introducing a free allowance of electricity for retirement pensioners, the chronically sick and disabled and those in regular receipt of supplementary benefit or family income supplement.
I estimate that at current electricity prices, including current fuel costs, a scheme for free allowances on the lines indicated in my hon. Friend's previous Questions, on 31st January, would cost about £150 million for pensioner households; £22 million for chronically sick or disabled persons; and £22 million for persons receiving supplementary allowances and family income supplement. The cost could be expected to rise substantially as electricity prices increase. The operation of such a scheme would cause considerable practical difficulties, and those in need are already helped through the social security system.
Will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations that his Department has now been able to make these calculations, and my sorrow that it was not able to do so earlier? Is he aware of the impact that price increases will have on the poor and on the other groups that I have mentioned—massive increases already and a further 40 per cent. to come? Does he know how important fuel is in the budget of the poor? Does he know the extent to which the high price of fuel contributes to deaths and illnesses, particularly among old-age pensioners?If my hon. Friend cannot introduce a simple humane free allowance scheme, such as that which operates in the Republic of Ireland, will he at least consider two-tier pricing, so that these groups in the community may consume a limited amount of electricity at a reasonable rate before having to pay high prices?
The Common Market would not allow it.
I am sure that on reflection my hon. Friend will agree that the Department of Energy has always tried to be as helpful as possible in providing him with information on this subject. I hope that he will accept that in the Department as it is run by my right hon. Friend there is no lack of compassion or concern for pensioners, and so on.
I accept that.
I am glad that my hon. Friend accepts that.My hon. Friend has submitted his proposals to the Department and we have tried to cost them out. We are con- sidering what we can do to help to alleviate the burden. My hon. Friend must agree that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has tried to assist by increased heating allowances, and some of my hon. Friend's suggestions are matters for her rather than for my right hon. Friend.
When the Department was making these calculations, did it take the actual consumption of a sample of pensioner families, or what they ought to have consumed—if that is possible?
We took an estimate covering 5·2 million pensioner households, comprising 7·5 million of the total of 8 million pensioners. If 7·5 million pensoners—that excludes those in institutions—each received such an allowance, the cost would be an additional £67 million. I hope that that is the information that the hon. Lady is seeking.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy why he agreed to Chevron Oil taking over the Burmah stake in the Ninian oilfield development.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy why he agreed to Standard Oil taking over the management of the Ninian oilfield development.
The licensees of the Ninian field proposed in January that from 1st March Chevron Petroleum (UK) Ltd., a subsidiary of Standard Oil of California, should become operator for the field, and that BP should chair the Ninian Management Committee. The change makes no difference to the shares held in the field by individual licensees, including Burmah Oil. I welcomed the news because it means that the resources for the development of this major United Kingdom oilfield will be reinforced.
Why was Chevron allowed to take over when BP was already responsible for the pipeline contract? It appears to me that it would have been better to use BP, which would also have kept it British, and that would have been far easier if a decision had been reached on the shares and we had a majority shareholding, so that we could have forced BP to take over responsibility.
I must make it clear that the stake of the various companies in the oilfield is not affected by the change of operator. The proposals for a change of operator were put forward by the licensees themselves, which included BP. It does not affect their shares, and there is no change in the amount of oil owned by British or American licensees.
Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will have nothing whatever to do with his hon. Friend's suggestion that the Government's shareholding should entitle them to force BP to do things that it regards as being against its commercial interest?
As my right hon. Friend has made clear, no decision has yet been reached about the disposal of the shares. My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) demonstrates an appropriate concern that British interests should be safeguarded in the North Sea—a concern that was not always evidenced when Conservative Members were in office.
Electricity Supply Industry (Subsidy)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what he now expects to be the total subsidy, including interest due but forgone, to the electricity supply industry for 1975.
The amount of compensation for price restraint in the next financial year will depend mainly on the amount of the next electricity price increases, which are now under consideration.
Why will not the hon. Gentleman answer the Question on the Order Paper in terms of figures? How many hundreds of millions of pounds is it? Will he please come properly briefed to this House?—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has not made any attempt to answer the Question.Will the Under-Secretary explain the justification for paying heavy subsidies in respect of the use and consumption of the fuel oil part of a barrel of crude at the same time as he is imposing swingeing taxation on the lighter fraction of petrol? What is the point of that?
The hon. Gentleman, rather characteristically, is assuming certain things. He should not do so. The deficit is expected to be about £300 million, but the amount of compensation has not yet been determined. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned pricing policies in his last Budget speech. It is not unknown to the House. If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on the other matters to which he referred, I shall be happy to answer it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that these so-called subsidies—in fact, price stabilisation payments—were not asked for by the electricity supply industry, were not wanted by the trade unions in the industry, and were introduced by the previous administration?
My hon. Friend is correct. The unions bitterly resented the policy pursued by the last administration. It is a bit hard now to have complaints by hon. Gentlemen opposite because this Government operate pricing policies in this matter.
It has been widely assumed in the Press that there will be an electricity price rise of 37½ per cent. Will the Minister now answer the Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) as to where that will leave the electricity industry in the next financial year?
The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the increase was referred to the Prime Commission. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned getting back to proper pricing policies, but said that we could not get back to them because of the legacy and the inheritance, for which the right hon. Gentleman had some departmental responsibility. We cannot do everything at one time. We have made a policy decision and we are implementing it.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether it is the Government's intention to retain parliamentary control over policy questions concerning North Sea oil and other energy resources.
Yes, Sir. I fully recognise the national importance of these policy questions and the need to remain answerable to Parliament for them.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a difference between parliamentary control over these important matters and the mere promise that the veto will be exercised, which is all that we have been offered at the moment? What remedy does he suggest for the situation which will one day arise when he or his successors will return from Brussels and say that on some important matter, such as the pricing or taxation of North Sea oil, they felt unable to use the veto because they were under pressure by their negotiating partners in Brussels? What parliamentary control will there then be to undo what the Minister has agreed to?
None of the decisions or actions taken so far by the Council of Ministers in any way pre-empts the decision that this House and the country will take on the referendum which will probably be in a few months' time.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as announced in the Press, the rate of petroleum revenue tax will be given to us this week? May I ask whether it will come in the form of a ministerial statement or in answer to a Written Question?
That question does not arise from the Question on the Order Paper. It is a matter for my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Paymaster-General, and not one which it is appropriate for me to answer.
Council Of Energy Ministers
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the meeting of the Council of Energy Ministers on 13th February 1975.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the meeting of the Council of Energy Ministers on 13th February 1975.
The Council of Energy Ministers, which was attended by my noble Friend the Minister of State, approved a resolution on the means to be put in hand to achieve the Community energy policy objectives for 1985 which were adopted by the Council on 17th December 1974. The resolution entails no legal commitment and, in particular, my noble Friend made it clear that in the Government's interpretation there is no conflict with our oil depletion policy. The Council also adopted a directive restricting the use of petroleum products in power stations. A number of other proposals were discussed, which the Council referred to officials for further examination.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he agree that it is rather bizarre that, since he has just confirmed that our North Sea oil sovereignty will be intact and that, none the less, we shall get the strength of the Community's energy policy around us, a lot of anti-Marketeers in this country should go on about the loss of sovereignty in the EEC, including sovereignty over energy policy, and yet be content with our assignation of powers to the IEA, which is a much greater loss of our independent decision-making?
It is also fair to point out that if we were to accept some of the Community's proposals without critical examination, some of our national interests would come into conflict. We are not prepared to take any action which means that our national interests are not properly safeguarded.
While it would be unreasonable to expect any definitive answer today, may we be assured that at the next meeting the whole question of our nuclear relationship with the Russians, negotiated by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, in Moscow, will be considered in a European context—especially the question of enriched uranium?
I think that some of these matters will be discussed at the next Council meeting, but no date has yet been fixed for a further meeting. Whether the specific discussions which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had with the Russians will be on the agenda is a matter that I cannot answer or anticipate at this stage.
Is the Minister prepared to enlarge on or to give some further indication on two subjects which were discussed at that meeting on 13th February, relating to financial support measures which will be introduced to enable the development of energy sources other than oil, and are the Government fully behind the proposal at that meeting that member States maintain a minimum level of fuel stocks at thermal power stations?
We already hold stocks at power stations. Our policy would in no way conflict with the European policy, but we want to determine where we have our stocks and at what power stations. It is better that we should do so rather than have constant reference to the Commission.
Did the meeting consider the standardisation of nuclear reactors? Does my right hon. Friend believe that that would add to or reduce the commercial opportunities which may be presented to British reactors in the next few years?
I do not think that that specific proposal was raised at the Council. Although there have been discussions about the amount of nuclear capacity that the Community will have by 1985, we think that it is on the high side.
Electricity Fuel Surcharges
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what proportion of the electricity fuel surcharges is attributable to increased coal and oil costs, respectively.
About 45 per cent. and 55 per cent. of the present fuel cost adjustment on quarterly tariffs is due to coal and oil price increases, respectively.
In view of the Secretary of State's earlier comments about the need for economic realism in looking at these costs, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that the latest increases coming through because of the £3,000-a-year coalminer scheme will have a dramatic impact which may price coal and, indeed, electricity out of a number of markets?
I think the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the latest settlement will lead to increased prices, but I hope he will agree that the Government have never tried to hide that. I am sure he will agree also that it is proper to have realistic pricing policies for energy supplies.The hon. Gentleman may be happy to know that the position will not be as bad as he indicates in relation to pricing coal and electricity out of markets, but the increase in price will be severe. The Government have never tried to hide that fact.
Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report suggesting that Mr. Arthur Hawkins has informed Sir Derek Ezra that he thinks electricity consumption could fall by up to 3½ per cent. during 1975–76? In view of the significance of that forecast for the power generation programme itself, will the hon. Gentleman arrange to give the House at the earliest possible moment some indication of the Government's own forecast and what they believe this will mean in terms of the proposed programme for power station construction?
I saw the matter to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention referred to in the weekend Press. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend is sitting beside me, and if he deems it necessary to make a statement to the House to amend construction and target figures I am sure he will be happy to do so.
Nationalised Fuel Industries (Directives)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many directives he has issued to chairmen of nationalised industries since October 1974.
Two to the chairman of the British Gas Corporation and three to the chairman of the Electricity Council on routine matters relating to the repayment of NLF advances.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people in the coal industry are unhappy that the National Coal Board has membership of the CBI? Does he agree that it is strange for the board to contribute to a body which is so opposed to public ownership? Will he issue a general directive to the board to get out of the CBI?
I know that the nationalised fuel industries regard membership of the CBI as being to their advantage. I should like chairmen of nationalised industries who attend CBI meetings to take every opportunity to press for and speak about the advantages of public ownership.
Fixed Offshore Installations (Advisory Committee)
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he intends to announce the membership and terms of reference of his advisory committee to be appointed at the request of the Institute of Structural Engineers.
The membership and terms of reference of the new Advisory Committee on Fixed Offshore Installations, which my right hon. Friend has set up at the request of the Institution of Structural Engineers, will be circulated in the Official Report.
I am much obliged for that reply, and I am glad to hear that this committee is at last being set up. When the advisory committee is at work, will my hon. Friend consider very carefully the need to have a British certifying authority for these concrete platforms being built in the North Sea, bearing in mind the appalling delays which occur when our plans have to be submitted to Norge Veritas and then transmitted back here before the building work can begin?
My right hon. Friend much appreciates the close interest which my hon. Friend takes in this subject. She will be aware that among the certifying authorities is Lloyd's Register of Shipping. Most important of all, my right hon. Friend has asked the committee to investigate the means of encouraging greater participation by British designers and construction firms in the design and construction of fixed offshore structures. In appointing certifying authorities, regard must be had to independence and technical skills, and if British firms can do the job I am sure the committee will make appropriate recommendations to my right hon. Friend.
Following is the information:
Advisory Committee On Fixed Offshore Installations
Sir Kirby Laing, JP, MA, C.Eng, FICE. Immediate Past-President, Institution of Civil Engineers; Chairman, the Laing Group of Companies.
G. L. Hargreaves, BSc, C.Eng, FICE. Consultant to Department of Energy; Chairman Offshore Installations Technical Advisory Committee; Chairman, BSI Code of Practice Committee.
Sir Ralph Freeman, CVO, CBE, MA, C.Eng, FICE. Past-President, Institution of Civil Engineers; Senior Partner, Freeman Fox & Partners; Chairman, Offshore Structures Committee, Association of Consulting Engineers.
L. R. Creasy, CB, OBE, BSc, C.Eng, FIStructE, FICE. Immediate Past-President, Institution of Structural Engineers; Consultant, Alan Marshall & Partners: Former Director of Civil Engineering Development, PSA, DoE.
John A. Derrington, BSc, DIC, C.Eng, FIStructE, FICE. Head of Design Group, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons; Vice President, Institution of Structural Engineers; Past-President, the Concrete Society.
J. C. Chapman, PhD, C.Eng. FIStructE, FICE, FRINA. Technical Director, George Wimpey & Co. Ltd; Former Director, Constructional Steel Reseach & Development Organisation (CONSTRADO); Council member, IStructE; formerly Reader, Imperial College of Science and Technology; Consultant to British Ship Research Assn, and various ship owners.
Research and Development:
A. R. Collins, MBE, DSc, C.Eng, FIStructE, FICE, Past President, Institution of Structural Engineers; Director Construction Industry Research & Information Association; Member, British National Committee for Ocean Eng.; Member, Oceanic Affairs Committee.
R. E. Rowe. MA(Cantab), ScD, C.Eng, FlStructE, FICE, Hon. Officer, Institution of Structural Engineers; Director, Research & Development Division, Cement & Concrete Association; Member of various Concete Society Committees.
Department of Energy:
C. H. Hunt, BSc, FIMechE, MIEE, FlProdE. Offshore Supplies Office.
P. D. Atkinson, BScTech, Petroleum Production Division.
T. A. Lamlough, BSc, C.Eng, FRINA. Head of Ocean Engineering Department. Lloyd's Register of Shipping.
T. E. Pitkethly. General Manager, Engineering Department, BP Ltd.
Terms of Reference:
The Committee in the first place should concentrate on:
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what are the latest figures available for British overseas aid; what proportion of this aid is in the form of loans and direct grant; what other terms and conditions are attached to aid offered; and if she will make a statement.
The provisional gross figure for 1974 is £338 million. Of this, bilateral aid and technical assistance amounted to £258 million, of which 45 per cent. was on grant terms and 55 per cent. as loans, mostly interest-free.Repayment terms on loans vary according to the economic circumstances of the recipient country. Most of our interest-free loans have a grant element of 77 per cent. An offer of aid may specify the projects or purposes, and the extent to which funds are available for the purchase of non-British goods and services.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the level of the loan element in our aid is far too high, irrespective of the generous conditions on which the loans are made? As we move forward to the 0·7 per cent. gross domestic figure, hopefully in the near future, will she try to reduce the loan proportion of our aid?
We want to move towards that objective. We have a very good record in this matter. The target was set by the Development Assistance Committee. We have accepted that, and our performance as between grant and loan is as good as that of almost every other donor country.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a statement about recent developments in the field of EEC aid policy.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether she will make a further statement on the progress of British EEC renegotiations as far as her responsibilities are concerned.
The new Convention of Lomé, to be signed on Friday, provides for aid and trade arrangements for the Commonwealth associated countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. I regard these as satisfactorily, protecting their interests.I am still seeking Community agreement on a firm financial programme of aid to non-associated developing countries, particularly the Commonwealth countries of Asia. This question will be further discussed in the Council of Development Ministers on 20th March.
In view of the progress which the right hon. Lady has made in providing aid, will she say whether the last point which she mentioned is the only outstanding matter among the objectives which the Government have set themselves in their so-called renegotiations? Will she say also what is the attitude of the Governments of south Asia towards progress which has been made in connection with them?
Continuing efforts are being made with regard to generalised preferences, which is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. On the major issue, the matter which I mentioned is the outstanding one. It is true that one has had to deal with a dual job here. One was concerned with Commonwealth countries which were associated. That has been the deal in the negotiations which have been involved in working out the new Lomé Convention. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are not covered, and that has been the second aspect of my concern in this matter, which is still unresolved. These countries themselves have made some progress in their bilateral trade negotiations with the Community, but the question of a world-wide approach to aid remains to be determined.
Does the Minister agree that whilst some aspects of this matter may be for her right hon. Friend, the generalised preference scheme for 1975 is a great improvement on that which went before? Will she say what she is doing to ensure that the scheme for 1976 is even better? Will she accept that the Community has been flexible and helpful in these matters?
That question is for my right hon. Friend. I think that he would probably agree that the 1975 scheme was better than the 1974 scheme. My hon. Friend will remember the tremendous criticism of the Labour Party about the move from our own DSP scheme to that of the Community at the time of our entry to the EEC. I am certain that my right hon. Friend will press for further improvements.
Will the Minister say what is the view of the Council of Development Ministers about the resources available by way of loans through its own funds and through the IMF oil facility for the most seriously affected countries? Does she believe that the provisions made so far, and which were announced by the Chancellor on his return from Washington, are likely to be adequate for the whole of 1975?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that a few weeks ago I announced the results of our deliberations on this matter in the Council of Development Ministers. I hoped that there would be a release of the whole $500 million indicated at the Special Assembly last April. After a good deal of debate in the Council of Development Ministers over the last few months, there was in the end a release of only half that amount, plus additional food aid. On those grounds the Government decided to make a further bilateral contribution to the most seriously affected country. Something good was done, but it was not quite as much as I hoped.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that if we were not to make any progress with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a great part of the population in the developing world would not be provided for? That would not be a satisfactory basis on which to recommend to the country that the requirements of renegotiation had been met.
Clearly, judgment will have to await the eventual conclusion of this aspect of my efforts, at least. However, I have very much in mind that these are countries with the largest populations. They are the poorest countries and they demand all our efforts to ensure a satisfactory result.
Aid (United Nations Target)
asked the Minister of Overseas Development when Her Majesty's Government expects to achieve the UN target for aid of 0·7 per cent. of gross domestic product calculated on the assumptions about the growth in the national economy set out in Command Paper No. 5879.
The United Nations target relates to gross national product in cash terms. The White Paper on Public Expenditure to 1978–79 gives figures at constant prices related to gross domestic product. The problem is essentially one of forecasting GNP, which is not possible. But it is clear that we are some distance away from achieving the 0·7 per cent. target. We stand only at the halfway mark.
Does the Minister agree that the crudest of calculations and projections in Command Paper 5879 are not encouraging? Is she aware, looking at those figures, that it appears that by 1978–79 this country will be giving more net aid per capita to the wealthy countries of Western Europe than to the under-developed countries of Africa and Asia? Is not this an impossibly absurd position for a Socialist Government?
I agree that we have a long way to go to reach the 0·7 per cent. target. However, I assure my hon. Friend that not one whit of my aid programme will go to the wealthy countries in Europe. I think my hon. Friend has in mind matters which are not my concern. As he will have seen from the White Paper, there will be a considerable increase in the aid programme in the years ahead. This problem always arises when calculating aid as a proportion of GNP. This is one of the unfortunate aspects of the target. The aid may go up, but if the GNP does not rise higher, it affects the percentage. It is a very odd calculation.
With regard to the countries of south Asia referred to by the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady in answers to previous questions, when does the Minister expect to make the new arrangements in those countries, to which she is looking forward?
We finally succeded in obtaining Community agreements in July 1974 on the principle of aid to non-associated countries, which bears on the matter raised. I now seek to achieve a hard financial programme. I do not know whether I shall succeed in achieving that, but that is my objective. We shall see.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development if she will make a further statement about aid for relief in Cyprus.
I told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on 11th February that we would make a contribution of £250,000 in response to his recent appeal for further funds for humanitarian assistance in Cyprus, following our earlier contribution to him of £500,000.
Does the Minister expect to receive further appeals from the United Nations or from other organisations? If so, what will be the Government's response to such appeals?
I cannot be entirely specific. My hon. Friend will bear in mind that if we add all the aspects of the help we have so far given, the total will move towards £2 million. If the United Nations High Commissioner were to approach us again I think that the Government would be sympathetic in their response.
Will any part of this aid programme go to help British citizens in Cyprus, many of whom live in conditions of considerable hardship?
I think that the very large contribution of about £750,000—the cost of the relief aid provided by the Services in the two British sovereign base areas, financed by my Department—has been of immense help to British citizens in Cyprus.
Mauritius (Cyclone Damage)
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what information she has as to the extent of the cyclone damage in Mauritius; whether relief aid from Great Britain has been offered; and if she will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development what are the Government's plans to get relief aid to Mauritius, following the recent cyclone there.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether aid has been requested and offered to Mauritius in connection with the recent cyclone disaster; and whether she will make a statement.
Reports that I have received show that extensive disruptions were caused to the island's water supplies, power and communications. Some damage was suffered by the sugar crop.Personnel from the Royal Navy communications station gave immediate assistance, £10,000 has been donated to the local reconstruction fund, and my disaster unit dispatched medical supplies valued at £2,000. A Royal Navy frigate is now assisting further with relief work.
Since this is the most disastrous cyclone that has hit Mauritius since 1960 will the Minister send further financial aid, especially to help rebuild over 11,000 houses badly damaged or destroyed, and perhaps also some technical assistance to help to assess the damage and advise on the reconstruction which is now needed?
I am very anxious that we should do everything we can to help in this situation. It is relevant that within the next two or three weeks we shall be holding discussions with the Mauritions in preparation for a further aid programme to them. I hope very much to be able personally to explore what else we might be able to do within the aid programme in connection with the assistance there.
Is the damage such that the Mauritian Government will be unable to reach their sugar target, which was recently set in agreement with the United Kingdom?
I have no indication of that. The sugar harvest begins in July. I remember cutting the first cane in July 1974. It is a little too early for me to know what the effect is. I have no doubt that we shall receive reports in due course.
Are we to understand that we have not yet received a detailed assessment from the Government of Mauritius of the kind of help that Her Majesty's Government may be able to afford? Will the Minister accept that on both sides of the House there is anxiety to help this small but friendly Commonwealth country in its hour of need?
The immediate devastation has been dealt with and we have tried to help in whatever way we could. My judgment is that the Government of Mauritius are now assessing what longer-term help they will need to meet the consequences of that damage. We shall be ready to help as best we can. There is a moment, after the immediate effects of disaster, when it takes a little time to reassess what will be needed.
Can my right hon. Friend give any estimate of the damage done by this cyclone, compared to the last devastation 13 or 14 years ago? In answer to a question last week, I was told that we were giving £10,000, plus another £2,000, plus, of course, the help that the Navy was in the harbour to give. That does not seem too much to me. When we know more, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will expect to see much more help given to this old ally, which many of us know so well.
I assure the House that my affections are quite as much with Mauritius as those of my hon. Friend and hon. Members opposite. Had we been asked to do more immediately, we would have done it. We must recognise that Mauritius has developed its own economy to the point at which it is more capable of dealing with its own situation than are some other disaster areas that we have known in recent months. However, when we discuss in the next few weeks how best we can help Mauritius in the next few years, there will be no lack of readiness to do so.
Documents (Unofficial Disclosure)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the documents published in the Morning Star on Saturday and this morning.The documents date from December 1973 and January 1974, during the administration led by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Under the longstanding convention that governs these matters, Ministers of the present administration do not have access to the papers of the previous administration, and they are not answerable for the decisions of policy referred to in the documents. But I understand that the documents are authentic and I am much concerned as to how copies reached the Morning Star. Since criminal offences may well have been committed, the Department of Trade, which began its inquiries on Friday 21st February, has brought the matter to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has decided that a police investigation should be carried out. The Metropolitan Police have begun their inquiries.
Is the Prime Minister aware that we are very grateful to him for making this statement at the earliest opportunity? Clearly, in this specific instance we must await the results of the police investigations. But, apart from this particular case, it is generally a matter of grave concern that documents clearly intended to be in the safe custody of the Government should find their way into unauthorised hands. May I therefore ask him whether some attention will be given to the system for the safe keeping of confidential documents and information?
The right hon. Lady is right on this matter. There was another leakage some two or three years ago from, I think, the same department of the old Board of Trade, which led to a public inquiry. The right hon. Lady has said that she endorses this decision. The inquiries began in the Department of Trade early on Friday morning as soon as we knew that there was a problem, and they have reached a point at which it was decided to refer them to the police. As a result of the police investigations and any proceedings which may or may not follow, should there be any further anxiety of the kind to which the right hon. Lady refers such as would justify a more formal inquiry, obviously the Government would be prepared to consider that.
As the Editor of the Morning Star said publicly that after receipt of these documents through the post he contacted Government Departments—including, I understand, my right hon. Friend's own Department at 10, Downing Street—for confirmation and observation and apparently got none, does that mean that so far as public knowledge of the Queen's financial affairs is concerned my right hon. Friend's administration are taking a more progressive view than the previous administration?
It means exactly that we were following the rule which has been traditional over many years. Neither No. 10 nor the Department of Trade, nor anyone else, could give any advice to the editor concerned about these documents, because, as I say, these documents are by long tradition denied to an incoming administration. That is simply all that results from those inquiries. As for companies legislation—we are talking about documents relating to a Bill introduced by the previous administration which aborted because of the February election last year—my hon. Friend will be aware that we are not planning any companies legislation this Session. So far as I know, the work that we are doing on companies legislation so far is proceeding in somewhat different directions.
The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman not only for his statement but also for the action that he has promptly taken. Is he aware, however, that many people will feel great anxiety over this matter, reasoning that if these documents can so easily be copied and published perhaps other documents of vastly greater seriousness are also at risk? Would he not agree that it is always the case that, if confidentiality goes in any circumstance, the conduct of public or other business becomes quite impossible?
The right hon. Gentleman referred to action taken. It was, in fact, taken at first light on Friday morning—or at least at the moment when first light hits the Department of Trade. In this case, I think it was 10.30. Reports had to be made to the officials concerned in the light of what information had been received overnight. With regard to other documents, I have expressed my anxiety that there were leaks under the previous administration in this area of the Department of Trade, then the Department of Trade and Industry. I think that we must now await the results of the police inquiries to see whether there is a restricted, perhaps individual, problem or whether there is something more serious which needs to be looked into.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has confirmed that these documents are authentic. Would he accept that, while any leak of information from a Government Department is a serious matter, in this instance that is something of a mouse compared with the much larger cat which has been let out of the bag? Would he care to comment on the rather devious, even deceitful, method that it was apparently intended to adopt to cover up the Royal income? Would he not agree that, irrespective of the impropriety about the leak itself, the fact that this information has been made public at present represents a public service performed by the Press?
No, Sir—nothing justifies a leak. I cannot express—
The Lobby reporters do it every day, on their terms.
I cannot express any view on the issues on this because I have no access to what was done by the previous Government in these matters. As I have said, we have no companies legislation envisaged in this Session and the work that we are doing on companies legislation is on rather different lines.
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is more general concern about security in the Department of Trade, observing that the Secretary of State for Trade revealed on Thursday that vital information about new Government measures to improve and encourage exports was also leaked to the Press? Would he bear that in mind in the inquiry? Would he further say whether the documents concerned were classified, and, if so, what degree of classification they bore?
I will bring this matter to the attention of my right hon. Friend, who is not here to answer questions today because he is in Nigeria. I was aware, on the announcement about ECGD, that there had been some prior speculation in the Press, but some of these matters are widely discussed in consultations and I should not like to express a view, certainly not to give any support to the view that this came from within the Department of Trade. What has happened here relates to a particularly narrow area of the Board of Trade—not very different from the V and G area. But I do not want to prejudge police inquiries. We must let the police get on with the job.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there is grave public concern at the idea of the Monarch's advisers negotiating in secret for protective legislation? Is not this a breach of the British constitution, whereby the Monarch is subordinate to Parliament? Would not the proper solution be to pay the Queen a salary and make her subject to tax like every other citizen and so end the need for such secrecy?
I am not aware that anything unconstitutional has occurred. There is no ministerial responsibility here in the sense of the present Government, but I note the suggestion made by my hon. Friend about the much broader question of the Civil List. I was not quite sure whether he would say that he would vote for it if it were introduced on those lines.
Railway Signalmen (Dispute)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the unofficial action taken and being threatened by some railway signalmen.The signalmen concerned complain about the outcome of the major pay restructuring exercise for all British Rail employees which was finally completed last year. They are demanding a further 15 per cent. increase. Negotiations on a new, comprehensive pay structure for the railways first began in 1972. They were always accepted as being in addition to the negotiations for normal annual settlements. The negotiations proved long and arduous, and the House will remember that they were from time to time accompanied by official industrial action which seriously disrupted railway services. In February 1974, agreement not having been reached, all the outstanding issues were referred to the Railway Staff National Tribunal, the railways' agreed and independent arbitral body. In July last year the tribunal reported after carefully considering all the issues, involving as they did the complex of all pay relativities between different groups of workers. Its recommendations were accepted by British Rail and the unions and were implemented. It is important to remember this background in considering the present unofficial action by a minority of all railway employees, indeed a minority of signalmen. The current relativities were established only after long negotiations and a comprehensive and detailed inquiry by an independent tribunal, set up by agreement in the industry. They were accepted by all the unions and the overwhelming majority of those they represent. It has been suggested that, because of the hardship and inconvenience the unofficial action is causing, I should intervene in some way to secure a settlement or that I should appoint an inquiry. I certainly deplore the appalling inconvenience to the travelling public that has resulted and have urged that it should end. But the present pay structure was itself established by an independent inquiry. I would hope the House would agree that it is neither reasonable nor practical that an issue raised by an unofficial body of some kind should be referred to further inquiry. This could only undermine the established procedures of negotiation in the industry and the authority of the unions. It is a step which could greatly encourage further disruption on the railways and further afield. For the same reasons any third-party intervention is, in my view, to be avoided. Hon. Members who advocate such a course should not be misled by the plausible assurances from the unofficial spokesmen that action would stop on such an intervention. The consequences in the longer term could be most injurious to all efforts to uphold established negotiation arrangements and procedures, and to sustain the democratic machinery of the unions. It also needs to be remembered that British Rail and the National Union of Railwayment have recently agreed on the reclassification of some 1,800 jobs in signal boxes which will lead to pay increases of between £2·95 and £5·35. Moreover, negotiations have recently begun for a new annual settlement for all railwaymen, and the National Union of Railwaymen has already indicated that the expressed grievance should be considered in the context of those negotiations. I accept that the signalmen concerned hold their views strongly and sincerely, but I believe that they must in turn understand that they cannot secure a fresh hearing of their case in this way. I trust the House will join with me, British Rail and the National Union of Railwaymen in condemning any continuation of these unofficial stoppages and in denying those who instigate and foster them the recognition to which their action is directed. The resolution of any grievances cannot be secured by these methods; it can only be secured through the democratic machinery of the union and the forthcoming negotiations.
It is often the custom to criticise Ministers for not coming to the House to make a statement but, instead, giving information by Written Answer. On this occasion, however, we have had the Secretary of State coming to the House, and making a long statement which contained nothing new at all compared with what he said in the House 10 days ago.While one of course urges the signalmen to end this unofficial action which, as he said, is causing appalling inconvenience, difficulty and hardship to thousands of commuters, one asks why should the community be made to suffer because of this internal dispute within the National Union of Railwaymen? What proposal has the Secretary of State for dealing with this sort of pay relativity problem? Over two months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) put this precise point to the Secretary of State, and we have had nothing from him at all. Although one can accept his judgment that in the particular circumstances, knowing all the facts, he believes that it would be wrong to ask the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service to intervene at this stage or to set up an inquiry—he said all this 10 days ago—because he feels that the matter must be solved through union channels, will he not at least urgently consult the president of the NUR to find some way of bringing this dispute to an end? What the House is asking of the Secretary of State is action from him to protect the innocent travelling public.
I am certainly in favour of doing everything possible to protect the innocent travelling public. But I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the rest of the House that I think that they should make up their minds about this matter. Indeed, if there is any criticism of my making this statement today, it seems all the more necessary that I should have made it, because the hon. Gentleman still has not understood. There was an inquiry into the whole matter. There was an inquiry which brought to an end some of the difficulties that were experienced by the innocent travelling public a year or so ago on the railways.The advice which it appears that the hon. Gentleman is giving is that because of this action we should reinstitute a new inquiry. The hon. Gentleman was asking whether we could have a new inquiry or an investigation by the ACAS. Either of these courses in my opinion would be accepting what the small number of signalmen wish to secure by their action. If that is what hon. Members of the Opposition ale wanting, they should say so openly and not try to get it by a side wind. I say to the House—I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree—that the only way that this matter can be satisfactorily settled is in the forthcoming negotiations. It is not merely a question of the internal politics of the NUR. It is a question whether we are to sustain democracy in the trade unions and a proper system of negotiations.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no internal dispute so far as the NUR is concerned, that over the past few weeks the NUR has consistently done everything within its power to urge signalmen to remain at work, and that if they would only follow the practice of remaining at work the present grievances could be looked at in the new negotiations which are already in progress?
My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. It should be stated as clearly as possible that if the advice of the NUR were followed, there would be no inconvenience to the travelling public now.
Does not the Minister agree that he has adopted an ostrich-like attitude on this matter? While it may be true that there is no dispute within the NUR, may I ask whether he agrees that there is a breakaway union involved which he is pretending does not exist? As that union does exist, will not the Minister at least agree to meet its representatives, not to promise an inquiry but at least to hear what they have to say? Is the Minister aware that I have a meeting with that union planned for tomorrow morning? Can the Minister give me any message that I can give to the signalmen in the morning which may help them to resolve their difficulties? Does the Minister not agree that he himself set up a third party in disputes, namely the ACAS? What part has he invited the ACAS to play in the dispute so far?
Hon. Members should consider what they are asking me to do. An inquiry has reported on an important and very complicated matter about differentials and the relations of different people in the unions. The inquiry examined these matters with great care and reached findings which were accepted overwhelmingly by all the parties concerned. Hon. Members now suggest that, because of disruptive action, we should take steps either to ask the ACAS to intervene or to institute some inquiry. That is a recipe for widespread chaos that hon. Members are recommending us to adopt, particularly as negotiations will be taking place in a very few weeks in which precisely these matters can be examined afresh. In those circumstances, it would be most unwise for us to take the action suggested or implied by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe). If hon. Members want a good, simple recipe for spreading industrial chaos everywhere, they have heard it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his negative reply of today will be very cold comfort to many thousands of commuters or would-be commuters from Hertfordshire and elsewhere? What is to happen in the long run if a deaf ear continues to be turned to his exhortations? Is not this a task for the conciliation and arbitration procedures which he has put in place of any court? Are they not on trial in this matter?
No, I do not think that there is any criticism of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service in any sense whatsoever. As I have repeated, an inquiry was instituted and a report was made and it was accepted by all the parties concerned. If hon. Members are proposing that the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service should be put into operation immediately, or very soon, because of disruptive action, they are proposing a recipe for spreading industrial chaos in this country.The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks what we are proposing to do to deal with the situation and the great inconvenience to which the travelling public are being subjected. I agree about the difficulties. I deplore the difficulties. The best way for them to be removed is for the matter to be settled in the forthcoming negotiations. It is not a question of anyone on my side turning a deaf ear. The deaf ear has been turned by the right hon. and learned Member, who does not seem to appreciate that these matters can be and will be dealt with in the forthcoming negotiations.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that if there were to be any change in the differential at this stage it would almost certainly lead to industrial action by another group of railwaymen and chaos over the coming months?
My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. One of the reasons for the setting-up of the inquiry in February of last year—incidentally, it was an inquiry instituted by the Tory Government—was the industrial disruption which was already taking place. Hon. Members make a great mistake if they think that we should reopen that situation.
Cannot the Secretary of State use his good offices to bring home to this small number of signalmen that their anti-social behaviour is causing great distress to thousands of commuters? If he cannot see any way through it at present, should he not talk to the National Union of Railwaymen and the Trades Union Congress and see whether unofficial stoppages of this nature should be included in the social contract, so-called?
One of the reasons for my making the statement today, although the fact that I have made it seems to be regretted by some, is that prior to Thursday or any other time when this small number of signalmen propose to take action they should know what the Government's attitude is.I wish to make it absolutely clear so that there can be no misunderstanding about it. The Government are not prepared to institute an inquiry in these circumstances, for all the reasons I have given. However, the National Union of Railwaymen has been using its exertions to try to persuade signalmen not to join in this action. The NUR, with which of course I have had conversations, has done its very best to persuade the signalmen not to join the action. I hope that the efforts of the NUR to ensure that everybody is able to get to work will be supported unanimously by the House of Commons.
Does the Secretary of State recollect that he came under great criticism in Scotland at the time of the Scottish road haulage strike back in November? Confessing that I was one of those who flirted at one point with the idea that he should be called in, may I ask whether he will now accept our total support? Will he remind those in Scotland who think that it is only when things are wrong in Scotland that he takes no action, and that when things go somewhat critically wrong on Thamesside and in the South-East he pays immediate attention, that they are wrong? Can he put this view of the world straight?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has repented of his previous error, if indeed that is what he is confessing to the House. I believe that the question when the Department of Employment intervenes in a dispute or when the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service intervenes is a matter of some importance. All I am saying and underlining is that if the Department of Employment or the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service were to intervene in a dispute of this character it would mean that every inquiry could be reopened within a few weeks or a few months by anybody who liked to cause any disruptive action. If that is thought to be a recipe for industrial peace, I suggest that somebody finds another.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept my sympathy for having to make his statement today, a type of statement with which I am all too familiar, having made it myself? If he cannot assure the House, as I fully accept that he cannot, that his own intervention would be helpful at this stage, will he at least assure us that he and his officers are keeping the situation under review and will accept that if this situation goes on long enough there must come a time when, either through the TUC or direct, he must take some action to avoid this inconvenience to commuters?
The right hon. Gentleman started by offering me his sympathy. What I much prefer to have from hon. Members opposite is a clear and honest statement of their views instead of their seeking to have it both ways. I believe that if I were to make the kind of statement the right hon. Gentleman invites me to make it would only encourage this tiny number of signalmen to proceed with their action, because they take the view that if they only continue for long enough they will be able to force me or the Government to institute an inquiry. I say that they will not succeed in that purpose. I wanted to make that point clear. Any hon. Gentleman opposite who wishes to be honest with the country will say the same.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement he has made this afternoon. I declare an interest. On behalf of over 200,000 railwaymen who accepted the last pay agreement which covered the signalmen who are now quarrelling with the rest of the railwaymen about a differential, may I remind my right hon. Friend that some of us in the House who have a personal interest in the matter wish to add our appeals personally to this small group of signalmen who are causing such hardship to commuters? We believe that it is unfair and wrong of them to do so. However, it is disgraceful for criticism to be offered to my right hon. Friend by hon. Members opposite who left a miners' strike, a three-day week and a blackout when they went to the country.
My hon. Friend is quite correct in saying that the settlement that was reached on the railways last year was one of the best settlements that has been reached for railwaymen as a whole in recent time. However, we are not saying that it is perfect and, if there are errors in it, the NUR and British Railways have said that they will correct it in the next set of negotiations, which are just about to begin. In these circumstances, it is absurd for any hon. Member to suggest that we should start a new inquiry which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) said, would immediately disrupt the whole of the settlement which was made last year.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that hundreds of thousands of commuters in Essex alone have been suffering not merely inconvenience but considerable hardship, not for the past few weeks, but for the past three months? The right hon. Gentleman has invited us to make positive proposals. Does he not recognise that either the signalmen have a genuine grievance or they have not? If they have a genuine grievance, is it not right that this should be ascertained without delay? Would it not have been right to ascertain it without delay two or three months ago? If the signalmen have not a grievance, should they not be disciplined by British Railways? Is there not a case for an inquiry at once without further disruption of services for so many commuters?
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to listen to what has been said. He has apparently never faced the facts of the matter. There was an inquiry last year into precisely these matters—
It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. There was an inquiry into all these matters by an independent body, the arbitral body which exists for the railway industry. That body produced its report, which was accepted overwhelmingly by the railwaymen. The hon. Gentleman is asking that very soon after that inquiry has been published we should reopen it because some people are causing disruptive action. I think that is particularly foolish when there is the possibility, as I have already underlined, of fresh negotiations in a very short time. If hon. Members want to have industrial peace and want to assist their constituents, they will do better if they support the view which I have expressed instead of pretending that there is some other way in which peace can be restored on British Railways.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept from me my absolute support in demanding, asking and pleading with the signalmen to go back to work, and continue their complaint from there? However, I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, too, that it is no good his coming to the House today and saying nothing to us, and then pleading with us, with all the oratory at his command, to believe that there is nothing that he as Secretary of State can do. Surely he is not a bureaucrat now. He is a Secretary of State and should be able to find a politician's way out. Can he not find some way that is not a statutory way of meeting these men? Can he not meet them in his room here at the House of Commons?
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question, even though he appeared to withdraw it in the second part. It is not a question of bureaucracy or anything of the sort. The question is whether a person is prepared to speak honestly and straight about this matter. There is no way by which this dispute can be settled by the Government instituting an inquiry. There is no way by which it can be settled by my meeting these signalmen in the House of Commons or in any other way.
The hon. Gentleman asks how. I have been trying to get it into his thick skull for about three or four months, or whatever the period is. The hon. Gentleman causes more problems in this House than the rest of the House put together. I have been trying to tell him. [Interruption.] I am referring to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). There is a perfectly good way by which this matter can be settled, and that is by negotiations which are available in the next few weeks. That is the way in which it can be settled. The hon. Gentleman likes to pretend that he is looking after his constituents, but what he would be doing would cause much more trouble to his constituents for many more years.
Industry Bill (Standing Committee)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I first thank you for the ruling which you gave on Friday on a matter which had been raised by a number of hon. Members about the composition of the Standing Committee on the Industry Bill. We obviously understood and accepted your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that this is not a matter in which you can get involved. We also appreciate your statement that if there is any way in which you can help you will remain willing to do so.I think that the concern expressed in the House underlines the very wide feeling in all parts of the House that the outcome of the Second Reading debate which resulted in a majority of 14, which was equivalent to one seat in the Committee, resulted in a majority of three in the Standing Committee when the selection was made. Further to your ruling on Friday, may I ask whether the Leader of the House has made any request to make a statement? This matter was raised. Although the date was incorrectly given to you as Tuesday, the Standing Committee is, in fact, meeting on Thursday. We are not aware whether the Committee of Selection is meeting before Wednesday. This is a procedural matter for the House, and I think it is still a matter of considerable urgency. The Leader of the House, like you, Mr. Speaker, has a responsibility to all Members of the House—to the minority parties as well as to the majority parties.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand the limitations of the Chair and I do not wish to add to your difficulties, but we are in some real difficulty here. It is very important indeed that if we are going to continue to use Standing Committees, the House should have confidence in the way in which they are set up. In this instance, Mr. Speaker, it appears to us that the Committee of Selection made a mistake. On Second Reading there was a majority of 14 for the Bill and 48·9 per cent. of the House voted against the Bill. [Interruption.] If the Patronage Secretary will be kind enough to keep quiet, I shall be able to complete my remarks much more quickly. He is, incidentally, one of the most talkative Chief Whips we have ever had, on either side of the House. In the Standing Committee, 45·7 per cent. of the House are opposed to the Bill. I suggest that it is very important that the Committee of Selection should have another look at this. I understand that it will meet next on Wednesday, and I suggest that the first sitting of the Standing Committee should be postponed till Tuesday in order to give the reconstituted Committee a fair chance to look at the matter properly.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the limitations of the Chair, and the Chair is very conscious of those limitations. These matters were all raised on Friday or before. The Committee of Selection is an independent Committee of this House. I cannot give it directions. But it is expected to take a general view of the opinions held in all parts of the House. I wonder whether this continuing argument might do more harm than good.
I entirely agree with you, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter entirely for the Committee of Selection. That Committee will meet on Wednesday and it may be that it will bear in mind what has been said in the House. So far as I can see, there is nothing wrong with the composition—[Interruption.] No, nothing at all. The Committee cannot take any account of the majority. If hon. Members will read the Standing Order they will see that the Committee has to take account of the composition of the House. Short of quartering one of the National Members, the Committee could not be fairer.
Some of us did not intervene on Friday, Mr. Speaker, because you indicated that these matters would be taken into account and that Friday was not the occasion; also, we understood that the Leader of the House could not be here. Some of us heard the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) say that he would listen with respect to whatever the House said, and for that the House was grateful. But there are, in my submission, two matters which are the responsibility of the Leader of the House. First, if the Committee of Selection meets, as we understand it will, on Wednesday and if it should vary its decision, there may be additional Members or substituted Members who at 24 hours' notice will be expected to master all the amendments which will be raised in that Committee. It therefore seems right that in any event the first meeting of that Standing Committee should be postponed. I submit that that is a matter for which the Leader of the House has a responsibility.The second point, from reading Standing Order No. 62, is that clearly the Committee of Selection had not taken into account the composition of the House. It is quite clear that a Committee of 35 should consist of 18 Members of the Government, 15 Members of the Opposition and two Members of the minority parties. It happens that there are 39 Members of those parties, 34 of whom voted against the Bill and only four of whom voted in favour, and it is one of those four who has been put on the Committee to represent the 39. [Interruption.] It may well be that the acting Chief Whip, in the absence of the Government Chief Whip, thought that he had pulled a fast one. But he will not get away with it.
Business Of The House
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Motion relating to Television Broadcasting of Proceedings may be made after the time for opposed business, and if so made, the Question thereon shall be put forthwith.—[Mr. Edward Short.]
I understand that this motion is debatable. It seems that the House ought not to pass it without some indication that this form of motion will in no way be taken as a precedent. By its terms it pre-empts the possibility of a closure. Indeed it provides in effect for a closure without a Division. In general, of course, the only proper time for a closure is when the Chair in its wisdom thinks it appropriate that the House should consider whether the debate should continue and when the House has had the opportunity to express its opinion upon it. Unless this motion is controverted now, it has exactly the same effect as a motion for the closure accepted by the Chair and duly carried by the House at some time after ten o'clock.There is a further and minor inconvenience in this form of motion. It is within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that some years ago arrangements were made for motions suspending the rule to be taken only at ten o'clock in the event of their being controverted. This afternoon we have, in a sense, two innovations together in this motion. I quite understand that there is a special purpose, which probably would be acceptable to the House in any case, in the framing of this motion. Nevertheless, unless it were clearly understood that no precedent could be drawn from it, I would suggest that it should not be passed unless there is also an assurance that the matter will be placed before the Select Committee on Procedure. If this type of motion were to be repeated it would, in effect, bring about an alteration in procedure which I do not think would be acceptable to many hon. Members.
This form of motion has been used on many occasions. The House will be expressing the view that the time between now and ten o'clock will be an adequate time to discuss these two motions. Certainly we shall not use it as a precedent. We shall judge each occasion on its merits. There is nothing unusual about the motion. It has been used on many occasions.
The only point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) with which I have to deal is the question of the closure. As for the first motion, it is still for the Chair to accept a closure motion if it thinks fit. On the second motion, I agree that under the terms of the business motion it is automatically closured.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Motion relating to Television Broadcasting of Proceedings may be made after the time for opposed business, and if so made, the Question thereon shall be put forthwith.
Proceedings Of The House (Broadcasting)
I beg to move,
It will be convenient to discuss at the same time the motion relating to television broadcasting:That this House authorises an experiment in the public sound broadcasting of its proceedings, to be held in accordance with conditions approved by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services).
The two motions before the House fulfil an undertaking in the Gracious Speech of October last year to the effect that the Government would provide a further opportunity for the House to come to a decision on the broadcasting of our proceedings. There are two motions to be decided. The first motion proposes an experiment in sound broadcasting of our proceedings and the second proposes an experiment in televising our proceedings. Both motions provide that the detailed arrangements for these experiments would be made by the Services Committee of the House in consultation with the broadcasting authorities. I emphasise that what is before the House today, therefore, is simply the question whether there should be experiments in television, sound or both. If the House should decide in favour, there will be a subsequent opportunity, when the Services Committee has reported on the outcome of the experiment, for us to come to a view whether we are in favour of the permanent public broadcasting of our proceedings. Perhaps I could indicate the kind of experiment which the broadcasting authorities have suggested in our discussions with them. We have made it clear that for the experimental period we shall look to the authorities to meet the cost both of making the record and of using it. They have agreed to do this for the limited period involved in the experiment. However, if the House were eventually to decide in favour of some form of permanent broadcasting of our proceedings, clearly there would need to be further detailed discussions with the two authorities about how such permanent arrangements should be financed. Perhaps I could explain the point of view of the broadcasting authorities about permanently financing the broadcasting of our proceedings. They take the view that the making of a visual equivalent of Hansard should in the long run be Parliament's affair. The cameras, videotape recorders and the staff required for a continuous record of our proceedings should, they say, be funded by Parliament and the use of this material, for a fee, and the editing and relaying of it in suitable programmes, should be for them. I have assured the two authorities that their agreement to pay the cost of an experiment will not prejudice discussions on longer term arrangements. There are some minor costs, estimated at about £5,000, which will be met by the Department of the Environment. I come next to the duration of a television experiment. The broadcasting authorities have in mind a period of about three weeks. For radio this period might be rather longer. They would be willing to consider varying the length of their experiments to fit in with the wishes of the House. They will, of course, listen to the debate today. But their agreement to finance the experiment has been on the basis of a three-week television experiment and a four-week radio experiment. I understand that any significantly longer period would place considerable pressures on staffing resources of the highly specialised standard required. If the discussions between the broadcasting authorities and the Services Committee could be concluded quickly I understand that the experiments could take place before the Summer Recess this year. I recognise that this timing may not prove to be feasible, particularly for television. However, the broadcasting authorities would do their best to meet the wishes of the House in this matter. As to coverage, I understand that the authorities have in mind broadly the same kind of coverage as that suggested when we last discussed the matter in 1972. For television this would mean that the BBC would put on nightly half-hour sum- maries of the day's proceedings. In addition the BBC would use recorded extracts in news bulletins and perhaps cover one or two Questions Times and perhaps a major debate in the experimental period. The IBA on the other hand proposes to show recorded visual extracts in its nightly national and regional news bulletins and perhaps also some live or recorded coverage of Question Time and particular debates. The television broadcasts by both authorities would be in colour. For radio the arrangements can be much more flexible. I understand that the authorities have in mind mainly the use of recorded extracts in news bulletins and the "Today in Parliament" type of programme. The use of recorded extracts by local radio would be an important aspect. One of the objectives of any experiment would be to try to gauge the extent of general public interest in such broadcasts and not merely that of more specialised audiences. I have accordingly asked the two authorities to bear in mind the need to have at least some of their coverage at main viewing times. I turn briefly to the question of the physical arrangements for any experiment because I know this concerns a great many hon. Members.That this House authorises an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television, to be held in accordance with conditions approved by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services).
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the introductory part of his statement, may I ask him whether the two authorities have suggested that there might be someone who is a Member of the House, perhaps some representative of the Services Committee, who will be associated with the broadcasting and television authorities during the experimental period? Or do the authorities demand total and absolute editorial power and responsibility?
Certainly the editing of the programmes is one of the most important aspects of the matter, and I shall say a word about that in a moment.Sound broadcasting poses no major problem in the physical arrangements required, but television undoubtedly does. Hon. Members will have had opportunity to judge something of this matter for themselves from the demonstration in Committee Room No. 6—which, I may say, is continuing today until, I believe, eight o'clock this evening. They will see there what the broadcasting authorities consider the necessary level of lighting and the quality of picture produced in our present standard of lighting in this Chamber. But demonstrattions in a Committee room, however well arranged, cannot give an entirely accurate picture of what will happen in this Chamber. I understand that, although it may not be necessary to alter significantly the power of the lighting in the Chamber in order to ensure an adequate picture, it may be necessary in some places to alter its character. I am sure that the broadcasting authorities will do all they can to avoid any discomfort to hon. Members. I know that this is a factor which has deterred some Members in the past, including myself, from supporting an experiment, and it is clearly a matter which can be satisfactorily resolved only in the light of experience in an actual experiment. Nevertheless, I felt that a demonstration in a room upstairs would help hon. Members to assess this factor in making up their minds. I have been assured by the broadcasting authorities on two counts: first, that if extra lighting is required it will come from outside the Chamber, from clerestory lights above us, so that there will he no heat problem; and second, that the levels of lighting required will not in any way he comparable with those used at the State opening of Parliament, which, I am sure, would be totally unacceptable to all hon. Members in every part of the House. Finally, and perhaps most important of all, there is the extremely difficult question of editorial control. It is clearly essential that even in a short experiment the proceedings of the House should be seen in a fair and balanced way. Any summary of our proceedings poses considerable problems of fairness and editorial judgment. It would be only too easy to give a quite misleading picture of the activities of hon. Members in this place. I think that it will be generally agreed that these problems of balanced reporting have on the whole been successfully overcome, in the context of reported speech, in the daily programme "Today in Parliament". Indeed, it is almost the only BBC programme on current affairs which attracts little or no criticism. But television, of course, poses far more difficult problems of editorial balance.
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify one matter for me? If we vote for the motions, we are, I take it, saying that we shall allow edited broadcasts to go out. What about those of us who feel that there is a good case for certain highlights of Parliament's business to be televised in their entirety? Have we to vote against the motion tonight, or, if we vote in favour, will there still be opportunity for that to be considered?
I have told the House of the sort of programmes which the broadcasting authorities are proposing to put out.Television, as I say, poses much more difficult problems of editorial balance because the factors involved in producing a balanced visual report are far more complex and subjective. As the House knows, the broadcasting authorities are already under obligation to treat controversial political matters with proper balance, with accuracy and with impartiality. I have no doubt that they will do all in their power to fulfil their obligation, which, in the case of the IBA, is statutory and, in the case of the BBC, is agreed. This also is one of the aspects of the television experiment which can be judged only by results. I am sure that the Services Committee will wish to be assured by the broadcasting authorities about the editing aspect of the experiment, and I imagine that the greater part of its discussions with the broadcasting authorities—apart from the question of physical arrangements in the House—will be concerned with the editorial side of it. I do not wish to argue the issue for and against the broadcasting of our proceedings. The ground has been well covered in the past and will, no doubt, be covered again during the debate. I simply say that, in my view, we must weigh the undoubted interest in Parliament which the broadcasing of our proceedings would arouse and the effect that this would have on our democracy generally against the equally undoubted change in the character and atmosphere of the House which would result. We must weigh one against the other. As I see it, the issue is whether our democracy would be better served by our bringing the cameras and microphones into our Chamber or by keeping them out, and whether the public are adequately informed of our debates and Questions at present by the two broadcasting authorities and the Press. All will agree that the public have a right to be informed adequately, so the question is whether it is necessary to take this additional step to assure that right. That, I suggest, is the issue before us today. I emphasise again that what we are discussing at this stage are proposals for an experiment.
My right hon. Friend was kind enough to give Written Answers to some Questions from me, and I got the impression that he would give some of the details of finance in his speech to the House today. Could he give us the capital cost of installing the equipment here for televising our proceedings, and the annual recurring cost for sending the signal out? As I understand it—perhaps my right hon. Friend will confirm or deny these figures—the capital cost would be about £250,000, and there would be about £1 million annual recurring cost to get the signal out of this place for transmission.
The capital cost of permanently televising our proceedings is a matter which the Services Committee must go into before it reports back to the House.The decision today is not a Government matter. It is entirely a matter for the House, which the House will decide on a free vote. I hope that, with those few opening remarks, I have assisted right hon. and hon. Members by reminding them of some of the issues involved.
As I have the good fortune to be called first after the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. I wish to say at once that the whole House greatly appreciates the speech which he has just made. Whether one be for or against the motions, all of us recognise that his painstaking approach to this matter is very much in the interests not only of individual Members and this House but of Parliament as a whole. We are, therefore, very grateful to him.I think it right that there should be an experiment both on radio and on television. It should be understood clearly, however, that if we have these experiments they will certainly lead to continuing practice. Once we start the experiments, we shall have broadcasts on radio and television with us, and with us for ever. I happen to think that that is right and that it is inevitable. It is an astonishment to me that we should have talked about this matter for as long, I believe, as 15 years since the late Aneurin Bevan first mentioned it in a speech. It is an astonishment to me that it is 10 years since the Select Committee reported in favour, and it is an astonishment to me that we should have needed to discuss the matter some seven times, I believe, in the past decade or so. In my view, this place is the weaker if it is not fully reported to our fellow citizens, and reported in ways which they can plainly see, understand and feel involved in. Second, I wish to discuss a little how we should begin, and I shall take first a matter to which the right hon. Gentleman, somewhat to my surprise, did not refer, though I acknowledge that he made only a short speech. I have great pride in this place, as we all have. I believe in its capability and I believe in its competence, I believe that this Parliament of ours is still a model for all democracies in terms of manners and of performance. Yet like other hon. Members who love this place, I am one of its strong critics. I have to acknowledge, as I believe we all do, that the quality of our debates is lower than it might be, and there are occasions when even the great debates in this House seem utterly pointless. They are set pieces and are foregone conclusions. Even more exasperating to the back-bencher is, to put it no more rudely, the occasional indifference with which our original and brilliant ideas are treated by the Ministers who reply to the debates. However, there are exceptions to that, as the Leader of the House indicated. One of the best debates I have listened to in my time here took place only three months ago on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, as it was. The more non-party debates we have the better. Of all the remarks made to me by my constituents who come to the Public Gallery from time to time, the one I regret and resent the most is that nobody appears actually to be in the Chamber when debates are in progress. It is as though our constituents expect the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to be locked in continual mortal combat. The reality is, as we explain to our constituents, that there are many other attractions in other parts of the building. There are meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party which, as the world knows, produce the best knockabout show since Nervo and Knox. Not to be outdone, the Conservatives have the 1922 Committee. It is remarkable that in the Conservative Party at least there are no fewer than 27 party committees of various sorts rivalled only in number by all-party committees. Then there are the Select Committees and Standing Committees. I suggest to the Services Committee that when it studies this matter it should bear in mind that it is not only in the Chamber that the most important work is done in Parliament. Even our Question Time is not the best way of Parliament controlling the executive. In these increasingly complex days, particularly on financial matters, that can be done only through Select Committees. I hope that the Leader of the House and those responsible for deciding this matter will not ignore the possibility of televising some of the Select Committees from time to time. Consider putting Ministers in front of, let us say, subcommittees of the Expenditure Committee for two hours of continuous cross-examination, or putting the most senior of our distinguished civil servants before the Public Accounts Committee to be examined, for example, on the reports of that most distinguished servant of the house, the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Such broadcasting would be a far better way of showing Parliament truly and competently at work than could be demonstrated by much of the high jinks which goes on across the Floor of the House at Question time. This practice is followed in the United States, and, while I do not wish us to ape or emulate everything that that legislature does, none the less it is a precedent which we would do well to bear in mind. The sooner the Services Committee starts its work the better. Parliament needs broadcasting because democracy needs constant exposure. It is not enough for us to praise it and to speak our pride in it. It must be seen to work. The prestige of Parliament depends absolutely upon the confidence of the electorate. The electorate can have confidence only if it feels itself to be daily concerned with the work we are trying to do here. There is the question of payment. I am a strong advocate of reductions in Government and local authority expenditure, never more needed than now. Nevertheless Parliament should pay, whatever the expense, for in the end we must realise, remember and preach that democracy is priceless.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) that once we allow the broadcasting or televising of the proceedings of the House they will be here to stay. It will not be an experiment. Those who argue that we should go ahead on the basis of an experiment, see what happens and then stop it if we wish, are talking nonsense.I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman when he said that the quality of the debates here is often so low. That is not a fair criticism. I have been a Member of the House longer than anyone else and I swear that steadily, year by year, the standard of the debates has risen. It is now much higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago. It has improved largely because hon. Members are drawn from a wider section of the community. Many more Members are drawn from the professional classes. To maintain that the standard of debate is low is a difficult case to advance in the context of this debate. If the standard is too low, why should we televise it? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that by putting television cameras in the House we should raise the standard? I was surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's proposal that we should also televise the Committees. There would be confusion. Which Committees should be televised—all of the Committees all of the time? That is not a sensible suggestion. If I had the choice of televising some of the more important Committees or televising the Chamber I should prefer to televise the Committees, but I do not want either televised. In the United States some of the congressional committees are televised, but the Senate and the House of Representatives are not. The Americans were absolutely right to make that decision. The decision of the House so far not to bring television into the Chamber is in the interests of our democracy. It is suggested that in former years there was far greater confidence in Parliament than exists today. One of the purposes of those who advocate televising our proceedings is to restore that confidence. In past years the standard of debate was much lower and it was subjected to constant criticism and attack by commentators, writers and newspapers. During the early part and middle of the century it was constantly said that the House of Commons was a farce. I remember as a youth—I was brought up in a political family—that it was common to talk about the House of Commons as a talking shop or a gasworks. It was ridiculed the whole time. In spite of that healthy ridicule, the public had confidence in Parliament and in our parliamentary democracy. An enormous proportion of the electorate voted at the elections and if something went wrong while Parliament was in recess, there would be an immediate demand for the House to be recalled. There was strong confidence in Parliament in those days and it is as strong today as it ever was. The talk of a fall of confidence and lack of respect today is unfounded. True, many important matters which affect the lives of theelectorate do not now come before Parliament. There are industrial disputes such as coal strikes and railway strikes, there is inflation, and other developments over which Parliament has no control. There may be a feeling that some important matters bypass Parliament. But if there is any lack of interest and confidence in Parliament, which I question, it is not because people are unaware of what is happening here. There is no reason to believe that interest and confidence would be increased if we televised Parliament. Televising Parliament might well have the reverse effect. Some people say, in favour of the argument for televising our proceedings, that we must move with the times. They say that if the character of our debates changed a bit, that might be a good thing. Some people believe that all change is desirable, but most of us do not. Change is not necessarily desirable. The case for it must be shown. We must be fully convinced that the televising of the House, with its strength and weaknesses, would increase confidence in our proceedings and not weaken it. I have heard no argument to convince me that it would.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is using precisely the arguments used for the exclusion of the Press in 1771?
That is the most ridiculous of all arguments. No one questions for a moment that it is desirable in any democracy that there should be the maximum publicity. It is accepted that it should be possible for all constituents to find out and read what their elected Members of Parliament are saying, to have reports of our proceedings in Hansard and the Press. Nobody questions that. But what we are considering today is whether we want to add another form of publicity. Is it necessary or desirable? The principle of publicity is accepted.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that in the Strangers' Gallery we have an expression of the principle that the public have a right to see and hear what goes on in this Chamber? Does he not agree that radio and television coverage is simply an extension of that principle, of that right to hear and see?
I do not agree at all. People who are particularly interested in parliamentary affairs should have the right to come and see what is happening here. But whether it would be desirable to televise the proceedings of the House, and whether it would alter the character of parliamentary debate, which is the important issue, is an entirely different matter. It cannot be said that the fact that people can come to the Strangers' Gallery makes a case for televising our proceedings, which would then be much altered, to the detriment of our democratic system.I do not want to speak for longer than necessary, but I must mention another argument that is often used. It is said that there was opposition to televising party conferences, but that now that they have been televised nobody objects, and it is all right. Party conferences could not be more different from this deliberative assembly. They are public meetings where people go on to the platform to speak for five minutes. That is all that we are allowed at our party conference, unless we are sneaking officially from the platform. In five minutes speakers do not make a reasoned, argued case but probably make a dramatic, emotional appeal, a minute or two of which can easily be selected for television. It is good fun. It is significant that those parts of the speeches that are televised are always the most sensational, usually the peroration. People know that if they make such a speech it is likely to appear on television. If we televise our proceedings, the cameras are bound to pick out, and the editors will select, those portions of the speeches which are dramatic, lively and sensational. Moreover, every hon. Member will know that he must make that sort of speech if it is to be televised and seen by his constituents. That is inevitable, and if it happens it will be damaging to Parliamentary debates. Those who want the change seem to ignore the difference between a deliberative assembly, such as ours, and an arena for oratory, where people are trying to persuade an audience. Here if we are doing our job, we are not trying to persuade a large audience. We are trying to persuade each other in the intimacy of this Chamber, trying to persuade the Government to do something or other. It is an entirely different approach, and an entirely different type of speech is needed. Our present type of approach and speech has made this Parliament distinctive and different from most Parliaments in other parts of the world. I believe that it is our strength. If we change it to an arena for oratory and declamation, Parliament will lose gravely in its importance and esteem. It will certainly not gain. I should like to read an extract from the leading article in today's issue of The Guardian. The article is much like the speech made by my old friend, Mr. Crossman, when he initiated a debate on this matter in the House some time ago. His speech was meant to be in favour of televising our proceedings, but he made such a well-balanced argument that many people thought that he was arguing the other way. He made such effective points against televising our proceedings that many hon. Members went into a different Lobby from that which he intended. In many continental countries the proceedings are televised. The Guardian leader writer comments:
Notice the word "entertain". I think that the leader writer's analysis is correct. If we do what he and other people want us to do, we are bound to move more towards a Parliament of declamation and oratory. The House will inevitably lose its present deliberative character. That would be regrettable. Once we start on this, we cannot stop, It may well be popular in the sense that there will always be an audience which will want to listen or look at the television of the proceedings of this House. They may get good entertainment from it. Many hon. Members will support it, too. It will be a marvellous opportunity for them to get their speeches over to the country and to their constituencies. I can imagine the demand to speak and the disappointment when hon. Members are not called to speak on a matter affecting an industry in which their constituents have a special interest, such as the coal industry if they represent a coal area. If they are not called, they may feel it is necessary to make some sort of demonstration to show their constituents that they are here and that they are busy, active and keen. One cannot blame them. That sort of thing is bound to happen if Parliament is televised, and it will be plainly damaging to Parliament. It is no use saying that once we start the broadcasts we shall find out what public opinion says about them. Most people will be indifferent. Some will say "I enjoy them." Some Members may relish the opportunity of popularising themselves on the screen. But the decision whether such televising is good or bad for our democratic processes is not qualitative, quantitative or objective. We cannot quantify the effect and say that it will do more good than harm. There may well be arguments about whether the lighting will be unpleasant, whether the cameras will get in the way, and all the rest of it, but those matters are unimportant compared with the basic problem we face. That will be whether the televising of proceedings in the Chamber will be good or bad for our democracy. Moreover, the effect will be a gradual one and may not be significant until a period of five years or so has elapsed. The effect on public esteem will be gradual, and it might then be too late to do anything about. I suggest that, for all these reasons, it is dangerous to alter the character of this Chamber and of our debates in a system which has stood us well for many years. It is foolish to make such a fundamental change without any knowledge whether its results will be good or bad. If the results are bad, we shall not be able to alter them. I believe that the results will be bad. I ask the House to hesitate and to say that the House of Commons, with all its inadequacies, is a fine instrument of our parliamentary democracy. It is esteemed and respected. We shall lose by making it into a place of entertainment where Members court instant popularity. That is not what Parliament is for, and I hope that the House will reject the proposal."There is, though, a difference. The House of Commons is more of a debating chamber than a declamatory one. Members are expected not so much to orate as to expound and to score points off each other—and, in an ideal non-party world, the side which had scored most points would win the division. Most other European Parliaments prefer oratory to debate, the resounding appeal to the quick answer, the set speech to question time. The Commons is mote akin to the Oxford Union than it is to the Roman Forum. A House like this is naturally more reluctant than other Parliaments to widen its audience boundlessly, even though in doing so it might both educate and entertain them."