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Commons Chamber

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 13th May 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

United Dominions Trust Bill Lords

Read the Third time and passed, with an amendment.

British Railways (No 2) Bill

As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.

Eastbourne Harbour Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered upon Tuesday next.

Greater London Council (Money) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [ 1st May],

That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to reduce the total sum of £868,648,000 on page 9 of the Schedule by £83,000,000 by:
  • (1) reducing the sums mentioned in Item 10 of Part I of the Schedule (Page 6) as follows:
  • (a) in column 3, by leaving out "£187,700,000" and inserting "£137,700,000" and
  • (b) in column 4, by leaving out "£86,350,000" and inserting "£61,350,000": and
  • (2) reducing the sums mentioned in Item 25 in Part III of the Schedule (Page 9) as follows:
  • (a) in column 2, by leaving out "£60,000,000" and "£64,000,000" and inserting "£56,000,000" and "£60,000,000", and
  • (b) in column 3, by leaving out "£30,000,000" and "£32,000,000" and inserting "£26,000,000" and "£28,000,000".—[Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg.]
  • Debate further adjourned till Tuesday next.

    Oral Answers To Questions

    Defence

    Expenditure Reductions

    1.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give details of the extra defence cuts announced in the Budget.

    8.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the cuts in the Services' equipment and works programmes which are to form the bulk of the £110 million defence cuts announced by the Chancellor on 15th April will be made good by additional expenditure in the future.

    21.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications for defence of the reduction in expenditure by £100 million as a result of the Budget.

    I have nothing to add to what I told the House on 6th May.—[Vol. 891, c. 1230.]

    Do not these cuts make nonsense of the Secretary of State's grandiose claim that the Government's defence review was based on a fundamental and rational assessment of Britain's needs? Will he now give the House an assurance that there will be no further cuts of this kind?

    The Secretary of State for Defence can never give that assurance in reply to the final question which the hon. Gentleman posed, and I should be foolish to do so. The main strategic decisions that we took on the defence review still stand. The cut for 1976–77 will not impinge upon that posture.

    Does the Secretary of State know what he proposes to cut? If he knows, why will he not tell us?

    I told the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House last week that, because of the cut of £110 million planned for 1976–77, it is likely that equipment purchases will have to be adjusted, that works and building programmes will have to be deferred and that some job prospects will have to be lost.

    Before the right hon. Gentleman presented his White Paper there were consultations with our allies. Were there any consultations with our allies before the further cuts were made?

    Of course, there could not be consultation on this because it was a budgetary matter. However, our NATO allies were informed immediately after my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement, and there will be opportunity for full discussions at the Defence Planning Council meeting next week.

    Employment (Dockyards And Shipbuilding)

    2.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what will be the effect of recently announced cuts in defence expenditure on employment in the Royal dockyards.

    23.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the effect on employment in naval shipbuilding yards and naval dockyards of the recently announced additional £110 million reduction in defence spending.

    The reduction of £110 million in the defence budget for 1976–77 should not affect employment either in the yards building ships for the Royal Navy or in the Royal dockyards.

    Does that mean that there will be no unemployment in Rosyth dockyard as a consequence of the recently announced cuts in defence expenditure? Does my hon. Friend recognise that more than 6,000 people are employed in this naval dockyard, which is one of the biggest employers in the whole of Fife? Has he made any estimate of the number of jobs that would be cut there if the nuclear programme were abandoned and the cuts recommended by some of my hon. Friends were implemented in full?

    I assure my hon. Friend that we have quite enough practical problems at present to deal with without indulging in hypothetical considerations of the kind he has outlined. It remains the policy of the Government to maintain dockyard capacity at about its present level and to use capacity which is temporarily released from warship refitting for other productive purposes.

    I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Can he assure me that the recent £110 million reduction in defence spending will not mean any unemployment or any reduction in the labour force in the Vosper Thornycroft dockyard in Southampton?

    I assure my hon. Friend that the cut of £110 million is not expected to cause any reductions in the employment of the warship building firms in general, especially as there is a shortage of labour in the warship building industry at present. Royal Navy and overseas orders are likely to take up the available capacity in the main warship building yards for the foreseeable future.

    I know that the Minister must have gone into this matter very carefully. Can he give us an indication of what sort of other productive work he has in mind?

    I presume that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is referring to the naval dockyards. In the foreseeable and immediate future, the yards will be fully taxed dealing with naval work.

    Is it not the case that if the nuclear servicing at Rosyth were removed, Rosyth could once again be very competitive in the commercial servicing of ships?

    Rosyth Dockyard is doing outstanding work in the service of the Fleet. I am sure that the whole House would like to pay a tribute to the workers at all levels who make this work possible.

    Persian Gulf (Secretary Of State's Visit)

    3.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Gulf area.

    I visited Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Saudi Arabia I was received by King Khalid and had talks with him and leading members of the Government. In Oman I visited British troops in the Dhofar region and had talks with Sultan Qaboos and the Deputy Minister of Defence.

    Was there any discussion of the future use of Masirah or other bases in that area by the Americans? Did my right hon. Friend gain any impression of the attitude of the local people towards increased American involvement, particularly after Dr. Kissinger's statement earlier this year about the conditions in which the United States would use force in the case of an oil embargo? Would such involvement still be welcome?

    My hon. Friend refers to Masirah, and not to my talks with Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Those talks were confidential, but I can say that the question of Masirah was not raised, neither have we had any detailed representations from the Americans for the use of Masirah.

    Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to clarify the statement he is reported to have made during his visit to the Gulf to the effect that in the foreseeable future British forces might be withdrawn from Oman? Is that withdrawal foreseen because of the imminent defeat of the Dhofar Marxist rebels or because he cannot appreciate the possibility of defeat by his own Left-wing rebels?

    If the hon. Gentleman reads the defence review statement, he will see that we have no intention of withdrawing our forces in present circumstances. That still stands. Secondly, the Sultan's armed forces, with assistance from Her Majesty's Government and the Jordanians and Iranians, are having success and are driving the rebels back to the South Yemen frontier. They are professional and trained rebels from Communist sources crossing into the Dhofar province from the Yemen. Gradually, as we succeed and Omanisation takes place, our forces can be lessened in numbers.

    North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

    4.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what communications he has had with NATO about the maintenance of the British commitment in the light of the cuts in defence expenditure announced in the recent Budget Statement.

    I have nothing to add to the reply which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence gave to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on 28th April.—[Vol. 891, c. 15.]

    Does the right hon. Gentleman expect that our allies will greet the latest cuts with a song in their heart, if I may coin a phrase?

    I have had no response from my NATO colleagues since we transmitted to them the statement resulting from the Budget Statement. When I met the NATO Defence Ministers last week the question was not raised, but it may be discussed at the Defence Planning Council meeting next week.

    As the Secretary of State said in his White Paper that NATO is the linchpin of our national security, and as NATO has made it very clear that it strongly disapproves of the cuts the right hon. Gentleman has already made in our defence budget, can he give an undertaking that the extra £110 million cut will in no sense fall on our commitment to NATO?

    I tried to indicate in reply to an earlier question that the cut will not impinge upon our present defence posture and that NATO remains the linchpin of our security. By deferment of equipment procurement and by works and buildings programmes being deferred in the year in question, we may be able to save the money without interfering with our NATO commitment.

    Have any of my right hon. Friend's NATO colleagues indicated to him their desire to bring their defence expenditure up to our level?

    It is interesting that both the Italians and the French have decided to take a more prominent part in naval activities in the Mediterranean, where we had planned to withdraw.

    Employment (Yorkshire And Humberside)

    5.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what further effects on employment in the Yorkshire and Humberside Region he envisages because of the further cut in defence expenditure of £110 million.

    No major projects will be cancelled as a result of these further savings, so their effects on employment in Yorkshire and Humberside should be minimised.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that that statement will be received with much pleasure, particularly by the Yorkshire aircraft workers in the Brough area, who have petitioned him and many, if not all, of the Yorkshire Members?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, these are very difficult matters. We do our best to meet the need for saving at the same time as minimising the consequences for employment, but it is not easy.

    As Brough is in my constituency, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's policy to cause unemployment by not allowing Brough to compete for orders for Buccaneers for South Africa?

    That is as topsy—turvy as it was intended to be. We shall do all we can to provide employment in the aircraft industry, consistent with the wider policy considerations that all Governments have followed from time to time.

    Can my hon. Friend give the House details of any assessment he has made of the improved export potential resulting from the defence cuts because our industrial structure is better able to compete with countries such as Japan, which do not squander resources on providing arms for export?

    I wish that I could bring such comfort to my hon. Friend. I cannot do so at this stage, but I shall do my best to help him later.

    As the Government spokesman in another place told that House recently that if we could afford to buy the maritime Harrier now we would do so, can the Minister say whether failure to place an order for the maritime Harrier is because of economic constraints or uncertainty about defence needs? Will he confirm that if maritime Harrier orders are not placed that will amount to another defence cut?

    I gave a very careful assessment of the whole question of a decisison on the maritime Harrier in the defence debate on Wednesday evening. I should like to rest on that for the moment.

    Tied Houses

    6.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence if it is Government policy to continue to evict tenants from tied defence houses.

    The Under—Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
    (Mr. Brynmor John)

    We resort to eviction only when unavoidable and when all other expedients have failed.

    While I entirely understand the reasons why the Government must secure their own houses for Service personnel on such occasions, and why the hon. Gentleman has had to evict one of my constituents from a Service house, how can it be that the Government are at the same time making noises saying that other people should not have tied houses and that tied houses should be abolished in the private sector?

    The hon. Gentleman will know that his constituent's case is to be heard in court for the first time on Thursday. Therefore it is not fair to say that the constituent has already been evicted.

    On the question of tied houses, I would wish all other landlords of tied houses to be as considerate as the Services were towards their tenants, as the recent Shelter report on tied accommodation fairly points out.

    Does not my hon. Friend think it ridiculous that some councils still insist on the Services taking a court order against their tenants before they will rehouse them in council accommodation? Will my hon. Friend have discussions with the local authority associations to see whether there is a way round this long and arduous procedure?

    It is unfortunate that the stress for tenants who are likely to lose their accommodation should be heightened by insistence on court orders or even, in some cases, warrants of possession before consideration is given to rehousing. My right hon. Friend will shortly be issuing a circular on the question to local government. I hope that the circular will be helpful in dealing with the point my hon. Friend has made.

    Milan Anti-Tank Weapon

    7.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is his intention to purchase for the British Army the Milan anti—tank weapon from the French.

    I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I hope he will resist any pressure put on him by the Chiefs of Staff to buy Milan when we have systems developed and produced in this country and when it is vital to the workers in constituencies such as mine that they are proceeded with in preference to buying weapons from another country.

    I must remind my hon. Friend that we cannot achieve overall defence savings—I know that he wants us to go further—unless we are very hardheaded about our decisions on equipment procurement. I set out last Wednesday evening, I think to the general approval of the House, the considerations which we must bear in mind. Certainly the question of employment is one, but operational necessity and timing are others.

    Is the Minister aware that Milan has serious limitations in that its warhead is smaller than that of Vigilant, which has been in service for more than 11 years, it has difficulties about nighttime operation and it is vulnerable to counter-measures? Will he consider whether purchase of the weapon would undermine the credibility of our own Swingfire in export markets?

    If I had to choose between the assessment of the hon. Gentleman and that of my advisers, I would choose the assessment of my advisers.

    In this whole matter of choosing between foreign and domestic military equipment, will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department still has greater confidence in the Rapier antiaircraft missile than in the Franco-German Roland? Will he confirm or deny the report in the Sunday Times last Sunday that a very important sale of the Rapier missile to the United States was lost in competition with Roland as a result of the failure of the British Government to exercise any kind of pressure?

    I can answer "Yes" to both questions. We have very great faith in the capacity of the British guided weapons industry, but I must stress again that many considerations come into the purchase of this kind of equipment. I do not believe that the cause of our Armed Services and the country is best served by remarks which are unreasonably critical about equipment which the Armed Services are considering for purchase whatever its origin.

    Does not the falling value of the pound make it even more important to get valuable offset agreements if we are to purchase foreign military equipment?

    I think that the word used by the hon. Gentleman in the debate the other evening was "reciprocity". I entirely agree with him.

    Malaysia

    9.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many British Forces and ancillary personnel are at present in Malaysia.

    There are about 130 members of the British Forces and ancillary personnel in Malaysia at present, of whom some 80 are on training courses.

    In view of the increasing troubles in Northern Malaysia, which could flow over into Thailand, and of the importance of the British not getting mixed up in them, will my hon. Friend give an absolute guarantee that no members of the Special Air Services Regiment are engaged in activities in either of those two countries?

    I share my hon. Friend's very proper concern that we should not get involved in operations of this kind which are the responsibility of the Malaysian authorities. I think he will find that those we have in Malaysia at the moment are comparable to the sort of training teams we have elsewhere in the world.

    In the event of the Malaysian Government requesting our help, would it be forthcoming?

    Raf Display Teams

    10.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to cut back the activities of display teams in the RAF.

    I have no plans at present further to curtail the activities of the RAF display teams beyond the significant reductions imposed last year by the need to conserve manpower, money and fuel.

    Will my hon. Friend say how many such display teams there are and what is their total cost? Will he confirm that the cost of running the Red Arrows last year was more than £800,000? One appreciates the technical skill of the Red Arrows, but is it advisable at the present time to continue their flying at that cost? Do these display teams have any significant effect upon recruitment?

    Six flying teams are at present organising and there is one ground display team. As for recruiting and value for money, without going into the precise costs at this stage I can assure my hon. Friend that we are satisfied that such displays of great expertise have a significant effect on recruiting and are worth while. However, we are always looking at ways of securing greater value for money.

    Does the Minister appreciate that his announcement is very welcome particularly in areas which have had the benefit of seeing these displays including events on the coast? Does he agree that it does a good deal for the RAF's prestige and a good deal to encourage youth to join the Royal Air Force?

    We believe that the exercise is worth while in terms of public relations for the Royal Air Force and in terms of recruitment.

    Hawkswing Anti-Tank Missile

    11.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he proposes to equip the British Army with the Hawk-swing anti-tank missile.

    Does the Minister agree that there is a tremendous potential in export markets for the Hawkswing allied to Lynx helicopters, as there is for the Sea Skua weapons system? Does he agree that the Hawkswing is far superior to the French rival system Hot? Would it not be a good idea for the British Army to place its order for Hawkswing so that we can look would-be purchasers in the eye when we are asked why we have not ordered it for our own purposes?

    I agree about the export potential for Hawkswing. I do not want to enter into an argument about the competitive merits of different systems. Our concern must be, bearing in mind our operational needs, to buy the right weapons at the right time and at the right price. These are the considerations which must govern any decisions we make.

    Does the Minister agree that it is important that a decision should be made? Is he aware that the general impression of those in the field who know is certainly in favour of Milan?

    I do not think that the hon. Member's supplementary question is directly related to the options on this Question. I agree, however, that we must make the decisions as soon as possible bearing in mind all the considerations I have set out, and, of course, and very properly, the consequences for our industry of a whole series of decisions which are pending.

    Textile Purchases

    12.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many applications he has received for the post of consultant to progress textile contracts in South-East Asia.

    None. No such post exists or is contemplated.

    I am pleased to hear that answer. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a need to look at defence contracts, particularly in the light of the recession in the British textile industry, to make sure that as close to 100 per cent. of orders as possible is placed with British textile firms?

    Order. I must ask the Minister to face this way so that I can hear too.

    I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend's statement, but I cannot be drawn on the subject since Question No. 17 is related to this matter.

    Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft

    13.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to consult with the Italian and German Governments on the progress of the MRCA.

    Has my hon. Friend taken note that both our partners have substantially reduced the number of aircraft in proposed orders since the start of the project? Is there no message for the United Kingdom in these reductions? Does my hon. Friend concur with the estimate of the Controller of Aircraft that the development cost of this project will be 25 per cent. more than would have been the case with a national project? What political and diplomatic advantage does my hon. Friend see in this collaboration to offset the additional cost?

    I am certainly aware that there were some reductions in the earlier stages, but I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that there have been none lately. We have to make up our own mind on the issue and decide on the number of aircraft we want to purchase. No final decision is required for at least a year. I am not aware of the statement which has been attributed to the Controller of Aircraft, but here again we have to weigh the advantages of collaborative projects, which the House has wanted over many years, against the prospects of going alone. Standardisation is important and in the long run what we are doing is the best way of ensuring the sort of economy in defence expenditure which I hope we all want to see.

    Does not the Minister agree that this aircraft, which is the product of three countries combined, is being eagerly looked forward to by many members of the RAF?

    There was never any decision that it should. The most important thing is to get this aircraft through its development stages as fast as possible. I think that that is in our mutual interest.

    Will the Minister bear in mind that, quite apart from the desirability of these collaborative projects, it was a Labour Government which cancelled the TSR2, abandoned the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and cancelled the F111A? If anything goes wrong with the MRCA now in the form of the Government going back on their intentions, the RAF will have been without a major aircraft for a very long time.

    The hon. Member seems to want to live in the past. I have given a very firm commitment about our interests in providing the RAF with the aircraft it requires in the future.

    17.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the purchasing policy of his Department with regard to textile goods.

    Our purchasing policy for textile goods follows our general purchasing policy of calling for competitive tenders wherever possible with the primary objective of obtaining what is needed and getting value for money, while at the same time having regard to industrial objectives.

    Does my hon. Friend accept that the recent decision, announced in the Press, to set up a quality control department in Hong Kong dismayed the workers in the textile industry in the north-west of England? Does he accept that while his Department may be buying these goods cheaply, the net cost to the Exchequer of redundacy payments and unemployment benefits, and of seeking to close mills throughout the country, makes these the economics of the madhouse?

    I would have hoped that the appointment of a serving professional and technology officer for a limited period of two years would not have caused any alarm among textile workers. I sincerely hope that we can keep this matter in perspective. The total Ministry of Defence purchase of textiles amounts to £33 million per year. The purchases abroad account for £1·7 million, or 4 per cent. of this total. However, I emphasise that only ½ per cent.—that is, £160,000 worth—was bought direct from overseas suppliers. In terms of textile imports into this country, the Ministry of Defence accounts for 0·2 per cent.

    Employment Redundancies

    14.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many workers will be declared redundant as a consequence of the recent additional cuts in defence expenditure.

    The extent of redundancies amongst defence contractors at any one time must depend upon management decisions, but we do not expect the recent further savings to affect significantly the employment situation.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side will welcome the statement which he has just made? Will he further resist pressures from some of his hon. Friends to increase the level of unemployment arising from the defence cuts?

    My right hon. Friend, other Ministers and I have consistently said that none of us can have it both ways. If we are to have substantial savings on defence expenditure, for good and sufficient reasons, we must not try to persuade others that there is not a price to pay in a potential substantial loss of job opportunities.

    As the Minister stated, the Secretary of State has been forthright about this, and the Government have told us that there are no easy alternatives, such as manufacturing spin driers, caravans or filing systems, on which to employ people who lose their jobs as a result of the defence cuts. Will the Minister consider publishing a White Paper and spelling this out, for the benefit of those of his hon. Frinds below the Gangway who are either too stupid or dishonest to explain this to their constituents?

    Those remarks were totally uncalled for. This is an area in which strong feelings are aroused and genuine opinions are held. The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no need to publish the sort of White Paper he suggests. I think that we should continue to discuss these matters calmly in the House, as most of us choose to do.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that those of us who have pressed for defence cuts are every bit as concerned as others about the need to fight unemployment? Will he make it clear that it would be absolute madness for us to maintain defence contracts merely to keep people in work without any consideration of why this was done?

    I think that there is a point of view, and a sober point of view, which the House may feel is right, that we should never seek simply to maintain employment if it serves no adequate purpose. The need is to redeploy skills in areas where they are principally needed.

    When considering his defence cuts, will the Minister bear in mind the frightening effectiveness of the Soviet weapons displayed in the 1973 Middle East war, especially by the Egyptians and the Syrians? This is an important matter. Will he ensure, in view of this modern weaponry now held by the Russians, that he does not cut down on research and development on the most modern weapons? That is an important side. Will the Minister ensure that that is maintained?

    I agree entirely that it is an important side. I am not sure whether a large amount of employment is directly involved in this.

    15.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what arrangements he is making designed to ensure that civilian workers displaced as a result of the defence review are helped to transfer to productive civilian jobs; and whether he will make a statement.

    Wherever possible, reductions in Ministry of Defence civilian personnel will be achieved by normal wastage, but for those made redundant every effort will be made to provide alternative employment. We expect defence contractors to recognise similar responsibilities.

    May I invite my hon. Friend to go further? Will he confirm that some of the largest trade unions with members employed in the defence industry are in favour of substantially cutting arms spending provided that alternative civilian work is made available? [Interruption.] Ignoring the guffaws of the gunboat diplomatists on the benches opposite, will my hon. Friend accept the responsibility for his Department and do what he can to ensure that there is a phased switch from defence to civilian work to ensure that people are put into work which can aid our national recovery and help exports?

    I agree with my hon. Friend that some trade union leaders, though not all, want to see further substantial defence cuts. It is nevertheless true that a number of their shop stewards visit other Defence Ministers and me telling us about the difficult consequences of reduced defence spending. These are issues in which we must show a sense of balance and proportion. I ask for recognition of the fact that if we are to make major defence savings we cannot overnight guarantee other job opportunities in place of those which are lost.

    What is to be the future of the more than 1,000 highly skilled aircraft production workers in the Hawker Siddeley Woodford and Chadderton plants who will be made redundant as a result of the Government's defence cuts? What alternative employment will be provided for them? Certain of the Minister's hon. Friends below the Gangway have suggested caravan production. How does that square with the 25 per cent. VAT rate?

    I hope that the redundancies will not amount to the figure mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, that depends a great deal on management decisions, and I cannot anticipate what they may be.

    Will my hon. Friend advise the House what consultations have taken place with trade unions, management, the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment about the prospects of providing alternative employment?

    Following my right hon. Friend's statement of 3rd December 1974, we made it clear that we were willing to receive representations from management and trade unions about the likely consequences which would follow. We have received a number of those representations. I saw the representatives of Hawker Siddeley Aviation and discussed with them what best could be done. We shall continue to lend our services, and those of the Department of Employment and the Department of Industry will also be available to discuss such a range of alternative jobs as may be available during difficult times.

    The hon. Gentleman has asked us to discuss this matter calmly. Would it not be in keeping with that request, and much more straightforward for those involved, for him to say clearly that the massive defence cuts imposed by the Government will throw thousands of people out of work? Would not the Government do better to admit it?

    No, it would not be better to say that, because we have made it clear—[Interruption.] The House should listen carefully to this, because this could cause real anxiety where we should seek to avoid it. We have said plainly—we said it in the White Paper—that as a consequence of the cuts then made there might be 10,000 job opportunities at risk in the next five years. How many may become redundant we cannot tell, because that depends upon alternative work which may come forward and upon management decisions. Nevertheless I think it is wrong to exaggerate what I have always conceded to be a difficult problem.

    Disaster Relief

    18.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consideration he has given to the peaceful uses of the Armed Forces on such occasions as when public disasters occur in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

    The provision of Service personnel and equipment, if called upon in the event of a disaster or emergency, is a recognised means of helping the civil community both in the United Kingdom and overseas.

    Will my hon. Friend give an indication of the most recent cases of involvement of Her Majesty's Forces in civil disasters? Will he also give consideration in some of our units to the setting up of special teams trained to cope with severe disasters such as at Flixborough and the London Moorgate Underground train disaster?

    Help was given during the heavy flooding in East Anglia and the Home Counties in November last year. At Flixborough we provided very quickly bedding and mattresses. At Moorgate we provided overalls and a bath unit for the emergency services. Overseas, help was given in Belize and Honduras after hurricane Fifi in 1974. I have noted my hon. Friend's point about special training.

    Hydrographic Surveys

    19.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on which hydro-graphical surveys are being undertaken and where.

    Full details of hydrographic surveys are given in the annual report by the Hydrographer of the Navy. Priority is given to surveys in the waters around the United Kingdom. These surveys are made for defence and commercial shipping purposes and special attention is also being given to the requirements of our energy programme, for example in surveys of tow-out routes for moving rigs.

    I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he able to give a progress report on this important work and tell us the financial implications?

    The work of the Hydro-graphic Study Group has been completed and its report is under consideration, but the House will appreciate that I cannot at this stage anticipate the decisions which may be taken as a result of that report. The finance for hydrographic work not for defence purposes is a matter for interdepartmental consultation, but clearly it cannot be financed out of the limited defence budget.

    Does the Minister agree that the resources available for hydro-graphic survey are totally inadequate? Will he please consult the Secretary of State for Energy, who will draw his attention to the fact that most of the waters around this country have not been surveyed this century?

    The fleet of the Hydrographer of the Royal Navy is manned by professional men of the highest calibre and they are meeting more than adequately the programme which has been provided for them. The size of the programme in the future is a matter for consultation between various Government Departments.

    United States Polaris Bases

    20.

    asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he anticipates that the United States Polaris bases will be closed.

    As I stated in my answer to my hon. Friend on 11th March—[Vol. 888, c. 255.]—we may be able to initiate multilateral disarmament negotiations once the conference on security and co-operation in Europe and the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions are concluded. It may then be possible to seek the removal of the United States Polaris base as a first step in such multilateral negotiations.

    Does my right hon. Friend accept that the trade union and labour movement is concerned that these weapons represent a grave threat to the safety and peace of the country? As he is devoted to carrying out the terms of the election manifesto, as I am, will he use his best endeavours to ensure that, starting from the basis of the multilateral negotiations he has mentioned, we shall get rid of these Polaris bases as soon as we possibly can?

    Yes. My hon. Friend should not propagandise on the first point. If there were a conflict between East and West, even if there were no nuclear weapons based on English soil—

    —or in the United Kingdom, we should not be able to escape any launching of nuclear weapons from abroad. The country would be a vast base, a feeder to the Continent, full of conventional weapons, and irrespective of whether there was a nuclear base here we would be hit. My hon. Friend and I, as well as my other hon. Friends, fought the election on a manifesto commitment which I am honestly carrying out. Starting from the basis of the multilateral disarmament negotiations, we shall seek the removal of American Polaris bases from Britain. That is the commitment, and that is what we are empowered to do.

    Are not these bases in part an element of our alliance with our friends of the United States? If they were moved, would not the only people to rejoice be Russia and Labour supporters below the Gangway?

    The bases certainly form part of the alliance, yes, and it is right that until we have concluded the other two major negotiations in Europe we should maintain them. Only thereafter, in alliance with our American friends, shall we be prepared to start multilateral talks on their removal.

    As the Minister is under the impression that there are some nuclear bases on English soil and he does not seem to mind that, may we offer him the Polaris base for transfer to the River Thames, if he has no moral objection, as the Scottish National Party has? Is not the Polaris deterrent simply old scrap iron now? It is nothing but a danger, particularly to the industrial belt of central Scotland.

    I do not think that the countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union regard it as scrap. They regard it as a real deterrent, and because of it we have managed to maintain between East and West 30 years of peace.

    Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

    Q1.

    asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the results of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

    Q5.

    asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with the Heads of Commonwealth Governments concerning Great Britain's continued membership of the European Economic Community.

    Q8.

    asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.

    Much of our time was spent on economic matters and on the problems of Southern Africa, and on both a substantial measure of agreement was reached. I have already presented to the House a White Paper setting out in detail the proposals on primary commodities which I put to my Commonwealth colleagues. The outcome of the discussions on these and other subjects is described in the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and published as a White Paper today.

    I did not raise the question of Britain's membership of the EEC and there was therefore no mention of it in the communiqué but after the matter had been raised by a number of Prime Ministers it was agreed unanimously that the Prime Minister of Jamaica, as chairman of the meeting, should issue a separate statement recording that all the other Commonwealth Heads of Government had placed on record their firm opinion that Commonwealth interests are in no way prejudiced by our membership. His statement added that many Heads of Government had emphasised that it was of positive advantage to their countries that Britain should remain a member of the EEC: and that the strong view had also been expressed that British membership was of value in encouraging the Community to be outward-looking towards the rest of the world.

    I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a striking achievement in Jamaica, but is he aware that there is still deep concern about the exclusion from the Lomé Convention of many developing countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka? Will he convey that deep concern to our partners in the EEC and urge them to include those Commonwealth members in their assistance programme?

    I thank my hon. Friend. In my speech to the conference, which has been published as a White Paper, I said that we hoped to build on the Lomé Convention so as to cover the countries of Asia to which my hon. Friend has referred. He will see from the communiqué that the Commonwealth Heads of Government supported the extension of the Lomé Convention—which they warmly welcomed—to cover the relevant countries of Asia.

    Would the Prime Minister care to expand on his statement and tell us what was the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' attitude towards our membership of the EEC? In particular, will he comment on Mr. Gough Whitlam's view that if Britain were to withdraw she would be in danger of lapsing into the position of Spain in the seventeenth century?

    I have said, and I repeat, that my right hon. Friend and I did not seek any statement, and we said that we did not consider that one was necessary. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers pushed on with it. Various Prime Ministers at outside Press conferences as well as in the conference meeting expressed the views I have recorded. Mr. Gough Whitlam expressed them particularly strongly. I do not go along with the remarks made by Mr. Gough Whitlam which have just been quoted, but I go along with the rest of what he said. I emphasised there, as I have emphasised in this country, that, inside or outside the EEC, Britain's future depends upon our own efforts and our own restraint, and the other matters are important to us but not decisive.

    I welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend as regards the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' acceptance of our position in the EEC and their reluctance to see us become the Albania of the West. Will he, however, tell the House what steps he intends to take within the EEC in particular to see that the Commonwealth countries of Asia are included within the Lomé Convention?

    I do not remember Albania being mentioned at any point during the conference, although I think the Prime Minister of Malta mentioned Libya once or twice. As regards the extension of the Lomé Convention, I tried to answer that question in response to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). The position is that we and the Commonwealth support the extension of the benefits of the Lomé Convention as regards access to the EEC of the Asian countries. It is also recognised, as I told the conference, that negotiations in Lomé and outside Lomé have begun. An extension, for example, of the general system of preferences would benefit all the Asian countries.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us welcome the restoration of identity of views with the African Heads of State as regards policy in Southern Africa? Has any member of the Commonwealth indicated a view against British membership of the Community? There was a suggestion that the Ugandan Government had reservations.

    As regards Southern Africa I welcome what the hon. Gentleman says. It is very important. This was by far the best Commonwealth Conference that any of us can remember. I think that was so mainly because the situation in Southern Africa and the prospects there have changed. As regards the question of whether any Commonwealth countries have reservations about our membership of the Community, the answer is "Certainly not". Quite apart from discussion round the table during the communiqué session to which I have referred, I and my right hon. Friend made it our business to talk to the heads of every Commonwealth delegation as to their attitude on the matter. As we know, the President of Uganda did not see fit to be present in the circumstances of this meeting. Therefore. I was not able to seek his views. I was, however, able to seek the views of the head of the Ugandan delegation. I think the hon. Gentleman can be sure that the head of the Ugandan delegation was speaking only within the general context of the President's policy and not outside it.

    In his main answer my right hon. Friend said that the question of the Common Market was not included in the final communiqué because he did not raise it. Why did he not raise it? Why was it not part of the communiqué? Why was it not discussed officially?

    I am sorry if I have disappointed my hon. Friend. The Common Market was discussed officially at the conference on the initiative of other Minister and Heads of Government. I think that was right. I was certainly not going to ask them for a statement on this matter.

    I understand the interruption of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It was always possible that some would say that they did not want to interfere in a matter on which the British electorate are taking a decision. Indeed, the Prime Minister of Guyana, who took the initiative in raising this matter, was very much supported. His message, strengthened by the President of Tanzania, the Prime Minister of Canada and others, said that they were not in any way trying to interfere with the voice of the British people expressed through the ballot box, but they felt it right to state what the position of the Commonwealth was as it affected their own countries and the Commonwealth as a whole.

    Is the Prime Minister aware that most of us welcome very warmly the spontaneous initiative of the Prime Ministers in their statement on the EEC? Secondly, is he aware that we welcome his initiative on commodities at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference? Thirdly, as economic discussions played quite a large part in the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and as we have certain problems in that direction at home, is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention, before the House rises, to make a statement about the general economic position of this country or to ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make such a statement?

    I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady both for her comments on the voluntary and unsought decision of the Commonwealth on the EEC and particularly for what she said about the initiative on commodities. It was at first thought that that initiative might face heavy weather because of the very strong views of some of the Third World countries, which rather suggested that they wanted to pull down the whole of the world's economic machinery, including the IMF and the Bank. It would take a lot of time before anything was found to replace it. There was, however, very warm support and the matter received a warm wind in the communiqué as I may say it did in Washington when we discussed the matter there. The right hon. Lady is right: a very important part of the conference was on economic discussion and on Southern Africa. As regards the economic situation in this country. I understand that the usual channels have had a discussion this morning I suggested that they might do so—and that we shall be debating the matter in the House next week if the right hon. Lady agrees.

    Zambia

    Q2.

    asked the Prime Minister whether he will make an official visit to Lusaka.

    When the Prime Minister last met President Kaunda, will he tell the House whether he discussed the question of compensation to Botswana and Mozambique in the event of their imposing sanctions against Rhodesia? Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on Press reports that Britain has agreed to provide the bulk of the foreign exchange requirements of Mozambique resulting from the imposition of sanctions? Will he state what amount the Government envisage will be required?

    In the first place, I reject the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used—I am sure that he did not mean it technically—about compensation. We did not talk about compensation. What we said was that, in the situation which is likely to occur after the last few days of June when the new Government of Mozambique take over, we are prepared as a Government to give aid to the economic position in Mozambique. We are also prepared to consider aid in relation to Botswana and to Zambia. And we discussed the matter with President Kaunda. We are prepared to do that. It is not a question of compensation. We did not say that we would provide the bulk of their foreign exchange. We will do it as part of what I think will be the United Nations programme. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that when we were asked whether we were prepared to provide either arms or money for guerrilla activities, my right hon. Friend and I gave a flat rejection. We said that we would in no circumstances be involved in such activities.

    Will my right hon. Friend indicate whether any of the 10 experts indicated in the communiqué have yet been named and what sort of timetable is envisaged for the report of their deliberations on further economic co-operation?

    Yes, discussions are going on about the names. We have made suggestions. Certainly Britain will be represented on this very important committee. The chairman has been named. I do not think that the remainder have been named publicly, but the relevant Governments, on a representative basis, are being asked to suggest names. I hope that there will be a statement in the near future. The terms of reference of the committee are set out in the communiqué.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people find it most poignant and astonishing that when they would have expected him to be concentrating the whole of his abilities, such as they are, on constructing a rescue package for the United Kingdom, he seems to have spent much of his time in Jamaica constructing a destructive package for Rhodesia? Surely something better than that should be done.

    I think that the hon. Gentleman is out of sympathy with the general position taken by all parties in this House on the importance of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a unique institution which I thought was supported by everyone. I remember the great part played not only by some of our own previous Prime Ministers but by Mr. Harold Macmillan in the creation of the Commonwealth as it is today. It is remarkable that we can still, because of the former British connection, meet and express views representing every region and ocean of the world on every kind of economic development. I am disapopinted that the hon. Gentleman has not realised the importance of this.

    This was the best Commonwealth Conference that any of us can remember since the Commonwealth Conferences started. [Interruption.] That is worth saying again so that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) can understand it. I cannot accept the view of the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd) about the situation here. That matter will be debated next week and any relevant comments that the hon. Gentleman has, which I very much doubt, will no doubt be taken into account by the House and discounted at their full value.

    South-East Asia

    Q3.

    Will the Prime Minister tell the House how it is that on behalf of the British people he has not expressed one word of condemnation of the naked aggression by the Communists in Vietnam against the South Vietnamese?

    I discussed the situation with President Ford. There was no disagreement between us in any of our discussions. My right hon. Friend also spoke to Dr. Kissinger in my presence on these matters. We expressed exactly the same view privately and publicly. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be more American than the Americans, perhaps he will tell us what he would have liked us to have said.

    If my right hon. Friend visits South-East Asia, he will probably have to go to Singapore. Will he convey to Lee Kuan Yew how much he has raised the status of both himself and his country by his forthright remarks to Congress in the United States of America? Will he also inform him that he would raise his prestige even further if he were to let out of gaol those people whom we put in gaol 13 years ago when Her Majesty's Government had responsibility for internal affairs in Singapore?

    On the first part of the question, the Prime Minister of Singapore always makes a tremendous impression on Commonwealth Conferences because of his deep perception of world affairs. The last conference was no exception. I agree with my hon. Friend on the second part of the question.

    Chrysler Limited (Dispute)

    (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current dispute in the Chrysler Company.

    Production workers at Chrysler Ltd.'s Stoke engine plant at Coventry began strike action on 9th May. The strike continues and threatens employment at the Ryton and Linwood plants.

    The dispute has arisen in the course of negotiations for a new annual wage settlement due for implementation from 1st July. A claim has been made for increases of £15 per week and a mass meeting of the employees concerned on 5th May voted to strike unless the company made a cash offer in response to their claim by 9th May. Subsequently the shop stewards sought an offer of £8 per week to provide a basis on which negotiations could continue and for a resumption of work.

    On 8th May the company made proposals for employee participation in the management of the company, including representation on the board and for profit sharing. The company also disclosed plans for new products. At a meeting with the shop stewards and full-time officers of the unions principally concerned on 10th May, the company discussed these proposals further and urged that negotiations should begin immediately on them. If there were an immediate resumption of work and progress were made on plans for employee participation, the company undertook to make an offer in response to the wage claim on 23rd May.

    The outcome of these discussions was reported by the full-time officers to a meeting of all the stewards yesterday. I understand that the officials concerned sought to persuade the stewards to accept the company's undertaking and call for a return to work. The stewards, however, decided that the strike should continue. A mass meeting of the workers at the plant has been arranged for Thursday.

    As the new wage settlement is not due until 1st July and the company has undertaken to make an offer next week, I very much hope that there will be an early resumption of work to allow negotiations to continue on the company's proposals.

    I am sure that the whole House is glad to see the Secretary of State for Employment back after his illness.

    As this dispute is potentially the most damaging that Chrysler has ever suffered, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there have been informal consultations between the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the parties to the dispute? May we take it that, if necessary and if there should be difficulty after Thursday's meeting, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service will convene a very early meeting between all parties to try to bring about an early solution to this damaging dispute?

    Both sides, the trade unions and the employers, know very well of the readiness of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to come in and assist, if it can, at any period either now or later. Efforts are being made to overcome the strike. I will not attempt to answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly, because the precise moment when the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service might best help is not known. But, as I said, other efforts are being made to end the strike. I agree that it is a most damaging strike. It injures those who are on strike and those who are not on strike, and puts in jeopardy the jobs of all of them. Therefore, I very much hope that there will be an early end to the strike.

    Is my right hon. Friend aware that, irrespective of the merits of the wage claim, a prolonged strike at the Chrysler works would be suicidal in view of the possibility that this company, under pressure, might even collapse? In those circumstances, will he follow the initiative taken by the Prime Minister and, as early as possible, call a tripartite meeting of representatives of the Government, the trade unions and the employers with a view to taking up the new initiative by the company within the general context of participation and simultaneous consideration of the legitimate wage claim by the workers?

    The tripartite discussions, to which the Prime Minister referred in his statement on Sunday, are another matter and cover a much wider sphere altogether. But I assure my hon. Friend that efforts are being made—in particular, by the union leaders concerned—to assist in overcoming the strike. We wish to do everything possible to find a solution. I agree with everything my hon. Friend said about the potential damage that continuance of the strike could do.

    It is clear that the message from both sides of this House to the mass meeting on Thursday is that the workers should return to work. That is the hope of the Opposition just as much as of hon. Members supporting the Government.

    Is the Secretary of State aware that the participation proposals which have been made, albeit at a time very close to the dispute arising, nevertheless deserve most careful study? Again, the plea of the whole House is that this should be done and that this unnecessary, damaging and destructive strike should be brought to an end as soon as possible.

    Certainly we want the company's proposals about participation discussed. Indeed, the workers at Chrysler have not said that they do not want to discuss these proposals. There should be no mistake about that. But it is necessary that the strike, which is already causing serious damage, should be brought to an end. That is what the union leaders and officials concerned have urged upon all the workers there. I am sure that it is right for this House to give its full backing to the plea that they have made in that respect.

    Whilst I agree with the advice for a return to work at Chrysler, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend and the House are aware that skilled machinists at that factory draw less money now than the men who empty the dustbins?

    I will not go into the individual merits of the dispute, but I am sure that the best way to get a new wage settlement is for the strike to be brought to an end.

    Is the Secretary of State aware that some views have been expressed that if this strike ruins the company and it goes bust the Government will simply come in with another rescue operation? So far that has not been the case. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would help to resolve the strike if the Government made their position clear and the company clearly acquainted its employees with its serious financial state?

    I will not answer the question in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has put it, because I do not think that would be advantageous. There is no doubt on either side of the House as to what we think about the strike. We certainly trust that that will be taken account of by the shop stewards and all concerned. We hope that they will take account of what is said in this House just as we would have preferred them to have taken account of what has already been said to them on the subject by union leaders and officials. There is not the slightest doubt about the dangers for the company as a whole, for the jobs of workers at Chrysler and, indeed, for the jobs of many other workers as well. We hope that all these facts will be taken into account by those who are at the moment on strike.

    Bill Presented

    British Leyland Bill

    Mr. Secretary Benn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Foot, Mr. Secretary Shore, Mr. Secretary Ross, Mr. Secretary John Morris, Mr. Attorney-General, Mr. Gregor Mackenzie, and Mr. Michael Meacher, presented a Bill to authorise the Secretary of State to acquire shares in British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited and in a company formed for the purpose of acquiring shares in British Leyland Motor Corporation Limited: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 160.]

    Adjournment (Spring)

    3.38 p.m.

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

    Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I moved the motion formally now and reserved any remarks till the end of the debate. Therefore, I beg to move,

    That this House at its rising on Friday 23rd May do adjourn till Monday 9th June.

    3.39 p.m.

    Usually, within the course of this kind of debate, when hon. Members argue against the proposal that has been made by the Leader of the House, the argument that we should not go away on recess until this or that matter has been adequately ventilated is little more than a formality; but in the case which I wish to put before the right hon. Gentleman and the House, which I believe will be echoed, supported and strengthened by many of my right hon. and hon. colleagues representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, there is a literal and direct reason for asserting that there is unfinished business which the House ought not to leave behind when it rises for the Whitsun Recess.

    It was in the week in February when the present cease-fire, as it is called, started in Northern Ireland, that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), as leader of the United Ulster Unionist Coalition and in its name—though I have no doubt that what he said would have commanded the support of many others and of all the representatives of Northern Ireland seats—asked that there should be an early sitting of the newly constituted Northern Ireland Committee in order to examine in detail the statement which had just been made by the Secretary of State on the cease-fire and the consequential arrangements.

    You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that considerable importance was attached by the Government to the establishment of this Committee, which, though not technically a Grand Committee, it was believed would be useful as a forum where there could be detailed examination and, if necessary, cross-examination of important matters affecting Northern Ireland.

    No matter could be more important for Northern Ireland than the cease-fire and its consequences, and no matter, as I shall seek to argue, called more for the kind of debate and the kind of elucidation which only consideration in a Committee of this House makes possible.

    I am not complaining that there was any reluctance on the part of the Leader of the House to comply with our request. Indeed, had he done so, it would have been in accordance with his undertaking that the subjects to be dealt with by that Committee should be such as were desired by hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats. However, I have to say with regret that persistently and, I shall argue, ill-advisedly the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has from week to week and from month to month opposed the sitting of the Committee to consider this matter.

    We did not contest this motion when it was moved before the Easter Recess. In retrospect we are inclined to blame ourselves for not having done so. Certainly with every week that passed we were vulnerable to the natural complaint of our constituents—who were not to know of the constant and persistent representations that we were making—that we were failing to use our position in Parliament and the opportunities deliberately provided by this House in order to debate matters which were of the utmost moment to them.

    I shall return to the reasons for our reticence; nevertheless, we allowed February and March to pass, until, in the middle of last month, very regretfully, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South and his colleagues felt that, for our own protection and, indeed, in fairness to the people of Northern Ireland, we had no alternative but to let it be known publicly, after a final plea to the Lord President and to the Secretary of State, that it was not our fault that our repeated requests for the Committee to sit upon this subject had been refused.

    It is in pursuance of that decision that this afternoon we are using our opportunity to demand—I think that is not an unreasonable word—that the House shall not rise until due and detailed consideration has been given to the subject requested and to argue that it is in the interests of all concerned, and not least Her Majesty's Government and the policies which they are following in Northern Ireland, that such a debate shall take place.

    In order to illustrate the nature and the urgency of our request I want to refer to a very recent incident—an incident which is horribly fresh in the minds of hon. Members with connections in Northern Ireland and to which reference was made in the debate in the House yesterday. Before I do so, however, may I make a point, through the Lord President, to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who had notice that this matter would be raised this afternoon. He will, I am sure, agree that one of the besetting difficulties in Northern Ireland today is the prevalence on all sides of mutual suspicion, fed by an almost incredible crop and aftermath of rumour. Rumour and suspicion are the atmosphere in which politics are lived today in Northern Ireland. It is the atmosphere in which Her Majesty's Government have to endeavour to bring their policies to fruition. Anything, therefore, which will assist the Secretary of State to break through that cloud of suspicion and rumour and to establish beyond all doubt or cavil the bona fides of Her Majesty's Government and the transparent sincerity and plainness of what they are attempting is in the highest interest of the Government as well as of Northern Ireland and, therefore, of the country as a whole.

    I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would be the first to say that we, on this bench, have gone to the utmost limit, time after time, in order to maintain his credibility in the face of those in Northern Ireland who, sometimes with very plausible arguments, have queried his good faith and good intentions. Both in this House—I could give many instances—and in public in Northern Ireland we have asserted and reasserted our conviction in the sincerity of his policies and the credibility of his statements. We have done so, not only because we believe that—for otherwise it would have been contrary to our duty to do so—but because in Northern Ireland the credibility of Government is absolutely vital to the restoration of peace and to a tolerable future for that Province.

    Therefore, if the Secretary of State would go with me—and he must—so far as to accept my diagnosis and description of this background and then to admit—I am sure he would—that the motive of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself has been to assist and support him in making head against rumour and suspicion, may I put a proposition to him and to the Government? There is nothing and no means whereby any Government can so effectively make plain to the public what its policies are, its bona fides and its sincerity in pursuing them as debate in this House and in its Committees.

    I understand—indeed, anyone who has held office will understand—the temptation of Ministers faced with a difficult and delicate situation to duck debate. That tendency is ever-present; it is implicit in human nature that one is reluctant to face debate. But it is a temptation which has to be resisted, for only when this House sees, and only when the public, through this House, sees, that the Government are not afraid to face the House, are not afraid of any question which can be put to them, are not afraid of the confrontation of words and actions which are apparently inconsistent, can confidence and conviction be restored.

    It is because I believe that that is a well-founded principle of our experience, that that is one of the great functions of this place, that I am arguing this afternoon that we ought not to assent to the motion and ought not to disperse for a second recess since the cause of debate arose until this House has performed its function in this context.

    I have before me the two news items, of yesterday and today—from The Times as it happens—relating to the murder of a policeman in Londonderry on Saturday, as an illustration, the most recent, of the disease which I have just attempted to diagnose. I want to quote one paragraph of the report from Belfast which we read there on the 12th—yesterday. It runs as follows:
    "The first deliberate killing of a member of the security forces during the present ceasefire brought swift contact between government negotiators and Provisionals over the weekend."
    I am not, of course, attaching any official authority to the words which that correspondent, writing that dispatch from Belfast, used. However, I ask the House—I know that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is acutely sensitive to this—what is the impact upon the people of Northern Ireland, all of them, when they read a report from Belfast that as a matter of course, following such a murder, the result was "swift contact between Government negotiators and Provisionals over the weekend"? They are told there that Her Majesty's Government are in negotiation—not merely in contact, not merely in communication, but in negotiation—with those presumed to be guilty of this murder. Quite suddenly they see the whole forest of their suspicions and agonising doubts over the last three or four months confirmed. Nor would that be altered when they read—I shall not refer to it in detail—the follow-up report in The Times of today.

    That proposition, deeply damaging to the Government if it is false—as I believe it must be—and grave whether it is false or true, since it is important to all who are concerned for peace in Northern Ireland, is but the latest example of a whole sequence of such apparent contradictions between Government policy and Government action, largely unexplained, which have run through from January to this very day.

    I repeat that it is in the highest interest of Her Majesty's Government, of this country, and particularly of Northern Ireland for us to recognise that the only means which can be used to resolve these contradictions and to banish those doubts should now, without further delay, be taken—that is, by accepting the offer deliberately made, and the opportunity deliberately created, by the establishment of the Northern Ireland Committee to clear up this whole topic by question and answer in a way which cannot be achieved at Question Time or on the Adjournment or in any other effective manner.

    I have in my hand—but I shall not deal with them in any detail—the whole series of the statements which were made by the Secretary of State, from before the so-called ceasefire on 14th January to his statement on 11th February, when the cease-fire, as it is called, came into effect. Those statements were from the beginning puzzling. In the statement of 14th January it became clear that for some reason a cease-fire would bring with it some form of formalised contacts between Her Majesty's Government and those whose abstention from crimes is misdescribed—for it is a very misleading term—as a cease-fire.

    Perhaps I should quote only a phrase from the Secretary of State's statement—a statement made in Northern Ireland—on 22nd January, which included the expression,
    "arrangements that might be made to ensure that any cease-fire did not break down".
    That phrase—and those words were again repeated on the eve of the event of 5th February—enables me to illustrate very briefly what it is that must be debated and must be explained.

    The Government would not for a moment accept that there is a cease-fire in Northern Ireland in the sense that two combatant bodies of similar status have come to an agreement, one with another, upon terms to cease fire. That is the natural and, so far as I know, the only proper connotation of the term "cease-fire". Consequently, the mere use of that phrase in the context of Northern Ireland is already itself a propaganda success for the Provisional IRA. Let us however accept, despite that—as Her Majesty's Government do—that the element on the one side is the cessation of violence and that on the other side is the very proper modification of the behaviour of authority and of Government in the light of the diminution or cessation of violence. Let us take the position exactly as the Government assert it—that cease-fire means that, on the one hand, violence does not continue and criminal acts cease to be perpetrated, while, on the other hand, the Government adapt their behaviour, very naturally, rationally and properly, to an alteration in the security situation.

    We then face the implication of the terminology of which I have reminded the House:
    "the arrangements … to ensure that any cease-fire does not break down".
    What can be the meaning in the mouth of the Government of "arrangements to ensure" that violence is not resumed? The arrangements to ensure that violence is not resumed remain entirely in the hands of those who perpetrate violence. Surely if any meaning lies behind such an expression, it can only be—at least so people argue in Northern Ireland, and I know not how to refute their argument—that there are known conditions, though kept secret from the public and this House, upon which the cessation of violence is dependent.

    Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is a little misleading to speak of the cessation of violence and that there has been no cessation of violence in parts of the Province—for example, in County Armagh, where violence involving the Regular Army, the UDR and the Provisional IRA has continued?

    My hon. Friend was right to interrupt me and to correct my expression. There has been no more than a diminution of most types of violence over the period which has been described by this extraordinary term "cease-fire". I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right and it is good that the House should be reminded of it.

    I resume my point, which is that the continual references by the Government to arrangements to ensure that the ceasefire does not break down are such as to constitute, until there can be proper debate which elucidates what lies behind them, not merely an invitation but almost a compulsion to believe that, whatever the Government say, there is in fact a bargain with specific terms and that each side is policing the terms which the other side has accepted.

    I am afraid that when, following the so-called cease-fire in the second week of February, the Government announced what those arrangements were—and I will not go into details of the extraordinary "incident centres" which were to be set up—the difficulty of acquitting the Government of having entered into terms with the men of violence in Northern Ireland became almost insuperable. In his statement of 11th February the Secretary of State, referring to the incident centres, said:
    "There will be full consultation … with the security forces on these arrangements which will cover only incidents arising directly out of the cease-fire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1975; Vol. 885, c. 207–8.]
    Again, those are words which are very difficult to interpret, to which it is almost impossible to attach any meaning, unless the cease-fire, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, represented a series of concessions made in form by the enemies of the State in Northern Ireland to which there corresponded concessions or terms made in form by Her Majesty's Government—not just the natural assumption, which everyone would make, that if things get better the behaviour of Government would be modified, but specific terms.

    So I come straight back to last weekend, and I will quote from the same report following the murder of a policeman in Londonderry the words which were put out on Saturday night, and of course faithfully reproduced by the Press, by the Provisional IRA in Londonderry:
    "The killing"—
    that is, the murder of the policeman—
    "was 'a direct result of breaches in the truce over the past two weeks when two houses were raided by the Army and one by a squad of plain clothes RUC men'."
    I do not treat the communiqués of the Provisional IRA as having a higher degree of credibility than those issued during the late hostilities by Dr. Goebbels. These statements are of course acts of war. They are meant to deceive. They are meant to cause confusion. They are indeed aimed at the Government, for they are aimed at shaking the credibility of the Government and the confidence of the public in the truth of what the Secretary of State says and in the honesty of the Government's intentions. So it is not my purpose to say that I believe what these criminals, for their own criminal purpose, put out and what was printed by the Press. The point is a different one. It is that there is only one way in which Her Majesty's Government, with the assistance of this House, can reassert their own credibility and destroy that of the Provisional IRA, only one way in which they can create the proper background for the attempt at a more lasting constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland. And that, I repeat, is debate.

    This House exists for debate. This House performs its function by debate. This House does its work by showing, either proving or disproving, that Her Majesty's Government have to all questions that can legitimately be put to them, to all arguments that can be advanced against them, a tenable, rational reply which ought to convince the citizen.

    In opposing this motion this afternoon, therefore, my hon. Friends and I, unlike many of those who—very properly, I make no criticism of them—take part in this terminal debate, are in no way speaking against the interests of the Government. On the contrary, the representatives of the Northern Ireland seats are the best friends in the Northern Ireland situation that Her Majesty's Government have. We are pleading in their interest much more than in ours, because, as for us, our constituents will say, "They have done their best, they have discharged their duty as best they could, but evidently it was Her Majesty's Government which would not answer and presumably had not got an answer."

    What we are saying is in the interests of the Government—that they should use the device which never fails to re-establish the credibility, to re-establish the bona fides, to re-establish the logic of the acts of Government. There is no way in which they can do it so well as by voluntarily opening up this debate in the Northern Ireland Committee, promised and introduced with such a fanfare, and by doing so at once—doing so before we go away to a recess which we hope will not be punctuated by deeds such as that from which I have drawn the immediate illustration.

    It is a plea for the Government to do something in their own interest which we make this afternoon in opposing this motion.

    4.9 p.m.

    I want to make a brief contribution to a very important subject before the House adjourns. I believe that the law relating to rape should and must be changed, and changed very urgently indeed, because the fact is that we now have cities living in fear.

    There is a very curious dichotomy between public opinion outside the House and opinion inside the House. I have put down an Early-Day Motion suggesting that the law should be changed which has been signed by only 30-odd Members, yet I can assure the House that without a shadow of a doubt there are millions of people who are now appalled at the state of the law regarding rape. I have received telegrams and petitions and letters by the hundred. In all my days in the House I have never known feelings to be as deep and as strong and I have never known people to be so profoundly disturbed. The reason is that people are now convinced that the law, as defined by the Law Lords, is such as to encourage rape and to discourage women from reporting it. I am utterly convinced beyond all doubt that the law must be changed, for three reasons.

    First, the effect of the law as now confirmed by the Law Lords will be significantly to affect juries. Juries now do not simply have to decide that a woman was compelled to have sexual relations against her will. Juries must now decide whether the man who assaulted her genuinely believed that he was not assaulting her, no matter how irresponsible the grounds for that belief are. Those are the key and crucial words, "no matter how irresponsible the grounds for that belief are." We could have an absurd situation in which a rapist could appear before a court and the jury could believe the woman's evidence that she was raped but that same jury, if it believed that the man genuinely thought he was not raping the woman, however irrational the grounds for that belief, would be unable to convict.

    What a crazy situation. What an absurd situation. What an impossible situation for juries. The effect on juries will be significant. What about the effect on potential rapists? Far too often men generally, with their deeply ingrained prejudices, tend to laugh at the subject because many men are very stupid about sexual discrimination. Many men are very stupid about rape. Many men are very stupid about the relationship of thugs to women. They tend to categorise rape as the kind of situation involving people who have played about with sexual relations and the man perhaps has gone a little too far. But rape is not like that.

    Rape is a vicious, evil and degrading assault by a strong man on a woman. It is a victory for strength over weakness. It is villainy run riot. Any law which encourages this kind of thuggery should be changed. What will happen to women when they are assaulted? They will be far more reluctant to come forward because it is not solely a matter of the women being faced by a defence lawyer. Instead they will be faced with their assailants who can accuse the women of wanting to be involved. That is entirely wrong. Women will be even more reluctant to complain to the police.

    If women who are raped are not prepared to complain we shall never catch the rapists. If we cannot catch the rapists they will go on raping. The figures for rape have increased by 34 per cent. in four years. Over half the men who committed rape had no proceedings taken against them. Unless we change the law the rape figures will rocket, while the number of women reporting rape will drift downwards. We are faced with a situation in which law and order has gone mad.

    So, the effect of the law, if it is not changed, will be first on juries, second on rapists and third on women. I urge the House to bring pressure to bear on the Home Secretary and on the Government to change the law. If it is not changed the effects will be catastrophic.

    I return to the point about the dichotomy between public opinion outside and opinion in the House. I have the greatest respect for hon. Members but they do not fully appreciate how inflamed public opinion is on this subject. They do not realise the extent of the fears in the minds of women and in the minds of many men who are affected by the whole situation. For me, to receive telegrams, petitions and letters from student unions, trade unions, women's organisations, even Conservative associations and hundreds of individuals is a clear indication of the extent to which public opinion is alarmed.

    The Government will flout public opinion unless they are prepared to take action. They ought not to refer the matter in a leisurely way to the Criminal Law Revision Committee, fine though that may be. That is a longer-term approach which would be acceptable to the House, but it will not solve the immediate problem. I beg the Leader of the House to make representations to the Home Secretary about a change in the law to ensure that any man who is accused of raping a woman is not allowed to advance a defence on irresponsible grounds. The law must be changed so that it is incumbent upon any man so accused to base his defence on responsible grounds. That is what the law should be, and that is what I hope this House will recommend to the Government.

    4.26 p.m.

    I do not think it would be right for the House to accede to the motion proposed by the Lord President without there being adequate discussion of the disastrous and declining economic state of the country.

    Never in my adult life have I seen a situation in which the country has declined as rapidly as it has recently. This is a matter affecting all parties and all Members. The motion before us is that we should adjourn for a fortnight. I ask the House to consider what has occurred in the past fortnight. In the past 14 days, the pound has deteriorated to its lowest ever level. We have major strikes in many of our large industries. We have inflation at a rate which no civilised country has been able to stand for long. I do not think that any parliamentary democracy has been able to exist for an extended period with a rate of inflation such as that which we are now suffering. Yet it is proposed that we should adjourn without any adequate steps being taken to deal with the situation.

    Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman was not present at Question Time when the Prime Minister said that it was hoped next week to find time for a whole day's debate on the economy.

    I was present. I do not think that that is sufficient. There has been a steady deterioration in the state of the country. We have fooled ourselves that what happens to other countries cannot happen to us. We have read of the Weimar Republic and the way in which members of the Assembly there discussed irrelevancies when their economy was going to pot, creating the ideal conditions for a dictatorship. Are we to be in the same position?

    We have recently been discussing the Industry Bill. Important or otherwise as that may be, the provision of £450 million in that Bill bears no relevance to the present situation because if inflation continues the whole of our economy will be undermined. If we have enormous unemployment, which could be another consequence, that measure would be irrelevant. The truth is that to our electorate outside, much of what the House of Commons is discussing appears to be totally irrelevant to the situation facing us.

    I was at a weekend conference last weekend at Ditchley Park at which there were some very distinguished representatives from many parts of the world, all very friendly to our country and representing a very wide spectrum of views. Universally they took an extremely gloomy view of our prospects. I agree with the Prime Minister when he says that it is up to this country to put its own house in order. Whether we are in or out of the Common Market, it is what we do at home that matters. But the truth is that we are not doing anything.

    That is not true. The situation is deteriorating at a very great rate. The Lord President, from a sedentary position, seems to pay no attention to the fact that the pound is deteriorating at a rate at which it has never deteriorated before.

    May I tell the Lord President that if he is so remote from economic reality that he thinks that a speech from a back bencher in the House of Commons causes the pound to deteriorate so quickly, he is talking absolute nonsense.

    The truth is that there are certain highly unpleasant things which the House as a whole has now to face. The time for playing party politics on this issue is over. We have reached a stage where it is too late to have a statutory prices and incomes policy. The Government are faced with the almost inevitable decision whether to have a total freeze in the next few weeks.

    The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) can shout "Rubbish" but this country is dependent on foreign loans to the extent of 5 per cent. of its expenditure. We have to consider the consequences if those loans are withdrawn, as they might easily be should the pound continue to deteriorate. What then? The hon. Member shouted "Rubbish", but the truth is that in this country at the present time we still have not faced reality. This applies to all parties. I do not exempt one party as against another in this situation. It is up to hon. Members, back benchers though we may be, to show that some of us are aware of the rapid deterioration.

    The Secretary of State for the Environment spoke in the country on either Friday or Saturday on the question of local government expenditure. He said that there had to be a total standstill during the coming year. He was attacked yesterday by the General Secretary of NALGO, the trade union principally concerned. When it is appreciated that over 50 per cent. of local government expenditure is on salaries and wages, what does a standstill mean? If it means what it is stated to be—a standstill in expenditure—it means the cutting back rapidly of services. If salaries and wages are insured against the effect of inflation—and this is what the built-in provisions for automatic increases amount to—it means that the 50 per cent. will go up rapidly as a proportion of total expenditure, and the only way to maintain a standstill is to cut down on services. This situation merely illustrates the Government's failure to come to grips with the fact that it is the explosion in wages and salaries above anything else that is the present cause of inflation.

    In the last few years we have seen the creation of a huge bureaucratic superstructure in our country, and the last Conservative administration was as responsible as any for this. Civil Service rates of pay are vastly in excess of what they were four years ago. Local government rates of pay have increased enormously, as have the administrative rates of pay in the National Health Service. These rates of pay are not for people in creative or productive industry and they throw a tremendous strain on this country. This is partly why we are living beyond our means.

    The Government should put their cards on the table before this House and face the reality of the situation. Is there any way at the present time of restoring confidence abroad other than the imposition of Draconian measures such as I suggest—a total freeze on wages and salaries while the whole situation facing the country is considered?

    As Members of Parliament we should consider whether it is our duty to try to bury our differences as best we can and to agree upon a programme that will enable this country to survive. The alternative seems to me to be to lurch, as the Weimar Republic did, from one high degree of inflation into an even higher degree of inflation, until in the end nobody is prepared to take the steps necessary to put matters right.

    The hon. and learned Gentleman seems to ignore the fact that it was not inflation but savage deflation that destroyed the Weimar Republic. Inflation occurred at the outset and had been long overcome. It was the fact of having three million unemployed, not inflation, that destroyed the Weimar Republic.

    With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Weirman Republic took no adequate steps to deal with inflation and it was when it had allowed matters to drift for a long time that the savage deflation occurred, causing the country to become ripe for take-over by either an extreme Right-wing or an extreme Left-wing organisation.

    I submit that it would be wrong for the House to agree to the motion to adjourn until we have had some guidance from the Government about the steps they are prepared to take. If the deterioration of the last fortnight is matched by the deterioration from now until 9th June, we shall by then be in desperate straits indeed.

    I would join with right hon. and hon. Members in other parts of the House though perhaps on different grounds in resisting the motion.

    4.27 p.m.

    I do not think we should accede to the motion before the House until the Government have told us a little more about their intentions concerning some of the unfinished business. Before this House returns from the recess on 9th June, a great deal of business will have taken place. That business is not unrelated to some 30 regulations which the Scrutiny Committee has recommended that this House should debate. Not only should that business be discussed, but there are also some unfinished matters relating to the 21 debates that this House has so far had on EEC orders, and matters related to them, since the middle of last summer. It may be surprising to some people that this House has had 21 debates. Very few of those debates have been reported in any sense at all in the Press, and hardly any on the radio or television, perhaps because they have been almost entirely late at night and cut by the Government to a maximum of one and a half hours.

    The other matter to which I should like to refer is that hon. Members usually get representations from members of the public concerning White Papers, even draft Statutory Instruments, Bills, and so on. All these are readily obtainable, and pressure groups and members of the public are able to buy them, read them, and see how their interests are affected. But that is not the position concerning the regulations which we have debated and those which we have not debated. They are not available to the general public at Her Majesty's Stationery Office and, alas, they are sometimes available only just in time to hon. Members.

    I pointed out, in the debate on 3rd December last, that I was not able to get a very important Government Explanatory Memorandum on the basic energy document of the EEC—R/1472/73—until 24 hours before the debate took place. Later in my remarks—and I have given notice of this to the Lord President and to the Minister of State for the Treasury—I wish to draw the attention of the House to a previous explanatory memorandum which I believe was wholly misleading and which may have misled even the Minister of State who opened the debate in question.

    There are many other matters which have gone through this House and which are still technically on the Order Paper. On 3rd February 1975, this House discussed a motion to annul the Import Duties (General) Order 1975 which put up the rate of levy and tax on a great many imported foods. Unfortunately, fewer than 40 Members voted on that occasion. It was put on the Order Paper again and it appeared for several days afterwards. It has become what is technically known as a dropped order.

    It may be of interest to the Minister of Agriculture, who is currently making a great many speeches on food prices, to see the Answers to Questions on 1st May 1975 when his Under-Secretary admitted that levies on New Zealand cheese imports were no less than 28p per lb. If this House reactivated that order and debated it, I have no doubt that the Government would have to explain why, in answer to Questions—

    Order. I am being as liberal as I can, but the hon. Gentleman must address himself to whether the House should or should not accept the motion before it.

    I am addressing my remarks to the fact that the dropped order to which I have referred should be debated before we go into recess on the date proposed in the motion. If the Lord President feels that we should debate it before the motion comes into effect, I hope that he will put it on the Order Paper for next week.

    My next request is that my right hon. Friend should do the same in respect of the EEC budget. We have had two EEC budgets since joining the EEC. Neither of them has been debated in this House. The Lord President put down matters relating to the budget for debate on 19th December of last year. Since that date, he has promised the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that we shall have a debate on the budget. However, it looks as though we shall not have that debate before we go into recess. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider a debate on the budget next week before the motion comes into effect.

    I remind the House that the budget consisted of 10 lbs. of documents. It was put before us last December, and we have not yet debated it. My right hon. Friend knows that in this package there are many figures which would be of great interest to the British people in the coming weeks. For some of the figures which would interest them most, they might search in vain. In order to discover some of the facts about the budget, it was necessary for me to ask Questions on 27th February about the guarantee fund. I shall not weary the House by going through them in detail. But, despite the 10 lbs. of documents which we have still to debate, the breakdown of the European Agricultural Insurance and Guarantee Fund does not appear in those documents, and I had to ask a Question on 13th March the Answer to which revealed that the EEC will give support to tobacco growing in the Community of some £70 million, which is about the sum that it spends on providing surplus grain to overseas countries in need.

    The other matter which we should debate and which has been technically before this House is Command Paper 6033, the Report of the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce. This is of great significance to the House because it shows what money has been spent on behalf of the British public in this country in the last year, 1974, in respect of agricultural intervention. We read in Table K that £14 million has been spent on production subsidies on cereals used for starch, and so on. I should have thought that the fact that £14 million of public money had been spent in this country on the production of starch from cereals merited debate in this House and that, if the Lord President could arrange a debate next week before the recess, it would be greatly appreciated by this House and by the British public.

    In answer to a Written Question on 6th May, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told me that the £14 million related to 746,000 tons of maize and 49,000 tons of wheat and wheat flour which were used for the production of starch and 41,000 tons of maize used for the production of maize grits for brewing beer. I do not suggest that the people who received those subsidies made money out of them. I am sure that the £14 million represented the difference between the cost of other raw materials and the cost of this foodstuff which was for human or animal consumption. However, the Minister of State added:
    "It is not normal practice to publish detailed information relating to bodies or persons to whom payment of subsidies is made." — [Official Report, 6th May 1975; Vol. 891, c. 423.]
    So we have the situation where £14 million of public money has been spent in providing subsidies to persons or bodies whose business is producing starch, brewers' maize, and a substance known as quellmehl, and we do not know who they are.

    I have described this as public money. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell the House whether it is public money from this House or from the EEC. The intervention report bears the Royal Arms on the front of it, and the usual inscription, "Honi soit qui mal y pense"

    Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is now arguing his Common Market case—

    That may be so. It is not for me to say. However, the motion is to deal with the Adjournment.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to be clear about your ruling. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued a good case to say why this House should not go into recess until it had considered an important matter. It seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is doing precisely that. In order to do it, he has to refer to documents and information available to him.

    I am much obliged for the hon. Gentleman's help, but I must advise him that it is not the effect which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has upon him which is important at the moment. It is the effect which the hon. Gentleman has on me. I want to be fair to everyone, but I must ask the hon. Member for Newham, South to keep to the motion.

    I shall endeavour to do so. However, any decision about whether we go into recess on Friday of next week must surely depend on the business before us.

    It is not within my knowledge that a speaker in a debate on which a Question is put need necessarily come down on the side of the "Ayes" or that of the "Noes". Hon. Members need to have the relevant considerations before them in order to decide whether to vote "Aye" or "No". It may be that some of my arguments will reinforce the reasons for a number of right hon. and hon. Members voting "No" on this occasion. Therefore, I submit, in requesting the Lord President to arrange time for us to debate these matters of importance, that my right hon. Friend's reply will greatly affect our decision about whether we should go into recess on Friday week.

    The final matter to which I refer is one of which I have given notice to my right hon. Friend and which I contemplated raising under Standing Order No. 9. It relates to a debate that we had on 12th March about the European Monetary Co-operation Fund. In the course of that debate, I did something which a number of hon. Members recognised as being relatively rare. I accused the Government of not being frank with the House and of not providing correct information. Since that date, the Committee on EEC Secondary Legislation has published a report which made it clear in Questions Nos. 213 and 214 in the Minutes of Evidence that it had taken on 25th February that the Minister of State at the Treasury had made statements which turned out not to be correct.

    In my view, this matter should be cleared up before the House goes into recess. The point of issue is whether this country is bound by a certain ruling of the EEC concerned with economic and monetary union and a fund establishing a European monetary union.

    I refer to Regulation 907 of the Council which states that the European Monetary Co-operation Fund is intended to achieve economic and monetary union and the progressive harmonisation of member States' economies. However, before that Select Committee the Minister of State in answer to a question about economic and monetary union, from the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) said:
    "I do not think anybody at this stage is thinking of this"—
    the fund—
    "as a means to that particular end."
    When my right hon. Friend winds up the debate, will he either tell us that we can debate this subject again before we go into recess or, if he has obtained the information of which I have given notice, make it quite clear whether this country is bound to the objectives of the European Monetary Co-operation Fund set out in the Official Journal of the European Communities of 5th April 1973 which concludes that,
    "This Regulation shall be binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all Member States."

    4.41 p.m.

    I, too, believe that we should not adjourn, at least until we have had an economic package from the Government. I strongly support the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who spoke of this earlier.

    I must first dispense with the sedentary remarks of the Lord President, that in some ways the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was damaging, that it threatened to bring sterling lower and that he should not have dared to raise this matter on the Floor of the House. The obvious answer to that is that the Lord President intervened in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech to promise a debate next week when all hon. Gentlemen would be able to say what they think, which clearly would be, under his own definition, damaging to sterling. But I pass that by. That is a point on which I do not wish to dwell.

    I wish to make the fundamental point that the value of the pound is not determined by what people say in or outside the House or in the newspapers. It is determined by how many people wish to buy pounds and how many people wish to sell them. The supply and demand of currency is what will determine whether is goes up and down in future weeks. In truth, there is no difference between the value of the pound and the value of bricks, beer or beef. If there is an oversupply of these commodities, the price goes down. If there is a shortage, the price goes up. Therefore, the only factors which can influence the value of the pound are whether there is an over supply of pounds and whether there is a shortage of those who wish to buy them or, on the contrary, a surplus.

    It must, therefore, be obvious that the reason for the fall in the value of the pound, which has been 4 per cent. for the last week or so, is not the result of anything that anybody has said. It has not been caused by the actions of speculators or noble Lords in another place making speeches. The Prime Minister in his celebrated broadcast on Sunday used an extraordinary expression. He said that it was the fault of unknown persons' neurosis—neurosis in the City, neurosis in another place and neurosis in the Press and media. It is not the fault of neurosis. It is the fault of nobody but the Government.

    For the Government to seek to ride out their responsibilities is to evade the trust which was placed in them by those who put them in office. They cannot seek to claim that we should not raise this matter and that we should not discuss it. It is right that we should not adjourn. We should not go into recess until the Government have announced what they will do, if anything, about their prime responsibility for the great economic damage that their policy, and their policy alone, might create for this country.

    The value of the pound is determined by supply and demand of pounds. The basic cause of our problem is the supply of pounds due to the enormous borrowing requirement in the Budget. I make no party point. Other hon. Gentlemen will be able to endorse that I made the same criticism, to a lesser degree, of Budgets under the Conservative administration.

    It is this growing propensity to spend what we have not got which is causing the deepening economic crisis in this country. On top of this we fear—and this is another reason why I do not want the House to rise—that the costs of the Government's industrial policies have not been included in the Estimates. The cost of the National Enterprise Board is £50 million in the Estimates. It is now to carry British Leyland, which might involve hundreds of millions of pounds in the coming financial year. There is nothing in the Estimates for the nationalisation of shipbuilding or aircraft. There is nothing in the Estimates for the Community Land Bill. There is nothing in the Estimates for the nationalisation of the oil royalties in the North Sea.

    Nobody has confidence in the Chancellor's housekeeping. It has not been overlooked abroad that the Chancellor's forecast deficit of £2,700 million turned out, in the event, to be £7,600 million. With the additions that I have just mentioned, what will be the outturn for the Budget deficit for 1975?

    The considerations which give rise to the worry about the stability of our currency are the activities of the Secretary of State for Industry, including his wild attacks on the private enterprise system which keeps the economy afloat in this country; the profligate, rotten housekeeping of the Chancellor, who has allowed expenditure to get out of control; and the actions of the other spending Ministers who have allowed their budgets to get right away from them.

    I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment, who at least has said that local authority expenditure must be curtailed, but he is the one who allowed housing subsidies to reach the staggering total of £3,900 million in the current year. However, the sinner who has repented is better than one who has not.

    This is a problem which the Government must attend to. Yet here we are a few days before we rise talking about Clay Cross—I thought we had been talking about hare-coursing but perhaps that has been dropped—and about a whole series of trivia and things which are irrelevant to this major, fundamental and basic problem which faces the country, namely, the declining value of our currency.

    There is only one thing that the Government, or indeed anybody, can do to put the matter right. There is only one thing that will have any impact on the situation, and that is for the Government—preferably the Prime Minister—to come to the Box and make a statement about the cuts that he proposes to make in public spending and, if necessary, the increased taxation which he proposes to impose.

    There is one matter on which I do not agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. He said that perhaps there should be a coalition of all those who hold the British economy dear, so that they could again impose a statutory prices and incomes policy. I am afraid that he is putting his head in the sand. If he believes that we can have a borrowing requirement of £9,000 million rising to we know not what, and bottle it up with a law, after the experience of the prices and incomes policy of my right hon. Friends in 1973 and 1974 and of the Labour Government in the 1960s, he is doing damage to the very idea of a coalition by making it clear that if he is part of any coalition he will make sure that it cannot succeed. The measures that he advocated could never succeed in those circumstances.

    I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech with interest. When he talks of curtailing public expenditure, he must realise that the biggest components of public expenditure are wages and salaries. The hon. Gentleman has not even indicated how he would deal with those components. That is what needs to be dealt with. I suggested that we were faced with a situation in which we would have to have a total freeze to see what could be done. This is the nub of the question. While people are insured against inflation by various means—even under the social contract—how does the hon. Gentleman propose to deal with these components of public expenditure?

    The hon. and learned Gentleman would make a rotten doctor. He would be scratching off the spots and failing to observe that the disease was getting worse and worse. Any coalition which concentrates on scratching off the spots will do us a disservice. Any party which advocates that policy is doing us a disservice. There are no easy options. There is no easy, painless way out.

    The answer requires massive cuts in public expenditure and higher taxation. It will cause unemployment, distress and a reduction in the standard of living—certainly, a reduction in the rate of growth of real incomes. That is the option which faces the House.

    We should not pack up our bags and go on holiday until the Government have faced up to their responsibilities and done something to save the nation from the gloom which threatens it for the future.

    4.51 p.m.

    I oppose the motion, but I assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I do not have sufficient energy to go to the Division Lobby to vote against it.

    I listened with foreboding to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). We must make it clear from the Labour benches that there can be no coalition, no grouping in the House—not only now but for the foreseeable future—between Labour Members, elected on our manifesto, and Opposition Members.

    I listened to those speeches with foreboding because I was disturbed to think that the Government could be pressurised and panicked into taking the type of Draconian measures which could make certain that we would not solve our economic difficulties. Draconian measures would perhaps work if people were not people. We must rely on the good sense of the British people and learn from the past that there can be no solution without their consent.

    I was disturbed to hear the proposal for a statutory wage freeze. If there begins to be talk of such a freeze, present claims and settlements will be inflated in anticipation of it.

    The hon. Gentleman is wrong. A great degree of moderation is being exercised because of the loyalty of trade union officials towards the Labour Government.

    After a freeze, all the practical difficulties would arise again, with all the sense of injustice. As soon as the freeze was applied, one group after another, very often in the public service and the lowest paid, would come to hon. Members on both sides of the House to complain that they had just been caught and to argue their case. Hon. Members would pressurise the Government to make exceptions for such groups. In the middle of the freeze period, or towards the end, the whole policy would have to be reassessed because the Government would face the twin force of a group which both felt a sense of injustice and was industrially strong. Given those two things occurring together, there would be an industrial confrontation, and almost certainly the Government would be defeated. Then the policy would be in ruins.

    The only hope is to get the support of working people and their organisations for a modicum of wage restraint. There can be no reliance on statutory pay policies to achieve it, and there can be no immediate resort to Draconian measures, because such measures would be taken as a signal by the unions and working people immediately to increase their wage demands. Unless the people accept economic measures as being essential for the survival of Britain, the measures cannot work.

    Because of technology and the closely-knit type of industrial society in which we live, some small groups of workers have a great deal of power, which must be taken as a reality. Against that background, talk of wage freezes and Draconian measures is theoretical.

    I came into the Chamber to hear the advertised statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade on industrial democracy. Why was that statement not made? I hope that we shall have an encouraging statement before the Adjournment, a statement that the Government will act as quickly as possible to bring about industrial democracy. When the Government do not have much money to spend, this is an appropriate time for us to deal with legislation which will not involve expenditure and yet could bring about an irreversible shift in the balance of power in favour of working people. Many of us on the Labour benches very much hope that my right hon. Friend will make a statement shortly and that it will contain no talk of inquiries of deferment, but only of action.

    That leads me to my final question. Are we to have a settlement of the dispute between the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry before we adjourn a week on Friday? Again, this is a very important matter. When we were in Opposition we promised the steel workers that there would be a review of the proposals contained in the then administration's White Paper. That promise was also made at the election, and Lord Beswick carried it out on behalf of the Secretary of State for Industry. The review was certainly favourable to the workers at Shelton in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant). Now the Government are said to have no legal right to issue a directive to the Chairman of the British Steel Corporation to ensure that the jobs of the workers are safeguarded.

    If the Government have no power, the promises should not have been made in the first place and the review should not have been undertaken. However, the review has been undertaken and the promises have been made. In view of the statements and the hope given from this House, quite clearly if the Government do not have the power to implement them, they must bring in legislation to take it as quickly as possible. They must legislate to enable them to fulfil the promises made to the steel workers and to implement the decision resulting from the review.

    I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to satisfy me on these points. I hope that in the coming months the Government will keep their nerve and not give way to the panic measures that are being proposed by the Opposition. I hope that the Government will keep on telling the Conservatives that they will undermine confidence abroad with their talk of gloom and disaster, and I hope that they will continue to try to secure the full support of the British working people for the economic policies they are having to pursue.

    5.3 p.m.

    I had a moment or two to prepare a short speech, and I propose to be brief. I hope that the Leader of the House heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and that he will respond to them. I do not go so far as to say that the law is as the hon. Member described it. I doubt whether what he said is correct. But there is undoubtedly much public anxiety on the matter and the hon. Member did nothing to allay that—in fact, I suspect that he has inflamed it. In view of that the Lord President should take the opportunity of making a clear statement of the law. If he cannot do that in concise terms, he should assure the House that a statement of authority will be made by one of the Law Officers in order to eliminate doubt and misplaced or exaggerated anxiety.

    I want to do what I do not normally do on these occasions and that is to argue that the recess is not long enough. I have no particular quarrel with the date on which it is to begin—it is essential that we should examine the economy in the debate planned for Thursday—but the Government, and the Leader of the House in particular, are expecting too much of us and of themselves in confining the recess to the relatively short period proposed in the motion.

    The first and least important reason for my saying that is that I suspect that some hon. Members—perhaps even all hon. Members—will want to take an active part in the referendum campaign which will effectively be carried on during the recess. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who seems so fond of swinging from comma to comma in the Common Market regulations, will no doubt be taking an active part in the campaign. Other Members will no doubt be doing their best.

    It will not be the kind of recess during which Cabinet Ministers will be able to refresh themselves in whatever way Cabinet Ministers in this Government carry out that practice. They will be hyperactive, I suspect, and they will not benefit from the recess in any way. They will be even more tired at the end of it than they are already—and some of them are fairly tired now.

    The Leader of the House is not noted for his super-abundance of energy. The Government Chief Whip is so exhausted that he slumped down on the Opposition Front Bench just now before eventually finding his way back to his correct place. Of course, he has a lot to put up with. We are glad to see the Secretary of State for Employment back after a brief convalescence, but no doubt he could do with additional rest. Then there is the Secretary of State for Industry. Everyone would like to see him take a good rest.

    The opportunity which should be taken by those who are running the country's affairs to recuperate from their exertions, recover their balance, see whether they can find their missing marbles, and do all the other things the recess gives them chance to do, will be denied them. The campaign for this unnecessary referendum will intrude into the recess, which should therefore be extended for a week. The Prime Minister, in particular, should have the opportunity to rest. The impression he left upon the country after his television appearance was that he was a tired man and that our affairs were not necessarily in the best hands so long as they were in the hands of a man so tired.

    I see no reason to believe that the moment the referendum campaign is over the Prime Minister's troubles will be at an end. He may regard a referendum vote in favour of the Government's recommendations as a colossal vote of confidence in himself, and being the Prime Minister that probably is how he will regard it. But there is more to it than that, and more to the consequence of the vote than that. Whichever way the vote goes, there will have to be a change in the composition of this administration. Should the vote go against continued British membership of the EEC, the matter could be forced upon the Prime Minister by the unwillingness of some of his colleagues to remain in the Cabinet. That will give him a problem of reconstruction and reshuffle which Parliament and the country would be most reluctant to see arising from present circumstances.

    If the vote goes the way the majority of us and most of the country hope it will, the Prime Minister will still not be relieved of the responsibility of making a change in his team. He may need a week or so to do that. There is therefore good reason for giving him that additional period of grace and for providing him with time to come to the House with a coherent set of plans prepared to deal with the situation which should have been dealt with so long ago.

    The crisis of confidence in the pound will not be swept away by the debate on Thursday. To do that will need action, determination and resolution on the part of the country's leaders, and they will not muster those qualities in six months' of sitting on the Treasury bench listening to debate. It will take work which should have been started long since and which must be started now. If those efforts are to carry confidence they will need to be presented to the world as being carefully considered and carrying all the conviction of a logical, sensible and non-political reaction to the desperate plight of the country.

    The Secretary of State for the Environment used the expression "the party is over". It might have been more to the point if he had made the remark at the Cabinet table, because the party is over for those who believe that this country can any longer afford the enormous inflationary pressures which are built into the Government's policies. There must be a change. The country needs leaders who will speak for Britain, and if an extra week's thought gets us any nearer that, as it could, the House should not begrudge itself the time for thinking.

    5.20 p.m.

    I am sure that all those concrete prescriptions for dealing with our economic ills made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) will be of great assistance to our Treasury Ministers and others concerned with finding those solutions.

    This morning, in the Court of Appeal, judgment was reached in the case of Hubbard v. Pitt. This was an appeal from a decision reached some months ago relating to non-industrial picketing, namely demonstrations by people other than in pursuit of a trade dispute. Picketing in furtherance of a trade dispute is covered by statute and is protected. But picketing or demonstrating, other than in pursuit of a trade dispute, is not so protected. It is subject to the common law, and the law, as is usual with English common law, is rather vague.

    The result of the decision this morning is that it is now clear—it was previously unclear—that no one has a right to do anything on the highway, which includes the pavement, except to pass along it and to engage in restricted activities absolutely incidental thereto.

    That decision means that many activities which are carried out every day of the week in the country under the very eyes and noses of the police, with police permission, full acquiescence and no interference, are clearly now unlawful. More seriously, perhaps, those who agree among themselves to carry out those demonstrations are, because the action is unlawful, guilty of criminal conspiracy. I can relate this subject to the recess more closely by saying that many hon. Members and their supporters on one side or other of the referendum campaign will, as a result of this morning's decision, clearly be engaged in unlawful activities in demonstrating their support for, or opposition to, membership of the Common Market during the next fortnight. In arranging such demonstrations some of them at least will be guilty of criminal conspiracy.

    The case which concluded this morning arose from an incident in my constituency, which is why I take a special interest in it. I was glad that Lord Denning dissented this morning from the majority verdict of two to one. It is encouraging that Lord Denning was able to find that even the law as it now stands, without statutory intervention, should permit a person to demonstrate on the highway provided that he does not obstruct the highway or cause a direct nuisance—other than merely by demonstrating—to other persons using the highway. This morning he seems to have demonstrated what is called in the legal profession judicial valour, or the extension of a precedent, the broadening of a precedent, rather than the narrowing of it from case to case.

    As a result of this morning's decision, I think that it is incumbent upon the Lord President—I think of him as much in his capacity as chairman of the legislation committee of the Cabinet as I think of him as Lord President—to take an early opportunity to declare that the Government will attach a clause to an early Bill dealing with the civil and criminal law, or the nearest Bill to that subject which will come in the next year, so as to remove this subject from legal uncertainty and to provide for it by statute.

    It is clear that some subjects about which there are demonstrations have nothing to do with trade disputes but are just as important as, or even more important than, a trade dispute. Anyone demonstrating in 1956 about Suez could hardly be said to have been demonstrating about an unimportant subject. Therefore, it is as important to protect the citizen's right to demonstrate on such matters as it is to protect his right to demonstrate in furtherance of a trade dispute.

    There is a more serious aspect of the question created or confirmed by the decision of the Court of Appeal this morning. Throughout the country demonstrations are taking place every day of the week. The police permit them to happen. The police permitted the incident in my constituency to happen. Therefore we have a situation in which the public do not know whether action will be taken against them by the police, because the police can, if they choose, take that action. The police have always had a wide discretion in bringing prosecutions. But we should limit that discretion to the greatest extent practicable because it is contrary to the rule of law and good democratic practices that the public should feel not only that they are in the grip of the law but that they are in the grip of a too wide discretion to apply the law which is placed in the hands of the police.

    Therefore, I ask the Lord President in his capacity as chairman of the legislation committee to take note that there is clearly since this morning a need to clarify this aspect of the law by statute and to take the earliest legislative opportunity to correct the position adopted this morning by the Court of Appeal.

    5.27 p.m.

    I submit that we should not adjourn on Friday week in view of the urgent and desperate situation of the inshore fishing industry.

    I was glad to hear the Minister of Agriculture say in the House recently that he had acquainted the EEC Commission of the necessity to change its fisheries policy. That is to be welcomed. I hope that that will succeed. However, that is a long-range proposal.

    I wish to mention the question of extending the fishing limit to 50 miles, which is demanded by the inshore fishermen. The reply on each occasion was that we could not take unilateral action. I investigated this matter in the 1960s when I was serving in local government. We asked the Government of the day to extend the limit to 12 miles. Invariably the reply was that the Government did not wish to take unilateral action. Britain was one of the last of the North Sea countries to extend the fishing limit to 12 miles.

    It is no use the Minister of Agriculture replying that he might obtain a good agreement at the Conference on the Law of the Sea, as the end of inshore fishing, especially for herring, might be in sight within weeks rather than months. It would be small consolation if at the end of that time a sound agreement had been reached at that conference.

    The Government must be aware of the depredations made by foreign vessels. The Danes are the worst offenders, although the Norwegians and Russians also offend by fishing on an industrial scale and denuding the fish stocks. It will be a tremendous loss to our food supplies, as well as to the industry, if the fish disappear. The industry is going through a bad time. The Government should consider imposing a moratorium on the repayments for fishing vessels, which are very high—

    Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if he would occasionally link his remarks to the motion about the recess it would be a great help.

    Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For that reason, before the House goes into recess there is urgent need for a debate on this subject. If the Government do not place a moratorium on the repayments, they will be obliged to repossess the vessels, which would be an impossible situation. The fishermen are finding it very hard to make the repayments. I ask that we do not adjourn until we have had a debate on the fishing industry.

    5.21 p.m.

    I, too, appeal to the Lord President not to adjourn the House until we have had an opportunity to discuss the management of the exchange rate. We heard from the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) his view of what determines the exchange rate of sterling. We read daily in our newspapers that the Bank of England, "authority", the Treasury or the Government broker has intervened or has not intervened in the market, has intervened slightly or intends to intervene, and so on.

    Although I support the referendum and shall do all I can to persuade the people I know to hang on to their self-determination and vote "No", I feel reluctant to go home until we have had a debate on the mechanism of the management of the exchange rate.

    This morning The Times referred to possible light Bank of England intervention to slow down the decline in sterling. Elsewhere I read that there was an intervention "for technical reasons". As a back bencher I feel the need to explore the executive control of sterling and the exchange rate. The way that sterling is managed has vital implications for our balance of payments and our economic strategy.

    Some years ago there was much more direct intervention. Indeed, there was intervention on both spot and forward sterling. Then the pound was floated, and that was one price we had to pay for Common Market entry. We were told that the floating of the pound would enable Britain to become more competitive, but the 20 per cent. immediate devaluation of the pound when it was floated made a considerable contribution to our £2,400 million annual deficit with the Common Market countries. I am reluctant to go back to the beautiful city of Bristol while these machinations are going on.

    The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury is not here, but I hope he will accept what I say in the spirit in which I say it. He insulted our intelligence when he insisted that the value of sterling was determined simply by supply and demand. Even when our exports and imports have been in a healthy position—in 1961 Britain's trade performance was extremely good—there has been ample evidence of the massive movement of speculative funds. Speculators felt that they could make a profit by moving into a market, thereby creating the downward slide of sterling, and then coming back into sterling and making profits—many would say obscene profits. Since the float, and especially in the last few weeks, it has almost looked as though there is no executive policy. At least, I find it difficult to discern any policy.

    Is it not a feature of the present situation that there is little evidence of speculation? Considering the state of sterling, how can any speculator have made money out of sterling recently?

    One finds, if one looks at previous speculation against sterling by British companies, multinational companies and British banks, that we did not know about that speculation until after th