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Commons Chamber

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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House Of Commons

Thursday 30th June 1977

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

University Of London Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday next.

British Linen Bank Order Confirmation Bill (By Order)

Order for consideration read.

To be considered upon Thursday next.

Oral Answers To Questions

Agriculture, Fisheries And Food

Common Fisheries Policy

1.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his talks with the EEC and Ministers on the Common Fisheries Policy.

8.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the dissatisfaction still existing in the fishing industry due to other countries overfishing in British coastal waters, he will make a statement on the latest situation within the industry.

24.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made towards securing exclusive British fishing limits within the EEC.

I refer the hon. Members and my hon. Friend to the statement made in the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he reported on the proceedings of the special Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 27th June.

Why has the Minister abandoned the industry's demand for a 50-mile exclusive zone, which had support on both sides of the House? Is it not strange that the present proposals for a 12-mile exclusive zone, plus special concessions in the outer zone, are exactly what the Commissioners have been prepared to concede for some time?

To take the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question first, it is not at all the same thing. The Commission has talked of a vague continuation of the present arrangements for the narrow belt. That is six miles, not 12 miles, and not exclusive. As for the preference, the Commission is talking about a local preference that goes out nowhere near 50 miles, but here and there around the coast for local inshore fishermen, no more than that. Our proposal is a very different matter.

To deal with the first part of the question, the proposals that have been aired in the Council make it clear that the variable belt proposal of up to 50 miles remains as that laid on the table on 4th May last year. We are trying to remove a logjam. As I said last Thursday, if we can get our essential objectives by any other method that preserves those objectives, that is what we intend to do. However, the original proposals lie on the table.

Even if the catch requirements of the British fishing industry are wholly met under the sort of regime that is being discussed, how does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that the concurrent responsibility for conservation that is in the scheme can possibly work? Why concede in any way the present un-diminished right of this country to exercise its own non-discriminatory conservation measures within our waters?

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very important point. From the very beginning, from the Second Reading of the Fishery Limits Bill 1976, I have said over and over again that we must not let go on the issue of preserving our national conservation measures. What took place in Luxembourg until a late hour earlier this week shows exactly what I mean. When it came to the scientific evidence, which was unassailable, that there must be a ban on herring fishing for the rest of the year if the herring stock is to survive, we were virtually in a minority of one. It seems to me that that is an essential element that must be maintained.

The second essential element is that we must have powers of control and enforcement within our own waters. With that I entirely agree. The third point is that we must preserve distant water fishing on a reciprocal basis to the best of our ability. Those three objectives still remain paramount in my mind.

Following our exchanges yesterday, is my right hon. Friend able to enlarge on the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland? I am certain that he said that there are sister States in the Community that are more than willing to accept the natural justice of our case for a coastal band of up to 50 miles. Is my right hon. Friend as optimistic as that?

Secondly, in the light of what my hon. Friend has said today about the distant water fleet, which is still of great importance to Humberside, as he well knows, does he envisage that if we do not get acceptances in Iceland and elsewhere there could be some form of invasion, so to speak, of mackerel fishing off the southwest peninsula, which we all fear, from the distant water fleet coming into inshore waters?

Without proper planning, that is a danger. The distant water fishing effect on mackerel might be disastrous. In that event, it might be the next species to be endangered. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was saying was absolutely accurate. For whatever reason it may be, be it theological or political, or any reason that we care to put forward, the fact that we said that we were prepared to consider other methods caused a slight thawing of the attitudes of some member countries, but not all. The disappointing factor, which is one that we must always guard against, is that which my right hon. Friend pointed out at the Coun- cil at that time, namely, that we are providing out of our waters—and they are our waters—two-thirds of the fish stock available to member States of the Community. We need a dominant priority in that respect, and member States need to recognise that contribution. I was a little disappointed that that point was not met as strongly as it should have been by other member States.

Was there any discussion about the Icelandic situation? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep resentment that is felt in fishing ports, especially those which used to fish off Iceland, at the advantageous terms that Iceland has for imports into the Community? Was there any suggestion that those imports from Iceland should be banned until Iceland became reasonable and came to the negotiating table?

The question of Iceland was not immediately relevant to the discussions in the Council. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has a Question later on the Order Paper about the negotiations with Iceland. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have consistently made that point to Commissioner Gundelach.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he has abandoned the industry's claim to a 50-mile management zone? This seems to us the only way of protecting resources from greed and rapaciousness. If he is saying that, does he not think that he would have been better advised to have made it absolutely clear in the debate last week?

The Opposition Front Bench must get clear in their minds and tell the House in due course—I do not expect them to do it now—exactly what they mean. Let us see what they have been saying. This is the same Opposition Front Bench, given a resignation here and there, that signed the Treaty of Accession. Depending on which audience they are speaking to and which question is being discussed, they use three possible lines of argument, or three bases. They talk about an exclusive zone, the implication being purely exclusive fishing, a management zone, or an exclusive management zone. The right hon. Gentleman was talking about a management zone. There is a great difference betweeen them. I am talking about an exclusive zone plus a dominant priority plus national conservation measures plus reciprocal rights in deep waters.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is our business to ask questions and his, unfortunately, to answer them? If he were to do that it would be a welcome change for all of us. First, will he answer the question that I have asked? Secondly, if, as he constantly claims, we failed to make proper arrangements for fisheries, why did his colleagues not renegotiate the fisheries policy when renegotiation was in process?

I answered the question, but I will answer it again. On the second point, what does the right hon. Gentleman think I am doing now but renegotiating the mess that he and his colleagues got us into?

On the first part of the question, I should make it clear that the objectives remain the same. There was always the fishing industry's idea based on a 50-mile exclusive zone, which meant that literally only United Kingdom fishermen would be allowed to fish in that zone; there was the United Kingdom Government's idea of the variable belt; and there was the third idea of a totally exclusive belt up to 12 miles and then a dominant priority. These are all methods of obtaining the objectives. I cannot believe that there is anything wrong with discussing whether we can break the logjam which, unless we do break it, on the basis of the Treaty of Accession has foreign fishermen fishing up to our beaches in 1982.

Order. I allowed very long answers on these Questions. I realise that the House is deeply interested, but we shall have to move more quickly on other Questions.

Pig Industry

2.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a further statement about the future of the pig industry.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the actions of the EEC Commission with regard to aid for the United Kingdom pig industry.

17.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proposals he has to assist the United Kingdom pig industry.

19.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what effect the EEC Commission's actions under Article 135 of the Treaty of Accession will have on the pig industry; and whether he will make a statement.

I have secured a succession of Community measures to help our pig industry. The combined effect of these measures is to reduce significantly the level of payment on our pigmeat imports. For bacon imports payments are £86 per metric ton lower than they would otherwise have been. These measures, along with the recent improvement in the scheme of aids to private storage and increases in restitutions on Community exports to third countries, should help our pigmeat processing industry and strengthen our pig market. All this is helpful as far as it goes, but I have made it clear that it is not enough. What is needed is a fairer method of calculating monetary compensatory amounts in this sector, and I am continuing to press for this.

Does the Minister realise that many pig producers still do not appreciate that he has his hand fettered in the matter of monetary compensatory amounts? Will he make it clear that it does not rest only with him whether the MCAs are to be realigned?

Secondly, will he explain to pig producers that as long as there is a surplus of pigs in the Community and we are locked inside the common agricultural policy and all that implies there cannot be much hope for the expansion of home production?

I do not think that there can be much hope for the expansion of home production on the basis on which the hon. Gentleman was speaking. The fact is that we have been caught partly in our own normal British pig cycle as well as in a European pig cycle.

On the question of MCAs, the real villain of the piece is the high cost of cereals. I think that all pig producers know that. We are trying to tackle that problem.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the real evil has been his refusal to look at the value of the green pound? His pandering for urban votes by depressing food prices has resulted in the pig industry's being sold down the river by the Government. Is he prepared to negoiate a change in the value of the green pound in exchange for a change in the calculation of the MCAs?

I do not think that the second helpful suggestion would have quite the effect that the hon. Gentleman thinks it would. It is not a question of a green pound devaluation one way or the other, even if we could confine it to the pig issue and forget every other issue involved. If we simply devalue the green pound on a reasonable basis—I am not talking about the whole 30 per cent., because no one would go for that, but about 10 per cent.—in pure arithmetic, the cereal costs would outweigh it, or there would be so little difference that it would not be worth while. That is not the answer. The answer is a recalculation of the MCAs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition have themselves to blame for the situation in the pig industry and, indeed, in many other sectors of agriculture, in as much as they took us into the EEC and accepted a common agricultural policy which ties the hands of the British pig farmer and other farmers and denies my right hon. Friend and the Government the right to assist the pig industry and other industries? Will he therefore take steps to change completely and basically the common agricultural policy?

I have been taking some steps to change the common agricultural policy. However, I want to be fair to the Opposition. In fact, they are not altogether to blame for the pigmeat crisis. What is wrong is the basis of calculation of the MCAs. I think that on the whole they would probably agree with me about that. What I resent is that when I provide a national aid that results in £17 million going to British pig producers and am taken to court for it I do not get the whole-hearted support that I would like from the Opposition.

Is the Minister aware that we are somewhat surprised to hear him repeat today what he said before about the effect of the green pound devaluation on the pig industry? Has he seen the spirited rebuttals of those remarks by leaders of the pig producers, who say that devaluation of the green pound would dramatically help them? In view of this difference, will he consider having a joint meeting with the leaders of the pig producers and putting out a joint statement afterwards so that we may know whether they are right or he is?

They accepted my arithmetic. That is perfectly true. They said that in one of the statements I have seen. They draw somewhat different conclusions from it. What they cannot dispute with me is that there is a cereal balance in this. But I, in turn, ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on one question. If a devaluation of the green pound is the answer to the problems of British pig producers, why are the Danes and the Dutch so keen on our doing it?

Agriculture Industry

3.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the facilities for training within the horticulture industry.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

There has lately been a marked increase in the demand for horticultural training facilities, and I am assured that the Agricultural Training Board has effectively responded to this.

Are the Government planning severe cuts in grants to the Agricultural Training Board with respect to horticultural training, and, if so, why?

No, the Government are not planning any severe cuts in grants. The Agricultural Training Board increased its number of apprentices by 700 last year—a very creditable performance. It is true that the Board has announced that it will have to reduce to a limited extent the grant that it pays to employers in this sphere.

Will my hon. Friend say whether consideration has been given to job creation in the horticulture industry? Would it not be in line with the policy of "Food from our own resources" to approach local authorities that have available land and to start job creation schemes in those areas? Would this not meet the twin policies of the Government at this time?

That is a very valuable suggestion from my hon. Friend. My experience in my constituency is that these job creation schemes can play a vital r61e in a whole number of spheres. I can think of no more important role than increasing our food production.

Does the Minister agree that increased horticultural production in the Western Isles could substantially improve the prospects there? Will he ensure that adequate courses are available within the Western Isles, particularly at the new extention to the college of education there, to enable young people to come into this industry—something that could play a very valuable part in increasing prosperity in that part of the United Kingdom?

The provision of educational facilities is a matter for education Ministers, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Agricultural Training Board takes the view, quite rightly, that it should concentrate its emphasis in the future on the direct provision of training facilities rather than the payment of grants to employers to take on apprentices.

Agricultural Production

5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that current agricultural produce polices are adequate to cover increased costs.

The price decisions taken this year will provide a substantial improvement in the level of support for our farmers. Actual returns will, of course, depend on a variety of factors, including the weather.

Is the Minister satisfied that farming profits are such as to allow sufficient investment to meet the objective of the Government's own White Paper, "Food from our own resources", namely, a 2·5 per cent. increase in food production and a saving of about half a billion pounds in food import costs? Secondly, what is his Department's reaction to Mr. Gunderlach's criticism of the White Paper policy?

My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he rejects any criticism from Commissioner Gunderlach in relation to the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fairly stringent remarks that my right hon. Friend has expressed on that matter.

We cannot predetermine the level of profitability. It is certainly true that the drought last year had an adverse effect overall on the level of farm profits. What we can do is to provide adequate farm support prices, and the very significant increases that we have been able to achieve there augur well for the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as well as the farmers, who are beginning to complain about the common agricultural policy, the consumers in this country have every right to complain about this policy? Does he further agree that whatever our attitude to the Common Market we should try to scrap the common agricultural policy, which is working to the disadvantage of housewives in this country as well as that of the farming community?

I think that we should try to achieve fundamental changes in the common agricultural policy. It is because of the great importance that we attach to the need to hold down food prices that we fought so hard to minimise the increase in common prices at this year's agricultural price fixing. In consequence of that, the overall effect of the common agricultural policy on food prices this year will be less than 3 per cent.

As long as industry can recover its cost increases and agriculture is prevented from doing so, will the Minister explain how he sees the gap between average earnings in industry and average earnings in agriculture being reduced?

I do not think that it can be reasonably argued that anyone is preventing the agriculture industry from making higher profits. It will continue to make progress by investment and by increasing productivity.

As to earnings, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to farm workers' earnings there is a Question on that subject later on the Order Paper, but I can assure him that we still take the view that farm workers' earnings are deplorably low in relation to those of other sectors of the community.

Beef Production

6.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the returns so far achieved this year and with the prospects within the beef producing sector of the industry.

4.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied with the current viability of beef producers.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. Bishop)

Yes, Sir.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable fear within the industry that the returns, come winter and spring, will be too low, due to an inadequate target price? Bearing in mind the replies of his right hon. Friend, will the Minister consider the suggestion made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and agree that a devaluation of the green pound could correct the position? This could be beneficial in the beef sector and could also benefit the pig sector.

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows our policy with regard to devaluation of the green pound, but apart from that I draw his attention to the fact that the returns this year are, on average, 14 per cent. higher than a year ago. That was the position at mid-June. As to the future, the level of prices in March next will be £32 per live hundredweight. There is every reason, therefore, for confidence.

Is it not the case that we appear to be approaching the low point or the world beef production cycle? If that is so, will the Minister consider taking some initiative in the autumn? Above all, will he continue to ensure that Britain presses for the acceptance of these islands as the principal grassland producers of Western Europe?

I think that my hon. Friend's last point is an important one, because the future of the beef industry depends not only on the Government's policy but on the industry itself, with a better use of grassland, a better use of resources, better investment, and other aids towards productivity.

Has the Minister read the recent report from the little NEDC that production is dropping in every sector? Has the Minister observed that over the last two years of Socialist administration the consumer has not been getting the total amount of food from British farms that is required? Will he look at this matter again and see that the report is studied very carefully by his Department, and that incentives are given to rectify this position?

It was the hon. Gentleman's party who got rid of the fatstock guarantee. It was my right hon. Friend who, two years ago, put a floor in the market with the beef premium scheme, with intervention only as a fall-back. If the Opposition Front Bench had had its way it would have accepted the Commission's proposals, which would have meant that there would be a review of the premium scheme by July. Now we have a guarantee that this will continue at least until the end of the 1977–78 period. This should give confidence to the producers.

Fishing Limits

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will press for a time limit to negotiations for an equitable Internal Fisheries Régime within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

I fully accept the urgency, but I doubt whether there would be advantage in pressing for a time limit.

In view of the growing and intense pressures on the British fishing industry, is not there a case for setting a time limit? In this context, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government support the phasing out of historic right zones in the six to 12-mile limit, in view of their very firm commitment to maintaining an exclusive 12-mile limit in the negotiations?

It is our policy that the historic rights should be phased out— and, incidentally not necessarily only in our own narrow waters but in those of other countries, where some of our fishermen also do their fishing.

As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, the difficulty seems to me to be this: if any time limit is set, whether it be 1st August or 1st September, what happens when it is reached? We are trying to meet a situation in which a Council of nine members has to agree unanimously to something, and that is a very difficult proposition.

Is it not a fact that when the Tory Government dragged an unwilling Britain into the Common Market they were accepting a theme of free movement of capital and labour, which presumably means free movement of fishes and fishing boats from whichever country in the Community they come? Is not the logical answer—in line with the policy of the Tribune Group— to declare that the Common Market is an unmitigated disaster and to get Britain out? That must be the campaign not only of us but of my right hon. Friend.

I can only answer for my departmental duties as they are at present, and my departmental duties do not include my taking Britain out of the Common Market single handed. I must therefore deal with what I have, and what I have is what was left to us by Conservative Members. That means doing the best I can in extremely difficult circumstances.

With regard to the phasing out of historic rights within the 12-mile limit, will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government pay particular attention to the peculiar situation prevailing in the waters around Ulster, so as to ensure that the same rights are enjoyed by all United Kingdom fishermen?

Farmers' Unions

10.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he will next meet the presidents of the farmers' unions.

I have no specific plans for a meeting with the presidents, but my Department keeps in close touch with the industry on matters of interest.

In view of the fact that the French Government, through their controlling organisations, have once more closed their markets to our export of sheepmeat—causing price difficulties for our producers and even leading, perhaps, to the export of more live animals to France—will the Secretary of State be able to report to the presidents when he next meets them any action that is taken towards securing an interim sheepmeat régime in the CAP?

That is a very difficult question. This is a personal view, and I may be proved wrong, but I doubt whether there are any proposals for an interim régime capable of being accepted by all nine members of the Council. What I suspect will happen is that a little later in the autumn we shall get proposals for a definitive régime.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the next time he meets the farmers' unions leaders it is important that he discusses ways of implementing the fulfilment of the policy "Food from Our Own Resources" so that farmers can plan on a longer-term basis? Does he further agree that over the last two or three years there has been considerable uncertainty in farming circles as to how exactly they can plan for the future?

There is a great deal of truth in what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) says. Of course, despite what was said a moment ago, the Labour Government are not totally responsible for the drought two years in succession, and that had some effect on "Food from Our Own Resources". What I intend to do is to get an urgent up-dating of that White Paper. I should like to keep it continually under review so that whether one goes for a 2·5 per cent. projection or whatever one will always have some degree of certainty for farmers.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the presidents of the farmers' unions will he point out that if the Government accept their advice to phase out the MCAs the level of imported wheat would rise from about £50 a ton to about £80 a ton? That would thus give a price to the wholesalers of this country of roughly two or three times the world price, which would be a cost to the British consumer and a gain to the farmer, and the farmer alone.

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I said a moment ago in answer to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) that the high cereal prices was the villain of this piece. The fact is that this is what makes life difficult in some sections of the livestock industry and, indeed, for consumers as well.

We all welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement that "Food from our own resources" is going to be brought up to date. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to make absolutely clear in its successor how the laudable aims which are expressed are to be brought about?

Certainly. "Food from our own resources" was certainly based upon one proposition that is incontrovertible—it was written on the basis either of our continuing in the Common Market or of our leaving the Common Market. Some of the White Paper will have to have the position totally updated and will include a number of plans. Incidentally, I would also want it to deal more fully with horticulture than its predecessor did.

Common Agricultural Policy

12.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in the fundamental reform of the common agricultural policy since he assumed office as President of the Council of Ministers.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) yesterday when he set out the main decisions on agriculture and food taken within the European Community during the United Kingdom Presidency.

Since I did not see the answer to the Question I can only take it that it was nothing. Will the Minister spell out to the House what actual achievements he can record in the last six months, rather than what he is negotiating?

That would take a very long time. I think that Mr. Speaker would object if I were to spell out the list of achievements that we have set on record. I would isolate the most important one, which in my view is that the great weakness of the CAP is that it has set farm and food prices at far too high a level. In the last price fixing we held down the increase in common prices to 3½ per cent., which represented a fall, in real terms, in other member States. That represents the beginning of a very important change in the CAP. Furthermore, by securing a wholly Community-financed butter subsidy we made it clear that when there are surpluses they should be used to the benefit of our own consumers.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a considerable amount of substance in the policy that was agreed by all the Socialist Members of the Nine? If he accepts that, will he deny the rumour that is going around, which is perpetrated by the Tribune Group, that we wish to get out of the Common Market? Will my hon. Friend state whether the Department agrees that we would be better off in or out?

I can inform my hon. Friend that it is not the Government's policy to take Britain out of the Common Market. I can also inform my hon. Friend that we see considerable merit in some of the proposals put forward by him and his Socialist colleagues in the European Assembly. Furthermore, I can assure him that we have already set out on the road which he and his colleagues would like us to follow in this respect.

Does the Common Market agricultural policy permit France to prohibit imports of sheepmeat from Britain while apparently preventing Britain from prohibiting imports of pig-meat from Denmark, in both cases when the respective Governments believe their own industry to be threatened? If that is in accordance with the CAP, will the Minister try to negotiate the same freedom for us that the French apparently enjoy under the same policy?

The hon. Gentleman probably appreciates that there is a common regime that encompasses pigmeat but that there is no common regime that encompasses sheepmeat. Sheep is still outside the CAP. That is why we fix our own guaranteed price with deficiency payments and the rest.

East Anglian Horticulture Station

13.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress has been made towards the establishment of the proposed East Anglian Experimental Horticulture Station.

As my right hon. Friend, the Minister's predecessor, informed my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) on 6th August 1976, this project has been postponed as one of the Government's economy measures.

Can the Minister give an assurance to myself and to the House that this project has not been abandoned? Would he at least care to confirm that there will be no let-up in the amount of research and development that is so necessary in horticulture?

Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman strongly on the latter point. With regard to his former point, I can tell him that we believe that there is still a strong case for an experimental horticulture station in East Anglia and that it is simply an unfortunate casualty of the policy of containing public expenditure. However, it is still our intention to establish one.

Food Prices

14.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions he has held with the President of the EEC Commission concerning the price of food in the United Kingdom.

I have had no discussions personally with the President of the EEC Commission.

Although I recognise, as most people do, that if there were another referendum today the result would be reversed—

and that therefore the Common Market propaganda machine, which includes most of the British Press, has to go into action to try to justify the Common Market, nevertheless will the Minister tell Mr. Roy Jenkins, when he next comes to London to make speeches such as the one he made on 10th May of this year, that he should not try to fool the British public—[Interruption.]— with selected figures trying to show that the Common Market—[Interruption.]—

I think that it is the hon. Gentleman's own fault for saying on television last night that he was not interrupted. But I ask the House to allow the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) to put his supplementary question.

Mr. Jenkins used selective figures to try to show that the Common Market had not put up the price of food, when everyone in the country knows that it has caused a significant increase in the price of food and that there is cheaper food to be had outside the Common Market.

I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity to have rather long discussions with the President of the EEC Commission when he next comes to London—in fact, I believe that he is in London at the moment—but I do not think that it can seriously be argued in this House that the general price support levels and, therefore, the price of food in the Community are not extremely high. That was the whole purpose of the exercise of the last price review. I remember the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on one occasion eliciting from me that under the transitional steps the price of butter was liable to go up by 17p or 19p a pound before the end of the year. The whole basis of our attack and the getting of the butter subsidy was to try to prevent that happening. We can only keep up the pressure.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essence of the submission by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) is that his hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) had a dream called "Entering the Common Market" which has now turned out to be a nightmare, and that the burden of this nightmare, which has become a reality, is being borne by millions of people in rapid price increases which would have been much higher had it not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend?

We can on the Government Benches claim a great deal of credit for the fact that the price review finally decided was the lowest since we entered the Common Market. We can also point out that the rather optimistic accounts —I put it no higher than that—given to us at the time of entering the Common Market concerning the increase in food prices have proved totally unfounded.

Does the Minister agree that the British Presidency of the Council, in contrast to that of the Commission, has gone downhill all the way since 1st January and that the same applies to the Agricultural Council? Will the right hon. Gentleman redeem it a bit by admitting that it is not the CAP that is responsible for the bulk of food price increases but other factors?

I do not agree at all with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and certainly I do not agree about the Agricultural Council, where a change has taken place which, although it may not be very palatable to a number of our colleagues in Europe, is now a definite fact. I repeat what I have pointed out on a number of occasions. This was the first time that consumers were able to talk to the President of the Agricultural Council. A total sea change is taking place.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's second point, one of the basic facts that he must realise is that although it is true that since April CAP prices have not gone up much, because of our fight, they were inordinately high before.

When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Roy Jenkins will he draw to his attention the fact that his speech on 10th May was an attempt to whitewash the very real fact that food prices have gone up as a result of the transitional arrangements following our entry into the Common Market? Will he also point out that Mr. Roy Jenkins, contrary to what some of his friends on this side of the House say, deliberately attempted to mislead the British people in that speech about the movement of food prices?

There is one thing that must be said about Mr. Roy Jenkins. I gather that he also has taken the view that prices in the Common Market should not be allowed to rise. That means two things. The first is that he will, I hope, fight for us in our battle. The second is that he recognises that prices are too high.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if he will state his public engagements for 30th June.

This morning I presided at the final session of the meeting of the European Council and was later host at a lunch for participants in the meeting. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

On this last day of the British Presidency in Europe, does not the Prime Minister rather regret that in the eyes of the country and the EEC the past six months have been characterised much less by initiatives and achievements on the part of this country and much more by a resurgence of anti-European feeling within his own party?

The six months of the British Presidency have been marked by a very efficient conduct of business and by progress in a number of areas, at least one or two of which I hope to be able to report at 3.30 today —[Interruption.] On the contrary, it needs nine to come to an agreement on anything, and that takes quite a lot of doing.

As for the resurgence of anti-European or anti-Common Market feeling, some of my hon. Friends are reflecting a feeling in the country of exasperation about conditions generally, which they are wrongly relating to membership of the European Community. As there is no practical prospect of our leaving the Community, it is better that we combine and direct our efforts to reforming the features about it which do not suit British convenience. Of those, the agricultural policy is certainly one.

If my right hon. Friend has a little time on his hands today, will he take time to examine the company accounts of that squalid little man George Ward, who apparently has not sent the accounts to Companies House in compliance with the law? Does not my right hon. Friend get a little sick of watching George Ward on television night after night, along with some of his colleagues on the Tory Benches, pontificating about upholding the letter of the law when he is not carrying it out himself?

I have not watched him every night on television—I understand that he has now complied by submitting his accounts—but I see no reason to depart from the view, which I hold very strongly, that no one should be dismissed from any firm or company for the simple act of belonging to a trade union.

Because of what the Prime Minister has just said, I should like to ask him two questions. First, in view of his reply to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), is he aware that in our own Industrial Relations Act 1971, which he repealed, we enshrined the right to join a trade union? Is he also aware—and if not, will he make inquiries about it—that there are at the moment some three people on the staff at Grun-wick who are members of unions and who have been since the dispute started? That does not fit in very well with the sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expressed about people not being allowed to join a union.

I am sure that in the Industrial Relations Act 1971 there must have been something good. [Interruption.] It was a bad Act and the Opposition know that it was a bad Act. That is why it was repealed. I can see that we can anticipate a very interesting debate later today, and I do not propose to go too far into it now. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition, in the question that she is putting, is affirming the right of ordinary employees to belong to a trade union—[HON. MEMBERS: "And not to belong."]—and not to be dismissed simply for that reason.

Not only am I affirming it, I am pointing out that there are apparently three people at Grunwick who have been members of unions since before the dispute started. Therefore, it cannot be alleged correctly that people have been dismissed because they have joined a trade union. On one occasion last week the Prime Minister himself alleged that people had been dismissed for joining a union, but when he was asked to name them, neither he nor the Department of Employment could answer.

I have no doubt that these matters will be gone into in greater detail in the course of the debate today. Until it is proved to the contrary, I must say that I adhere to my view that there is every reason to believe that people have been dismissed for membership of trade unions. That is a fundamental principle, and I ask the right hon. Lady to deny that this is so if she knows so much about it.

Will the Prime Minister join me in leaving it to a court of law to decide this matter and not to make judgments previously?

With respect, membership of a trade union is not something that should be left to a court of law—

The hon. Gentleman is not the best man to talk about hooligans. The simple principle, which I thought should be affirmed and which I thought was generally agreed by the whole House—but apparently I am wrong —is that membership of a trade union is the right of every individual employes, and not merely of three individuals in any firm.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 30th June.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle).

Will the Prime Minister answer today the letter I sent him at the weekend about trade union membership? Will he accept from me that people in the Conservative Party of course believe in enshrining the right of any person in this country to be free to join a trade union but also believe in enshrining the right of any person not to join a trade union? Will he join me in sponsoring a motion in this House upholding both these freedoms?

I shall look into the question of a reply to the hon. Member, although I am not certain about the letter to which he is referring. I cannot undertake to reply today. On the second part of his question, I am glad that he is catching up with the principle that should have been apparent to the Conservative Party for the last 100 years.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the Conservative Party's attitude over this matter shows up the transparent hypocrisy of the so-called rapprochement between it and the trade union movement? Does he further agree that after a General Election victory by the Conservatives—which God forbid—there would be a period of social disruption that would rip the country apart because of the stance that they have taken on this issue?

I find it a little difficult to define the attitude of the Conservative Party. I think that Conservatives are very divided in their views on this matter. Half of them, in one part of their minds, know what is right in principle, and the other half cannot fail to make political capital out of a very difficult situation.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people in the House must feel that the whole question is very complex and not subject to a simple answer? Is he further aware that when he asked the Leader of the Opposition whether she felt that a man should be free to join a trade union, she answered quite unequivocally "Yes"? Will the Prime Minister answer "Yes" or "No" equally unequivocally to the question whether a man should be free not to join a trade union?

Within the limits laid down in the matter of agreements supported by the Conservative Party and others on issues like closed shop, the answer is "Yes".

Will the Prime Minister consider taking time off from his public engagements today to broadcast to the nation? Following last week's debate on the Price Commission, it is quite clear that a prices free-for-all is the cornerstone of Tory policy.

I think that the 31-hour debate last week showed clearly that the Conservative Party is as much out of tune with the public on this issue as it is on many others. I hope that it will be possible to point out that the whole purpose of the Conservative opposition to the Prices Bill last week was to weaken, omit, and ensure in every way that price control is as flexible as possible, against the interests of the public.

Does the Prime Minister accept that there are disagreements between both sides about the limit of the right of belonging and not belonging to a trade union? However, the present law, enacted by this House, defines these rights clearly. Will he endorse that these rights should be determined through the courts and the procedures laid down, instead of through industrial warfare conducted in the streets?

I find it difficult to answer a general proposition of that sort. It is my experience, after a long record of trade union membership, that the more the courts stay out of industrial relations the better. This was a basic mistake that the Conservative Party made earlier, and I would have hoped that Conservatives would learn from that. There matters are better settled outside the courts.

European Community (Heads Of Government Meeting)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister what matters were discussed with Heads of Governments of EEC member States at the recent summit; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I hope to make a statement after Questions on the meeting of the European Council.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would keep his supplementary question until after Question Time.

Cbi

Q5.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) on 17th February.

As I am not able to refer immediately to that answer, will the Prime Minister say whether he has discussed with the CBI its latest statement of intention to invest? Did he put to it the view of the Leader of the Opposition that the only financial incentive at present is to disinvest? Does he agree that the figures of the CBI show burgeoning expansion of investment by British industry?

When I meet the CBI from time to time, this issue is discussed. It was discussed when I met industrial leaders 10 days ago to consider industrial strategy. There are signs of a beginning of an increase in investment, and the signs for 1978 are that it will be very substantial indeed. I hope that these intentions will be carried through.

When the Prime Minister next meets the CBI will he feel it his duty to tell it that in his opinion, whatever the merits of what has been going on inside Grunwick, he regards the scenes outside as representing the unacceptable face of trade unionism?

I am quite capable of making my own comments to the CBI on these matters, just as I have made them in the House on many occasions. The hon. Member does not make it any better by asking me to repeat them now.

European Council Meeting

With permission, I should like to make a short statement on the meeting of the European Council, which concluded at lunch-time today. Two statements have been issued on growth, inflation and unemployment and on the Middle East, and both have been placed in the Library of the House.

The European Council reviewed economic developments since our meeting in Rome and recognised the need for a sustained expansion of world economic activity consistent with a further reduction of the rate of inflation and of unemployment.

Unemployment was a leading theme of our discussions, particularly employment of young people and of women, and I was able to report to the other Heads of Government details of the youth opportunities programme which was announced to the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. This initiative was very much welcomed.

Following the last European Council, I wrote to the Chairman of the Governors of the European Investment Bank asking for proposals from the Bank to promote investment and employment. I reported to the Council that in reply the Chairman has given a positive indication of an immediate expansion in the Bank's activities which could lead to lending within the Community of about £750 million in 1977 and £1 billion in 1978.

Members of the Council emphasised the importance of the commitments made by some Heads of Government to the achievement of specific growth targets in 1977 and emphasised the need to promote stability and to seek expansion through export-led growth.

We invited the Commission to study certain sectors of industries in our countries which are adversely affected by structural changes in the economy, whilst adhering to the view that a liberal commercial policy was in the best interests of the Community and of the world as a whole.

I was able to bring other Heads of Government up to date on the passage of events in Southern Africa, including an account of the discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. It was agreed that the situation is growing in seriousness, and the Foreign Ministers will continue to exchange views in order to achieve a concerted policy.

There was a useful exchange of views on East-West relations and President Giscard reported on the recent visit to Paris of President Brezhnev.

The statement on the Middle East affirmed that all aspects of Security Council Resolutions Nos. 242 and 338 must be taken into account and our statement reflects the leading rôle which the United States has in promoting negotiations for a peace settlement. It was, nevertheless, the view of the Heads of Government that a statement by the Nine at this stage would make clear our view of the need for progress in further negotiations.

This was a useful but not dramatic meeting which enabled us to review existing policies and, where necessary, to adapt them to a changing situation.

That statement was made at breakneck speed.

May I ask the Prime Minister two questions? First, in regard to JET, which I do not think was mentioned in the statement, we are disappointed that there has been no attempt to secure JET for Culham, because we believe that that is the best place to have that project. The research at Culham is among the foremost in the world, and it is important for us to seek further to develop nuclear fusion at Culham. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether there has been any advance on that situation?

Secondly, does he remember that the first statement which he made on this year's summitry, the Downing Street summit, finished up with the intention of those who signed the communique to secure the momentum of economic recovery? Is he aware that that momentum already appears to have been lost, since the growth that was forecast has been revised downwards, and our growth forecast appears to have been revised the most downwards of all?

On the question of JET, the right hon. Lady is aware that for a long time now the Government have been making the case for Culham against strong opposition. This needs agreement, and we have not yet achieved it. There are other areas which are regarded as being as good.

I believe that we are losing a great deal of time and that if Europe is not careful the team of scientists will be dispersed and will go to the United States or elsewhere. I pointed this out vigorously at the meeting. If Europe is unable to agree on this project, I fear that no individual country in Europe can handle it on its own, and the Government should then try to get, if possible, a trilateral or quadrilateral arrangement among some other countries—I do not know whether it would be possible—so that at least we could keep the project within Europe even if it were not a European project. I do not want to be over-optimistic on that aspect, however. We have asked the Foreign Ministers to consider this matter in July with a view to reaching a final conclusion then. I ask the scientific team at Culham to wait for a further month in hope that we can push the project through. But this is one of the areas where the Nine have to agree.

I was asked about economic recovery. I agree that much momentum seems to have been dissipated. The countries which should be maintaining a high rate of growth have not deliberately slowed down. The reason for the loss of momentum is probably not within their full comprehension. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] These factors in the world today are beyond understanding in traditional terms. But the view was brought home to those countries which provide the motor of the Western economy that the faster the growth they can achieve, the better the chance of reducing unemployment. But at the moment I cannot see unemployment being substantially reduced throughout Europe as a whole through those means.

My right hon. Friend said that problems of unemployment and economic policy were at the centre of these discussions. Has he had an account of a statement made publicly this morning on the radio by Mr. Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC, that he was bitterly disappointed at the effort made in the Common Market to deal with the problem of unemployment? In view of that view, expressed responsibly by the TUC, is it not time for Britain to take action on its own by cancelling the IMF loan and supporting a policy of reflation without delay?

I do not know when Mr. Murray was on the radio, but I discussed this matter with him and members of the European TUC at 8 o'clock this morning. He gave me his personal views on the situation. If I can go on blowing my modest trumpet, I met the European employers at 8.30 this morning and they, too, expressed disappointment about the rate of recovery. However, my hon. Friend wants me to go a great deal wider on the matter of the IMF loan. That did not come up at the meeting today. Perhaps I may say, in passing, that before we cancel any further aspects of that loan, we need to consider the effect of so doing on international confidence in Britain, which is now very high indeed.

Will the Prime Minister comment on reports from New York that our delegation has been instructed to support the provision of material assistance to the armed forces of Mozambique? Does this mean that we shall send arms to fight against Rhodesia? Will instructors—civilian, if not military—go with them? Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the full implications of all this?

This matter did not come up at our discussions today and I am not in a position to give the right hon. Gentleman an answer on it.

Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity to discuss with his colleagues, formally or informally, the progress of direct elections in their countries and the chance of meeting the target date of June next year?

Yes. We all gave an account of where we had got to. I drew the deduction that we were as far ahead as any of the other countries.

Although I welcome recognition that the Palestinian people must be present to put forward their viewpoint on the Middle East, may I ask whether there was general acceptance that this would be unlikely to happen unless and until the sovereignty and independence of Israel were first recognised by the Arab States and by the PLO?

Secondly will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the three applicants—Greece Turkey and Portugal—have had their applications accepted in principle and that it is merely a question of the timing of the machinery? Thirdly, did he deduce from his eight partners that they were as resolute and determined to move towards direct elections as is the Prime Minister? If so, which were more so and which were less so?

At my request a sentence was inserted in the document on the Middle East to the effect that it remained our firm view that all aspects must be taken as a whole. That referred to matters such as the respecting of sovereignty, the territorial independence of Israel and living within secure borders, as much as to the question of the Palestinians and the prospect of a homeland for them. In our view all these issues are a ball of wax and they must be taken together. That is my strong view.

Applications for membership have been received from Greece and Portugal and both are now being processed. The Greek application is further advanced than the Portuguese application, on which a vue d'ensemble will be taken in the near future. It will be for the Community to decide how the negotiations will be conducted thereafter. Portugal is bound to have a long transitional period, and that is recognised by the Portuguese Government.

Can the Prime Minister say whether, when he had discussions with his EEC colleagues on the problem of youth unemployment, he found that they had any proposals comparable with those announced by the British Government a few days ago? Will it be possible for the TUC and CBI and their counterparts in Europe to see what united action they could endeavour to undertake to assist youth unemployment, not only in this country but throughout the EEC?

It is fair to say that the bold and imaginative scheme which was put forward yesterday, and which I described to the Council, was received with considerable satisfaction. Other countries have schemes, but not on that scale. At the tripartite conference last week between the trade unions, employers and Government, a proposal was made that we should co-ordinate our efforts in this direction. At least Britain can claim to be in the lead in the task of ensuring that young people who are out of work will be given a period of training or further education.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the comparative failure of this conference has in no way been relieved by the dangerous and explosive statement about the Middle East? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that many people believe that what has been said is way outside Resolution No. 242 and that it sets up new stresses which could be a great danger and which could lead to a heightening of tension in the Middle East?

It is clear from hon. Members' comments that there is more than one view on that. I beg the right hon. Gentleman, as one who has great influence in Israel, to take my word that the statement does not involve any new language. It puts a number of things together that have been set out on different occasions in the past, but it should not excite anyone in Israel, in particular, to think that the basic situation has changed. A period of negotiation is needed. The purpose of the statement was not to excite people on either side but to indicate our view of the conditions under which negotiations should be conducted.

The Prime Minister said in his statement that discussions took place about industries adversely affected by structural change. Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the French President the measures that have been taken in France to deal with the short-term crisis in the textile industry, pending the next phase of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement? In view of the similar serious situation in respect of developments in the British cotton textile industry, will my right hon. Friend give consideration to similar measures to provide short-term help for that industry?

My hon. Friend emphasised the words "short-term", and I understand his point, because the real solution is to re-negotiate the MFA. I did not discuss this with the French President, and it might have been a sensitive subject for him, since his measures have been ruled out of order by the Commission and, presumably, he will have to make some changes. If my hon. Friend has some other proposals to put forward that would enable the industry in the short term to continue, for example, with the temporary employment subsidy, I suggest that he should see the Secretary of State for Trade.

Order. I propose to call only three more hon. Members from each side, because there are two other statements to follow.

In his report to the conference on his conversations with Marshal Brezhnev, did the President of the French Republic say what sort of reaction he had had during his conversations with the Marshal on the subject of Basket III of the Helsinki Agreement and, in particular, on the treatment of those citizens of the Soviet Union who have been monitoring progress on human rights since the signing of the Helsinki Agreement?

Yes, Sir. President Giscard d'Estaing gave some account of his conversations with President Brezhnev on a confidential basis, and I regret that, therefore, I cannot undertake to indicate what was said by him on this matter.

Can the Prime Minister say whether there was any discussion about the threat to employment in the Community arising out of Japanese exports to the Community from a whole range of industries? Can my right hon. Friend say whether any progress in this matter can be expected in the near future?

There was discussion on the general matter and discussion of countries not only paying lip service to the idea of free trade in these areas but being as willing to accept free trade on the import side as they are on the export side. I cannot say whether we shall make any progress, but this is one of the issues that the Commission has been asked to consider in connection with some of our sensitive industries in Europe.

What progress did the right hon. Gentleman make in persuading his Common Market colleagues about specific reforms of the common agriculture policy? Did the right hon. Gentleman achieve a common front on the Belgrade Conference? How did he explain to the other eight Heads of Government that a significant number of his colleagues in the Cabinet will shortly be voting against direct elections to Europe?

We did not discuss the CAP on this occasion because it has been discussed recently and will be discussed again by the Agriculture Ministers. On Belgrade, there is a common front among most—and probably all—European countries. There are differences in nuance, but basically we do not want a polemical exchange at Belgrade. We want to put our position firmly on human rights and the freedom of people to move into and out of their countries.

We discussed direct elections, and there was great interest in the matter. I do not want to be unfair to any of my colleagues in other Governments, but I have a feeling that their parliaments—and not just their parties—are much more docile than this one.

Did the Prime Minister discuss direct elections, and has he carefully studied paragraph 50 in Schedule 4 to the European Assembly Elections Bill, under which it would be possible for a candidate to stand in an election, get not one single vote from any voter but nevertheless be declared elected? Did the Prime Minister point out to his European colleagues that the British public is likely to think that that is something of a flaw?

That is an interesting point that had previously escaped me. However, I am sure it will be deployed eloquently and at length during the course of the debates on the Bill.

In the course of his statement the Prime Minister referred to a loss of economic momentum in the world, and, equally, inside the Community. Are not the Council and the Prime Minister concerned that the accession of Spain, Portugal, Greece and possibly, one hopes, Turkey will delay the economic recovery of the Community? Therefore, did the Community take a broader look at its future direction and where it is going? If not, is it not time that it did?

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the accession of four countries but two have not yet even made application so it is not worth while spending time and consideration in the middle of the present recession on what would be the consequences if those countries now belonged to the Community. Neither Greece or Portugal will be a full member of the Community for some time.

As to the future shape of the Community, this is a serious and important problem. As the Community stretches and becomes larger, its character will inevitably change. This is not a new thought. I have expressed it constantly in the House. The Community is open to accession by any democratic country, and these consequences will inevitably follow.

Will the Prime Minister clear up the scientific and economic nonsense implicit in his statement that the JET project can stay in this country only if we make a bigger contribution to the European budget? Does he not agree that with world leadership in this area established by our brilliant engineers and scientists, Britain can go it alone if necessary and does not need the partnership of European nations? Why do we not turn, if necessary, towards the United States and establish further development at Culham on that basis?

My hon. Friend is mistaken. There is nothing in the statement that relates the destination of the JET project to an increase in our contribution to the European budget. My hon. Friend must have misheard that. In regard to going it alone, this is a scientific and technical matter, and my advice is that, in terms of cost and perhaps technology, it would not be possible for us to go it alone. Therefore, I do not recommend that. The United States has its own research project and, although I am among the first to wish to link with the United States, it is an area, especially in view of Europe's shortage of energy and its over-extended reliance on Middle East oil, where Europe should be getting down to the project as quickly as it can, even though it is not likely to come to fruition until the end of the century. It needs an act of wisdom and generosity by the other EEC countries for this to be done—otherwise, we must see what we can negotiate. I am doubtful whether we shall be able to make an arrangement, although I should regard it as the Government's responsibility to try.

Business Of The House

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 4TH JULY—Supply (26th Allotted Day): there will be a debate on a motion by the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru on the salary of the Prime Minister.

Remaining stages of the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill [Lords].

TUESDAY 5TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Bill [Lords] and the Torts (Interference with Goods) Bill [Lords].

Consideration of any Lords amendments which may be received to the Redundancy Rebates Bill.

Motion on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline (Continuation) Order.

WEDNESDAY 6TH JULY and THURSDAY 7TH JULY— Second Reading of the European Assembly Elections Bill.

At the end on Thursday, motions on Ministers' and Members' pay and secretarial allowance.

FRIDAY 8TH JULY—Remaining stages of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill.

MONDAY 11TH JULY—Private Members' motions until 7 o'clock.

It is expected that the Chairman of Ways and Means will name opposed Private Business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

What are the Lord President's intentions about the direct elections Bill, which is to have its Second Reading next week? As it seems unlikely that the Bill will reach the statute book this Session—indeed, it is not expected or intended to do so—is he expecting to give an opportunity for a decision to be made on the method of election before the House rises for the summer? It will be necessary to do so in order that when the Bill comes back, if the Government are still in power in the autumn, it will be better constructed than it is at present.

We all know that the Government will be here when we come back in the autumn. There is no doubt about that. It would be much more in accordance with normal practice if we had the Second Reading debate as we have announced. When the House has made a decision, we can see how to proceed to the next stage.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate soon on the sugar industry, because our membership of the EEC means that 2,000 port refinery jobs will be threatened in the near future?

I cannot promise an immediate debate, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will seek means of raising this subject in the House.

Have this Government of planners a plan for when the House will go into recess for the summer?

We do not yet have a date. As soon as we have fixed it, we shall let the House know—and I hope that we shall have the enthusiastic support of the hon. Gentleman on that subject, if on nothing else.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Standing Committee on the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill has not yet reached decisions on a number of key issues in relation to the Bill and that these will have to be gone over very carefully on Friday next week? Would he consider the unusual, but not unprecedented, step of recommitting the Bill to a Committee of the whole House so that we are not limited by Report stage procedures but can consider it under Committee Stage procedures and take the remaining stages on the same day?

I am doubtful whether that would be the best procedure. I should have thought that the normal Report stage procedure was the best way of proceeding. Since my hon. Friend has raised the point, I shall look into it, but I can give him no encouragement that we shall think that this is the right way to proceed. I hope that we can complete the Bill next Friday. I know that there are important matters to be discussed but I think that they can all be discussed on Report.

Has the attention of the Leader of the House been drawn to the fact that there is another potentially very unpleasant industrial dispute in the South-West at Channing Wood Prison with pickets protesting outside the prison regarding a Home Office building contract? I do not want to press the matter or to make things more difficult today, but would the right hon. Gentleman convey to the appropriate Home Office Minister that we shall expect a statement next week if this incident is not speedily resolved?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has written to my right hon. Friend, who is carefully considering the representations that have been made. Whether there should be a statement next week is another question, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Has my right hon. Friend seen Early-Day Motion No. 383 concerning the effect of a price increase in school meals? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science or the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an early statement, preferably saying that the proposal is to be abandoned?

[ That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to withdraw its proposals to increase the price of school meals by 10p per meal per day planned to take effect in September 1977, believing that the increases proposed will undermine the value of the child benefit scheme, will cause hardship for the families of working people at a time of high inflation, will undermine the school meals service and cause further job losses, and will damage the nutritional intake of children.]

I have seen the motion and I note that it has widespread support on this side of the House. I am sure that this will be taken into account by the Ministers concerned, but I cannot say that there will be a statement on the subject next week.

As the Report stage of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill will follow quickly on the Committee stage, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that all the documents related to the Bill in Committee, including the copies of Hansard and, particularly, the Bill as amended, will be available in good time for amendments to be put down on Report?

We shall do everything possible to ensure that all the documents are available to the House. I hope that there will not be any hold-up in this respect. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be eager to assist the House in getting the Bill through so that we do not have it held up. I certainly take note of the important point that he has raised.

Has the Lord President's attention been drawn to the recent Second Report of the Select Committee on "Violence in the family" which recommends that there should be an early debate on the problems of battered wives? In view of the considerable public as well as parliamentary concern about the issues involved, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate fairly soon?

If we are to announce the date for which I was asked earlier, we shall not have a great deal of time for all the matters that the House wishes to debate. This subject has been pressed by others of my hon. Friends. I shall look at it afresh to see whether time is available, but I cannot make any promises.

When the Leader of the House has become fully aware of the glaring defects in the direct elections Bill—as he will at least by next Thursday —will he consider withdrawing the Bill rather than wasting the time of the House in going through the Committee and Report stages of a Bill that is beyond power to be remedied?

I would have thought that what the hon. Member has said would be in order on the Second Reading of the Bill. I await with interest the speech that he may make on that occasion.

In view of the problems facing the footwear industry, will my right hon. Friend arrange for a debate on footwear as soon as possible?

Once again, I cannot promise a debate. I know that many of my hon. Friends are much concerned with the situation. They have raised it with me and with the Secretary of State for Trade. I shall have further conversations with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to see what can be done to meet the representations that have been made.

The Government have not so far tabled a motion for the House to consider after the EEC elections Bill gets its Second Reading next Thursday. Does that mean that the Government intend that the Committee be taken on the Floor of the House?

I suppose that the Committee stage of a Bill of this constitutional character would have to be taken on the Floor of the House.

On the question of Greater London affairs, will my right hon. Friend reconsider his earlier answer about having debates in other places in the House? In view of the references made by people such as the present Leader of the GLC—which would do credit to any Reichstag—about changes for the people of London, and since these issues are so serious, will my right hon. Friend consider a debate on the affairs of London on the Floor of the House? When considering the matter, will he bear in mind the serious, almost Fascist, statements that have been made by the present Leader of the GLC?

I know that there are serious issues to be raised that affect London. As I have indicated before, we shall not have time, before the House goes into the Summer Recess, to debate all the serious issues. I shall take all representations into account, but hon. Members must recognise that all their claims cannot be met.

Last Monday the White Paper on transport was published. This is one of the most extensive reviews of transport for some time. Is the Leader of the House aware that many hon. Members want the opportunity to discuss this, bearing in mind that transport, although it has done better this year, has not had the attention it deserves in recent years?

I appreciate the hon. Member's acceptance that the House has done better recently in debating transport. The Government provided time for some of those discussions Of course, there will have to be a debate on the White Paper, but I cannot promise that it will be before the recess.

Grunwick Processing Laboratories Limited

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the dispute at Grunwick Processing Laboratories Limited.

During the past week or so I have had a number of meetings with the parties concerned. I have discussed the situation with the Managing Director of the company, Mr. Ward, and his advisers, and with the General Secretary of APEX, Mr. Grantham. I have attempted to explore with both sides how sufficient progress might be made towards resolving the issues in dispute and to defuse the explosive situations which exist on the picket line and elsewhere. These escalating troubles must be laid to rest before they do more damage.

During the course of the discussions I considered very hard in what way progress might best be made. I formed the conclusion that, if the parties were able to give me certain assurances, I should appoint an independent mediator to investigate the circumstances of the dispute, to make recommendations to the parties, and to report to me. I wrote to Mr. Ward and Mr. Grantham last Friday to say that I would appoint a mediator if they would agree to co-operate with him and abide by his recommendations The union was prepared to give me these assurances, but, despite long discussions, I have been unable to persuade Mr. Ward and his advisers to agree to abide by a mediator's recommendations. In view of this, I have come to the conclusion, very regretfully, that the appointment of a mediator would not bring about any early progress.

The Government have been considering what further steps might be taken, since it is clear that matters cannot be allowed to go on like this. I have, therefore, today appointed a court of inquiry under the Industrial Courts Act 1919. Its terms of reference are:
"To inquire into the causes and circumstances of, and relevant to, the dispute, other than any matter before the High Court until the final determination of those proceedings, and to report."
These terms allow all the circumstances and issues involved to be examined, other than the ACAS recommendation on union recognition, the validity of which is being challenged by the company in High Court proceedings which begin next week.

The chairman of the court of inquiry will be the right hon. Lord Justice Scar-man. The other members will be Mr. J. P. Lowry, Director of Personnel, British Leyland Limited and formerly Director of the Engineering Employers' Federation; and Mr. Terence Parry, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union. I have asked the court to begin its work with the greatest urgency.

Courts of inquiry under the 1919 Act are not set up lightly. This is only the second since 1972. But this has been a very long, bitter and damaging dispute, which still shows signs of widening. I believe that a court of inquiry is now the right course. Over the years, courts of inquiry have brought about the resolution of other disputes that were equally damaging and intractable.

To do so the court needs every possible help. First, it will be looking for full co-operation from the parties. I would urge them to give it every assistance and to help it expedite its proceedings.

Secondly, and this is most important, it needs to be able to proceed in a reasonably calm atmosphere. Action by either party aimed at reinforcing entrenched positions, including mass picketing or any other action that might lead to breaches of the law, does not help. I would appeal to both APEX and Grunwick to consider whether their behaviour is calculated to increase the chances of achieving a peaceful solution of the dispute. I am very well aware of the strength of feeling of both parties to the dispute, but I think that I am entitled to urge this upon them and upon others involved. I would also hope that this appeal will have the full support of the TUC and the CBI.

Finally, the court's attempt to seek a peaceful solution needs the full support of the whole House. I am confident that this will be forthcoming. I hope that any statements made now, or in the debate that we are to have later, will be of a kind that will help and not hinder this effort to find a peaceful solution.

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is essential that this inquiry should take place in a calm atmosphere and that we should start by a resolution to that effect in the House today? Is he aware that if that calm atmosphere is to be maintained, it is essential that picketing outside Grunwick be reduced to no more than the level of a few weeks ago, and that it should remain at that level during the whole of the court of inquiry?

Secondly, may I take it from what the Secretary of State said that the Post Office workers will lift their ban? Does he accept that that is an essential prerequisite to the court of inquiry? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] It really must be an essential prerequisite that the law is upheld. Is the Secretary of State further aware that, given these two essential prerequisites—the level of picketing and the lifting of the ban—hon. Members on this side of the House would urge full co-operation by both parties with the inquiry?

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not trying to put conditions on the support that his party will give to this court of inquiry. As to the calm atmosphere and the relationship between that and the number of pickets, the violence that has accompanied certain of the demonstrations outside the plant is something I greatly deplore, but that was not related only to the number of pickets. It was related also to the actions of a number of people there. I have every reason to believe that the general secretary of APEX will seek to co-operate fully with the police in every way he can to avoid any further violence or disturbances outside the plant.

On the Post Office ban, I am not laying down conditions for this court of inquiry. If I could have obtained assurances and conditions that would have enabled a mediator to do his work properly, I should not have come here today to announce this court of inquiry. What I am doing is appealing to all those concerned to give the utmost co-operation to this inquiry and to ensure an atmosphere in which it has the best possible chance of resolving this dispute.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether Mr. Ward's intransigent refusal to have a mediator was inspired and instructed by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst), who is advising him? Did he conduct the negotiations or did Mr. Ward? If, when the result of the court of inquiry is known, the management still proves intransigent and refuses to accept the result, can he confirm that the union has every right to pursue its lawful grievance and to get people to join the union or not to join it as the case may be?

It is the case that in my meetings with Mr. Ward of Grunwick the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) acted as spokesman throughout almost the whole of those discussions.

However, I have no reason to believe that he was not representing the views of Mr. Ward or the directors of Grunwick, and I do not challenge the right of Mr. Ward to decide who should act as spokesman for him. As to whether the company, or the union for that matter, will abide by the recommendations that may be produced by this court of inquiry, I believe that it would be a grave matter if either party were to ignore the recommendations of a court of such high standing, consisting as it does of an eminent judge and two highly-regarded industrial relations experts, who will lay their report before both Houses of Parliament.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome his statement and compliment the Government on the inquiry that they have set up? Is he further aware that we particularly compliment him on the membership of the inquiry, especially the fact that a member of the judiciary is to be the chairman? We hope that that implies support for the judiciary and can be taken as an indication of that.

Is he finally aware that we support his appeal to all sides of the dispute to co-operate with the inquiry? Will he understand that if anyone, from inside or outside the factory, attempts to interfere with the proper conduct of the inquiry, he will be dealt with in proper fashion by the law of the land and by the upholders of the law, that is, the police, who have our admiration and support in the actions they have taken?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his most ready response to my appeal for the fullest support for the inquiry. As for his welcome comments about the membership of the court, I am very grateful for the ready response I received from the three men who have undertaken to form the court and their willingness to make themselves available at very short notice to conduct an inquiry that has to be regarded as a matter of urgency and great concern.

If this firm had such a brilliant case, one would have thought that it would readily have accepted the principle of a mediator, that it would have said "We welcome this, because we have a perfect case." Instead of that, my right hon. Friend—his behaviour and that of his Department have been absolutely first rate—now has to set up a court of inquiry. The straight question which must be asked of my right hon. Friend again is if, on advice from certain people, this management says, "We will not cooperate," what he will do about that.

I rarely try to avoid a question, but I ask my right hon. Friend to allow me to avoid this one. To presume to consider what will happen if this court does not achieve the purpose for which it is set up will raise possibilities that we do not wish to consider. I hope that the whole House will wish to work on the assumption that the court can make an important contribution to the resolution of the dispute.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Grunwick management will co-operate in every way it possibly can with this court of inquiry? Is he further aware that it will give the most careful consideration to any recommendations? Is he further aware that it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for it to co-operate if undue duress is exercised upon it at the time the inquiry takes place?

Finally, can he say when this court of inquiry will be sitting? Will it be at the same time as the High Court and any other court proceedings? If so, how does he imagine that it will be possible for the management of Grunwick to be in two places at the same time?

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about the cooperation of the firm with the inquiry. I regret that he should have cast doubts upon that undertaking by his references to its being dependent upon whether certain actions are judged as placing the firm under duress. I hope that that may be set aside. As to the times of the sitting of the court, I am confident that Lord Justice Scarman will very much appreciate the needs of both parties to the dispute to deploy their case in the High Court action and will arrange the sittings of his court accordingly.

Did my right hon. Friend notice the final part of the question of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) in which he said that the court of inquiry may be stultified not only by the immediate proceedings pending in the High Court but by subsequent proceedings, which may even mean appeals to the House of Lords, and could take many weeks? Will he recommend to the court of inquiry that it should get on with the job as quickly as possible in order to stultify any more obstruction by the hon. Member?

I shall certainly recommend to the court of inquiry that it proceed as a matter of urgency with its task. In asking people to participate in the court I had that very much in mind, and they are aware of it. As to the possibility of High Court action conflicting in some way with the progress of the inquiry, I do not subscribe to the view that that could occur, since the terms of reference are specific in excluding any consideration of the matter before the High Court. I am sure that we can rely upon the court of inquiry to avoid trespassing on any matters which would be sub judice as a result of the High Court proceedings.

While one welcomes the fact that a court of inquiry under so very distingished a chairman will enable the facts to be clarified, will the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the cooperation of both sides in the working of the inquiry will be assisted if it made clear in this House that any recommendations made will not be legally binding upon the parties?

It is true that, under the 1919 Act, any inquiries set up cannot produce recommendations which are legally binding upon the parties. I cannot necessarily agree that reminding people of that is essential or necessary or conducive to bringing about a resolution of the dispute. I hope that what hon. Members will wish to do, having reflected upon the suitability and eminence of those who will be running the inquiry, is also to consider that their recommendations may be such as to inspire some confidence and a willingness to comply with those recommendations.

Will my right hon. Friend ask the Leader of the Opposition to request the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) and those who are very vociferous with him on this issue—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is on his own."]—to help to settle this dispute even now, without an inquiry or anything else, by simply accepting that the workers at Grunwick have the right to join a trade union— [HON. MEMBERS: "They do not want to. Do they have the right not to?"]—and to ask that the normally accepted procedures of decent employers be respected by Mr. Ward? If the Conservatives are not prepared to make that sort of statement, is it not clear that the Conservative Party is indicating, without any shadow of doubt, that it wants to go back to the industrial relations scene not only of 1970–71 but far beyond that, and that it had better make up its mind whether it is for free trade unionism or not?

We are to debate this matter. Questions put now should be put in order to seek further information on the statement and not to anticipate the debate which is to take place

Since it is obviously essential that the inquiry should take place in as near normal an atmosphere as possible, would not the Secretary of State think it right that he should add his weight to the call made at an earlier stage by Mr. Tom Jackson, that those who are carrying out an illegal action at Crickle-wood should desist?

I made clear in my original announcement that I join those on all sides of this difficult dispute who will urge that people should desist from any actions which in themselves are illegal, or which might lead to illegal actions, during the court of inquiry—and I would say at all times.

There will be general agreement that the even-handed tone of my right hon. Friend's statement is appropriate to his office. But must he not agree that from his brief account it emerges clearly that the union has at all times fully co-operated with his efforts to settle the dispute? Does he agree that Mr. Ward, inspired by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has refused to co-operate, and that we have now for the first time before the nation and Parliament the true story of this tragic dispute? When my right hon. Friend rightly appeals for everybody to be helpful, must not this include the police resuming the practice that they adopted for one day when the Home Secretary visited the site and allowing the lawful pickets to enter the bus and try to persuade the people at work to join the strike?

As I understand the law on picketing, provided there is no violence, provided there is no threat to the peace—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or intimidation."]—there is no reason why pickets should not enter a bus to seek peacefully to dissuade people from taking any actions which might militate against their interests in the dispute.

I propose to call two more hon. Members from each side, because we shall be debating this matter fully.

Did the Secretary of State's reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) amount to the right hon. Gentleman's telling Post Office workers to desist from breaking the law and to get back to delivering the mail, or not?

Part of what I said amounted to an appeal to all those involved in this dispute, either as direct or associated parties, fully to observe the law.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the court of inquiry has been brought about as a result not of a few pickets being on the picket line for 30-odd weeks, with few people taking any notice, but because of the immense union solidarity, shown particularly by the Post Office workers at Cricklewood, whom we regard as being very important elements in the matter? Because such inquiries are shaped by the environment of the times, as was the case with the Wilberforce Inquiry into the 1972 miners' dispute—when the dispute continued and helped to shape the minds of those sitting on the court of inquiry—does not my right hon. Friend agree with me, harking back to those days, that it is very important that the blacking and the picketing continue in order that those who decide the issue decide it in that kind of environment and not when the dispute has been cooled off?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that a number of actions taken in the name of trade union solidarity have brought the dispute to the notice of the public, and to that extent have contributed to the statement I have made today. But I do not follow him—

—in his suggestion that it is crucial that all actions that have been maintained up to this point should continue through the period of the court of inquiry.

Arising out of the Secretary of State's earlier answer to one of his hon. Friends, for the avoidance of doubt would he make clear—if necessary after consultation with his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who is sitting next to him—that neither Section 15 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1974 nor any other right enables a person to demand entry to a motor bus or any private vehicle?

I did not say that the law gave anybody the right to demand entry to a bus because he or she happened to be picketing. What the law gives to those conducting picketing in an industrial dispute is a right to attend at a place for the purpose of peacefully communicating in an attempt to persuade. I suggest that it is hard peacefully to communicate with and persuade somebody who is inside a bus if one is outside the bus and kept at a distance from it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us on the Labour Benches have no faith that this most reactionary employer will accept what the court of inquiry recommends, which my right hon. Friend has already said will not be legally binding? The employer has denied the basic right of trade union representation and flouted the ACAS report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only way to settle the strike is to support the TUC's call to give assistance in every way possible to the strikers? Is it not a dangerous precedent when an employer flouts the will of Parliament as expressed in the Employment Protection Act and all we can do is to set up elongated courts of inquiry?

What the employer has done is to challenge a body set up by Parliament on the employer's submission that it has not carried out its duty in the way that Parliament required it to. That is now a matter for determination by the High Court, and therefore it is not open to me to comment on it now.

Having said that, I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the only way in which the dispute will be settled is by an escalation or even a continuation of actions which have been taken up to now. It behoves every hon. Member and all those concerned in the dispute to pause and give careful consideration to whether the announcement of the court of inquiry that I have made today must be seen as an essential vehicle to the resolution of the dispute if we are not to face more serious trouble.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

  • 1. Restrictive Trade Practices Act
  • 2. Transport (Financial Provisions Act)
  • 3. Neath Borough Council Act
  • 4. Heritable Securities and Mortgage Investment Association Limited Act
  • 5. Emu Wine Holdings Limited and Subsidiary Companies Act
  • And the following Measure passed under the provisions of the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919:

    Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure

    Question Of Privilege (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

    I undertook yesterday, in response to a request from the hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Lipton), who has apologised to me that he cannot be in his place this afternoon, to consider the question of publicity being given to the contents of reports from Select Committees during the period after the reports have been formally laid upon the Table but before published copies are available to hon. Members. I gladly accede to the hon. Member's request that I should join with my predecessor, whose ruling he quoted, in deprecating such occurrences, which I consider to be discourtesies to the House, on the part both of those who disclose such information and of those who give it wider circulation.

    Grunwick Processing Laboratories Limited