House Of Commons
Thursday 21st April 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
London Transport Bill
Read the Third time and passed.
Shrewsbury And Atcham Borough Council (Frankwell Footbridge) Bill
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time upon Tuesday next.
City Of London (Various Powers) Bill Lords
Emu Wine Holdings Limited And Subsidiary Companies Bill Lords
Heritable Securities And Mortgage Investment Association Limited Bill Lords
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next.
Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Tuesday next at Seven o'clock.
Oral Answers To Questions
Agriculture, Fisheries And Food
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the problems being faced by the common agricultural policy, there are any plans to buy British food from the cheapest markets of the world.
Many foods are very efficiently produced within the United Kingdom and elsewhere within the Community. We shall continue to press for a flexible operation of the common agricultural policy.
Is it not the Government's bounden duty to try to help the British housewife by buying food wherever in the world it is cheapest? Is it not also a fact that, while the Ural Mountains are reputedly covered in butter, according to the Press, we are paying hundreds of millions of pounds which we ought not to have to pay? Therefore, is it not the duty of my right hon. Friend to fight for the abolition of this ridiculous policy, which everybody in Britain can see to be ridiculous, and as a last resort—or as a first resort—to get us out of the Common Market anyway?
I am bound to say that I was aware, even before my hon. Friend told me about them, of certain structural surpluses in foodstuffs, and I noted especially that there was a rather large mountain consisting of butter, though whether in the Urals I do not know. A certain amount of it appears to have gone in that direction. I am doing my best to assist in two ways. First, I am trying to obtain a more flexible approach to importation. Indeed, from 1st April the virtual ban on the importation of beef from outside the Community was lifted. Of course, my hon. Friend will be aware that I am trying to chip away at the butter mountain of which he spoke.
If it were desirable to obtain the cheapest food in the world irrespective of the interest of the farm worker, would it not to be equally desirable to obtain the cheapest coal in the world irrespective of the interest of the coal miner and to obtain the cheapest electricity in the world irrespective of the interest of the Secretary of State for Energy?
The hon. Gentleman is noted for his wide philosophy and learning, and for his knowledge of many minerals, and so on. I was asked about food. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of our housewives want to see food as cheaply as they can get it. The hon. Gentleman will have some difficulty in explaining to his constituents that that is not what he wants.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if there is sufficient capacity in the United Kingdom export-approved abattoirs to slaughter all animals at present exported live for slaughter.
The total number of cattle and sheep exported for slaughter in 1976 represented 1 per cent. of total slaughterings in the United Kingdom. I have little doubt that they could have been handled by export-approved abattoirs if the trade had so determined.
In that case, will the Minister announce that he will ban live exports? If not, will he say in whose interest the trade is being carried on, because it certainly is not in the animals' interest?
I know that the hon. Lady recognises that our policy on this matter derives from the motion passed in the House at the beginning of 1975. I make this point to her. Surely in these matters it is important to secure progress on a basis wider than the United Kingdom—and great progress is being made in Europe partly as a result of the British Government's stance.
Who are the people who justify this horrible export trade? Who is making money out of it? If it is only a small section of the community, is there not a very strong case for cutting out this export trade altogether?
I fully share my hon. Friend's objective, which I presume is to avoid any cruelty to animals in transportation. But if we can secure adequate standards—and we must remember that there is transportation of animals within the United Kingdom to the islands off Scotland—I think that the important thing is to see that the animals are transported according to high standards. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are absolutely insistent—and we refuse many applications—that no animals should be allowed to travel to any countries where we feel that the transport arrangements are inadequate or that they are likely to be slaughtered in a cruel way.
But will the Minister actively encourage the export of meat on a deadweight basis? Will he bear in mind that that allows customers to have the meat cut and dealt with in the way they wish? Finally, will he join with me in congratulating North Devon Meat Ltd. of Torrington, which has been in the forefront of exporting on a deadweight basis and has just received the Queen's Award?
I am glad to be able to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Government are doing precisely as he requests in this regard. It is only a few months since my right hon. Friend announced a very generous scheme of grants to encourage export slaughter-houses to improve their standards.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a statement on the current trading position of pig producers.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in achieving a change in the method by which pigmeat monetary compensation amounts are calculated.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to ensure that pigmeat production is maintained at a satisfactory level.
The average market price for pigs has improved since the end of March but I am well aware that producers continue to face difficulties. I shall continue to press for a reduction in the monetary compensatory amounts paid on our imports of pigmeat, which would improve the competitive position of our producers and processors. I have introduced a temporary subsidy to help producers in the shorter term and have maintained it in the face of considerable pressure. The weekly rate of sow slaughtering is now declining.
Since the January measures have manifestly not worked, will the Minister now try seriously to obtain a European solution to the problem? Will this not require considerably more conciliation and diplomacy than he has displayed in Europe in recent weeks?
If I were able to employ all the charm and all the endearments of which the hon. Gentleman is capable, it still would not alter the economic facts that certain countries and certain foreign pig producers would feel that they were economically hurt. This has been the difficulty all along. The point about the subsidy was to try to prevent as much as I could of slaughtering in the sow herd. That is why the figures are rather revealing. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the peak nearly 10,000 sows per week were being slaughtered. The latest weekly figures, published today, show sow slaughterings at 7,000.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is an appreciation of the temporary measure that he took but that, at some time or other, the 50p a score will have to be replaced by some other system? Is he aware that the view of pig producers is that the industry is in a very parlous state? Will he do everything he possibly can to make certain that the pig population does not fall any more than it has already fallen?
I readily give the hon. Gentleman that assurance and I am grateful to him for what he said about the temporary subsidy. As he knows, I am being taken to court for it, and this inevitably means that I cannot be seen at the moment to be increasing the subsidy or thinking of increasing it. I think that in future there will be a change in the monetary compensatory amounts. As I have said, there are many ways in which we can achieve that. I have been working and will continue to work to get that result.
Does the Minister realise that part of the difficulty is that he missed the boat last October, when, by making a modest devaluation of the green pound, he could have got a reorganisation of the monetary compensatory amounts, which would have avoided most of this difficulty? Will he stop using the bogus argument about fewer sows being slaughtered? Since the Government have presided over a decline in the pig breeding herd of 15 per cent., it is hardly surprising that there are fewer pigs left to be slaughtered.
To adopt the words of the Duke of Wellington to the man who addressed him as Mr. Smith, if the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. The truth of the matter is that in October last the Commission, in whose power it was, made a reduction in the pigmeat monetary compensatory amounts as the result only of my intervention. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not know his history. He does not know anything about it. It made an 8 per cent. cut, and there was no question at the time—and there has been no question since—that the Danes, the Germans or the Dutch would be willing to make a change in exchange for a green pound devaluation. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about the issue for a moment, he will realise that a green pound devaluation would cut their competitive position.
Would not the Minister agree that the majority of pig producers are in favour of changing the monetary compensatory amounts and not devaluing the green pound?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and he knows what he is talking about. A green pound devaluation means an increase in cereal costs. The matter is as simple as that.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to ensure that the disease known as apple proliferation does not become established in the United Kingdom.
I am advised that it is most unlikely that this disease could become established in our climatic conditions, but we have nevertheless no intention of relaxing our requirement that trees of orchard varieties imported from countries in which apple proliferation occurs must come from nurseries inspected and found free from the disease.
Will the Minister recognise that there are a number of diseases, such as white rust, sharker and fire blight, that have become endemic in this country over the past few years? Is he aware that the apple industry is very concerned that apple proliferation could become established? Will he work towards developing a Community solution of preventative controls in respect of this problem?
I gather that this disease is more of a problem in Southern and Eastern Europe than, for example, in Northern Europe. In parts of Germany there has been no difficulty in wiping out the disease. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that we intend to maintain the maximum vigilance in respect of this and all other disease threats from the Continent.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is planning to encourage the introduction of European agriculture techniques into British agriculture.
The Ministry's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service for England and Wales and the three Scottish colleges of agriculture are responsible for keeping abreast of new techniques in Europe and the rest of the world where these are relevant to British agriculture. Information obtained is disseminated as part of the continuing advisory effort.
Could my hon. Friend clarify the gobbledegook that he has just read out in terms of the effect that the introduction of some of the new techniques may have on the whole price struc- ture of food which now faces the British housewife?
The confusion arises because the phrase "agricultural Techniques" normally applies to more efficient systems of production. I imagine that what my hon. Friend is concerned about is the application of traditional EEC support arrangements for agricultural produce in this country. I am sure he will recognise that we are doing our level best in the Community to avoid the creation of structural surpluses and to see that, when they arise, they are sensibly disposed of.
Does not the Minister agree that it would be better to turn the question on its head? Would it not be better to see whether our European partners could change their sales techniques so that they might go and sell some of the milk that they produce? Might they not also adopt our excellent system of marketing boards?
I agree with the tenor of the hon. Gentleman's remarks in respect of marketing boards. We have already described these as an excellent example of practical Socialism which we are determined to retain here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is true. It is the negation of a free market in the arrangements for milk: it is a properly controlled market with a fixed price both for the producer and for the consumer. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing everything we can to see that there is a satisfactory solution on the subject of marketing boards and that the doubt is removed as swiftly as possible.
National Farmers Union
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent consultations he has had with the National Farmers Union.
I attended the NFU Council meeting yesterday.
Is the Minister aware that with each of these consultations the confidence of British farmers in him appears to grow steadily less, especially when they compare his attempted assurances with the kind of speech he made in Grimsby earlier this week? Is it not time that both he and his hon. Friend stated the truth—that British consumers have an overriding interest in a healthy and confident British farming industry—and acted accordingly?
That was a very vague and wide supplementary question. My speech in Grimsby was almost entirely devoted to an attack upon the Conservative Party, and, as we all know, farmers are Labour voters to a man. As for retaining their confidence, that will, I hope and trust, be retained by a policy which is fair to them, to the consumer and to the housewife who buys their food products. If the policy is fair to them, we shall not only have the right quantity of food produced at the right price but the right consumption of that food. That is exactly what I am after.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the firm stand he is taking against higher food prices is receiving the support of everyone in the country except the Tory Front Bench? Is he also aware that he will receive even further support if he resists any further increases in food prices?
I certainly believe that there is very strong feeling in the country about food prices, but I would not say that the whole Tory Front Bench—what there is of it present at the moment—is definitely against lower or reasonable food prices. Here and there there may be someone, not present today, who may actually be in favour of reasonable food prices.
Did the Council of the National Farmers Union yesterday explain to the Minister that it is worried that his posturings in Brussels are souring the British position and will make it much more difficult to deal with important issues such as fisheries and the future of the marketing boards? Did he explain to the farmers just how, as he goes about the country saying that he still subscribes to the aims of the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources", he intends to fulfil those targets?
The answer to the second question is "Yes, I did" As to the first, farmers are kind, courteous, hospitable people and would not have dreamed of discussing fisheries with me. As for the point about souring our relations, I can only say that I am after something reasonable for our own farmers and producers and for the British housewife. I am interested to note that my efforts are not going totally unrewarded in Europe. Mr. Gundelach said yesterday that he had made an offer to us which was without precedent in the history of the Community and which took into account the special problems of the United Kingdom consumer. Clearly, therefore, I have an ally now.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the latest figures available for the effect of Common Market membership on the price of food in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the extra cost the United Kingdom incurred as a result of buying imported food from the EEC as against outside sources in 1976.
Between February 1973 and March 1977 the index of retail food prices increased by about 120 per cent. I regret that we cannot assess the contribution to this increase arising from our membership of the European Community because of the difficulty of predicting how food prices would have changed had we remained outside.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the contribution of the Common Market is still considerable? Will he pass on to his right hon. Friend the congratulations of the great majority of British housewives on the resistance he has shown so far to Common Market pricing policy? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to commit himself before the House to continuing to resist the CAP pricing policies, irrespective of any blackmail from our so-called partners in the Community or from the powerful farmers' lobby?
Clearly, my hon. Friend recognises the changes that we are trying to bring about in the CAP. I think the House will agree that we should seek a "cap" which fits my right hon. Friend and those whom he represents, and that we should not wear a cap which fits the Community but makes the United Kingdom look ridiculous. That would be the peak of foolishness.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the latest edition of the Cambridge Economic Policy Review gave a detailed analysis of the cost of the common agricultural policy to Britain? Is he further aware that it showed clearly that, far from there being any kind of subsidy, including the effects of the green pound it was costing Britain at least £600 million a year, and that if the demand of the Tories concerning the green pound were accepted it would rise to between £900 million and £1,000 million a year?Is my hon. Friend also aware of the recent article in The Guardian which made clear that, because we are prevented from buying food from the cheapest quarter, membership of the Community is costing Britain £700 million a year? Will he also agree that the suggestion from the previous Prime Minister that we were renegotiating this farcical policy was an absolute sham?
I think that the reception given by the House to my right hon. Friend's reply indicates that there is a great deal of support for the policy he is pursuing in the Community. Of course my hon. Friend is right, in so far as he is talking about the increased costs this year. The transitional steps will add considerably to the cost of living, and I think it justifies the very firm stand that we are taking in the Community to offset these costs.
To help his hon. Friends behind him, and, indeed, housewives, would the Minister like to say by how much accession to the Common Market has increased the prices of coffee and tea?
If the hon. Member had listened to my original reply, he would have heard me say that it is very difficult to say to what extent the increases are due to the Common Market and other factors. There are, of course, some increases due to factors outside the Community, such as the increase in coffee prices and, of course, last year's shortage of potatoes. We know, however, of certain increases which are due to Common Market membership, and we are right to ask the Community to take this into account.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the housewives of Grimsby as shown by recent doorstep interviews, are vey much aware that the Common Market contributes greatly towards the high cost of food? The housewives are also aware of the wastefulness of the surpluses that the CAP produces. Would he, therefore, ask his right hon. Friend to recommend to the whole Government at the next Cabinet meeting that we withdraw from the Common Market?
Subject to our having that kind of freedom, I think that we are pursuing the right policy at the present time in seeking to make the necessary changes to help the housewife as well as the producer. I am quite sure that the housewives and other people of Grimsby, who were interested not only in fish but also in food, will admire the strong efforts made in that direction.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how imports of butter from inside and outside the EEC over the past three months compare with the same period a year earlier.
The figures available to us show that during the three-month period up to the end of February 1977 42,151 metric tons of butter was imported from the rest of the Community and 43,422 metric tons from countries outside. Comparable figures for the same period a year earlier were 84,488 and 21,617 metric tons respectively.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, which demonstrates again how the high Common Market prices have depressed consumption. Could he say whether there is any basis for the claim by the Danish Dairy Federation that butter is now being stockpiled in this country in the hope that advantage will be taken of the fact that butter prices will rise by 18p per lb. by the end of the year?
As my hon. Friend knows, the two transitional steps, which have yet to be taken this year, will, once they are taken, increase the price of butter by about 12p or 13p per lb. There is no doubt about that. But that has been known ever since the Treaty of Accession. Therefore, those making their calculations on stocks have had a good length of time to prepare, if that is what they are preparing for.I have not sufficient information to say "Yes" or "No" to my hon. Friend's question, except that commercial stocks, which probably are as good a guide as any, at the moment are about 119,000 metric tons, which is pretty well where they have been during the past two years or so.
In view of the increase in the price of butter that is to take place, and in view of the fact that the EEC is pressing for a margarine tax, can my right hon. Friend say what the British housewife is to put on her bread in the future?
Butler, if she wants to. Margarine, if she wants to.
Common Agricultural Policy
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he now has for proposing a comprehensive review of the common agricultural policy.
I have made plain on many occasions my views on the common agricultural policy and on the ways in which we should seek improvements.
Has not the passage of time and the progressive expansion of the Community somewhat altered the original basis of the CAP? An increasing European urban electorate and a declining agricultural vote must surely imply an increase in consumer pressures. Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced, in his capacity as President of the Council, that the representatives of European consumer associations enjoy a properly structured relationship to the institutions of the Community?
If I may say so, I think that that is a very valuable supplementary question. I believe that we are at a change—a sea change, perhaps—in the basis of the CAP. I was the first President of the Council ever to receive a deputation of European consumers. Until now the deputations have always come from COPA, and it is right that they should. Obviously, the producers have a very firm interest in the workings of an Agriculture Council. But this was the first time that the consumers came, and I venture to suggest that they have an equal voice in the workings of the Council too. As far as I am concerned—and, I hope, as far as any Minister who succeeds me is concerned—that must be the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that if after a certain period of time—say, six months—there has not been a fundamental change in the Common Market agricultural policy, the Government—and I would hope that he would put this to his Cabinet colleagues—should consider breaking with the Common Market and coming out? We cannot tolerate any longer this constant rise in prices burdening the British people, as it does at the present time.
As the first supplementary question showed, there is, I think, a change taking place in the relationship not just of British consumers and British people with the workings of the common agricultural policy but in Europe as a whole. I believe that it is our duty to build upon that and to build upon it quickly. I do not believe that we shall get fundamental revolutionary changes in a matter of six months. I believe that the process of change has started, and I intend, as far as I can, to continue that process so that we get the best possible improvement we can.
Further to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold), is it not now evident that there are improvements in animal husbandry in continental Europe which mean that dairy surpluses, far from being occasional, will become endemic? Given that the current structure of the common agricultural policy persists, will it not result in the British consumer being obliged to accept a bed of nails? In those circumstances, would it not be better to secure an early fundamental restructuring of the common agricultural policy rather than for it to collapse under its own absurdities and in so doing embitter other European relationships as well?
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right in putting first and foremost the question of the structural surpluses. They are the vital question in the agricultural policy. He is also right, by implication, in believing that the agricultural policy is the main fundamental economic spring of the European Economic Community. I think that we are on the way to dealing with it, but we shall deal with it only if we realise one factor as a Community and as a country. The only reason why we are creating a structural surplus in food is that we are producing it at a figure that is too high for people to consume it. If we then say "Let our policy be that producers and consumers both shall benefit", I think that we can see an end to structural surpluses.
Since my hon. Friend is making the point that a fundamental change is about to take place, will he consider, together with his Cabinet colleagues, since no renegotiations took place last time before the referendum of 1975, whether it would be a good idea, because of all these changes, to give the British people an opportunity to have another vote after these so-called changes take place, in order that they may cast a true vote this time without being brainwashed by the pro-Market organisations both inside and outside the House—a vote on the basis of the practical things that have arisen from our joining the Common Market, namely, escalating food prices one after another, day after day, whichever Government are in power?
I understand very much my hon. Friend's point of view. But I hope he will allow me for next few days to get on with the urgent question of trying to settle the price review. Then we can return to other, wider issues.
Does not the Minister agree that cheap food and a common agricultural policy are totally incompatible and that it would be in the interests of both the producer and the consumer for Britain to opt out of the CAP on some commodities and return to a system of deficiency payments?
The common agricultural policy has, as I have said, been so oriented so far that it has inevitably created structural surpluses of food which the consumer could in fact consume quite well if the price was right. Let us see if we can get that straight. There is a fundamental amount of rethinking needed on the whole basis; with that I agree absolutely. But my first task as Minister of Agriculture is to see that the price review is settled. Then, possibly, we can think about these rather important questions that have been raised.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the prospects for the United Kingdom dairy industry; and if he will make a staement.
The Government's policy towards the dairy industry continues to be set out in the White Paper, "Food from Our Own Resources", Cmnd. 6020. which envisages further expansion.
Is the Minister aware that the dairy industry is totally dissatisfied with the present type of price review and that his right hon. Friend referred to this when answering a recent Question? Is he aware that it does not allow the industry to invest and plan ahead as it is asked to do in accordance with the objectives and targets of "Food from Our Own Resources"? Bearing in mind the importance to the dairy industry of the Milk Marketing Board, will the Minister advise the House on the present position of the board and say whether we shall be able to retain it, since it is so important to the dairy industry?
The hon. Gentleman should realise that the level of the United Kingdom guaranteeed price will need to be considered in the light of the CAP settlement for this year. He talked about herd size. He should be aware that the herd size has been expanding since June 1976. The December 1976 sample census showed an increase of 2·4 per cent. in the number of dairy cows over the corresponding figure a year ago. In addition, milk production has increased.As regards the Milk Marketing Board, we have made our position clear. We want to retain the essential functions of the board, and we believe that the board, in its organisation and work, is an example to the rest of the community.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, although there are perhaps endemic milk surpluses in Europe at present, there is also evidence that there is likely to be a beef shortage in many areas within the Community, possibly even by the end of the year? If that is so, will it not strengthen my right hon. Friend's ability to make the necessary amendments to the CAP and to secure a shift in the structure of farming if we improve grassland production in Britain and Ireland?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. We have always said that the Community should encourage those areas where there is efficient production and discourage the others. That would, of course, help to deal with the problem of surpluses. My hon. Friend will be aware of the fight that we have had to maintain the beef premium scheme, at least for this year. We shall certainly bear in mind the need to discourage surpluses and to ensure production in the most efficient areas.
European Community Commissioner For Agriculture
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met Mr. Gundelach, Commissioner for Agriculture.
At last month's Agriculture Council. I am, however, to have discussions with him later today.
The right hon. Gentleman is reported as holding out in the Common Market negotiations for a substantial butter subsidy, the continuation of the beef premium and the retention of the Milk Marketing Board. Will he say by how much he estimates that United Kingdom food prices will go up this year if all his conditions are met?
No, I do not at this moment intend to enter into details about the negotiations. I think that that would be wrong. I hope that by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week we shall get a package of which the House and the country will approve. I think that that will be the correct time to give all the necessary information. It would mean tying my hands a little too much—although I appreciate the friendliness of the hon. Gentleman's question—to answer him in detail at present.
As it seems to be endemic within the CAP to build moun- tains of butter and beef, can my hon. Friend assure me that, next time a mountain is disposed of, it will go to the people of this country in greatest need?
That, in part, is what I am trying to achieve. It is a very interesting statistical fact that more butter per head of the population is consumed by old-age pensioners and by those earning under £30 a week than among the higher income groups. That is a factor which I take very much into account in by belief that a butter subsidy is of importance to the British people.
When the Minister meets Mr. Gundelach, will he ask him what on earth is happening to the negotiations with Iceland? Will he also ask him what progress is being made about the fisheries limits around these islands?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I had intended to ask Mr. Gundelach myself despite the hon. Gentleman's question. It seems to me that these are matters which require urgent consideration. However, it is good that for the present six months a British President of the Council will be accompanying the Commissioner to the resumed negotiations in Iceland. Further more, it is of great importance that the Commissioner has promised us that his proposals for the internal régime will be available this month.
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has any plans to ban the carrying at sea of gill nets intended to be used for cod fishing.
Will the hon. Gentleman confer with his Scottish counterpart, because there are rumours that that right hon. Gentleman may indeed be considering such a measure? Will he also make it clear to the fishing industry that the measure will not be proceeded with, as there is a great deal of concern among fishermen who have invested money in nets of this kind?
I think that the answer which I gave may be reassuring to the hon. Member. His concern probably arises from the use of gill nets for salmon and other means of fishing. I understand that these matters are under review.
Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether, when he has visited Humberside, he has met a vessel owner, skipper, deckhand or anyone in the industry who believes that Mr. Gundelach and his colleagues will get any settlement in the Icelandic dispute? Even worse, is he aware of the scepticism among all members of the industry about any settlement with third party agreements, particularly concerning Soviet waters?
Order. I think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) is referring to the previous Question. I may be wrong, but this one appears to be about gill nets.
Mr. Speaker, please allow me to state that you are not wrong. I was hoping to get some information.
Can the Minister tell us whether he believes it fair that the Scots are the only fishermen in the EEC who are not allowed to drift-net for salmon? When will he do something about it?
This is a matter which concerns my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the matter has been under review.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister whether he will list his official engagements for 21st April 1977.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 21st April.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21st April.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 21st April.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.
Has the Prime Minister had time to study today's statement by the Chairman of the National Coal Board? Why should the Secretary of State for Energy be allowed, first, to overrule the Price Commission by pushing up the price of gas and then to push up the price of electricity by compelling the Central Electricity Generating Board to commission a power station in excess of its needs, when all this is at the behest of the coal miners, whose response to the nation's needs has been to produce 6 million tons less last year?
I understand that there is a Private Notice Question on this matter. Therefore, I do not want to anticipate the answer that my right hon. Friend will give. In all these matters we as a community have to have regard not only to electricity requirements but to the future of the power plant industry, as well as to the future of the mining industry. They are all intertwined, and it is not easy to separate one issue which may be of particular concern to the electricity board. The Government must take the whole complex into account.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to explain his remarks yesterday about the cynicism of the Press? Was he referring to that prizewinning cynical jackass, Andrew Alexander, or was he referring to that wonderful wizard of the Sunday Times, Tony Holden, who flies all over the Eastern Hemisphere with the Leader of the Opposition and reaches the heights of journalistic magic by managing to turn the cast-iron maiden into a rather cracked china doll?
I was making a general remark—not directed at the Press or at politicians—which I think is true, namely, that there is a degree of cynicism about almost anybody who is in public life, that no action is undertaken which does not have a hidden and unworthy motive, that everything done has something behind it, and that nothing altruistic is done by anyone in public life. That is very damaging to us. However, I was not referring to anybody in particular.
If my right hon. Friend can find the time today, will he spend some time re-reading the leaflet "Britain's New Deal in Europe", which was circulated by Her Majesty's Government to every family in the United Kingdom? Since that leaflet contains no reference to direct elections and concentrates on stressing the importance of veto powers in protecting Britain's sovereignty inside the EEC, will he tell us how he can justify his statement on Tuesday that a "Yes" vote in the referendum was a vote for direct elections?
I should prefer not go into that just now, because we are in the middle of a two-day debate in which the Government's attitude is being defined. Supplementary questions are not the appropriate occasion to go into the matter. [Interruption.] If the Houses wishes to spend 15 minutes on the matter, I am quite happy, but normally, Mr. Speaker, you like to separate Question Time from debating time on these matters.If there is keenness and anxiety on the matter, let me say that it is clearly written into Article 138 that we shall move to a system of elections. That was explained—and, indeed, opposed—at the time, and the Government have entered into a commitment with the eight other Heads of Government to have direct elections. This House could overturn that decision, but it would be very ill advised to do so, because it would go far wider. When the Government have entered into a treaty commitment or something approaching a treaty commitment—both those being true in the sense that we have now agreed to the Treaty of Rome after the referendum—for the House to overturn the Government on this commitment would be a very serious matter in our international relations on a great many other issues, which would go far wider than the Community. It is for that reason, among others, that I shall use my best endeavours to see that a Bill is produced for consideration by the House.
No doubt the Prime Minister will be devoting some thinking time today to the subject of devolution. Will he now confirm or deny without equivocation that the Government are considering introducing two Bills, one for Scotland and one for Wales, as advocated all along by the Opposition?
I do not take any responsibility for stories that appear in the Press, and I am not required to answer from the Dispatch Box for them However, the Government's policy on the matter is clear. We are committed to devolution, both for Scotland and for Wales.
Did the Cabinet at its meeting this morning reach any clear decision whether to table a motion for Monday's business to enable the House to arrive at a specific decision on the kind of electoral system for direct elections in Europe? Does the Prime Minister not think it appropriate to do that after a full two days' debate, when he has already promised a free vote on his side and when there will be a free vote on the Opposition side?
Not on Monday, I gather. [Interruption.] Well, I have to take my instructions.Although I do not normally discuss the business of Thursday morning Cabinet meetings, I can confirm to the right hon. Lady that we did discuss this matter this morning, and I was reminded then, as I have been reminded again, that what we undertook to do before the debate was that the Government would listen to the views of the House and would then come forward with a proposition in due course. That we shall adhere to. Although I considered a point put to me by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), which superficially had its attractions, I think that we must stick to the original intention that we conveyed to the House some weeks ago.
Why are the Government afraid to reach a specific decision on Monday night? It would save time in the drafting of the Bill. Why is the Prime Minister afraid to allow Parliament to express its opinion at the end of a full two-day debate? It is not surprising that both the Press and the public are cynical about the powers of Parliament if the Prime Minister refuses to allow us to reach a decision.
I promise the right hon. Lady that the decision has nothing to do with fear; it has to do with the undertaking that was given. We undertook to listen to all the views put forward in the House. There is not agreement on this matter, and we had better wait and hear what the result is at the end of the two days. [Interruption.] I fully understand that the Opposition are in considerable difficulties on this matter. Let me add that the Opposition are not alone in this matter, but it might be more helpful if the right hon. Lady were to admit her difficulties as I admit mine.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Tarporley.
Is the Prime Minister aware that Tarporley, where he would be most welcome, is in a rural area, where people are very dependent on motor transport? Will he tell the House whether the Government have any proposals for an alternative to the proposed increased tax on petrol in the Budget and, if so, what it might be?
The Cabinet has not considered this matter recently—certainly not since the Easter Recess—so I have no information to give to the House. The matter will be discussed during the course of the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, but it does come a little odd, after the pressure now being exerted on us to follow President Carter's advice and the steps that he is taking in the United States, to find that the Opposition voted as a whole against this increase in duty. As the Chancellor said in his speech, it was intended partially to help conserve fuel. Perhaps the Opposition would care to reconsider their views on this matter.
Whether my right hon. Friend goes to Tarporley or anywhere else, will he find time to study the statement made in another place yesterday by the noble Lord who is Master of the Rolls of the realm to the effect that certain records relating to the Profumo inquiry have been destroyed, and that only one copy was made? Can my right hon. Friend say on whose authority the records have been destroyed?
I am not aware that this is a matter of great moment in Tarporley, but it may be of interest to the House, as the question has been raised, to know that I checked on this matter this morning. It is true that Lord Denning suggested at one stage some time ago that the records should be destroyed. It was agreed that they should not be handed over as public records, but they have not been destroyed. They are still kept in the Cabinet Office. Lord Denning has been informed about this and I understand that he will make a statement later.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Liverpool, Walton.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we regret that he is at present unable to come to Walton? When he comes to Liverpool, and in the meantime when he meets the Leader of the Liberal Party, will he explain to him and to the Liberals in Liverpool that during the period when they were in office in Liverpool the rates were kept down not because of Liberal policies but because of the generous aid to the Liverpool City Council by the Labour Government by way of rate support grant?Will he also indicate to the Liberals that despite that generous assistance from the Labour Government the Liberals practically bankrupted the financial resources of Liverpool and that the administration that has taken over is in a hell of a difficult position because of their financial incompetence?
There is no doubt that the Government's actions to assist by means of the rate support grant were the means of keeping the rates down in Liverpool and in a great many other cities. I am sure that that will be taken into account by all those who are claiming credit for themselves in the coming local elections.
Will the Prime Minister spend the time that he is not occupying by going to Walton in drafting motions which the Government will put on the Order Paper before 10 o'clock today, for debate on Monday, so that at the conclusion of the debate, when we have heard what everyone who catches Mr. Speaker's eye has to say, the House may come to a conclusion as to which of the alternative systems of election it wishes to adopt for direct elections to the European Parliament? Will the Prime Minister spend his time doing that?
When my right hon. Friend does visit Liverpool, will he go to Kirkby and explain to my constituents why unemployment there has not been significantly reduced in the past two years? Will he further explain how a further round of the pay policy will reduce unemployment in Kirkby and bring prosperity to that area?
On the latter part of that supplementary question, I would not say that a further round of incomes policy by itself will reduce unemployment. But what I do make clear to my hon. Friend—and he had better make this clear to his constituents and to his trade union colleagues—is that if there is free collective bargaining in which people can take what they can get, combined with control over the money supply, the inevitable result in the short run will be higher prices, and in the medium run—by which I mean by the end of this year—there will be higher unemployment in his constituency. That is why we are going for an incomes policy.
When the Prime Minister goes to Walton or to anywhere else, will he take time to call in at the nearest farm and use his undoubted expertise to tell the farmer how he can produce meat at £28 a hundredweight?
I do not think I care to undertake that task. I have great sympathy with some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. I will say this about the work being done by the Minister of Agriculture at the present time: if he can secure the kind of settlement for which the Cabinet has given him authority, it will be the best settlement for the consumer under the common agricultural policy annual review since we entered the European Community. That is an achievement well worth noting.
Drax B Power Station
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement on the refusal of the Chairman of the CEGB to order the Drax B power station as requested by the Secretary of State.
As the House knows, the Government are consulting a wide range of interests, including the CEGB, about the need for a steady home ordering programme for power stations and the role of Drax B within it. I have already met the CEGB and am inviting it to see me again next week.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the unanimous view not just of Sir Arthur Hawkins but of the whole board of the CEGB and of the Electricity Council and Mr. Francis Tombs that this order should not be proceeded with by the electricity industry without compensation from the Government? Will he further confirm that it is the statutory duty of the CEGB to provide the most economic supply of electricity and that the Secretary of State's request was tantamount to an invitation to breach its statutory responsibility?Is this not the worst example of the kind of private directive that the right hon. Gentleman has been so keen to deplore on previous occasions? Will it not be much more satisfactory, if the Government wish to pursue this policy and the Secretary of State wishes to support it, for the right hon. Gentleman to bring it openly before the House so that the House can see the costs involved, the matter can be properly debated here, and the Government can receive authorisation for the finance if they can persuade the House, instead of the Secretary of State attempting to get the cost of his policies surreptitiously through the electricity industry by means of a concealed surcharge on every electricity consumer in the country?
The hon. Gentleman has got it a bit wrong. In 1969 in the House of Commons the Minister of State at the Ministry of Technology, the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made this statement:
that was myself—"My right hon. Friend"—
This was in 1969, at the request of the CEGB. The hon. Gentleman should be absolutely clear about this. The Government are now engaged in discussion with the CEGB about what the future power station programme should be on the basis that there is a need for a steady ordering programme. The previous Government gave an advanced order for Ince B power station, with which the House is familiar. I am not announcing a decision on Drax B today. What has happened, as the House knows well, is that my correspondence with Sir Arthur Hawkins has become public. I make no complaint about that. In the course of these discussions, I have met the Electricity Council, the CEGB and all the interests concerned on the energy side, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has met all those on the industrial side. The Government will make a statement, and Parliament will have an opportunity of considering it when the Government view is clearer. But I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should read into my consultations with those concerned the dictatorial intent that he suggests in his supplementary question."has just approved proposals from the Central Electricity Generating Board for the next power stations to be ordered. They will be Heysham and Sizewell B, both nuclear AGRs: Drax B, which will be coal-fired: and Isle of Grain, which will be oil-fired. It will thus be seen that Drax B is firmly in the programme."—[Official Report, 29th October 1969; Vol. 790, c. 303.]
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the stand he is taking on this issue? In his negotiations, will he bear in mind the importance of this power station contract for construction jobs in the locality, where such employment is greatly needed?
I shall certainly consider the employment implications, not only from the point of view of those in the industry but because it would be a tragedy if the Central Electricity Generating Board were to find, through a faulty ordering programme, that there was no home industry upon which to base its own future power station ordering. That is in the interests of electricity consumers as much as of those who work in the power industry
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the 1971 Ince B order which was brought forward by the then Conservative Government. Will he confirm that on that occasion compensation was paid by the Government to the Central Electricity Generating Board? Why is he now trying to clobber the electricity consumer for what is a direct employment subsidy to the power construction industry?
I do not accept—and my letter was intended to ascertain whether the CEGB could justify its claim—that an order for Drax B would involve extra cost for the electricity consumer. The Government have never accepted the highly inflated estimates that were given.I should also tell the House—I said it to the CEGB—that the CEGB was ready to accept a steam generating heavy-water reactor, which was due for ordering last September, without any compensation whatsoever. We asked the CEGB to look at Drax B in line with our general examination of the future of that industry. Members of the CEGB themselves, in a meeting with me, admitted that using coal from Selby would be absolutely the cheapest option for power generation from any fuel at this moment. I think that the House would be well advised not to read any final decision into a publicised exchange between myself and the chairman. I would also warn the House not to believe every inflated estimate that the CEGB has seen fit to give to the Press, because the reports are not correct.
My right hon. Friend will know that I support his position on the Drax B power station. Will he take this opportunity to repudiate the suggestion, which is entirely contrary to assurances given to me and to the trade unions involved, that the Government now want a straight takeover of C. A. Parsons in my constituency by GEC?
My hon. Friend should put that question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I am involved in the negotiations with energy interests in this matter, but the leading Minister on the future of the industry is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and I think it only right that he should deal with that question.
The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that one of the arguments for Drax B is to use the coal from the Selby field. Would it not be sensible to wait until the National Coal Board has finished its assessment of the reserves that there may be in the Vale of Till in North Lincolnshire, when there would be a much better case for the West Burton B power station at Gainsborough, using the Vale of Till coal, rather than the Drax B power station?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming what all those here and in the United States now agree, namely, that there is a much bigger rôle for coal and coal-fired power stations than was accepted by the conventional wisdom all over the world a few years ago. But there is nothing whatever contradictory in our view that there must be a domestic heavy electrical industry to build power stations for the potential development that will come from an expanded investment in our coal industry and the need to burn that coal economically to generate electricity economically for the consumer.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that he would do better if we were to accept the miners' side and announce that Drax B should be started and that it should be coal fired? Should we not recognise that the British economy depends entirely on the miners of this country and give them due preference in the society to which they belong?
My hon. Friend's view and the view of the National Union of Mineworkers have been forcefully put before the Government. My right hon. Friend and I met a delegation at which that view was put. It was also put very strongly by the TUC Fuel and Power Committee. But I want to reiterate what I said a moment ago, that the CEGB members themselves have recognised in discussions that Drax B with Selby coal would represent the cheapest option for power stations in this country.
I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side. I have allowed seven supplementary questions already on a Private Notice Question.
Do not this dispute and other important energy policy decisions and options emphasise the rôle that could be played by a properly established energy commission giving important independent advice free from institutional pressure groups and ministerial arm-twisting?
As the House knows, I am very much in favour of an energy commission to advise on matters of this kind. The magnitude of the capital investment involved and of the decisions and interests concerned—which are not mean interests; they are major interests, consumer interests, industrial interests and so on—means that the ultimate responsibility must rest with Ministers accountable to the House of Commons. But I am in favour of and have been developing the energy commission concept, and I hope to be able to make a statement about that before very long. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that sense.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the attitude of the CEGB, which has meant a hold-up of any announcement on this project, could lead to unemployment in the power generating industry, both in the North-East and in Scotland where unemployment is already very high? Does he not further agree that we do not want any further delay?
I appreciate the anxiety expressed by my hon. Friend and others about delay. On the other hand, I think that the House recognises that the task we have set ourselves of trying to find a consistent ordering programme that will provide security for a strong domestic industry is a very big project and cannot be undertaken overnight. Consultations are going forward with great urgency on this matter.
Does not this whole incident indicate the unsatisfactory nature of the relationship between Ministers and nationalised industries? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he feels that his position would be reinforced by powers of specific direction? If his answer is "Yes", would he not conclude that there is an imperative need for the implementation of the Plowden recommendations on the reorganisation of the electricity industry, which could encompass precisely these points?
I do not think that relations are soured by a candid exchange between Ministers and the chairmen of nationalised industries. What I think is undesirable—[Interruption.] I believe that most sincerely. What is undesirable is arm-twisting that never reaches the light of day. But if there is an exchange, I make no complaint whatsoever that that exchange—one of many—has come into the public domain.What is true in some nationalised industries, and notably the British National Oil Corporation, is that there is a power of specific direction. I believe that the chairmen of nationalised industries and Ministers of all parties would appreciate an institutionalising of the position, which is that in the end the Government of the day must be able to achieve their policy objectives. At the moment the arrangements are not ideal but they are not damaged by a candid exchange between chairmen and Ministers.
Putting aside all personalities and the opportunism of the Opposition, would not my right hon. Friend agree that the point of view of the electricity supply industry—which is the point of view of the electricity supply trade unions—that the cost of Drax B should be borne jointly by the Government and by the industry, is not unreasonable?
That is the point to which, in my most recent consultations with the CEGB, my questioning was directed. My hon. Friend knows very well that I have discussed with the TUC Fuel and Power Committee, the Electricity Council and many others the point that for a claim for compensation to stand it has to be firmly established that it is justifiable. It must not be just a way of getting money from the Exchequer. We have also to act in the interests of the consumer to establish a viable domestic industry sustained by a reasonable, phased, long-term ordering programme.These are the matters that we are exploring in public, and I do not object to that. But were the electricity consumers to be asked to pay a special price, that argument would be a valid one for the CEGB to put to the Government.
Business Question. Mrs. Thatcher
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It so happens—I do not know whether it is within your knowledge, Mr. Speaker—that I have in my constituency the largest firm in the whole of England associated with power generating plant. I have been trying very hard to put a relevant question to my right hon. Friend. For reasons which I do not understand I have been completely ignored and I just want to put it on record that I am fed up.
Order. It may be that I should put something on the record as well. Privy Councillorship—if that is what the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has in mind—does not count during Question Time, and the right hon. Gentleman must take his place with other Members of the House.
It has nothing to do with Privy Councillorship. I am in the same category as you, Mr. Speaker. I am no different from any other Member of this House. Let that be understood. But against that, Mr. Speaker, an hon. Member is justified in feeling aggrieved about this when he has in his constituency one of the largest firms in the whole of the country associated with the problem we have been discussing.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's feeling, but I am quite sure that it is shared by other hon. Members who also have particular interests. I am very conscious that a number of hon. Members representing mining areas would have liked to be called. But I allowed 11 supplementary questions on a Private Notice Question, which I think is not unreasonable.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a possibility—
Is the hon. Gentleman raising a point of order with me? He cannot ask his right hon. Friend the question now.
Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a possibility that the City of London will be very concerned to learn of the discussion that has taken place here about the takeover of certain concerns affected by the electrical generation industry?
Order. I fear that the hon. Gentleman is trying to use a point of order to get in his question, and that would be unfair to the right hon. Member for Bermondsey, who failed to put his question.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, I rarely raise points of order, especially as I unfortunately resigned before I became a Privy Councillor. I recognise your difficulty in relation to supplementary questions. I have been particularly aware of it from half-past two, as a matter of fact, and I have not been called. But I am much more aware of it on this issue. I should have thought that, in view of my raising of the issue of Drax B throughout the past year, and because my constituency involvement concerns 5,000 people whose livelihood tomorrow depends upon it, you would have known me sufficiently, Mr. Speaker, to call upon me to make this point.
Order. Obviously whoever is in the Chair does his best to be fair, and the hon. Gentleman must realise that I allowed a fair time and called as representative a number of hon. Members as I could. As a postcript, I might say that I hear only from those hon. Members who are not called. I never hear from those who are.
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House whether he will state the business for next week?
Yes, Sir. The business for next week will be as follows:
MONDAY 25TH APRIL—Conclusion of the debate on the White Paper on Direct Elections to the European Assembly. Command No. 6768.
Motions on the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) Orders.
TUESDAY 26TH APRIL—Supply [14th Allotted Day]: there will be a debate on mobility for the disabled, on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Motion on the Local Loans (Increase of Limit) Order.
At 7 o'clock, the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed Private Business for consideration.
WEDNESDAY 27TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Price Commission Bill.
Motion on EEC Document R/3247/73, R/3134/74 and R/402/75 on direct life assurance.
THURSDAY 28TH APRIL—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Motion on the Southern Rhodesia (United Nations Sanctions) Order.
FRIDAY 29TH APRIL—Private Members' Bills.
MONDAY 2ND MAY—Supply [15th Allotted Day]: subject for debate to be announced later.
May I return to the motion on which Monday's debate on the White Paper on Direct Elections to the European Assembly will be held? How are the Government to judge the views of the House except by a clear vote on the alternative voting systems?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already replied to the right hon. Lady on one aspect of that matter. If we were to follow the suggestion that I think she is making of putting down a motion and having a vote at the end of the debate on Monday, I am not so sure that we should be able to have all the opinions voiced in the way that had previously been indicated. I do not know whether the right hon. Lady was here when we had a discussion on some of these matters just before the House rose for Easter. Representations were made then that we should have the debate on the Adjournment or in some form which would enable this to take place. But of course the House will be able to give its opinion on these matters when we come to the Bill.
With due respect, there really ought to be a clear vote on either the first-past-the-post system or some PR system before the Bill is drafted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it saves time on drafting, apart from anything else. If the Leader of the House is saying that he cannot judge on a vote, how can he judge without a vote?
I am sure that there will be a vote on this matter eventually, and the House will then be able to judge it. I must say that I had not fully appreciated how concerned the right hon. Lady was about assisting us with our drafting, and of course I take that into account. But even so, I believe that what we are proposing is fully in accord with the normal method. That is that the decision on these matters should take place when the Bill is before the House.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any truth in Press reports that Wales is to be excluded from the Government's future devolution plans?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter again. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also replied on that matter. The Government's commitment to devolution is as strong for Wales as it is for Scotland. The Government's proposal is that we should proceed on the same lines, although not on exactly the same proposals, for dealing with both countries. Our commitment to both countries remains as strong as it always had been. We are determined to carry through the measures for both countries.
Could we not have the first stages of the debate on the direct elections Bill next week in order that there should be sufficient time to draft new clauses on the method of election in the event that the Government get it wrong the first time and lose their clause on the election procedure? Otherwise, the Government will stand a very good chance of seeing this Bill go the way of the devolution Bill, for precisely the same reason—that they will not listen.
What the Government are doing is what we promised to do—that is, that we would listen to the two days' debate on the subject and then come to the House with proposals. That is a perfectly normal way for the House to proceed. I think that the hon. Gentleman and some others have a quite different interest altogether in the matter.
May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the business arranged for 6th April, when the Whip issued for the day said that there would be a debate on sport. Many of those who had a very valid case to put about apartheid in rugby football were unable to do so because so many items were brought on before the debate on sport. Will my right hon. Friend arrange for time to allow a full day's debate on sport, so that we may expose the apartheid which exists in rugby football?
I certainly appreciate the concern that was expressed by many of my hon. Friends on this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) has also aproached me about it, as have others who were interested in that debate. There was certainly no desire by the Government to curtail it, but owing to a combination of reasons the debate was abbreviated. I think that we have an obligation to see whether we can provide further time. I cannot promise a full day, which my hon. Friend asked for, but I accept that we should see whether further time may be afforded.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that however carefully the Government listen to the views expressed in the debate they will not hear the views of more than 10 per cent. of Members, that those views are not likely to be unanimous, and that the right hon. Gentleman would get a much clearer idea if he would have a vote of the House on a motion of some kind?
I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants a vote so that the House shall have a reasonable chance to debate these matters fully or whether he and others want to pre-empt the decision of the House. [Interruption.] I said "pre-empt the decision of the House" because the best and proper way to decide the matter would be during the course of consideration of the Bill itself.
Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the lack of time given to the important question of energy policy, having regard to announcements that have been made in various other parts of the Western world? Will my right hon. Friend try to make provision for a general debate on energy policy, taking into consideration the matter that was discussed in the House earlier today?
From earlier exchanges and from the question put by my hon. Friend, I appreciate the importance of the subject. I cannot promise an immediate debate, but we shall bear the matter in mind. I should have thought that other possibilities would arise from the proposals to come before the House.
Can the Leader of the House tell us when we are to have a debate on the Annan Committee Report?
I cannot give a date, as I have indicated before. Naturally, the House will want to have a full debate on the matter. Debates on this subject are taking place in the other place, but we must have a debate in this House as well. However, I cannot indicate the date yet.
While I note that my right hon. Friend has claimed that the Government's ultimate intention is to bring devolution to Wales, in the light of Press reports will he tell us what is the position of the Scotland and Wales Bill? Does he intend, as Press reports indicate, to separate Wales from the Bill or, better still, as the Press has also indicated, to drop the Bill? My right hon. Friend will be aware that the result of every opinion poll is that the latter step would commend itself to an overwhelming number of the electorate, particularly the Labour electorate, in Wales.
I know that my hon. Friend takes that view. He has put it on a number of occasions, and on every occasion when he has presented that view to the House, the House has turned it down.
Does not the Leader of the House realise that, having once already this Session produced a totally frustrated Bill, he is now on his way to producing another, through failing to put to the House the very issue on which it must make up its mind in view of the right hon. Gentleman's own White Paper?
A most extraordinary doctrine is now being enunciated, that it is the Government's responsibility to put to the House motions on particular aspects of a Bill before they bring the Bill forward. That is a strange procedure, and certainly not in accord with the normal practice of the House.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there would be no point in the Government's putting such a motion on the Order Paper for Monday's debate, because those on the Opposition Front Bench have so far been unable to tell us which electoral system they would prefer?
My right hon. Friend is almost encouraging us to change our mind. I agree that it will be interesting to find out what is the Opposition view in the end.
With regard to the resumed debate on direct elections next Monday, does the Leader of the House recall that it was a major concession by the Government that, in return for the continued support of the Liberals, there should be a free vote on the issue? Therefore normal precedents no longer apply. If there is not to be a Division on Monday, what is the significance of a free vote on the issue?
The Government made the announcement that there would be a free vote on the matter. It was not necessarily a concession to the Liberals. It was an agreement to make a concession to everybody else. We on the Government side have always held the view that this matter should be subject to a free vote of the House. But I do not think that that affects the issue that we were discussing earlier.
Would not the best thing be to get rid of the business on Monday, as there is so much argument about it? Let us forget the whole issue, and have instead a debate about the real reasons for the delay in Drax B construction. Perhaps then we could uncover some of the unsavoury aspects of the matter, such as why two non-elected industrial despots—Hawkins of the CEGB and Mr. Weinstock—are putting the power station workers' jobs in jeopardy in Newcastle and other areas, as well as the way in which the Department of Industry operates. We should be better informed than we have been this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. We might then see this elected Government carrying out decisions and actually announcing the construction of Drax B.
I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and that of many of my hon. Friends about Drax B, but I cannot rearrange the business to suit him. He must look for some other opportunity for elaborating his question.
Will the Leader of the House recognise that there will be considerable disquiet throughout Scotland that the devolution Bill dogs not appear in the business of the House for next week? Can he give some indication when the Bill will come before the House, and how his so-called all-party talks are going?
The hon. Gentleman has previously mentioned the matter referred to in the last part of his question. We are still continuing talks with all parties. I am fully prepared to have further talks with his party on the subject if he wishes, as I indicated to him and to others when we met on previous occasions. I cannot yet indicate to the House what is the outcome of those continuing talks, but I make it absolutely clear that the Government's commitment to devolution, both for Scotland and for Wales, remains firm, and that we shall carry it into effect.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the disquiet that is said to be expressed in Scotland will be exceeded only by the calm with which an announcement that there will be no devolution Bill next week will be greeted in Wales? Does he not accept yet, especially after the announcement that there will be no further building on the Assembly, that the only devolutionary move that the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales want is to go ahead immediately, during this summer, with a referendum that will conclude the question once and for all?
As I have often told my hon. Friend and the House, we do not think that it would be sensible or fair to have a referendum before the passage of a Bill, because we do not believe that the referendum would take place on a clear issue. As for the rest of what my hon. Friend says, I must repeat to him what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). Their combined eloquence has often been unloosed on the House on this matter, and on each occasion the House has voted for devolution for Wales as well as for Scotland. I believe that those opinions of the House must be respected, along with the others.
Since the Government have decided to reject the idea that I put to the Prime Minister about a vote before the Second Reading of a direct elections Bill, can the Lord President now say how long a delay there will be after Monday before the Bill is published? Secondly, as there is to be a free vote at some moment during the passage of the Bill about a system of election, should the Government's proposition be rejected—as is possible on a free vote—will they give a firm undertaking to introduce into that Bill the system of election that the House chooses?
The House of Commons will decide the method of election that is to be proceeded with. I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, of course. It is the House of Commons that must decide it, all the more because it has been emphasised on all sides that there is to be a free vote. I regret I cannot say anything further on the question of timing.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that hon. Members from the Greater Manchester area are deeply concerned about Drax B, sharing a concern with hon. Members from the North-East and from the mining constituencies? There is a sense of urgency. I think that everyone in the House appreciates Mr. Speaker's difficulty about calling people.Would my right hon. Friend consider the fact that in the Trafford Park area, where we have generating plant, the decline in the work force has been from 19,000 to 6,000? Is he aware of the low morale in that area, and that an early debate on energy would be welcomed by hon. Members from all parts of this side of the House? Could my right hon. Friend please see to that?
I recognise the widespread interest and concern shown by many of my hon. Friends who have already put the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and to me. I cannot promise a time for a debate but, obviously, when the announcement to which my right hon. Friend referred today is made, we shall have to consider the matter then.
Before we reach the point of decision outlined recently by my hon. Friend, is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that we face a ridiculous situation, because the Government published a White Paper asking for the guidance of the House before they publish their Bill? What they will have received is the individual opinions of about 50 Members, and not the collective opinions of 600. Is that satisfactory?
What we shall have received will be the opinions of those who have entered into the debate. We shall also have received the views expressed by the leaders of various parties. We can take into account the clear, decisive views that they have presented to the House.
In his firm commitment to devolution this afternoon, and in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), my right hon. Friend used the word "measures", with a distinct "s" at the end of the word. Would he not agree that that is an indication that separate measures are to be introduced, with a good chance that the measure for Scotland will appear first?
I did not use the word "measures", as far as I can recall. If that is how Hansard reports me, so be it, but my hon. Friend should not read any sinister implication into that. I repeat that the Government's commitment to carry through a devolution measure for Wales is as firm as our commitment to carry through a devolution measure for Scotland. We regard those two pledges, which we have given quite clearly to both countries and to the country at large, as pledges to which the Government are committed. None of the reports that appeared in the papers today should cast any doubts on the Government's determination to carry those pledges into action.
Would the right hon. Gentleman now clarify once and for all what is the extraordinary mystery about Monday? Why is it so difficult to have a free vote, so that the Government will know which system Members want? The right hon. Gentleman seeks to make capital out of the fact that he does not think that he knows what the Opposition Front Bench want. Even if he does not have a free vote on Monday, which he seems to dislike, he will know exactly the views that I hold when I wind up this debate. I shall tell him exactly what I believe. Why are other Members and I denied the right to express our views in a vote? I have a chance to speak, but a vast number of Members do not have that chance. Why does the right hon. Gentleman deny them their rights? I do not understand.
I would listen to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say with great interest even if he had not given this trailer for what is to come. But it is a perfectly reasonable proposition that I am advancing. The official Opposition are asking that we should select one aspect of the Bill and put down motions on that, but there are other matters involved as well. Further, if the right hon. Gentleman and others had been present when we discussed some of these matters in the Adjournment debate, they would have seen that representations were made in a different sense on the matter, and I have had to take those representations into account, too.
Would the Lord President care to expand on the reply that he gave to the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) and to his hon. Friends on the subject of devolution, and say whether or not we are to have two separate Bills? Does he not also agree that two separate Bills would enable the House to declare its opinion more clearly?
I have already given a clear answer. I will give it again to the hon. Gentleman, but I must add to it in order to ensure that there is no misrepresentation. No decision whatsoever has been made about any separation of the Bills, but I must repeat that, whatever decision might be made on that in the future, the Government's commitment to Wales on devolution stands. We are determined to carry that out, as we are determined to carry out the devolution pledge for Scotland.
What steps will the Lord President undertake to take to ascertain the views of those 95 per cent. of Members who will be unable to participate in the two-day debate?
It is perfectly normal procedure for the House to have a general debate on which it does not reach a final conclusion on particular matters. What has been suggested—I am surprised that it has caused so much commotion—is that we should select one aspect of the—
We could have a take-note motion.
The Opposition Chief Whip, quite innocently, wants a take-note motion in order to be able to table an amendment to it. I am sure that he would not table the amendment in his own name. What he seeks to do—not in his own name, although he is most concerned about the matter—is to ensure that others will be able to table an amendment on one specific issue in the Bill. I suggest that it is much more normal to proceed with the whole Bill and then have amendments when the Bill is going through.
Order. Seven hon. Members are standing, and they have been standing at each opportunity. I hope that they will be brief. If they are I shall call them all.
Reverting to Monday's business, what the House would like is an opportunity to vote on the question whether we retain the first-past-the-post system or adopt some form of proportional representation. That is very simple. Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman let the House take that decision?
The two-day debate concerns not only the question of the form of election but much wider issues also, and the debate is on those wider issues, too. The House will have the opportunity eventually to decide which form of election is preferred.
Will the Lord President tell the House when we are to have the long-overdue debate on immigration, bearing in mind, in particular, the recent bulletin by the Runnymede Trust which shows that there has been a major change of policy in dealing with the applications both of wives and of children in Dacca and Islamabad and also in Delhi?
I make no comment on the specific questions raised by the hon. Gentleman, but I know that he and other hon. Members have urged that there should be a debate on this subject at some time, and I agree with that. It could take place on a Supply Day, but I appreciate that the House wishes to have a debate in some form.
Can the Lord President—I am taking up the point made by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—arrange a debate on the Drax B business next week so that the Secretary of State for Energy may confirm that it was not his intention to publish the correspondence with the CEGB? Can he also confirm that we shall have a better debate because the correspondence has been published, and explain how he reconciles those two positions?
I cannot promise a debate on the subject next week. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Energy has shown fully this afternoon that he is quite capable of looking after himself.
As the court hearing takes place in New York next week on landing rights for Concorde, and as the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Trade have all confirmed that refusal to allow the aeroplane to land in New York would be a breach of a treaty existing between the United States Government and Her Majesty's Government, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that one of those right hon. Gentlemen will come to the House at the earliest opportunity after the court hearing and make a statement?
I cannot say whether there will be a statement in those circumstances but, as the hon. Member knows, representations have been made to the United States on this subject.
How long has it been a crime to table an amendment in the House? Does not the Leader of the House appreciate that all he will get from the two-day debate is a representative sample of what a few hon. Members think and, much as we respect Mr. Speaker's wisdom in selecting appropriate amendments, it cannot possibly mean anything.
I have never suggested that it was a crime to table an amendment or for an amendment to be called. I believe that what was proposed is a convenient way of proceeding. I repeat that what hon. Gentlemen are seeking to insist is that Monday's debate should be turned into a debate on one single aspect of the matter, and I do not believe that that was the wish of other hon. Members.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of us on this side would strongly support the request made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Kelley) for an earlier debate on energy matters, particularly on the future of nuclear energy? Will he give this matter considerable priority?
I shall certainly take account of the representations that have been made.
Standing Order No 16
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to Standing Order No. 16, which deals with the procedure for the Adjournment of the House? Would you examine the proceedings of the House last night, when in an 18-minute debate there were no fewer than 10 references to legislation? My understanding was that in an Adjournment debate reference might be made only in passing to legislation—in the words of Standing Order No. 16—if it is
But it was clear from the reply of the Minister of State that that was not, in fact, so. I do not ask you to rule at this moment, Mr. Speaker, but I think it might be helpful to the House if, at a convenient moment next week, you were to say whether you thought that at that stage your wig had fallen over your ear and you did not hear so many references to legislation—which seemed to me at least to be out of order."relevant to any matter of administration then under debate".
The hon. Gentleman is very kind, but I would rather deal with it now than have it hanging over my head. I was in the Chair for the Adjournment last night, as all the House will know. The references to legislation in the Adjournment debate were incidental in the sense that the hon. Lady the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) was not, as I heard her, calling specifically for changes in the law.The hon. Gentleman is quite correct to draw my attention and that of the House to the rule that calls for legislation should not be made during an Adjournment debate. I am grateful to him for his vigilance. He is justified in his point of order.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker. But may I point out that the hon. Lady specifically said:
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your ruling, which I think was needed."… will they undertake to bring in the necessary legislation themselves before the end of the current Session."—[Official Report, 20th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 334.]
I am much obliged, and I am half as grateful as I was before.
Orders Of The Day
[13TH ALLOTTED DAY]— considered
Civil Estimates, 1977–78
Class Viii, Vote 6, Central Administration (Department Of The Environment)
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £44,369,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1978 for expenditure by the Department of the Environment on central administration and certain other services.
I beg to move,
That Subhead A1(1) (Salaries of Ministers) be reduced by £4,750.
There are not many Tories present.
There are not many Members on the Government Benches, either.
There is no one in the Press Gallery.