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Orders Of The Day

Volume 961: debated on Monday 22 January 1979

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Weights And Measures Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

4.50 p.m.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a reasoned amendment on the Order Paper in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), myself and other hon. Members. Can you tell us your decision on selection?

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House for not informing him that I have not selected the amendment. The hon. Gentleman can, of course, deal with the contents of the amendment during the debate.

4.51 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As Mr. Gladstone observed 150 years ago, there is something of an anti-climax in Parliament moving from the government of people to the government of parcels. Notwithstanding that, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) anticipated our debate during questions on Friday's Business Statement when he suggested that the Bill is no more than a device for fulfilling the United Kingdom's obligations to the EEC. My hon. Friend and I agree about many things, but not about the merits of British membership of the Common Market. However, while I accept that disagreement between us, I do not believe that this debate is a suitable occasion to pursue our differences. I offer the Bill on, if I may put it chauvinistically, its British merits.

Certainly, the principal provision of the first part of the Bill enables the United Kingdom to fulfil its obligations under two EEC directives, but I emphasise that I regard the Bill, including that item, as being in the interests of British industry and the British consumer. I have no doubt that none of us would wish to oppose a measure that was in the interests of British industry and the British consumer merely because, by coincidence, it also enabled us to fulfil our EEC obligations.

The Bill is a necessarily complicated expression of an essentially simple proposition. Its main purpose is set out in part I and its intention is to legalise—I use that word intentionally—the system by which fixed weight packages are sold according to their average content rather than according to their minimum content.

I say that the Bill is intended to legalise that process because there is a widespread misconception about the existing law. It is generally believed, perhaps inside the House as well as outside, that every packet sold must contain at least the amount specified on the container. That is not the law as it stands today. The Acts of 1926 and 1963 modified what we believe to be our pure minimum weight system.

The idea that every, let us say, quarter-pound packet of tea must contain at least a quarter-pound of tea for it to be sold legally is wrong. Let me demonstrate why by reference to the most recent Act, the Weights and Measures Act 1963. That Act provides that where similar packages are on sale at the same place and time a reasonable number of them must be tested and the court may not convict for shortage of weight until that reasonable number have been tested. Before conviction, the court must have regard to the average quantity in deciding whether an offence has been committed.

The average weight principle is already with us and the 1963 Act goes on to say that in the case of a prosecution concerning a single package, the court
"shall disregard any inconsiderable deficiency or excess."
Here again, we already have embodied in our law the provision that a small deficiency in a single packet is not a sufficient ground on which to make a conviction.

When the Act was passed in 1963, industry, the courts and consumers found it difficult to give any precise arithmetical or legal meaning to that concept, which appeared to be minimum weight but was, in practice, average weight legislation. As a result, a code of practice was drawn up between weights and measures inspectors—trading standards officers, as I must learn to call them—and the CBI, which said that 2½ per cent. of production was to be allowed below the declared quantity before a prosecution could be mounted.

The principle of average weight, with variations either side of a stipulated amount, appears in legislation and in practice and is related to the manufacturing and packing process—exactly what the Bill before the House proposes.

That system, incorporated in the 1963 Act and given reality by the code, was intended to allow for the inevitable small errors in mechanical packing. It was intended to allow those small errors, without disadvantaging the consumer and without the additional cost that the consumer would eventually have to pay, that would flow from either the systematic overfilling of packages to ensure that every package was above the stipulated amount or the destruction of underweight packages which, I fear, is still too common a feature in manufacturing industry because of the present weights and measures legislation.

We have nothing like a complete minimum weight system. Other countries have come to weights and measures legislation and introduced it into the laws of their lands after the general extension of mechanical packing. Our weights and measures legislation preceded that process and attempted, not wholly satisfactorily, to accommodate it in the 1963 Act.

We believe that the time has come to accept the reality of that situation, to make the law more comprehensible in terms of how most goods are packaged and to make it more acceptable to consumers and industry. Part I of the Bill, which attempts to do that, applies only to what are called fixed weight packages, that is, packages sold by weight or volume which the packer makes up to predetermined quantities—for example, bottles, cans and packages where the weight or volume is printed on the container.

Therefore, the Bill does not and cannot affect goods weighed out or measured out to the consumer, such as fresh foods, fabrics or goods sold by numbers. Nor does it cover goods sold according to random weights or catch weights, the most common examples of which are cheeses sold at an established price per pound.

The Bill covers about half the expenditure by all households on products sold by weight or volume. But I concede at once to those who have put down the amendment that it does have some relationship to the average system proposed by the EEC and debated in the House five years ago, according to two EEC directives. That system is set out in the two directives which are commonly called, with an unusual and quite admirable simplicity, the liquids directive and the solids directive.

Those directives would enable the Government of the United Kingdom to establish what in Europe is called the E marking system, by which certain goods calculated and advertised and sold according to average weights obtain free passage and obligatory sale throughout the EEC. But I make it clear that the E marking system accommodated in the Bill, and incorporated in the liquids directive and the solids directive, is not an obligatory system on United Kingdom manufacturers and packers.

The Government have a duty under EEC regulations to set up a system of average weight control which enables companies which wish to do so to say that they are selling lawfully according to the average weight criterion, to mark their goods with the E mark and then sell them in Europe. But a company can, if it wishes, take advantage of the E mark regulations for goods it wants to sell in Europe and continue, as I hope to demonstrate, its present minimum weight procedures for goods that it simply intends to sell within the United Kingdom. I am sure that very few companies will choose to do that, but, as far as individual companies are concerned, the scheme incorporated in the directives is purely permissive.

These directives include a further provision which the Government regard as having very special importance to the consumer. Packages marked by the E marking system and governed by the regulation will have to conform to certain average standards. But they will also have a lower tolerance below which the individual package cannot fall without itself being illegal. Let me put it this way. According to the E marking system, it will not be an acceptable defence for companies to say "This is an average weight system and the appropriate proportion of the packages in this batch achieve that average weight" if some individual packages are grossly below it. There is a minimum below which the average packet must not fall in weight.

I understand from the system that no package could be less than two of the permitted tolerances, with four standard deviations, I believe, below the average. As I see it, one item in 10,000, assuming the distribution is normal, would be of that type anyway. How is the manufacturer to overcome that problem?

I think that sometimes the manufacturer will be unable to do so, and presumably some would say that since that is the position it is unreasonable that he should be placed under the obligation to make sure that one in 10,000, or one in several thousand, was not twice below the accepted tolerance and therefore regarded as being individually unacceptable. But I think this is an area in which the law will err on the side of the consumer. If there is a very small error—it will be a very small proportion indeed that will fall outside that area—I believe that a reasonable court and a reasonable trading standards officer would bear that consideration in mind.

But the important point is that the idea that an average weight system means that some lucky consumers get packages grossly above the average weight and some unlucky consumers get packages grossly below, and the unlucky ones are not allowed to complain or to prosecute, is a misinterpretation of the system we are offering, as my hon. Friend demonstrates.

When the EEC regulation was promulgated, the Government set up a working party in March 1975 to consider how the new European system should be incorporated into our law, and the main recommendations of that working party are now the Bill. I think that there are three main recommendations. The first is the crucial one which made a Bill rather than two orders necessary.

The working party recommended that the Government should encourage the average weight system described in Europe as E marking over as wide a range of industrial production as possible. It said that to leave it purely permissive, with companies operating both systems simultaneously, would increase industrial costs and cause substantial confusion among consumers.

Secondly, the working party recommended the creation of a small national unit to co-ordinate the enforcement of the new scheme. Because much of the present weights and measures inspectorate is locally based, and it knew that an average system policed at the point of production and packaging would mean that goods sold in the North of Scotland might be made in London, Birmingham or Manchester, it recommended, therefore, that an element of national supervision was necessary to ensure that the consumer in one area was properly protected in another.

Thirdly, the working party recommended a further safeguard for the consumer in the setting up of a system of retail monitoring to ensure that when the primary point of monitoring was moved from the shop to the packing station or factory there was still some demonstration that the new method of monitoring was actually working in the shops in terms of the individual purchaser.

My right hon. Friend has mentioned a working party, which I assume was a working party which his Department set up. Will he confirm that its terms of reference were to see how the EEC system could be used in this country? Why was that not mentioned in the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Bill? If it was to see how the EEC system could be used in this country, on what basis is my right hon. Friend producing this Bill on the merits? Did he have a working party on the merits as distinct from the application of the EEC system?

My hon. Friend is right. If I did not say it, I certainly implied that the working party was set up to consider the new European system. That point is implicit in the first recommendation of the working party, which I reported to the House. It was that the new European system should be used as widely as possible and not simply for those companies which wanted to institute it for their European exports.

An explanatory and financial memorandum describes a Bill on its merits, and, while my hon. Friend may argue that this stems wholly from the two directives, it is not the two directives and the two directives alone. Whilst he may disagree with my judgment, I must repeat that for industry and the consumer, and certainly for the authorities which must implement the weights and measures legislation, this scheme is better than the one at present followed, and if the Common Market did not exist—which I might regret more than he would—I should still be commending legislation of this sort.

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the process that will be gone through to bring a prosecution against someone? What tests will be done, what calculations will be made, to bring a prosecution against someone for something underweight?

I shall come to that. One of the errors one falls into by giving way is that points that are prepared for later in one's speech are anticipated.

Before I come to that point, I want to explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South and other sceptics why I believe this system is preferable. It is preferable in three ways. First, from industry's point of view it is less wasteful than the present system. It reduces, for instance, the number of rejected packages which are inevitably a feature of the present minimum system, and rejected packages are not a cost that industry bears. The cost is spread over the actual price of the packages which get into the shops, and therefore the cost is passed on to the consumers.

Secondly, the scheme enables the United Kingdom producer to operate a weights and measures system which is the same as that which applies in most of the countries to which we export—not only the EEC but other countries as well. It is clearly in the interests of an exporter to know that the regulations that govern his domestic sales are the same as those that govern sales when he is producing an identical item for export. I think that it is also very much in the interests of the retailer. At the moment, although there is a statutory defence, in theory at least retailers are primarily responsible for the contents of every package that they sell. It is clearly unreasonable, in these times, when many thousands of packages are constructed, hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles, away from where the small retailer—it may be the corner shop—passes them on to the consumer, for that small retailer to be responsible for their weight.

Under this Bill the small retailer has some responsibility, but that responsibility is moderated by the fact that he must have knowledge that the package he is selling is inadequate within the terms of the second clause. I know that the removal of the obligation on the shopkeeper to sell only goods of a certain weight is one of the issues that worry my hon. Friends. However, I believe, and if I did not I would not commend the Bill to the House, that this Bill is in the interests of the consumer, and it is also in the interests of industry and the retailer.

The Bill includes a minimum tolerance below which even a package which is part of an acceptable average batch must not fall if it is to be sold legally. That is a substantial protection. What is more—and I repeat it because it is an important factor governing all these matters concerning consumers and consumer costs, since it ought to allow industry to produce more cheaply, perhaps on some occasions only marginally more cheaply but more cheaply nevertheless—in a highly competitive industry such as food production and retailing, any reduction in costs ought to be passed on by a reduction in prices.

Besides those general advantages, I believe there are some specific features of the new system which are of direct benefit to the consumer. They are concerned, perhaps more in the negative sense, with the criticisms of the system which now applies. First, the present system is legally imprecise—so imprecise that it is wholly unsuitable for some commodities which are rarely if ever checked. There is a wide variety of products which come in tubes and bottles which are virtually uncheckable under the present system. They range from toothpaste to ketchup, and there are many products of similar viscosity and similar packaging which are largely outside the present law.

Secondly, the enforcement of the present law depends on the discovery of one package in one shop and it is normally followed up by a derisory fine which few people regard as a deterrent and few regard as a punishment. The average system, on the other hand, is applied at the point of packaging, and that is the enforcement point. In the case of the large packing organisation, it will amount to a legal supervision of its quantity control. I have no doubt that if, through the new system, the inspectorate is able to check about 5·5 million units, which is the number being checked today, it will constitute a far more comprehensive control of the full 180 million packages than the present system.

I think the new system makes possible the extension of quantity marking on items which at present are not subject to the law. I give as my obvious example materials which are subject to late weight loss through loss of liquids, such as tobacco and knitting yarn, both of which are excluded from the present law. They lose weight when they are stored or transported and therefore they are thought to be unsuitable for the provisions that now exist.

I know that the question of weight loss through dehydration is one of the factors which caused my hon. Friends to table their amendment. I do not minimise the problem that their amendment describes. It concerns a certain sort of commodity, in a certain sort of package, which may well be of the average weight when it is produced and packed in the factory but after it has been stored in the factory and transported to the shop, and perhaps stored in less than ideal conditions, loses weight and therefore does not conform to the standards of the Act.

That is a real problem, but it can be solved in a number of ways which can be incorporated into the secondary legislation which is an essential feature of this Bill, because it must accommodate different commodities with differing physical properties. Let me give three of the many examples. We could require the packer to maintain the appropriate average weight not just at the point of packing but whilst the goods in question remain on his premises, that is, while they remain under his roof before being dispatched to the retailer. We could oblige packers to include an increment on top of the stipulated weight during the packing period which was intended to allow, in the case of materials likely to be affected by dehydration, for the weight loss which was bound to come about between packing and selling. We could even, in the Bill, include an extra provision for materials of this sort which are subject to weight loss through dehydration, which imposed on retailers the obligation to check the weight of a specific product before it was sold.

All these are possible solutions, though I am not suggesting that we shall choose any one of the three or any one of the other five or six available. I simply give them as examples to demonstrate to my hon. Friends that we are aware of what is a genuine problem and to promise them that when the secondary legislation is put before the House we will certainly ensure that some solution to that problem is provided. We will not proceed on a simple take-it-or-leave-it basis where, in the case of soap, for example, which loses weight between production and sale, the consumer must accept that situation whether he likes it or not.

The problem of weight loss between packing and selling relates to the most common fear of the new system—the fear that the consumer, under an average weight system, will get less for his money. I do not believe that to be so. The consumer buying what is popularly believed to be a guaranteed half pint of liquid is usually getting a certain 9⅔ fluid ounces, though the present law allows variations even on that figure. I do not believe that the introduction of the new system will result in the consumer getting less in the half pint pack than he gets now, for reasons which I will try to illustrate by describing the options that the packer and producer have as the company moves from the present system to the new system.

As companies move to the new system, they must do one of two things. They must either allow the checking of the equipment by which they weigh out their packages to be subject to the supervision of inspectors and there is a list of prescribed equipment acceptable for these purposes; or if that equipment is not in use, or is not appropriate, they must keep detailed records of their own weights which are subject to scrutiny and spot investigation by the inspectorate at the point of package. There are substantial penalties for producing false returns as well as for not operating the appropriate equipment if that is the method of checking which individual companies have chosen.

Having chosen one of these methods, the company can then move from its present system of minimum weights to the new system of average weights in one of three ways. First, it can maintain the present filling level in each packet. It will not even need to adjust its machinery but can maintain its present quantity declaration. If, as a result, its half pint pack contains, and says that it contains, 9⅔ fluid ounces, which is what most half-pint packs contain today, the company will clearly be within the new legal limits, as it was within the old limits, and no adjustment to its procedures will be necessary.

Secondly, the company can maintain its present filling levels in each package but increase its quantity declaration from 9⅔fluid ounces to a full half pint. If it does that, it will be selling according to the popular perception of the quantity. It will need no change in practice, assuming that its equipment or records are sufficiently accurate to remain within the permitted tolerance. If they were not, the company was in severe trouble under the present Act.

Thirdly, the company can maintain its present quantity declaration but by a more sophisticated process, adjusting its packaging machinery, can change its filling level to a point nearer the average selling tolerance. If it continues to say on its packages "9⅔ fluid ounces", it can so adjust its machinery that the contents are only a little above or a little below 9⅔fluid ounces. If it does that, the adjustment in quantity will be very small. I am advised that it would certainly not be worth doing for companies that did not sell in such packages very high cost material.

In any case—I return to this as the really important point—the new system will allow individual companies to pack and market in a way which simultaneously reduces their production costs and makes it easier for the consumer to know what is in the package. If that is so, the consumer will benefit through competition in the retailing industry. Just in case that does not happen, Opposition Members will be pleased to know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has spoken to the Price Commission about its obligations under section 2 to keep an eye on how the new cost levels are being managed by industry and make sure that individual consumers are not being exploited by adjustments which come about as a result of the Bill.

I have concentrated so far on the background to the Bill, on the average weight system in substance, and the many clauses in part I which implement that proposal. Part I lays down companies' basic duties in instituting the new procedure, to be carried out mainly by packers and importers. It also establishes the small national co-ordinating unit of which I have spoken, the unit recommended by the working party, which ensures adequate nationwide supervision and some supervision and double-checking at the retail level.

The technical details of the new policy will be included in subordinate legislation, but two points are outstanding. The Government intend to apply the average system to as wide a range of packaged products as is possible, certainly to all products covered by the 1963 Act. They intend to include those things which it was difficult to include in the previous legislation for the reasons I have described, although of course the Bill wilt continue to exclude catch weights and other materials which are not subject to pre-packing of the sort I have outlined.

I want to make a second point which I know exercised the mind of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim), I think reasonably so. I have made the point several times already, but I want to make it to her again today in the words that I promised, which as I remember them were as follows. It has never been the Government's intention to force packers in practice to adopt average rather than minimum fill standards. Under the Bill, packers who wish to continue to adopt present minimum fill standards are perfectly entitled to do so, since they would obviously satisfy the average criteria. This is implicit in clause 1. Moreover, the anticipated statutory codes of practical guidance will make this clear.

Nevertheless, at present this is, as I said in the passage I read a moment ago, implicit. I understand that the Opposition wish to see the position made explicit in the Bill, thus overtly safeguarding the position of packers who wish to continue to adopt minimum fill standards. I willingly accept the suggestion, and an amendment to that effect will be proposed in Committee to spell out that option.

In short, when representations were made to me that there were aspects of the Bill which could be interpreted as a compulsory move to the new system, I gave the absolute assurance that that was not what I intended. The Opposition then said, as I believe it is reasonable for Oppositions to say, "If that is what you mean, include it in the Bill." As that is what we mean, we propose to include it in the Bill. That will govern the conduct of the packer and of the supervisory authorities under part I.

My right hon. Friend spoke of secondary legislation. Is he referring to statutory rules and orders which will come before the House or to EEC legislation—regulations, for instance—which would not come before the House at all?

I fear that I am referring to a plethora of legislation, all of which can come before the House but some of which may need the initiative of hon. Members to bring it before the House. But all of it will be subject to debate, if that is what the House wishes.

I need advice about whether it is all unamendable. Some of it certainly is. My hon. Friend who will reply to the debate will confirm or deny whether the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it all is.

I want to make a passing reference to part II, which contains miscellaneous proposals relating to the marking of quantities and other amendments to the 1963 Act. Amongst all the proposals, the one which has caught most attention concerns the measurement of draught beer. It is governed by clause 18, the intention of which is to ensure that the standard measure of beer or cider is what we have always called "the pint" and that the pint, referred to in some places as 20 fluid ounces, shall always by law contain 20 fluid ounces of liquid.

Most people—the weights and measures inspectorate and drinkers—assumed for many years that "the pint" meant a pint of liquid. However, a court in Scotland recently held otherwise. The explanatory and financial memorandum talks about
"the gaseous portion of any foam on beer and cider",
which I more normally call "the head", which according to the Scottish ruling is to be included within the full pint. That does not seem to the Government to be either reasonable or the traditional measurement of beer as understood in this country. Therefore, we propose to institute a system whereby "the pint" is a pint of liquid.

This means in many cases the replacement of the traditional brim measure with a glass which includes a mark up to which the liquid must go. I am assured by the industry that stories of the high cost of this transformation are very much exaggerated and that the new types of glass, allowing for wear, tear and breakage, can be assimilated into the public house system over a reasonable time. We propose to give a reasonable time for that change.

What was the word the right hon. Gentleman used in speaking of the traditional measure?

"Brim", from where bubbling—I cannot remember the quotation, but Keats got it right. However, Keats could not operate the new Act, because the "beaded bubbles" would not wink at the brim they would have to wink at or around the pint mark about ¼ below the brim. But that is only a minor element of the Bill.

Can the Secretary of State be more specific about what he considers "a reasonable time"? A pub in a country village which may have a large collection of pint pots for dealing with, say, a local wedding, but a comparatively small turnover, will not get rid of that stock through breakages for much longer than a pub with a much higher average turnover and therefore a higher average of breakages. Yet that village pub is the sort that can least afford to throw away its stock and buy new, as an average on turnover.

I take that point. Perhaps I implied that I was relying on my own urban experience. There will be consultation about the introductory period. Although I cannot give a date or time, I understand the point. We shall bear it in mind in ensuring that in the transitional period no unreasonable costs are imposed on public houses.

The second part of the Bill, even including clause 18, is not the essential element of the Bill. The essential element is the transfer of our weights and measures system from a minimum to an average provision.

I end as I began. I believe that such a Bill as this is in the interests of British consumers. It would be absurd if we were to allow ourselves to be talked into believing that, because the minimum system has continued for a substantial number of years, even though it has not been a purely minimum system, there is something superior and preferable about it.

In a previous debate on this subject my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) spoke of the minimum weight system as having served the country well for over a thousand years.

The hon. Lady says "Hear, hear." However, my suspicion is that Ethelred the Unready did not insist that he should pay the Danes according to a minimum weight system. The minimum weight system has operated in this country for a comparatively short time. While it has operated it has been amended because, in its pure form—the form in which we pretend it exists—it is not a feasible proposition in modern industrial society. What we now propose is a positive improvement, and I commend it to the House.

5.32 p.m.

It has long been a tradition in this country that the very fundamentals of consumer protection are enshrined in our weights and measures legislation. In the last century there was a little grocer in a small village in Kent who was known as Mr. Nipraisin. He was so called because, as an ardent churchgoer with a stern conscience, and as a good business man, he faced a certain conflict. For example, when weighing out raisins, he would say "If I give one over, that is bad for business. If I give one under, that is bad for myself." The way in which he resolved the problem was to keep a sharp pair of scissors near his scales. He was often seen ceremoniously snipping the last raisin in half. I cannot help feeling that once the Bill is enacted our consumers will be sighing for the simplicity and exactitude of the "Nipraisin" philosophy of weights and measures.

The Secretary of State, however, has made clear that the Bill does not affect weighed-out foods. In the Middle Ages, bread and other products were controlled by individual authorities in each borough. It is only in comparatively recent times, namely, since 1926, that food has been controlled by national edict. Nevertheless, our weights and measures regulations are known, trusted and respected and any change is bound to meet with some concern.

We have before us a measure which, I believe, will lead to the introduction of a system that is more complicated and less satisfactory than the present one. Moreover, it is a system which we would not have chosen for this country if the decision had been ours alone. This was argued by a Conservative Government in Ottawa in June 1973 and by a Labour Government in Rome in June 1974. The right hon. Gentleman was right to point out that it was a decision taken originally by the United Nations in its Codex Alimentarius, rather than the EEC directives which followed, that was responsible for the change which we are now contemplating.

I carefully noted the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in introducing the Bill. Because of the distribution on emphasis that he has given to certain aspects of the Bill may have unwittingly misled some people, I want to ensure that the full significance of this legislation is under stood. I hope that I shall be a little franker than the right hon. Gentleman was about some of the disadvantages. I believe that his presentation of the average system and that given by his Department in its original memorandum have been, to put the matter mildly, somewhat euphemistic. Therefore, I shall attempt to put forward what I hope will be a more balanced view because it is important that the full implications of this are known and understood by the House and the country.

As the Secretary of State made clear, this is purely an enabling Bill. It will enable this or a future Government to introduce a new system of marking, monitoring and controlling the contents of pre-packed goods, most of which will be foodstuffs, based on the average system. This entails a switch from the present minimum net system—which has always been accepted as being a hybrid system, just as the new system will be hybrid—in which consumers can be reasonably certain, except to a negligible extent, that the quantity of goods which they are purchasing is the same as the amount declared on the packet. The variation at the lower end will be less than the variation under the average system.

In practice the present system has meant that, to be on the safe side, the majority of manufacturers have had to overfill. Therefore, in practice, consumers have usually received more. The Bill entails a switch to an average contents system, which means that some consumers could get less—not grossly less—than the amount on the packet—less than they are now getting—while others could get more. I suspect that, as every gambler knows to his cost, there is no such thing as a law of averages. I believe that by some peculiar quirk, which will be totally inexplicable, some people will consistently get less.

Surely the hon. Lady knows that distribution of this sort in life is normal. Therefore, what she said is absolute rubbish. This is what happens in a large number of cases.

I am pleased to note the hon. Gentleman's ardour for the measure and the average system. I said that this happened in life and that there is a distribution, but I made the point that, by some quirk, the same people always get consistently less. That is life. Consumers will be less certain than they are at present about the contents of pre-packed goods which they buy. The change will mean that the total contents packed will be less, and there could be some overall loss to manufacturers. The assumption in the departmental press release that this will automatically lead to a marginal reduction in price is not borne out by the information which I have gleaned, which is that any reduced fill will, in the short and medium term, be offset by the cost of new machinery.

Consumers throughout the country could be forgiven for concluding that we in this House, by considering such a step at all, have taken leave of our senses. It is a big step and will give rise to suspicion and concern. It is ridiculous to try to disguise this fact from the House or from the country. Regrettably, the House has never had an adequate opportunity to discuss the principle of the change. On a secondary basis, it now stems from the introduction of a group of EEC directives requiring harmonisation of systems of control for pre-packed goods for the importation and exportation of such goods. The requirement does not extend to internal trading, and this is a most important point to which I shall return later.

Unfortunately, the Government saw fit to present the relevant directives to the House in November 1974 at nine o'clock in the morning, following an all-night sitting. That debate was strictly limited as to time, there having been a short debate in another place at the unusually late hour for their Lordships of 7.30 pm. However, what has passed has passed. We now have a treaty obligation to make this change and a duty in this House to consider the measure before us which provides the framework for the control of the new system.

Does the hon. Lady agree that on 28 and 29 November 1974 the measure was not passed in the sense in which she has just used the words? On that occasion the House took note of the two directives concerned. It was truncated because hon. Members did not want to knock out Friday's Private Members' business.

The hon. Gentleman has correctly summed up the situation. No vote was taken against it. When I said that what has passed has passed, I was referring not to the directive itself but to the events that have built up to the introduction of the Bill.

Having cleared the air and shed a little light into the darker corners of the Secretary of State's introduction, I turn to some of the advantages claimed for the new system. It is claimed that the main advantage will be to liberalise trade between this country, the EEC and beyond because most of the rest of the world uses the average system. This is the view of industry, particularly that sector which is engaged in the manufacture and exportation of pre-packed goods. Those affected have been concerned for some time that they may be involved in the expense of two kinds of packing machinery, one for the home market and one for the export market.

I always like to give credit where credit is due, and I give it now to the Minister of State. The Government and the Minister of State in particular, have consulted widely with industry and have taken careful note of the difficulties that would arise if there were to be a prolonged period of uncertainty or if British manufacturers were not permitted—again I emphasise "permitted"—to pack to the average system. I fully recognise that one cannot harm industry without harming the longer-term interests of consumers and of the whole country. But in taking full account of these considerations a balance must be struck which takes account of the overall interests of consumers themselves.

The Secretary of State has claimed that one of the main advantages to consumers is that the new system provides more widespread control with perhaps a smaller number of personnel. I hotly dispute that. The trading standards offices will have to provide more specially trained staff at different points in the country. The concentration of such staff will vary from area to area, according to the concentration of manufacturing industry. It will not necessarily conform to the existing availability of specially trained trading standards staff. Even in areas of average concentration more trading standards officers will be necessary.

As I have said on many previous occasions, trading standards offices personnel are under great strain at present because of the welter of extra regulations that have emanated from the Government, a number of which, I concede, have come from the Consumer Credit Act 1974 itself. I have this information from one of the most senior and experienced chief trading standards officers in the country.

It is also the opinion of the Association of County Councils, which is basically in favour of this measure, that the Government are being over-optimistic in thinking that there will be no increase in trading standards personnel. In a letter to me dated 23 November 1978, Mr. Hetherington wrote:
"Whether there will be a reduction in the volume of work that has to be done by the totality of all weights and measures authorities is debatable. But it will never be capable of being proved one way or the other as to whether the new system leads to less or more work … these points should be put on record."
In another letter dated 29 November 1978 from the chairman of the executive council of the Association of County Councils, I take the following quotation:
"I understand that some local authorities have concluded that they will need extra inspectors to administer the average system."
Finally, in a letter dated 4 January 1979 Mr. John Grugeon, who is chairman of the policy committee of the Association of County Councils, said:
"ACC do not accept the Eden report conclusion that the manpower needs for the new factory level inspections will be more than offset by a saving of inspection at retail level."
So we can discount that little piece of optimism for what it is worth.

As to the claim that the new system will provide better consumer protection because consumer inspection will be more widespread, that argument tends to make a virtue out of necessity. Because of the complexity of the new methods of control, monitoring will have to be more complex and widespread. If any hon. Members doubt for a moment the complexity of the formulae which will guide the new controls, I suggest that they look at the patterns in the working party's report and, indeed, read the Bill itself. It is ridiculous for the Secretary of State to claim that our minimum system is less effective in terms of enforcement. Our present net or minimum system does not require such widespread or complicated control as the new system, yet there is little or no complaint about it.

It is also claimed that there will be competitive advantages for industrialists in this country because, when they are exporting, the total fill that they will pack will be less and there will be a reduction in costs. This is true, but it is hardly likely to make them more popular with British consumers. I cannot see that there is much competitive advantage for them on the home market if they are packing to average contents and consumers can still buy their goods packed to net contents.

I hope, therefore, that I shall be forgiven for expressing considerable scepticism about some of the advantages claimed for the new system. Because the relevant directives do not require the average system to be imposed internally, we do, fortunately, still have some freedom of choice. That choice should rest fundamentally with consumers and be reflected in the attitude of manufacturers. The Secretary of State has assured us that the regulations and codes of practice that emanate from the Bill will take full account of that. He rightly states that the Conservative Opposition wish this to be made explicit in the Bill. We believe that in introducing a measure which will make fundamental changes in some of the practices in this country, which will give wide powers, some of which will not be immediately subject to parliamentary control, and which many consumers will not like, the clear intention that these changes are to be permissive must be embodied in the Bill. Indeed, I make it clear to the House that our acceptance of this measure was dependent on obtaining such an undertaking from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that as a result of our representations such an amendment will be moved in Committee, so that we can be certain that the average contents system cannot be imposed universally and that the regulations which ensue from the measure will themselves be entirely permissive as the directives intend. We welcome and are grateful to the Secretary of State for that commitment. He has correctly represented our position, except in one particular.

The hon. Lady is talking about a question of which other hon. Members do not have direct knowledge. Is she saying that the Government have said that the important changes in the Bill are only optional; for instance, that a national packer who is not exporting can still stick to the existing system and will not be obliged to change to the new average system?

That is precisely what I am saying. That is the undertaking which we received in full from the Secretary of State—and he was quite explicit about it—which made it possible for us to accept the Bill.

The Secretary of State has represented our point of view in everything except one particular. That is that our main concern is not merely to safeguard the position of packers who may want to continue to pack to the minimum system. Above all, our aim is to preserve some freedom of choice for consumers, and I believe that where that freedom of choice exists there is greater certainty and greater consumer protection.

In the United States, which exports more pre-packed goods than we do, the average system has been accepted in principle, but for internal trade freedom of choice has been retained and packers of pre-packed foods are still packing to net quantities for the home market in an overwhelming majority of cases.

In this country, some manufacturers, especially non-exporting ones, will welcome this option, as will their customers, especially as there will be a considerable saving in costs on new packing equipment. It could be that a substantial minority of companies will keep to the existing system if this is what consumer demand decrees.

I cannot imagine, for example, that anyone faced with the choice between two ½1b packs of butter, one packed to an average weight and the other packed to a net weight, all other things being equal, would choose the average weight pack, which of course may weigh less than the stated nominal amount on the packet. Nor do I accept that there need be any additional confusion in comparing the values if the net system is retained. There will not be any more confusion than will in any case occur where there are several packs labelled with the same weight, all at the same price, which actually contain more or less than the advertised nominal amount on the packet. That will be the situation under the new system, despite the fact that the Secretary of State has described it as simpler.

As for the practicalities of having a dual system, the Department in its memorandum has accepted that spot checks will continue at retail level. The Consumers Association has made it clear that it is important that this should continue. It is also clear that the same factory checks as are applied in the case of average quantities could be applied to net quantities without manufacturers having to purchase any new packaging equipment. Indeed, it is of significance that a company packing to the net system will be well within the requirements of the average system, because it will be giving more than is given under the average system.

The person for whom I feel most sorry is the consumer who has a complaint under the new system and is persistent enough to take the package to his local trading standards officer. First, he will have to find a highly experienced trained officer, who will not merely be able to pop his ¼lb bag of jelly babies on the scale—which would have been the case under the present system—but will have to explain to him the vagaries of the system, the complex formulae, the patterns determined in the regulations, in which there are tolerance limits, an absolute tolerance limit at the lower end, a nominal quantity, and so on. In addition, there will be the explanation of how many thousands of packets in each production run fall into each category.

The only advantage in such a situation is for people like me who, when leaping on to the bathroom scales, will be only too delighted to find such distractions as minimum tolerance levels and things of that nature rather than have to face the reality of their weight. But for the consumer who genuinely seeks to know whether he has been given short weight there will be no easy answer and, in some respects, no satisfactory protection.

My hon. Friend has explained the Bill in crystal-clear terms to those of us who have not studied it. Can she explain the different permitted tolerances between potato crisps, jelly babies and sugar? Who lays down what the tolerance should be? Or is it automatically 2½ per cent?

It is not automatically 2½ per cent. In some cases it will depend on the tolerance levels laid down in the relevant EEC directives. These will vary, and they will do so for the reasons that the Secretary of State made clear. It has to do with the liquid content and dehydration of some goods. It also depends on the size of the pack itself. The tolerance level in a small pack is less than it is in a greater pack. My impression is that in some cases the absolute limit at the bottom end could be more than the 2½ per cent. which prevails at present.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. John Fraser)

At present, the tolerance level agreed with the CBI is 2½ per cent. of all packages. There is not a tolerance limit. The agreement with the CBI is that 2½ per cent. of packages may be below. The tolerance proposed, which will be the same for all products, will vary from 9 per cent. at a quantity pack between 5g and 50g, which is a minute quantity, to l·5 per cent. error at a kilogram, or 2·2 lb, which is a fairly fine error. The 2½ per cent. tolerance there is 1½ per cent. of weight. The 2½ per cent. under the CBI code is 2½ per cent. of all packages with a much wider degree of variation.

The Minister will also want to make it clear that there is an absolute tolerance limit below the tolerance limit itself.

On the absolute limit to which my hon. Friend has referred, can she confirm that one can search the Bill in vain to find this? Wherever the absolute limit, it is not in the Bill.

I am beginning to feel that I am responsible for the presentation of the Bill. My hon. Friend is quite correct. It is not in the Bill. It will depend upon regulations which flow from the Bill, which is an enabling measure, and in some respects it will depend on the limits set out in the relevant EEC directives.

I turn to the proposal to set up a national metrological co-ordinating unit. This is not the brainchild of the Government but was recommended by the working party and is accepted by the ACC and the Institute of Trading Standards. But it will be yet another quango, let us make no mistake about that. It will give rise to more jobs for the Labour Party boys in local government, or at least for their "running dogs" as I believe they are called.

The Bill refers to 12 members of the unit's staff. Does that number include office and clerical staff? What about accommodation? Is some tower block to be obtained for this new unit? What about the other related expenses? The whole question of costs is unsatisfactory. The projected costs set out in the Bill's financial memorandum are optimistic, to put it mildly, as I have already shown in relation to the enforcement inspectorate. This is especially so as the nature of the co-ordinating unit is somewhat unstable—it can devour itself at any given time, or, on the other hand, it can grow new arms and legs at will. It is had to see how such a creature can be costed accurately.

The ACC, which supports the Bill in principle, has made some strenuous representations to me on this point. In the letter of 23 November 1978 Mr. Hetherington said:
"The financial memorandum to the Bill is misleading on the subject of costs. It states that after two years there will be a permanent annual saving of £0·2 million. This could give the impression that the Metrological Co-ordinating Unit will itself save money in some way. This is not so. The Bill is confusing the increase in direct Exchequer expenditure which will be necessary to set up the Unit (and this applies whether the Unit is funded directly by central Government or whether it is funded by way of a deduction from rate support grant) with the level of costs in local government as a whole. The increase in expenditure which is necessary to set up the Unit must continue. It has no independent source of revenue. Once brought into being it must be funded by central Government as long as it exists."
In a letter dated 29 November the chairman of the executive council stated:
"On the question of cost, I am sure that one would be deluding oneself if one believed that the arrangements in the Bill would actually save money as the financial memorandum seems to suggest."
We need to know more about the Government's proposals on cost and how the members of the unit are to be appointed. The ACC has said that membership should consist of at least five or six members from the ACC and that it should be based on as wide a geographic spread as possible rather than on density of population.

We shall seek clarification in Committee on a number of other matters. We shall want to amend some provisions substantially. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) wishes to raise the question of beer. It is claimed that that provision could help consumers. I see the point, but it is claimed that the cost will add significantly to the price of beer and we shall wish to examine that in Committee.

We do not seek to be disruptive, much as some of us personally regret the necessity for the change. We accept that it is a necessity. We accept that the Secretary of State has gone a considerable way to meet our objections. We are grateful for that. But we are determined the consumers shall be fully informed about the impending change. I regret certain passages in the working party's report which are patronising in that respect.

We intend to ensure that freedom of choice is maintained without detracting from the liberalisation of trade between here and elsewhere. I hope that we shall consider the Bill in a mutually constructive fashion and that both sides will take full account of the need to preserve the balance between consumer interests and international trade.

6.03 p.m.

I have certain doubts about the EEC, but I do not share the anxiety which has been expressed about this enabling Bill. Problems are associated with the Bill but, on the whole, it will benefit not only British industry but the British consumer.

It is more efficient to have the type of inspection suggested carried out at the manufacturing rather than the retailing stage. The mechanism of the packaging lines and provisions for detailed control already exist at the manufacturing point. Electronic equipment is available to conduct a formal control of packaging production.

At present, we are dependent at the retailing stage on a random inspection. About 5½ million packages a year are tested on a random basis. I cannot therefore understand the argument that the proposal would add to the work of the trading standards officers. I think that their work would be reduced. I believe that between 180 million and 190 million packages a year are produced. It is obvious that the most efficient inspection would take place at the manufacturing stage. There is an overwhelming argument for that change on the ground of efficiency.

The changes proposed in the Bill would lead to a tighter system of control. I did not follow some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim). I understand that under the 1963 Act no more than 2½ per cent. of output can be excluded. Under the proposed legislation provision is made for a total limitation at twice the permitted tolerance. In pure statistical terms that means that even if the production is satisfactory, one item in 10,000 will fail to comply. The Bill will enable products outside the present legislation to be included in the controls. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned moisture loss in tobacco and types of yarn and how it can be calculated at the point of manufacture.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of the change is that it will enable a British manufacturer to compete on equal terms not only with EEC manufacturers but with manufacturers in most other countries. At present, because of the domestic control system, there is overfill. Let no one be misled into believing that the overfill is paid for by the manufacturer. It is not. It is always paid for by the customer. When sales are made in world markets, a higher price is charged as a result of overfill. The weight marked on a package might read 15½ oz. when the real weight is 16 oz. There is an enormous advantage in making business men more competitive in the way proposed in the Bill.

The Government must publicise the reforms. Hon. Members have doubts. There is a valid reason for the doubts. There is no danger involved in the changing of packaging machines. But when the weight on the package is changed from l5½ oz to 16 oz, for example, we must be careful that the manufacturer does not push up the price accordingly.

Clause 18 causes me some anxiety. Perhaps the figures have been exaggerated. But I have read that about £30 million worth of brim glasses circulate in pubs and clubs. If there has to be a line on the glass to measure a pint or half pint, the old glasses will have to be eliminated and replaced with glasses with a measure line. From our experience of brewers, the Secretary of State and I know that they do not pay for anything. They do not even pay for their contributions to Conservative Party funds. The drinker pays for those, too. So the brewers will not be paying for this exercise. It may be that if the process were carried out too quickly some publicans would be under some strain if they had to bear this cost. I should like my right hon. Friend to look carefully at the period allowed for this transition.

I ask the Minister to confirm that since this is a weights and measures provision—only an enabling measure at this stage—it will not apply to registered clubs, which supply beer and cider to their members rather than sell it to them. I understand that this is so.

In spite of my doubts about clause 18 and some of its provisions, the Bill is to be welcomed in general. It will benefit both manufacturers and customers, and although all manufacturers will not be forced to move immediately in the direction contained in the Bill, I believe that the advantages of the move are so great that remaining manufacturers will adopt this type of proposal within a short time.

6.11 p.m.

In following the hon. Member for Can-nock (Mr. Roberts), and before coming on to the clause about beer glasses, I should like to make two points on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which contains most of the largest weights and measures authorities. The authorities are unhappy about the membership of the national metrological co-ordinating unit and seek an assurance from the Minister that there will be consultation with all local authority associations before that body is set up.

The metropolitan authorities feel that, as they are ultimately responsible for administration, nominations for membership of the body should be made jointly by the local authority associations. I should be grateful if the Minister of State could give any assurance on that matter.

The AMA is also worried about the cost. The authorities want some assurance from the Minister that goes further than that contained in the Bill. Clause 6(4) simply empowers the Secretary of Staate to make payments to the metrological unit to enable it to defray the whole or part of its expenses. The AMA asks for an assurance that the necessary financial provision for setting up and running the unit for as long as it is needed will be forthcoming from the Government, either directly or within the rate support grant. I hope the Minister will refer to this when he replies to the debate.

Turning to clause 18, may I declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the National Union of Licensed Victuallers. I do not believe, either, that the National Association of Licensed House Managers would dissent from my remarks. There is a problem over lined glasses. Let me give the House some figures. In the year ended 31 March 1977, the total beer consumed was about 40 million bulk barrels, something like 268 pints per head of the total population. I realise that the Minister may not be able to reply to this tonight, but I should like to know what statistics exist of prosecutions for under-measure in the two years ended March 1977.

There is a problem. A difference apparently exists between those of us in the South and those in the North. In the South, we are apparently accused of drinking flat beer, but we do not necessarily like the small heads that appear on some beer. Those in the North, I fear, are sometimes fooled into thinking that a beer such as Federation is a good beer when it is just another type of keg beer. The stuff that we get in this House is not really good, traditionally brewed, beer. One day, perhaps, we might have some traditionally brewed beer and there will be a rapid move away from the cry for more and more "Fed".

What worries the licensed victuallers—I emphasise that I am speaking on their behalf and that I have no remit from the brewers—is that a drive for brim measures may give a greater impetus to the installation of more meter dispense points. It becomes difficult to gauge the pulling of a beer handle, whereas the operation of a meter dispense point is much more simple. The average cost of a meter dispense point is £180. An average pub would require eight points. There are some 40,000 public houses without this equipment, and therefore we are contemplating a capital cost of some £50 million.

As the hon. Member for Cannock rightly said, this would have to be reflected in the price of the beer to the customer. One needs to be certain that there is a real necessity for clause 18. I question whether there is a need, but if that need exists I want to raise another point. The brim measure ensures that customers are not served with a measure less than they are asking for. I would like the Minister to say when he winds up the debate, or, if time will not permit, to tell me afterwards, whether it will be an offence under existing legislation or under the Bill if more beer is supplied than less.

There is a myth among publicans that if they are caught serving an over-measure rather than an under-measure they risk prosecution. Is the Minister in a position to give some reassurance that if this were done he would advise trading standards officers that this was a foolish prosecution to undertake? I understand that since the Bill was printed and first seen there have been discussions with what is known as the legal metrology department of the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. I understand that the officials at the Department feel that the Minister may be able to accept that the specification for a lined glass should be redefined with the line being either ¼ in., as I prefer, or 5 mm below the brim. I would like the Minister to say today, or in writing to me before the Bill goes into Committee, whether that is a possibility. I remind him that beer is frequently served at waist level. It will be almost impossible to fill to an existing line because of the problem of looking down the whole time. The new design of the ¼ in. or 5 mm line would effectively make it easier.

The Minister will know that many people go to the same public house week after week. They have their own tankard hanging on a hook. Do they now have to replace that tankard, which may be a pewter one, by a lined tankard, or will they be permitted to have the measure put into their own tankard?

On the question of timing, I hope that the Minister will be able to give an assurance that there will be adequate time for the replacement of the old brim glasses and the introduction of the new glasses. In the 1963 Act, which is the principal Act we are considering, there is a precedent. Part VI of schedule 4 to that Act gave approximately two and a half years for this to be introduced. If we are to try to save as much cost as possible being passed on in all pubs—my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) pointed out that this is also a problem in country areas—much more time will be needed than seems envisaged at the moment.

I hope that the Minister has taken those points on board and I look forward to hearing from him, either in his reply tonight or in a note before the Bill goes into Committee.

6.20 p.m.

The most interesting statement so far is the Minister's claim that too many underweight packages were being thrown away in industry. I do not believe that too many can be thrown away. Underweight packages should not exist. The Bill will allow the present limit of 2 per cent. of underweight packages to go by the board. Up to half the packages produced will be allowed to be less than the advertised weight without risking prosecution.

I asked the Minister how statistics would be acquired to justify a prosecution. He said that he would be dealing with that matter later in his speech, but unfortunately he never did.

What will be the sample size? There has been reference to the percentage of the weight which will be allowed as a standard deviation and to the four standard deviations that will be permitted, but what size sample are we talking about? In the classic sense, to get a normal distribution curve one should sample every manufactured article. Of course, no one suggests that, and therefore it is essential to know the sample size and how a prosecution will be made. I am concerned that, in a thinly-attended House, we are debating legislation which will make it legal for half the packages produced to be less than the advertised weight when sold to our constituents. I cannot be happy about that.

The source of my difficulties is the fact that this is a purely enabling Bill which gives few details of what the law will be. After four and a half years in this place, I know that enabling legislation usually boils down to a debate later on, after 10 o'clock, on a statutory instrument which one must either take or leave. It cannot be amended. I have often voted for things not because I thought that they were ideal but because voting against them was even worse. That is ludicrous and justifies my lack of enthusiasm about enabling legislation in general and the Bill in particular.

What job shifts will this change cause? It has been said that approximately the same number of people will be employed but that the inspections will take place largely within companies rather than shops. My part of the country has no food manufacturing industry at all. I have never been able to understand why, since such areas actually produce the food. Are we talking, therefore, about a transfer of employment from the outlying areas to the centre? I suspect that we are. That follows a trend of which I am only too well aware as a Member for a peripheral area.

I have little enthusiasm for the Bill, which reduces consumers' rights not just in terms of what they will receive when they buy their goods but in terms of their ability to initiate a prosecution on an individual underweight package. I know that such prosecutions can be launched now, because I have helped someone to do it. Whenever the vote comes tonight—at seven o'clock with a bit of good luck, at 1.30 a.m. with a bit of bad luck—my hon. Friends and I shall vote against it.

6.24 p.m.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said that there would be a Division on the Bill, come what may. I fancy that it will be some time after 10 o'clock, unless there are some very brief closing speeches.

The difficulty is that when this subject came before the House on 28 November 1974 we had far too little time to discuss it. That is why I believe that the cause of open government has not been best served by my right hon. Friends.

The House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) for giving the wide background to this matter. The Secretary of State may have made the concession clear, but it was not easy to follow him on this very technical subject, of which some of us have no great background knowledge.

I do not agree that, on its British merits, this is a desirable Bill. It is clear that the Government have an awkward problem. The EEC says that to export one must abide by the average weight system, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) said, sets a problem for British manufacturers. The hon. Member for Gloucester said that that was also the view of the Conservative Party.

All that is being done is to make it optional, and that is a blessing, but it will mean an increase in bureaucracy, and almost certainly in the cost of inspection, and the consumer will not have the satisfaction of knowing, at least with the average weight type of packet, that he can seek a prosecution through the inspector of weights and measures.

There are even more complications. I suspect that, with the same sorts of food in the same sorts of size, some will be under the average weight system and some under our existing system. I applaud that possibility, but it makes things even more complex for the consumer. So today is a bad day for the consumer.

The reason, of course, is the EEC directive. My right hon. Friend tried to get out of it by saying that we would have done this anyway. When I challenged him about the terms of reference of the working party, he said that it was a working party to see how we could implement the EEC proposals. So I do not take seriously his protestations about British merits.

Nor do I think that the explanatory and financial memorandum has been at all helpful. I understand—since only a few hours ago—that the working party reported in Command 6805. Why was that not put in the explanatory memorandum? Why did not the memorandum list the EEC directives Com. (72/202) and R/2628 of 1973? They are the real authors of this legislation.

I hope my hon. Friend will acquit us of the charge of not giving full information. I went to considerable trouble, in case the explanatory memorandum was not clear, to have placed in the Vote Office a document which tries to explain the matter in lay terms by explicit reference both to the working party document and to the directives.

I applaud my hon. Friend's industry and forethought in putting such a document in the Vote Office. I know that this debate is a week early and that we did not know until Friday that it was coming up, but hon. Members had no knowledge of this further explanatory material, and I was not handed it when I asked for a copy of the Bill. If my hon. Friend has felt it necessary to do that, it is clear that he must have felt that the explanatory and financial memorandum was lacking in some way.

My hon. Friend shakes his head, but that is the only interpretation that I can put upon what I know was meant in a kindly and helpful way.

In case my hon. Friend thinks that I was trying to hide it away, I would say that I also annexed it to the press notice. I cannot do much more than that.

I agree that my hon. Friend could not have done much more than he has done, but Her Majesty's Government, in their corporate sense, might have done a little more. Perhaps he is not responsible totally for that, despite the great collective trinity that exists.

Despite the derogation that we have achieved for domestic packers, this is really an EEC Bill. It is packed full of the complicated arithmetic contained in the EEC document which was published in 1973 and made available only in typescript. But the position appears to be a bit more dangerous than that. As so much will be left to be done by regulation, I suggest to my hon. Friend—perhaps he will confirm this when he replies—that any future self-enacting regulations by the EEC on these matters will become self-enacting in this country at least under the courts, although it may be that Her Majesty's Government will issue secondary legislation by statutory instrument in addition.

I understand that it would be open to the EEC Commission to promote further regulations amending the complicated mathematical formulae or regulations already issued, which will be directly applicable to those firms which choose to use this system. Therefore, whether or not Her Majesty's Government then table parallel statutory instruments, this House will have been bypassed. That is another reason why this is a bad Bill.

The change of principle which the Bill presages is one which is not helpful to the consumer in the end. Although I agree that bulk checking can perhaps be done more conveniently at the point of packing and, indeed, is done in that way—there are arrangements whereby, for practical reasons, it is done and I make no objection to that—the point of longstop application cannot now be in the shop, with the new average weight system, and that makes all the difference. I suggest that this removes, and must remove, from the consumer his option to prosecute at the point of enforcement, in the shop.

Clause 5 refers to the EEC mark. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, referred to this. I assume that it is an optional mark which must be made by those who are exporting to other EEC States or importing into this country. Is clause 5 applicable universally in this country, or will it come under the derogation which the Conservative Party has wrung from the Government?

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) has already mentioned the objections of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities to the metrological unit. These follow very closely, if not exactly word for word, those of the Association of County Councils. I draw attention to another paragraph in the AMA's letter:
"On Part I, the Association makes no comment on the introduction of the 'average system', since Parliament has already accepted that this system of control of packaged goods should be introduced in conformity with our EEC obligations."
Certainly, the AMA has withdrawn from the argument about merits, on the ground that Parliament has already accepted that this system should be introduced. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Gloucester in an intervention, Parliament has not accepted that this system should be introduced. The debate on 28 November 1974 was on a take-note motion. I made it clear on that occasion that, but for knocking out Friday's business, I would have divided the House. A take-note motion, as hon. Members know, does not commit the House to approval.

I do not know what correspondence has passed between Her Majesty's Government and the AMA. If either the AMA or anybody else has been given the impression that Parliament has agreed that the system in principle should be introduced, that is a bad thing indeed, because Parliament gave no sanction whatever to this system.

I do not think that this is a matter that we can clear up today, but I hope that the Consumers Association, or the weights and measures inspectorate, if they were told that that was so, would investigate it and let one of us in this House know whether any such impression was given, for clearly that was not the constitutional position.

My final points concern the deal, or agreement, which has obviously been made between the two Front Benches. I make no complaint about that, except that those of us who were not party to it were not able to know this before we came into the debate. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether he thinks that much advantage will be taken of it in British circumstances. I think the hon. Member for Gloucester said that in America the net weight position has been retained. Perhaps the working party had some information, and my hon. Friend may be able to tell us whether the bulk of goods packed in this country will continue to retain the net weight arrangement. If that were so, it would meet some of the objections that we raised in our amendment concerning the loss of weight. Loss of weight will be a very important factor for goods commonly sold loose, otherwise we shall have a system under which somebody buying a pound of vegetables in a bag, which is able to breathe, will have a different rule applied to him from that which is applied when he buys a pound of those vegetables loose from an open stall.

I should like to take the hon. Gentleman back to one of the points that he raised earlier about the number of manufacturers who retain the net system. I hope he will accept that this will depend very much on consumer demand. It is very important that the new system should not be misrepresented to consumers as being necessarily a better system if we are to ensure that consumer demand results in a fairly large number of manufacturers continuing with the present system.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It will be particularly important in meeting the problem that we outlined.

The Bill is an unfortunate one. It reduces protection for the consumer, it increases the bureaucracy, and it probably increases the cost. It might be helpful to certain manufacturers in respect of their export bills, but I suggest that the arrangements in the Bill might be used in relation to that part of packaging which was designed or found to be particularly suitable for export. The Bill is one that we should not have had. It is forced on us by our accession, in effect, to the EEC, whatever my hon. Friend may say. It is a Bill which should have been presented in a better way and in a better manner. I have grave reservations, in principle, therefore, about the Bill coming before the House.

6.37 p.m.

On a previous occasion when the House debated these issues, one of the more excitable of the anti-European Labour Back Benchers spoke of these proposals as overturning 1,000 years of history. I should like to think that at this point on a Monday evening I am present at a turning point in man's great adventure, but I fear that the truth is somewhat less flattering. I fear that when the dust is settled on this short debate the claims made, whether adverse or favourable, in relation to the Bill will be seen to be less significant than speakers asserted at the time.

We have at present a system which is familiar, adequately understood and able to meet the needs of the consuming public. The minimum contents regime has been the practice in this country since 1926. To claim that the measures now proposed turn that system upside down in favour of a system that would be adverse in its effect is to exaggerate by a very long way. As it is, the Bill as printed would leave half the expenditure by households, on products sold by weight or volume, on the minimum system, and therefore we are talking about only a very limited area of consumer transactions. The explicit undertaking given by the Secretary of State in his opening speech, that the system proposed will remain optional, will increase the area still further and allow that freedom of choice which we on the Opposition Benches think so important for consumers.

In a way, to have such a dual system operating is analogous to the present system on metrication. It was always argued that to have a dual system would be costly to industry and confusing to consumers. In my estimation, that argument is greatly overdone in that case and in this. The fact that there will be two systems available will enlarge the freedom of choice without massive confusion to the consumer, who is well able to cope with the different systems and already does. The consumer already copes with packages that are marked in two ways, both the metric and the traditional imperial system.

Naturally, if a more serious suggestion about reforming our way of life were proposed, for example, that we should move from driving on the left of the road to driving on the right, I should accept that if a dual system were to remain it might be rather dangerous. That I concede. But in these matters I think that we need have no fear.

On the other hand, although I have suggested by what I have already said that the issues are perhaps not as significant as they have been claimed to be, I should not downrate the importance of the subject of pre-packed goods, because we are given a figure of 30 billion pre-packs in a year, or one and a half pre-packs per day for each man, woman and child. That is not an inconsiderable subject for discussion tonight, and the system of packing those pre-packs is obviously of importance to every individual.

Complexity is also a factor in this debate, because the working party estimated that there were 25,000 separately identifiable articles. That, in some small way, is some justification for what we would otherwise regret to see enter on to the public scene, namely, the creation of the control unit. It will be necessary to have a strictly controlled unit, strictly limited in its expenditure, to ensure that there is co-ordination and standardisation when dealing with these matters.

Opponents of this measure ascribe its origins entirely to our membership of the EEC. The Secretary of State, on the other hand, went so far as to say that the Bill had nothing at all to do with the EEC. I believe that the truth will be found to be somewhere nearer the middle. It has been made quite clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) that the reason for this measure coming forward is to accede to United Nations measures and the working party within the Codex Alimentarius Commission. My sleep was broken during the night by those two words hammering in my head—"Codex Alimentarius"—Latin being the least of my languages, but I find that this commission is a constituent body of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, concerned with food standards. It is from that body that these proposals have eventually come to us, although we are considering them, obviously, in the context of the European directive.

It is true that throughout the world other countries have adopted and practised the average contents system. The United States of America has such a system. Canada has such a system. Australia and New Zealand have such a system. South Africa, India, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, Austria and Norway have an average contents system. Therefore, in at least one respect it is to our advantage to introduce such a system here, since it will enable our trade to develop and assist exporters of pre-packed goods.

At the same time, there will be many manufacturers who will not need to take advantage of such a system, who do not have a substantial export market or any export market at all and who will be content to continue with the minimum contents system. So what is now conceded by the clause which is to be moved in Committee by the Government is that the option will remain.

There is also some advantage in switching the checking from the retailer to the manufacturer. This reversal of liability is something to which we shall no doubt come in connection with product liability, where it seems that responsibility lies more heavily on the manufacturer than on the retailer. To achieve a check at the production or packing stage will obviously be more effective in terms of the same resources being used. The figures given are of 5½ million packages currently checked. With the same resources—not increased resources, as we feared—that would check, statistically, 180 million pre-packs. Therefore, there is also an advantage there.

It is, however, particularly important that we are reassured that this system will not lead to more resources allocated to inspection and to more inspectors being needed because in addition to the check at the packing stage there will still be a check at the retail stage. There is this double approach to inspection.

That is relevant because, by chance, and conveniently, I received in today's post the annual report from my own London borough of Havering's public protection division, in which the chief trading standards officer makes it plain that:
"In the past year Havering's performance in respect of weights and measures work presents a very dismal picture with the prevailing conditions not giving much scope for variation or improvement. Of the 3,255 premises liable to regular inspection, only 169 were visited during the year under review, with a correspondingly low level of inspection of weighing equipment and commodities … these statistics being regrettably the lowest on record."
The reason for that is not negligence by the authority but the shortage of skilled, trained trading standards officers to carry out the work.

Therefore, if the implication of the Bill is that more trading standards officers will be required, the Government must explain where these trained men will come from. The present position is that local authorities are competing with each other for a very small number of trained men indeed. My own borough had, during the year, the equivalent of only one and two-thirds weights and measures inspectors—if one can understand the concept of two-thirds of a weights and measures inspector. Obviously, that borough cannot carry out its present duties, let alone the new duties that will be imposed upon it by the Bill.

It is also necessary to ensure that local government has sufficient financial resources for this task. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) is, like myself, a vice-president of the AMA—a more distinguished vice-president than myself—and he has already made the point that local government will need to be reassured that money will be made available, either by direct grant or by provision within the rate support grant. Nothing in recent months has given sufficient assurance that that new call on local authority resources will be recognised in an increased grant.

It has also been said that the control proposed in clauses 8 and 10 is so detailed as to be objectionable to local authorities, which are well used to this kind of work. Is it really necessary for the Secretary of State to exercise such powers over the authorities as are proposed in those clauses?

Having put those points of reservation about the Bill, and having heard the opening speeches and the few speeches that followed—which again did not demonstrate an acute interest in the issues raised by the Bill—I believe that there seems to be a danger of overstating the case. Certainly, to claim, as the Secretary of State did, that the Bill will be of advantage to the consumer is going far too far. That should be offset against the claim made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester that there is a danger that the Bill may adversely affect the consumer.

Probably the best estimate is that the Bill will have a neutral effect. To promise, therefore, that it will bring great advantage to the consumer, and in particular to encourage the thought that savings will be achieved by moving to the average contents system, is to encourage expectation amongst the public. As we have already been told that the public are not to be told by means of public information advertisements what is proposed but are to learn of the proposals perhaps from sensation-mongering journalists, it is imperative that the Government make absolutely clear what is proposed in the Bill and explain that it is likely to have not an advantageous effect, but at most a neutral effect.

After all, the amounts of tolerance are very fine. Competition in the grocery trade, which will account for most of these packets, is very intense. With inflation moving up by two-thirds of 1 per cent. a month anyway, any small savings will need to go to moderate inevitable price increases and cannot be looked forward to by the consumer as a great new era of consumer prosperity. That cannot be expected in the Bill, and it should not be promised.

6.50 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. John Fraser)

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) puts the matter very clearly when he says that he believes that the effect of the Bill generally in relation to consumers will be neutral. Certainly, I think that it will be neutral in the perception that they have of the change.

We have two systems, both of which are hybrid. We have a minimum system at present, which has many aspects of the average within it, and inevitably so, and we are proposing to move to an average system, which has many aspects of the minimum within it. So far as perception by the consumer is concerned, I think that the effects will be very largely neutral, and perhaps they will not even be perceived by the consumer at all—although I agree that it is important that consumers generally should understand the nature of the Bill. I do not think that anyone could accuse my Department or the Government of not consulting very widely over a long period not simply trade organisations but consumers as well.

The report of the metrological working party is a learned document It goes into matters in great detail. Where there are difficulties, such as with desiccation, it clearly spells them out. However, at the end of the day we arrive at a general acceptance by trade, local authorities and consumer organisations, all of which were represented on the working party, of how the change should be brought about and how it will increase protection for consumers.

It is true that we might have delayed the matter had it not been for the EEC directives which were negotiated five years ago. But we must be clear about this. If the Government, after debate in Parliament—true, an attenuated debate—agree that there ought to be a derogation for a period of five years, during which we can work out the sort of controls that we want under the new average system, they have to accept the logic of that exercise, which is that at some time at the end of the derogation period there will come a time when we must put our obligations into effect.

We should do a great disservice to industry—many firms are represented in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—and a disservice to consumers if we did not act during the course of this year and if industry, consumers and local authorities were in considerable difficulty and confusion as to what was the nature of the law when the directive came into force on 1 January next year because we had not legislated in the House and with the subordinate orders that are necessary.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with points mentioned in the debate. As regards staff, it is our judgment that we should not need any more, although there may be some redistribution. Of course, one will need more staff where goods are packed, and perhaps rather fewer staff where goods are sold. But that is a change which ought, perhaps, to be taking place at present. It is certainly a change that will take place as a result of the Bill.

Division No.44]


[6.54 p.m.

Abse, LeoDempsey, JamesJohnson, James (Hull West)
Anderson, DonaldDewar, DonaldJones, Alec (Rhondda)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDoig, PeterJones, Barry (East Flint)
Armstrong, ErnestDormand, J.D.Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Ashley, JackDuffy, A.E.P.Judd, Frank
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Dunn, James A.Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Dunnett, JackLambie, David
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Eadie, AlexLamborn, Harry
Bain, Mrs MargaretEdwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Lamond, James
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Leadbitter, Ted
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)English, MichaelLewis, Arthur (Newham N)
Bates, AlfEnnals, Rt Hon DavidLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodEvans, Fred (Caerphilly)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Lomas, Kenneth
Blenkinsop, ArthurEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Lyon, Alexander (York)
Boardman, H.Evans, John (Newton)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurEwing, Harry (Stirling)McCartney, Hugh
Boyden, James (Bish Auck)Faulds, AndrewMcElhone, Frank
Bray, Dr JeremyFernyhough, Rt Hon E.MacFarquhar, Roderick
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Fitch, Alan (Wigan)McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McKay, Alan (Penistone)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Buchanan, RichardForrester, JohnMaclennan, Robert
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Mallalieu, J.P.W.
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Marks, Kenneth
Canavan, DennisGeorge, BruceMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Cant, R.B.Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Carmichael, NeilGolding, JohnMellish, Rt Hon Robert
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Gould, BryanMillan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cohen, StanleyGourlay, HarryMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Coleman, DonaldGrant, George (Morpeth)Molloy, William
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenGrant, John (Islington C)Morgan, Geraint
Concannon, Rt Hon JohnGrocott, BruceMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Conlan, BernardHamilton, W.W. (Central Fife)Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Hardy, PeterMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Corbett, RobinHarrison, Rt Hon WalterMorton, George
Cowans, HarryHattersley, Rt Hon RoyMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Home Robertson, JohnMulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Crawshaw, RichardHoram, JohnMurray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Noble, Mike
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Huckfield, LesOgden, Eric
Davidson, ArthurHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)O'Halloran, Michael
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Orbach, Maurice
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Hunter, AdamOvenden, John
Deakins, EricJackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Owen, R thon Dr David
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Padley, Walter
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyJohn, BrynmorPalmer, Arthur

There will have to be a different degree of training, but perhaps even that ought to be necessary now. However, our judgment is that after a running-in period of two years, there should be a permanent saving on cost.

As to the unit, this will be run by local authorities, and appointments will be made after consultation with them.

We shall have consultations about beer glasses. It will not be necessary to increase the cost of glasses.

A number of other points were raised in the debate, but hon. Members were kind enough to say that I could reply to them in writing. I propose to do that.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 198, Noes 41.

Park, GeorgeSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Weetch, Ken
Parker, JohnSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Wellbeloved, James
Pavitt, LaurieSnape, PeterWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Pendry, TomSpriggs, LeslieWhitehead, Philip
Perry, ErnestStott, RogerWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Price, William (Rugby)Swain, ThomasWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Radice, GilesTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Tierney, SydneyWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Robertson, George (Hamilton)Tilley, JohnWilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Roderick, CaerwynTinn, JamesWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)Tomlinson, JohnWoodall, Alec
Rooker, J.W.Tomney, FrankWoof, Robert
Roper, JohnTorney, TomWrigglesworth, Ian
Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)Young, David (Bolton E)
Sedgemore, BrianWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Selby, HarryWard, MichaelTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Server, JohnWatkins, DavidMr. James Hamilton and
Shersby, MichaelWatkinson, JohnMr. Ted Graham.
Shore, Rt Hon Peter


Bidwell, SidneyKelley, RichardSkinner, Dennis
Body, RichardLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Spriggs, Leslie
Cryer, BobLitterick, TomSteel, Rt Hon David
Edge, GeoffLoyden, EddieStewart, Rt Hon Donald
Fell, AnthonyMacCormick, IainThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Flannery, MartinMadden, MaxThompson, George
Garrett, W.E. (Wallsend)Mawby, RayThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Grist, IanMaynard, Miss JoanWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Heffer, Eric S.Molyneaux, JamesWelsh, Andrew
Henderson, DouglasParry, RobertWinterton, Nicholas
Hooley, FrankPenhaligon, DavidWise, Mrs Audrey
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)Richardson, Miss JoTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Mr. A.J. Beith and
Hutchison, Michael ClarkRyman, JohnMr. Clement Freud.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Industrial Situation

7.5 p.m.

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

Leave having been given this day under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss:
The increasing privation and hardship caused to citizens of this country by the present industrial unrest.
I am sure that the House regrets the necessity for this debate as much as it will welcome the opportunity for it. I do not propose to speak for long as I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to express the anxieties and problems facing their constituents.

As I said when I made my application under Standing Order No. 9, we are today facing the biggest industrial unrest in terms of numbers of those who have withdrawn their labour since the general strike of 1926. It is especially sad, sorry and surprising that it should take place under a Government who have always claimed to have a special relationship with the trade union movement.

It is difficult to know the truth of the situation. It is changing from day to day and it varies from one part of the country to another. I am sure that hon. Members who catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will wish to bring to the attention of the House the specific problems which their constituents and industries are facing.

However, I must refer briefly to the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food earlier today. He reassured the House about many things, including the situation in Hull. I have had the opportunity of checking that situation in the last 20 minutes or half an hour. I understand that the word from the National Ports Council between 2 and 2.30 p.m.—presumably after the right hon. Gentleman received his information—was that there was no movement in Hull at all. The docks in Hull are completely closed due to heavy picketing.

I am afraid that it is more or less true that there is little or no movement in, for instance, the docks and ports in Scotland, on Teesside and Tyneside, in Liverpool, in Felixstowe, except for some Continental lorries which are moving under police protection, and Southampton, to name but five. It is said that the picketing in general is probably worse than last week. Indeed, in the North it is very bleak. Many pickets are ignoring the code of practice.

If the Minister was so ill informed about Hull, the House might wish him to check his sources and perhaps to come back tomorrow to give the new state of play. Indeed, I was reassured by his complacency during the making of the statement. That reassurance has been somewhat shattered by what I learned about the port situation in the last half hour.

I do not intend to dwell on the problems created by picketing by public employees: the closure of schools, the fact that graves are not being dug, that roads are not being cleared or gritted and that the ambulance men are not answering calls, even 999 calls. I understand that in my constituency this morning they had decided to answer 999 calls. Then the telephone started ringing and under pressure—I am not sure from whom, presumably some action committee—they fell into line and refused to answer such calls. I am assured that the men in that region wished to answer such calls but that they had no choice except to obey and do what they were told.

I must mention an extraordinary item which I read in the Evening Standard. The headmaster of a school in Thatcham is reported to have said that meals would be served to those children who normally had meals but that children who normally brought sandwiches would be asked not to bring sandwiches today for fear of inflaming the situation. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is leaving the Chamber, because I intend to refer to him later. Can this really be our country, where children might inflame a strike situation by taking sandwiches into school?

I profoundly believe that this Government, knowingly or unknowingly, have unleashed an unparalleled industrial anarchy and bitterness in the last three or four years, culminating in today's situation. Indeed, I believe that their members and the Labour Party have stoked the fires of that bitterness for the last decade, so perhaps it is not surprising.

Twice in the last week, once in this House and once on television, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition proposed an agreed programme, to be followed with the Government, which would introduce reforms to meet the gravity of the situation. The proposals were modest. As she said, the Prime Minister at various times had expressed his anxiety about the very points in that proposed agreed programme. They looked to the reform of secondary picketing, to the extension of secret ballots in the trade union movement and to an agreed "no strike" situation in certain industries essential to the welfare of the country.

In passing, I must say that, if he was correctly reported, I was astounded at the grotesque and bizarre remarks of the Leader of the House on BBC radio. He said of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:
"I think she wants to go and shoot anyone who is on a picket line".
He said that in relation to the modest proposals that I have just described and which I am quite sure are supported by the country. Indeed, I firmly believe that in a free vote they would be supported by an overwhelming majority of hon. Members.

I fear that it is possible that some such agreed programme between the major political parties—not excluding members of the other parties—might well prove to be the only way forward for the country in order to meet the sort of problems that we are facing today. I believe that my right hon. Friend spoke for the country and for the majority of hon. Members.

To the best of my knowledge, the Prime Minister did not listen, answer or care. He has not responded and is not present this evening, even though I sent him a letter earlier today stating that I intended to refer to him during the debate. Again, if reports are correct, the Prime Minister at a party meeting last week expressed his deep and profound concern at the effect of secondary picketing on food supplies. But did he warn that hardship might result? No. Did he warn that privation or hunger might result? No. Apparently he warned that it might lead to the return of a Conservative Government.

What are the options open to the Prime Minister and to the Government? He could accept my right hon. Friend's proposal and look to some agreed programme of action to relieve the country from the burdens from which it is presently suffering. He could resign and call for a general election. At the very least, he could call for a state of emergency and move the supplies which are held up in the docks, because, whatever the Minister of Agriculture might say, it is not so much a problem of food in the shops as a problem of supplies in the pipeline. When the pipeline dries up, the Minister of Agriculture will have nothing to eat but his own words.

As a result of all this, there has emerged a Prime Minister whom we learnt to know from the pen of his friend Mr. Crossman, because the right hon. Gentleman took none of the options that I have mentioned. If reports are true, he had decided to call a state of emergency on Tuesday but was dissuaded on Wednesday by his friends in the Cabinet. Of course, one understands the Prime Minister's difficulties, because in his Cabinet are two right hon. Members who belong to the Transport and General Workers' Union. There are a great many more members of that union on the Labour Back Benches, and in 1977 that union contributed £270,000 to the funds of the Labour Party.

In 1977, £270,000. Therefore, the Prime Minister had a difficulty, and I sympathise with him in it. Therefore, instead of having a state of emergency he allowed the TGWU to prepare its own code on voluntary picketing. It was designed to be effective, but the word today is that it is not very effective.

In some areas the situation is improving. For example, I understand that Tesco, which last week was in great difficulty, has had four of its five major distribution centres relieved of picketing because of the code. The fifth is still being picketed. I understand that union officials asked the pickets to stop their picketing, but I shall not repeat to the House what the pickets said to the union officials. That warehouse is still being picketed.

However, Tesco advises me—I imagine that it is in the same situation as other chains—that, instead of receiving only 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. of food supplies, it is now receiving 50 per cent. That is an improvement, but if the situation does not improve further, hardship will be caused when the pipeline runs dry. Again, I remind the Minister of Agriculture, that it is food in the pipeline which is important. I am told that if this problem is not solved within two or three weeks, there will be hardship. There is minor hardship now. In some areas certain edible oils and sugar are not available, although food shelves are still virtually fully stocked. However, we must look to the future.

On Wednesday we had the voluntary code on picketing, but on Thursday, as the Daily Mirror said,
"The red flag turned white",
and there was the announcement that the Road Haulage Association would not be restricted by any price code restrictions. What a falling off in intention!

There are two points that I should like to make in this connection. First, it is extraordinary that within a few days the Government, on the one hand, announced new legislation to toughen the price code and remove the profit element from it, and, on the other, announced that the Road Haulage Association—one of the battalions that the Government have thrown into the battle line—will not be subject to the price code. Secondly, this destroys once and for all the Government's argument that the decision of the House to deny them sanctions has weakened their hand, because voluntarily and by their own intention, initiative and decision they have announced that they will not use the sanction, which they held in their hand, against the Road Haulage Association.

The House will know that the Road Haulage Association used that argument in its stand against the lorry drivers. It said "We cannot increase your salaries above a certain amount, because if we do the Government will impose this sanction upon us". The Government then said that they would not impose sanctions. I do not know whether it is right or wrong that they should be imposed, but I do know that the Government have voluntarily dropped one of the sanction weapons in their hands. No more can the Government say that it is a decision of the House that has weakened them.

The reason why the Government did not face the challenge of the present situation and the Prime Minister did not accept the programme proposed by my right hon. Friend is that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are the men most responsible for our present misfortunes. They are the architects of our present difficulties.

If history is correct, it was the Prime Minister who organised the rebellion within the Cabinet that destroyed the proposed legislation based on "In Place of Strife". If history is correct, the Prime Minister's guiding star has been to find out what the unions wanted and to give it to them. He said in 1974 that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who was standing up to the miners' wage claim, was talking "utter drivel". He also said at the same time:
"I wanted to come into the mining valleys to put the Labour Party firmly behind the miners' claim."
The Cabinet in which the Prime Minister held an important position introduced the social contract and I blenched when I heard on the radio the Minister for Social Security calling for a new social contract—although he called it a social concordat. Must we again barter for short-lived wage peace more union strength and less freedom, as we did in the last social contract? One is ephemeral, the other remains on the statute book.

The Lord President, with the backing of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, placed on the statute book the legislation that enlarged the powers of pickets and allowed them to picket in places where they could not do so before. He also is an architect of the problems that this country faces. It is seldom that Nemesis strikes so swiftly.

I agree with what was written in one of the newspapers yesterday, that the main cause of strikes is that they succeed; and I agree with what Sir Leonard Neal wrote in the News of the World yesterday:
"Unless we change the rules of the game, we will go through the current traumatic experience year after year until we collapse."
It may prove a tragedy that the Prime Minister has turned his face against the agreed programme suggested by my right hon. Friend. It would have been supported by the country and by the House. Perhaps it is not too late. Perhaps there is still time to take the action that we all know must be taken. We all know in our hearts that the situation cannot continue as it is.

We have the offer of an agreed programme of action, and surely, while the Prime Minister and the Government must look to themselves, they must look to their country first. By the Prime Minister's actions in the past and the inaction of the Government last week, I fear that they have made strikes easier to win and therefore more likely. I fear that the wood that we are entering grows thicker and the road grows longer. I do not know how much time we have left. I fear that the Prime Minister has put his relations with the trade union movement before an agreed programme, before a state of emergency, before an election and, alas, before the welfare of this country.

Order. May I remind the House that the debate will finish at 10 o'clock and it is hoped that the wind-up speeches will begin at 9.30 p.m.? That leaves us only 125 minutes for everyone else who wishes to speak. I beg hon. Members who catch my eye to make their speeches as brief as possible while getting in all the points that they wish to make.

7.25 p.m.

I wish to join my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) in correcting the complacent statement of the Minister of Agriculture about events at Hull, and I shall do so in some detail later.

I start with a word or two about the effects of the strike on agriculture. Farmers in the East Riding of Yorkshire have been living through a nerve-racking period. No depression or freak of the weather can compare in horror with the prospect of knowing that one may run out of food for one's animals by tomorrow night—especially when one is talking in terms of thousands of poultry or pigs.

Labour Members said earlier that this is surely alarmist talk and they asked whether any animals had died of starvation. The answer is "No", but that is due only to superhuman self-help by farmers and help for one farmer from another. When a farmer has helped a neighbour from his own reserves of feed once, he cannot do so again.

All animal feed in Humberside travels by lorry. At present that traffic is down to 60 per cent. of the normal rate. The Secretary of State for Transport said on Friday:
"At Hull there is no movement of grain or animal feed out of the docks."—[Official Report, 19th January 1979; Vol. 960, c. 2112.]
I believe that that remains the position. The mills are bleeding to death, farmers are on their last reserves. It would take only a week's heavy snow on the wolds, cutting down emergency movements, to bring disaster to some farms.

So that hon. Members may appreciate how dependent farms in the East Riding are on road transport, I had better say something about the structure of the various units. There is in the Driffield district one of the biggest turkey producers in this country, producing 12,000 turkeys a day. The firm needs 700 tons of feed a week, which probably means 15 or 20 truck loads a day. Owing to transport difficulties, it has 50,000 extra turkeys on hand, needing an extra 80 tons of feed a week. That undertaking is a pipeline operation quite unlike the mixed farming of old.

The same may be said of pig production in the East Riding, where we have 600,000 pigs. It is not uncommon for a unit to have 3,000 animals on site, using 30 or 40 tons of feed a week.

Having said something about the structure, I turn to the question of how the farms are supplied. In Humberside, 5,000 tons of feed is transported each day, half in the form of raw materials to the mills and half as finished feed from the mills to the farms. A total of 80 per cent. of this great traffic is carried by independent hauliers, many of whom use specialised vehicles.

Despite all the instructions from the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers' Union, only 60 per cent. of that traffic is moving, mostly carrying finished feed away from the mills. To a certain extent, the shortage is compensated for by farmers sending their own tractors to the mills where they are within range of the mills, but the general picture is of a running down of the whole system.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said today that the position at Hull was improving. Having spent the whole weekend checking verbally with every contact I have, including drivers, I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that I will believe that when I see it.

The future depends not on a Minister, not on the trade union leaders or union officials, but on the strike committee, and that is a quite remarkable phenomenon. Its exact standing, status and source of authority are not clear, but its power is absolute. The strike committee deals in dispensations—in other words, permits to ply one's own trade. Everyone complains of the erratic and time-consuming working of the committee. If one qualifies for a dispensation one day through a member of the committee, one finds that it can be cancelled the next day by another member. At five o'clock on Friday evening 12 January, all dispensations were cancelled and one had to start all over again.

In general, the policy of the committee seems to be as follows. Members of the Road Haulage Association are blacklisted—not surprisingly. But a member of the association may be invited to put in writing a declaration that he will pay a wage of £65 a week for the whole of 1979. If he agrees to that, he does not get a dispensation but he will be put on a list of individual firms that have surrendered, and when that list gets long enough he and others who have signed will be allowed to operate and the strike committee will be able to concentrate its pickets on those not on the list. So the bribe and the threat to potential signers is there for all to see.

Company drivers are given dispensations in general, provided the company agrees to pay the £65 a week for the duration of the strike. Owner-drivers are sometimes given dispensations, sometimes not, but anyway only if they join the union and pay one year's or maybe two years' subscription. Other remarkable cash demands are sometimes for subscriptions for charity, and so on.

But the difficulty of dealing with the eccentricities of the strike committees was vividly illustrated in the developments following the issue of the code of practice, which is openly rejected—a quite different story from that told by the Minister today. The mills rely heavily on owner-driver lorries to bring food and raw materials to the farmers. A spokesman of the manufacturers said:
"We were told categorically that it would be a formality for owner-drivers to apply for dispensations and they would be given the necessary papers. We tested this immediately yesterday and today, and so far not one owner-driver has been given a dispensation. They have been told to go and get the big boys, namely, the mills, to sign up, when they will be given dispensations. So these owner-drivers are being blackmailed, either they did the Union's job for them, pressurised the mill owners, or they couldn't do any work."
Having studied the committee at work, one can see that it was naïve to think that it would ever consider observing the code of practice on secondary picketing. To the committee, secondary picketing is not only normal but is its main source of power. Effective secondary picketing means that every transport job is at the committee's mercy, and as transport is a key factor in both industry and agriculture secondary picketing gives the strike committee control of the whole community—and I am not exaggerating.

People in my area can hardly believe their eyes in the developments over the last few weeks. A new government has arrived in Humberside: a group of men have set themselves up in Bevin House and taken powers which would have shocked Ernest Bevin. They decide who should work and who should not; they decide which firms will continue in business and which will not. They decide if animals will be fed. They do it politely but with arrogance.

People who come to that seat of authority may be asked to wait in the passage for four or five hours, given a short interview, and told to come back next day. This strategy is carried out with great skill and knowledge. They know exactly the most vulnerable points of industry and agriculture. There is no violence—this is no Grunwick or Saltley. Instead of violence, it is blackmail. That is the new weapon. A man is blackmailed not only by the fear of losing his own job but by fear of getting his friends and his firm blacklisted. That is why I can give no names.

This power of the strike committee has no source or authority. One may claim that the committee was elected by fellow trade unionists. Yes, but it was elected to fight their employers and in a dispute confined to their own employment. They have no power to elect representatives to fight the whole community. That is a different matter. The time has surely come for the Government to tell us what they think of these new developments, because they are something new. Similar events have happened in the past, but when refined to the present degree they are beyond the law and, one would have thought, intolerable to any Government.

Hull is acknowledged to be the hotbed of secondary picketing, the example of all that is worst in secondary picketing. Yet, apart from a 6 a.m. broadcast on the local radio station by the Minister of Agriculture, we have not had one word of protest or leadership from the Government. What are Moss Evans and other union leaders doing to help the unfortunate David Cairns, the regional secretary, who cuts no ice at all? When the flying pickets of the National Union of Mineworkers got out of hand in 1972, the NUM leaders intervened and it was not long before there was properly controlled picketing, which was to the credit of the union. Is that sort of thing quite beyond the scope of present trade union leaders?

What must the Prime Minister be thinking about as he ruminates on this scene? He of all people knows. He it was who sold the pass 10 years ago when he took the union side over "In Place of Strife". The Labour Government have been retreating ever since. This is the mob that Labour let in, sitting quietly but in charge in Bevin House, Hull.

7.37 p.m.

Do you get a feeling, Mr. Speaker, of a great missed opportunity? I thought that we were to have an emergency debate—and I suspect that you did when you granted it—upon the considerable issues confronting the country. I am sure that the right hon. Member of Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) will give us one of his lively speeches. He has every opportunity, but the opportunity is given to him by circumstances outside the House and not by the speeches of the hon. Members for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) and for Howden (Sir P. Bryan).

In the speech of the hon. Member for Howden we had an almost perfect description of why every Daily mail article talking of over-powerful trade unions is incorrect. I did not actually see Moss Evans leading a campaign in the executive committee of the Transport and General Workers' Union to order his members out on strike. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman did not seem to me to be saying that any trade union was responsible for the activities of which he complained. On the contrary, he complained of an anonymous strike committee.

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was actually advocating legislation to empower the central authorities of trade unions to have more authority over local unofficial bodies. I did not think that that was the official policy of the Conservative Party, and I am not advocating it. The hon. Member for Howden said that no animal in his area had actually died but that the situation had caused difficulties in the supply of animal feed. All the time, however, he was saying that it was this anonymous strike committee that was causing these difficulties—not any trade union, not any over-powerful trade union. At Question Time today, many hon. Members talked about the irresponsibility of various people. The hon. Member for Streatham and the hon. Member for Howden never mentioned the question of incomes policies. Yet incomes policies and their advocates have some responsibility for the situation we are now in.

I happened to chair a Sub-Committee whose report was unanimously approved by the Expenditure Committee of this House in 1974. I have to paraphrase that report because it is so far back that the Vote Office does not have a copy of it now. But the whole Expenditure Committee of nearly 50 Members of this House, Labour and Tory, in 1974 said a very simple thing—that one can have a temporary incomes policy but not a permanent one.

Many Labour and Conservative Members said this and they explained why. They said that if one wanted a permanent incomes policy several things needed to be done. First, we would have to ensure that there was absolute exchange control so that no one, for example, could move his capital to a place where interest rates were higher. Secondly, we would need complete control over all personnel policies so that nobody, for instance, could regrade a foreman as an assistant manager and so change the rate of pay by claiming that it was a new job.

What are we presently talking about? We are talking about public sector workers having wage increases comparable with those paid in the private sector. What public sector workers are really saying is that people in the private sector have already got £6 plus some of £6 plus 5 per cent. plus a little bit more. This may or may not be true, and if we have the comparability exercise suggested by the Prime Minister we shall no doubt find out. The public sector workers believe, rightly or wrongly, that what they will find out is that the private sector has gone far above them and will continue to do so unless there is control over personnel policies in every organisation in the land.

In my constituency, during one of the various incomes policies we have experienced—and I am quite surprised that no hon. Member in this debate has mentioned the previous incomes policies that we have had—an individual said to me that his employees were skilled engineers and that down the road there was a new factory where the current incomes policy was not being applied. He asks me whether I think he is losing his workers. My reply is "Yes", but I ask him what he is doing about the situation. His reply is that he has upgraded his workers.

There is one place in the world where incomes policies are said to work, and that, of course, is in an authoritarian State—Soviet Russia would be a good example—but there are others if one is talking about incomes policies which are centrally enforceable. Enforcement may lead us somewhat further than some of the people who sit in Whitehall offices might wish. However, that point was covered in the 1974 report, which I stress again represented the unanimous views of hon. Members of all parties. It is interesting—and we did—to discover what happens in such a State. Ota Sic, no doubt somewhat suppressed under such an authoritarian regime, was a well-known economist under President Novotny in Czechoslovakia who was allowed under Dubcek to publish a book on a Marxist economy in an authoritarian State. He said that it was perfectly possible to have an incomes policy provided that everything was managed centrally by the State.

The result of that, he wrote, was that every individual decision of importance was referred to the centre. That, however, led to economic stagnation.

Ota Sic was not some mad Right-wing writer in the Spectator nor some mad Left-wing writer in Tribune, or whatever one might consider to be an extremely Left-wing paper [Interruption.] Tribune is, I agree, a bit centrist these days. Ota Sic was a man who had actually lived under an incomes policy. What happens when an incomes policy ceases? Somebody must produce a reasonable way out.

I believe the suggestion of the Prime Minister the other day was a sensible one, although it came a bit late—that we ought to have comparability phased in in the public sector, just as we have had increases for policemen and firemen phased in. I think that this could be a way out for the public sector. But may I put to hon. Members, especially the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, that if ever there is a future Conservative Government—and I ask the same question of my right hon. Friend who will answer the debate for the Government—or if there is a Labour Government after the next election, can we please get away from these incomes policies, fixed with a so-called permanency in Whitehall? Can we remember that the realities of a complex industrial society are so complicated that such intellectually lovable solutions will not work?

7.45 p.m.

When 10 of my hon. Friends have given notice of their intention to move the Adjournment of the House, short speeches are necessarily in order.

The subject on which I wish to speak, and of which I gave you notice, Mr. Speaker, concerns last Friday's decision by the London ambulance men to withdraw emergency cover today. On Friday, due to the ingenuity of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) and the generosity of the Secretary of State for Social Services in coming to the House at short notice, we were able to have a mini-debate on that threat. Hon. Members on both sides deplored the language which Mr. Bill Dunn of the London ambulance men had used about the possible consequences of the strike. Because of the brevity of the debate there was no opportunity to cross-examine the Secretary of State about the number of emergencies which the contingency arrangements which he described would cover. These details became available over the weekend and we learnt that there were 1,500 emergencies every day in Greater London, or about one every minute.

What also developed—and I salute the Secretary of State for Social Services for having taken the initiative on this—were second thoughts and more compassionate counsels on the part of the ambulance men's leaders about the threat that they had made. They said that they recognised the scale of the emergencies in Greater London and the inadequacy of the contingency plans that had been announced to cope with them. As of last night, the ambulance men's leaders announced that they were reversing their hard line of Friday. However, we have learnt gradually during today that those were false hopes. Apart from similar actions in Cardiff, the West Midlands and Scotland, we learnt that ambulance men at the London depots had turned down the advice of their leaders.

As a former member of the social services committee of Camden borough council, I regret to say that it was the Camden depot, the largest in Greater London, which took the hardest and strongest line. This attitude in turn permeated the rest of London during the day so that eventually we were reduced to 20 ambulances out of 145 for emergency cover.

To the credit of Mr. Dunn, he has repaired some of the damage that he did to his reputation on Friday by urging his men to honour the emergency cover arrangements which the leadership had promised. Subsequent developments must throw doubt on the credibility of the union's internal discipline and communication. The fact is that Mr. Dunn's threats on Friday have been unofficially carried out during today and the Secretary of State has had to bring in his contingency arrangements.

While we may have been surprised by the vagaries of the ambulance men's decision-making over the past four days, it cannot have surprised the ambulance men that the Secretary of State did bring in the troops, given his obligation to the people of Greater London to provide what emergency cover he could. Mr. Eric Smith, the chairman of the conveners' committee, said today that it was possible that the strike might now continue because of troops having been called in. Did he really expect that the Secretary of State would stand idly by under that threat?

Every hon. Member in Greater London knows that lives are at risk which were not at risk in the same manner yesterday. All of us are bound to press for a solution that will lift that risk to our constituents' lives. In my constituency I have two great hospitals—the Westminster and Bart's—and I am, inevitably, conscious of the traffic that they have to carry.

A short debate is not long enough to determine whether in any circumstances the end can ever justify the means. But no debate would be so short that we could not determine that the particular end could never justfy the means in this instance.

The Government are in a terrible dilemma over low pay in the midst of a counter-inflation policy. If I may do a disservice to my parliamentary neighbour, the Secretary of State for the Environment, I thought that he was considerably more impressive on television yesterday than was the Lord President of the Council a week ago.

Having lived in the private sector all my life, where one judges a man who is running something only after he has been doing it long enough to have to live with the consequences of his decisions, I must tell the Government that they have been in power long enough not to be surprised at being confronted with the problem of low pay today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rise with slight embarrassment, hoping that I am not misusing the time of the House. I explained to the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) that I had brought in people from all over the country to discuss the situation that we are debating. Therefore, if I disappear from the Chamber for a short while it will be no discourtesy to anyone.

7.51 p.m.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) on at least giving some justification for this emergency debate. The second Opposition speaker, the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), tried as well, but the hon. Member who opened the debate, the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), was guilty of capitalising on a serious situation for mangy political gain. It does not matter what happens after the debate. After that sort of opening, which reached the lowest imaginable level of parliamentary behaviour, the debate can now only be uplifted, and I intend to do that.

We must first understand that, as the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South correctly said, the Government, and probably all of us, are in a difficult dilemma over the way of life of many honourable, decent people described as the low-paid public employees. What is agonising is that we do not really understand their importance until they are not there to do the job for which they are not very well paid. It behoves us all to bear that in mind, at least for the future.

If both sides of the House do not try to learn some lessons from the present difficult situation, we shall not deserve to claim that we represent the people who sent us here. There must be agreement on this throughout the House. We shall not fulfil that task if at the beginning of what would appear to be a very important debate, called for by the hon. Member for Streatham, the hon. Gentleman works what I almost described as a cheating flanker but had better simply call a "flanker", to make a cheap political speech about a serious situation.

Five per cent. or not, there is a difficult situation involving millions of ordinary people who are the lifeline of our public services—not the chief officers on their £10,000 and £12,000 a year but the dustman, the lady who helps deliver meals on wheels, the people who cook the meals for the children in school. If there is to be any indignation from Conservative Members, I hope that they will join in the indignation we felt when their leader banned free milk for children, long before there was any industrial dispute. We all remember how she started her hoarding long before the present crisis, or near-crisis.

We have heard some of the most remarkable statements from the president and the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry. They have always said that if we want to keep prices down we must keep wages down. Whenever there is an application for a wage increase they scream about possible increases in prices. Now they seem to argue the other way, that they do not mind if there are some increases, even though they hamper us in the fight against inflation, provided that by increasing prices employers can recoup what they might lose.

I believe that the fight against inflation is still the central theme. The Conservative Party kept the House going night and day to defeat any contribution that would, regrettably, have had to be forced on the CBI to obtain its assistance in holding prices steady. The Conservatives had the concurrence of the CBI in trying to defeat that idea, as has been proved in the past few days.

If the so-called clever people of the CBI really think that ordinary working class people are the mugs that they seem to think they are, they are rudely mistaken. I have had letters from constituents saying that very rich people are so concerned about their profits that they do not mind if there is a prices explosion, that they are all for it and are opposed only to a wages explosion. Some of the rich people should realise that much trade union negotiating is carried on to enable ordinary people to pay the prices at the butcher's and the baker's, to pay the council rent and so on, all of which have crept up while their wages have not kept pace.

I should like to comment briefly on the ambulance situation in London. Many people have asked me whether the local government Ombudsman or the National Health Service Ombudsman could he brought in. I believe that the matter is way outside their discretion.

I accept the sincerity of Opposition Members' concern about the emergency cases which have to be conveyed to hospital. I hope that they will say that they, too, give their support to organisations such as the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the other unions involved, which equally want to see that adequate emergency coverage is supplied. I have only recently spoken to officers of COHSE. They still maintain that they regret—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Will Opposition Members support them? They are doing their level best to see that proper emergency cover is provided. We on the Labour Benches will support them in that, and I hope that we shall carry the majority of Opposition Members with us.

Another important issue is BBC news-casting. I must say in fairness that what I am about to describe has happened when a Tory Government were in difficulties as well as when a Labour Government have been in difficulties. I refer to the highlighting of some not very important features. I acknowledge that the BBC has an absolute right to report the facts as it understands them, but some of the selection of those facts is remarkable. If there is a disaster, something unfortunate, something to depress people, the BBC will find space for it. Therefore, I can understand what one of my old-age pensioners said to me on Sunday, that "BBC" probably means the "Bash Britain Corporation". That is the feeling of many people.

It gives me no joy to have to say that of an organisation for which I have the greatest admiration, except in regard to what it includes in the news and sometimes the sort of people that it asks to comment on the current situation. For example, who was the speaker chosen to discuss the present situation following the one o'clock news? It was none other than the man who has all the answers to Britain's problems, Sir Richard Marsh. He said that there was a rift between the Labour Party and the trade unions, as a result of which all these difficulties had arisen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can understand the Opposition chanting "Hear, hear." The performance of that gentlemen on the BBC was tantamount to that body requesting Judas Iscariot to give his views on the New Testament.

We must find solutions to our problems that are acceptable to those who have chosen to demonstrate today. I wish to quote from the business columns of The Observer last week in a piece written by Mr. William Keegan dealing with the impact of inflation on the national economy. Mr. Keegan presented the following sobering thought:
"In 1975 the annual British inflation rate reached 25 per cent. If sustained, that rate would have meant that a 40-year-old miner whose wages kept up with inflation would have been earning £1 million a year by the time he retired."
Therefore, in seeking to find solutions to often genuine and urgently required wage increases, we must bear in mind that our nation, particularly the working classes, will gain nothing from a massive impetus to inflation, because the ordinary people will be the first to suffer. Negotiators must always keep that important fact in the forefront of their minds.

8.2 p.m.

I am only sorry that the much-maligned media were not here in force to highlight the remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). The hon. Gentleman has shouldered a great deal of the Opposition's work—work which was given firm foundation by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) in a powerful speech.

The burden of our case is that we are facing Government complacency in the face of an almost unprecedented economic and industrial situation. The Government appear to be acting on the basis of "grin and bear it" tactics, and it appears that it is the strike committees which are doing all the grinning and the country which is bearing it. Nothing in the present situation will give any patriotic Member of Parliament cause for pleasure. It is extremely sad that our country has degenerated into its present plight.

I wish to focus my attention on the action taken by NUPE as it affects schools and education in general. It is difficult to be certain about the situation nationwide and it is unwise to make generalisations. On the information that I have, it appears that in many areas well over half the schools have had to be closed.

I should like to give the House a few figures. I have been informed that 80 per cent. of pupils in Essex have not attended school, that 80 per cent. of Lancashire schools are closed, and that about a quarter of Oxfordshire schools have been closed. This is true of virtually all of the Manchester schools. All the schools in Kingston upon Thames and Richmond have been closed, as have about a third of the schools in Cheshire. I learn from my evening paper that three-quarters of the schools in the ILEA have closed.

Is my hon. Friend aware that all the schools in Brent were closed today? Does he appreciate that only two months ago most of the schools in that area were closed as a result of a strike by caretakers—a closure which lasted from two to three weeks?

My hon. Friend underlines the point that I was seeking to make. Many of these manifestations of industrial action are continuing, and they have a long lineage. They are part and parcel of a continuing campaign and the unions involved are happy to see this action persist.

The direct cause of the situation in the schools is the action taken by NUPE pickets to stop children going to school. It also flows from the instructions by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers to their members not to cross picket lines or to carry out work normally undertaken by caretakers.

I regard this as a retrograde step. A number of specific examples have been given where such action is already taking effect. This is part and parcel of a much more widespread chain of trade union action which is being taken against the interests of the rest of the community, and now, sadly, against our children. For example, in the borough of Southwark, reports indicate that this is just the beginning of a much longer campaign which will be mounted to take action on a continuing basis against that borough because of other disputes in the area. In Southwark, people have been singled out for non-stop continuing disruption.

It is tragic that the education of our children should suffer from such action. Not even a day's loss of education can be set aside. When these disruptions occur once, they easily recur. All this is happening despite the statutory duty of parents to see that their children attend school, the duty of local education authorities to provide the necessary education and the duty of the Secretary of State for Education to see that a proper education service is provided.

Therefore, although I welcome the robust comments of the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the present dispute, and although I was delighted to hear the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), I believe that the House has a right to know what action the Secretary of State will take to fulfil her statutory responsibilities—preferably by making a statement to the House tomorrow. Indeed, I was surprised that she did not make a statement this afternoon. We must see to it that the education of our children is not trampled down in the mire of the present grey situation. Surely, the reality of frightened children—I appreciate that some of them are glad to have the day off—should have brought the Government and the unions to the point at which they realise that enough is enough.

8.8 p.m.

I am glad that a Minister from the Scottish Office is present. There has been a tendency recently, and certainly during exchanges with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food this afternoon, to talk of "the North-West". If, as we have been told so often in the devolution debates, this is a "united" kingdom, the term "North-West" would refer to my constituency. However, we all know that what was meant this afternoon was the North-West of England. I know that that area has problems, but I wish to ask one or two specifically Scottish questions.

This debate has shown that, on the whole, Labour Members will back the trade union view and that the Opposition will generally back the employers. With such a polarisation of view, one appreciates that these problems will not be solved satisfactorily. One cannot carry on a self-inflicted blood-letting for ever. Something will have to go.

Two days ago I mentioned secondary picketing. There is widespread revulsion against this form of industrial action, and the Government should bring in some legislation to overcome this offensive method of waging industrial war. It is regrettable that the Prime Minister talks about the futility of making laws because they may not stick. If laws are required, they should be passed in this House, and if passed they should be made to stick.

I ask the Minister about the lay-offs in heavy industry in Scotland. In Scotland, we had the lorry drivers' strike two weeks earlier than in the rest of the United Kingdom. We depend on heavy industry, and many of our supplies come from south of the border. I hope when he replies to the debate the Minister will deal with the problem in Scotland.

The rail service to Scotland is also important. The difficulty of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in getting to the House this morning was mentioned, but compared to some of us he is living practically above the shop.

A suggestion has been made that there should be a section in supermarkets and shops reserved for old-age pensioners. People who are in regular employment or who are fairly well off have no difficulty in buying groceries or maintaining a food stock, but old-age pensioners are living from hand to mouth, week to week. If the situation deteriorates—although it is not yet at that stage—there should be some section of the food shops reserved for old-age pensioners.

Glasgow airport has been closed because it is claimed that there have been no regular deliveries of de-icing fluid in the present rigorous weather conditions. Apart from the desirability of maintaining services, three are many air ambulances operating out of Glasgow airport.

The hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) mentioned schools closing and secondary pupils missing classes. Will the Minister tell us the effect on the examination results of the pupils who have missed school because of the closure?

Last week I said that my hon. Friends and I would support the Government for the moment. Time is running out. The Government have not yet exhausted all the possibilities, and before making a decision I shall wait to hear what the Minister says.

8.13 p.m.

I am glad that we are debating this issue. We should debate the issues of the day, because if we do not the House serves no function. We all take partisan views on most questions. The Standing Order No. 9 applications that are granted tend to come from Opposition Back Benchers. It would do no harm sometimes if Front Bench Members supported such issues.

It is deplorable that today in my constituency in Birmingham the roads have not been gritted and there is no ambulance service, even on an emergency basis. But this is not new. The roads in Birmingham have not been gritted, on and off, for months. There was no emergency ambulance service for weeks before Christmas. The workers have been locked out by the regional health authority. On the gritting of roads, there has been continuous dispute between the Tory-controlled county council and the district councils, and, therefore, we have had no gritting. I deplored it then and I deplore it now. It is even more deplorable today because there is no excuse for withdrawing the emergency ambulance service.

The ambulance men have taken a leaf out of the consultants' notebooks, and no one can support that attitude. The pace has been set by others who should have known better and they are in no position to complain today. Nevertheless, it is still to be deplored.

There are no "essential" workers left in this country. One cannot distinguish between one group and another. All workers are essential. Labour Members—and this is a warning also for those on the Conservative Benches—must not set off one group of workers against another. There are people in the country who would like nothing more than for one group of workers to be set off against another. This debate must not do that.

Today we have had a massive lobby by the low-paid. Some of my constituents have come here, and I support their right to do so. They are low paid. The national joint council for local authority services has been offered £39·15 for a grade B manual worker, whose present basic rate is £37·80—a rise of £1·35. The worker would get a £5 supplement, which does not alter. The net increase is £1·35. The £5 supplement is not used for holiday pay, overtime calculations or mortgage applications. Those will all be calculated on £19·15.A grade E manual worker will have a rise only from £40·80 to £42·95, plus the £5—an increase of £2·15. This is not a princely sum.

On incomes policy, I have never stood out for a free-for-all, but I have never yet supported the rigid incomes policies imposed on the workers of this country, in the main by senior civil servants who have never done a real day's work in their lives, aided and abetted by a Cabinet that is so lacking in people who have worked in industry that it is not true. Therefore, the Government have now reaped the whirlwind of the seeds that they have sown in the last few years. I cannot defend what they have done.

One has to tell the low-paid workers—the working poor of this country—that they have actually got worse off in the last three years of incomes policy. In the light of that, one can understand why this place has been deluged by 60,000 workers today. I shall quote only one set of figures. They come from Hansard of 5 December 1978. In column 603 I was informed that the lowest 10 per cent. of male workers in April 1975 were earning 65·2 per cent. of the average wage. In April 1978, they were earning 64·6 per cent. of the average. Therefore, they are worse off relative to the average worker. I know that £6 was one of the biggest rises they ever had, but many people had much more than £6. A lot of people leapt ahead. As those figures show, the working poor have become worse off.

An incomes policy is not directed in substance to the low-paid. It might be directed in rhetoric to the low-paid, but at the end of the day we must face the fact that the seeds have been sown in the last three years and one cannot blame the low-paid workers for getting extremely angry and bitter. Their leaders have walked the corridors of Whitehall for five years, closeted with Ministers to such an extent that they have now lost the respect of the rank and file. They were warned about this every year by myself and my hon. Friends. They were warned about it by people in the factories. They were told that they were getting so close to Ministers that they were losing touch with reality and they were not speaking up for their workers in the way that they were paid to do. That is why people outside are not doing everything that their leaders tell them.

One could argue that the leaders should be doing what the trade unionists tell them—that is the function of trade unions. Why is it that the instructions, advice and orders of the senior, respected trade union leaders are not being followed by the rank and file? There must be a rational explanation. The simple one is that they have lost confidence. Why? I have posed only one of the reasons; there may be others. That is a factor and it is one that has not just come to light. It has been raised every year for the last five that I have been a Member.

Last year the low-paid workers heard a message from the Government on what they should do if they wanted any action. The Home Secretary said the Government were not doing anything about their plight because my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) could not get more than three people in his constituency interested in it. The message was simple. If one kicks up a row and takes action, something will be done. That message went out from a Labour Home Secretary last July, and it is not lost on the citizens of this country. That principle has been taken cognisance of outside.

I refer to Sir Richard Marsh on "The World at One" today. As I was driving in, I heard the programme and I cringed, thinking "The BBC has done it again, it has pulled him in." But for the first time ever he spoke the truth; he actually told the truth. He made the point that I have been making—that the rank and file have lost confidence. He gave some of the reasons for this and they were correct. If we ignore that, we shall never get out of the mess that we are in.

That does not mean that the Conservative Party has the answer. It wants to cut public expenditure by £4 billion. That means hundreds of thousands of jobs in the public sector. Those outside cannot seek sustenance in answers from the Opposition. I have no ready-made solutions to this crisis. I am prepared to admit that we have a crisis, and I should have admitted it last week had I had the opportunity.

The public sector is so large and so important that it does not matter whether one is a sewerage worker, a home help or a water worker or whether one serves meals in a school canteen. All these jobs are essential to the functioning of a modern technologically-based urban society. This is not the corporate State because these people are already the employees of the Government. Nobody ever listens to the low-paid in the public sector and it does not matter whether they are police, prison officers, air traffic controllers, sewerage workers, nurses or teachers. All of these jobs have a crisis and they had it a year ago. In fact, it was festering before that. Each one is dealt with in a piecemeal fashion.

I believe that all the ministerial responsibility for these people should be removed. There is no co-ordinated basis for dealing with the public sector. There are no Treasury Ministers fighting this battle; it is left to departmental Ministers, each of whom has a separate brief and each of whom must defend his own position. At the same time, over the years of incomes policy, the low-paid have been left behind because no one ever thought about a policy for them.

The Prime Minister needs to bring in same radical changes. He should set up some Ministers to look after the public sector—its wages and terms and conditions of employment. They should make sure, whether there is free collective bargaining or an incomes policy, that no single group which may or may not have the industrial muscle to take action should fall behind to such an extent that its members have bitterness and anger in their hearts and are prepared to take action which they know damages themselves and their families. Almost no group of strikers will be better off by the end of the financial year. They know that that is so. How angry and bitter they are is shown when they are forced to take industrial action in order to have their case heard.

We should change the system so that the public sector, which serves the community, is not left to carry the can every time we have an incomes policy or collective bargaining. Radical changes are needed—and, by God, they must start tonight.

8.25 p.m.

When the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) pointed out the extent to which the rank and file were no longer prepared to follow their union leaders, he put his finger on one of the most crucial aspects of our present disorders. I agree with him, but I go further. Our present disorders are the direct consequence of the Government's incomes policies in the last two or three years. By following such incomes policies, the union leaders have nothing to show the rank and file. There is nothing to negotiate. What is provided is that which is laid down by the Government. Therefore, it is natural that the leadership of the trade union movement should be weakened.

The trade union leadership has a duty to assert itself. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) asked the Opposition to support the call by COHSE and the other union to their members at least to provide an emergency service. He might have asked us also to support the Transport and General Workers' Union in its request to its members to observe the code on picketing.

We are entitled to be asked. We would willingly give support to those calls from responsible union leaders. But we are entitled to ask the union leadership whether it is serious in its call to the rank and file to observe the code or to maintain emergency services.

If the leadership was serious, it would exert its immense power in a specific manner. It would indicate that it was not merely appealing to its members to observe a code or to maintain an emergency service but that if its members did not comply with the basic humanitarian requirement it would discipline them. There has been no indication of a readiness by the union to impose such a discipline. But trade unions do not hesitate to exert disciplinary action against members who refuse to go on strike or to toe the line in other respects.

Any consideration of today's disorders must involve a balance between the possible gain for union members and the disorder for the community. We should examine the specific consequences of the action which has been taken throughout the country. For that reason, I sought to adjourn the House on the closure of the unit at St. Luke's hospital in Middles-brough. That unit provides sterilisation services for the whole of the South Tees district.

Unlike most of the action today, that closure is likely to last for at least two weeks. The unit, which sterilises all supplies required by 17 hospitals in the district, is to be closed for two weeks. It supplies sterilised surgical implements and also dressings, gowns, sutures, catheters, drapes and everything that requires sterilisation in the hospital service. To stop that for two weeks, and not just for one day, will cause immense disruption to the hospital service and immense harm to thousands of innocent people, not only on Teesside itself but in the surrounding areas that depend on those hospitals.

It is important to bear in mind that the consequences in that area will be particularly grave because of the already lengthy waiting lists. Some people have to wait two years for non-urgent admission to hospital. The consequences of adding another two weeks to that delay by this action will become all the more grave.

From today, for the next two weeks, there will be no ordinary admissions at all to those hospitals. No cold surgery will be performed. There will be only emergency operations. Those who support the strike would no doubt say that if emergency operations can take place that is at least an indication that the trade union concerned is determined to ensure that the necessities of life can continue. But the only reason why emergency operations can continue is that the hospitals are using up previously sterilised supplies.

Initially, the hospitals were given an indication through the area health authority and contacts with the union leaders that emergency cover would be provided. I am told today that, when confirmation was sought, the union officials said that if existing emergency supplies ran out they would approach the picket line. The clear implication was that they were not by any means certain that emergency services would be supplied, not just for one day, not just one day a week, not just because of random strikes, but for at least two weeks. Those who are engaged in action of that kind should carefully consider whether the possible gain that can emerge at the end of the day justifies the disruption to the hospital service in the South Teesside area that their action involves.

I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman would take the argument further. His party supports cuts in public expenditure. Long before any disputes took place, patients in the Liverpool health authority area were unable to get heart surgery because of a lack of investment in the Health Service. Yet his party is in full support of further public expenditure cuts. Will he explain why this sympathy did not exist when the question of public expenditure arose and why it produces great sympathy in a strike situation?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is every sympathy for those who, after five years of Labour Government, supposedly dedicated to a different principle, still have to wait for surgery of that kind. If the question of how the Health Service is to be administered is to be considered, we need more than an emergency debate. One thing, however, is clear. Action of this kind has an immediate effect both on cold surgery and possibly also on emergency surgery. I seek merely to appeal to those concerned with the organisation of this dispute not to cause disruption and injury on that scale in the South Teesside area.

8.35 p.m.

The various hardships and great anxieties suffered by all our constituents are accompanied by growing anxiety and unrelieved bewilderment which, I say reluctantly, is leading to a general sense of despondency. It gives rise to the feeling that I found at the weekend in my constituency—which is in both Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire—that, of all the shortages, some of which have undoubtedly been exaggerated, the greatest is a shortage of leadership. People have said to me, and I am sure to other hon. Members, that they are willing to bear hardship and anxiety so long as they are assured that the basic essentials of life will be maintained, because they know that the fight against inflation is even more important.

That is surely a great national asset. The country has been taught and understands very well the appalling evils of uncontrolled inflation and would be prepared in that cause to put up with a great deal on the way. But, I regret to say, the feeling is now getting about—it is understandable, and it could easily be remedied—that at the end of the day they will have both the hardships and the runaway inflation.

People ask whether they cannot be told what is now the purpose of standing up against these claims and what is the new aim to replace the 5 per cent., which Ministers now admit, quite rightly, has been overridden. Until the Government tell the country—I should have hoped that they would use this debate to do so—the new objectives and why it is so worth while to put up with the hardships caused by standing up to strikes and refusing to surrender to extravagant demands, this despondency will increase.

For instance, there is the question of what is now due to people—I have met some of them—who have settled for 5 per cent. The Government have certain obligations at least to explain to people who dutifully settled for 5 per cent.—this was boasted of by the Government Front Bench until a few weeks ago—what is the new substitute policy.

It has certainly been my experience and that of my hon. Friends, with whom I have been in the closest touch, that the most significant question that comes up is what sanction the Government will bring to bear on the BBC for the most publicised extravagant pay rise of all time, which was brought home to every household with a television set in the most dramatic circumstances possible and which, more than any other incident, has, I believe, contributed to the sense of national bewilderment.

Until the Government make it clear that they will impose some punishment on the BBC for breaking the line in this extraordinary way, and until the Secretary of State explains why, suddenly and without any reference to the House, he has put aside his much-vaunted sanction over road haulage price increases, there will be a growing sense of bewilderment and lack of purpose.

Did not the hon. Gentleman and his party vote against the sanctions? I may be wrong, but I thought they did.

Neither this party nor anybody else can vote against the supreme sanction which any Government have with regard to the BBC. [Laughter.] It is no good Ministers laughing. This is one of the simplest facts of life. Our Government hold the finances of the BBC in the hollow of their hand. Yet we have not heard a word yet about what the Government will do by way of retribution to a great national corporation which, with the utmost publicity, breached the Government's anti-inflation policy in the most conspicuous possible way.

I will not give way. I have been urged to be brief. The Government, very unworthily, and leaving a great vacuum where there should be leadership, are taking refuge in the vagueness and divided policies of the official Opposition on the subject of pay control. That is very regrettable. The Government are taking advantage of that in order to evade these urgent matters. This leads a long-suffering public towards the growing suspicion that it is suffering to no end and without any purpose being in sight of achievement.

8.40 p.m.

I never cease to be amazed at the howls of rage in this House from hon. Members when working-class people take strike action. I suppose that I have been long enough in the House now to expect these howls of rage, exaggerations and statements about total collapse and about our being at the point of revolution. There seem never to be any serious discussion and debate on the real issues involved.

Working people have only one thing to sell, and that is their labour power, They have nothing else. They do not own industry. They do not own property. Some of them may own their own small house. But in the main they have nothing except their ability to work. Why should working people always work at rates lower than those they think they deserve?

I agree entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) in what I thought was an absolutely first-class speech. We have had, as he said, thousands of workers here today. These low-paid workers were only too anxious to show or give hon. Members their pay slips. I met several building workers, hod carriers—not the easiest of jobs—who were receiving from local authorities a take-home pay of only £41, and sometimes less, for a 40-hour week. How do they live on £41? I do not know. It is about time that my hon. Friends and this House as a whole gave complete support to these low-paid workers.

I get fed up with listening to well-heeled people, company directors, solicitors, Queen's counsel and the rest on the Conservative Benches—and some on the Labour Benches—who are only too anxious to give lectures to workers about their selfishness in putting forward what are called excessive wage claims of that sort, especially from people who have never worked in a shipyard, who have never worked on a building site, who have never been down a mine, who have never driven a lorry along the M1 or M6 in a snowstorm or fog, and who have never done anything in their life to make any real contribution to the wealth of this country. They are only too keen to give a lecture to workers, telling them that they must not go forward with their simple demands for better wages and conditions. I am tired of it, and these low-paid workers are also tired of it. They have had enough.

There was a very interesting article last week in The Daily Telegraph. It was written by art employer who, giving his own experiences, said "Do not blame the shop stewards and the trade union officials. It is the rank and file workers in my company who are demanding better wages and conditions. They are the ones. Why? It is because for three years they accepted a voluntary incomes policy, they got behind, and now they say 'We have had enough.'".

I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that some of us explained that this would happen. We said earlier in the year—and, indeed, last year—that we were moving towards this sort of situation. We urged the Government to take action then and to be more flexible in their attitude, and not to say "Five per cent. and we must stand by it." We knew that the workers would not tolerate it any more. In any case, 5 per cent. for somebody on £41 per week is a hell of a sight different from 5 per cent. for somebody earning £150 or £250.

Or £1,000—precisely. The workers have had enough of it. I tell hon. Gentlemen who are always talking about bringing in further legislation and taking action against these all-powerful trade unions that we went through that with the Industrial Relations Act. Does anyone remember it? What happened then? The confrontation was even worse.

I understand what Opposition Members are worried about. They have woken up to one thing—that the real work, the real wealth, the actual running of society, is not in their hands or those of the Government but in the hands of ordinary working people. Opposition Members do not like it and want to stop it, but they cannot do so, because if the working people say "No", that is the end of the matter.

Let us consider secondary picketing. It is amazing that the lorry drivers have not had an official dispute for about 40 years. Very rarely do lorry drivers go on strike. They are not regularly involved in industrial action. Yet the first time they take industrial action they are accused of secondary picketing. They do not know what second, first, third or fifth picketing is. All they know is that they are in a battle, and they intend to win it. As one lad said whilst standing on a bridge at Warrington, "I do not want to be on strike for ever." Of course he does not—nobody does.

There is a militarist sitting on the Opposition Benches, an ex-colonel, the hon.—and perhaps I should say gallant—Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). When he was in a battle, he went out to win it. These workers also go out to win. They do not expect to be on strike for ever. They want to win the dispute. Unfortunately, that means that innocent people get hurt. That is very regrettable indeed.

The answer is not to talk in terms of legislation, or crushing them, or of bringing them down, but to look at the issues involved, issue by issue. Even though the basic issue is wages and conditions, each industry has its own peculiar problems and difficulties and needs to be dealt with separately. Therefore, we must look at the issues and get the negotiations, the discussions, the conciliation and the arbitration. This is the beginning of discussions as regards the lorry drivers.

I have heard on the grapevine that it is being said that we do not need to give, perhaps, quite as much weight to public service workers or to retreat a bit as far as they are concerned because they do not have the same muscle as other groups of workers, and that they are poorly paid and therefore cannot stand out. If that is true, that is the most horrible thing that I have ever heard. I hope that it is not true. We must not underestimate the muscle of these workers, because it is indeed powerful. Now that they are acting together, we must conciliate, arbitrate and reach a settlement satisfactory to them.

8.49 p.m.

Today is a day of massive confrontation between the trade unions and a Labour Government. I believe that in this chaotic situation one must emphasise that the most devastating effects of the strikes and confrontations are felt in the large towns and cities, although I have a lot of sympathy with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir B. Bryan) about agricultural difficulties.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) developed a devastating criticism of the results of his own Government's incomes policy over the last three years. It is true that lower-paid workers in Britain are badly paid relative to those doing similar jobs in other European countries and we have a low pay structure in Britain. However, the hon. Member for Perry Barr ought to have gone on to the other part of the equation, which deals with productivity and the creation of wealth, because in the industrial towns and cities it is important that we move on to more successful productivity and are therefore able to create the wealth that we need, not only to give our people better pay but to deal with the remaining social problems, such as outdated hospitals and things of that sort, which we all want to get rid of.

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that matter?

No, because Mr. Speaker has asked us to be brief.

I emphasise that all this concentrated trade union activity in confrontation with the Government strikes with particular severity at the daily lives of people living in our large towns and cities. You have asked us, Mr. Speaker, to speak with brevity. I should like to mention very quickly a number of matters affecting the situation in Birmingham and in other industrial centres arising out of the present disputes.

The growing chaos arising from the lorry drivers' strike continues to damage industry, with increasing effect. Secondary picketing and intimidation, despite the code, continue to contribute to what is really a spreading paralysis. Export goods are trapped at the ports. Materials essential to production are not reaching manufacturers. Components forming vital parts of production are blocked and blockaded.

So far, industrialists have achieved near miracles in keeping going as much production as possible and in limiting the number of lay-offs. Nevertheless, more than 25,000 people have been laid off in the West Midlands alone, and proportionate numbers of people have been laid off in other regions. Clearly, this situation will worsen from day to day if the strike continues.

A typical example of this process is that of British Steel, which is having to lay off 25,000 people this weekend and is forecasting further lay-offs if the strike goes on into the rest of this week and beyond. One of the great difficulties of Birmingham manufacturers relates to the supply of steel, which is simply not getting through. Therefore, British Steel and smaller manufacturers are making for stock, and this cannot continue for long.

The full one-day strike of the public services today is to be followed by overtime bans and lightning strikes on future days, and they will all add very seriously to the present difficulties, as do the continuing railway strikes.

Birmingham and Manchester airports are closed today, so air freight cannot be got away.

The closures of schools in the Birmingham area mean that working mothers will stay at home to look after children rather than go to work. The deplorable withdrawal of the ambulance emergency services in Birmingham and Coventry, which indicates a new heartlessness in disputes of this kind, could cause enormous harm to individuals in the case of industrial accidents.

The police and volunteer services will do their best to lessen the harm and to look after the sick, the elderly and those endangered by fires in their homes, heart attacks and matters of that kind. But the withdrawal of road-gritting services in the West Midlands and elsewhere is bound to make worse the accident situation with which those volunteers have to cope. If the police and volunteer services cannot deal with crises of that kind, what reserve of Army ambulances have the Government available to deal with any special situation which may develop in the West Midlands?

I want to return to the significance of getting exports out of this country. Some of the worst damage, both present and future, is being done to West Midlands industry by the blockading of exports which have reached the ports. Great quantities of finished goods for export which have reached the ports are piling up and not reaching the ships. In fact, many cargo ships have stopped calling at United Kingdom ports while the emergency continues. This delay will severely harm our exporting record and reputation. Customers abroad will not tolerate further unreliability on our part and will seek other suppliers.

On Friday, a Midlands manufacturer told me of a new order worth more than £2 million in exports to China. He spoke of his anxiety that it should be carried out with perfect timing so that further orders may follow but said that his company was now bound to fail in that endeavour.

It must be emphasised that future job problems in our large towns and cities—goodness knows, they have already reached a dangerous level—will be made even more grim by this crisis and the export situation which I have described. The weak state of some companies' finances will be made more precarious as letters of credit expire.

The Prime Minister must wish, every hour, that his Government had been strong enough to declare a state of emergency last week so as to lessen the loss that we are suffering due to the situation in the ports.

The basic organisation of a civilised community has been broken by industrial and social disruption on a scale not witnessed before in this country. The great majority of citizens in the industrial areas are apprehensive about the crisis and realise that it poses a threat to our whole way of life. Therefore, there is an urgent need for every possible consideration to be given in this House at this time to a whole range of measures which are necessary, with particular emphasis on the required success of productivity and exports which are vital to the wealth creation process. We need to spend our time earnestly considering how to improve that performance and create extra wealth. The whole system—secret ballots, secondary picketing and the range of difficulties which we are now seeing in such dramatic form in our towns and cities—must be examined. We must endeavour to produce a much better situation so that the present dreadful problems cannot be repeated.

8.58 p.m.

With the honourable exception of the speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), there have been more contributions concerned with the consequences of the industrial crisis facing the country than with the core of that crisis. I think that people who have observed the situation objectively and honestly will agree with those of us who argue that the core of the crisis is low pay.

I was astonished at the audacity of the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan), who seems to be on the point of leaving the Chamber, in attacking the National Health Service without recognising that the last Conservative Administration, through the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), reorganised the NHS in such a way as to create more chiefs than Indians.

No. We have been asked to be brief.

I was also surprised that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who also seems to have left the Chamber, saw fit to attack the increases in salary paid to BBC staff, neatly overlooking the fact that those increases came about because of much greater increases which had been paid to commercial radio and television staff, presumably in excess of incomes guidance which had been issued previously.

I have said that this debate is about low pay. I regret very much indeed that more Conservative Members did not see fit to attend meetings with low-paid workers which have been taking place in this building today. If they had, they would have met nurses, porters, ambulance men, school caretakers, canteen staff and numerous other workers from local government who showed us pay slips indicating take-home pay of £35, £40 and £45 a week.

The House, the Government and the public must recognise that there is growing dissatisfaction and anger among many of these public sector workers at the wages that they have received over the years. They have been patient under phases 1, 2 and 3 of incomes policy. But the cork is now coming out of the bottle They are fed up with the arduous, unpleasant, inconvenient work they do for the money which we see fit to give them. It is no longer reasonable for these people to accept increases of 5 per cent. It is incumbent upon the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—because we are concerned about the core of this crisis, which is about low pay—to spell out unequivocally exactly what "responsible and realistic bargaining" means in Tory terms.

The hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby also hinted that all the problems were due to the incomes policy pursued by this Government. He said nothing about what the approach of a Conservative Government would be to incomes policy. I hope that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border will seek to cast some light on that tonight.

We are facing thousands upon thousands of angry men and women in our public services who want more money. There is no dilemma in front of the Government. All they have to do is to recognise that anger, recognise the justice of their demand and pay them. There is no dilemma whatever in that situation. These people are not fools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walton talked about the extremely well paid in senior, interesting positions in our society who have talked constantly about all these people accepting something much lower than they have accepted "in the national interest". A lot of these low-paid workers are now saying "It is in the national interest to pay us a reasonable wage if we are to sustain these important community services and stop people turning their backs on the public services in order to go into more lucrative callings in the private sector."

By the way, it is the private sector which has now turned the perks industry into the most booming industry in the country. We have heard about middle managers and executives getting free pensions, free holidays and free education. It has reached such sophisticated proportions that many are now negotiating to lease their shirts, which after a year they buy at very low prices. That is the extent of the perks industry.

Canteen staff, ambulance men and school caretakers watch television and see these things reported. They look in the newspapers and see company board room after company board room awarding itself thousands upon thousands of pounds increases in salaries—20 per cent. 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. Is that in the national interest? I suggest that it is not. We must look at the national interest at the bottom. I believe that the claims of the low paid should be met, because they are reasonable, justified and long overdue.

I also ask the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border if he will make clear exactly where the Conservative Party stands on some of the infamous proposals made by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition in the interesting television programme "Weekend World" 10 days ago. We all recall that in that programme she made a point of arguing that the Conservative Party was in favour of removing the right of wives and children of strikers to social security. Yet, very interestingly, on Tuesday there was not a single word mentioned of that proposal by the right hon. Lady in her opening speech on the debate about the industrial crisis.

In that television programme, the right hon. Lady also made much of the fact that a Conservative Government would tax unemployment and sickness benefit. However, in her speech on Tuesday there was not a word of that. Could it be that that strange body, the Conservative trade unionists, had got to work? They were arguing not so long ago that it was imperative to maintain the right of wives and children to social security benefit. Could it be that that body had persuaded the right hon. Lady of the foolhardiness of her proposals? Not a word was mentioned by her.

I believe that it is important tonight for the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border to make these matters crystal clear so that everybody, inside and outside the House, knows exactly where the Conservative Party stands.

Earlier in the current industrial difficulties we had speeches from Tory after Tory urging us to declare a state of emergency immediately. I have taken careful note and I believe that in this debate not one hon. Member has referred to the need for a state of emergency. Hon. Members acknowledge that the position has improved, and also recognise that the declaration of a state of emergency would inflame passions and heighten the difficulties. It is interesting to note that not one Conservative Member has urged the declaration of a state of emergency.

That was not the line taken early in the dispute by Sir Hector Laing, chaircan of British United Biscuits. Sir Hector has popped up in this scenario with unerring frequency, in different guises every time. He has been presented as a spokesman for industry, as independent, impartial and objective, giving the people the facts, via the BBC and commercial radio and television. I do not question his right to do so, but those who selected and presented Sir Hector as an independent, impartial and objective spokesman of British industry should have done more to present him clearly and honestly.

We heard nothing of the fact that Sir Hector is, I believe, industrial adviser to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. We heard even less of the fact that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is on the board of British United Biscuits, and still less about the fact that the board of British United Biscuits contributed £20,000, not to the Conservative Party but to British United Industrialists, which is widely accepted as a Tory fund-raising organization. A professional presentation of Sir Hector as a spokesman for British industry should have given some attention to those facts.

The matter must be set in context because there have been quite a few spokesmen for the food industry making all sorts of comments, most of which had the effect of increasing panic buying and causing dismay and worry for pensioners, the disabled, the sick and many others. We did not hear much about the fact that about 20 major food firms make substantial contributions to the Tory Party, British United Industrialists, the Economic League, Aims of Industry and other such organizations. A conservative estimate of the amount that these firms contribute to the Tory Party or its front, fund-raising organisations is £200,000 a year—about 20 per cent. of the total money raised.

No. I intend to conclude in accordance with Mr. Speaker's request that hon. Members should be as brief as possible.

I hope that, if nothing else, the debate will have revealed to the public that much of the approach of the Conservative Party to the crisis about which we are all concerned and its consequences about which we are also concerned has been motivated for highly political purposes.

The Government and certainly the Transport and General Workers' Union, of which I have the honour to be vice-chairman of its parliamentary group, have done a great deal to try to confine the dispute, which concerns low-paid lorry drivers earning between £49 and £53 a week, who are on their first strike in 46 years, to those who are immediately concerned in the hire and reward sections. They have done a great deal to try to mitigate the hardest circumstances of the dispute.

I urge the Government to give every possible support to the negotiations that are going on. I am glad that ACAS took an initiative over the weekend because, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Walton and others, the dispute will have to be negotiated and a settlement will have to be found. All disputes are resolved by talking and not by legislation, big sticks or, above all, the sort of hysterical attacks that have been made by Conservative Members so often in the past few days.

9.13 p.m.

On Thursday, I asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss the ruination of the port of Liverpool by unlawful picketing and its disastrous effects on the future economy of the region.

I sought again today to move the Adjournment of the House in order to discuss the catastrophic effect of the continued unlawful picketing of the port of Liverpool which has resulted in the progressive collapse of industrial activity, in turn making Merseyside a disaster area. Massive industrial disruption has continued and created a state of anarchy. With the Government's policy for rejuvenating the inner city in ruins, Liverpool has become a total disaster area.

I explained on Thursday how entrances to the port had been blocked and how the lightning spread of a new disease was invading the freedom and rights of the individual, eating away at his liberty and restricting his choice. I was referring, of course, to the evil effect of secondary picketing and the related infection of the so-called flying pickets.

I explained how this, in turn, was affecting the many thousands of companies in the massive hinterland behind the port of Liverpool. No goods can get in or out of the port. That means that thousands of companies are having to stockpile products, lay off workers, or a combination of both.

British companies are unable to fulfil their contractual dates for delivery, and companies overseas are picking up new business at our expense. This must have a serious effect on our balance of payments. Ships bound for Liverpool are being diverted to continental ports, and business will be permanently lost from Merseyside in both the short term and the long term as suppliers lose confidence that it can reliably handle their cargoes. Already, 1,900 dockers have been laid off, as well as many support staff. This means that the dock and harbour company is having to pay out £60 a week in fall-back pay to each docker without work, and the company will soon find itself unable to continue making payments.

The tragedy is that the port of Liverpool has made great strides forward in business revival over the last few years with the full co-operation of the dockers, who are now deeply outraged and concerned as they helplessly watch their livelihood slip away. But this is just the final twist of the knife, for Liverpool has been bleeding to death for some time. British Leyland, Bird's Eye, Hunter, Plessey, Lucas and many other firms are laying off thousands of workers as they reduce their labour forces. Last Friday, the announcement by Dunlop that it was to shut its tyre factory with the loss of 2,500 jobs was just another savage blow.

Merseyside is suffering from a canker which is progressively eating away the city and the region and having catastrophic effects for our balance of payments. Some foreigners say that we are undisciplined, greedy and selfish, and cannot understand how men within the same union are starting to fight one another.

A few days ago, at Shotton steel works in Cheshire, a lorry loaded with steel bound for overseas and cleared by the Shotton pickets was halted and turned away by pickets from the same union when trying to enter the port. When lorries try to enter the dock to top up a ship's hold already partly loaded, they are turned away, and as a result millions of pounds worth of goods are wasting away as half-empty holds are being lost. Some companies are now facing court action for failure to deliver. GEC, for example, has a ship with a hold half full of generators bound for Mexico, and the Mexican company wants to go elsewhere for these goods.

The behaviour of pickets is now totally irrational and quite unpredictable, seemingly based on the maxim that the means justify the ends, because with that aim the pickets are trying to make life unbearable for the poor, the underprivileged and the deprived. That a small number of disruptive people can bring the country to its knees clearly indicates that the Government have lost their authority and abdicated their responsibility, for they have failed to protect the individual against the aggression of those determined to disrupt our way of life until they get their own way.

Pickets have set themselves up as puppet dictators, running tribunals aptly compared to the Star Chamber but without the rules that even that place abided by. An example of this is a lorry driver who tried to get animal feedingstuffs out of a warehouse on the Liverpool dock and was told to appear before a three-person tribunal to explain and justify his actions. When he presented his union card, he was flatly refused permission and told that as he was a member of the NFU his lorry would not be allowed to leave the docks.

The people in Liverpool are living in a siege situation, and the battle is not confined to one union. Different groups seize power and are then toppled by another group. Only this weekend one docker had to remonstrate with pickets for some two hours to persuade them to release a cargo of fresh fruit, realising that the good name of the port was in jeopardy. I believe that the situation on Merseyside is quite desperate. The matter is urgent. Time is pressing. Unless the Government declare Liverpool an economic disaster area, the area is destined for a long and depressing future.

9.20 p.m.

I have been impelled to rise by the sentiment expressed by the Opposition that the Prime Minister should bring in legislation restricting picketing or prohibiting secondary picketing, and, in their words, act under it; or, in the words of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), that the Prime Minister should pass the necessary legislation and make it stick. May I remind the Opposition that the effective validity of any law depends upon the power to enforce that law. In other words, it is a function of the consent of those who receive that law. I might remind the Opposition that in America Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting drink, and the whole country knows how successful that was.

May I therefore ask the Opposition not to make capital out of the fact that the Prime Minister does not seem to be legislating because if a law does not receive the consent of the people and is incapable of enforcement, the Prime Minister can pass laws till he is blue in the face but they will be of no effect whatsoever.

9.22 p.m.

The nation is faced with industrial anarchy. Four hospitals in the Trafford area of Manchester closed down today. Schools are closed, as is the airport, and buses are not running. One million people have been affected—and they will be so affected until tomorrow when it is hoped there will be a return to work—by having unfiltered water supplies. Sewerage workers have not been working normally in parts of the North-West; and now we are faced with the ambulance strike.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food this afternoon made a statement in which he said that there was plenty of food at the docks. That is quite true; but what is he doing to get that food from the docks? It is no use his smirking in his usual amiable way. What we require is action, because nothing has moved in or out of either Manchester or Salford docks in the last 14 days.

There is a duty on the Government to ensure that essential services are maintained and that essential supplies are carried to the public, and that is not happening. In consequence of the closure of Manchester and Salford docks and the closure of most of Liverpool docks, the two main food factories in Trafford Park, Manchester—Kellogg and Hamko, formerly Kraft Foods—have had to cease production as they have run out of raw materials.

Greater Manchester is in the iron grip of a militant and unofficial strike committee established in a shack on Salford docks. It is intolerable that the only way to get essential supplies to the public is to apply for a dispensation to this unofficial strike committee. It is even more intolerable that these dispensations are not forthcoming.

While I was at Salford docks on Friday night a deputation of trade unionists came from Kellogg to press their case with the strike committee. After 25 minutes of discussion they were sent away with a negative reply and were informed that there would be no loosening of the grip on these essential food supplies.

Therefore, I make the following plea to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who not only wears the hat of a Minister of the Crown but is the representative in the Cabinet of the Transport and General Workers' Union, which is behind the strike. I invite him to come tomorrow to Manchester docks to meet that strike committee and, on behalf of the Government and of the union's general secretary, to ask it to start abiding by Mr. Moss Evan's instructions, which were sent to it a week ago and which it continues to refuse to observe.

Secondary picketing in my constituency is blatant and widespread. One of the pickets said "We want to close down the maximum number of firms in the minimum time", which rather reflects the attitude of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). It is essential that the food supplies be got through to the factories so that the processed food industry can get back to work once again. The Government have a duty to achieve that.

No violence has been reported on the picket line in the Manchester area. There has been no massive picketing on the lines of Grunwick, but that is no longer necessary. As one of the pickets told me "We merely invite the drivers"—own-account drivers, not Road Haulage Association drivers— "who wish to cross our picket line to examine their consciences." Indeed, a man does need to examine his conscience when faced with the clear and intended threat that if he crosses the picket line he will never again work in that industry.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) put it, the strike is based on a conspiracy to blackmail and intimidate countless hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and other workers who wish to go about their job, who wish to get the supplies to the public, who wish to provide the ambulance service and carry on with the school and hospital services.

It is as a direct consequence of this Government's legislation, the legislation of the closed shop and of secondary picketing, that the present situation has come about and has become so far out of control. The present veil of terror is now a fact of industrial life in many areas. That is the only explanation for the behaviour of the ambulance men, who week in and week out tend the sick, the injured and the dying and yet who, in spite of their dedication, are now refusing even emergency cover.

Parliament must legislate to lift the veil of terror which is setting worker against worker. We must change the law on the closed shop and on picketing. We must introduce secret ballots so that it is a basic and inalienable right of every trade unionist to have a secret ballot for the election of union officials.

We face industrial anarchy, and the nation looks to the Government for leadership. Regrettably, it has so far looked in vain. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made a most generous offer last week that the Opposition would give full backing to any reasonable measures taken in the national interest to resolve the dispute and, above all, to change the law in regard to secondary picketing and the industrial situation. Predictably, there has been no response from the Prime Minister. It is not surprising, because not only did he seek to sabotage the efforts of the Conservative Government in 1974 but he succeeded in sabotaging his own leader's efforts in 1969 at the time of the "In Place of Strife" legislation.

The time has come for the Government to take positive action to get the people's food from the people's docks into the people's supermarkets, not to sit back and take the complacent attitude that Mr. Moss Evans will fix it. Mr. Moss Evans's writ does not run in Manchester. It is important that the Government re-establish parliamentary control of the situation.

9.30 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on his persistence in seeking a debate on this subject under Standing Order No. 9, in obtaining it from you, Mr. Speaker, and in making a most valuable speech.

The background to the present situation is clear and, I believe, would be admitted by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues. The Government were caught napping by the severity and speed of the crisis which has hit them. But nobody appeared to have told the Prime Minister what was happening. He was quite properly attending a conference at Guadeloupe, but his colleagues did not tell him how serious was the crisis.

When the Prime Minister was out of the country a remarkable thing happened. There was an unnatural silence from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. We heard not a word from him when he, presumably, was in charge of the Government at that time.

We then came to last Monday, when the Home Secretary told the House that we were not near a crisis. Nobody in the Government makes that claim today. That is certainly not said by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) or by other Labour Members.

This debate has enabled many hon. Members to raise matters which worry their constituents relating to the maintenance of the essential supplies that affect the life of our nation. That is a vitally important matter. I told the Home Secretary last week that it was the Government's duty to maintain essential supplies for the life of the nation. I told him that in that task he would have the full support of the Opposition. He will still have that support, but I repeat that the Government have a duty to maintain essential supplies.

Let me deal first with the lorry drivers' strike. Last week the Prime Minister made it clear that the serious effects of that strike on essential supplies would be removed by the code of practice that was to be applied by the TGWU. Many of my hon. Friends in this debate have said that the code has not been observed and that essential supplies are not getting through.

My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) said that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food came to the House this afternoon in a somewhat complacent mood. Personally, I would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of complacency. I respect calm. I think that calm is very important for everybody engaged in this type of activity. Indeed, that is an aim which I pursue most of the time, if not all the time. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture was certainly calm this afternoon, but perhaps he carried that calmness too far.

I wish to give the facts as I have been given them by the National Ports Council—and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary can refute them if he so wishes. Since this information somewhat contradicts the Government's view, I think that it is right to give it to the House.

Let me put the report to the House. I am told that in Scotland there is little movement of goods and that picketing is strong. Pickets are allowing owner-drivers access to the docks, and movement of grain is satisfactory. On Teesside and Tyneside there is no movement of shipping and heavy picketing, totally ignoring the TGWU code. At Hull the situation is very bad. Picketing is extensive, with practically no movement of goods. At Liverpool there is very heavy picketing. The movement of cargo is at a standstill. Shipping is at a standstill, cancelled, postponed or turned away. There is little movement of food. Some owner-drivers have been allowed access, the container park is filling up and is 65 per cent. full.

At Felixstowe there is very heavy picketing, with continental vehicles moving with police attendance. At Dover roll-on roll-off vehicles are still moving, with picketing of other vehicles. At Sheerness there is very little picketing, with movement of cargo near normal. At Southampton the situation is very bad, with ports and docks at a virtual standstill, and with heavy picketing. At Bristol I am told that there is a slight improvement, with some foodstuffs being moved.

The general appraisal is that there has been very little improvement since the end of last week and that the picketing situation is, if anything, deteriorating. The general impression is that the pickets are ignoring the TGWU code. The overall picture in the North is said to be very difficult, with the situation in the South slightly better. If that is the position, the right hon. Gentleman was too calm.

I shall go easy on the right hon. Gentleman. He is always fair, but usually somewhat inaccurate. He has not listened carefully to what I said. If he had, he would have found that some of the information that he is giving the House is exactly what I said. As for the rest of it, I said that I would try to find out more as I do not have complete information. The position changes from moment to moment.

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman and fully heard what he said. I stated the position given to me, and I maintain that it is reasonable to regard the right hon. Gentleman as being too calm in a difficult situation.

Apart from food, it is important, as my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) and Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) said, to recognise the serious situation of exports being held up at the ports. As time goes on, this will cause increasing numbers of lay-offs. Many of the orders lost may never be gained again.

I warn the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary on the lorry strike and secondary picketing that if the code of practice does not work and the supplies do not get through, it is the Government's duty to ensure that they do get through. Those in the Cabinet who wanted a state of emergency last week will then have been proved right. That should be widely recognised.

We have heard little today about a one-day rail strike tomorrow and the likelihood of another on Thursday, resulting from a serious inter-union dispute. I do not minimise the dangers and difficulties of such disputes. I knew of them when I was Secretary of State for Employment five years ago. It is regrettable that they still exist. It is serious not only for commuters but for many other people in this country. I am sure that the Government fully recognise that.

I turn now to the National Union of Public Employees' strike that we have had today. Right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in particular, have mentioned that emergency calls are not being taken by the ambulance workers. I fully appreciate and accept the views of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the vast majority of the trade union movement in this country has a right to strike and, indeed, a right to work. This is widely respected. But I join with the Prime Minister in saying that some of the actions being taken, both on secondary picketing and in cases such as the ambulance workers, do no credit to the trade union movement. What is more, they are deeply resented by the vast majority of trade union members.

I turn now to the strikes that have closed schools in many parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) raised this matter. I hope that the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who I am delighted to see in her place, will have taken some action. If this were to continue, it would be a serious matter for schoolchildren.

There are threats of further problems ahead. There is no need to exaggerate the situation. As the Ministers know, and as the whole House must recognise, it is a serious threat to the authority of Parliament.

The Opposition will take no criticisms about lack of responsibility from the Prime Minister or the Labour Party in view of what they did to us in 1974. I do not want to listen to that. If anyone wants to know who is undermining the Government at the moment, he should listen to the speeches of the Labour Back Benchers—the hon. Members for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), Walton, Perry Barr, and Sowerby (Mr. Madden). Each of those hon. Members made it clear in his own way that he wished to see the Government give way to the pressures of the NUPE strike.

No, I will not give way. I promised the Home Secretary that I would be brief. If the Government want to know who is undermining their policy, they should look at the Benches below the Gangway.

The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) called for leadership from the Government. From the moment this crisis hit them and the Prime Minister returned from Guadeloupe, the Government have been lacking in leadership. The Government's responsibility is to maintain the life of this country. I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends, and all other hon. Members who wish to see real leadership in this country, will vote against the Government in the Division Lobby tonight.

9.42 p.m.

As the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) said, he applied for this emergency debate to enable hon. Members from all parts of the country to raise constituency matters. He felt that they were entitled to do so and many have done so. I shall deal with some of their points in a moment.

A number of hon. Members raised the issue underlying the industrial unrest—the incomes policy. I have never noticed, during the past 100 years, that free collective bargaining gives a just reward to many workers. Nor is it true that it rewards low-paid workers. The subject of an incomes policy will not disappear because of our current difficulties. Despite our present problems, a sensible incomes policy is necessary and the Government still regard it as of overriding importance for the country's long term well-being. If we pay ourselves more than we earn, we shall be in the same inflationary position as we were between 1970 and 1974.

This Government inherited an inflationary position from the previous Government. If one looks back over the last two or three years one sees the advantages of a sensible incomes policy. That is particularly so of the past year. It has brought inestimable benefit to people. The alternative is a party that believes in free collective bargaining, and in such circumstances the lower-paid workers will suffer.

Several of my hon. Friends raised the question of lower-paid workers, but if special provision were made for them and everybody else received that increase as well it would not be long before the lower paid were low paid once again. Therefore, it is important that an incomes policy should not be ignored in our discussions.

It is important that in the negotiations nothing that we say tonight complicates the situation. It has been said that many hon. Members do not understand wage negotiations. The negotiations must be concluded. It has been said that the price control order will be ineffective since it will apply to only 10 per cent. of the industry. It has been said that it will be ineffective because the safeguard provisions will protect the existing situation. Undoubtedly that has an effect, but the situation has been explained this afternoon.

Hon. Members have asked about the situation throughout the country. I have just returned from a meeting of members of the emergency committees. I asked them about the situation. I did not ask the newspapers or the media. They tell me that we are not in a crisis situation at the moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] They tell me that the picketing situation has improved, but that we shall have to see what happens tomorrow.

Many hon. Members have only just arrived in the Chamber. Those who were interested were here earlier. Several hon. Members have mentioned the port of Hull. There was a meeting this morning at which it was agreed to allow in lorries in the following categories—[HON. MEMBERS: "Allow in?") If hon. Members believe in collective bargaining, they must believe in strikes, because the two go together. I am saying that company-owned vehicles, owner-drivers and road haulage members who have settled are being allowed in. There has been an improvement at Hull today. It is a difficult area.

I shall not give way now. I shall give way when I have given the information about Hull and the North-West. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) asked about the North-West. The North-West—Manchester and Liverpool—and Southampton are experiencing the most difficult situation. With the union, steps are to be taken to deal with the situation because that is where the difficult problem lies.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it is inappropriate for him to report, with apparent pleasure, that the union is allowing this, that or the other to go through? Would it not be better for the Home Secretary to make it clear that the union does not have the right to "allow" this, that or the other to go through but that anybody who wishes to go through has that right and deserves the protection of the Government when exercising that right?

The hon. and learned Member is right. Under any circumstnces, there is the right of peaceful picketing in the furtherance of a dispute. Anyone who wants to go through has the right to do so. The union has recognised that in its code. There is no doubt about that.

On food supplies, we have had a report this evening about the salt situation. The position is reassuring. Part of the difficulty has arisen because two unions, the TGWU and the URTU, have been involved. But supplies are now being moved out of both the main suppliers at Runcorn and Middlewich. The priority categories appear to have been accepted fully and deliveries of salt in tankers and in bays are on the way back to normal.

Sugar supplies should improve quite quickly as a result of the resumption of work at Tate & Lyle at London and Greenock. [HON. MEMBERS: "Liverpool?"] No, not Liverpool. The British Sugar Corporation also reports that it is sending out more sugar.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised a number of points about Scotland. On the question of foundries, there are troubles, but most are continuing normally. It is a worry. but at the moment there is no problem If it went on, however, in that way, there would be a problem. With regard to the suggestion that the elderly and infirm should be given special treatment, the Secretary of State for Scotland has spoken to the Scottish Grocers Federation, which has indicated its willingness to co-operate. Social workers are looking at the problem.

Glasgow airport has sufficient immediate supplies of de-icing fluid to meet any problem of deterioration in the weather. The same applies in Edinburgh, which looks after the air ambulance service. The problem of Scottish schools has been the same as that south of the border—not due to the lorry drivers' dispute but because of the strike about which we all know.

The Home Secretary has referred to the problems of schools. What possible justification exists for our schoolchildren's education being interrupted today when this dispute has nothing to do with the teachers? What possible reason can there be for the Secretary of State for Education and Science not having condemned this dispute?

May I relate the hon. Gentleman's remarks to some press reports? There was a report in the Daily Mail last Friday which directly attributed to Mr. Dix, assistant general secretary of NUPE, words to the effect that NUPE members would stop children crossing picket lines. On the same day, The Sun reported that NUPE had told pickets physically to stop children crossing picket lines. It made out that it was a direct quotation. On Saturday, the Daily Mail pointed out that the statement attributed to Mr. Dix was not made by him. The Sun has not retracted its report, despite several requests.

NUPE has today confirmed that its official policy is that children will not be prevented, physically or in any other way, from crossing picket lines. The National Union of Teachers has agreed that its members can cross picket lines provided that they do not do a job done normally by anyone who is on strike.

Is it not a fact that about 50 per cent. or more of our schools have been closed today as a result of the threats by NUPE to picket at the schools? Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a statutory responsibility on the local education authorities to provide for schooling and a statutory responsibility upon parents to send their children to school? What are the Government doing to ensure that those responsibilities are carried out?

The situation would not have been what it was today if the press had not peddled lies.

If, as the right hon. Gentleman is now suggesting, the fault is all that of the press, why did his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science rightly feel it necessary last night to issue a statement deploring the views expressed by NUPE and certain other unions on preventing children from getting to school?

I have given the views of NUPE and the NUT. What this all shows is that last weekend some of the media, whether on food or schools, had only one motive—to make the situation worse.

I turn to the question of a state of emergency. I have here a list of the states of emergency under the previous Conservative Administration. What they always did was declare a state of emergency and do nothing. There was no need for a state of emergency over the firemen's strike last year. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) referred to oil. When the Prime Minister returned from Guadeloupe he was absolutely right in what he said about oil. That was what was being talked about. When there is ever a problem, Conservative Members want a state of emergency.

This matter has to be sorted out. Discussions are taking place and will have to continue. There are problems. If they get worse, a state of emergency may be necessary.

The right hon. Gentleman says that there is a state of crisis. If there were, there would be a need for a state of emergency, but there is not. On a day-to-day basis, we shall look at this situation—

The hon. Gentleman cheers. He treats every industrial dispute as if it was the battle of Omdurman, instead of something which has to be sorted out.

On the matter of picketing, I have spoken to all the police authorities today and have discussed this point raised by the right hon. Gentleman—that a man who wants to go through a picket line has every right to do so. The police report to me that picketing in the country as a whole is peaceful. What we want to see is the operation of the code of practice which has been worked out: that is the way through this situation. A frontal attack on this difficult situation would not solve the matter.

We are aware of our responsibilities. But whether it is food about which the Tory Party is inflamed or something else, we know that the time has not yet come. We shall look at the matter tomorrow and the day after.

The problem arises from free collective bargaining, which the Tory Party wants. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends?"] I speak for myself. Free collective bargaining means strikes. The moment there are strikes, the Tory Party cries "Foul". We have a serious problem in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The difference is that we know how to deal with it.

Division No. 45]


[9.59 p.m.

Adley, RobertFowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Aitken, JonathanFox, MarcusLloyd, Ian
Alison, MichaelFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Loveridge, John
Amery, Rt Hon JulianFreud, ClementLuce, Richard
Arnold, TomFry, PeterMcAdden, Sir Stephen
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Galbraith, Hon T.G.D.McCrindle, Robert
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Gardiner, George (Reigate)Macfarlane, Neil
Awdry, DanielGardner, Edward (S Fylde)MacGregor, John
Banker, KennethGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)
Banks, RobertGilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Beith, A.J.Glyn, Dr AlanMcNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Bell, RonaldGodber, Rt Hon JosephMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Bendall, VivianGoodhart, PhilipMadel, David
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Goodhew, VictorMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Goodlad, AlastairMarten, Neil
Benyon, W.Gorst, JohnMates, Michael
Berry, Hon AnthonyGow, Ian (Eastbourne)Mather, Carol
Biffen, JohnGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Maude, Angus
Biggs-Davison, JohnGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)Mawby, Ray
Blaker, PeterGray, HamishMaxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Body, RichardGrieve, PercyMayhew, Patrick
Boscawen, Hon RobertGriffiths, EldonMeyer, Sir Anthony
Bottomley, PeterGrimond, Rt Hon J.Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Bowden A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Grist, IanMills, Peter
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Grylls, MichaelMiscampbell, Norman
Braine Sir BernardHall-Davis, A.G.F.Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Brittan, LeonHamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)Moate, Roger
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Monro, Hector
Brooke, Hon PeterHampson, Dr KeithMontgomery, Fergus
Brotherton, MichaelHannam, JohnMoore, John (Croydon C)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Bryan, Sir PaulHarvie Anderson, Rt Hon MissMorgan, Geraint
Buchanan-Smith, AlickHaselhurst, AlanMorgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Buck, AntonyHastings, StephenMorris, Michael (Northampton S)
Budgen, NickHavers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Bulmer, EsmondHawkins, PaulMorrison, Peter (Chester)
Burden, F.AHayhoe, BarneyMudd, David
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Heath, Rt Hon EdwardNeave, Airey
Carlisle, MarkHeseltine, MichaelNelson, Anthony
Chalker, Mrs LyndaHicks, RobertNeubert, Michael
Channon, PaulHiggins, Terence L.Newton, Tony
Churchill, W.S.Hodgson, RobinNormanton, Tom
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Holland, PhilipNott, John
Clark, William (Croydon S)Hordern, PeterOnslow, Cranley
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Howe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyOppenheim, Mrs Sally
Clegg, WalterHowell, David (Guildford)Osborn, John
Cockcroft, JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Page, John (Harrow West)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Cope, JohnHunt, David (Wirral)Page, Richard (Workington)
Cormack, PatrickHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Pardoe, John
Corrie, JohnHurd, DouglasParkinson, Cecil
Costain, A.P.Hutchison, Michael ClarkPattie, Geoffrey
Critchley, JulianIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Penhaligon, David
Crouch, DavidJames, DavidPercival, Ian
Crowder, F.P.Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)Peyton, Rt Hon John
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Jessel, TobyPink, R. Bonner
Dodsworth, GeoffreyJohnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesJones, Arthur (Daventry)Price, David (Eastleigh)
Drayson, BurnabyJopling, MichaelPrior, Rt Hon James
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardJoseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithPym, Rt Hon Francis
Durant, TonyKaberry, Sir DonaldRaison, Timothy
Dykes, HughKellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRathbone, Tim
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnKershaw, AnthonyRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Elliott, Sir WilliamKimball, MarcusRees-Davies, W.R.
Emery, PeterKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Eyre, ReginaldKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Fairbairn, NicholasKitson, Sir TimothyRhodes James, R.
Fairgrieve, RussellKnight, Mrs JillRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Farr, JohnKnox, DavidRidley, Hon Nicholas
Fell, AnthonyLamont, NormanRidley, Hon Nicholas
Finsberg, GeoffreyLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRifkind, Malcolm
Fisher, Sir NigelLatham, Michael (Melton)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)Lawrence, IvanRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Fookes, Miss JanetLawson, NigelRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Forman, NigalLester, Jim (Beeston)Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 281, Noes 305.

Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)Stanbrook, IvorWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Royle, Sir AnthonyStanley, JohnWakeham, John
Sainsbury, TimSteel, Rt Hon DavidWalker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
St. John-Stevas, NormanSteen, Anthony (Wavertree)Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Scott, NicholasStewart, Ian (Hitchin)Wall, Patrick
Scott-Hopkins, JamesStokes, JohnWalters, Dennis
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)Stradling Thomas, J.Warren, Kenneth
Shelton, William (Streatham)Tapsell, PeterWeatherill, Bernard
Shepherd, ColinTaylor, R. (Croydon NW)Wells, John
Shersby, MichaelTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Silvester, FredTebbit, NormanWhitney, Raymond
Sims, RogerTemple-Morris, PeterWiggin, Jerry
Skeet, T. H. H.Thatcher, Rt Hon MargaretWinterton, Nicholas
Smith, Dudley (Warwick)Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Speed, KeithTownsend, Cyril D.Younger, Hon George
Spence, JohnTrotter, Neville
Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)Van Straubenzee, W.R.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Sproat, IainVaughan, Dr GeraldMr. Spencer le Marchant and
Stainton, KeithViggers, PeterMr. Michael Roberts.


Abse, LeoDavies, Rt Hon DenzilHooley, Frank
Allaun, FrankDavies, Ifor (Gower)Horam, John
Anderson, DonaldDavis, Clinton (Hackney C)Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterDeakins, EricHoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Armstrong, Ernestde Freitas, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyHuckfield, Les
Ashley, JackDell, Rt Hon EdmundHughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Ashton, JoeDempsey, JamesHughes, Mark (Durham)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Dewar, DonaldHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Doig, PeterHughes, Roy (Newport)
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Dormand, J.D.Hunter, Adam
Bain, Mrs MargaretDouglas-Mann, BruceIrving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Duffy, A. E. P.Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Dunn, James A.Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Bates, AlfDunnett, JackJanner, Greville
Bean, R. E.Eadie, AlexJay, Rt Hon Douglas
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodEdge, GeoffJeger, Mrs Lena
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Bidwell, SidneyEllis, John (Brigg & Scun)John, Brynmor
Bishop, Rt Hon EdwardEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Johnson, James (Hull West)
Blenkinsop, ArthurEnglish, MichaelJohnson, Walter (Derby S)
Boardman, H.Ennals, Rt Hon DavidJones, Alec (Rhondda)
Boardman, H.Ennals, Rt Hon DavidJones, Alec (Rhondda)
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertEvans, Fred (Caerphilly)Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyEvans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Judd, Frank
Boyden, James (Bish Auck)Evans, John (Newton)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Bradley, TomEwing, Harry (Stirling)Kerr, Russell
Bray, Dr JeremyFaulds, AndrewKilroy-Silk, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Kinnock, Neil
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Fitch, Alan (Wigan)Lambie, David
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Flannery, MartinLamborn, Harry
Buchan, NormanFletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Lamond, James
Buchanan, RichardFletcher, Ted (Darlington)Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Foot Rt Hon MichaelLeadbitter, Ted
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Ford, BenLee, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Forrester, JohnLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Campbell, IanFowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Lever, Rt Hon Harold
Canavan, DennisFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Lewis, Arthur (Newsham N)
Cant, R. B.Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldLewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Carmichael, NeilGarrett, John (Norwich S)Litterick, Tom
Carter, RayGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Carter-Jones, LewisGeorge, BruceLomas, Kenneth
Cartwright, JohnGilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnLoyden, Eddie
Clemitson, IvorGinsburg, DavidLuard, Evan
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Golding, JohnLyon, Alexander (York)
Cohen, StanleyGould, BryanLyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Coleman, DonaldGourlay, HarryMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Colquhoun, Ms MaureenGraham, TedMcCartney, Hugh
Concannon, Rt Hon JohnGrant, George (Morpeth)MacCormick, Iain
Conlan, BernardGrant, John (Islington C)McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Grocott, BruceMcElhone, Frank
Corbett, RobinHamilton, James (Bothwell)MacFarquhar, Roderick
Cowans, HarryHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Hardy, PeterMcKay, Alan (Penistone)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Crawshaw, RichardHart, Rt Hon JudithMaclennan, Robert
Cronin, JohnHattersley, Rt Hon RoyMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow c)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)Hayman, Mrs HeleneMcNamara, Kevin
Cryer, BobHealey, Rt Hon DenisMadden, Max
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Heffer, Eric S.Magee, Bryan
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Henderson, DouglasMahon, Simon
Davidson, ArthurHome Robertson, JohnMallalieu, J. P. W.

Marks, KennethRichardson, Miss JoThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Tierney, Sydney
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Tilley, John
Maynard, Miss JoanRobertson, George (Hamilton)Tinn, James
Meacher, MichaelRobinson, GeoffreyTomlinson, John
Mellish, Rt Hon RobertRoderick, CaerwynTomney, Frank
Mikardo, IanRodgers, George (Chorley)Torney, Tom
Millan, Rt Hon BruceRodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)Tuck, Raphael
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Rooker, J.W.Urwin, T. W.
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Roper, JohnVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Molloy, WilliamRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Moonman, EricRowlands, TedWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Ryman, JohnWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.Sedgemore, BrianWard, Michael
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Selby, HarryWatkins, David
Morton, GeorgeSever, JohnWatkinson, John
Moyle, Rt Hon RolandShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)Watt, Hamish
Mulley, Rt Hon FrederickSheldon, Rt Hon RobertWeetch, Ken
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingShore, Rt Hon PeterWeitzman, David
Newens, StanleyShort, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)Wellbeloved, James
Noble, MikeSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Welsh, Andrew
Oakes, GordonSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)White, Frank R. (Bury)
Ogden, EricSilverman, JuliusWhite, James (Pollok)
O'Halloran, MichaelSkinner, DennisWhitehead, Philip
Orbach, MauriceSmith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)Whitlock, William
Orme, Rt Hon StanleySnape, PeterWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Ovenden, JohnSpearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidSpriggs, LeslieWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Pedley, WalterStallard, A. W.Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Palmer, ArthurStewart, R Hon DonaldWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Park, GeorgeStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Parker, JohnStoddart, DavidWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Parry, RobertStott, RogerWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Pavitt, LaurieStrang, GavinWise, Mrs Audrey
Pendry, TomStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.Woodall, Alec
Perry, ErnestSummerskill, Hon Dr ShirleyWoof, Robert
Phipps, Dr ColinSwain, ThomasWrigglesworth, Ian
Price, C. (Lewisham W)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)Young, David (Bolton E)
Price, William (Rugby)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Radice, GilesThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)Mr. Joseph Dean and
Reid, GeorgeThompson, GeorgeMr. Bryan Davies.

Question accordingly negatived.

Weights And Measures Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision with respect to weights and measures, it is expedient to authorise—
(i) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of sums required to defray the expenses of any body established by or under that Act, the administrative expenses of the Secretary of State under that Act and any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable by virtue of any other Act out of money so provided;
(2) the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any sums received by the Secretary of State by virtue of that Act and any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable by virtue of any other Act into that Fund.—[Mr. Bates.]

Coastguard Service

Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Bates.]

10.18 pm

I am grateful to you Mr. Speaker, for arranging such a smooth transition from national affairs, which arouse a great deal of heat, to an important national matter which is less well known. If there is one body of men—one set of public employees—on whom public attention has not been focused today, it is the members of Her Majesty's coastguard service. The coastguard service is a vital part of lifesaving at sea and along the coastline, and its record in this task is one of which it is justifiably proud. The coastguard, in the seagoing communities of my constituency and other constituencies, is a respected figure. The constant presence of a trained man with seagoing experience who can alert rescue services gives both fishermen and pleasure boat owners considerable reassurance.

As the Minister knows, the calls made on the coastguard service have increased considerably in recent years, particularly because of the expansion of pleasure boating and major new concerns, such as oil pollution. Yet the coastguard service is now engaged on a major reorganisation which began last September and which has received remarkably little attention from Parliament or the press.

So far as I have been able to establish, with the help of the Library, there has been no parliamentary discussion of the coastguard service, and certainly no debate devoted to it, in the past decade, except references which may have arisen in wider discussion on oil pollution and such matters, and virtually no press publicity has been attached to the reorganisation of the service, except that which has appeared in Government publications such as Trade and Industry and the magazine "Coastguard".

I am sure the Minister would be the first to concede that this is a major reorganisation on which the service is engaged and that we should welcome an opportunity to discuss it in the House of Commons. As I understand it, the Department of Trade sees reorganisation as the appropriate way to take advantage of recent developments in radio telecommunications, on which the coastguard service has spent a great deal of money. Having improved radio communications and provided for distress calls on radio to be relayed direct from aerials along the coast to new rescue headquarters, it is concluded that the best thing to do is to centralise its experienced staff at these headquarters.

The chief coastguard, writing in "Coastguard", said:
"The regular staffing of the regional headquarters designated as Maritime Rescue Co-ordinating Centres will be augmented, with a consequent reduction of existing, constantly manned stations."
I underline the words
"a consequent reduction of existing, constantly manned stations".
In other words, men will be taken from the shore stations, where constant watch has hitherto been maintained, and put into centres which have the ponderous and easily forgettable title of maritime rescue co-ordinating centres. It is to these centres that men will be drawn from the more familiar location of the lookouts in coastguard stations along our coastline.

To relate this to my own constituency, stations such as Berwick and Amble, which have had two full-time coastguards, will be reduced to one or, perhaps, eventually none, and Seahouses, which at present has four, will be reduced to two. I remind the Minister that we have already lost regular coastguard stations in the same area—at Holy Island and Newtonby-the-Sea—in recent years. Auxiliaries will be recruited to fill the gaps, but the watch will no longer be a constant one. It will depend on estimates of the weather conditions and likely activity at sea whether a visual watch is maintained.

As news of this change has seeped through to the fishing and boating communities it has beeen received, at least in my area, with some dismay. To begin with, many fishermen feel aggrieved at the limited consultation that has taken place. Although one section of the fishing industry had news of it, the Northumberland Fishermen's Federation had virtually no prior notice of the meeting held at Seahouses on 19th December last. In view of that, and the fact that it was the first time for many days that inshore boats were able to put to sea, it is not surprising that that meeting was attended by only one fishermen, who himself went away dissatisfied.

Since then, a well-attended annual general meeting of the Northumberland Fishermen's Federation has confirmed the concern which I found to be widespread. I shall try to summarise the objections raised from this and other quarters. First, those who work in the North Sea know how treacherous it is. They have more confidence in a trained man on the spot, who can see the local conditions, than they have in any distant centre. Return to harbour at Seahouses, Amble and Berwick is notoriously difficult in some conditions, and the coastguard on lookout on the spot can see what is happening and advise whether return is feasible. I know men who believe that their lives have been saved by following advice not to put in at their home port but to seek a safer access further down the coast.

They have been very much struck by the references that they have seen and heard, in such discussions as there have been, about the supposed "wastefulness" of using trained men as pairs of eyes looking over the sea. That view is deeply resented and, indeed, challenged by many fishermen. An official of the Northumberland Fishermen's Federation pointed out that to argue that trained men keeping their eyes on the sea was in some way wasteful is the equivalent of saying that there is no value in having an officer on the bridge when a ship is at sea and that one might as well steer it entirely by radar. We have seen the dangers that arise from that.

There is much scepticism about the idea that it is wasteful or unnecessary to have trained men keeping a visual watch at sea. The visual watch is particularly relevant in some circumstances, for example, in an area such as Amble, where small boating has increased enormously. It is important in Berwick for another reason. A large holiday camp on the clifftop holds many thousands of people in the summer months and there is a great danger of cliff accidents, of accidents to children on the seashore and of inflatable craft drifting out to sea. All these indidents could be readily seen by a lookout on watch.

The man on watch can do many other things as well, including reporting the passage of yachts and pleasure vessels that have been at sea for some time, as well as advising on harbour conditions.

There is also a deep suspicion about the feasibility of calling out rescue services, such as the lifeboat, by remote control. When the call arises from a distress flare, there is far more likelihood that a coastguard on watch will see it and respond than there is if it is seen by a member of the public, who is often confused about the meaning of flares. In addition, some people who see distress flares assume that the coastguard or someone in authority will see them and that they therefore do not have to take any action. If the coastguard sees a flare, he can take action more quickly than can a remote centre, and even if we are talking about only seconds or minutes, they can cost lives when a rescue operation has to be launched quickly.

The coastguard on the spot can make practical decisions about what sort of help is needed. In Seahouses the coastguard fires the lifeboat maroon himself, whereas under the new system the rescue centre will have to telephone the lifeboat secretary, who will have to make arrangements to have a maroon fired—a much slower process.

The new system depends, to a large extent, on the use of auxiliary coastguards—spare-time men. They are described rather unflatteringly and unfairly in an internal memo which has been shown to me as "casual labour". Where are these men to be found? It may be much easier on the South Coast. I have been told that there are parts of the country where it is not difficult to recruit people with experience of the sea as auxiliary coastguards, but that is not the case in Northumberland.

Every other service makes extensive use of the limted number of people who work locally, who can undertake and complete a training programme and who are readily available. The first call on men with those abilities is the lifeboat. Another important call is by that part of the auxiliary coastguard that provides the rescue teams.

We have been very fortunate in this respect in my constituency. Thanks to one or two local firms which have made available not just one of their employees but several, and sometimes equipment as well, we have been able to maintain the shore-based auxiliary coastguard rescue teams, with Land Rovers, from local men.

As well as those groups, various other community services are making increasing calls on those who can manage to do such additional jobs. For example, the fire service is attempting in my constituency to turn over the whole fire operation at night to part-time firemen. We are resisting that, but if the plan went ahead it would be another massive call on an already stretched supply of available men. The special constabulary, part-time ambulance men, the Territorial Army and the Royal Observer Corps all recruit from the small reserve of people who can readily be put on standby or called in to watch. These men come from communities of 12,000, 5,000 and even less than 2,000, and in such areas there are not that many such men available. There is already enormous difficulty in getting them.

If we can get the men, which I beg leave to doubt, is the Minister satisfied that training is available to enable them all to deal with the sophisticated equipment and procedures which are fundamental to the reorganisation? How long will it take to bring about that state of readiness? The documents that the Department has put out on the subject speak of increased complexity of search and rescue. I find among those involved—fishermen, boatmen, lifeboatmen and the voluntary rescue services—a feeling that this complexity makes it even more important to have a fully trained man on the spot.

I also find that the reorganisation is proving demoralising to many members of the coastguard service in various parts of the country. They view with some cynicism what they see as an increase in headquarters and regional staffing at the expense of the coastal stations. Traditionally, the coastguard service has been run with a small headquarters complement. The latest figures show that that complement is growing rapidly.

They also note that all the top jobs in the service still seem to go to directentrant naval officers and very rarely indeed to men who have trained fully as coastguards and have been promoted through the service. They fear that promotion possibilities will be much more limited now that the old pattern of a station officer in charge at each station is disappearing.

There are some interesting comments from the former chief coastguard, who has himself accepted a reposting, in a recent issue of "Coastguard". They are telling comments about the problem of recruitment of trained staff. He said:
"Unfortunately there are many who apply thinking of coastguard Service as simply 'a job'. What is needed is people whose dedication and enthusiasm will produce that paragon known as a 'good coastguard'. He is always recognisable by what is done, rather than by what is said. His or her qualities are always difficult to define, but instantly recognisable by other coastguards. The sad thing is that some good coastguards are leaving—attracted away by the bait of better pay."
I think that anyone who has had anything to do with the sea and the coastguard service will not find it difficult to recognise the "good coastguard", but the worry of some of the older coastguards is that we shall not get men of this kind into the reorganised service and that the much wider dedication which the service has traditionally demanded will simply not be fostered and encouraged in the reorganised service. I think that it is very sad to see that measure of concern and demoralisation amongst some coastguards.

No one is asking the chief coastguard or the Department of Trade to abandon that part of their policy which involves improving radio telecommunications and extending co-ordination between rescue services and the services involved in combating pollution. We are all too aware of the need to do those things. What people are saying, and saying with some feeling on the basis of experience, is "Do not underestimate or abandon the man on the spot, the trained professional on watch." It is quite possible to reconsider the watch-keeping aspects of the scheme, particularly as it affects stretches of difficult and dangerous coastline. This part of the reorganisation is proceeding on the basis of retirement—"natural wastage" is the rather unpleasant euphemism that is now used—and the opportunity is there to reconsider future manning levels at stations such as the three I have mentioned.

I hope that in the light of the experience of fishermen and lifeboatmen, in the light of the acknowledged recruitment problems for auxiliaries, and in the light of the known difficulties of the stretch of coast I have described, the Minister will do precisely that. I do not expect him tonight to come up with major revisions of policy, but I expect him to show some signs that he is prepared to be flexible in the way reorganisation develops and to look again at the experience of men who know the sea and who say clearly that the man on the spot is vital.

10.34 p.m.

Matters relating to safety of life at sea, in particular the role of the Coastguard in co-ordinating marine rescue services off our coast, are certainly of the highest importance, and all too often they are taken far too much for granted. I am very glad indeed, therefore, that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has raised the topic of the rorganisation of the coastguard service and the problems which necessarily arise with change.

I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing my admiration for the way in which the Coastguard—regular and auxiliary coastguards alike—performs its task, often involving very long hours in the most arduous conditions. I believe this to be a widely held view, based on the many letters of appreciation that I receive from members of the public and from Ministers of foreign Governments whose national vessels have encountered difficulties around our coast and have needed the help of the Coastguard.

I say that even against the background of a personal experience when I visited the coastguard station at Beachy Head. It was generously suggested to me that I might be dropped over the cliff in order that the coastguards could establish to my satisfaction the effectiveness of their rescue procedures. But I declined that generous offer.

The changes are important, as they are meant to be. The way of life of those who have been used to the Coastguard as it exists must be adapted. That form of adaptation is sometimes very difficult. New ideas often meet with a good deal of opposition, until they are seen to be working. We are at the very earliest stages of change.

The criticisms that the hon. Gentleman has voiced tonight are criticisms that have come to my notice from wherever the changing conditions are likely to make themselves felt around our coasts. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, has chosen to debate the topic, so that I have the opportunity of dealing with these important matters.

The Coastguard has a long history of service to seafarers and to those who use the sea for pleasure and recreational activities. Regrettably, the popular image of the Coastguard has changed little over the years, but times have changed and the Coastguard necessarily must adapt to the sort of changing requirements of which I have spoken in general terms. In order to make the maximum possible use of modern technological developments in areas such as radio communications and radar surveillance, the Coastguard is re-equipping and reorganizing, as it is bound to do. We are obliged to make the best use of the available resources. That means change.

However, this is not totally new. The Coastguard has been gradually changits face over a number of years. An added momentum was given at the beginning of this decade with the initial development of the sophisticated Channel navigation information service, which is regarded the world over as being the model to be followed by all other countries. But we have not concentrated on the CNIS to the detriment of communications elsewhere around the coast. The VHF listening watch out to sea has been greatly extended and there is a comprehensive radio link between all stations and also to all other search and rescue agencies, thereby enabling a quick response to incidents wherever they may occur.

But it was also necessary to look at the basic organisation of the Coastguard to ensure that the structure was capable of dealing with its expanding role in the community. On top of its traditional search and rescue role, the Coastguard is being asked to deal with a number of other important matters. I have already mentioned the CNIS, and to this can be added reporting and monitoring systems for vessels carrying dangerous cargoes and a substantial participation in antipollution measures, both of which have received a good deal of public attention over recent weeks.

When the plans for the reorganisation of the Coastguard were announced in 1975, this was in the knowledge that they had been prepared with the best possible professional advice.

Briefly, we are concentrating the highly trained regular Coastguard manpower of 620 officers where it is most needed to provide an effective and efficient service. The country has been divided into six maritime search and rescue regions, each having a maritime rescue co-ordination centre with oversight of all search and rescue operations and co-operation in pollution incidents. Within each region there are a number of marine rescue sub-centres—22 in all. These are the places where we are concentrating our major effort. They are manned and equipped to respond to any call for assistance at any time by day or night.

Supporting these centres and providing the very important contact with local people on the coast there will continue to be regular coastguards, each in charge of sectors containing a number of auxiliary coastguard stations. It is probably at this level that there has been the most public criticism of the reorganisation. I think that this was one of the most substantial points argued by the hon. Gentleman. This concerns the constantly manned stations where traditionally the coastguard has maintained a 24-hour visual watch from a fixed lookout.

However, if we are to provide the required manpower at the rescue centres and sub-centres, we need to look elsewhere in the structure to find those manpower resources. I believe it right closely to consider whether in this day and age a 24-hour visual watch on the present scale can be justified. This is why in particular we have been considering the future role of the stations at Seahouses and Amble mentioned by the hon. Member this evening.

Our records over the past few years indicate that only a very small proportion, under 5 per cent., of the total incidents which come to the attention of the Coastguard are in fact reported solely as a result of visual watch. The Coastguard's main source of information is the public itself for incidents in coastal and inshore waters. That has been the case for a long time. Also, an ever-increasing number of vessels, including fishing boats and pleasure craft, are being equipped with VHF radio, enabling direct communication with the Coastguard.

I am of the view that continuous watch from fixed lookouts should be discontinued, unless this is operationally necessary for reasons other than search and rescue. An example is in the Dover Strait, where there are added CNIS duties.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I had given a great deal of care to the examination of this point. I have instructed my Coastguard officials to ensure that where there are strong local doubts and anxieties they should do their best to resolve them by attendance on the spot. If the hon. Gentleman says—and I accept what he says unreservedly—that the intended consultation which took place on 20 December was ineffective because inadequate notice was given, I shall arrange for a further consultation to take place. That kind of communication is essential if we are to allay doubts, fears and anxieties.

Will the Minister clear up two points? In the reorganisation, will he recognise the importance of continuing co-ordination and co-operation between the Coastguard as reorganised and the RNLI, as evidenced in the new combined operations room at Poole? Will he confirm that the Government in no way intend to diminish the role of the all-volunteer RNLI? Secondly, does he agree that there is an urgent need to develop some form of radar identification or so-called electronic number plates in crowded conditions, such as the Dover Straits, and indeed along the whole British coastline?

I was about to deal with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point. I am pleased to join him in praising the activities of the voluntary bodies, such as the RNLI, and there are a number of others. I include the local authorities, police and the public. I am sure that I have left out of the list the many others who give the most important support to the Coastguard, and long may that continue.

As for the other point mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I think that it does not arise out of this Adjournment debate, but I shall look into the matter and drop him a line about it. I wish to get on because I have a good deal more to say in answering the debate.

The changes that we propose will not take effect overnight; they will be brought in gradually. We try to consult fully with the local community. We want to see a service provided locally that is consistent with the needs of that community. Nor are we advocating the abandonment of all watchkeeping at the stations in question. We fully recognise that particular circumstances will demand varying periods of watch. We have special regard for the needs of communities where there are high concentrations of pleasure craft. We have a proper regard for the needs of local fishermen. I assure the hon. Gentleman that these considerations and other local factors will be given full weight at Seahouses and Amble.

The important element is flexibility at the local level, and this is what the new structure gives. However, I believe that decisions on reduced watchkeeping hours must be made locally by the coastguard, who is best equipped to assess the local casualty risk at any time. In many cases, visual watch will in future be kept by part-time auxiliary coastgards under the control of regular staff. Auxiliary staff now number 9,000 and they are playing a vital part in the service.

It is probably inevitable that we shall not satisfy everybody in implementing the changes. But there is not the wholesale depletion in morale that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. There is local concern when a reduced role is proposed for a station in that area.

But ultimately the Government are responsible for the service as a whole around the coast and need to keep under continuous review the allocation of resources between particular areas.

I believe that we now have a Coastguard organisation which will bring out the best in the undoubted professional skills of all the people involved and, above all, its sheer enthusiasm to get on with the job.

Local fishermen have expressed their anxieties about the new system. Coastguards locally will closely involve themselves in the communities that they cover, and that includes the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Our records show that during 1977–78, out of 10 incidents handled by Seahouses, only one distress flare was sighted by the coastguard watch. That is not a criticism of the coastguard. But it is a fact that bears out the stories that there are around the coast. We shall be making alternative arrangements for launching lifeboat maroons at Scahouses. This matter is under close examination.

The hon. Gentleman referred to difficulties in recruiting coastguards, but on a national scale that does not give rise to a great deal of anxiety. We seem to be attracting people with the right experience. Referring to the hon. Member's own local difficulty, we do have a problem with Seahouses. There is difficulty, particularly during the high season of the summer holidays. I gather that there are not problems elsewhere in the hon. Member's constituency. If I am wrong, no doubt he will write and tell me. Our intention is to try to make up any staffing deficiencies in Seahouses with auxiliaries from the other local stations on both sides of Seahouses, without causing undue difficulties at those stations.

The hon. Member referred to special problems associated with holidaymakers, such as cliff incidents. Perhaps there is a particular problem at Berwick. Auxiliary rescue companies will still be maintained in the area to cover shoreline and cliff incidents, and the ability of the coastguard to deal with these special problems will in no way be impaired.

A regular officer will also be based at Berwick.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twelve minutes to Eleven o'clock.