House Of Commons
Tuesday 28th November 1978
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Oral Answers To Questions
Before we begin Questions I should like once again to tell the House that the character of our Question Time is being spoiled and changed by interminably long supplementary questions and sometimes, long ministerial answers. This practice is thoroughly selfish and unfair to other hon. Members who have Questions on the Order Paper. If arguments are advanced instead of questions being asked, I propose to intervene.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest progress in the formulation of the press charter.
I have been engaged in an extensive series of consultations with organisations and individuals in the industry on the content of the proposed press charter. The outcome of these consultations is under consideration by the Government.
Will the Minister say when the consultations are likely to be completed, bearing in mind the current industrial unrest in the newspaper industry? Has he completed his consultations with the TUC and the Press Council?
No, I have not yet met the TUC, the CBI or the Press Council. The hon. Gentleman will know that I am bound by statute to consult the Press Council. I can give no idea when the consultations will be completed, but I hope that we shall be able to achieve the maximum consensus before my right hon. Friend presents his charter to the House.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that the most immediate matter of concern to many in the newspaper industry is the threatened closure as from midnight on Thursday of Times Newspapers Ltd. Does the Minister think that it would be appropriate to approach the management of Times Newspapers Ltd., to see whether the suspension can be lifted to enable proper and reasonable negotiations to proceed on matters of fundamental importance?
My right hon. Friend has met representatives of the employers and the major unions involved in this unhappy situation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade replied to a similar Question from my hon. Friend yesterday. I have nothing to add to that reply.
On the subject of the press charter generally, will the Minister assure the House that if such a charter ever appears it will not contain any closed shop provision permitting a single union to determine what appears in the press and who writes it?
I am glad that the hon. and learned Gentleman has assumed Front Bench responsibility for this topic and I was glad to read the reports of his speech to the Newspaper Society yesterday. It showed a significant and welcome shift from the views of the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), because the hon. and learned Gentleman obviously now recognises that closed shops exist in the industry and should do so, subject to safeguards. We have a great deal of common ground in that respect.
Civil And Public Services Association
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the Civil and Public Services Association is registered as an independent trade union.
In view of the disturbing revelations about elections in the CPSA, what steps do the Government intend to take to ensure that the public are reassured about the correctness of election procedures? Would it not help if the Government were to assist with free postal ballots and matters of that kind, in order to reassure the public that future union elections will be straight?
On the subject of assistance with ballots, if the trade unions made a general request for such help the Government would give it every consideration. Until that happens, we do not think it right to seek to impose ballots on the trade union movement. We think that in that respect lessons should have been learnt from the past. I am sure that the CPSA will give the hon. Gentleman's views the attention that they deserve.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the matters to which the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred were the result of a regrettable mix-up in the operation of new rules adopted by the union, that new elections are being called, that manifestos have gone out to all members and that a proper ballot will take place shortly?
It is not for the Government to comment on the internal affairs of trade unions. However, what has taken place shows that individual members have the ability to challenge their unions if they feel that the rules have been broken. As I understand it, that is what has happened.
May I press the hon. Gentleman a little further about secret ballots? Will the Government give as much attention to trying to persuade trade unions, both at shop floor level and at national level, to adopt secret ballots as they are apparently prepared to give to applying sanctions to a company such as Ford?
I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that those two matters are in no way comparable. It is not for us to persuade the unions to take that course. I have said that there is no question but that the Government would respond to a request for help. However, persuasion can be counter-productive. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman, above all others, should have learnt some lessons from the past.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give the percentage fall that would be needed to produce a return in the total numbers of registered unemployed persons in the United Kingdom to the levels prevailing at the end of 1972, 1974 and 1976.
At November 1978 the unemployment rate stood at 5·8 per cent. The proportion of the current work force which would need to be unemployed in order to return to the levels of unemployment prevailing in the United Kingdom at November 1972, November 1974 and December 1976 are 3·4 per cent., 2·7 per cent. and 5·7 per cent. respectively.
May I half thank the Minister for the rather strange selection in his statistical answer? How does the hon. Gentleman react to the ominous prediction by the Manpower Services Commission in its official report that to reduce unemployment to 600,000— that was the level in March 1974—by 1982 it will be necessary to create 1·7 million extra jobs? How would the Government, with their lamentable record, propose to deal with a problem as monumental as that?
The Government intend to do that by continuing rigorously to fight inflation and by pursuing their industrial strategy.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the unemployment figures will rise by more than 5,000 on Friday if the closure of Times Newspapers Ltd. goes ahead? Is he further aware that the answer given by the Minister of State, Department of Employment was not satisfactory and that there is great pressure for the Government to intervene?
That is a matter that would lead to ACAS and other bodies becoming involved in an extremely difficult situation.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has had any recent discussions with leaders of the construction industry, trade unions and local authorities concerning unemployment in the construction industry.
My right hon. Friend had a meeting recently with some of the leaders of the construction industry to discuss manpower matters. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for sponsorship of the construction industry, has regular contacts with all sides of the industry about employment in construction.
Will my hon. Friend urge upon his right hon. Friends the need to restore the level of public expenditure, bearing in mind, for example, that so many of our schools, homes and hospitals, especially in Wales, are nothing more than nineteenth century monstrosities? Measures to increase public expenditure would also help reduce the high level of unemployment that has prevailed for so long.
I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern about unemployment in the construction industry. However, large extra amounts of public money have been poured into the construction industry, or into construction programmes over the past two years. Last year the Government added more than £ 800 million to public sector construction programmes, that money to be spent over the next three years. That expenditure is intended to help stabilise the industry.
Should not the council house building programme be greatly accelerated to employ some thousands of the scores of thousands of unemployed construction workers? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that even in Wales about 16,000 construction workers are still unemployed?
The level of council house building is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction and the local authorities. I understand that many Conservative-controlled local authorities have deliberately cut back on much needed council house building.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is totally indefensible that there should be thousands of unemployed construction workers on Merseyside and at the same time a great and pressing need in that area for more housing, schools and hospitals? Will he attempt to take some measures to match those two factors?
I understand that the Department of the Environment and other Government Departments have identified Merseyside as an area that requires special attention. Merseyside has been the subject of extra expenditure on construction both currently and in recent years.
Does not the Minister regret that, with so many unemployed construction workers, the number of houses being improved is only a third of the 1973 figure?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind what I said earlier about the attitude of some Conservative-controlled local authorities.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he has in mind for reducing unemployment; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further steps he will take to reduce unemployment.
I have already announced an extension of the small firms employment subsidy from 1st January 1979 and it is the intention of the Government to introduce a short time working compensation scheme. The need for further measures will be kept under review.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that every time he initiates a new temporary job scheme big business, aided and abetted by some of his Cabinet colleagues, introduces permanent sackings, for example, KME? We have seen the movement in the minimum lending rate, and we now have the dispute at Times Newspapers Ltd. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the millionaire owners of Times Newspapers Ltd. are in the throes of putting 4,000 more people on the stones? Why does not he tell them to lift the deadline and start renegotiations?
I am only too deeply aware of the many redundancies that are introduced by employers, for a whole range of reasons. Some of the measures that we have introduced, including the temporary employment subsidy, give us a basis for discussion with employers and enable us to fend off and avoid a certain number of redundancies. By means of the Employment Protection Act we have given unions a status and a right to consultation. I agree that what we are doing by introducing special measures is largely offset on many occasions by massive redundancies.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Government Actuary's assessment that in the next financial year the average number of jobless will be greater than the number of jobless in the present financial year?
The figures to which the hon. Gentleman refers are not estimates by the Government Actuary but are figures that were used and produced in a report that was laid before the House last week, along with the national insurance order. They are working assumptions. That was made clear. The Government Actuary draws his figures, for the purpose of working assumptions, from the Treasury. The report said that for the purpose of illustration certain levels of unemployment had been used as working assumptions. The report quoted figures which it said were being used for that purpose in the financial years 1978–79 and 1979–80. I do not regard them as forecasts of unemployment for those years.
Has my right hon. Friend's Department further considered the question of early retirement? Is he able to say how successful the job release scheme has been and whether the new terms of the scheme have brought a significant number of persons into the scheme and thus increased job opportunities for the community?
It is too early to make any accurate estimate of the effect of the changed terms of the scheme. On 7th November about 17,000 people were benefiting from the job release scheme. I hope to see that number expanded greatly in the forthcoming months.
What new thinking has the right hon. Gentleman had for pockets of unemployment in areas which have no assisted or development status, such as East Devon where there is a level of unemployment of 10 per cent.? Job creation in these small pockets throughout the country is terribly important, but that matter seems to be getting next to no thought from the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
A lot of consideration has been given to a number of pockets of unemployment which are outwith assisted areas and inner city partnerships. That is why a number of schemes run by my Department are now placed on a nationwide footing; for example, the small business employment subsidy and the job release scheme.
When considering measures to reduce unemployment, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that more than 63 per cent. of employers are failing to employ their 3 per cent. quota of registered disabled workers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, with two exceptions, every major Government Department is failing to employ its 3 per cent. quota? Is it not time that sanctions were imposed on Government Departments and on private employers?
I have recently been engaged in discussions with the Civil Service Department and the Manpower Services Commission about methods by which the Government might improve their performance in the employment of disabled persons. Taking the wider, national scene, we are still trying to bring about a considerable improvement in the employment of registered disabled people through the job induction scheme and special grants for adaptation of employers' premises.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give an estimate of the number of additional jobs that are being lost each month as a result of the increase in the minimum lending rate by 2f per cent.? Is he aware that the unemployment figures are still extremely serious? What is the difference between a working assumption and an estimate, about which he has been talking this afternoon?
I cannot give an estimate of the effect upon employment of the change in minimum lending rate. The change was addressed broadly to the problem of containing and reducing the inflation rate. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman would agree reducing the inflation rate can only be beneficial to employment prospects.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for registered unemployed; and how the figure compares with February 1974.
At 9th November, the number registered as unemployed in Great Britain, seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, was 1,281,500. This was 731,700 higher than in February 1974.
Will the Secretary of State now try to answer the previous question? How many more people will now never get back to work with Labour as a direct consequence of the Government pushing up the lending rate to record penal levels to try to finance their extragavant overspending?
The largest part of the increase in unemployment, to which I referred in my original answer, can be accounted for by the increase which has taken place since 1974 in the working population. There are now more people in employment in this country than there were under a Conservative Government in 1972 and 1973. As to the effect of Government expenditure, in many cases it has been to sustain and increase employment.
Will my right hon. Friend explain in very simple language to the Opposition that the United States Government and most of the Governments in the Common Market are not Labour Governments? They are not Socialist in any way, yet their unemployment levels are as high as they are in this country. Will he further point out to the Opposition that the real problem is the nature of the capitalist system under which we live and that, despite that fact, the Government have put more people to work than did the Tories? Would he also accept that there are areas—
Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was present earlier when I told the House that if hon. Members were advancing an argument during Question Time I would intervene. We must try to get back to the normal character of Question Time. The hon. Gentleman will now ask a question.
I am trying to do so, if the Opposition will stop interrupting me. Is it not true that there are areas of high unemployment, such as Merseyside, which require special support and protection?
It is certainly the case that there are areas with special unemployment problems requiring special protection. I am rather reluctant to make comparisons between sets of international statistics since different countries compile their figures in different ways. What we can do is to compare the changing rates of unemployment in different countries. There are few countries, with the possible exception of the United States and West Germany, which have had a falling unemployment rate such as ours over the past 12 months.
the Secretary of State for Employment how many people were in employment at the latest date for which figures are available and on the same date five years earlier.
At June 1978, the provisional number of employees in employment in Great Britain was 22,213,000, compared with 22,182,000 in June 1973.
Is it not now reasonable to assume that we shall very soon see more people in employment than ever before in the country's history?
If the country continues to support the Government's anti-inflation policy, and if British industry continues to improve its competitiveness, this will occur.
Is the Minister aware that there are 14 employment exchange areas in the United Kingdom which have unemployment rates in excess of 13 per cent. and that six of the 14 are in Wales? In these circumstances, will the hon. Gentleman set in motion a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of regional policy?
Since decentralisation, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has accepted responsibility for these matters. I shall draw his attention to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the two factors which affect the level of employment more than anything else are the advance of technology and the vast increase in the available labour force? Is it not time that there was purposeful discussion with the trade union movement with a view to reducing the length of the working week?
The discussions with the trade unions have to take place, first, on the development of technology and the need to protect and increase jobs and, second, on how the wealth created by that technology can be used in the public service sector to provide services and employment, both of which are badly needed.
The Minister will recall that we were promised 100,000 current placings under the youth opportunities programme. Can he tell us how many people were on the programme at the latest date?
I can say that at present the Manpower Services Commission says that it is on target. There is a great need for employers, voluntary bodies and trade unions to offer places to the youngsters most disadvantaged.
Tuc Staff (Pay)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what reply he has received from the TUC in response to his inquiries about that body's pay agreement with its staff, which appears to breach the Government's pay guidelines.
As I informed the hon. Member in my reply on 20th November, the main features of the TUC's settlement with its staff were reported to me by the TUC and I am awaiting a reply to my subsequent request for additional information.
Since it was possible to take sanctions against the Ford company within a week of its pay settlement, why is it that, 11 weeks after the TUC deal was published in The Observer, the Secretary of State still does not know the details and still has not told the TUC that he will operate sanctions against it unless it comes into line?
The issue of any discretionary action is not related to the obtaining of details in this instance. If the Government decided to do so, they would still have no appropriate discretionary action to take in the case of the TUC.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what additional information he has asked the TUC to supply and what difference it will make to the Government?
I do not think that any additional information will make any particular difference. The TUC has provided the Government with information about all the main features of the settlement. There is some further detailed information, but it is not on that basis that the Government have had to make any decision whether to take action.
Is not the Secretary of State thoroughly ashamed of that abysmal reply? Why is he dragging his feet on this matter? What are the criteria animating the Government in regard to sanctions? Is one of the criteria the fact that trade unions are exempt when demanding high wage increases or when they are granting them to their own employees?
The principal consideration in this case, as in so many others, is whether discretionary actions are available to the Government. In this case discretionary actions are not available.
Will my right hon. Friend go back to his colleagues at the next Cabinet meeting or before and tell them that the policy with which they have landed him on sanctions and so on is becoming increasingly difficult to answer logically in the House of Commons? Will he tell them that he is at the sharp end of this matter, and that the sooner they get rid of it the better it will be for everybody?
I would be the last to deny to my hon. Friend that there are difficulties in operating the pay policy. But I find no difficulty whatsoever in answering the Opposition's questions on this matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the patently unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice of my intention to seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.
Employment Protection Act
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he proposes to amend the Employment Protection Act.
I have no present intention of bringing forward amendments to the Employment Protection Act. However, the proposals for compensating short-time working will replace the guarantee pay provisions of the Act.
Will the Minister accept his Department's findings that the unfair dismissal provisions are proving a deterrent to small employers? Will he further accept that a recent judgment, which awarded £7,000 to a man dismissed for sleeping on the job, will reinforce their fears of what the Secretary of State has referred to as the industrial tribunal fruit machine? Will the Minister look again at the law on unfair dismissal, particularly in the light of two recent decisions, Seeley v. Avon Aluminium Company and Stock v. Frank Jones?
Before the hon. Gentleman—or the House—decides to criticise the findings of a judicial body, namely, the industrial tribunal, in a way that he would never dream of doing in respect of any other judicial body, he ought to look at the facts of the case to find out exactly why the tribunal to which he referred found as it did.As to the wider question of the satisfactoriness or otherwise of the unfair dismissal provisions—and I am bound to say that it was the Conservatives who introduced these in their Industrial Relations Act 1971—we have commissioned research and found that, notwithstanding the criticisms which have been made, the provisions are, in general, working satisfactorily.
When my hon. Friend comes to consider the unfair dismissal rules, will he bear in mind that 69 per cent. of all claims for unfair dismissal brought before industrial tribunals fail, and that, far from employers' rights needing protection, there is a far greater need to protect the rights of unfairly dismissed employees?
My hon. and learned Friend is right. We recently had a full debate in the House on these matters, and I am bound to say that I thought the Government won the argument hands down.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many jobs were lost in the Merseyside travel-to-work area in 1976, 1977 and to date in November 1978.
Information in the form requested is not available. However, I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that 7,749 redundancies in the Merseyside special development area were notified to the employment service division as due to occur in 1976 and 11,444 in 1977. To date, 13,112 redundancies have been notified as due to occur during the period January to the end of November 1978.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures represent a clear indication that Government policy on unemployment is not working on Merseyside? In spite of the fact that Merseyside is a special development area and lately has probably had more cash from the Government than at any other time, it is not keeping up with the pace at which we are losing jobs there, particularly in the private sector. When will the Government look at the question of unemployment and start to design policies—such as the extension of public ownership—to meet that situation?
The Government are well aware of the grave problem of unemployment on Merseyside and will do everything possible to increase the confidence of industrialists in Merseyside and boost morale in the area.
Does my hon. Friend realise that he has an opportunity to do everything possible to help? Given that we have lost so many jobs on Merseyside, will he now give an assurance that the headquarters and the laboratory of the new National Enterprise Board-sponsored micro-chip industry will be located on Merseyside and not, as presently planned by the NEB, in an area of very low unemployment?
That is a decision to be made, but certainly the Government by, for example, directing the Health and Safety Executive headquarters to Bootle have shown their concern to direct jobs to Merseyside.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects, following his consultations with the Confederation of British Industry, the Trades Union Congress and the Commission for Racial Equality, to begin monitoring the policies and practices designed to eliminate racial discrimination in employment by Government contractors.
The CBI, TUC and CRE have now been informed of the proposals referred to in the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend on 10th November and have been invited to discuss them. The aim will be to introduce new monitoring arrangements as soon as possible after these consultations have been completed.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he impress strongly on the CBI that all these private firms have an inescapable duty to avoid racial discrimination in their employment policies? Does he agree that the Government might have a better chance of success in this area if we put our own house in order in terms of having effective equal opportunity policies in the public sector?
I very much hope that the CBI and the other interested parties which are being consulted will see this as a worthwhile and progressive step forward. Within the public sector a great deal is going on. We pursue the policy of equal opportunity in the public sector, and all the nationalised industries and other public sector bodies have been asked to review their policies. We shall be looking at the results of that exercise to see what further action might be necessary.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the biggest discrimination applied in industry nowadays is over promotion, and that all too often unions and management together are equally culpable?
I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is one of the matters that we have been looking at within the race relations employment advisory group, which I recently set up.
Will my hon. Friend undertake to make sure that whatever information can be made available in this regard will be provided to chambers of commerce and chambers of trade, and particularly to those working within the inner city partnership area committees?
We want to make as much information available about this as possible. The services of the Department of Employment's race relations employment advisory group are always available to any of these bodies if they want to consult it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative Opposition regard this as a very important matter and that we would like to do anything that we can to help the Government to make more information available, from Government Departments in particular, not only in regard to jobs taken, but jobs on offer and to whom those jobs go?
I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's remarks.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many textile workers are currently unemployed in the North-West region and in the United Kingdom as a whole.
At 10th August, the latest date for which this quarterly information is available, the numbers of people registered as unemployed who last worked in the textile industry were 7,734 in the North-West region and 30,187 in the United Kingdom.
I thank the Under-Secretary for that reply, but is he aware that in the year ending 30th September 1978, 13,400 textile workers have been made redundant? Is he further aware that output per head in this industry compares very favourably with that in all other industries, particularly the vehicle industry, in this country? Will he pay more attention to the importance of the textile industry and also bear in mind the problems which could result to it from enlargement of the EEC?
The hon. Gentleman has often attacked me for advocating public expenditure. Through the new multi-fibre arrangement the Government have paid a great deal of attention to this industry. We have saved 43,700 textile jobs through the temporary employment subsidy, which has been attacked by members of the Conservative Front Bench, and we have introduced a special short-time working scheme, which again did not receive the acclaim that it should have done from Opposition Members.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the difficulties for the textile industry is that the EEC Commission reduced the amount which this country could pay in temporary employment subsidy, and that an EEC Commissioner, Christopher Tugendhat, a former Conservative MP, is going around the country outlining plans for further reductions? Does not that indicate the severe difficulties of our current membership of the EEC?
Certainly no one on the Labour Benches welcomed the reduction in the effectiveness of the temporary employment subsidy which we had to negotiate earlier this year.
asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will invite the Manpower Services Commission to make a special study of the probable impact of micro-electronics on the industrial labour market and in particular its significance for the training opportunities scheme.
A group has been established within my Department's unit for manpower studies to examine the manpower implications of micro-electronics over the next 5 to 10 years. It will work closely with the Manpower Services Commission in planning the training and retraining requirements associated with this new technology. The training opportunities scheme is contributing substantially to the overall training effort on micro-electronics, and possible areas of expansion are being urgently considered.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a lot of fantastic romancing about the impact on industrial manpower of micro-processors'? Does he agree also that this could have a serious impact on industrial manpower, with regard to both training and employment? I welcome his statement about the working party. Can he say anything about its composition?
It is headed by a team of three, including an economist. I do not think that I can say much more than that offhand. But if it will help my hon. Friend, I shall write to him. [Laughter.] I am not quite sure why the Conservative Opposition find that so funny. Let me add that, whatever fantasising has been done, it will be the task of this group to find out to what extent any kind of reliable and accurate assessment of this new technology has been made. I should tell my hon. Friend and the House that the Prime Minister will be making an oral statement, and tabling a written one, at the National Economic Development Council meeting on 6th December, which will include some of our preliminary conclusions about the possible manpower effects of this new technology.
Has the hon. Gentleman's Department formed any view about the likely level of job loss which could arise out of the introduction of microelectronic processors?
It would not make any sense if I tried to anticipate in any way the findings of the group, or in any way to anticipate what my right hon. Friend will say to the National Economic Development Council on 6th December.
Job Release Scheme
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether the current job release scheme will be continued beyond its current term; and whether he has decided upon any modifications.
The job release scheme is now being reviewed along with the other special employment measures, and the question of its extension beyond 31st March 1979 is being considered. A decision on its future will be announced as soon as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Question really relates to the job creation scheme? Will he look at the question of capital investment and the involvement of young people in particular in social work and work within their own communities?
We shall certainly look carefully at the job release scheme and at all the provisions that we are making at the present time for youngsters under the youth opportunities programme. So far, 75,386 places have been provided under the youth opportunities programme. In addition, places have been provided in apprentice training, and places are still being provided under the job creation programme.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we hope that the England team in Australia will have more success in keeping the ball out of its stumps than the employment team has had at Question Time this afternoon?
Prohibition And Improvement Notices(Crown Immunity)
asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will introduce legislation to enable prohibition and improvement notices to be served upon the Crown.
I have nothing further to add to the reply given to my hon. and learned Friend's earlier Question on 24th October.
Does not my hon. Friend consider that the Crown should be just as punctilious in its safety practices, and just as liable to enforcement and prohibition arrangements, as any other employer in the land?
I accept the first part of my hon. and learned Friend's supplementary question. The whole matter of Crown immunity raises important questions of principle, and these are under consideration by Ministers in consultation with the Health and Safety Commission.
asked the Prime Minister when he plans next to meet the TUC.
I meet representatives of the general council from time to time, at National Economic Development Council meetings and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that reply. When he next meets the TUC, will he pursue with it the argument that any form of incomes policy is possible only if we have economic growth and that economic growth is totally incompatible with the European monetary system? Does he agree that it becomes him, above all, as a Prime Minister who has taken so many clear-cut decisions on so many difficult issues, to do the same with this difficult issue, to forsake the straddling position of the EMS and to say that it is in our national interest to stay out?
That was a slightly complicated question. But I agree with the early part of my hon. Friend's remarks, namely, that growth and an increase in incomes are interrelated. It is not without significance that this year, because of the restraint in the growth of incomes, industrial production compared with the corresponding quarter of last year is going ahead at about 4 per cent., which is the best for many years.As to the second part of the question, this depends upon the nature of the scheme about which my hon. Friend is talking. It is a scheme which needs to be symmetrical and which will have to wrap up both strong and weak currencies if it is to encourage growth. I do not know whether the arrangements which have been published so far achieve that end.
Does not the Prime Minister recognise the blatant injustice of imposing sanctions on Ford, when that company has already suffered the worst strike in its history because it has tried to support the Prime Minister's rigid 5 per cent. pay policy? Is he not aware that the Ford company has one of the best records in Britain for providing jobs, investment and exports and that his decision can only damage all three?.
When the right hon. Lady asked me a similar question last week I said that I recognised the dilemma for Ford. But there is an overriding national interest here. We are not ready to see the big fish get away while we catch only the tiddlers. As to the TUC, I do not propose to buy any motor cars from it.
Is it not in the overriding interest of this country to have companies which provide jobs, exports at competitive prices and investment? Does the Prime Minister recall that about a year ago he was very anxious to persuade Ford to go to South Wales and set up a new plant there? He said that Ford had demonstrated its confidence in Britain and that he must do all that he could to repay that confidence.
That is why we are pursuing our present policy. I promise the right hon. Lady that if every other firm pays an increase of between 16 per cent. and 17 per cent. to its employees—
Out of profits.
—Ford will not be able to hold its prices for very long and we shall find the price of Ford cars going up substantially whether or not Ford wants them to.
Will my right hon. Friend ignore the hysterical shriekings of the Leader of the Opposition? When he next meets the TUC, will he ask it to think again about pay policy? Will he ask it whether it really believes that increases on the scale given by Ford, and other increases in the pipeline, are good for Britain, for the unemployed and for people who suffered from the steep rise in the inflation rate between 1974 and 1977?
The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is"Yes ". On the latter part, I totally agree. That is why we will pursue this policy, and pursue it as long as we have public support, which at present is overwhelming. Public opinion does not want to see exceptions made just because a company is large or multinational. Everyone will be treated in the same way.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28th November.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I shall be host at a dinner in honour of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Will the Prime Minister take time today to explain why in February 1974 he went around the mining valleys entreating the miners to smash the then Government's pay policy, saying that 16 per cent. was not far too much and that pay restraint to contain inflation was, to use his words,"utter drivel "? Is he not ashamed of that statement today?
I have refreshed my memory. It is clearly one of the catchphrases of the Conservative Party. I made clear at the time that because of the increase in money supply under Lord Barber and the way in which price increases were taking place —[Interruption.]
It is all right, Mr. Speaker, I know that Conservative Members have to let off steam now and again. The fact is that price increases were taking place at double the rate of today. Therefore, it was not possible to expect miners or anybody else to hold down their wage claims. Today we are in a different situation. Wages went ahead last year at twice the rate of prices. We are now trying to get these into a proper relationship with each other.
Will my right hon. Friend take time to study the wages council award for workers in licensed hotels and restaurants? This gives increases which will raise the highest paid in that area to only £42·80 a week and the lowest paid to £33·20. That is well below the Government's minimum wage target. What action will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that employers on wages councils pay their workers at least the minimum wage set out in the White Paper?
This is not a matter to which I have directed my attention today. It is not the case that the Government have laid down a minimum wage. We have proposed a figure of which negotiators should take account when fixing their rates of pay. Whether this particular wages council has done so I am not aware, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who has just emerged from 45 minutes' questioning, could give my hon. Friend the answer.
If the Prime Minister has a moment to spare today will he read the document"Britain's New Deal in Europe"on which he and too many of my right hon. and hon. Friends campaigned in the referendum? The document refers, on page 9, to the fact that fixed exchange rates put jobs at risk. Will he bear that in mind when considering the European monetary system?
I should very much like to examine that statement. My own view, held for many years, is that fixed exchange rates are far better than variable exchange rates. The experience of the last few years has surely demonstrated that. Both have their disadvantages, but it depends upon the conditions on which the exchange rates are fixed as to whether they are successful.
In his duties today, will my right hon. Friend consider immediate plans for introducing grants for 16 to 19-year-olds staying on at school? Would not that help to reduce unemployment? Is not further education far better than the waste, hopelessness and humiliation of"signing on "?
A Bill will be introduced on education which will include references to this principle. However, I cannot undertake that we can meet all the priorities which everyone is thrusting at us at present. There is a fixed limit on public expenditure, to which the Government intend to hold. That is the way to keep sterling stable, preserve jobs and keep prices down.
If the Prime Minister is concerned about sanctions and seeing that justice is done to all, including Ford, will he take time off today to write to the TUC leaders asking them why their own increases are up to 20 per cent. this year and 60 per cent. over three years? Will he report back to the House what action he intends to take against them?
I understand that the same question was put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.
He did not answer it.
This seems to be a matter on which common sense should apply, but I do not see much sign of it on the Opposition Front Bench at present.
Chancellor Of The Exchequer
asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Why does the Prime Minister punish innocent victims like Ford with penal sanctions, rather than punishing the guilty party, in this case, his own Chancellor of the Exchequer, who created inflation by overspending and overborrowing?
I do not think that Ford is either guilty or innocent in this matter. Nor is the company being punished. We intend not to purchase vehicles from it. Unless the Government are to be compelled to purchase vehicles from a particular company —and I must say that this would be a new rule—Ford is not being punished. Ford is only the example of the national dilemma about which people must make up their minds. Do they want prices kept down or not? The Opposition clearly do not. Therefore they are ready to support every inflationary wage increase that is advanced.
Instead of sacking my very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will the Prime Minister organise a slight Government reshuffle? In the interests of official secrecy will he make the Chancellor of the Exchequer the PPS to the Secretary of State for Energy, and in the interests of open democracy will he make me the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
If my hon. Friend is not careful he might very well find himself in that position. But I must say that there has never been anybody who has borne this task for so long with so much physical and intellectual stamina as has my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the country owes him a debt of gratitude.
Will the Prime Minister recognise that one of the difficulties facing the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that the Government have decided that it is in the national interest to keep down inflation and that it is impossible to do that if pay increases rise about 5 or 10 per cent? On the other hand, however, the Labour Party and the TUC conferences have both voted against this policy. Therefore, from where does the Prime Minister get his support?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for the information that he has given me. The last time that I received support was on the vote on the Queen's Speech, which is the way in which Governments always derive support. It was a big majority then, despite the Opposition's attempt to try to remove the Government.
Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor see the leaders of the TUC and the CBI and ask them to state clearly whether they recognise that the policy of the Leader of the Opposition is to have a wages explosion as a matter of political expediency? The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) only last week on LBC was encouraging the CBI not to co-operate with the Government. The joint policies of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman spell grave disaster for Britain and the British people if the Conservatives ever come to power.
I am not sure whether the Leader of the Opposition wants a wages explosion—
Of course not.
The right hon. Lady interjects"Of course not"and I accept that. In that case, I do not understand how a policy of trying to work to an average can succeed in keeping inflation down.
Is the Prime Minister aware that any action against Ford is grossly offensive to the democratic process, because the company has taken no action against any statute law in the United Kingdom? What legal or moral basis does the right hon. Gentleman have for taking these proceedings against the company?
I do not want to argue morality at the Dispatch Box. It is not a moral question, but a question of how we manage to ensure that the jobs of the people of this country are safeguarded, that inflation does not get out of hand and that prices do not go up. On that basis, we have decided to take certain actions. I am certain that we are right and that, despite the dilemma, the public understand, why we are doing it. That is why they continue to support us.
Ford Motor Company
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he will make a statement about the Government's attitude to the Ford pay settlement.
The Government have considered the pay settlement reached by the Ford Motor Company with its manual workers and have discussed the settlement in detail with representatives of the company. In the Government's view, the settlement cannot be reconciled with the pay guidelines contained in the White Paper "Winning the Battle Against Inflation" Cmnd. 7293. The Government have informed the company of this and expressed their regret.The Government had previously made clear that in the event of the company reaching a settlement outside the guidelines, they would need to consider discretionary action against the company. After considering the settlement in the light of all the relevant circumstances, the Government have reluctantly reached the conclusion that such action should be taken and the company has been informed accordingly.
Does the Chancellor appreciate that this is a matter of some importance and that the House will certainly expect the Leader of the House to arrange an opportunity for us to debate the decision and its implications at an early date?Will the Chancellor also be a little more forthcoming and tell us exactly what sanctions the Government intend to impose? Does he appreciate that there is very great difficulty in understanding how it makes sense to impose sanctions on a company which, at very substantial cost to itself, has done its best to resist a strike, which was called in flagrant breach of a pre-existing collective agreement, and that to proceed in that way makes as little sense as seeking to punish a householder whose house has been burgled? Does he not recognise the great sense of injustice in that approach? There is a second matter that is equally important in understanding where the Government are going. If in this case, when the company has done everything possible, in fulfilment of the Government's behest, to resist a settlement, it is still to have sanctions imposed on it, notwithstanding the cost it has paid, is it not natural that employers will draw the conclusion that they would be far more sensible to pay up in the first place? Does that not demonstrate that the policy is not merely unjust but ineffective? Will the Chancellor also address himself to the question the Prime Minister failed to answer, namely, the morality or justice of the policy being applied? Can he not see that the Government's refusal to say or do anything in relation to the TUC settlement —which is 20 per cent. for its employees—while imposing sanctions on Ford is the essence of arbitrary government with no sense of justice at all? How far will the Government apply the policy consistently? If, for example, the BOC settlement is beyond the Government's guidelines, will they require the British Steel Corporation to purchase no oxygen? If the oil tanker drivers' settlement is beyond the guidelines, will the Government do the same for British Airways, or even the ministerial car pool? What consistency will there be? Does the Chancellor realise that a policy that started as an exercise in tyranny is rapidly deteriorating into farce?
If I can remember them, I shall answer all the right hon. and learned Gentleman's questions. The Government and I regard this as an important matter and I look forward to an opportunity of debating the whole problem in the House. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving us a preview of his speech, even though it was rather lengthy.On the question of the company's behaviour, Ford made clear within two weeks of the beginning of the strike that it proposed to negotiate outside the guidelines. For seven of the nine weeks of the strike, therefore, the company was, on its own admission, negotiating with no reference to the guidelines laid down by the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the morality of the action that the Government propose to take. Let me remind him that for most of last year he was asking why we had not taken action against Ford for a much less serious breach of the then guidelines. He cannot complain that because we are now taking action there is something immoral about it, particularly, as the CBI has reported in today's newspapers, as more than 500,000 people have already settled fully within the guidelines. For the Government to have allowed a breach of this size to pass without comment or action would have been a betrayal of the confidence that those 500,000 men and women have shown in the Government's policy and would have led, in many cases, some of which I know about, to attempts to renegotiate agreements already made. That would have been hopelessly contrary to the national interest. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what action we were taking about the TUC settlement. The Prime Minister made clear earlier that there are no discretionary actions available to the Government in relation to that possible breach of the guidelines. The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He insists that our action should be limited to areas where we have total discretion on whether we buy from a company or not. That is the discretion that we are exercising, unfavourably to the Ford Motor Company because it has taken an action, after a warning from the Government and after seven weeks of negotiation outside the pay guidelines, which can result only in an increase in inflationary pressures within the economy. I believe that the whole of the British people will endorse the action that we have taken.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I submit that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have declared an interest in his last answer. It is well known that the TUC pays very large sums of money to the Labour Party and the action that has been taken—
Order. I shall try to allow as many hon. Members as possible to put questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A Private Notice Question is an extension of Question Time. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) will wait until we have finished the questions and answers, so that I may deal with his point of order then.
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of my connection with the Transport and General Workers' Union. Can the Chancellor explain how, after the Prime Minister said in the House only last week that we were in a free collective bargaining position, he can object to a free collective bargain, agreed by both sides, and how he can justify penalising one of the most successful companies and one of the most productive work forces in this country, which are completely in line with the strategy, laid down by the Labour Party and the Government, of encouraging the successful, reducing our imports and solving our balance of payments problem?
I am well aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this matter as a member of the Transport and General Workers' Union. He must recognise that the Ford Motor Company was severely penalised by a nine-week strike by the union while pressing its claim. If my hon. Friend speaks as a representative of the TGWU and seeks to justify a settlement of more than 17 per cent. by Ford's profitability, can he assure the House that, through his union, he will seek a settlement at British Leyland which is commensurate with the profitability of that company?
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer now tell us what the sanctions are? Will he also tell us what is the common sense and what is the national interest in imposing sanctions on a company which says plainly that the deal can be covered by productivity and that it will impose only 5 per cent. on any price increases in respect of labour costs?
I apologise, as I did not answer a similar question which was put to me earlier about what action will be taken. First, purchases under some existing Government contracts may be stopped. These are cases where existing contracts do not oblige the Government to continue purchases year by year. Secondly, the Government will take account of the breach of pay policy by Ford when considering the placing of future contracts and the granting of discretionary financial assistance, such as sections 7 and 8 Industry Act grants, temporary employment subsidy and section 2 export credits. This could mean that the company does not get future contracts and future discretionary assistance.The hon. Member asked me about the productivity deal. When the company began to negotiate with the manual workers it made an offer which involved a 5 per cent. increase in basic rates and about 10 per cent. on productivity. The company finally concluded an agreement which involved an 11½ per cent. increase in basic pay, with holiday pay, and an increase of about 6 per cent. which is related to an attendance scheme, the final effect of which cannot be judged at this time. It agreed to make these payments before it had any means of knowing whether they would lead to increased productivity. Under the productivity agreements payments are not to be made until the productivity is proved. If such payments have been made and the productivity is not achieved, the payments can be clawed back. One cannot base a wages policy simply on increases in unit labour costs. If that were so, a capital-intensive industry could make awards of 200 per cent. without affecting ultimate prices. But the effect of such awards could be catastrophic on wage claims made by workers in contiguous areas. It would also be possible for a company to give increases of 100 per cent. to a handful of senior managers, again on the grounds that they did not lead to significant increases in labour costs.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I and many like me are completely bewildered at the Opposition's attitude? They say that they want to bring down inflation but they immediately sneer and jeer at any action that is taken by this Government to achieve that.Does my right hon. Friend agree that as a result of this settlement it is inevitable that Ford and other companies like it will wish to put up the price of their vehicles in order to recoup this extraordinarily large increase in pay? That has always happened in the past. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will be equally tough with any attempt to put up prices when the company could meet this increase out of its substantial profits?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have no powers to interfere with Price Commission decisions about which pre-notified price increases to investigate, or to interfere with the course of investigation. What the Price Commission does in this regard is within its own power.My right hon. Friend was right to be puzzled about the Opposition's attitude. They are not interested in bringing down inflation. They want to bring down the Government. That governs all their behaviour on every issue at this time.
Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognise that he is a late but welcome convert to the view that pay policies without sanctions are useless? Does he recognise that all sanctions should be imposed by the force of law and not at the whim of the Executive?Does the right hon. Gentleman also recognise that a pay policy which is enforced by sanctions on employers alone is also likely to be useless? Is he aware that the President of the United States has imposed exactly the same sanctions on the major companies that the Chancellor is now imposing upon Ford? However, he is asking Congress for tax rebates for those employees who abide by the guidelines. Will the Chancellor do the same and ask the House for those powers?
I am always grateful for congratulations from the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that I have supported discretionary action in support of pay policy since the Government introduced the £6 limit nearly four years ago. I understand his views on using the tax system to support pay policy. On many occasions I have explained to him why I do not believe that that is possible. As the hon. Gentleman admitted, the United States Administration is making this proposal but it has not yet been accepted by Congress. It is unclear how it will operate if it is accepted. I am grateful to the hon. Member for pointing out that the withholding of Government contracts is already part of American pay policy. as it is of pay policy in France.
Does my right hon. Friend recollect the vote that was taken on the Government White Paper last July and the assurances given at that time by the Leader of the House, that in no way could that vote be misinterpreted as a vote authorising the Government to pursue a wage policy based on 5 per cent.? Where does the Chancellor get his authority to impose sanctions on the Ford Motor Company?
My hon. Friend is correct to remind us what the Leader of the House said about that vote. My hon. Friend asks from where the Government derive their authority. They derive it from the support of the overwhelming majority of trade unionists and the British people. This was illustrated by the vote at the recent by-election at Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I propose to call two more hon. Members from either side of the House.
Will the Chancellor tell the House what the Ford Motor Company should have done? On what criteria will the Government base their future purchases of motor vehicles if they are not to take price into account?
It is not for me to say how the Ford Motor Company should have conducted its negotiations, thank goodness. We made it clear to the company management, even before the negotiations began, that a settlement outside the guidelines would cause the Government to consider discretionary action. We have kept closely in touch with the company since it made its final settlement. The Secretaries of State for Industry, Employment and Prices and Consumer Protection have seen Sir Terence Beckett on two occasions to discuss this matter in the last few days.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Ford had been prepared to help bring down inflation it would have reduced its prices instead of amassing great profits? If that company had not amassed great profits the workers would not have been goaded into the strike.
The size of the Ford Motor Company's profits last year, which resulted from a substantial increase in prices, was one of the factors which influenced the course of negotiations.
How many jobs are likely to be lost to the British car industry and gained by Japan as a result of the Government's actions?
None as a result of this action, but many have been saved as a result of the assistance which the Government have given and are giving, not only to the Ford Motor Company but to other motor companies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the strangest aspects of this episode is that this company first offered 5 per cent. as being all that it was allowed within the Government guidelines, concluded a negotiation after a nine weeks' strike at 16 or 17 per cent., yet still proclaims that it is within the Government guidelines? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that had it sat down well beforehand and worked out a sensible productivity-based deal with the unions, the company would have had neither strike nor sanctions?
I do not think that it is for me to comment on the way in which the Ford Motor Company handled the negotiations. I limit myself to pointing out that at the beginning of the negotiations it was prepared to offer a 5 per cent. increase in basic wages and a 10 per cent. productivity deal, but, in fact, within a week it had decided that it would increase the amount offered on a basic wage increase ultimately to 11½ per cent. and the attendance bonus scheme which was responsible for the other 6 per cent. The consequences of that are still very unclear.
Statement—Mr. John Silkin.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have both had pointed out to them today the inconsistency in condemning with sanctions a settlement by the Ford Motor Company which involves a 17 per cent. increase in pay while ignoring a settlement for the staff of the Trades Union Congress which involves a 60 per cent. increase in pay over three years. It must be in everybody's mind that the unions affiliated to the TUC are major subscribers both to hon. Members on the Government Benches and to the party of which the Government form the head. Surely it is one of the rules of this House that where an interest is involved —a financial interest and a substantial one—whether it be,personal or party, its is normal for the spokesman to declare that interestSince there is a cleat and obvious genuflection to the paymasters in this case Mr. Speaker, would you ask the. Prime Minister and the Chancellor.to apologise to the House for not having declared their interest in the partial nature of the exercise,.of their discretion in this non-statutory matter?
Only personal interests have to be declared in this House.
On a point of order, Speaker. I think that you will agree that this extension of Question Time is of vital importance to the House, and especially to hon. Members who have Ford industries in their constituencies. May I therefore ask you to extend Question Time a little further so that those with a constituency interest may ask questions?
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I add my voice to that of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden)? A number of hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have Ford factories in their constituencies and would also like to see an extension of Question Time.
A large number of hon. Members have Ford works in their constituencies, but I am afraid that we must now move on.
European Community Council Meeting (Fisheries)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on fisheries.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I represented the United Kingdom at a meeting of the Fisheries Council in Brussels on 23rd and 24th November 1978. The Council met to discuss the revision of the common fisheries policy and had before it a new document from the Commission demonstrating a more flexible attitude, which encouraged me to believe that progress could be made provided other member States Showed -understanding of the United Kingdom position. In the course of the discussions the United Kingdom was asked to submit in writing its proposals.on preferential access. This we did, and copies of the United Kingdom paper will be placed in the Library of the House., Our proposals were on the' lines I have frequently explained to the House; they were for an exclusive belt out to 12 miles' and for a preference in some of the waters outside 12 miles. We made it quite clear that we were ready to enter into constructive discussion on all these matters. Unfortunately, no substantive progress was made at this meeting of the Council. It remains our objective to arrive at an agreement on the common fisheries policy by the end of this year. Her Majesty's Government will play their part and I am confident that, given good will and realism by all concerned, an honourable agreement can still be achieved.
I do not want to seem ungrateful, but the right hon. Gentleman has not told us a great deal. First, perhaps he could say what foundations he has for hoping that there might be a settlement by the end of the year. Secondly, does he have any crumbs of comfort to offer to the distant water fleet, whose members, with the ports from which they operate, are likely to be the chief sufferers from this extended stalemate?
The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the two main points about this Council meeting. With any series of negotiations, particularly when there are intervals between Councils, as there are in this case, one must consider how the position has changed.The difference here is that the Commission, for the first time, has put on the table before the Council a working document based on the British framework. That is absolutely new. Up to now, no one—neither the Commission nor any of the member States—has been prepared to consider any departure from the proposals put forward by the Commission. This working document—not as extensive as one would like in certain areas and needing amplification—nevertheless moves a long way, and moves some way towards the question of the deep water fleets, particularly in that it accepts the point about a preferential growth and a preferential quota being necessary for the United Kingdom. It is a bit too vague on access. These movements were very clear, and for the first time, as I say, the United Kingdom's basis of conservation was pretty well accepted by the Commission.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts on behalf of Britain's fishing industry and sympathise with him over the arrogant insults that he has had to take from the German chairman of this Council. What are the Government now prepared to do to help the fishing industry? Will my right hon. Friend recommend the Cabinet to consider unilateral action to save the British fishing industry from disappearing completely?
The basic way ahead is to get an agreement on the common fisheries policy which accepts the basic principles that we have put before our colleagues in the Council and before the Commission. I believe that we are moving towards that position, so it does not reallly matter that one does not get everything one wants at this Council or that. We are moving a great deal faster perhaps than any of us could have envisaged, say, six months ago.
Has the Minister discussed with his colleagues in Europe the question of quotas and licences for fishing? Clearly, even if we get this preferential treatment, there will still be a danger of acute over-fishing in certain areas of the North Sea, with disastrous results for local communities.
This is an important factor. The main question was in the Commission document, and we would have discussed it had we continued at that Council meeting, but it was getting late on the Friday when we broke. But the main point is that it seemed to me, and I think to the others concerned, that it was better to deal with the key problem, that of access—that is the one which dominates everything and it was better to face up to it—and that for the first time the United Kingdom should be allowed to put its proposals on the table. We have never been allowed to do that before. It is difficult, and the details are difficult. If the problem could not be studied immediately, I do not think that that would have mattered very much, but we shall certainly come to the i4ght hon. Gentleman's point, and I bear it very much in mind.
I think that I shall be able to call all those hon. Members who have already risen.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, following the Anglo-German talks in Bonn, hon. Members representing fishing constituencies expected a little more sympathy and understanding from the Germans, particularly as we are now told that a flexible document was put before the nine Ministers and their advisers by Mr. Gundelach. the Commissioner? I am told that the chairman, Herr Ertl, turned the whole matter down with very little discussion. What happens now? Will there be talks about fishing on 4th and 5th December, when I think the Prime Ministers will be talking together? I do not know where the talks are to be held. Will there be fishing talks then, after the present fiasco? If not, I shall not warn anyone, but I simply say to my right hon. Friend that the latent militancy in the fishing industry will increase. That is no good to him, no good to the House and no good to anyone else.
I think that the most important aspect of the whole of that last Council meeting arose when I asked the Commission whether the objectives clearly enunciated by the United Kingdom were capable of being put in a Commission proposal. After all, it was somewhat unusual to ask a member State to produce proposals. That is not how it is normally done. The Commissioner accepted that that was so. Therefore, it seems to me that that is the way ahead.It is not for me to defend or attack the presidency of the Council. What I can say, however, is that after we had been asked to submit proposals in a very short time—we worked through most of the night: to have them ready on time—it is hardly surprising that perhaps they were not totally understood right at the beginning.
Will not the Secretary of of State acknowledge that the proposals are in themselves a sell-out? He has already backed down far too far. What is worrying the fishermen of Scotland is whether they can be certain that the right hon. Gentleman will not be asked to back down even further under pressure from the Prime Minister. That is worrying us all very much.Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that after he reaches an agreement, poor as it is, he can be sure that from that date onwards the gross over-fishing by our EEC partners will stop? Is he confident that he has sufficient of a fishery protection fleet to do the job thoroughly?
I shall deal first with the substance of what the hon. Gentleman asked, beginning with conservation. I said, and I repeat, that this matter has unquestionably gone our way. There is now a total disposition by the Commission and most of the other members to accept that the British case on conservation is the right one.I have often said in the House that the fishery protection service is the finest in the world. If we find that it needs any changes or additions, that is clearly a matter that we shall very much bear in mind. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's other points, I must remind the House that I remained absolutely clear on the principles. I have not moved from them by one inch ever since, I think in July of last year, I put them to the House, and I do not intend that those principles shall in any way be changed. What can be changed in the course of negotiations is a simple matter of arithmetic, but that is nothing to do with principles
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, following the comments of the German chairman, he is more than welcome into the ranks of the 300-odd other contenders for the leadership of the Labour Party? While we are in that sort of position, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be secure and happy.Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the fishermen in England, particularly the fishermen who go out and catch the fish as opposed to those people who merely make profits out of the industry, are keenly aware of the strong stand he is taking on these matters and welcome his insistence and obstinacy on these matters? Is he further aware that, despite the agreement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the German Chancellor earlier this year, we would rather have no agreement than one that sells out our legitimate interests?
I want only to assure my hon. Friend that there is no question of a sell-out. There is a negotiation which at present has in no way been blocked. It is moving much at the pace I should have thought it would.
I do not want to bother the right hon. Gentleman too much, but does not he think that it is a little false to draw quite such a sharp distinction as he appears to have done between arithmetic and principles?
I was using shorthand, and I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. What I meant was this. If we are to get—as the Commission now for the first time suggests we should, and I believe that no member State objects—a preferential percentage of growth, there will clearly be an argument about how much of that percentage should be applied to, say, cod, how much to mackerel and how much to herring. I meant no more than that.
Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the key fishing areas of the North-East and South-West coasts of England remain integral to any settlement that he even contemplates accepting? If they are not, or if the settlement is weak in any other way, will he resist any attempt to force a settlement by the end of the year?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because his views reconcile totally with my own. I recommend him to read a copy of the proposals that we put in, and he will find that the preferential areas with which we concerned ourselves were—I give them in order going down the coast—Scotland, from Berwick, to below Humberside, then the South-West, Wales, Fleetwood, the North-West and Northern Ireland.
Will my right hon. Friend accept our assurance that he has the strong support of a united fishing industry in the firm stand that he has taken on behalf of Britain's rights? However, instead of envisaging concessions in the process of negotiation, will he now go on not only to introduce further national conservation measures—in particular, the one net rule and an increase in permissible mesh sizes, which would be the most valuable method of securing conservation—but to consider the introduction of a compulsory notification system for all vessels, British, Common Market and third party, entering or leaving our 200-mile limit?
At present all the indications are that conservation measures are working very well. I hear this from the fishing industry and very clearly from other member States.When it comes to the question of management, my hon. Friend certainly has a point, but working out the management will be a matter of detail. We need the agreement first.
May I follow on from the question put to the Minister by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). If our position on conservation is now broadly accepted by the Community, may we expect firmer action from the Minister very soon in the South-West, in a non-discriminatory form, to deal with the severe and continuing problem of the mackerel fisheries? If the basis is to be a percentage of stocks, it cannot be based upon over-fished stocks, such as we have in the South-West at present. Will the right hon. Gentleman now take national conservation measures of a non-discriminatory kind to deal with our mackerel problem?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that I have taken some measures. What he is saying is that I have not gone far enough for the inshore fishermen. I had to make a balance here, and I believe that I made the right one, but the trouble about making a balance is that those on either side of the balance think that one has not dealt them sufficient justice. I shall keep that point under review, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that what has been added, after all the difficulties that our deep-water fishermen have gone through, is a new fund in mackerel. Provided we do not overfish it—here I agree with the hon. Gentleman—we have something that is of considerable use to the whole country.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government are currently throwing their weight about without the force of law? Would not it be a good idea to use sanctions against the Common Market wildcats that are taking too great a percentage share of British fish? My right hon. Friend would get more support for that set of sanctions than the Government will get for the one that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is pursuing.
I have not the figure with me because I did not think that the point would be raised, but I undertake to send my hon. Friend the number of prosecutions which have taken place against foreign vessels infringing our conservation regulations by poaching—
Within the force of law?
—within the force of law—and the boardings which have taken place. These have been highly effective.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say specifically whether the problems of the common fisheries policy will be raised at the summit meeting of Heads of Government on 4th December and what further unilateral conservation measures he has it in mind to take? Will he now reactivate the nephrops measure which he abandoned originally as a good will gesture to our partners?
I must correct the hon. Member. I did not abandon the nephrops measure. I postponed it. I said that I would postpone it for a limited period to see how negotiations went. I am not quite as pessimistic about those negotiations as perhaps some people are. Let us wait and see on that.As for measures of national conservation, I believe that there is one very important aspect which we must preserve, and that is the ultimate right of any coastal State to take national measures in defence of conservation. Not to do that is to lose the whole basis of conservation. Therefore, this right remains with us. At the moment, I do not believe that there are any vital measures of conservation to be added to what is already a pretty powerful battery of conservation measures. That is a management question; it is not a conservation question. The hon. Member should understand this, because I have raised it in the House before.
Is the Minister aware that the proposals which he put to the Council last week represent the very limit which the Scottish fishing industry will be prepared to accept, and that his statement today envisaging that an honourable agreement"can still be achieved by the end of the year suggests to us that there will be a positive dilution of the Government's proposals? May we assure him that, if there is any further dilution of these proposals, we shall attack and oppose him as resolutely as we have supported him in the past?
I beg the hon. Member to do what I am not sure my colleagues in the Fisheries Council had time to do at the last meeting—to read those proposals very, very carefully. If he takes his time over them—and I am not being patronising because they are detailed and, as one of the German delegation said, the devil is in details—he will see exactly the effect of them.
Is the Minister aware that time for the deep sea fleet is running out very rapidly? In the last few minutes, I have heard from Fleetwood that, unless Government aid is forthcoming to help the industry through by 8th December, the fishing vessel owners will lay off the lumpers, which will mean virtually the closure of the port and the loss of 3,000 jobs. I have asked the Minister to meet a delegation. Could he meet the delegation with some sense of urgency?
I was myself informed today about what the hon. Gentleman said. I have asked that urgent—and I mean urgent—consideration be given to the position straight away.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the next formal meeting of the Council of Ministers is very close to Christmas? If he realises his hopes to bring this matter to a conclusion before the end of the year, what opporttunity will there be for this House to discuss the proposals? Will he submit the proposals to the House before they are finalised?
I should prefer to bring any agreement to the House, if possible.I must make the obvious reservation because agreements can be made in the small hours of the night and one may have to take it or leave it. But my aim is to see that the House has a chance to examine and, I hope, endorse an agreement if we come to one. There are dates which are left vacant between next week and Christmas. They have not been filled in for a Fisheries Council, and they might be used.
With reference to mackerel, will the right hon. Gentleman beware of taking 1977 as a base year, for two reasons? First, it was after the rush by many countries to establish historic rights. Secondly, it was a year in which there was a marked difference between the total catch by purse seiners, including dumping at sea, and the records of fish killed by landings. Since the right hon. Gentleman's draft regulation has not been accepted by his EEC partners, will he therefore put in a caveat that he reserves the right to alter the base year, bearing in mind that they did not accept his proposals when they were first offered?
Their non-acceptance of the 1977 base year arose from the fact that they did not quite understand—this is one of the difficulties about reading the document very quickly, and some of the translations were not very good—that, if the total allowable catch rose, so did their capability. That was badly translated. The difficulty really is that 1977 was the first —and also the last—full year in which we had definite knowledge from sightings by our own fisheries protection service of the number of vessels fishing in our waters. There was not a record before; it was only guesswork. That was why we chose 1977. The hon. Member will appreciate that it may be better on balance to take a record which one can justify than one which one cannot justify.
Statutory Instruments &C
With the leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the seven motions relating to statutory instruments.
That the Prosecution of Offences Regulations 1978 (S.I., 1978, No. 1357) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft International Lead and Zinc Study Group (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1978 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft African Development Bank (Privileges) Order 1978 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c
That the Common Agricultural Policy (Agricultural Produce) (Protection of Community Arrangements) (Amendment) Order 1978 (S.I., 1978, No. 1660) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Sea Fish Industry Act 1970 (Relaxation of Time Limits) Order 1978 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the White Fish Authority (Research and Development Grants) Order 1978 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Fishing Vessels (Acquisition and Improvement) (Grants) (Variation) Scheme 1978 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[ Mr. Foot.]
Orders Of The Day
House Of Commons(Redistribution Of Seats)Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I have to inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the leader of the Liberal Party. Mr. Secretary Mason.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard you call my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to open, the debate. This is an important constitutional matter, affecting representation in this House. Normally on these occasions the debate is Opened either by the Home Secretary or the Leader of the House, and either one or the other replies. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to open the debate on behalf of the Government and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to reply. I understand also that at least the Shadow Leader of the House will reply on behalf of the Opposition. I should like your advice on this.It seems to me that is a House of Commons matter concerning representation in this House and that we should hear from the Leader of the House on it. It is of vital importance to us. Although I cast no aspersions on either of my right hon. Friends who are due to address the House on behalf of the Government, it seems to me in some ways derogatory to the honour and dignity of this House that on platters concerning representation and sitting in it neither the Leader of the House nor the Home Secretary is to speak in the debate.
As I understand it, the convention is that the Government are one and that any Minister speaks on behalf of the whole Government. It is not for the Speaker of this House to tell the Government of the day whom they must put up to speak.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is insulting not only to the House but to the people of Northern Ireland that this debate on additional seats for the Province is in the hands merely of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of State. The practice has been for the Leader of the House and/or the Home Secretary to open and to close such a debate.
If the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) is called to speak, these are matters to which he might refer in the course of his speech. I hasten to add that there is no promise implied there.