House Of Commons
Thursday 17th July 1975
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Mcdermott Scotland Order Confirmation Bill
Considered; to be read the Third time upon Tuesday next.
Oral Answers To Questions
Pensioners (Television Licences)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he has made in his examination of the possibility of relieving pensioners of part or all of the cost of television licences; and if he will make a statement.
As I stated in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend on 19th March, we hope that this study will be completed before the Summer Recess.—[Vol. 888, c. 457.]
Does my hon. Friend realise, however, that unless he can speed up this study, many pensioners—and they are the people who are hardest hit by the present inflation and economic stringency—will have to give up viewing television altogether? Cannot he come forward quickly with some scheme, even if it is only for half-price licences for black and white sets, to enable those most in need to carry on enjoying one of their very few remaining pleasures?
As I indicated in the debate that we had on my hon. Friend's Bill, we are very conscious of the burden that falls on elderly people, and we are doing our best to see whether there is a way of relieving it. We are at present studying all the alternatives.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that two or three years ago, when a Bill was introduced to help elderly people with television licences, and his party was in opposition, it expressed great support for the idea and indicated that it would do something about it when it was in office? What is the hon. Gentleman going to do about it now?
That is one of the reasons why we are having the review.
Will my hon. Friend accept that while the increase in the licence fee itself is a cause of great hardship, the very fact that the fee has been increased while a small minority of pensioners pay only the 5p because they are in sheltered accommodation has resulted in an increase in bitterness? This cannot be a healthy situation, particularly among old people. Will my hon. Friend contact his right hon. Friend in the Department of Health and Social Security to see whether something can be done about this matter when the next pension increase takes place?
Of course, it is this anomaly which has caused much of the dissatisfaction. The anomaly was created by a concession that was made by the previous Labour Government in response to just such a demand as has been echoed here today. It points the difficulty about making any further extension.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that within sheltered housing communities for old-age pensioners, one television licence may cover 25 sets? If he accepts this principle, does he not agree that it would be a good idea to extend it outwith, into the community as a whole, thereby allowing old-age pensioners' societies to buy, perhaps, one television licence to cover 25 or 30 sets which are in the households of old-age pensioners?
We are considering all the possible ways in which an extension could be granted, but I suspect that that one would he more anomalous than some of those we have under consideration.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what criteria he uses in deciding whether or not to grant the right of permanent settlement in Great Britain to applicants who initially entered this country subject to conditions.
The general criteria are set out in the Immigration Rules for Control after Entry and include such categories as people who have been in approved employment for four years, people with a grandparent born here, and those who marry a person settled here. In addition, we revoke the conditions of Commonwealth and Pakistani citizens who were granted immunity from deportation by the Immigration Act 1971 if they were ordinarily resident here on 1st January 1973 and have been so resident for five years: revocation of their conditions is a recognition of the facts and does not constitute an addition to the numbers of immigrants settled here.
Is it not a fact, however, that about 20,000 people from the Commonwealth who were accepted for settlement last year initially came in under conditions, which is about 10,000 up on the figure for 1973—about double? Is it not also a fact that the figure for the first quarter is over 5,000? Will the Home Secretary therefore accept that it is every bit as important to exercise strict control over the numbers of those who are accepted for settlement having come here initially under conditions as it is to exercise control over those who come here for settlement in the first place?
I accept the general proposition, subject to the fact that where people are settled here, I think that it is not right to keep them indefinitely in a position of insecurity, and I do not think it is right to have split families. The right hon. Gentleman's figure for last year is approximately but not absolutely correct. It was 18,959, just under 19,000. Of these, 5,000-odd were accepted by reasons of marriage, 5,700 after lawful residence, and 1,400 after unlawful residence—as a result of the five-year "amnesty" provision in the 1971 Act—which, while a significant figure, was very much less than the figures which were bandied about at the time. The figure for the first quarter is 5,200, which is a little up but not significantly different from the figure for 1974.
What relaxations have there been in the system for controlling the entry of dependants into this country as a result of the Minister of State's recent visit to the Indian sub-continent?
We are looking at this matter carefully at the present time. I am sure the whole House will agree that it is difficult to defend the present position under which a wife can have a first interview and then be asked to attend a second interview, 21 or 22 months later. I am endeavouring, as far as is compatible with reasonable and effective control, to speed up and simplify the procedure. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish to justify a position in which the wives of people who are settled here and who are entitled to come, have to go through the process of one interview followed by another nearly two years later.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take action designed to protect the pure breed of Jersey cattle against any import of cattle to the Island of Jersey which might be permitted by European Community legislation.
The Jersey authorities have been kept informed about the Commission's proposals designed to facilitate trade in breeding cattle within the Community, and they have made no representations against them. My right hon. Friend will be happy to consider in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, any representations that they may wish to make.
Does my hon. Friend realise that there is great concern in Jersey because in 1978, when the transitional period of entry into the European Economic Community ends, the present arrangements within the Community will allow for imports of cattle to the island? Is she aware that the local pedigree breed has been kept absolutely pure for 200 years and that it might now have to contend with rival groups? Will the Government approach the Community to prevent such an occurrence?
We have consulted all the island Governments since December 1972 about the progress of the draft instrument designed to provide the maximum freedom of movement for breeding cattle. We have received no representations on the subject from the authorities in Jersey.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what provisions he is making for implementing the decision to use the fourth television channel as a national channel in Wales.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to receive the report of the committee appointed following publication of the Crawford Report to consider the use of the fourth television channel in Wales.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the recent Government review of public expenditure in any way affects the Government's laws for implementing the recommendations of the Crawford Committee on broadcasting.
The working party whose terms of reference were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on 16th January—[Vol. 884, c. 176.]—has just reported. We shall make a further statement when there has been an opportunity of studying the working party's report.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the power of English television which fills almost every Welsh home imperils the very existence of the Welsh language? Does he recognise that it is as important to defend our language, which is part of our national culture, as it is to defend our physical existence? Will the Government look on this as a matter of the defence of a nation, of a national life and a national culture? Does the Minister realise that our language is a vehicle of our culture, and will the Government be prepared to spend as much on this kind of defence as they spend on arms?
We accept the importance of the Welsh langauge to the preservation of the culture of Wales and we have taken a decision to help in this way if we can. We are waiting for the technical report from the working party and will announce our decision as soon as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the survival and growth of the Welsh language is of fundamental importance to many people in Wales and that pleas on its behalf should not be regarded as a case of special pleading? Does he realise that a Welsh language television service would be of prime importance to the survival of the language, and that time is desperately short? Will he devote himself, despite his other heavy commitments, to achieving very quickly an effective Welsh language service on the fourth channel?
Policy decisions are not for me, although I answer for them in the House. I am sure my right hon. Friends will deal with this matter as expeditiously as possible.
Will the hon. Gentleman convey to those who do take the policy decisions in this matter that there is a desire in Wales among Welsh speaking and non-Welsh speaking people to see this development in order to give fair play to both languages? Can he assure us that current cut-backs in expenditure which may be contemplated will not hit this sort of project?
I think the hon. Gentleman must await the announcement, but what has been said in the past ought to reassure him.
Forensic Science Laboratory
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make an official visit to the Forensic Science Laboratory, Lambeth.
My right hon. Friend hopes to do so on a suitable occasion.
In relation to my hon. Friend's reply of 19th June, is he suggesting that he was told by Dr. Margaret Pereira and her colleagues that it might not be scientifically possible to derive benefit from information about blood sample data both in catching criminals and in saving valuable detective time?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to clear up this matter. I suspect that on his visit, when he saw Dr. Pereria, who is a senior principal scientific officer, he was given an estimate about the effectiveness of this—an estimate which was not entirely shared by the Controller of the Forensic Science Service or the Director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory. As a result, we are getting different advice, but my advice is that it is not yet scientifically possible to set up a blood bank national service in the way he espoused and that, before we can take a decision on this matter, there must be further scientific progress.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the operation of the controls on illegal immigration.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he intends to take to improve the existing arrangements for preventing illegal immigration from the Commonwealth.
The Immigration Service and the police are constantly on the alert to prevent illegal entry. They already take all reasonable and practicable measures to stop evasion of the immigration control, but we shall keep these measures under review and, in the light of experience, they may be adjusted from time to time.
Can the hon. Gentleman confirm recent Press reports that during the first quarter of this year, 1,500 immigrants were smuggled into this country? Is he aware that this figure, which represents about one-quarter of the total number of immigrants and dependants admitted each year, is far higher than the public have been led to believe? Does he agree that this is a scandalous situation at a time of high unemployment, and will he make representations through the usual channels to those Continental countries which may be harbouring these immigrants and the headquarters of their smuggling organisations?
The report which has upset the hon Gentleman appeared in the Sunday Telegraph three weeks ago and was a scandalous falsehood. It is not true—there is no basis in fact for the assertion—that there is a Home Office report, or that there was any estimate of the figure of illegal immigrants. By the very nature of the operation, there could not be. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, from all the facts in my possession, I suspect that the estimates given for illegal immigrants are wildly exaggerated.
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore believe that the figure published in the official Home Office statement on 19th June that, in the first quarter of this year, there were 56 illegal immigrants, is as accurate as he claims the other report is inaccurate? Would it not be better for everybody for a realistic estimate to be made of the real scale of illegal immigration, since uncertainty merely stokes up irrational fears?
Then it should not be assisted by the Opposition Front Bench. The figure of 56 is a factual statement of how many illegal immigrants were sent back. Those are the people we knew about and sent back. Any other estimate about the number of illegal immigrants can only be an estimate and, while we accept that there are, no doubt, many illegal immigrants, the figures are, in my view, well below any of the published estimates, although that must be an opinion.
Prisoners (Civil Rights)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to change the Prison Rules.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about the civil rights of those serving sentences of imprisonment.
As I explained in reply to a Question on 19th June by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright)—[Vol. 893, c. 1645–7]—I am reviewing certain aspects of the treatment of prisoners and restrictions on their communication with non-prisoners. I shall announce the result of these reviews when they are completed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are grateful for that answer, but will he not consider making provision for prisoners to be legally represented in a court when they are charged with an in-prison offence which carries with it a loss of remission? Docs he not accept that the loss of liberty, on some occasions for several months, should be determined by a judicial authority and not by a prison authority?
I do not think I can accept that. To introduce a judicial procedure into any in-prison punishment, which is what my hon. Friend's suggestion might mean, would be very cumbersome. I shall consider any question he puts to me, but in view of the position in the courts, which in many ways are already jammed up, to remove from any non-judicial procedure the award of any punishment within prisons would be an extremely difficult thing to do.
A person suffering from a legitimate sense of grievance is more likely to become a permanent enemy of society than one who is justly treated. Is it not therefore desirable that the system of allocating prisoners to control units, which are a complete outrage of the principles of natural justice, should be abandoned and that the decision of the Court of Human Rights with regard to the communication by prisoners with their MPs and lawyers should be implemented? Does my right hon. Friend consider that the events disclosed and admitted at the Birmingham bomb trial would have come to light if the prisoners concerned had not been awaiting trial, but had been convicted prisoners denied access to lawyers?
The last point is as sub judice as anything can be at the present time, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that. As for allocation to control units, there is a later Question about this matter which I think will be reached, and perhaps the House would be prepared to wait until we reach it.I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on the general proposition that it is desirable to treat prisoners justly. We shall give effect to the Golder judgment, but there are certain situations which have to be reviewed, and I hope to announce the conclusions of the review before the recess.
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider including in the things which the review body will examine the basic right of people in prison to write to their Member of Parliament unfettered by the powers of censorship which exist under the Prison Rules?
As I said in a reply about a month ago, I am anxious to reduce the powers of censorship. However, the only valid reason for the power of censorship of letters to Members of Parliament is that on the whole it is important that prisoners should go through the proper procedure of making complaints internally before they write outside. Although I am sure that he has great experience of these matters, I do not think that the hon. Member would find it possible to operate a prison system otherwise.
Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), will my right hon. Friend consider whether it is right that a letter from a prisoner to his lawyers should be free of censorship only after the prisoner has decided to enter into litigation? Does he not agree that the correspondence which passes between a prisoner and his lawyer in deciding whether there should be litigation is often more sensitive than that that which passes after the decision? Ought not the prisoner to have the right of free consultation with his lawyers to decide whether or not he wants to enter into litigation?
It appeared to me, as listened to the question my hon. Friend was posing, that an important issue might be involved here, and I shall happily consider, and am considering as part of the review, the point he has raised. It would be possible for a prisoner to use communication with his lawyers to get round a number of the Prison Rules in a way which would not be desirable, but I see some force on the immediate point that my hon. Friend has put to me and I shall discuss it.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider as a matter of urgency the introduction of measures designed to create a national criminal investigation department to tackle the incidence of serious crime and to set up such a scheme upon a regional basis but under his control; and if he will make a statement.
No, Sir. I do not believe that it would be right to separate the CID from the police as a whole.
In view of that rather slender answer, perhaps I may draw the Home Secretary a bit further. Is he aware that in 1974 there was a heavy increase in indictable crime, particularly among juveniles, a 19 per cent. increase in burglary, and a decrease in the manpower of the police force? However, bearing in mind the improvement in the efficiency of the force resulting from the co-ordination of the Flying Squad, the Robbery Squad and the Regional Crime Squad, will he now extend criminal investigation co-ordination on a national basis, in particular to this extent? Will he set up divisional crime squads on a regional basis, nation-wide, and will he introduce measures which would greatly assist recruitment throughout the country if young persons felt they could become detectives quickly in the battle against crime without having to spend a long time on the beat?
My original reply was not so much slender as direct, and it was direct because I almost wholly disagree with the hon. and learned Member on this point. A high degree of co-ordination is necessary, such as we have been constantly fostering, between the detective forces and the CID in different parts of the country. I profoundly believe, and a great deal of experience has shown—this view is shared by the most important and senior police officers—that to have a CID rigidly separated from the rest of the police force gives rise to grave disadvantages and dangers, and a great deal of the work which the present Commissioner has done has been directed to that very problem. I am not therefore prepared to move in the direction that the hon. and learned Member suggests.
Does the Home Secretary deny recent Press reports that he is considering a national force of detectives?
I have made it quite clear that I believe in the closest coordination for effective operations between the CID and the police forces in their other aspects so long as we have, as I believe we shall have for a long time, approximately 40 police forces under local control and one metropolitan police force. That system has considerable advantages. I believe there would be grave disadvantages in separating off the detective work and making detectives a completely separate corps from the rest of the police.
asked he Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make an announcement about independent investigation of complaints against the police.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on 15th July.—[Vol. 895, c. 423–8.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I read that answer with great care and that in certain respects it is extremely disappointing to Labour Members? Does he agree that an independent element of invesigation of complaints is not enough? What is needed is an independant system which has integrity and which is absolutely independent of the police, if confidence in this aspect of investigation is to be won from the public.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend. It has been entirely desirable to introduce an independent element, and that, I believe, has been effectively done. I believe this goes well beyond the scheme proposed by the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr), though that was a considerable advance on anything hitherto proposed. I believe that the independent element here is real and effective, but in the situation in which 17,000 or so complaints have to be dealt with each year I have to have regard to what is administratively practical and what is compatible with the functioning of an effective police service combined with reasonable investigation of the serious complaints. After consideration of this matter I think I have struck a reasonable balance. It would not be right to go on without an effective and fully independent element. Equally, it would not be right to erect a procedure by which the police force was hardly able to function as a police force and became entirely a body for investigating or assisting in the investigation of complaints.
I welcome the progress made in bringing forward the outline scheme. It would have been more helpful if the House had been able to discuss the subject a week ago instead of having a Written Answer a few days later. Will the Home Secretary spell out the position of a constable who feels that a malicious complaint has been made against him and who wishes to have redress? There has been Press comment on this matter.
We always try to bring proposals forward as soon as we reasonably can. The subject of the debate chosen by the Opposition was police recruitment. Therefore, it did not directly include this matter. I was anxious to make a statement before Questions today so that supplementary questions could he asked about it.For the first time I have introduced in the scheme a substantial independent element with powers of investigation. It is important that a constable should have certain protection against malicious complaints. It is already possible for prosecutions to be taken under the Criminal Law Act 1967. I indicated that, in general, chief officers of police should follow the practice which already applies in about one-third of police areas. Unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary, the constable complained about should be able to see the complainant. That will enable the constable—in conjunction with the view taken by the Police Federation—to enjoy a more effective safeguard.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his pledge to bring legislation before the House and for standing up to pressure from the police authori- ties that they should become an independent element, which would have been unsuitable. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that under the outlined proposals every complaint will come before the Commission without the complainant having to make the running himself at each stage, including those cases where the Director of Public Prosecutions recommends that there should not be a prosecution?Why is it unsuitable for the police constables who have had complaints made against them to have recourse to the commission, just like anyone else?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's generally helpful words of commendation. Perhaps that is too strong. However, they were clearly intended to be helpful. He is right in what he says about the police authorities. They have an important role to play. However, I do not think that they would have satisfied the House as being the independent authorities for the purposes with which we are dealing.The position of the Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions is that if a case is referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible prosecution, and he decides to prosecute, that settles the matter. However, if he decides not to prosecute there can be no question of disciplinary proceedings for the offence. That principle could not be breached without breaching what I regard as the important principle of double jeopardy. There might be an effront to police disciplinary proceedings. That could be taken up by the deputy chief constable, but there would be the full right for the commission to come in, as in all normal circumstances. I shall consider my hon. Friend's last point before the legislation is drawn up. However, I have not received any representations on this point from the Police Federation.
Prisoners (Breaches Of Discipline)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider allowing prisoners representation by a solicitor when they appear before boards of visitors for breaches of prison discipline.
This matter is within the terms of reference of the departmental working party which has been reviewing adjudication procedures in Prison Department establishments and whose report we hope to publish shortly. Following publication we shall be seeking the views of boards of visitors—and shall be glad to receive those of other bodies or individuals—not only on the recommendations made in the working party's report but also on the suggestions made in the recent report of the committee chaired by Lord Jellicoe and set up by Justice, the Howard League and NACRO to consider the role of boards of visitors of penal establishments.
In cases of breaches of discipline, where there is the appearance of judicial hearings, if representations are not allowed, is it not right that the nature of the hearings should be changed to that of an executive performance by the governor? Will the Minister bear in mind the recommendation of Lord Jellicoe's committee that in determining these matters there should be a group of persons other than boards of visitors, such as professional lawyers, who might be involved in deciding the issues?
The different alternatives are being considered by the working party, which will receive the views of the bodies which it consults.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the answer given earlier by my right hon. Friend is disappointing? Does she accept that in sentencing offenders the courts take into account the remission which can be earned? When a prisoner is potentially losing such remission he should in the interests of fairness and equity—never mind the administrative convenience of prisons—be legally represented.
The Question I am answering concerns breaches of prison discipline and representation before boards of visitors. A case which came before the Court of Appeal in June this year was dismissed. However, the situation has been fully examined and we hope to make a statement as soon as we have received and considered views on it.
Television Licence Fees
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Depart- ment whether he will give consideration to the possibility of television rental companies collecting television licence fees on behalf of his Department through instalment payments.
This proposal has been considered, but there are practical difficulties which would outweigh any advantages to be gained.
Is the Minister aware that this is another facet of the problem, which the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) mentioned earlier, of the real hardship now being suffered by many pensioners and those on low incomes, for whom this is one reasonable form of entertainment? Is the Minister aware that this question follows my correspondence with the noble Lord in another place—the answers to which, I fear, reveal a singular lack of flexibility in the Home Office in considering this problem in its broadest aspects? Will the Minister think again?
I shall convey the hon. Gentleman's comments to my noble Friend. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can write again. Pensioners have the opportunity of using the savings card scheme if they wish to do so.
Will the Minister reconsider the idea of combining the licence fee with the rental for those subscribers receiving the cable relay system in those areas where reception is not available in any other way? In that way the fee may be reduced, so that the people concerned are not obliged to pay twice over for the same service.
That suggestion will be considered by those who have to make the decisions about the matter.
Does the Minister accept that many of us think that the suggestion contained in the Question is a good one? Does he also accept that many of my constituents find it unjust that they must pay the full licence fee when they enjoy poor reception, or can receive only English or Ulster programmes when they want Scottish programmes, or suffer from all those disabilities.
Even the English sometimes suffer from the English programmes. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the scheme suggested in the original Question would add greatly to the administrative costs.
Since this is almost a universal service, does my hon. Friend think that the time has come to abolish the concept of collecting television licence fees and sending out detector vans, and make this a charge on the general revenue?
That issue comes within the terms of reference of the Annan Committee, which can report to that effect if it wishes.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his latest estimate of the cost of the current prison building programme.
Capital expenditure on prison building in England and Wales in 1975–76 is estimated at £32·1 million. This includes expenditure on additions and improvement to existing etablishments and on staff quarters.Provision for prison building in England and Wales in the forecasts contained in the White Paper on Public Expenditure of 1978–79—Cmnd. 5879—is £35·3 million in 1976–77, £36·9 million in 197778 and £35·3 million in 1978–79.
Is the Minister aware that approximately 20 per cent. of the prison population of nearly 40,000 consists of people who have not paid fines? Does the hon. Lady believe that imprisonment is the most appropriate way of dealing with defaulters? Does she agree that one way of cutting both the prison population and this massive and unjustified cost of the prison building programme is to accept the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Penal System and to institute a system of day fines?
That is one of the ways in which the prison population might be reduced, but there are others. My right hon. Friend recently made a speech in which he outlined the proposals we have in mind, including an increase in the use of non-custodial penalties.
How much of the proposed expenditure on building new prisons is in respect of open prisons? Does my hon. Friend accept that in suitable cases it is both more humane and more effective to keep as many prisoners as possible in open prisons rather than in the mausoleums dating from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which most of them are now housed?
In reply to the last part of my hon. and learned Friend's supplementary question, great efforts are being made and plans are being brought forward to redevelop and improve the outdated Victorian prisons and the hutted camps. The number of open prison places available depends very much on the number of prisoners who are suitable at any one time to be put into an open prison.
Will the hon. Lady consider urgently the possibility of selling off the freehold sites of some town centre prisons, thereby establishing open prisons in better locations, as the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) suggested? Would not that provide a good comercial deal for the prison service for less cash spent by the taxpayer?
The definition of an open prison does not depend upon where it is located. It depends upon the degree of security it gives. Therefore, the logic of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is not clear to me.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the present working of the parole system.
I am satisfied that the parole system has made a useful contribution to the reduction of the prison population without appreciable risk to the public, and I am considering in consultation with the Parole Board the possibility of extending the use of parole.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that far too much secrecy surrounds the operation of the parole system, and that at the very least there should be communicated to the prisoner the reason why parole has been refused? Surely it is a matter of concern than 10 per cent. of prisoners do not even apply for parole, presumably because of the stresses, strains and bitter disappointments which they know the system can produce?
I am aware of the points which my hon. Friend puts. They are amongst matters which I am discussing with the Parole Board. My hon. Friend is not right in assuming that there are not difficulties about the communication of reasons, but I accept that there are arguments on both sides. I do not think that my hon. Friend is right in assuming that the 10 per cent. of prisoners who do not apply for parole would necessarily apply if there were a different system for the communication of reasons and matters of that sort.
Taxi Fares (London)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the proposed increase in London Metropolitan taxicab fares.
We hope very soon to complete our consideration of this claim.
As the Home Department persists in its peculiar and anomalous control over these matters, does the Minister agree that an increase in fares is long overdue and is an inevitable consequence of inflation, however unwelcome it may be to the travelling public? Would not the occasion of such an increase be an opportunity to consolidate all the supplementary charges made by London taxicabs into one basic fare meter operation, and to remove that maddening wall chart which survives from the old fare basis? Will the Minister confirm that the operation of taxicabs to and from Heathrow is now much more satisfactory?
All these matters are being very carefully considered. We hope to make an announcement next week.
asked the Prime Minister if the broadcast by the Secretary of State for Employment on legislation affecting the Press on 15th June represents official Government policy.
As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is in Brussels attending the EEC Heads of Government meeting and in his absence I have been asked to reply.Yes, Sir.
Is the Lord President aware that in that broadcast the Secretary of State for Employment again championed legislation which would make it possible for one union to gain a powerful monopoly position over all areas of public communication? Does he realise that that monopoly will inevitably be exercised at the expense of all those who want to have access to the media but are not members of the monopoly National Union of Journalists? As the right of access to the media is such a fundamental one, should it not be protected by proper legal safeguards—not by codes and charters—and, best of all, by dropping the Bill altogether?
No, Sir, I do not agree with that. The Employment Protection Bill contains recognition provisions which will help the small unions, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will look at those provisions.
Will my right hon. Friend say what discussions have taken place with trade unions and employers concerning the important problem of access? In view of the vulnerable state of two newspapers in Fleet Street, will my right hon. Friend give instructions, through the chairman, to the Royal Commission on the Press to produce a shortened report? We are now running into a second year.
I shall pass on to the Prime Minister my hon. Friend's last suggestion. In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, my right hon. Friend has had numerous and continuing discussions on this matter over the past few weeks, but I cannot enumerate them off the cuff.
Is my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister aware that there is no valid reason why there should be one industrial relations law for the Press and another one for the rest of industry? Is he aware that many of us are fed up with the Government kowtowing to pressure from the Press and neglecting pressure from their own back benches? Will he tell the Press to take notice of its own editorials on law and order, and that if this law is passed by the House of Commons the Press will have to obey it?
There is complete unanimity between my hon. Friend and myself today. If what a large number of Opposition Members are advocating were done, there would be unfair discrimination against the newspaper industry.
As the Bill was regarded by the Government as urgent as long ago as last February and we still have not discussed the Lords amendment, would it not be better if the right hon. Gentleman accepted the view of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Moonman) and allowed the matter to go before the Royal Commission on the Press so that a satisfactory arrangement could be reached which might even satisfy the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton)?
No, Sir. As I said, over the past few weeks my right hon. Friend has spent a great deal of time in discussions about the Lords amendment with many people in an effort to reach agreement. The Labour Government try to reach agreement on these matters, unlike Conservative Governments.
Tuc And Cbi (Talks)
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his most recent discussions with the TUC and the CBI.
I have been asked to reply.I refer my hon. Friend to the statement which my right hon. Friend made to the House on 11th July.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the support of the NUM Executive for the Government's anti-inflation policy is welcome news? Does he accept that a reduction in the level of unemployment, particularly in the regions, is crucial to the success of the Government's economic policies? Will the Government take a fresh look at all their regional policies?
I agree with what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the decision made by the miners this morning. In reply to my hon. Friend's second point, I agree with him that the whole object of our policy is to try to cure inflation without inducing mass unemployment.
Will the Leader of the House tell the House whether the talks with the TUC and the CBI have touched on matters concerning the Employment Protection Bill, relating to exemptions from employees' rights similar to the exemptions from contract obligations in the White Paper, which may be necessary if the policy is to be carried out successfully?
I am afraid that that is a question which the right hon. Gentleman must address to my right hon. Friend. I am afraid that I do not know.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House the Government's plans regarding the temporary employment subsidy scheme? When will it be introduced, and when shall we know the full details of the scheme?
This is a matter which I imagine will be relevant—subject to your ruling, Mr. Speaker—to some of our debates which I am shortly to announce for next week. At the moment these powers are in the Employment Protection Bill.
Was the CBI consulted and did it give its agreement to the role of monitoring wage settlements jointly with the TUC, as allotted to it in the White Paper?
That role has not been allotted to the CBI. That is not putting the matter quite correctly. As I understand it, the TUC and the CBI agreed to try to work out arrangements for monitoring settlements and informing the Government of them. I understand that it was an agreement in which both sides acquiesced—namely, to set up a monitoring body.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 17th July.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 17th July 1975.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 17th July.
I have been asked to reply.As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is attending the EEC Heads of Government meeting in Brussels today.
If the Prime Minister's evasive double-talk at the Brussels Summit is as damaging to Europe as his contribution over the past 17 months to rising unemployment, inflation and the national disaster at home, would not it be better if in future all the Prime Minister's official engagements were confined to a lush pasture where he could be put out to grass?
I do not really feel called upon to answer that question. I just wonder—not only today but for some time past—exactly what the hon. Gentleman has brought to our deliberations in the House. He has certainly not brought good parliamentary manners. However, I still have hopes that he will learn them.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that an urgent step towards the full democratisation of the European Parliament would result from direct elections? Is the Prime Minister making the British Government's position clear in Brussels?
Yes, certainly. I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to Mr. Tindemans' report, which has not yet been produced. The Council may well discuss its approach to the report. We have not committed ourselves in any way to anything on which Mr. Tindemans may report. We shall study the report with great care.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the Prime Minister should seek an early meeting with the BBC in view of the corporation's astonishing admission yesterday that it has recently transmitted raw Communist propaganda to listeners in Portugal?
I am dealing with a Question about the Prime Minister's engagements today. The supplementary question that the hon. Gentleman has raised has no relation to my right hon. Friend's engagements.
When my right hon. Friend is in Brussels, is he proposing to discuss with his fellow Ministers a problem which I understand is plaguing all Common Market countries, namely, unemployment among young people, and, in particular, school leavers? Will my right hon. Friend discuss this matter in order to see whether there is some way in which we can all employ young people in community service projects instead of leaving them unemployed and rotting away?
As I understand it, discussion of the general position in the Community takes place at these summit meetings. No doubt unemployment is the sort of issue which could arise in such a discussion.
The report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) referred, concerning the BBC, appeared today, and the Question is about the Prime Minister's engagements today. Will the right hon. Gentleman give consideration to the substance of what my hon. Friend asked, and see whether the Government, or members of it, will meet the BBC to discuss this important matter?
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that this is something in the nature of a point of order—[Interruption.] There is a rule that there must be ministerial responsibility for the substance of parliamentary answers. This question is an innovation. I think that this is the second or third time that it has appeared. I will not go outside the limit of the Question, which is about the Prime Minister's engagements today. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to answer the question about the BBC when he returns.
asked the Prime Minister whether he remains satisfied with the progress towards achieving the measures contained in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.
asked the Prime Minister if he remains satisfied with the progress made by Her Majesty's Government towards achieving the measures outlined in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.
asked the Prime Minister whether he remains satisfied with the progress towards achieving the measures contained in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech.
I have been asked to reply.No, Sir—[Interruption.] I am sorry I read the wrong answer, Mr. Speaker. The answer is "Yes, Sir".
May I say how disappointed I am that the Lord President did not stick to his unusually frank and honest original answer? Will he re-read the commitment in the Gracious Speech to provide more homes for rent? In view of the continuing shortage of public funds, what action will the Government take to drop their doctrinaire approach to housing, so as to stimulate homeownership and provide more rented homes by allowing a form of short-term lease that does not confer long-term security?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. It is something that I did not anticipate. The hon. Gentleman seems not to have studied the housing figures. There has been an enormous increase in the number of new houses built.
Will my right hon Friend consider the matter and return to his first reply? Is he aware that we are all concerned about our commitment—it has been given over and over again—to maintain full employment? Is he aware that in my constituency the firm of NVT is very alarmed at the non-publication of the report that, I understand, has now been presented to his right hon. Friend? We are anxious to have a debate on the report as soon as possible. Will my right hon. Friend take this matter on hoard and see whether some undertakings can be given?
On my hon. Friend's last point, I shall bear in mind what she says. I shall try to make such an arrangement as soon as possible. On my hon. Friend's first point, it is basic to this party's whole existence that we try to prevent unemployment. We bend all our policies towards that end. However, the overriding consideration at present is to cure inflation. It is clear that inflation is now the biggest enemy of employment and the biggest cause of unemployment. I hope that we can count on the support of my hon. Friend in all our measures to try to reduce the rate of inflation. That is the surest and most certain way of preventing unemployment.
As the right hon. Gentleman has just said that preventing inflation and unemployment are the Government's prime targets, as they featured so large in the Gracious Speech, and as the now defunct social contract was advertised in that speech as the cure of all these problems, will the right hon. Gentleman not now agree that the Prime Minister, as the architect of that policy, was either responsible for perpetrating a deliberate fraud on the electorate at the last election or guilty of a stupefying level of political naivety? Which was it?
The social contract is still very much alive—[Interruption.] Of course, many right hon. and hon. Members in the Conservative Party have been dead for years. The recently announced anti-inflation policy is a development and evolvement of the social contract. Over the coming months the Opposition and the country will see that the social policy is working.
In his original answer my right hon. Friend said that he was not satisfied with the situation. Since the Labour Party Manifesto contained a proposal to take the ports into public ownership, will he ensure that this is contained in the next Queen's Speech and is given the utmost legislative priority?
I hope that my hon. Friend heard me correctly when I said that I was very satisfied with the progress we had made. Originally, I read the wrong answer. The manifesto on which he and I fought the election was for a five-year Parliament. So far we have had only 18 months of it.
Has the right hon. Gentleman observed that one person who so far does not appear to have been overenthusiastic about helping the Government to pursue pay and prices policies is Mr. Scargill? Has that Mr. Scargill any connection with the Mr. Scargill who, when trying to break the pay and prices policy of the Conservative Government, received the enthusiastic and wholehearted support of the Labour Party, including the Prime Minister?
Fortunately, I have no responsibility for Mr. Scargill.
Surely my right hon. Friend read the right answer—though not for the reasons which the Opposition are putting forward. Does he agree that we have retreated somewhat from our original proposals—based on pressure from the CBI, the City of London and the Tory Party? Will he give an assurance that there will be no further retreat, that we shall ignore completely the demands from the Opposition that we should withdraw our nationalisation and public ownership proposals, and that we shall carry them out as part of our campaign to combat unemployment?
I entirely agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. What the Opposition are saying in this respect is utter nonsense. In reply to the first part of his question, I must tell the House that there has been no retreat. We have listened to what people have said on the progress of the Bill and have made amendments which we thought would command public support.
In view of the satisfactory original answer, may I inform the House that I do not wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment?
No, the hon. Gentleman may not say that.
Business Of The House
Will the Leader of the House please state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:MONDAY 21ST JULY—Motion to approve the White Paper "The Attack on Inflation" (Command No. 6151). The Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill will be relevant. TUESDAY 22ND JULY—Supply [29th Allotted Day]: The Question will be put on all outstanding Votes. Conclusion of the debate on Command No. 6151. Motions on Members' pay and allowances. WEDNESDAY 23RD JULY—Second Reading of the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill. Consideration of Lords amendments to the Lotteries Bill. Remaining stages of the Limitation Bill [Lords] and of the Public Service Vehicles (Arrest of Offenders) Bill [Lords]. Motion on the Rate Support Grant (Increase) Order 1975. THURSDAY 24TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill. FRIDAY 25TH JULY—Consideration of EEC documents on common agricultural policy (R/635/75) and on fisheries policy (R/2713/73 and R/2193/74). MONDAY 28TH JULY—Progress on the Report stage of the Community Land Bill.
Since there will be many hon. Members who will wish to take part in the debate on the White Paper, may we have a suspension of the rule on Monday? Secondly, as the Prime Minister answers question on the White Paper by referring to a Bill containing reserve powers, may we have sight of that Bill before we come to debate the White Paper? Thirdly, is it necessary to take the remaining stages of the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill the day after the Second Reading? If so, shall we be able to table manuscript amendments on Report?
In answer to the first part of the question, if it is the wish of the Conservative Party and of the House generally, I should be glad to arrange for a suspension of the rule on Monday. The Bill contains reserve powers and the White Paper refers to the Bill as drafted. We hope that it will not be necessary to introduce it, but if it is necessary it will be introduced—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I repeat what I have just said—namely, that if it be- comes necessary, and I hope that it will not, the Bill will be introduced. In reply to the final point put to me by the right hon. Lady, the remaining stages are being taken on one day. I know that this is asking a great deal of the House, but I hope that this will be done in view of the importance and urgency of the measure.
I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to introduce the Bill but may we not see a draft of the Bill, which, of course, will be relevant to the debate?
I do not think any useful purpose will be served by that course because the Bill is not part of the White Paper or of the anti-inflation plan. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes it is."] There is no intention of putting the Bill through the House at present, and I hope that it will not happen.
Having found time for an important debate on the Boyle Committee's Report next week, could my right hon. Friend turn his attention to whether it would be possible for the Government to squeeze a little more time out of their parliamentary timetable to debate the Finer Report on one-parent families?
Certainly I promise a debate in this Session, but I am afraid that it cannot be before the Summer Recess. There is no hope whatever of such a debate before we rise because of the additional time needed for the anti-inflationary measures. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] We have been pushed into this situation because of requests for more time for other matters and we have given more time. I do not complain about the situation, but it has complicated the remaining few weeks before the Summer Recess.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an ever-lengthening queue of Select Committee reports which physically cannot be printed? Will he please see whether he can make a statement next week, because in these modern times it surely should be possible to arrange the printing of a Select Committee report within seven days as most companies are able to manage?
I know that this matter is causing some concern among hon. Members, and I shall look at the matter to see what can be done. If I feel that I can say anything useful to the House, I shall do so.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is reserving the possibility of reserve powers being prepared by the Government. Since this represents a major departure, will he satisfy our curiosity by letting us see what those powers are? Is he aware that many of us feel those powers to he highly relevant to the view we shall take on the White Paper and to the Bill which we shall be asked to debate next week?Secondly, on the basis that undertakings given in both Houses were genuine, may we know when a Select Committee in this House or a joint committee of both Houses will be set up to determine the apportionment of numbers between all parties and the method of selection of representatives of the parties in this House and in another place in the European Parliament, since many of us believe that the two-party "carve-up" is not the most effective system?
I think the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) and the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition know what the Bill contains [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This has been made absolutely clear. We hope that the Bill will never be necessary. But if it is necessary at any time, it will be published.With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, discussions will take place in the near future through the usual channels, and I hope that before long a Select Committee will be set up.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to Early-Day Motion 551, which is widely supported in all parts of the House and which calls for the setting up of a Select Committee on Cyprus? Since this is a matter on which there may be controversy, will he find time to consider this matter before we rise?
[ That a Select Committee be appointed to visit Cyprus on a fact-finding mission and for the purpose of examining what steps the United Kingdom may reasonably take to comply with their responsibilities imposed under the Treaty of Guarantee (Command Paper 1253):
That the Select Committee shall consist of Ten Members:
That the Select Committee shall report upon their findings to this House and pay particular regard to the plight of British residents in Cyprus and any steps recommended to assist in this regard.]
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this matter, and he and I discussed it recently. I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his return from Poland and see whether anything can be done before the recess.
Since the Prime Minister has referred more than once to the draft Bill with back-up powers as being printed, is there not an obligation not merely of honesty but also of order in the House that when a State paper is referred to more than once it has to be tabled?
It does not become a State paper until it is tabled.
Will the Leader of the House tell the House when the motion on Members' pay will be tabled, so that it is open for amendment?
I am not sure, but I hope that it may be tabled tomorrow, or certainly by Monday at the latest. I hope that it will be tomorrow.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the Remuneration, Charges and Grants Bill has clauses which separately involve the Treasury, the Scottish Office, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Employment? In these circumstances, is it not wholly unacceptable that the House should be expected to give it a Committee and Report stage in one day, particularly in the absence of any printing of the back-up Bill to which it refers? Will he, in those circumstances, therefore, consult his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and others, as this is a subject which cannot be neatly confined to the usual channels?
It is usual—and there are many precedents—for Bills of this importance and urgency to pass all three stages in one day. But in this case we have this week, in deciding the business, agreed to a request from the Opposition for more time. We had intended to compress it into an even shorter time. We had looked at the precedents and were hoping to do that. However, the Opposition asked for more time and we readily agreed to more time. As I said, I do not complain about that at all.
Will my right hon. Friend remind the Prime Minister that his statement on 23rd May with regard to textiles referred to the urgency of this matter but that we are still awaiting the outcome of the talks which, according to that statement, were to be undertaken? Will he ask the Prime Minister whether he will ensure that a statement is made next week at the latest, as mills are still closing and the position, while not deteriorating, is certainly as bad as it was on 23rd May?
I said last week that I hoped that the statement would be made this week. I regret very much indeed that it has not been made before today, but I will see that it is made within the next two or three days.
Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 588, which refers to the large salary increases, of up to £70 a week, awarded to senior local government officials, who have already received large increases during the past year? As the Secretary of State for Scotland has washed his hands of any responsibility for this large increase in public expenditure, will the Lord President arrange for a more responsible Minister to make a statement about it to the House next week?
[ That this House calls upon the Government to ensure a fairer implementation of its counter-inflation policy following the recommended salary increases for senior local government officials in Scotland who have already received major increases within the past year due to upgrading as a consequence of local government reform, a negotiated national award and, in the Lothian Region, an additional £1,000 per annum to maintain differentials.]
I understand that there were some replies on this yesterday, but I am told that the awards are within the guidelines, that they were agreed through the National Joint Council, and that they amount on average to 22 per cent., the same as in England. They became effective, I am told, on 1st July.
Will the Lord President agree that there will be dissatisfaction in all parts of the House that he has allocated the subject of the stock-taking document on the common agricultural policy for next Friday, which is not a particularly convenient time for Members with constituencies outside London or with agricultural interests? Will he consider whether a more convenient time for that document can be found?
It is difficult at this time of the year, and I wanted to give rather more time than the normal 1½ hours late at night. The whole day on Friday is being devoted to these documents. I should have thought that that would be welcomed by those Members who are interested in the subject.
As the White Paper specifically says that the draft back-up Bill has been prepared, and as the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party have both requested on behalf of this side of the House that we shall have a sight of it, why is it that the Leader of the House does not want us to have a sight of it?
It is not that I do not want the House to have a sight of it. As I said, we hope that the Bill will never be necessary. It is a Government Bill which has not yet been introduced. We have been honest with the House and the country and told the country that this Bill has been prepared. I shall certainly convey to the Prime Minister what the right hon. Lady said and I shall pass on her request.
Has the Leader of the House seen Early Day Motion No. 589 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley)? Will he ensure that there will be an opportunity to debate the Daniel Committee Report on the "Working of the Water Act 1973", if not on the Floor of the House then in a specifically convened session of the Welsh Grand Committee, as soon as that report is published?
[ That this House expresses its concern over the continued delay in the publication of the Daniel Committee Report on the Working of the Water Act 1973 in Wales; and calls on the Secretary of State for Wales to facilitate its publication without further procrastination.]
I know how interested Welsh Members on both sides of the House are in this matter. I shall bear in mind what the lion Member said and see what I can do.
Will the Lord President reflect on his earlier decision and consult Treasury Ministers about the desirability of providing a proper financial appendix to his White Paper on devolution? Will he say whether officials responsible for the new regions—whose salary increases have raised a few eyebrows—are to be paid more or less than those responsible for the Assembly? Will he not agree that these are questions that have to be considered?
The hon. Gentleman, I believe, has a Question down today on this or a related matter, but it is much too early yet to talk about salary structures or staff, the size of the staff or anything of that kind for the Scottish Assembly.
Further to the answer which the Leader of the House gave earlier about the setting up of the Select Committee on Cyprus, will the Leader of the House, before setting up the Select Committee, be prepared to have a meeting with those responsible for the all-party motion in regard to the right terms of reference to be given to such a Select Committee, bearing in mind the delicate situation in Cyprus and the importance of keeping this matter on an all-party basis in the best interests of the country?
I am prepared to talk to any hon. Members on this matter. The essential point is to get a group together to go to Cyprus to investigate the position. I shall bear in mind what the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend have said today.
Will my right hon. Friend give the House some indication when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will make a further statement on the HS146, as the longer this is delayed the more costly it will be when it is taken up and the less chance there will be of getting the fine design team together again?
I shall pass on to my right hon. Friend what my hon. Friend has said. Perhaps he will contact my hon. Friend.
Since the Lord President has stated that hon. Members on this side of the House know what is in the unpublished Bill, which he refuses to publish, will he take it from me that at least some of us do not know what is in the Bill? Will he explain to me how he presumes that we know what is in an unpublished Bill? Is it the Governments intention to leak it to the Press as they did in the case of Member's pay?
I completely refute the hon. Gentleman's last few words. I explained yesterday that there was clear evidence of a leak on the question of Members' pay and we are investigating it. The details of Members' pay were certainly not given to the Press by the Government.Concerning the hon. Member's first question, I said a minute ago that I shall pass on the right hon. Lady's request to the Prime Minister on this matter. If the hon. Gentleman will read the statement on inflation, he will see that the contents of this Bill were explained.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that acceptance of the White Paper seems to imply acceptance also of this unpublished Bill and that many of us on the Government side of the House are completely dissatisfied with the suggestion that we should accept something unseen? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore mention our request when he speaks to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and will he also mention that it may be that we shall be called back during the recess and that it will be completely unsatisfactory for us to rush back to consider hastily or pass a Bill which we have not seen, when apparently the Bill is already in draft and could be placed before the House?
Neither the Prime Minister nor I have any doubts whatever about my hon. Friend's views.
May I go back to the point about the unpublished Bill? While the whole House is grateful to the Lord President for the move he made just now in saying that he would consult his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, what is very important is that he should make a statement to the House, perhaps tomorrow, so that the House knows where it stands in advance of the very important debate on which it is to embark on Monday. Will not the right hon. Gentleman realise that there is a very strong demand on both sides of the House for this to be done and that we find it very difficult to accept his rather novel doctrine that until a document is tabled it is not a State document?Concerning the very important Remuneration Charges and Grants Bill, will not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this is a measure which introduces some very novel and rather dangerous themes, and that it would be as well if the public, as well as Members of Parliament, had good time in which to digest what is in the measure and to react to it before it has passed all its stages? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, although the Government have made a move in our direction, they would not be unduly generous if they were at this stage to withdraw one of the time-consuming and highly controversial measures which they are pushing through an already congested Parliament?
On the first point, I have said, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged, that I shall pass on this request to the Prime Minister. I cannot give any undertaking to make a statement about it tomorrow.I shall bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said on the second matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have your ruling on a matter arising from the unpublished Bill which we have just been discussing? When a document of that importance and substance is referred to not merely in passing but as a matter of argument, is it not customary for it to be laid before the House?
I think that the rule is that the document has to be quoted from before it has to be laid. But I shall consider the matter and, if I wish to depart from that preliminary view, I shall let the hon. Gentleman know.
Question Of Privilege
I now have to rule on the matter of privilege raised yesterday by the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). While not expressing any general opinion as to leakages of information and the rules of privilege, I do not think in this case that the matter is such as would justify me in giving precedence over the Orders of the Day to a motion concerning it.
That the matter of unemployment in the East Midlands be referred to the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs.—[Mr. John Ellis.]
United States Of America (Bicentenary)
I beg to move.
If the House accepts this motion, as I am sure it will wish to do, arrangements will be made for a delegation from both Houses to make the presentation and for an appropriate ceremony here to mark the occasion. We hope that this can be arranged early next summer. Preliminary discussions have been taking place through the usual channels as to what form the ceremony might take. We believe that the appropriate way to celebrate this would be to make available one of the copies of Magna Carta at present in the British Library to be on loan for one year to America, that a permanent show case should be presented to Congress for display of the document, and that the document should be replaced at the end of the loan period by a replica. Because of the value of Magna Carta, special arrangements will need to be made for its transport and security. In 1972, in response to an invitation from the former President of the United States for Britain to participate in the American bicentennial celebrations, the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs set up a committee under the chairmanship of the Marquess of Lothian to recommend what form Britain's contribution should take. In addition to this loan of Magna Carta, the committee has proposed that Her Majesty's Government should make a gift of a bell to the American people to be hung in Philadelphia, and to support a number of artistic events in the United States. The committee has also proposed that, together with the Government of the the United States, we should institute a joint programme of fellowship in the creative and performed arts. I am sure the House will agree that these proposals both illustrate the common heritage of this country and the United States and also look to our future friendly relationship. I therefore commend the motion to the House in the expectation that it will he accepted as an expression of our friendship and good will to the Congress and the people of the United States of America on the occasion of their bicentenary.That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that, to mark the Bicentennial celebrations of the United States of America there be made, on behalf of Parliament to the Congress of the United States, as representative of the American people, a loan for one year of one of the two original copies of Magna Carta dated A.D. 1215 and held by the British Library; that a permanent showcase be presented to the Congress for the display of the document, and that the document be replaced at the end of the loan period by a replica; that the presentation be made by representatives from both Houses of Parliament; and assuring Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I associate myself very warmly with the motion, of which we heartily approve?It is right that the House should mark the occasion, and I think that the methods chosen are extremely appropriate, with their relevance to our common heritage, democracy and democratic government. The relationship between Britain and America has always been a special one—possibly the relationship between an older brother and a younger one. There has always been a kinship. We are delighted that it should be marked in this way by the House.
It is a privilege to be associated with the motion. It comes as a continuing surprise that it is now 200 years since the United States decided to go it alone. It is for historians to decide which country has derived the greater benefit. But I think that the arrangement has been to the considerable advantage of both countries and certainly has not weakened the friendship between our peoples.I have to declare a personal interest. Having at the age of 11 been thought too young to fight in the war and my father having been on the German blacklist and warned that the entire family would be exterminated, it was thought that the younger members should go to America, and that is where I started my education during the war. For that reason, I have a particularly warm feeling towards the American people. I returned at the due age of qualification to this country. Although our political and legal systems have evolved in different ways, basically the same democratic principles persist, and Magna Carta, which itself was a challenge to those who sought to subvert the national will, is one of the principles that we still hold today and which the United States does as well. Therefore, it seems that this represents the shared spirit of democracy between the two nations. I hope that the American people will interpret it as further evidence of the friendship between our nations. I hope, too, that this motion will be carried with great enthusiasm and will be seen as such in the United States.
Although I readily endorse all that has been said, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can make certain that, when these celebrations are undertaken, some recognition can he given to the Part which Thomas Paine played in drawing up an American Constitution at a time when it was not very well respected here. It is necessary to remember the struggles of men against the establishment here, because they made a great contribution towards what is called the American freedom of today.
As you will know, Mr. Speaker, in your capacity as President of the British-American Parliamentary Group jointly with the Lord Chancellor, some 550 hon. Members of this House and of another place subscribe to the British-American group, which has as its aim the fostering of the closest possible relationships between our Parliament and Congress.As honorary secretary of the group, I am sure that all its members will commend the motion as a fitting contribution to the celebration of the bicentenary of the Declaration of Independence, and I am sure that no hon. Member who has been received in Congress or who has welcomed congressmen or senators here can be unaware of the immense bonds of friendship existing between our nations and legislature. I feel sure that the initial loan of Magna Carta and its subsequent replacement by a replica is a most fitting and appropriate contribution and demonstrates what very close links of heritage and friendship there are between our nations. I thank the Lord President for the courtesy with which he has received suggestions with regard to this matter. I hope that it will be possible to arrange a suitable joint parliamentary-congressional occasion for the presentation of Magna Carta and that such an occasion will be convenient to both this House and to Congress.
In view of the fact that many Scots were associated with the establishment of the United States, I should like to join with the other parties in the House in commending the Lord President's proposal. However, I wonder if I could plant in the right hon. Gentleman's mind the suggestion that along with Magna Carta we should, perhaps, also send the 1320 Declaration of Independence signed at Arbroath.
I welcome the motion. However, such documents do not travel easily and do not welcome change of atmosphere.I should like to ask the Leader of the House whether it is correct that there were only two original documents? I rather think that there were four.
While I am in no way opposed to the motion, I hope that hon. Members will not forget those Americans who during the rebellion were still loyal to the crown of England.
As one who has had the advantage of receiving his higher education in the United States, I should like to be associated with the terms of the motion. I briefly point out to the Leader of the House that there are a number of other associated organisations within the House that are also taking a keen interest in this matter. In particular, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the work which his right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) and I are doing in co-ordinating the interests of those who received higher education in the United States. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will consider some form of co-ordination not only with that particular organisation but with all the many other bodies working along the same lines?
I should like to make one or two observations on this matter. I think it is an admirable idea that we should lend Magna Carta for a year. However, I have great reservations about the presentation of replicas of original documents, because in a way they lessen the value of the originals. I am not sure that the matter can be reconsidered, but I think that the loan of the original document for a year has great significance and that a rather tatty replica lessens the gift.As I understand it a bell is to be presented for display in Philadelphia. If that is true, it might be considered by the Americans as a little tactless. They might think that we are suggesting that they should have repaired the original. Certainly from my discussions in America over the past year or two about the bicentennial celebrations there has been the reiterated request that a Henry Moore statue of some sort should be considered as one of the British gifts. I should have thought that something of that nature was rather more suitable than a modern bell.
I support the motion of the Leader of the House and the continuing link between our two countries. Can the right hon. Gentleman say wheher the copy of Magna Carta which is to go to the United States will be a properly amended copy, and, if that is not so, whether the amendments will be shown?
As a former university professor in the United States, of which country I have the happiest memories, may I wholeheartedly associate myself with the motion proposed by the Lord President?
Question put and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will give directions that, to mark the Bicentennial celebrations of the United States of America, there be made, on behalf of Parliament to the Congress of the United States, as representative of the American people, a loan for one year of one of the two original copies of Magna Carta dated 1215 A.D. and held by the British Library; that a permanent showcase be presented to the Congress for the display of the document, and that the document be replaced at the end of the loan period by a replica; that the presentation be made by representatives from both Houses of Parliament; and assuring Her Majesty that this House will make good the expenses attending the same.
To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.
Orders Of The Day
Finance (No 2) Bill
As amended (in the Committee and in the Standing Committee), further considered.
Vat: Higher Rate
I beg to move Amendment No. 112, in page 13, line 17, leave out subsection (2).Before considering the amendment, I wonder if I might raise with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, one point of order about the grouping of certain later amendments on the Notice Paper. You will see that there are three separate groups, the first beginning with Amendment No. 36 and including Amendments Nos. 35 and 39; the second beginning with Amendment No. 41 and including Amendment No. 42; and the third comprises Amendment No. 43 alone. All those amendments are concerned, broadly speaking, with navigational and aviational matters—in other words, boats and aircraft. It would appear to be convenient, certainly to my hon. Friends on the Opposition side of the House, if those three groups could be taken together; namely, the groups beginning with Amendment No. 36, Amendment No. 41 and Amendment No. 43. That proposal appears to be acceptable to the Minister.
I understand that the Chief Secretary has indicated his assent, so that will be in order.
The amendment is concerned with the proposed removal of subsection (2) of Clause 17 as it now appears before the House. We had some discussion on this subsection yesterday. We have already drawn attention to the way in which the Government propose to make use of this subsection, and I pause briefly to repeat that point.It is of some concern that the concessions that the Government propose to make about the scope of Schedule 7—the breadth of the impact of the higher rate of VAT—are to be made not by debate before the House but by use of statutory instruments laid under this subsection. We are concerned in principle that this subsection removes from the House the power to decide exactly what changes should be made by the Government in the light of representations made by my hon. Friends in Committee about the nonsenses which the Government committed when they originally designed the scope of the higher rate of VAT. We do not welcome the way in which use is to be made of this subsection. Moreover, and more fundamentally, this subsection gives power to the executive, subject to mere negative resolution procedure in this House, to tax at the higher rate of 25 per cent. VAT, apparently without limit, a wide range of goods and services which are not at present subject to that higher rate. The House should certainly pause to consider how far it is prepared to entrust to any executive, but, above all, to this executive, the power to impose a higher rate of VAT on a limitless range of goods and services merely by laying a statutory instrument before the House. The House should consider how far it is prepared to accept the principle of conferring a taxing power upon the executive, subject only to negative review by Parliament. One wonders how easily that proposal sits in the consciences, minds and hearts of Ministers—if at all —alongside the protests which some of them at least made about the transfer of the power to impose taxes to the European Community. Moreover, we should argue that the power to add to the range of goods subject to the higher rate of VAT is in itself questionable, because it gives the Government power to extend the range of a tax which we have from the outset criticised as bad in principle. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I have from the start criticised the motivation behind the introduction of the higher rate of VAT. We have criticised it as representing a kind of latter-day version of Marxist materialism, profoundly misguided, and that has led the Government, as so often Socialist Governments tend to be led, to search for a range of goods which can be identified as luxurious and for a range of services which can be described as non- essential upon which they can impose a higher rate of tax. Throughout the proceedings in Committee hon. Members on both sides pressed the Government to acknowledge the unattractive, indeed lunatic, position which they have been obliged to take up in seeking to establish this higher rate of value added tax. They have been obliged as a result of the force of the arguments advanced by right hon. and hon. Friends, to make some concessions. They are to make concessions by statutory instrument hereafter to relieve of the higher rate of tax at least those purchases which are necessary for the salvation of human life and safety at sea and in the air, but apparently no further than that. The nonsense of which we have complained since the proposals were first disclosed apparently remain to take their place on the statute book. From the beginning we have said that it would have been better for the Government, if they wished to raise additional revenue—with their extravagant spending habits, nobody can question the need for that—to raise that additional revenue by either restoring the 10 per cent. flat rate of value added tax or, indeed, never departing from it in the first place. The introduction of these two rates of broadly applicable value added tax makes life far less tolerable than it is already for the trader, the retailer and the entrepreneur and tends to diminish, as we have pointed out many times, the respect which the citizen on either side of the counter has for the workability and good sense of the tax system. We have no doubt—I take this opportunity of repeating the point—that the Government's decision to move towards a multi-rate value added tax has in practice, in the months during which it has applied, been as unwelcome and disastrous as we always warned that it would be. The substantive points of complaint have been argued many times in Committee, and most of them remain upon the Notice Paper for consideration by the House today. We regard them as very important. The Government, by their commitment to introduce a multi-rate value added tax, are doing grave damage in a number of directions. For example, they are doing grave damage to a wide range of consumers by imposing a tax upon the servicing and repair of ordinary domestic equipment. They are doing wanton, pointless damage. They are destroying the credibility and reliability of the tax system and causing more citizens to cry out: "Why have the Government departed from the simple path of sanity?" The Government are doing grave damage to consumers—in particular, to those living on retirement pensions and other small fixed incomes—by their proposal not merely to introduce a higher rate of value added tax on television rentals, but to do so in relation to preexisting contracts. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been roused to anger by this proposal. It is astonishing that there is only one ordinary Member on the Government benches when this matter comes up for discussion, because, as I said earlier, many hon. Members on both sides of the House have complained, with good cause, about the decision to increase VAT on television rentals, including pre-existing contracts. The proposal to extend the higher rate of VAT to shipbuilding, yachting, certain classes of aviation and caravans is a characteristic misapplication of the fiddling predisposition of a Socialist Government. The small boats part of the shipbuilding industry has already been facing grave difficulties. Many of my hon. Friends have written to me, and I am sure, to the Chancellor, drawing attention to the impact of this proposal on the industry and their constituencies. This higher rate of VAT is unnecessary and has not been justified. Likewise, the impact of the higher rate of VAT on many millions of citizens throughout the country who engage in sporting activities, boating, sailing and flying is unnecessary. In all these areas we shall continue to criticise what the Government have done. 4.15 p.m. The Government have committed themselves to a wrong-headed change which will lead, as it has already, to mounting problems for those engaged in these trades and industries. It will lead, and has led, to growing disrespect for the law and to a rapid and extensive multiplication of anomalies. It is for that reason that I renew the commitment that I have already given on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends that, as fast as possible, we shall restore the original simplicity of a single standard rate of value added tax. There can be no justification for the alternative to which the Government have committed themselves. I question the Government about the way in which this subsection, which gives taxing powers to the executive, is to be, and has been, used. It is gravely disturbing in principle and particularly disturbing because of the extent to which the Government are relying on it as a means of bypassing parliamentary consideration of the changes which we have urged on them in our many debates on this subject.
I do not propose to detain the House long, but I should like to endorse everything that was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). We have here a graphic illustration of the absurdity and anomalies created by a multi-rate value added tax system. There cannot be a Member in this House who does not in his heart share the feelings of constituents who have written about the effect of this proposal on electrical repairs, television rentals and the difficulties of those who innocently enjoy their leisure in boating and other sporting activities.The matter to which I should like to refer at greater length is slightly more esoteric, but important. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), in a brilliant speech in Committee, referred to the anomalies created in the antique trade by the discrimination against certain objects over 100 years old. Briefly, the facts are that when VAT was brought in—I should be grateful for the Minister's attention, because this is important for some people—after pressure from both sides of the House—the Minister of State took part in some of the negotiations—a special scheme was devised to preserve and protect the British art market. Under that special scheme, VAT was levied merely on the margin between the cost and selling prices of articles. That special scheme still remains, but, as a result of the Govern- ment's mucking about with VAT and the introduction of this multi-rate, we have the absurd situation that one sector of the art and antique market—that dealing with silver, jade and other precious objects—is unfairly discriminated against. I said that this was a slightly esoteric subject, but it is of real importance to Britain's position as the centre of the art market. After the Minister of State's particularly sympathetic reception of the powerfully advanced arguments in Committee, I had hopes, as had many others, that the Government would think again. It was significant that this was the only amendments which was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. Even today, although it has not been called—indeed, it would be improper for me to refer to it at length—a similar amendment appears on the Notice Paper signed not only by myself and my hon. Friends but by the two senior Members on the Government benches. It is extremely unfortunate that the non-partisan powerful arguments advanced in Committee have not been heeded by the Government. I believe that the Government are in danger of doing great damage to an important part of the British art market. They are in danger of creating chaos and confusion where previously uniformity and an understandable situation applied. I would urge the Government even at this late hour to think again on this. In conclusion, I would reiterate the wise remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend in opening this debate, that tinkering with the machinery of VAT, which was originally, from the public's point of view, a simple and understandable tax, is one of the most ridiculous things the Government have done. The most ridiculous aspect of this ridiculous act is that they would have had much more revenue—and, heaven knows, we need revenue—if they had reintroduced the flat 10 per cent. rate. Nobody would quibble with their decision to increase VAT in these parlous times, but reintroduction of the 10 per cent. rate would have been so much more sensible. Let us hope that when we get Finance Bill (No. 3) in the autumn of this year, as undoubtedly we shall, the Government will at long last see sense.
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), I have consistently opposed a higher rate of VAT and feel that that is still a sensible position to take. I do not oppose a higher rate of VAT or multi-rate VAT on grounds of absolute dogma. If one could be persuaded that the efficiency of the tax required that we should have one more rate I believe that most of us on this side of the House would go along with it. If we were persuaded that there was an essential revenue requirement and that revenue could be raised only in this way. I am sure we would go along with that.There are, however, no reasons for this change that the Government have made. It is an exceedingly bad revenue raiser because they are to get in total income, as additional revenue from this change to the higher rate, approximately a 1 per cent. increase across the board of VAT. Had the Government raised the rate from 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. they would have got in as much by doing so as by the 25 per cent. rate. Considering the distortions that are inevitably caused by a higher rate of VAT as between one industry and another, if the Government could prove that this tax was efficient it might be justified, but in this case they cannot. I would favour, therefore, an alternative increase right across the board. I would actually have favoured 10 per cent. had the Government not reduced the rate from 10 to 8 per cent. I am much more concerned in this amendment with the stability of the tax system, which has not so far been argued as the main reason for this amendment. This change which the Government are seeking power to make may well be a very small step in terms of the Government's total revenue but it can be a very considerable step in terms of the economic planning within one particular industry. If at the drop of a hat, as this subsection allows, the Government decide that one industry's products shall suddenly be moved from the 8 per cent. rate to 25 per cent., the total amount of extra revenue for the Exchequer probably will be peanuts, but in terms of the distortions it will cause within that industry it may have massive effects. Therefore, I believe we should take our stand here in this Parliament and say that we are not going to accept a measure which makes it too darned easy to change a tax of this kind which can have these very substantial economic effects on a particular industry.
Does the Liberal Party believe in arguments in terms of social justice in favour of having differential rates of tax in principle? I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument on the effect on one particular industry, but does he not concede the general case that there is an argument in terms of the redistributive effects between necessities and essentials on the one hand and luxuries on the other? That is the classic argument in favour of having two rates of tax.
I might be perfectly prepared to debate whether there is or there is not if we had not had to suffer page upon page of argument from the Government Benches that this is not a luxury tax. If it were a luxury tax we could debate it as such, but I will answer the hon. Gentleman's point. I can concede that there could be arguments in favour of taxing certain goods more or less than others, because we may have made value judgments about the desirability of poor people or rich people buying goods, or about their ability to buy them, or whatever.Frankly, I might prefer to make the argument in terms of the environmental consequences of the use of products but I believe that the disadvantages of trying to make value political judgments of that kind are greater than the advantages we gain—the disadvantages of distorting the market and trying to set the Government or Parliament up as some kind of almighty god to judge what people should wear and buy and do with their money. The best thing we can do with people's money is to let them choose how to spend it; and the more hon. Gentlemen opposite allow the people of this country to make that fundamental choice themselves, the better this country will survive in the economic future.
I am always interested in listening to the Liberal Party saying that Parliament should not be the judge of what people should wear and buy and do with their money, but the Liberal Party believes firmly that Parliament should be judge of what people should be paid and what people should earn and that Parliament should make a value judgment about what people are worth to the community. We have been listening to a typical piece of Liberal humbug. Time after time we get this kind of outburst from the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), and half his speeches directly contradict the other half.On this occasion the hon. Gentleman was on to a good point, but he made it in his normal, double-thinking, bad way. I would tell the Financial Secretary that I firmly believe the Government have once again complicated unnecessarily the tax structure by going for a 25 per cent. rate. I heard the hon. Gentleman make many arguments against the VAT, and we all know that the object of introducing this is as a broad-based tax on expenditure which does not attempt to impose value judgments on different types of expenditure. Those were the arguments made by the Government of the day. I happen to believe that the 10 per cent. and zero rating produced good revenue and produced as few complications as it was possible to have—and there are bound to be some in any expenditure tax. The Financial Secretary in Committee pointed to some of the anomalies which existed, on children's footwear and so on, but forgot to mention that most of these anomalies arose out of concessions urged on the Government by his own party during the course of the debate on VAT. It was the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in those days who were urging the Government to create the exemptions which produced a number of the anomalies. I thought it was a little bit rich of him at that time to point to the anomalies for quite a few of which he was claiming the credit of having secured when he was sitting on the other side of the House. In Committee we saw some of the silly consequences of the introduction of the 25 per cent. rate. I think particularly of the caravan group in Schedule 7, where caravans have been elevated to the role of non-essentials. People who go for a holiday in a caravan they own have paid 25 per cent. tax on it but people who go to luxury hotels, abroad or at home, or take holidays in all kinds of other, no more essential, ways are regarded as being responsible for paying VAT at the rate of 8 per cent. The 25 per cent. rate does not produce much income. It produces a mass of complications, and the Government should have gone back to the 10 per cent. basic rate. By doing so they would have had more revenue available and would have avoided many problems. There is no real defence of the 25 per cent. rate except that of which we have heard, stock appreciation relief. The Chancellor made a "boob". He cut the rate to 8 per cent. for purely political reasons and then could not bring himself to reverse a bad decision; so we have this mass of totally unnecessary complications. Amendment No. 112 is very sensible, and, therefore, I am certain that the Government will not accept it.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Subsection (2) says:
It seems to me that that is out of order. I cannot see how you allowed the Bill to be printed in this form, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is wrong for back benchers to seek to amend a Finance Bill by adding to the taxation imposed upon the citizens. If, for instance, the words "by adding to" had been left out of the Bill and I had put down an amendment seeking to include them, you would rightly have ruled it out of order, because it would have widened the scope of the increased VAT rate band, thereby increasing taxation, and it is out of order to do things of that sort. It seems to me that the conclusion from that is that it is out of order for the Treasury to seek to increase taxation by the order referred to in the subsection. I know of no parallel instance where taxation can be increased by order. I think that the House would thoroughly dislike the concept of increasing taxation by order. If it were decided to add to the increased rate band at any stage, a further Finance Bill should be introduced, so that the matter could be debated with the full procedures given to a Bill, and not simply dealt with by an order. Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you accept a manuscript amendment from me to remove the words "by adding to", whatever may be the result of the debate and vote on this amendment, on the ground that these words are out of order?"The Treasury may by order vary Schedule 7 to this Act by adding to or deleting from it".
The effect of the Bill when it becomes an Act is a matter for the courts; and it would be wrong, and out of my capacity, to accept such an amendment.
But if I had moved an amendment in the spirit of those words, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would have ruled it out of order. I do not think that you would quarrel with that proposition, and I would not have quarrelled with your action if you had done so.Therefore, I cannot see how the Government can put something in their Bill which is out of order, something which you would regard as out of order if I tried to include it in the Bill. It seems to me a question of "heads they win and tails we lose", and, with the greatest respect, I should like to take the matter further.
I am advised that there is frequently such a situation in financial matters.
I am interested in the Opposition's arguments on this matter. They now appear to be arguing that the provision is out of order, when previously they had argued that it was impractical in the immediate situation, and wrong in principle to have a higher VAT rate in addition to the standard rate. Whether they are Conservative or Liberal, they should make up their minds precisely which argument they wish to use. The object of my brief intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe)—[Interruption.] I agree, and I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, which bore out my suggestion that there was a difference in the Opposition's argument on this matter.If the Opposition argue that it is wrong in principle to have a number of different VAT rates, I think that they are completely wrong. There is a classic and well-argued case in favour of having different rates. The Opposition say that there is a value judgment in having more than one rate. There is equally a value judgment in having just one rate, because one then accepts the existing value judgment of the economic system in deciding the price of goods at particular times. Therefore, it is fallacious humbug to argue that we are imposing our Socialist values and that the Conservatives are not imposing their Conservative values in having a single rate. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North agrees. This is a most important point, which seems to be missed in these debates. We argue about the effect on a particular industry. Occasionally we stray into matters of principle. Many of us on the Government Benches are in favour of having differential rates on particular items because we believe that we must inject our value judgments, just as the Opposition believe that they must inject theirs, into the system. We think that we thereby achieve a better degree of social justice than exists today.
I was always one of those who favoured a single-rate VAT, not for value-judgment reasons but for a number of other reasons. The longer our debates on Schedule 7 continued in Standing Committee, the more I became convinced that it was wrong to introduce the two-tier rates, particularly when the increase was so big, from 8 per cent. to 25 per cent., and that the Opposition pledge to return to a single rate was wise.
Would there be any point in having a narrow differential, such as a difference of 5 per cent.? The whole object of the exercise is to have a big difference, as for other items. I think of the car tax, for example.
That is another argument for having a single-rate VAT—the consequences of having such a big jump, from 8 per cent. to 25 per cent. In Standing Committee the Government began with the view that they were following a principle and making value judgments between one type of product and another, but the longer our debates continued the more that sort of reply diminished as it became clear that we were not talking about essentials or even non-luxuries. We were not discussing views about particular products.My first reason for being opposed to a jump from 8 per cent. to 25 per cent. is the effect on employment. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said, it is already clear that the jump to 25 per cent. has had a distorting effect on employment in particular firms and industries producing certain products. It became clear as our debates continued in Standing Committee that the firms involved were in rural areas or small communities, where unemployment had been accelerated by the 25 per cent. rate of VAT, and was having devastating effects. Admittedly, it was not caused by that rate, because there had already been a down-turn in the economy. I have some such areas in my county. I make no apology for mentioning again a television company which has closed down two factories in two separate small villages, with a serious effect on employment there. It is still threatening to lay off 25 per cent. of its work force in my constituency. Representatives of the workers saw me in the House last week to make a last plea that the Government should think again. They can see no other form of employment in the villages in which they live. Similar effects are seen in industries manufacturing caravans and many other products which are now subject to the 25 per cent. rate. Therefore, the employment effect must concern us first. It is not only the manufacturers that are affected. Retailers are worried about the effect on their turnover of the increase to 25 per cent. on a certain range of goods. We are to discuss on a later amendment the television rental position. The television industry, particularly at the retail end, is badly affected by the increase to 25 per cent. The second argument is the effect on the retailer from the administrative point of view. VAT was opposed by retailers, and still is strongly opposed, because of the extra administrative burdens it places upon them. The two different levels of VAT make that administrative burden a great deal heavier. It will not be easy sometimes for the retailer to decide exactly which rate of VAT he should apply. It is difficult for him to make clear to his customer the logic of the distinction between many of the products that he sells. The Government heeded the view of the retail chemists, who organised a strong lobby, and as a result something was done to diminish the impact on the retailer. If the Government had included a whole range of other products in the higher rate there would have been an administrative nightmare for many retailers. Nevertheless, many retail sectors will have an administrative problem as a result of Schedule 7. The next problem relates to difficulties that arise from having a dividing line, which is always the case with two rates. In Committee many examples were given of the distinction between goods that could be used for agricultural or gardening purposes and the rate that will apply to them. It will be difficult for retailers to explain the position. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) mentioned antiques. A glaring example is the work of art of a hundred years old or more which is made of glass and has one small piece of silver attached to it. That product would take a 25 per cent. rate of VAT, but another piece of similar glass without any silver would take an 8 per cent. rate. We debated this matter in Committee, and we advanced many arguments, as the Minister knows, for excluding those items from the 25 per cent. rate of VAT which have the special scheme for antiques applied to them and which are, therefore, works of art over a hundred years old. The hon. Gentleman will recall that he did not reply to the arguments about cascade effects and the antique trade having no final consumer because the products are sold again and again. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West said that London was the centre of the international art market, and he mentioned the loss of outstanding works of art to overseas buyers who will not have to pay 25 per cent. VAT. He said that, therefore, there was an incentive to the dealer to sell these works of art overseas. The Financial Secretary kindly received a deputation on this point and listened sympathetically to the arguments advanced. It is because we cannot debate this matter today that we are in the position of the Financial Secretary having made no reply on the record to all these powerful arguments. In Committee the Financial Secretary understandably, took refuge behind the fact that discussions were taking place. However, as I understand the position from his announcement yesterday, only a small group of products will have, by order, exclusion from the schedule, and works of art over one hundred years old are not included. I hope that the Financial Secretary will take this opportunity to give me his reasons for not accepting these arguments about works of art over a hundred years old in order that the trade and many hon. Members who feel strongly about this point understand the situation. I turn to the effect on the consumer. The point has been made time and again that the groups mentioned in Schedule 7 often affect people such as pensioners, who will feel the increases severely. For example, there is the increase in television rentals and the 25 per cent. rate on radios. In the range of products that have been picked out no value judgment has been made as to luxuries or to the ranges of consumer who can afford to pay the extra 25 per cent. Throughout there have been cases where the poorer sections of the community have been discriminated against just as much as the better-off. We shall deal with some of the more powerful arguments about safety and maintenance when we discuss a later amendment. One of the points that worry me in relation to Schedule 7 is that, with the high rate of tax on direct income and with this range of goods to which a 25 per cent. rate of VAT will apply, we shall reach the situation in which more and more of our citizens will regard it as legitimate and fair to find ways round the taxes. I do not condone that attitude—I greatly regret it. However, as well as being Members of Parliament we are ordinary members of the public, and I am sure that many hon. Members have heard of many instances in the past two or three months of people trying to find ways round the 25 per cent. rate. One of the sad things about the VAT system —of which I do not complain but it is there—is that there is, not only for the retailer but often for the consumer, an incentive to find ways round the high rate. I regret to say that with higher and higher rates of tax, such as we are experiencing now, this will become more customary, and it is a sad development. I hope that the debates we have had in Committee and this brief debate this afternoon will cause Ministers never to introduce these types of swingeing increases again. I believe that there are many Labour Members who are as deeply worried as we are about some of the implications of the 25 per cent. rate and would have preferred a straightforward increase from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. I hope that Ministers will learn from our experiences, and that this will not happen again. For that reason, I support the amendment, because it will at least stop any addition between now and the next Finance Bill to the range of 25 per cent.
Since the inception of VAT there have always been two rates because there has been a zero rate as well as a standard rate. The Government have argued that there should be a third rate, which was not just a step up but more than three times the standard rate and would have a totally disproportionate effect on a handful of industries.In the debates we have had on Second Reading, in Committee on the Floor of the House and in Committee upstairs no Government spokesman has ever given a proper justification of the Government's philosophy behind the swingeing imposition of a 25 per cent. rate on certain selected items. The hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) said that the Government had made a value judgment—I believe I have quoted him correctly—on selecting certain items for the imposition of this tax. It is a value judgment that imposes 25 per cent. VAT on a schoolboy's canoe but exempts the golfer and the polo player. It is a value judgment that has been so riddled with holes during the debates on this subject that any honest Minister would have agreed long ago that there was not only no value judgment but no valid justification for what was being done. I do not recall a situation in which the Opposition have turned to the Government and said "Tear up this rubbish and impose a heavier tax", because that is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) has said on many occasions since the tax was first imposed. He has said that we should restore a standard rate of 10 per cent., which would yield £510 million to the revenue, instead of this special and selective increase that will yield barely half that amount. Why do the Government not accept that offer? Why do they not say "Done. It will be 10 per cent. It is easier worked out, produces more revenue and is satisfactory from our point of view". The reason is quite clear. It is because last July the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought that he would buy a few votes by cutting consumer taxation so that VAT would go down from 10 per cent., to 8 per cent. He has not had the guts to admit that that was an error. He may not need all the revenue, but he needs part of it. Therefore, he has produced this strange form of taxation which we have opposed throughout the passage of the Bill. It has been possible in the past for selective taxation to produce serious damage in special industries because of its effect on employment and investment. However, rarely can one have seen so much damage done to so many people for so little return. In Committee the Financial Secretary admitted that a particular tax on aviation would yield no revenue. I asked why we had taxation that will not yield revenue. The answer was that if this item had been accepted it would have made nonsense of the general principle of taxing private flying. No only has this tax not been produced as a result of a value judgment it has not produced special Socialist rewards which will apparently make us miserable in every respect and level us all down so that pleasure can be obtained only by the ordination of the Government. It has not even been able to carry out any political objective. It has failed utterly from start to finish. I suspect that the argument will be adduced that the Opposition did not make such a song and dance when the Government put 25 per cent. VAT on petrol. The Government will say that we accepted that without much argument. It is a question of administration, the difference between duty—a pure old-fashioned duty originally, I suppose on bottles of brandy from France and pursued over the years into a highly complex mass of legislation—and the attractions of putting on VAT which enables the business user to reclaim the tax in a suitable administrative manner. It is fair to say that we on the Opposition side of the House looked upon that particular imposition as a form of duty. However, the same argument cannot be applied to domestic appliances, boats. canoes, aeroplanes, jewellery and photographic equipment. These are quite separate things. I hope—although I suspect that I hope in vain—that the Minister can give us some simple answers to the one vital question: why is it that the Government have not taken up the offer of the Opposition and increased the basic rate of VAT from 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. to achieve their revenue, to remove the anomalies about which we have complained and, in a simple stroke, to remove from the Bill the whole of the ludicrous Schedule 7 and restore a great element of simplicity to the tax? I subscribe to the view put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor), that there was a great case for having only one rate from the start and that all the exemptions given have created complications. However, if we re-open that argument we shall be here all night, and that would be quite wrong. The offer has been made. The difficulties can be removed by one sentence from the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will see the sense and logic of responding in that way.
The debate started off very narrowly, dealing with subsection (2), which allows the Treasury to vary Schedule 7 by order. The authorisation that we have for dealing with this subsection comes from Budget Resolution No. 16, which was passed by the House. That is the effective answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). However, the narrow point on which the debate started concerns the doubts expressed by a number of hon. Members about the executive power of the Government to tax at a higher rate of VAT those articles which are now taxed at a lower or even a zero rate.A number of hon. Members, particularly the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), thought that this gave far too much power to the Government. In principle, one can understand that suspicion of the powers with which the Government provide themselves. But this argument was fought out a long time ago, in 1961. During the whole of the period since then we have seen the ability of Governments to make very large increases of the kind permitted under this legislation. We must recall that there have been times when by use of the affirmative resolution procedure—this has carried on from purchase tax to VAT—the Government have been able to bring into charge at a different rate those articles that are in charge, as passed under Finance Acts. We must remember that there have been occasions when we have had purchase tax at a rate of 55 per cent.—if I recall correctly. Governments have had considerable powers which, over the period, have not been used in the way that was feared by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, because in normal circumstances these are used either as a regulator or for administrative order to correct certain anomalies. That is not to deny that these powers may be so used in the future. I am merely saying how it has happened under successive Governments in the past. I thought that it might be useful to compare the powers given here with not dissimilar powers that were given in the past. I understand the problems which exist when one moves into a multi-rate VAT. These were raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who was echoed by a number of his hon. Friends. No one can deny that one sets up divisions between the various rates and that there are problems when one starts to re-define the boundaries. The only thing that I can say is that, although obviously one has one's new boundaries, that is not to say that the old boundaries did not cause a number of difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam), in opposition to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South (Mr. Parkinson) and the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), pointed out that the single rate tax in itself produced certain value judgments. It is very hard to see what we are doing here as Members of Parliament if we are not passing a whole range of value judgments every day we sit in the House. That is what it is all about. If the decisions are made by themselves because the facts speak for themselves, they do not require hon. Members sitting here to debate these weighty matters. They could be settled much more simply. We are concerned with the crucial matters on which there is no simple answer, on which there is a whole range of value judgments to be exercised all the time. That is our purpose, and we have to accept that. We cannot concede it to anyone else. However, the old anomalies were there in very great measure. They were there when we used to make fun of the distilled water on which VAT was being charged, and when children's clothing was zero rated. I think it was the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South who said what a pity it was that we lost the essential simplicity of the old VAT because we zero rated children's clothing. But we have to make value judgments. We decided that it was very wrong that parents should have to pay VAT on absolutely essential children's clothing. We make these judgments on food and all sorts of essential matters. Who is to say that the House of Commons is wrong when it makes decisions of this kind which are very inconvenient to administrators? It is the task of the House to make judgments of this kind, perhaps inconvenient to the operation and management of the tax but essential for the reasons we adduce in the House. Therefore, the anomalies may be there, but we try to keep them to the minimum while getting the social advantage we consider is essential. 5.0 p.m. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) and the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. McGregor) made a number of points, but the point they had most in common was about VAT on antiques, particularly those over 100 years old. They will recall that the debate was, in fact, on war medals. I am not disputing that it was rather narrow. I received a very interesting deputation which both I and the Customs and Excise found very valuable. Representations were made on the cascade effect, the question of exports and some other matters. The cascade effect did not trouble me quite as much because it is 25 per cent. on the margin, and I do not think this presents the same problem as exports. The case on exports was one of the strongest argued by the deputation. If, as was suggested at the meeting, there was to be an incentive to the export of some antiques, we would need to look at the matter again. We shall be watching the situation carefully in a number of areas to check on the suggestions that were made about how the tax was likely to affect certain industries and the running of some businesses. In the autumn, I shall be looking at a number of areas to see how we can devise methods of keeping a close check on what was predicted and what might be happening.