I wish to speak to this Motion. My reason for doing so is that, as you will learn from my remarks, Mr. Speaker, my point can best be made on and is more applicable to this Motion than to the second Motion.
I want to suggest to the Leader of the House that instead of Mr. Speaker adjourning the House at five o'clock tomorrow he should adjourn the House at six o'clock in order to provide the Attorney-General with an opportunity to explain to the House his unprecedented conduct in relation to the Poulson bankruptcy proceedings.
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that there were some technical difficulties which stood in the way of hon. Members putting Questions to the Attorney-General on this matter. In the end, those technical difficulties were resolved, and Questions to the Attorney-General on the matter were allowed. However, by a well-known device the Attorney-General dealt with the matter by means of a Written Reply to an Oral Question which had been put down for answer last Friday. That is an old trick which is adopted by Ministers from time to time to enable them to avoid making an oral explanation to the House on what might be an embarrassing subject to the Government.
I want the House to adjourn at six o'clock tomorrow so that the Attorney-General has an opportunity to explain what I have described as his unprecedented conduct in relation to the Poulson bankruptcy proceedings. The facts of the matter are these. At attempt was made to get the hearing adjourned for an indefinite period, and the Attorney-General supported an application for that purpose. He instructed counsel to appear for him. In addition, the Official Receiver, who is employed by the Department of Trade and Industry and is an important official of that Department, was also represented by counsel in support of that application.
The Registrar ruled that the public examination should continue. That was after learned counsel appearing for the creditors had said:
The public have the right to hear the debtor and every single creditor has power to question him.
Counsel on behalf of the creditors has a long experience of bankruptcy proceedings. He made it clear that in his 28 years' experience such an application was unique. In my view, too, so far as I have been able to ascertain, this conduct on the part of the Attorney-General and the Official Receiver is without precedent.
In his Written Reply to the parliamentary Question which appeared in HANSARD for last Friday the Attorney-General tried to make it clear that the reason why he sought to ensure the adjournment of the proceedings was that they might prejudice any possible prosecution resulting from the current police investigations. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on:
I was not acting on behalf of the Government but in pursuance of my constitutional responsibility for the fair administration of the criminal law."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 128.]
It may be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is technically correct. Being of a credulous disposition I might be inclined to believe him. But millions of people outside this House will not believe that to be true, especially in the light of the experiences that we have had in relation to the National Industrial Relations Court and the rapidity with which the executive can get a move on when they wish to.
There is a growing tendency on the part of the executive perhaps not to tamper with the judicial process but certainly to lean heavily upon it when it suits their purpose. That is a very dangerous precedent which we cannot allow to go unchallenged. That is why I want the Attorney-General to come here tomorrow to explain to the House why he has taken this course of action.
It may be, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, that he was not acting on behalf of the Government. It may be that he locked himself in a room and decided, without telling the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House in his capacity of Home Secretary in charge of the Metropolitan Police, that he was about to take this course. That is possible but not very likely. However, when we come to the Official Receiver supporting the application, no doubt with the knowledge and approval of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, it cannot be argued, as the Attorney-General tried to argue on Friday, that the Government did not take any part in the application. That will be viewed by millions of people outside this House as complete humbug. For reasons into which I shall not go now, everyone knows that the Government are directly concerned to bring every possible pressure to bear in order to ensure that these bankruptcies proceedings are adjourned.
What makes it even more sinister is that according to a statement which appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 3rd August, a spokesman on behalf of the Attorney-General said:
… moves being considered were an appeal against the decision of the Registrar … to go ahead with the hearing, or a further application …
to be made in due course.
Appeals from decisions of bankruptcy registrars have to be made to the Divisional Court. The Divisional Court is not sitting at the moment because the long vacation has started. If an appeal has to be lodged against the Registrar's decision, it will involve a special sitting by the Vacation Judge and a Chancery judge.
In the light of our experience of the NIRC we know that nothing is beyond the power of the Government when they wish to get a move on or when they wish to hush up something. Before we adjourn tomorrow for the Summer Recess, we are entitled to know whether the Attorney-General or the Official Receiver acting on behalf of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make an appeal to the Vacation Judge in order to secure the adjournment of the Poulson bankruptcy proceedings.
This is all part of a pattern which is beginning to manifest itself and which seems to indicate that the executive are seeking more and more to tamper with our judicial processes.
I rise on a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am in some difficulty. I wish to raise a matter which is relevant to tomorrow's business. However, my impression was that it would be more appropriate to raise it on the next Motion. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has been allowed to develop his argument on this Motion. I wish to know whether I should raise my point now, or whether it will be more appropriate to do so on the next Motion.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I gave private notice to Mr. Speaker that I wanted to raise a point of order on this very important Motion, though I agree with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) that it is customary to raise these matters on the second Motion. While my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) may have jumped the gun, nevertheless he is quite in order. We can raise these matters on this Motion.
The point that I wish to raise concerns the timing of this Motion. When the Government put down what we have come to call Recess Motions, is not it the usual custom to give hon. Members at least a couple of days' notice? It is all right for the Patronage Secretary to shake his head. I know that it has occasionally happened. But my point is that these Motions were put down very late last night. The first that hon. Members saw of these Motions was when they received the Order Paper today.
The Patronage Secretary sits there muttering. It has been the custom to put down Amendments to these Motions covering the kind of point my hon Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) had in mind—namely, to delete the dates and to put in other dates to bring us back earlier or to have a later date of rising. We then have an opportunity of amending the Motion. We have no opportunity now of amending it.
Had the Government been decent enough to put the Motion down last Thursday or Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton, myself and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East would have been able to put down suitable Amendments which would have given us the opportunity of discussing these matters without necessarily opposing the basic principle of the Motion.
Therefore, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am asking whether you will agree to permit us to put down manuscript Amendments to each of these Motions, because we have not had the opportunity which we have had in the past of putting down proper Amendments. I am not passing any comment on the Chair, but the Patronage Secretary and the Government have, as usual, tried to pull a fast one.
Further to that point of order. Will the hon. Gentleman illumine us by quoting some dates when the opportunities about which he is talking have been given? I cannot recollect any.
Order. Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman and the House by pointing out that it is not unusual to give this sort of short notice and it is certainly not out of order to do so. It is customary and desirable to have any debate there may be on the second item of business. Therefore, I suggest that that might be done now.
Is it in order for the Chair to be asked for its opinion about what happens at party meetings? We are entitled to put down Amendments to these Motions, but we have not had the opportunity of doing so.
But the hon. Gentleman has had opportunities to put in manuscript Amendments. I am not saying that they would have been selected by any manner of means, but the hon. Gentleman has had those opportunities.
Further to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)—and because it is in line with that matter and no other I raise it now—may I say that, although for totally and entirely different reasons, I certainly hope to hear from the Attorney-General tomorrow. I have in fact put down a Private Notice Question on this matter which may or may not be selected. I regard the delay and the adjournment of the Poulson bankruptcy proceedings until the end of September as absolutely deplorable. It is nothing short of a scandal that a man in public life, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), should have to wait until the end of September whilst various allegations are being flung about in all quarters. I am sure that the Attorney-General should exercise his utmost endeavour to see that the hearing is disposed of as expeditiously as possible.
No one will presume to cast a judgment on the decision of either the Official Receiver or counsel involved in the case about having reasonable time to prepare whatever they want to put forward. However, there is no reason that this matter should be treated as if it is in vacation and must wait until the end of September. The matter should proceed with all expedition. I believe that the Attorney-General should tell the House that he will exercise such powers as he has in that respect to the best of his ability.
I dissent from what the hon. Member for Brixton said about the Attorney-General's duties. My right hon. and learned Friend's constitutional duties are absolutely plain. He is responsible for the administration of the criminal law in its entirety. He is not responsible in any other sense. My right hon. and learned Friend was entitled to be properly represented by Mr. Slynn of counsel on that previous occasion, but he has no authority over that court. Those of us who have knowledge of both the bankruptcy and the criminal courts and their proceedings know that everything the Government have done is perfectly proper.
To underline the matter, we must not forget that both the Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers have two separate functions. They have their political and legal functions and they must perform them separately to the best of their ability. It is not right for anyone to impugn what the Attorney-General has done. Although we are rising tomorrow, I think we should hear from my right hon. and learned Friend on this matter.
As the matters I raise can be crisply and concisely put, I think they more properly belong to Motion No. 1 rather than to Motion No. 2, because I am not asking that there should be any alteration other than extra time given.
The first matter concerns the behaviour of senior Ministers regarding today's statement. It would be an abuse of the time of the House to go into the details of the pros and cons of the nuclear power programme. I do not intend to do that. However, it seems, to say the least, a bit egregious that we can be told the Secretary of State for Scotland is about to make a statement on Stakeness, but cannot do so this afternoon, when, in a letter which was handed to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) from the Minister of State, Scottish Office, to the noble Lord Hoy, the Government said:
The Board are therefore announcing that they have decided to proceed with an oil-gas fired station at Boddam, near Peterhead for which formal application is already before the Secretary of State and that they are retaining the Stakeness site, which is particularly suitable for a nuclear station, for later development.
It is a matter of Ministers' behaviour towards the House of Commons. Therefore, I put it not in a strident or in a carping way to the Patronage Secretary and the Government's business manager, the Leader of the House: should they not have a word with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry why this announcement could not have been made? Without this knowledge the statement was far from coherent. I leave it at that. I ask this question about the
behaviour of senior Ministers during that statement.
I intend to raise three other matters even more crisply. First, is there likely to be any statement tomorrow on the situation that has arisen over Cunard? As is well known, Cunard has announced that it is to order another cruise liner and the chairman of Cunard has said that it will be built in a foreign yard. Many issues arise here, because Cunard has had a massive amount of Government money. I content myself by refering to the answer given on 2nd March to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who said:
Two agreements made with the Cunard in 1968 under the Industrial Expansion Act, 1968, provided for governmental loans of up to £24 million towards the cost of completing the Queen Elizabeth 2. £19½ million of this was actually taken up, of which £7½ million was lent to the Cunard Steamship Company at the rate of 4½ per cent., while £12 million was lent to the subsidiary Cunard Line Ltd. at a rate of 4½ per cent. until 1972".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1972; Vol. 832, c. 175.]
I need not go on, because it is well known precisely how many millions of taxpayers' money the Cunard company, rightly or wrongly, has had. After all this financial water has flowed under the bridge, is it right that if the company has money to order a new cruise liner we should be told in an announcement, apparently after little consultation with the trade unions or anybody else, that it is to be built in a foreign yard?
If it is the Government's intention to help the shipbuilding industry—and I declare an interest as representing a constituency which has sub-contractors to the shipbuilding industry—and to pour out massive funds to the shipbuilding areas of the country it sticks in our gullet, to put it mildly, that the chairman of the company, apparently without consultation, should say that the new liner is to be built in a foreign yard. Are we to have a statement on that?
As a member of the Committee considering the Finance Bill, it was my impression that the Committee under Mrs. Alison Munro, which was looking at the whole question of VAT on childrens' shoes, would report before the end of the parliamentary Session. That was the impression which I obtained from both the Chief Secretary and the Financial Secretary. Has there been any decision on VAT on childrens' shoes?
Is there any decision about charities? I ask that because again the impression was given to the Finance Bill Committee upstairs that Treasury Ministers would finally make up their minds on the taxation of charities and let us know before Parliament went into Recess. May we have some kind of statement, preferably a little more enlightening than that given to the other place on 27th July on the whole issue of charities?
Those are four issues—charities, childrens' shoes, the shipping position and, above all, the behaviour of the Secretary of State towards the House on a crucial nuclear power issue.
As we have now for some time been discussing what ministerial statements should or should not be made tomorrow I am emboldened to raise a point that I have in mind, and in doing so I shall be brief.
For some time the House, the country, my constituents and those of my hon. Friends in Essex and Kent have been expecting a statement on the siting of the runways for the Third London Airport. There were rumours last week that such a statement would be made before the end of the week. So far it has been impossible for me to get any kind of information out of the Department of the Environment as to whether one will be made this week. Although I am the constituency Member concerned, when I attempted to get information this morning I could not be told whether a statement would be made tomorrow.
It may or may not have been the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement but if he is being prevented from making one the responsibility for that rests squarely upon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If that is so, I beg him to have second thoughts.
I should like to remind my right hon. Friend and the House that the decision to site the Third London Airport offshore at Foulness in my constituency instead of at some inland site in Buckinghamshire or elsewhere was taken because the Government considered, quite rightly, that it would be wrong to inflict the noise nuisance upon people living inland and there were strong environmental advantages in siting the airport offshore.
Even so, large numbers of people will be affected in one way or another. If one takes the population in the narrow peninsula between the Thames and the Crouch and those living in North-East Kent, about 500,000 people will be affected. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has repeatedly promised that the environmental considerations would be borne in mind in carrying out this development. It must be clear to the House that depending upon where the runways are sited so access routes will flow and the noise nuisance will be determined. It has therefore been a matter of the greatest moment to my constituents, to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), Faversham (Mr. Moate), and others to know where the runways are to go.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and I and all the local authorities in South-East Essex have left the Secretary of State in no doubt about where the site should be. I shall not go into detail about that now, since this is not the proper occasion, but to leave until the very last day of the Sitting an announcement on this subject is a serious matter because it gives us virtually no opportunity to cross-examine the Secretary of State should he announce a decision which is wholly unacceptable to us. But to make no statement at all would be quite monstrous and totally unacceptable to my constituents.
With respect, our right hon. Friend has been hoping to make that statement for some time. There has been no doubt about his wish to make it. As the constituency Member concerned trying to find out whether a statement affecting the lives and amenities of his constituents would be made before the House rose, I can only say that my right hon. Friend's officials were not able to tell me anything before lunchtime today.
I regard this as extremely discourteous, and it is also short sighted, because the Secretary of State knows that there are very strong objections to siting these runways at any place other than Site D. My right hon. Friend will also know that some of us had grave misgivings when the consultative document was published because it prejudged the argument by saying that there were advantages in going for the cheapest site. That naturally had an upsetting effect upon my constituents and so to leave until the last moment an announcement as to when an announcement is to be made, let alone what its contents will be, is very unsatisfactory.
I promised to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but for my right hon. Friend to say that the Secretary of State hopes to make a statement tomorrow is just not good enough, and I think that I carry my hon. Friends from constituencies affected with me in saying that. I hope, therefore, that before my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will have taken the opportunity of sending messages outside and will be able to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement tomorrow.
But even if my right hon. Friend makes that concession, I want to place on record that I consider it very unsatisfactory that a matter of this kind should be left to the very last day of the Sitting. Parliament and the nation willed that the Third London Airport should be inflicted upon my constituents. For environmental reasons they willed that the Third London Airport should be sited at Foulness. We did not want it there. We did not seek it. It is surely incumbent, therefore, upon the Government to take the feelings and subsceptibilities of my constituents and those of the people of Southend and North-East Kent fully into account. I hope for nothing less than a promise from my right hon. Friend that the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement tomorrow.
I take up first two matters which have been raised already. The first is the timing of the putting down of these Motions. I do not share the upset of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) on this subject because I am grateful that we are not debating the Motions on the very last day. I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House for the fact that he has given us the opportunity for debates on these Motions, which are traditionally the Motions on which we raise our constituents' grievances without invading the time of hon. Members who have the Adjournment subjects.
It would be very helpful to hon. Members if more notice were given. We understand the Government's problems and the fact that they are not too sure of what business they will get and sometimes of the date on which they will he able to send the House away. On that basis, and taking those points into account, we are already grateful for the assistance the Leader of the House has given. We should be even more grateful perhaps in future, understanding these problems, if he could give greater notice.
My hon. Friend, quite inadvertently, has made a statement which is not in accordance with the facts. He has said that he would not want the Motion to be put down tomorrow because it would interfere with the Adjournment subjects. It has never been and cannot be put down "tomorrow" because the Motion states
at its rising to-morrow do adjourn.
Therefore, it is always a day or two before that the Motion is put down.
That this House do meet to-morrow.
If the Motion were put down "tomorrow", the rising of the House would have to be the day after. The Motion is never put down on the day of rising.
I take my hon. Friend's point with regard to the first Motion. With regard to the second Motion, I lost my Adjournment subject for the summer Adjournment last year because the debate was given over to Northern Ireland affairs. Because of that fact I was unable to raise the case of two of my constituents who were killed by a doctor. On the first Motion my hon. Friend may be right, but on the second Motion he is not.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who will admit two things. First, in the past it has not by any means been common practice to give notice of these Motions, although I agree that it is convenient to the House when we can. The hon. Gentleman will know that on this occasion I was able to say in business questions last week when the debate would take place.
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman will know that on this, and, perhaps, on other things, I have personally no criticism of him.
The second point on which I comment is the very important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). This matter was commented upon by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I wish to say nothing which in any way would prejudice, damage or upset the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), who is already undergoing things which no other hon. Member would wish to undergo. On the other hand, with regard to possible proposals for statements to be made and actions to be taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, I very much regret to have to say that there has grown up over the past few weeks in this country a very great cynicism about what is alleged to be the manipulation of the law by the Government. I do not associate myself with the views that are held by some or with this cynicism. I merely wish to place on record the fact that this feeling has grown. Constituents have mentioned it to me, and we have seen it in journals. It is the feeling that over the question of the five dockers imprisoned in Pentonville, for example, there was collusion between the Law Lords, the President of the National Industrial Relations Court and the Official Solicitor.
I do not associate myself with those views, but they are being commonly and widely held. I deplore anything which could be held in any way to undermine the public's respect for the processes of our law, which are absolutely paramount to the maintenance of a democratic society in Britain. Therefore, in any proposals which are made with regard to the bankruptcy proceedings taking place in Wakefield, I beg the Leader of the House not to say anything or to associate himself with anything which might lead people to believe that the Attorney-General, as a Member of the Government, is in any way intervening in proceedings which might be damaging to someone who was Home Secretary.
I am not in the least saying that that is what would be done. All I am saying is that the cynicism which is growing at present about allegations of manipulation of the law is such that anything that would add weight to that cynicism ought very seriously to be thought about. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that I am not in the slightest way attempting to cast any reflection upon either his right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet or anything that the Attorney-General might do.
I come now to what I wish to raise as a matter—[Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) to giggle. I trust that he will accept that what I have said is of some seriousness and that I have said it in no way contentiously or opprobriously. I have tried to help rather than harm. Instead of giggling about these matters in the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman would do far better by going to his constituency or to one of the many rooms in the House of Commons where he could entertain himself in manners he may consider preferable to listening to me.
The Motion will decide the time at which we rise tomorrow. I wish to ask that no time at which we rise tomorrow shall be decided until we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry as to what they will do to alleviate the unemployment situation in Manchester, particularly in my constituency of Ardwick.
We have an appalling situation in the Manchester travel-to-work area. In the past two years, since the present Government came to power, the number of redundancies announced totals 23,000. The number of jobs created is 3,180. Therefore, in these two years the rate of redundancies in Manchester, in proportion to the number of new jobs created, is seven men out of work for every job created to deal with those men.
I advised the Departments that I would raise this matter today. Yesterday the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in reply to a supplementary question from me, quoted a statement of the Chairman of the North-West Industrial Development Association—which appeared to give encouragement to those who believed it—that matters were improving in the Manchester travel-to-work area. But that statement was made in June, which is now two months ago. Since that statement was made matters have very much deteriorated in Manchester. For example, the number of unemployed in the Manchester travel-to-work area has risen by more than 1,500 to the appalling total for mid-July of 30,116. Unemployment has risen from 4·1 per cent. in June to 4·4 per cent. in July. Most remarkably, the number of vacancies has fallen during this period.
Therefore, we have a situation which the right hon. Gentleman as a former Secretary of State for Employment will, I am sure, regard as terrifying, that in the Manchester travel-to-work area 20 unemployed men are chasing every vacant job.
Since that statement, which was made by the Chairman of the North-West Industrial Development Association, and which the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry commented upon in such an airy way, the rate of redundancies, which had been slackening in the Manchester travel-to-work area, has speeded up again. The latest figures given to me in the House show that redundancies are now running at three for every new job created.
Yesterday the Under-Secretary quoted a June statement by the Chairman of the North-West Industrial Development Association. On 13th July Mr. Jack Eccles, the Secretary of the North-West Trades Union Congress Advisory Committee, said:
We are deeply disturbed at the situation in the North-West …".
Therefore, a month after the NWIDA said that at that stage it was satisfied the North-West TUC Advisory Committee was talking about being "deeply disturbed".
Unemployment among school leavers is worse than it has been in Manchester at any point for 30 years. I have mentioned the thousands of redundancies which we are expecting because of the closure which has been announced already of Churchill Machine Tools and the Irlam BSC establishment. Also, the Miles-Redfern establishment at Hyde is to be closed within the next 18 months.
Churchill's is to lay off nearly 1,000 men within the next six months. I quote in this connection, and very relevantly, what the manager of the Altrincham Employment Exchange has said about the Churchill closure:
There are 300 fitters about to lose their jobs at Churchill's and in the Manchester area 500 unemployed fitters are already chasing 10 vacancies.
Therefore, already we have 50 men out of work chasing every job in their trade. When these closures occur—they are to take place within the next six months and at a time which is traditionally a period of deterioration in any case—there will be 80 unemployed men chasing every vacancy in their trade—
I thought I was doing so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What I was saying, and what I shall say again in a moment in my final remarks, which I was coming to, was that I wanted certain things to be said from the Government Front Bench before we agree to the House rising at any particular time tomorrow. That is why I have stated these facts.
I believe that it is also necessary to place on record the further statement by the manager of the Altrincham Employment Exchange that
Churchill's 120 apprentices were likely to face special difficulties
as a result of the closure.
Earlier today the Prime Minister spoke about the unprecedented measures which the Government had brought in to deal with these particular regional unemployment problems. As one who has pressed for many of these specific measures, I regret to say that in the Manchester area these measures are not biting, as the information I have given to the House amply demonstrates.
Therefore, new measures are urgently needed, because we shall not be back until the middle of October when the whole winter employment decline will be in full spate. Manchester has special problems. We need special measures to tackle them. We need these measures before the House rises tomorrow. Before we agree to the House rising at any partiular time I hope that the Home Secretary and Leader of the House, who has special knowledge of these matters, will be able to make a statement about what the Government will announce tomorrow to help deal with these grave problems
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether anybody is coming to the House tomorrow from the Ministry of Defence to make a statement about the Royal Dockyards. As my right hon. Friend knows, there is considerable trouble about the wages of loyal servants of the Government in the Royal Dockyards.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) will agree with me when I say that for the first time in 300 years there has been a walkout from the yards. Yet there can be no more loyal body of workpeople than the workers in the dockyards. Many of the men served for 20 years in the Royal Navy before they started work in the dockyards.
These workers now want to know what their position will be in the wage negotiations. These are industrial civil servants who have not got the same opportunity as people working for private firms to put their case forward. The fact that over 200 of them came to the House from Devonport Dockyard alone to put their case forward and that each one of them paid his own fare shows how pressing they regard the matter.
The matter is very pressing indeed, because there is an advertising campaign on now by South Africa to attract some of the technicians from these yards. South Africa wants leading technicians to go to South Africa to service and repair South African submarines. These men are being guaranteed a minimum of £35 a week, free passage, a pension scheme, holiday and service bonuses, free medical care and VIP treatment. Types being recruited are engine-room fitters, turners, pipe fitters, electricians, sonar technicians, weapons mechanical and electrical technicians and refrigeration experts. Such men are already being invited to go for interviews and to apply.
What has disturbed me in particular is that our local newspaper has reported that a Ministry of Defence Royal Navy spokesman has said:
These technicians will be a serious loss to our yard force.
I agree with him about that.
They have served expensive apprenticeships, but, unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do to stop them emigrating to South Africa and using their skills there.
I hope that tomorrow a spokesman will come from the Ministry of Defence to tell us that something can be done—in other words, a wage settlement, giving these people something similar to what they are being offered by South Africa. It is a sad fact that some of these men, especially those with children, would be better off if they were not working but were drawing social security. Let the Government treat these loyal workers as VIPs in the same way as South Africa would treat them.
I hope that a spokesman from the Ministry of Defence will, in response to the eloquent plea of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), some to the House before five o'clock tomorrow to give some explanation why the Government are refusing to pay a decent living wage to people whom the hon. Lady and others represent.
These people are not confined to the Royal Dockyards. There are many other industrial civil servants involved in the pay claim which has now been partially rejected by the Government. The Government have offered a small amount to be going on with. According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Jellicoe, who is in charge of the negotiations on behalf of the Government, should not go beyond the present Government offer of £1·50 a week across the board.
To put the matter into perspective before the Minister attends tomorrow, let me state a little of the background and illustrate the urgency of the claim. It is, as the hon. Lady has said, a claim by industrial civil servants, of whom there are 192,000–47,000 of them in the Royal Dockyards, 18,000 in the Ordnance factories, and the rest spread throughout the Government service in the Stationery Office and elsewhere. I understand that no fewer than 53,000 of these people are in the bottom two bands of the wage structure. They are earning either £17·30, or 65 pence above that, and that means that 53,000 industrial civil servants are earning less than £17·95 a week. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer is advising Lord Jellicoe to resist further pressure on behalf of these men for an increase above the £1·50 that has already been offered.
We expect a Minister to come to the House with some explanation of this attitude because of the sympathy expressed this afternoon by the Prime Minister towards the claim. He said he wanted to improve the lot of the lower paid. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been making belligerent speeches lately, but he, too, has expressed sympathy with low-paid workers. We learned this afternoon that the Prime Minister has gone to Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight or somewhere else to study the question of low-paid workers and try to define what a low-paid worker is. By any definition and by any stretch of the Prime Minister's imagination the answer to that question must be that anything below £20 a week is low. We know that that is a plimsoll line, a poverty line, below which these workers find themselves. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor, while expressing sympathy with the low-paid workers, are none the less resisting their claim for a decent living wage which, even with the increase offered by the Government, will still be less than £20.
Is there not a degree of duplicity here by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? What is behind their attitude and their refusal to accept the wage claim? Why are they so adamant that these men are overpaid, and why are they not prepared to discuss further the issue of differentials? Craft workers and their representatives in the dockyards and ordnance factories are not pressing for maintenance of their differentials in the way that they are so often accused of going by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. The craftsmen are as much concerned about the low-paid workers as they are about their own wages, and they, too, are grossly underpaid. Many of us have had correspondence from the workers at Aldermaston who have been expressing concern about their wages. Technicians there and craftsmen are earning no more than £26·30 a week gross.
As my hon. Friend says, that is below the national average. Those workers, too, are experiencing resistance to their claim for a decent wage like our good friends in the dockyards and the ordnance factories.
The House therefore has every right to expect a Minister to explain why the Government are speaking with two voices. When the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have the chance to do something for the lower paid, and for their own employees, the industrial civil servants, in particular, they refuse. Why is that? Why can we not offer more than £1·50? Why are they so afraid of the Press discussing the claim? Why have they put what is tantamount to a D Notice on the—
I was about to go on and explain why the nuclear base at Rothesay might come to a halt because of the strike there, and why trade unionists are considering bringing the Farnborough air show, which is to be held in the first week in September, to a halt. In view of these grave possibilities a Minister should come to the House to explain the Government's duplicity. He must explain why they express sympathy and yet behind closed doors instruct their hireling, Jellicoe, to refuse to offer more than £1·50 to union negotiators.
I am seeking to explain why the Chancellor and the Prime Minister or some other Minister should come to the House tomorrow, as a result of the request made by the hon. Member for Devonport, in extended hours beyond six o'clock tomorrow afternoon. There is a risk that we shall not have a Farnborough air show this year. The lads will not be there, and if they are not there the show cannot go on.
If the Polaris base in Scotland comes to a halt as a result of the strike, that must be a matter of deep concern and urgency. If Aldermaston stops work, who knows what will happen to our defence programme. Therefore, before five o'clock or six o'clock tomorrow afternoon a Minister should explain the Government's position in some detail.
I am speaking on behalf of my colleagues in the AUEW and my colleagues in the House who are representing the negotiating trade unions. We speak with a common voice on this issue in trying to urge the Government to face reality and stop hiding behind closed doors. The Government must come out into the open and explain why they are misleading the country. Let us see the colour of the Government's money. Let them come into the open and offer more than £20 a week to these workers. If they mean what they say, let them show an example of their intentions to the TUC-affiliated unions by proving that they will do something about the low-paid workers.
By such an action the Prime Minister will be able slowly to win back what little credibility he had some time ago. If he starts today, perhaps his image will improve and perhaps we shall see an honest Prime Minister who means what he says when he expresses sympathy for the lower paid. He is not the only guilty man in the Government because there is a whole series of them.
I do not want to prolong this debate for too long by going through the history of those Ministers, and so I shall confine my remarks to the issue concerning the low-paid industrial civil servants. These people, who have an urgent case, depend on the House of Commons to do something on their behalf. Apart from withdrawing their labour from certain rather sensitive spots such as Farnborough, the polaris base or Aldermaston, they have little else in the way of bargaining power. There is need for us here to do something for them, since, in a curious way, we are the employers of civil servants.
I do not see why industrial civil servants should be treated differently from white-collared civil servants. Why are there two standards in the Government's mind? Why is the Prime Minister resisting this claim? Is it that he knows that these people have real bargaining power only when there is a war on? I hope that that is not the reason, and I hope that we shall have an explanation tomorrow and a statement that these people are entitled to a decent wage and a good standard of living. We owe them a living, we owe them a decent wage, and we expect a Minister to be sufficiently generous to tell us tomorrow that there has been a dreadful mistake, that the £1·50 is a misapprehension, that it should not be regarded as the correct figure, and that it was not intended in the first place. I hope that we shall be told tomorrow that a decent offer is being made, thus avoiding the trouble which we can foresee.
I apologise for having laughed during the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). I meant no disrespect to the Chair. It was just that I felt that laughter was the only permissible reaction to the crocodile tears running down the hon. Gentleman's face—he is the master of the smear campaign—when he talked about the Poulson affair. We should leave these affairs to the Attorney-General, in his wisdom, to work out on his own.
I consider that an extra hour could well be provided tomorrow because the Department of Trade and Industry is not looking sufficiently clearly to the future of ship repairing and shipbuilding in my area. I know that my colleague from Southampton, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell), is well aware of the problem in
Southampton, too. On Monday I asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he would make a statement on the general rundown in the shipbuilding industry in the Southampton area and what aid would be given to ensure further repair work. The reply was:
Whilst I have no plans to provide aid for the industry in the Southampton area or for the ship repair industry as a whole, I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave today to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney).
Thinking that there might be something of substance in that reply, I waited patiently for today's HANSARD, only to find that it gave no ground for believing that we in Southampton would receive any aid. This is what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said:
The ship repair industry, in common with other industries, receives taxation allowances on capital expenditure and regional employment premium"—
we do not—
It shares with the shipbuilding industry Customs concessions on imported materials. Under the Industry Bill it will be eligible for regional development grant and selective assistance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) was quite pleased with that reply, but the hon. Member for Itchen was not so pleased. He said:
Will the hon. Gentleman take special note of the ship repairing industries in areas outside development areas, like Southampton, which are experiencing considerable difficulty …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1224–5.]
We have two ship-repairing companies in Southampton, Harland and Wolff and Vosper Thornycroft. Harland and Wolff's ship repairing is being rapidly run down in Southampton. The unemployment problem in Belfast is probably making the company put all its energies and contracts towards Belfast. But we in the Southampton area feel that the Minister should look at the matter in the light of the evidence. I have a letter here, for example, from Mr. J. A. Wilde, the repair manager of Vosper Thornycroft, and he puts the matter in cogent terms:
As ship repairers we have to rely on ships which use Southampton to obtain work, since
it is almost impossible to convince owners that they should come to Southampton just for repairs.
Today's news about Cunard makes the matter more worrying. I had grave fears about the future of Cunard, and I mentioned them in the House, when I heard that a certain property company was about to take over this well known and well established shipping company. I knew that there were large amounts of capital on loan from the Government, and I was convinced at that time that there would be no rundown in its use of our shipping facilities in Southampton, but we hear today that two of its new cruise liners will be ordered from Danish shipyards. This will mean no ship repairing in Southampton because, due to the new orientation of the passenger service, the ships will no longer be coming back to Southampton, except, perhaps, for their yearly lay-ups.
We face a severe problem. Ship repairing is running down. We have no means of coaxing ship owners to come to Southampton just for repairs. Therefore, I feel that a Minister could profitably spend the extra time tomorrow explaining how he will help the area. It is not in a development area, but it is none the less suffering a severe unemployment problem on the ship repairing side.
I take it that on the present Motion it is not appropriate to call for debates tomorrow on some of the major issues confronting the country, which many of us will wish to raise on the next Motion on the Order Paper, but I think it imperative to raise now the question of statements which should be made tomorrow.
I refer again to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) arising from the statement by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry this afternoon about the future of the nuclear reactor programme. In a number of respects, that statement was both obscure and, conceivably, damaging to the future of the industry.
Apparently, for reasons to do with the bashfulness of the Secretary of State for Scotland perhaps, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was unwilling to make any announcement to the House today about the future of the steam generating heavy water reactor and the wish of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board to build such a reactor at Stakeness in Banffshire. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry told us that the Secretary of State for Scotland would, in his own time, make an announcement. Apparently, what happened was this. The Minister of State, Lord Polwarth, wrote a letter to my noble Friend Lord Hoy, which was released this afternoon at the time of the Secretary of State's statement to the House of Commons, announcing that, because of the urgency of the power needs of the North and North-East of Scotland, the Hydro-Board was forced to go ahead with the construction of an oilfired power station.
This is a deplorable way to treat the House. It is outrageous that the senior Minister responsible for power and the nuclear programme should be unwilling to submit himself to questioning on one of the central issues in the whole decision structure, while at the same time a junior member of the Government issued statements to the Press and to Members of the other place. In these circumstances the House has a right to a further statement from the right hon. Gentleman or the Secretary of State for Scotland tomorrow, to enable us to examine in detail the reasoning behind the decisions. There are those among us who believe that it is a very bad decision—bad for Banffshire, bad for power supply in Scotland, but, above all, bad for the future of the nuclear power industry and its potential export of the steam generating heavy water reactor. We cannot have this sort of issue shrugged off by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as he shrugged off the questioning of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) as being nonsense. It is a very important question, and the right hon. Gentleman deliberately evaded answering it, although he must have had knowledge of the facts, as did other members of the Cabinet then on the Government Front Bench, including the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Therefore, because of what amounts to plain duplicity by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the least that he can do to clear up the terrible mess is to make a further statement to the House.
There was a leading article in The Times yesterday headed:
Tunnelling In A Cool Climate.
I cannot complain that we are not to have a statement on the Channel Tunnel tomorrow, because it has not been promised, but I hope that there will be no decision about the Channel Tunnel while the House is in recess. I regard it as very important for the House to have the opportunity to debate the matter as soon as the Government make a decision. It would be a very cold climate for the Government if they allowed such a decision to be made and announced while the House was away on holiday.
I rise to discuss the matter before the House because of that other major planning decision, the decision concerning Foulness, or Maplin Sands. I said "Foulness" deliberately, because when I referred to the matter in a point of order earlier this afternoon some hon. Members did not understand what I meant when I spoke about "Maplin". To me, as the Member representing the constituency only 12 miles across the water from Maplin, Maplin is the third London Airport. Because my constituency has a coastline, I could be 15 miles from the proposed new third London Airport if the decision is to place the runways at the furthest point out to sea, a possibility which the Department of the Environment has been considering.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has placed before all hon. Members the consideration he is giving, and has been giving since June, to four possible sites in the Thames Estuary for the runways of the third London Airport. I have been most concerned to represent the strong views of my constituents in North-East Kent that the noise nuisance arising from the third London Airport should be removed from them as far as possible.
My purpose this afternoon is not to try to debate the content of this important matter, but to state strongly that I feel that we have not enough time to consider it if, as I understand, an announcement is to be made tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine), who spoke with his usual moderation and restraint made a number of points earlier this afternoon. We must remember that he is talking about something that will happen in his constituency. It is not an ordinary happening. It is not only the biggest planning decision of this century, but I believe by far the biggest planning and construction event in this country since the Fire of London in 1666.
The organisation of the business of the House is such that we are rather pushed between now and when the House rises tomorrow, and all that we shall be allowed is a statement tomorrow. I had understood my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when I questioned him last Thursday to say that there would be a statement this week and an opportunity for question and answer. I had assumed that he meant that there would be a full opportunity for question and answer by a full House of Commons, but it will not be a full House tomorrow. Tomorrow is a private Member's day, and the House will not be full.
We appreciate that my right hon. Friend, administering the business of the House in the interests of hon. Members, is faced with a great log jam not only of Bills to get through but of questions and statements. But my constituents feel that to be left at the end of the quene like this is not good enough. I hope that tomorrow we shall hear a statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about the decision on where the third London Airport is to be. Many of us in North-East Kent—some half-dozen Members—as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East, Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) and Southend, West (Mr. Channon) are very concerned about what that decision will be, and we should have liked an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend very closely.
The seriousness of this latter decision concerning the third London Airport has perhaps not penetrated the House or even the Government Front Bench. When it was decided a year ago not to put the airport north-east or north-west of London but to put it in the Thames Estuary, that was not the end of the affair—not for us in Essex and in Kent. It was the beginning of our problems. We had to weather the storm. Our constituents said "You have lost a battle. You did not fight as well as the Members for Buckinghamshire. Why not? Were your public relations not effective enough? Was not your campaign against the Government's decision rich enough?"
I hope that my hon. Friend's powerful argument is reaching my right hon. Friends in the Government. Does he not agree that on this issue we have been given repeated promises by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that we should be consulted at every turn, and that it is for that reason that it is not satisfactory for a statement of the kind envisaged to be made on the very last day of our sitting, when, if it turns out to be unfavourable to the points we have been urging upon my right hon. Friend for many months, we have no opportunity for redress until the House returns in the autumn? It will then be too late.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because these are the points which I am seeking to impress on the House.
It is very important to us to have the opportunity to represent our views and those of our constituents to my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State and to the whole Cabinet. It is a Cabinet decision, not just a minor decision but a decision of tremendous importance.
When the decision was made nearly a year ago that the airport should not be sited at an in-shore site but should be put out on an off-shore site, it had one merit—that the Government were thinking environmentally, that they were thinking of removing the noise nuisance from people, households, schools, places of work and farms. They were recognising the serious problems of noise produced by an airport, and were putting that noise as far away as possible. I believe that even my hon. Friends in Essex would agree, notwithstanding the nearness of the problem to them, that it was a brave decision to go to Foulness, the Thames Estuary, to an off-shore site.
Whilst I showed some irritation at that decision at the time, I told my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, and made public my view, that I approved the decision fundamentally environmentally. But if we are to have an environmental decision like that backed up all the way, it must be supported by choosing a site which really is out to sea and not one placed on the very shore line and nearest to Kent.
My right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Department have promised those of us in Kent and Essex that he will keep in close touch with us and listen to our views. I can honestly say that in the last year he has done that. He has afforded us every opportunity to represent our points of view. But I am concerned now that in the last overs of this innings of Parliament we are going in at No. 11 and that all we shall have tomorrow is a chance to make it a draw. In my opinion, we shall not win the battle, but I must warn my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to convey to the Secretary of State that if we do not get a decision tomorrow that satisfies our real and anxious concern we cannot let the matter rest there. This is a matter of very serious concern, and it is not only a matter for Kent and Essex but a matter for the House of Commons.
I support the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) because I, too, have a peripheral interest in the subject of the third London Airport. My ground for opposing the Motion is the same as that of the hon. Member for Canterbury—that this is all being done at the last moment, the day before we adjourn for the Summer Recess. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) suggested that the Motion could have been put down on the last day, but it could not have been because it asks us to agree to adjourn tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) suggested that instead of rising at five o'clock tomorrow we should rise at six o'clock. Like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have been sitting here the whole afternoon, and if only one of the matters suggested were to be discussed tomorrow even six o'clock would not be late enough. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) has raised legitimate concern about lower-paid engineering workers in Government ordnance factories, and he was supported by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). Such a debate alone could take two or three hours, quite legitimately and worthily. Again, the question of the airport at Foulness could easily take up a two or three-hour debate.
I accuse the Government of deliberately leaving the statement about the airport until the last moment when it could, and should, have been made earlier. They have done so in the hope, as the hon. Member for Canterbury rightly pointed out, that only a few hon. Members will be present tomorrow—indeed, only the local Members. What will happen? The local Members concerned will raise their questions in the full knowledge that the rest of the day is devoted to Adjournment debates. Those hon. Members with Adjournment debates will naturally be anxious to get on with their debates, and they will be saying "Keep quiet" or "Shut up", or "Do not ask any more questions". Thus, the Members concerned do not even get a proper opportunity to raise the legitimate questions which need to be asked. It is no good the Leader of the House suggesting that it is not normal practice to give longer notice of such a Motion. It is the practice to give as long notice as possible. We agree that there has been some difficulty here but in future longer notice should be given.
I am anxious to give as long notice as possible but—to be fair to me and to the Government—perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give a specific example of when longer notice has been given.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that longer notice was given before the Christmas Recess. I remember that longer notice has been given on many occasions over the last 28 years.
The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head but he can look up the record. He will find that very often Amendments to Motions similar to this one have been put down. That means that there must have been time for the Motion to be seen and considered. Because this Motion appeared on the Order Paper only today and we are debating it immediately, we have been unable to put down an Amendment to it. I myself have put down Amendments to such Motions in the past. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has also done so. However, I do not want to go into this in detail. I want to get to the important point which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton raised and for which he was attacked, although he is perfectly right. I want to put the point a different way, however.
There is a right hon. Member of this House who has not had an opportunity of defending himself. I shall not go into the Poulson inquiry as such. What I am concerned about is an attack upon the Government and Ministers. I want to attack the Government as a whole and the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, because I have been writing to them all to ask them for an opportunity for the House to be given the facts and the situation to be investigated. We are being told that there is a police inquiry, but a police inquiry does not make the subject sub judice. It does not, and should not, stop an opportunity from being given to the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) to have his say. He should have his say.
The right hon. Member for Barnet is an honourable gentleman. He resigned as Home Secretary when he found that there was to be the Poulson inquiry. I have written to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House. I have written to everyone I can think of to find out what has been happening to the Real Estate Fund of America. It had two or three rather shady companies connected with it. Some British people lost their money and their savings in those companies.
When the right hon. Member for Barnet resigned because of the impending police inquiries into the Poulson case he said, rightly, that he would not like to be in office while those inquiries were going on. He also said that he has not made a statement to the police, who, he claims, have been investigating the Real Estate Fund of America. I have been trying to get from the Government some facts and figures, which is why I want extra time tomorrow. I would hope then to be able to get information which I have not so far been able to get in writing. If we had a few hours extra tomorrow, perhaps the Leader of the House could tell me when the police started investigating the Real Estate Fund of America and its subsidiary companies working in this country. When did they start investigating? Whom did they investigate? Did they investigate all the directors? Did the investigation take place during the time that the right hon. Member for Barnet was Home Secretary? If it did, why was he not given an opportunity of putting his side of the case?
I am now attacking the Government because the Government are preventing the right hon. Member for Barnet from giving his own side and his evidence to the police. I can only go by what I have read in the Press, and the right hon. Gentleman is reported as saying that he has not been allowed to give his side of the story. That is a terrible situation.
I have been interested in this question of company irregularities. I am not singling out one or two. Last week in the House I mentioned about 30. The Minister for Trade did not answer. He evaded the issue. He dodged it and then went outside and made a statement to the Press denying what was quite possible for him to have denied in the Chamber. I would like a couple of hours extra tomorrow so that the Minister for Trade could make the statement in the House that he made outside last week immediately after he had been given an opportunity to make it in the Chamber when I was present. Let him make it tomorrow. I have sent the right hon. Gentleman 50 or 60 letters which I have received since that debate. They are about various other companies about which the Department has taken no action. We had the spectacle of the Attorney-General going into the Poulson case. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry also went in. He was able to rush over there very quickly but he has not rushed in to look after the interests of the investors in all these companies.
I ask the Leader of the House to get the Minister for Trade to come clean and be honest. If the Government could be honest that would be helpful, but they are the most dishonest, crooked Government we have had for years. They deliberately mislead the House. They misled the House yesterday. I asked how many companies were not sending in their returns according to the Companies Acts.
The Minister said he could not give the figures. Why? He said it would take too much time and money. That means there are many, and here I agree with the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton). It means there are thousands of them breaking the law, not for one day or one month, but year after year, and not a thing is being done by the Government to bring these culprits to court. But the poor old docker—within five minutes he is in Pentonville! Action is soon taken against these people.
If the Minister had been here during that debate or had read it he would have seen that I said that this was a continuing problem. I attacked the Department for deliberately neglecting this over the years, under both Governments. I said that this is deliberate dishonesty on the part of this Government in not giving me the figures which are available. The Minister knows that there have been 80 cases in the last two years. There are hundreds of cases that could, and should have been dealt with involving crooked directors, deliberately fleecing the public.
I would have liked time for a debate on maladministration and neglect by the Department of Health and Social Security. I wrote asking for an investigation into the death of a constituent of mine in hospital. It took the Secretary of State for Social Services a fortnight to send me an acknowledgement, and that was signed by a secretary to a Private Secretary. This is not good enough. This is when the House is sitting and I have a chance to protest. When the House goes into recess I have no means of protesting. I resent the fact that the right hon. Gentleman should get the secretary to a secretary to send a letter and take a fortnight to tell me what I already knew; namely, that the local hospital had held an inquiry. I do not want the local hospital to hold an inquiry into how and why one of my constituents met his death. I want an independent inquiry.
The Attorney-General can do things when it suits him. If we had a couple of extra hours the Attorney-General could get interested in a unique case that I have for him. Briefly, it is this. We had a detective inspector of police—and I will name him if names need to be given—who was on duty—and I emphasise "duty". He was having sexual intercourse with a prisoner's wife and had a two-way radio to the station. This is police activity. It may sound laughable but this is true. This man was eventually brought before a police disciplinary board. What happened? His own colleagues from the station investigated the case and found it proved. They found that he had broken a number of police regulations, and then he was conveniently advised to retire.
He retired and no one was able to trace him. There was an article about this in the Sunday People last April. One of my constituents who is in prison serving a seven-year sentence, who always claimed that he was "framed" by the police, happened to read this article. He said "This is the detective inspector who I said framed me. When this man came into court to give evidence against me, I said his word was not to be believed, but the court took his word." My constituent asked for this man to be interviewed to get a statement. But, no. The Attorney-General, the Home Secretary, the police, all refused to allow this man to be interviewed. He was conveniently told to get out of the force. He resigned and no action was taken. He was also found guilty of breaking and entering while on police duty.
Now the man has vanished or so the police say. I have been able to find out where he is, and I have asked the Attorney-General to give me some facts and figures and to say whether he will take action to see whether my constituent cannot have a retrial. I cannot get anything from the Attorney-General. If we were to come back a couple of hours earlier tomorrow, that case could be raised.
Later we shall be discussing the emergency regulations. I may not be able to get into that debate, but if we had a couple of extra hours tomorrow I could mention some of the problems confronting my dockers who are on strike. They say that they cannot get free milk, to which they claim to be entitled. They also claim to have difficulties over social security payments for themselves and their families. All of this could be discussed if we had an extra couple of hours tomorrow. If their complaints are true there could be a lot of trouble created after we go into recess, if we eventually do.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition challenged one another on the effects of the Housing Finance Act. To this moment we do not know what will happen to rents. We shall be going into recess knowing that there will be all sorts of difficulties such as rent strikes. Before we come back there will probably be some riots in certain parts of the country. We could have the opportunity of arguing out tomorrow whether it will be a 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 14 per cent. increase in rent.
Another question which I would have liked to raise is that of gazumping. We were told that we were to have a report. Where is it? We have not got it and no action has been taken. In addition, we have the amazing spectacle of the so-called Industrial Relations Court meeting, adjourning, reaching a decision, countermanding it, altering it, not knowing whether it could do this or that. Now that we have a strike the Industrial Relations Court, it is suggested, should go on holiday for two or three months. The judges have had their salaries almost doubled but they are going on holiday. When we have trouble like this we ought to have the opportunity of deciding whether that court should go on holiday for two or three months. Should it not be kept open in case it is needed to give help and succour to the striking dockers, because the Official Solicitor might not be available?
There has been a growing practice on the part of almost all Departments and all Ministers of creating an interminable delay in dealing with correspondence. I do not know whether other hon. Members can bear me out but I find that it takes almost a fortnight to get an interim reply, which is usually a paraphrase of the original complaint, saying that it is being investigated. It then takes four, five or six weeks to get replies to matters which could be dealt with within seven or eight days. I am not blaming Ministers. Perhaps the civil servants should be kicked. But if this sort of thing happens when the House is sitting and we can raise matters and take action, what will it be like when we are in recess? I hope that the Leader of the House will send a directive to all Departments telling them that they should ensure that Members' letters are dealt with expeditiously.
Those are just some of the reasons why I hope that tomorrow we shall have an extra two or three hours to discuss the matters to which I have referred and many other subjects which I could deal with if time permitted.
Like most hon. Members, I have been looking forward with increasing anticipation—and I hope that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) will not take it too personally when I say that it became a crescendo in the last 20 minutes to the recess. However, I am unhappy about going on holiday without having one matter discussed in the House; namely, the grave situation which has arisen in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) concerning the arbitrary suggestion for the closure of Ransomes and Rapier. I hope that a Minister will be able to tell the House tomorrow that some assurance can be given about the undertaking which can be expected from Newton Chambers, of Sheffield, as to what it intends to do about this old and honourable firm with a tradition of more than 200 years in engineering in the Ipswich area.
Nothing has created more anger or more continuing shock in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge and myself than the way in which the decision was made—totally in breach of the Code of Industrial Practice; against a background of 100 years service from the work force at the Waterside works; against a background of one day lost in the last 20 years as a result of industrial dispute; and against the background of a 30 per cent. increase in productivity over the last three years.
One has only to look in New Palace Yard to see the great cranes carrying the word "Rapier"—albeit "NCK Rapier"—to realise the part which this firm has played in the tradition of engineering in this country. The sudden decision to axe more than 700 jobs in Ipswich in circumstances in which no Minister at the Department of Employment or the Department of Trade and Industry was consulted and in which there was no consultation before the original announcement of the proposals, with the work force or with any of the local interested parties came as a tremendous blow to the pride of an old industry and of the town itself. But it was more than that because it threatened to put at risk the livelihood of 700 people. It was a shock out of the blue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge and I have tabled many Questions to the Departments of Trade and Industry and Employment, some of which have been answered. In particular, four which were answered on 1st August go to the heart of the problem with which we are faced.
The first Question asked
what proposals were made by the directors of Newton Chambers during
the Secretary of State for Employment's
recent discussions … concerning … alternative viable solutions to provide full-time employment at the Waterside works".
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was able to say only this:
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development has been told that plans exist for redevelopment of the site for industry and commerce, as well as for housing if a decision is made to close Waterside works".
My next Question
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proposals were made to him by the directors of Newton Chambers … regarding the suggested closure of Ransomes and Rapier … whether he is satisfied
that it would create, as had been suggested in the Press by the chairman of Newton Chambers, 2,000 new jobs for
Ipswich. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replied:
my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development did not discuss the basis of this estimate".
When I asked what undertaking had been given and whether
it would be a condition of sale for any proposed development of the Waterside works site that a substantial part of this would be used for engineering industries with a high demand for labour",
my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replied that no such undertaking had been sought. When asked what the position was concerning the undertakings given by the directors of Newton Chambers about the suggested closure with regard to
an overall plan to be put forward by them to produce employment opportunities of the sort needed in Ipswich on the site of Waterside works",
my hon. Friend said that, although the Minister was aware of plans to redevelop the Waterside works site,
No specific proposals involving my Department have been put forward."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1972; Vol. 842, c. 89–90.]
The Departments concerned were not consulted in the first place. I hope that a Minister will be able to announce that the Department will seek a firm undertaking from the directors of Newton Chambers that consultation—and consultation of a kind which neither my hon. Friend the Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge nor I have been able to obtain over the last few weeks—with Sir Peter Robinson, the chairman or the directors of Newton Chambers will be demanded and that undertakings will be obtained from them that the use of phrases like "2,000 new jobs for Ipswich" and phrases bandying about future jobs for my constituents mean something and are not simply window dressing.
I urge the Home Secretary that a statement should be made on two matters before the House adjourns. The first relates to the report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee. A number of legal organisations have made the strongest representations to the Secretary of State that this far-reaching report should not be incorporated in the Government's legislation for the new Session until all the relevant views of those organisations have been carefully considered by the Government.
I have tabled a number of Questions for Written Answer on this matter, and I received a reply only a few moments ago to the following effect:
The Home Office invited views by early October from a number of organisations with a special interest in the Report because the Government was anxious to have those views as soon as possible. Some of the organisations have indicated that they would have difficulty in formulating their views fully by then, and it has been made clear to them that representations received later will be taken into consideration.
That does not go nearly far enough.
What these organisations—which include the Criminal Bar Association, a group of lawyers most intimately connected with the subject—require from the Home Secretary is an assurance that the Government will not prepare legislation until their views have been taken properly into account. They want an undertaking from the Government that until those views have been formulated there will be no commitment to the introduction of legislation. That is not what the reply to my Question has produced. These organisations were asked to submit their observations by October. They formed the view that the Government had already committed themselves to accepting the basic tenets of the report.
There can be no doubt that this is a very far-reaching report. It makes radical proposals for changing our criminal law and for procedure and the giving of evidence in criminal cases. There can be no doubt that many of its recommendations are extremely controversial and that the controversy extends not merely to the barristers and solicitors but to the judges. Lord Devlin has been very critical about the terms of the report. I do not wish to develop an argument now—it would not be proper for me to do so—about the controversial nature of the proposed Bill in the report, but the Home Secretary should give the clearest possible undertaking, if not tonight, then tomorrow, that a commitment to the introduction of legislation will in no circumstances be included in the Queen's Speech.
The Committee started its deliberations in 1964 and took about eight years. Yet the Secretary of State is expecting the legal profession, the National Council for Civil Liberties, the magistrates and the rest to make their observations within weeks. He says "We will listen to observations that are made later"; but what effect will be given to those observations if the Government have already made their commitment? I hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State will be a little more forthcoming in his reply tonight.
The second matter to which I wish to allude briefly is the Housing Finance Act. Councils which are faced with an enormous decision are entitled before we enter into the recess to a clear statement from the Government of the likely financial implications of adhering to the Act.
The effect of a letter sent recently by the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was that the net average result of the Act would be to increase rents by about 7½ per cent. in the next year. I suggest that that was a misleading statement and that the figures upon which the Prime Minister relied were bogus for the following reasons. The Prime Minister was pressed on this matter this afternoon but he deliberately avoided giving clearcut answers. First, those calculations do not appear to have taken into account that since last April about 1 million tenants have faced rent increases of 50p. The second factor that was not taken into proper consideration was that the basis of the 7½ per cent. figure included millions of private tenants to whom the Act will not apply immediately but who will eventually be affected by it.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition adduced evidence to suggest that, even looking at those conclusions, the Prime Minister was wrong in his assertion and that the real increase to be faced by council tenants—which was the question put to the Prime Minister by my right hon. Friend—was in the region of 13 per cent.
It is clear from the Prime Minister's replies and from replies by the Minister for Housing and Construction that the Government have done no research into the subject and are unable to adduce convincing evidence about the nature of the rent increases. Yet councils are being asked to make a decision while the House is in recess. Notices of increases in rent have to go out and all the machinery is required to be put into operation, although the Government have not done their homework. That is a disgraceful imposition for the Government to make upon councillors and tenants when they have not done the research to justify the conclusions they have reached purely for the sake of party political dogma.
I support the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in their plea for low-paid workers and low-paid industrial civil servants. I recently received a deputation of members of my organisation, the Electrical, Electronic and Telecommunication Union—Plumbing Trades Union, who were incensed at the treatment they were receiving from the Government on this issue. Those workers have been hard done by over a long period; they are expecting a statement tomorrow before the House goes into recess and they are entitled to receive one.
Those workers are highly responsible. They do not freely take industrial action. They have been overlooked and swept aside by the Treasury. The Treasury has told them that there is no Treasury money available for them, and they take it hardly. They have also taken hardly the statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who is responsible for keeping them at their low wage level—that the workers are holding the country to ransom. They know that on their wages of less than £20 a week they are not holding anyone to ransom, let alone the country.
I have received a letter from the workers of Aldermaston who are incensed at being kept behind because there is no Treasury money available for them. My impression is that there is plenty of Treasury money available. Earlier this year largesse amounting to nearly £2,000 million was paid out, mainly to better-off people. But these industrial civil servants are being refused proper consideration because the Treasury says there is no money—the same Treasury that has disbursed £2,000 million.
These workers have a good case. Over the last 10 years industrial civil servants have seen the differentials between them and other people widening from £30 per annum to £500 per annum, and they are now in the low-wage category. It is the Government's duty, and it will be seen as their duty by the workers involved, to make a statement at the Dispatch Box tomorrow which gives fair treatment to their own employees.
It was my intention to speak on the second Motion but I think it would be for the convenience of the House for me to speak now. I hope that you will show me a certain amount of tolerance, Mr. Speaker, if I stray slightly beyond the bounds.
I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement tomorrow about the Government's intentions on spiralling housing land prices, particularly in the South Hampshire and Southampton area. I will emphasise the urgency of the problem by telling the story of one house. It is a house in Southampton which was built in May, 1970, and sold at that time for £5,250. It was resold in April, 1971, for £8,000. It was resold again in July, 1972, for £12,500. In two years of Tory Government the price of one house in my area has risen from £5,250 to £12,500. In the last 15 months the price rose by £4,500—in other words, by £300 a month or £75 a week. That shows the urgency of the problem. By the time we return from the Summer Recess house prices in Southern Hampshire will probably have risen by another £300.
This situation makes it quite impossible for young people in my area to buy houses. By the time they have saved their deposit for the house they would like to buy, they find that they need double the amount they have saved since the house itself has doubled in value. The position is becoming very serious. For example, teachers who take on jobs in Southampton cannot find a house which they can afford and subsequently have to withdraw. These difficulties are faced by people in local government who want to move to the area and also by employees in private industry.
The situation has become so serious that the Chief Education Officer of Southampton and other officials have had to draw the council's attention to the problem. They have asked the housing committee to make special arrangements and to reserve houses for would-be employees who cannot find houses at prices they can afford. The same applies to industry. One firm in Southampton took on a young, energetic executive in his twenties and he, too, had to withdraw because he could not obtain a house on a mortgage he could afford. This is a serious problem and is growing more serious every day. I hope that the Leader of the House will prevail upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to come to the House tomorrow to say what action he intends to take.
Secondly, I wish to re-emphasise some of the points made a little earlier by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill). I wish particularly to mention the serious position of ship repairing in Southampton. We are one of the few major ship repairing areas which are not in a development area. Therefore we get no regional employment premium or all the other aids which go to development areas. Because for many years Southampton was a passenger port we came to rely on carrying out repairs to the big liners, to the "Queens" which used to sail from Southampton. Many overhauls of those great ships were carried out in Southampton. However, the passenger side of the port is now being phased out and they are being replaced by container ships. Container ships are new and obviously will not require major repairs within the next few years. Therefore, ship repairing in the port faces a serious situation. The number of men employed in ship repairing in Southampton has declined dramatically in the last five or six years.
We have heard the recent sad news about the proposal by the Trafalgar Company which now owns Cunard to have its ships built abroad. I urge the Leader of the House to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come to the House tomorrow to say that he proposes to impose severe tax penalties on British ship owners who go to foreign yards to build their ships. It is scandalous that a company like Cunard, which has had £17 million of taxpayers' money poured into the building of the "QE2", should now announce that it intends to build ships overseas. This is a disgraceful situation and I hope we shall have an announcement about severe penalties for such practices.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a statement tomorrow announcing that he proposes to set up a full-scale inquiry into our ship repairing industry.
I urge the Leader of the House to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries to amplify the statement which he made on 27th July. That statement dealt with railway finances and in the final paragraph the right hon. Gentleman, in what virtually amounted to a codicil, said that he had approved British Railways proposals for the restructuring of field organisation. Then, as an aside, he mentioned that this would mean further staff reductions of between 4,500 and 6,500. A change of this magnitude should surely merit more explanation than that to which the House was treated on 27th July. Some 700 of these jobs are in Bristol and many of the people affected have already moved two or three times.
The Minister has a duty by Section 45 of the 1968 Act to make sure that any proposals submitted by the Railways Board are in the interests of the most efficient running of the railways. I tabled a Question to the Minister asking him to make public the material submitted by the board in support of its reorganisation proposals but he refused to do so. I ask the Leader of the House to urge the Minister for Transport Industries most strongly and in the public interest to make this information available and also to make a statement. Although I asked for further details, I am afraid that all I was given were stonewalling replies.
Those who are involved in this reorganisation process are reasonable people. If they were shown that the reorganisation were based on a proper economic structure and were also satisfied that it involved proper managerial efficiency, although it may be inconvenient no doubt those people would accept it with as good grace as they could muster. However, it is surely reasonable that they should be given some information as to why this action was thought to be necessary, particularly when national unemployment is so great.
It is true that the TSSA has been consulted nationally but, for example, in relation to the location of territorial headquarters it is impossible for the union to take sides for one city against another. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think about this matter extremely seriously. If reorganisation is to take place, it must be carried out with the support of those concerned. That support will be much more forthcoming, and the morale will be much higher, if people can see that the whole process has been carried out on sound managerial grounds. Therefore, even at this late stage I hope that the Leader of the House will ask his right hon. Friend to come to the House and make a statement about the situation.
I believe it right that we should deal with these Motions in this way and I am sure that if we can compress the two debates into one hon. Members will not have any objection. This course will be helpful because we shall shortly have an extremely important debate on the national emergency. I must remind the House that we are now in a national emergency. Indeed, national emergencies are becoming so frequent under the Conservative Government that we now hardly notice them. It is most essential that this subject should be fully discussed before the House goes into recess and I hope that the House will reach that important debate as speedily as possible.
All the matters that have been discussed so far have been extremely important. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked what was to happen to the Royal dockyards and what treatment would be given to industrial civil servants generally, and her appeal was fortified by the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) and Tottenham, (Mr. Atkinson). I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that a full statement will be given tomorrow, if he himself is not able to make such a statement now, because the case that has been put is very powerful, and from what I know of Devonport the people there will certainly require an answer from the Government.
Those of us who represent steel constituencies are extremely anxious, as was the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) and other hon. Members, about the employment situation. Throughout the steel constituencies we are extremely concerned, the more so when we listened to the Prime Minister's attempt today to shuffle off his responsibilities in this matter. I presume, and one imagines that the Leader of the House will give an assurance at once, that there will not be any statement of Government policy affecting the steel industry generally whilst the House is in recess. I imagine that the Government will make it quite clear that such a statement would have to be made in the House of Commons itself. Indeed, many of us from steel constituencies will be making representations to the British Steel Corporation and to the Government during the period of the Summer Recess precisely because we are so anxious about statements that have been made regarding the industry generally.
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will also tell us what arrangements exist for dealing with the recall of the House. I understand that if the national emergency were to continue for 28 days the House would have to be recalled automatically in any case. Again, if there were a further deterioration of the situation in Northern Ireland the House would have to be recalled, as it had to be recalled on the last occasion.
Therefore, while I hope that the House will speedily pass this Motion and the Motion which follows it so that we may enter on the debate on the national emergency, it will do so in the knowledge that circumstances are such that the House may have to be recalled before the date specified in the second Motion. We hope that that will not be necessary, but I am sure that the Government will give us the assurance that the proper proceedings will be followed for such a recall if it were to prove necessary.
I at once give the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) the assurance for which he has asked. We are proposing only to adjourn, as we usually do at this time of year. There is a well-designed procedure for recall which has sometimes been used in previous years and could be used again if it were necessary. I am sure we all share the hon. Gentleman's hope that that necessity will not arise, but the procedure for recall is there.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the problems of the steel industry, which were also referred to during Prime Minister's Questions. All I say there is that all hon. Members, including particularly, if I may say so, right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side, should remember that the purpose of the nationalisation Act which they advocated and brought in was, among other things, to produce the rationalisation as well as the modernisation of the steel industry which they claimed needed to be done under a nationalised body if it were to be done at all. They, having brought in such an Act, ought not in my view to make some of the remarks they do when the very purposes for which they brought in the Act are brought to fulfilment by the British Steel Corporation, which they themselves set up.
All these changes and redundancies are of immense importance to the people involved; and not only to the actual workers unfortunately involved but to the communities in which they live, and to the whole social and economic structure of areas where great industries have grown up in the past and where, because of age and change to modern methods, some old plants have to die and new plants go elsewhere.
I can say on behalf of the Government that we will constantly represent to the British Steel Corporation—though I do not believe that the corporation needs it, as it already thinks this way—the need for maximum notice, and for maximum consultation not only with the unions but with local councils and with community interests in all the areas where closures may have to take place, because these are an unfortunate, painful and very difficult concomitant of the process of rationalisation and modernisation of a basic industry such as steel.
I noted that request, and the House can assume that any major policy statements for which the Government have responsibility will be made to the House. But there is this differentiation, which I must keep bringing to the attention of the House, between the responsibility of the Government and the responsibility of the British Steel Corporation as laid down in the Act of Parliament passed by the Labour Government. Any major statement of policy by the present Government will certainly be made to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman will understand, I am sure, that the long-term plan, which is the British Steel Corporation's decision, will also require Government decision, and that it would be very inconvenient for those hon. Members interested in the steel industry and who have constituency interests in it if the long-term plan were to be announced later this month or in September when hon. Members on both sides would not be able to comment on it in Parliament until October at the earliest. I trust that the Leader of the House will bear this aspect in mind and pass it on to Lord Melchett.
I will make sure that Lord Melchett sees the remarks on this subject not only of the hon. Gentleman but of other hon. Members. Again, however, I must draw a distinction between the responsibility of the Government and the responsibility of the corporation. If we want a progressive and efficient steel industry for the future, as I am sure we all do, however much we may disagree about the method, we cannot get to a situation in which a nationalised board cannot conduct its own statutory obligations and exercise its statutory powers except when Parliament is sitting. If that were to happen year in and year out nationalisation would be a disaster. I do not believe that the Opposition ask for that, and I am glad to see the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) shaking his head in a way that in this case means that he agrees with the few remarks I have been making on the subject.
In this debate we have had some 16 speeches. If I were to reply to all the points raised in all of them we should not get on to other important matters which the House has before it, so I shall have to pick and choose a little and skate rather quickly over many matters.
The debate started with some charges against the behaviour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am glad to say that at least one of the hon. Members concerned has since, by a letter in his absence, which is now explained, told me that this was due to a partial misunderstanding. It is only fair that I should put on record that part at least of that charge has been withdrawn.
The position about that is that my right hon. Friend, I think inadvertently, made a mistake in saying that it was the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland to make the announcement. Of course it is the responsibility of the chairman of the appropriate generating board. That was a mistake in an off-the-cuff reply which caused some confusion. It would have been improper for either of my right hon. Friends to have made the statement. It could be made only by the chairman of the generating board.
I was about to come to that. It is fairly long-established practice that, when it is known that certain hon. Members of this House or of another place are keenly interested in a public decision of this kind, as a matter of courtesy Ministers often write to them. In this case the time co-ordination seems to have got a little ahead of itself. Again I apologise for it, but I hope the House will agree that there was nothing evil or sinister in what happened. It was really as a result of trying to be too courteous rather than the reverse.
Another matter raised earlier concerned the Poulson bankruptcy proceedings. A number of charges were made by the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) and the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis)—and reference was made to those charges by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)—to the effect that the courts were being interfered with or that the thought was growing that the courts were being interfered with. I must deny those insinuations both in general and in particular.
It is one of the oldest tricks in the world to start a canard, and then to report on the fact that it is about, saying what a pity it is and that it ought to be stopped. Those who start the canard should ask themselves where the rights and wrongs lie. All that I wish to do is to deny categorically any insinuation that the Government are in any way interfering with the courts either in this or in any other case.
What my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General did in this case was in his capacity as Attorney-General, to be represented in the bankruptcy proceedings in order to make representations, as is perfectly in order, that in view of the very widespread nature of the police investigations and the great interest and publicity that they were arousing, he wished to suggest to the court that it might be in the interests of justice to adjourn the hearing. The court did not listen to his plea, but there was nothing wrong in making the plea. My right hon. and learned Friend made it perfectly properly as Attorney- General. Having heard the plea the court showed its independence and, in its wisdom, decided to turn it down. But there was nothing wrong or improper in the plea being made.
In this connection there was a request that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General should come to the House tomorrow and say that he would expedite the whole business. I have to tell the House that that would not be proper simply because this is a matter for the courts. I am afraid that I must turn down that request firmly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braille) and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) raised the matter of the Maplin Airport on behalf of other hon. Members with a close interest who were in the House today. I am sure that the House is grateful that all those hon. Members involved allowed two of their hon. Friends to be their spokesmen and to make clear that their interests were shared by others. I assure my hon. Friends that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment definitely will make a statement in the House tomorrow. There is no doubt about that. I had intended to indicate that before. It may be that I used language which was too parliamentary and therefore did not get the message across with the definiteness that I intended.
I take note of the dissatisfaction that the statement should be made on the day that the House rises for the Summer Recess. I say only that very complicated considerations are involved affecting amenities, air traffic requirements and defence requirements because of the defence installations at Shoeburyness. These are extremely complicated matters which the Government have been going into urgently, striving to make a decision as quickly as possible, and determined to make it and to announce something before the House rose. I am sorry that we have only won the race against time by a short head.
I shall convey the depth of my hon. Friends' feelings to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. However, the fact that the House is now to be in recess for a few weeks will not, I suspect, deny the opportunity for further questioning and debate about this matter. The target date for the airport coming into operation is 1980. There will have to be legislation. Long before we get to the point of legislation and irreversible commitments, I am sure that my hon. Friends and others will find opportunities to raise these matters again if they think it necessary and that the silence will be merely a short interruption in the parliamentary process that we all understand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury also referred to the Channel Tunnel. I ought to make it clear that there can be no decision about proceeding with the construction of the tunnel until next year. There can be no definite decision until then, and certainly there cannot be one during the recess. But what may have to happen at sometime in the fairly near future—and I cannot guarantee that this would be done only when the House was sitting—is that there has to be agreement on an Anglo-French basis with all the private interests involved about the further exploratory, feasibility study work which has to be done in order for a basic decision to be made. I cannot guarantee that none of those decisions will be made while the House is in recess. I am sure that the House will think it right that all the necessary preparatory work should be done so that a final decision on the substance can be made as soon as possible—we hope sometime next year.
Another matter raised in the debate concerned the pay negotiations for industrial civil servants. It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) with special reference to the dockyard workers but with a wider connotation by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
It is a very important pay negotiation. But I hope that the House will realise that it is one which is still in progress. An offer has been made in reply to an unquantified claim. At the moment there is deadlock. There has been talk of arbitration. Unfortunately there has been no agreement about it so far. I and those of my right hon. Friends who are chiefly concerned with it do not under-estimate the importance of the matter. It is very important. There is a long tradition of good collective bargaining in this area and we should like to see it sustained.
As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, it also raises the problem of low pay. Low pay is a matter which is very high on the agenda in the series of talks currently going on between the Government, the TUC and the CBI. One specific matter which the TUC, the CBI and the Government have jointly agreed to study is how to deal with the problem of low pay. We cannot assist in the problem of low pay if at the same time we do not face the problem of differentials. If every time wages at the lower level are raised those above go up by the same percentage and those increases are in total inflationary and therefore bring about increases in prices, we are leaving low pay problems untouched because wage increases are merely taking place at a more inflationary level.
We should get the record right. The Government's offer to the industrial civil service is £1·50 right across the board. Therefore, they are not maintaining the differentials. I hope the right hon. Gentleman accepts that. The unions are saying that they will not insist on maintaining the differentials, because if the Government offered, say, £5 right across the board they would accept that.
I freely admit that but, as the hon. Gentleman is sufficiently experienced to know, repercussive effects on other industries and negotiations cannot always be disregarded. This was one reason why the Government offered arbitration in this case. It would be of great help if this were to be genuinely considered. The offer already amounts to over 8 per cent., possibly the equivalent of 9 per cent., on the total wage bill. This is a substantial increase by any standard.
The total amount is 6¼ per cent. If the Government are to include in the total cost the question of equal pay for women and two days' extra holiday for these people, it is just short of 8 per cent. However, the right hon. Gentleman must not make it any more than that; he is talking about 8 per cent. and no more.
I am not. Of course, all those items have to be counted in. I remember well the speech which the present Leader of the Opposition made to the TUC when the Equal Pay Bill was about to be introduced. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that if the country chose to go for equal pay, as he and his then Government believed it should, the cost of equal pay had to be taken into account in everybody else's wages. In the end, from a quart pot one can get out only a quart. If one gives a special amount of the quart to bring about equal pay, there is less money left in the pot for men's pay. This is one of the inevitable facts of life which we cannot escape. I think I am right in saying that the total offer represents nearer 9 per cent. than 8 per cent. addition to the total wage bill of industrial civil servants. Therefore, it is an important matter.
In fairness to the Government, I think that hon. Members on both sides and the industrial civil servants should look at the history of the last three years in which we shall have been responsible for the settlement of the pay of these workers. In 1970 they had a 14 per cent. pay rise coupled with the introduction of productivity bonuses. Last year they had 8½ per cent. and this year they have got about 8½ per cent. on offer. When before have industrial civil servants had such good offers as the last three years than when the present Government have been in power?
If so, they must have been considerably underpaid for years. Regarding the dockyards, it is impossible for women to have equal pay, because they work only in the colour loft. They do not work in the main dockyard on jobs with men, so this point does not occur.
I understand this is the wish of the unions involved, not just of the Government as employer. These negotiations take place at national level for the whole of the industrial Civil Service. Considering the addition to the total wage bill throughout the industrial Civil Service, the implications of equal pay cannot be disregarded. Whether this negotiating structure is right or wrong is another matter, but that is how it is. I know that is how the unions, just as much as the Government, wish it to be.
My opening words about this matter were that this is a pay negotiation of a different kind which is still in progress. It has not, alas, been finished. Therefore, we must take that into account. It is proving long and difficult, but it is still in progress and I do not think I should say any more about it. I will pass on to my various right hon. Friends concerned the anxiety of hon. Members. I am sure the House will understand how serious this matter is and the number of important national services which are affected.
I turn now to the shipbuilding and ship repairing industry. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) raised not only the problem of Southampton in particular but the situation more generally. The hon. Member for Itchen, like the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), referred particularly to the intentions of the Cunard Company to place an order for its new cruise liner overseas. I know there is a parliamentary Question on that matter tomorrow, so I had better leave it to my right hon. Friend to answer rather than to try to do so for him in advance.
When British companies go abroad for their ships we ought indeed to be concerned. However, I suggest that a proper reaction should be to see what we—the Government, employers, and unions—can do to raise the level of efficiency and the standards of equipment and of work in British shipyards so that the quality, the service and the price can be competitive with yards in other countries. I do not believe that British companies order ships abroad unless, for various reasons, they feel driven to it. My right hon. Friend will in the near future be saying something about the use which he hopes to make of his new powers under the Industry Bill when it becomes an Act which will show that he is actively considering assisting in the modernisation of shipbuilding and ship repairing facilities in this country. Therefore, I assure hon. Members that this matter is in hand.
The hon. Member for Ardwick raised the serious problem of employment in the Manchester area. I should be the first to admit that it is a serious problem. However, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any of the specific statements he wishes. As I said to him at the time of the Whitsun Adjournment, in the end the problem of Manchester, as of other areas, will be solved within the context of a growing economy and in no other way because, whatever regional powers we may have, they are no good unless the economy as a whole is expanding.
The economy as a whole is now expanding. I believe that as figures come forward we shall find that our economy is at last expanding at a rate of at least 5 per cent. per annum. The Government intend that this trend, in direct contrast with the stagnation of a number of years before, should continue. With this growth we have introduced new regional powers—I know they are not approved by all my hon. Friends—on a scale never before exceeded or equalled in this country. The combination of these powers and the sustained growth we are determined to achieve will, I am sure, be the only way of providing answers to the problems of Manchester and other areas where unemployment is much too high.
On the theme of unemployment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) raised the closing of Ransomes and Rapier by its relatively new owners, Newton Chambers. I do not think that my hon. Friend will expect me, whose departmental responsibility it happens not to be, to go into the details of the rights or wrongs of this case, but I believe that in the action he has taken and in the way he has represented the views of his constituents in this matter he has acted in the best traditions of Members of the House. It is a matter of great concern to many people in Ipswich, far beyond those who work in that company, and I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friends concerned my hon. Friend's request that they should seek a firm undertaking from the directors of Newton Chambers about their plans for the future.
I merely remind my hon. Friend and the House that when the Government produced the Code of Industrial Practice they paid particular attention to the matter of redundancies and laid down proper standards and guidelines for advance notice, consultations and all the rest of it. I do not know the merits of this case but I say unequivocally that if this or any other company does not abide by those standards the Government will condemn it, and condemn it without any qualification. I have no idea whether this company is keeping to those standards, but any company which does not abide by the standards laid down in the new Code of Industrial Practice is to be condemned and ought to be asked and pressed to mend its ways very quickly.
I shall not go into all the matters raised by the hon. Member for West Ham, North. He raised today, as he did the other day—he is not even here now, so I shall spend only a brief moment on this—questions about the enforcement of the Companies Acts. In 1969, the last full year of the Labour Government, the number of prosecutions against companies for failure to bring forward accounts was 146. Last year, the first full year of the present Government, the number was 517. The Government may not be active enough yet, but it does not lie in the mouth of any hon. Gentleman opposite to accuse my right hon. Friend of lethargy, much less fraudulent behaviour, which is what the hon. Gentleman charged.
Important things were said at the end of the debate by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen about house prices. This is a serious matter. It arises essentially because of the imbalance between supply and demand, and a big increase in house building for sale is taking place. The number of starts in the first six months of this year is no less than 40 per cent. greater than in the first six months of 1970, so we are acting on the supply side. My right hon. Friend has announced and has put into effect a plan to make more land available. The scarcity of land is one of the factors here, and so action is being taken.
The problem is serious, and I think it is worth recording that whereas in the first quarter of 1970 107,000 mortgages were granted for house purchase, of which 60,000 were for first-time purchases, in the first quarter of this year, under the present Government, the figure of 107,000 had risen to 161,000 and the number of first-time mortgages had risen from 60,000 to 90,000, an increase of no less than 50 per cent. In spite of the problem—and it is a real one—a rapid increase is taking place in house purchase by first purchasers, and this is important.
The question of gazumping was mentioned, and this too is important. The Law Commission is examining the matter, and we shall have to wait and see what it has to say, but we are aware of the seriousness of the problem.
I should like to say something of great importance to me in my other capacity as Home Secretary. It relates to the criminal law evidence report, an issue raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis). I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there will be proper consultation. It is true that bodies were asked to submit observations by October. I happen to believe, as my predecessor did, in fixing target dates for consultation, otherwise it takes too long, but this may have been a bit short. I have told the hon. Gentleman that views received after that date will be properly considered, and I repeat that assurance. We shall see that there is adequate time for consultation, and we have promised that there shall be a debate on this subject in advance of the Government's final decision, and certainly before the publication of Government legislation. It is far too important a matter to proceed with without the fullest consultation and debate.
I have tried to deal rather rapidly, but it still takes time, with many of the points raised by no fewer than 16 hon. Members. I hope that those hon. Members who raised points but have not had them answered will forgive me for not doing so, but I feel that I have outstayed my welcome, and I hope that the House will agree to the Motion.