Service Widows (Provision of Pensions)

Service Widows (Provision of Pensions) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th March 1979.

Alert me about debates like this

Mr. Viggers accordingly presented a Bill to make further provision for Service pensions and in particular to provide pensions for widows of non-commissioned Service men who retired before 1 September 1950: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 30 March and to be printed. [Bill 126.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Before we embark on this debate I want to give a cautionary word to the House. Everyone knows that the Division will be called at 10 o'clock. I want to make it quite clear, therefore, that if the Division bells fail in any part of the premises, or even if the lifts fail, I shall be most unlikely to order a Division to be held again if hon. Members then complain that they have been unable to reach the Lobby in time.

In my view—and this has happened before—it is the responsibility of hon. Members to make sure that they are present, or near the Chamber, in advance of the time for the Division. I also remind the House that the Division will not be concluded until the numbers have been announced from the Chair.

3.34 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

Mr. Speaker, I beg to move, That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government. The timing of the motion arises from the Government's inept handling of the result of the referendums on the Scotland and Wales Acts. When we thought that it was a time for decision, the Prime Minister thought that it was a time for talks. As he had previously spurned them, we were not wholly convinced that the reasons that he advanced represented the whole truth. We were similarly sceptical when he expressed his willingness to consider modifications to the present Acts, presumably by an amending Bill or a totally different measure.

From his days as Home Secretary we know that the right hon. Gentleman takes what might be charitably described as a flexible view of constitutional niceties, but even he might find it difficult to arrange for major changes on a subject like this to pass through all their stages in the three working months, at most, that are left to this House. Any such changes must be for a new Parliament.

The only decision that the Prime Minister really took was to delay a decision. For reasons that I find difficult to understand, such momentous delays seem, these days, to be accompanied by ministerial broadcasts. The good government of the United Kingdom and its unity are matters of supreme importance to this House, wherever we may sit. The new proposals are not for a dying Parliament but for a new one.

The essence of the motion is that the Government have failed the nation, that they have lost credibility, and that it is time for them to go. Lest the Prime Minister should advance his customary explanation of failure—namely, his political inheritance—I point out that his and this Government's inheritance was from a Labour Government led by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson).

This Parliament was elected in October 1974. By then Labour had been in office for seven months. The Government had had plenty of time to assess the economic state of the country. The election of October 1974 gave them the opportunity to state it clearly. They did. The Chancellor claimed that inflation was down to 8·4 per cent, on his chosen basis. Later, when inflation went soaring up, how did the Chancellor explain it? Not by any talk about the previous Conservative Government's policies—that excuse had not been invented.

On "Analysis", on BBC Radio 4, in October 1976 the Chancellor said: I think it is fair to say that inflation went up much more after the October election than I, or anyone else, expected, because the trades unions didn't at the time observe the social contract as they had defined it earlier in the year. When the Chancellor was pressed, he stressed the point even further: I think it's fair to say that wage inflation was the main reason for the runaway inflation in the months that followed the October 1974 election. Nor was it only inflation that had been beaten by October 1974, according to the then Government. The Chancellor said, on 24 September, after six months in office: I am certain we can get through the whole of next year with well under 1 million unemployed. Not only did he not get through 1975 with under 1 million unemployed; he did not get through 1976 or 1977 or 1978 with under that figure.

It is no good, therefore, for the Prime Minister now to say that the disasters since October 1974 were the fault of the Conservative Government. In October 1974 the Labour Government took full responsibility for the state of the economy.

Let us be fair to the previous Prime Minister; he was prepared to take responsibility.

Let us take the Prime Minister's own objectives as the test by which he should be judged. He set them out in the first censure debate, which took place in June 1976. His first objective was to overcome inflation. Apparently the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not performed that feat by the time that the last election took place. Be that as it may, the fact is that this Government have been responsible for doubling the prices in the housewife's shopping basket.

Far from being overcome, inflation is rising again and will rise in the coming months. Indeed, on the Healey basis, it is already into double figures. It was on that basis that we were given by the Treasury, in a written answer, the figure of 13·3 per cent.

The Prime Minister's second objective was to make inroads into the unacceptably high level of unemployment…and to reduce it by 1979 to 3 per cent. Today it is double that figure. On that, too, the Prime Minister has failed.

The Prime Minister's third objective was to achieve a high-output, high-productivity, and a high-wage economy based on full employment". But only a week or so ago we had news of the worst level of manufacturing output this decade. A few days ago we had a chilling reminder that not only are our industrial competitors ahead of us in output but that they are pulling away from us at what seems to be an even faster rate.

For every extra unit of output from a worker in British industry over the last five years, our least efficient competitors—the Italians—produced two units, the Americans more than three, the French four and a half, the Germans five and a half and the Japanese more than six. In the same world conditions that we face, their Governments seem to be able to generate the conditions for success. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] This Government have failed.

Those were the Prime Minister's objectives. His strategy was the social contract, and then a new social contract to enable us to proceed with confidence in the years ahead."—[Official Report, 9 June 1976; Vol. 912, c. 1458–62.] That strategy has totally collapsed, as many of us said it would, but we were regularly vilified for saying so. The fourth phase of that contract—the 5 per cent.—was never accepted by those for whom it was intended. It resulted in creating the very confrontation that the Prime Minister boasted he had replaced, by cooperation. The people witnessed the spectacle of a Government abdicating their authority to strike committees. The Prime Minister's objectives were not achieved, and his strategy failed.

The Prime Minister said that had his dream of new economic strength come about he would use it to strengthen our position abroad, to ensure a peaceful solution to world problems through the use of the United Nations, and to strengthen Europe's voice. What is the reality? Rarely in the post-war period can our standing in the world have been lower, or our defences weaker. The international position is graver than at any time since the 1930s. The difference is that Britain is now a nation on the sidelines.

In one diagnosis, however, I agree with the Prime Minister. Influence overseas depends upon economic strength at home. A nation that cannot manage its own affairs properly is not in a position to give advice to those who can.

There are, I believe, four main things that have contributed to Britain's decline in the last five years. First, far too little attention has been given to wealth creation and far too much to wealth distribution. What has to be done? Top of the list must be a policy of incentive tax cuts. There has been agreement on that for years. The trouble is that the Government just do not do it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has sympathy with the tax position of management, but sympathy is as far as it goes. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Government's resident example of congenial and civilised man, is much more expansive. In a television interview he said: The rate of tax on salaried talent is very high in this country … The putting of this right is a massive problem that will take a little time. I believe this to be a number one priority in the Chancellor's mind for future action … That is my own view and ought to be. But nothing was done. Even the Prime Minister tells his colleagues"If you talk to people in the factories and in the clubs, they all want to pay less tax." But pronouncement is not followed by policy. The lack of that policy leads to a haemorrhage of talent in managment and resentment amongst the skilled.

The Jeremiahs sometimes say that the ordinary people of this country have lost the will to work, but let them work in other countries, where they are no longer frustrated by British tax rates, and they can out-produce and out-sell our competitors.

Vital as tax cuts are to restore management morale and the morale of the skilled worker, they are also needed to encourage the growth of small business. Mainly from that sector shall we achieve the new jobs—tomorrow's jobs—that we need for our young people.

No Government can protect yesterday's jobs for ever. They can postpone the day of reckoning, but they cannot escape it. They can ease the transition from one job to another, but this Government try to protect yesterday's job without facilitating the growth of new industries. That is a policy for penury and unemployment, from which the regions suffer most of all.

For wealth creation a different attitude to profits is required. Profits are pitifully low. As a result, several companies have announced cutbacks in investment plans. Examples are ICI and Hoover. The alternative of borrowing to invest is precluded from many businesses by the continuing prohibitive interest rates which are the consequences of this Government's policies.

All our hopes for better homes for families, better schools for our children, better pensions for retirement and better health services depend for their fulfilment on our ability to create the wealth to pay for them. Fail in that and we fail in all the other things. The Government have failed, and the social services of other nations consequently have overtaken ours. That, I believe, is the first reason for the decline.

The second reason for the decline is that the Government have concentrated far too much power in the hands of the centralised State and left too little with the individual citizen. Indeed, if the Government had assumed less power over communities and individuals the more remote areas in the United Kingdom would have less reason to worry about the power coming from Westminster.

Although Socialism is about centralised planning and control, even some members of Her Majesty's Government have, from time to time, begun to have doubts about the wisdom of the policy. The former distinguished Member, the late Anthony Crosland, in a lecture in October 1975, said: But we must take seriously the fears about the growth of State power, especially given the penchant of some socialists for the continual spawning of giant new institutions under centralised control…We should not be in the business of creating giant leviathans manned by armies of bureaucrats. What a pity he and his colleagues did not take that advice. That was added to by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who said, in Birmingham this year: We have to acknowledge that the decentralised private sector has out-performed the old-fashioned concepts of centralised planning. Of course, such wisdom marks him out as a man whom the Left must try to oust from his constituency. But those views are ours. We believe that they are in tune with the nation; not, however, with the actions of this Government as centralisation continues and even increases. For example, the Price Commission, with its investigatory powers, descends upon even the most successful companies to pronounce on their efficiency, having had no experience in that sort of business. The concordat demands more planning agreements between the Government and companies—yet another hindrance to the job of seeking new markets and producing the goods.

In the chemical industry, plant worth millions of pounds would be lying idle today if companies had based their investment on the totally unreal market projections that were put forward by the Government and the trade unions. The concordat also foreshadowed the direction by the Government of savings in pension and insurance funds—away from the object of providing for pensioners and insurance holders to the objects of industrial strategy. If the object of that strategy is to back success, the companies concerned will have no difficulty in getting finance. If the object is to back losers, it would be better for pensioners if their money were not invested in that way.

Perhaps the most debilitating and damaging aspect of the Government's policy to increase State power is that the supporters of the Government positively believe in taking a higher proportion of the national income away from the taxpayer and letting the Government decide how it should be spent. In no way have the Government been reticent about that.

What the policy boils down to is this: that the State should take more tax from the citizen and provide him with his basic standard of living, according to what the Government decide he needs. That would leave only less essential things to be found from his pay packet—a sort of pocket-money society policy. These measures are put forward in the name of social responsibility, social morality, social progress, and so on. What the Government forgot is that we shall never have social responsibility unless, first, we have responsible individuals.

How does responsibility grow if decisions on personal property and savings are constantly transferred to the State? We shall never have social morality without having individuals of moral worth. That cannot be attained except by exercising choice and not taking it away. We shall never get social progress except through the efforts of individuals with a sense of purpose.

Part of the reason for our decline is that Britain now shows every sign of a destruction of individual and productive energy, which is wholly exceptional on any comparison with those European States most like ourselves. Those are the first two reasons for our decline—insufficient attention to the creation of wealth and too much concentration on increasing State control.

The third reason for our problems is that the balance between power and responsibility in the trade union movement needs to be restored. So does the balance of obligations between the employer and the employee. I have dealt with the immediate measures needed on those matters on previous occasions; I shall not enlarge upon them today. However, because of the ties of the Labour Party with the trade union movement, because the trade union movement effec- tively controls the conferences and executive of the Labour Party, and because it provides about 90 per cent of the finance of the Labour Party, I do not believe that a Labour Government will ever make the necessary changes.

The Prime Minister could have taken action with our support. He chose not to do so. He is the prisoner of his own history in this matter. The unions were his stepping-stones to power, and they know it. So be it. Changes will have to be made by another Government, and I believe that they will have the overwhelming support of the people, including the majority of trade union members.

On the economic side, we have to break through the prosperity barrier in manufacturing industry. We can do so only if, through good management, proper incentives and co-operation, we are able to cut restrictive practices and raise output per person. If half as much time had been spent on policies to raise output as had been spent on policies to increase pay, we should have achieved a higher standard of work and hence a higher standard of living today. The truth is that in the countries of our main industrial competitors, union and Government policies have combined to do far better for union members than is the case in Britain.

The fourth reason for our decline—this pervades the whole life of the community—is the Government's position on the rule of law. They have shown insufficient support for the rule of law in this country. The most cogent example of that proposition came from the Lord President in 1977. He said: It does so happen to be the case that if the freedom of the people of this country—and especially the rights of trade unionists—if those precious things in the past had been left to the good sense and fairmindedness of judges, we would have precious few freedoms in this country. Some of us were so appalled by what the Lord President said that we tackled the Prime Minister about it in the House of Commons. He said: Frankly, I do not think that he went far enough." [Official Report, 17 May 1977; Vol. 932, c. 233.] The Government set the tone. The events of the winter produced a new phrase from the Attorney-General—" lawful intimidation ". If the Prime Minister and his Ministers take that view of the law, it is not surprising that others will follow.

Of course, it was not long before one of the trade union leaders did. He said: My advice is to carry on picketing. I cannot see union members accepting the court decision. They will inevitably act in such numbers that the authorities will have to use football stadia for detention centres. That is the rule of the mob—not the rule of law. It should be condemned by every institution and Minister in the land. As it is, the people have identified the weakness far quicker than the Government.

Go anywhere in the country, and one finds that the demand is for two things—less tax and more law and order. The phrase"law and order"does not refer only to vandalism and violence—although that is uppermost in many people's minds. It means that our citizens expect and are not getting an ordered or orderly society. They expect the rubbish to be cleared, the schools to be open and the hospitals to be functioning. They are not. They expect each man and woman to rise to his obligations in an orderly and decent way. They expect bargains to be kept between trade unions and employers. Finally, they expect Ministers to support them in those views.

In the recent closure of schools, the authorities did not support the law-abiding citizen or his children. It was the citizens who had to go to the courts when their children were denied access to the schools. It was the law that upheld the parents when they could not persuade the council or Ministers to help them. The Secretary of State for Education took the view—astonishing as it may seem—that the council had not failed to discharge its duty. The right hon. Lady has been prepared to pass new laws to close good schools. It is a pity that she has not been as eager to use existing laws to keep present schools open.

At least there was a law to invoke. There are many cases when the interests or livelihood of a person can be changed or taken away and there is no remedy at law. That is the legacy of this Government. After five years, it is not surprising that our people want the benefit of a Government who regard the maintenance of the rule of law as the foremost of their tasks.

There we have the record, and some of the reasons for failure. Each crisis, industrial or financial, has been met by short-term measures, but there has been no serious attempt to deal with the underlying problems. On the contrary, they are worse.

The Government have doubled prices, doubled dole queues, doubled debt, diminished our defences and undermined public respect and confidence in the law. There has been a failure not only of policies but of the whole philosophy on which they are based—the philosophy which elevates the State, dwarfs the individual and enlarges the bureaucracy. Across the Western world the tide is turning against that, and soon the same thing will happen here.

I return to the occasion for this motion, which arose out of a constitutional matter affecting the whole House. Hon. Members from both sides made an eminently reasonable request to the Prime Minister that he should determine the matters outstanding from the referendums by the end of this month. He deliberately chose not to make a matching response but to try to manipulate the situation for his own ends. He can have no grounds for anger if others judge it for the manoeuvre that it was. Nor, in view of the Government's conduct of parliamentary matters during the past three years, can he complain if his present action is dubbed characteristic.

It is not unusual for minority Governments to carry on for a considerable time, as this Government have. What condemns the Prime Minister now is the justified feeling that the substance of matters before the House takes second place to the survival of the Government. That feeling is widespread, and it robs the Government and the Prime Minister of authority, credibility and dignity. The only way to renew the authority of parliamentary government is to seek a fresh mandate from the people and to seek it quickly. We challenge the Government to do so before this day is through.

4.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Lady, the Leader of the Opposition began by recalling the circumstances in which our debate on the motion of no confidence is taking place. As she said, it follows directly from my proposal last week that in the light of the devolution referendums, and especially because of the result in Scotland, there should be a limited period of discussion between the parties before Parliament debated the orders that would repeal the Scotland and Wales Acts once and for all.

The right hon. Lady did not immediately reject that proposal. She waited for the well-advertised move by the Scottish National Party. Its Members told the world what they would do, and they did it. They tabled a motion censuring the Government. For what? For not immediately bringing the Act into force.

The Opposition, of course, want nothing like that. They want the very reverse. They want to get rid of the Act. But the SNP motion was enough for the Opposition Chief Whip. I am glad to see that he is now securely perched on the Front Bench. I hope that he will not fall off. When the SNP tabled its motion, the right hon. Gentleman went into action. He scurried round to the Liberal Party to find out if it would vote for a motion of censure—and he was not disappointed. The Liberals, spinning like a top, assured him that they would be ready, indeed that they were anxious, to take part in talks with the Government on the future of the Acts, but, equally, they were ready to vote for any motion that would prevent such talks from even beginning.

Fortified by that display of Liberal logic, the Opposition tabled their own vote of no confidence. We can truly say that once the Leader of the Opposition discovered what the Liberals and the SNP would do, she found the courage of their convictions.

So, tonight, the Conservative Party, which wants the Act repealed and opposes even devolution, will march through the Lobby with the SNP, which wants independence for Scotland, and with the Liberals, who want to keep the Act. What a massive display of unsullied principle!

The minority parties have walked into a trap. If they win, there will be a general election. I am told that the current joke going around the House is that it is the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas.

On Friday I wrote to the other parties basically concerned with devolution for Scotland and Wales, formally confirming the talks that I had offered in the House. So far, not surprisingly—I do not complain about it—I have had no reply, except for what the right hon. Lady said on television. But when the motion of no confidence is defeated, the Governmen's offer will still stand.

We shall be glad, and will seek, to open discussions with the other parties about the future of the Scotland Act within the limited time period that I proposed last week. The Government firmly believe that that should be the next step before Parliament takes the final step of debating and deciding on the orders to erase the Acts from the statute book.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Amid the general excitement of today, I ask the House not to forget that the people of Scotland are expecting hon. Members on both sides to treat their constitutional future with seriousness and not just as a by-product of a grab for office.

Today, the right hon. Lady has widened the discussion into a general indictment of the Government's record and actions.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As this is a motion of no confidence, I think that I am entitled to deploy our case in the way that I choose best.

I reply to the right hon. Lady by advancing three propositions. First, this Government, who have been in a minority in this House for most of their life, have achieved an outstanding record of social progress and economic performance.

Secondly—and on this point I do not differ from the right hon Lady—during the years that lie ahead there will be a great deal for the Government and for the country to do in such areas as improving our industrial efficiency, the return to full employment, controlling prices, better industrial relations, and overcoming poverty. There will be no sense of complacency by the Government about what needs still to be done, but neither should we overlook the achievements of the last five years.

My third proposition is that we shall make most progress by adapting and broadening the policies that have served so far to protect the people of this country in the midst of world recession and not by sudden switches or reversals of policy.

The right hon. Lady clearly believed this afternon that she was putting forward some new policies. On the contrary, what we heard was a repetition of the same old policies that the Conservative Government tried between 1970 and 1974—policies that failed and that finally led to the ignominy of the three-day candlelit week in which the last Conservative Government expired.

Perhaps I might add a fourth proposition to the other three. If we are to succeed, the country needs a Labour Government with a working majority—and we shall seek that in the early future.

During the coming year, developments in the world at large will critically affect Britain's prospects for jobs, for prices, and for trade. Last summer, in Bonn, I met the leaders of six of the major industrial countries and together with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer we pressed very hard that all the countries present should take domestic action that would sustain world levels of trade and improve the unequal distribution of our balance of payments.

The measures that we then decided upon have had a good measure of success and, as a result, the world economy, including that of this country, has benefited from a faster growth rate. But, with some notable exceptions, prices are still rising too fast and the level of world unemployment is not yet falling. Yesterday's decision by the oil-producing countries to raise prices will not help either inflation or employment, and will increase the problems caused by the interruption in Iranian oil supplies. They will have a further adverse effect on world trade and on the world balance of payments, especially of large oil importing countries, such as the United States. The price increases may force certain countries to adopt more restrictive growth and trade policies. They will certainly make it more necessary than ever for all countries to adopt concerted and co-operative policies if we are to maintain levels of world trade and employment. The right hon. Lady says that such meetings are not worth while. If she ever had the responsibility for these matters, she would learn how valuable these meetings are.

I wish to emphasise the priority that must be given to saving oil on a world scale. Britain is more fortunate than most. This year, thanks to the North Sea enterprises, we shall produce three-quarters of our requirements. In the course of next year, Britain will reach self-sufficiency. That is an inestimable boon.

Nevertheless, there is an obligation on Britain, as on everybody else, to be sparing, to be economical in the use of oil, and to meet the international obligations that we have entered into in company with other countries. There is general agreement among the industrial countries that we should reduce oil consumption in each of our countries by 5 per cent. I believe that to be the minimum reduction. We in Britain are working to that end and are fortunate to have a well-based coal industry to replace part of our oil consumption.

Although this country's supplies are reasonably assured and we may escape comparatively unscathed, if an oil scarcity should develop or high prices should restrict the level of output in other countries, it will clearly become more difficult for us to export, and jobs in export industries will be at greater risk, with a consequential effect on the rest of our economy, as on the economies of other countries.

I claim that the Government's economic policies are well-designed to meet this test. We have given high priority to new investment in industrial plant and machinery, through tax reliefs and direct financial aid, and our industries have responded by investing more. We have made the restraint of inflation an overriding priority to keep our costs down. We have doubled our programme to train skilled men and women for new jobs and we have established the National Enterprise Board, which is giving financial backing to new industries and enterprises like the Rolls-Royce aero-engine that will power the new American Boeing aircraft, and the microprocessor venture in which we must mark out a place among world leaders.

Since 1974 we have set up the successful Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies to encourage new enterprises. Employers and trade unions are jointly working together to study the future prospects for their industries and for export markets, and how to prevent import penetration, under the aegis of the sector working parties and with the aid of the Government.

I note what the right hon. Lady said about protecting yesterday's jobs. I agree that we must strike a balance between protecting jobs that are now fading and creating new jobs, but I can claim—if the Opposiion were looking at this matter objectively they would agree—that it makes sense to protect some of our more vulnerable industries from the onslaught made on them by the new industrial countries. We have eased their transitional difficulties by financial help—or perhaps I should say by public expenditure—to give them a breathing space while they adapt to new methods or new products.

During 1978, against that background, unemployment was reduced by more than 100,000. Employers and workers are ready to take advantage of that partnership with the Government. By working together we are slowly but surely—too slowly for my liking—making British industry more fit to face the rigours of world competition.

We have not overlooked the fact that during such a period of transition there will be casualties among companies and firms, and the Government have devised social measures to ease the problem for those who are affected. The job release scheme allows people to retire at 62 with an allowance, provided that they are replaced by younger people. There is the subsidy paid to small firms which take on extra full-time workers. There is the programme that helps people aged between 19 and 24 who have been out of work for six months and older people who have been out of work for at least a year.

Payments are made to companies forced to work short time that compensate them at a rate of 75 per cent. of the gross wages for each day lost. All these and other schemes operated by the Manpower Services Commission have led the rest of Europe—I ask the right hon. Lady to note this when she is so scathing about our policies—to acknowledge that this country has a comprehensive job creation and job protection programme that has eased the social tensions that would otherwise have been created and that exist in other countries, as we have witnessed on our television screens.

The Labour Government are convinced that that basic approach makes for greater sense than the free market, free-for-all approach that would abolish grants and financial aid, which was put forward by the Opposition spokesman. That would undermine these programmes and that policy. If the Conservative Party were to get its hands on our affairs, it would be an act of vandalism.

Turning to some aspects of industrial relations, as the right hon. Lady correctly said, the events of the winter demonstrate the difficulties into which a society such as ours can be drawn. They also demonstrate the difficulties that arise when there is not an agreed understanding between the Government and the trade unions. If there had been agreement last autumn, we might have avoided some of the events of the winter. I do not seek to ascribe responsibility for the failure to agree, but I point to the consequences—especially to those who believe that confrontation is the best way forward. Are the events of this winter to become a regular pattern under a Conservative Government?

This Government have reached a new agreement with the TUC. It is not perfect, and it may be breached on occasion, but our future prospects depend on how successfully we build on that agreement. It is important for its reaffirmation—let the Opposition deny it if they dare—that the Government and the TUC must work in partnership. Is that agreed, or not? Let me add that the Government take the view—I come immediately to the point that has been raised by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam)—that we shall make most progress by building the widest possible economic consensus with the unions, employers and Government.

The agreement between us covers three areas. First, there is the guidance that the TUC has issued to its affiliated unions on the handling of industrial relations and on the need to observe agreements, stating that strike action is to be taken in the last resort. There is a strong recommendation for strike ballots. The agreement recognises the concern about certain aspects of the closed shop and gives advice on the flexible operation of such agreements. Those are the issues on which the Opposition have focused. Do they prefer to jeer at the prospects of that agreement breaking down rather than hope that it will succeed?

Secondly, there is agreement by the TUC, in which the CBI will participate, on the need to take part, each year, in a national assessment of the economy for the year ahead. That was suggested by the right hon. Lady, even though it was a little late, so let hon. Members not jeer at that. If anybody jeers at that, he will be in for a wigging pretty quickly. There is also agreement to discuss what increase in production can be achieved, how much increase in labour costs the country can afford, and how inflation can be kept down. There is a bold and ambitious target, to which we have set our hands, of working to get inflation below 5 per cent. in the next three years. That is the objective.

Thirdly, there is recognition of the problem of how to adjust remuneration differentially between the various groups of workers, and particularly in the public services, without leading to one group leapfrogging over another. That is a most difficult area, and we have not yet found the answer. I am grateful to Professor Clegg and his colleagues—I hope that my hon. Friends are noting the jeers—who have undertaken the task in the new Standing Commission on pay comparability.

The agreement with the TUC recognises and sets out that some of these pay problems are becoming more intractable. It is ready to take part in work to try to achieve a national consensus on the overall distribution of income. These are important areas for discussion and agreement. They cannot be solved by the right hon. Lady's simplistic approach that she described some months ago as the withdrawal of Government from interference in wage bargaining. As the right hon. Lady hopes soon to have responsibility, the question that I am about to ask becomes more pertinent. If she proposes to withdraw from interference in wage bargaining, how will she deal with the public services pay? What principles will she apply? In her first reactions—I hope that later ones will be different—she poured scorn on the effectiveness of that agreement, unlike the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). I shall not embarrass him by going into that further.

If any Government can secure success in those areas, it will take us a long way forward in solving a problem that has long been the cause of inflationary discontent, namely, how to adjust pay levels in different occupations and industries without at the same time generating other claims that at the end of the day leave the structural problems unsolved but, in the process, fuel inflation.

The agreement with the TUC has set some ambitious aims. They are a formidable challenge, not only to the Government but to the trade union movement. The seriousness with which solutions to these problems are pursued—the Government are following them up with the TUC—will be watched closely by the country to see whether the agreement has the substance that I believe it will have.

I am certain that that is the better way forward—far better than the Opposition's plan, which seems to be to dust off some of their more ancient pieces of artillery left over from 1970 and make a planned industrial offensive. Of course it is right to highlight any individual or collective cases of folly and excessive abuse of power—evils that the great majority of trade unionists deplore, just as much as do the rest of the community. But for the Conservative Party to highlight and exploit individual cases as a means of driving the trade union movement, in general, into a corner, tarring all the 11 million members of unions with the same brush, is a dangerous miscalculation.

The 1980s will not be the occasion for an action replay of the Tories' misjudgments of the beginning of the 1970s. The agreement with the TUC will not be perfect, but it is an important step towards industrial peace and steadier prices. It is an agreement that deserves support, not sabotage.

The right hon. Lady seemed to be under the impression that today she has been proposing some entirely new policies, making a new beginning. On the contrary, all that she was doing was to offer us the stale and outdated 1970 Conservative Party election manifesto.

I know that the Opposition want to forget the years 1970–74. The right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the former leader of the party, is removed from Conservative Party collective thinking like Trotsky was blotted out of the photographs of the Stalin era. [Interruption.]

The Prune Minister:

I admit that I am provoking them a little, Mr. Speaker.

Indeed, if we are to judge from recent broadcasts, Conservative history ceased when Harold Macmillan stepped down as Prime Minister in 1963.

Each of the main planks of the right hon. Lady's platform today was nailed down in the 1970 manifesto—cut taxes, curb the power of the trade unions, restore respect for law and order, full-hearted support for the European Community, and centralised power decentralised. It was all there.

What was the result when they were elected? Property speculators were given a free hand—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

As I was saying, property speculators were given a free hand, credit control was abolished, and the money supply was increased to finance some pretty phoney finance companies. The Conservatives opened up one of the most discreditable periods in the history of the City of London. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hodge."] I would not advise any hon. Member to say that outside.

I know that many of the reputable companies in the City look back on that period with great distaste. Now some of the speculators are emerging from their holes, rubbing their hands once again. I warn them not to count their chickens before their cheques bounce.

The Conservatives failed, when they were in Government, to safeguard our greatest national asset—North Sea oil. They handed out the assets to the oil companies with unparalleled generosity. They would have let the revenues from oil slip through their fingers. They left gaping loopholes in the rules governing corporation tax paid by the oil companies. They did not even negotiate an arrangement to ensure that the United Kingdom, the home country, would ensure for itself a substantial proportion of the oil that was produced. We had to put all this right when a Labour Government came to office, and through the participation agreements this country can now be sure of safeguarding for our own use a substantial proportion of the oil that is pumped.

On the other side of the coin, the Tories' doctrinaire approach to industrial relations left an Act of Parliament which, as the CBI spokesman told us, was surrounded by hatred, and where every relationship was sullied by its provisions. That, too, we have had to put right.

The right hon. Lady calls for less government at local level. Does she really think we have forgotten the handiwork of the right hon. Members for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) and for Worcester (Mr. Walker)? Let her reflect, when she calls for less burueacracy, that local authority manpower between 1970 and 1974 increased by nearly 300,000—the biggest increase in bureaucracy ever in any comparable period.

In the Health Service the right hon. Member for Leeds North-East achieved the unenviable double of setting up a new form of organisation that was unsuited to the needs of the Service and at the same time of dramatically increasing the numbers working in the administration. It does not lie in the mouths of the Opposition to call for a reduction in bureaucracy, or for the right hon. Lady to speak, as she did at Solihull, of Whitehall strangling local democracy.

The right hon. Lady complains about inflation, and justifiably so. So do I, regularly. At 9·6 per cent. it is higher than it should be, but we have brought it down from 25 per cent. What happened between 1970 and 1974? It more than doubled. Today, the figure that is complained of is lower than when the Conservative Party left office.

On the question of monetary policy, let me give the figures. We are being invited today to go back to the old remedies. Between 1970 and 1974, the average annual increase in the money supply was 21 to 22 per cent. a year. Under this Government the average is about 9 per cent. a year. When the Conservatives were in power they got rid of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation. This time they want to hamstring the National Enterprise Board. They intend to cut public expenditure. They keep saying so. What do they propose to do? Do they propose to stop the National Enterprise Board funding the new Rolls-Royce aero-engines? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] There are more questions yet. Let us have a compendium. Do they intend to cut the Euopean airbus? Will they stop the production of the new HS146 aicraft? Is it the youth employment schemes that are to go? Is it the Welsh Development Agency or the Scottish Development Agency, which is at the moment backing 9,000 jobs with £20 million of investment?

Is it the new social benefits that we have introduced that are to go or the mobility allowance for the disabled, the invalid care allowance, or help to disabled housewives? I make no mention of school milk.

Since we came into office the average number of patients on each doctor's list has declined. Are the numbers to be allowed to swell again when public expenditure is cut?

The numbers of people served by home helps have increased. The meals on wheels service has been enlarged.

Are these to be cut back? Or is it the rebuilding of our cities? Would they tamper with the child benefit scheme, whose allowance is to be increased from £3 to £4 per week from 1 April?

What about the pensioners? During the Conservatives' term of office pensioners' living standards fell behind those of the population who were working. By contrast, this Government have steadily improved the real position of the pensioner year by year, by increasing the pension by whichever has been the higher of the forecast earnings or the forecast prices. That is now a statutory responsibility. It has improved the standard of life of the pensioner after he or she retires, by comparison with the wage earner.

Let me give the figures. When the Conservative party left office the pensioner's proportion of the net earnings of a married male manual worker was 40 per cent. Today the pensioner's proportion of the same net earnings of the male married manual worker is 50 per cent.—an increase in real standards. We shall fulfil our statutory obligations again this year.

This is the season of Estimates and revenue. Yesterday we debated expenditure on the Armed Forces for the coming year. Today I should like to inform the House of the estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for old-age pensions for the coming year. First, he has provided for a correction to the underestimate in the forecast made this time a year ago—a question that has been raised on a number of occasions by hon. Members on both sides, but mainly from Government supporters, I grant. Let us associate the Conservatives with this. Do not let them escape their share of the responsibility.

Earnings last year rose faster than the forecast on which the Chancellor based his uprating at that time. He has taken account of this in the new increase that will operate for the next pension year from November. For a marired couple, therefore, he has provided for an increase in the pension next November of about £4 a week to around £35, and for a single person of about £2·50 per week, to about £22. That is provided in the Estimates. That will be one more important step to reduce the gaps that still exist in our society—to remedy the injustices, to erase the class divisions and racial bigotry, to attack poverty and the lack of opportunity that still face many of our citizens. The difference between the Opposition and the Government is that we know that these problems will not be solved by a return to those policies of 1970 or by soup-kitchen social services. They will be overcome only if we harness the energy and the ideals of our people to build a fairer and more just society.

Let need, not greed, be our motto. Our purpose as a Government and as a party is to present a bold, Socialist challenge to all these problems as we face these tasks. I ask for the confidence of the House and of the country so that we may continue with our work. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I think that hon. Members have conveyed their message.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just received a message that—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Hon. Members must listen, or they will never hear the message.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

I have just received a message that the State dinner that you were to give tonight to a foreign parliamentary delegation has been cancelled due to industrial action. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Even making allowances for the excitement in the House, hon. Members should listen to the hon. Gentleman while he makes his point of order.

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge

Is that not a disgraceful state of affairs, and a reflection on the House? Should not the Leader of the House make a statement about it?

4.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

The news that we have just heard may mean that not so many hon. Members will rush for the cup of tea that is traditional at this point in confidence motion debates as there is no tea available.

I take the view that this debate is not about the relative merits of the political parties. That debate will take place during the general election. What we must decide tonight is whether we believe that the time has come for a general election.

It is certainly our intention to cast our votes tonight as we have done consistently since November on confidence issues in pursuit of an early general election. I have never made any secret of the fact, either privately or publicly, that it was our view that an election should have been held last autumn when Parliament had completed four years of its life and when it was shown that there was no long-term common ground to enable us to continue the Lib-Lab agreement. I believed, therefore, that from October onwards the Government would inevitably be lacking in political stability. I argued then that that was our opportunity to take our different views to the electorate.

Everything that has happened since October adds weight to the case for fixed Parliaments, as in most of the other developed democracies. General election date speculation is one of the few growth occupations in Britain today, absorbing politicians, journalists and bookmakers, but, far more seriously, disrupting industry and commerce. That process is damaging, and the case has been increasingly made out for moving to a fixed-term Parliament rather than leaving the decision in the hands of one individual.

It will be obvious to everybody in this House that there are only two Lobbies. Although the Prime Minister had his fun at our expense, I have to make it absolutely clear, in view of some of the letters I have been receiving in the past couple of days, that there is no question, in our voting for a general election tonight, of appearing to be voting in any way for the Conservative Party, simply because—[Interruption.] I have had a large number of letters in the last few days from members of the Labour Party, from members of my own party, and even, surprisingly, from members of the Conservative Party, who say"You should not vote for an election now because there might be a large Conservative majority, and how terrible that would be for the country." I am against that attitude. I do not believe in opinion polls. I believe in the electorate's decision. If the electorate happens to vote for a large Conservative majority, the electorate will have to live with the consequences of that. I shall do my best during a general election campaign to dissuade the electorate from that course.

But fear of any possible political outcome of a general election is not ground for allowing the present parliamentary state of affairs to continue. The Government have been seen to be staggering on. Vast attention is paid outside to speeches made at the weekend, such as that by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), wanting pipelines to Ulster. Issues such as the compensation to the slate quarrymen ought to be discussed on their merits and not on the basis of whether three hon. Members might or might not be in a particular Lobby.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down

I apologise for interrupting. The right hon. Gentleman might be interested to know, in view of the context in which he was placing this matter, that the recommendation for a connection, by way of a gas pipeline, between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has been made consistently by members of my party for at least the past three years.

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

I dare say it has, but the right hon. Gentleman, of all people, was not born yesterday. He read the reports of his own speech, as I did, and he knows in what context they were placed.

I also believe that the decision we have to take tonight is not about devolution. Again, the Prime Minister is entitled to have his fun, but we have always taken the view that the future of devolution and the future of the Government are two entirely separate questions. It is our view that, whatever happens, whether we have an election now and there is a change of Government or whether the Labour Party is returned, the only way that we can make progress on devolution is through some form of all-party consultations, following the referendum.

We know that it is essential to find a parliamentary solution to the question of devolution, because we have the lesson of Ireland before us. Parliament failed to find an acceptable solution, and over the years we had the bitterness, the bloodshed, and eventually the separation of a great part of Ireland. Surely we want to try to avoid that, and the right way forward is for us to engage in constructive discussion. But no one—not even the Prime Minister—seriously believes that there is the remotest prospect in the lifetime of this Parliament of either passing the order through both Houses to bring the present Act into effect, or passing an amending Act to make the proposal more acceptable to the people of Scotland. It cannot be done, and therefore, although it will be quite proper, if the Government win tonight, to continue with the process of all-party discussions, they will have to be carried forward through a general election and into the next Parliament.

I only wish that the Leader of the Opposition were more forthcoming now with her views on devolution, post-referendum, because the Conservative Party will have to find a policy on this issue during the election, and certainly it will have to find one if it ever forms a Government. We separate, therefore, the question of the future of devolution from the question of the future of the Government.

The two other party leaders have already dwelt on their record. It is perhaps unusual for the Leader of the Liberal Party in modern times to be talking of the record of the Liberal Party, but I intend to do so, because I believe that the record shows that the period of greatest success in modern government was the period of the Lib-Lab agreement. [Interruption.] Yes, I say that, and I shall show why.

First, during that period we had a Labour Government in office, but Left-wing Socialism had to be abandoned for that period; therefore there was a degree of political stability and a process of government of this country from the centre. That in itself was beneficial.

Second, let us look at the figures of inflation. The Opposition made great play the other week, with some justification, of the fact that if we apply the Healey formula to inflation—that is, the figure for the last three months expressed as an annual rate—it comes out at 13·3 per cent. for the last three months. But the Conservatives have to remember their own record as well. In the last three months that they were in office, the equivalent figure was 18 per cent. It rose during the period of Tory government from 5 per cent. in 1970 to 18 per cent. by the time they left office.

Taking the same formula, in the three months before the Lib-Lab pact, inflation had gone up to 21 per cent., but it was during the Lib-Lab period of government that the inflation level came down to 7·4 per cent. Since then, as we know, sadly, it has gone up again.

Photo of Mr Phillip Whitehead Mr Phillip Whitehead , Derby North

If the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of fixed-term Parliaments, and the Lib-Lab pact was a very good thing, why did he not continue it for the full duration of this Parliament?

Photo of Mr David Steel Mr David Steel Leader of the Liberal Party

We have debated this issue before, but the simple reason is that there was no long-term basis of agreement between the two parties. That is why I said that we should take our different views to the electorate. I will be specific. One particular issue—we have since been justified by events—on which we felt quite strongly was that there was no sign that the Government would be able to maintain as effective a pay policy as during the previous period. Labour Members know that to be true.

Let us consider the level of mortgage rates. At present the rate is 11¾ per cent. During the last general election campaign, the right hon. Lady, now the Leader of the Opposition, promised that if a Conservative Government were returned, mortgages would be pegged at 9¾ per cent.; yet when the Conservatives left office, mortgage rates were at 11 per cent. Under the Labour Government they went up to 12¼ per cent. In the period of the Lib-Lab pact they were down to 8½ per cent. If we use those figures as a yardstick, we were more successful—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may not like the facts, but I am quoting the facts. I believe that the Lib-Lab pact was important and provided a better way of running the country.

My third argument is that we saw in that period the start of some injection of Liberal influence for the first time into the government of the country.

I mention the specific issue of the legislation last April on profit sharing. It has taken a year for this to come into effect, but already 48 companies have adopted the profit-sharing proposals of last year's Finance Act. Recently the City editor of The Observer wrote: Such schemes will help to bring about a closer harmony between employees and management. That will be to the whole community's advantage. In fact, even at this early stage, companies with such schemes report a greater profit consciousness among employees. That was a very modest start in the direction in which the House ought to be travelling. It is absolutely essential that we link future pay policy in the private sector to actual profits and productivity, because that is the only way in which we shall succeed in creating a healthy and successful private sector with which to sustain the public sector.

In the public sector it will be necessary to have, as the Prime Minister said, a consensus between Government, unions and employers, but that consensus must be a long-lasting one. Great damage has been done to pay policy by chopping and changing between Governments and within Governments. The Prices and Incomes Board was set up and then abolished. The Relativities Board was set up and abolished. Now we have the comparability Commission.

How much better it would have been—and how much fairer to groups which have suffered from the chopping and changing in pay policy—if we had had one body in the public sector operating continuously through changes of Government. The seesaw in pay policy has been most damaging to the country and most unfair to certain groups which were caught in the changes of policy.

This is the direction in which we want to move. But I do not believe that it is a direction in which we can move as a country as long as the two sides in our political system are financed by the two sides of our industrial conflict.

In a speech the other day, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition urged the electorate to "break with the recent past," but it is an illusion to believe that the problems of this country all began in recent years since the Conservative Party was last in office. Relatively speaking, compared with our European neighbours, we have been steadily sliding down the scale of success and prosperity as a nation ever since the early 1950s, and to pretend otherwise is to try to delude the electorate. I believe that to a considerable extent that is due to the political system that we operate in marked contradistinction to most of our European neighbours.

This Parliament finds itself stuck on devolution, stuck on tax reform and stuck on pay policy, and on industrial relations policy it is not only stuck but is sub-contracting its responsibilities to groups outside Parliament.

This, therefore, is the case for a fresh Parliament. I believe that the electors of Liverpool, Edge Hill will point to a better way tomorrow. I think that there is a better way of running Britain, and the sooner the rest of the country is given the opportunity for it, the better.

5.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

The Scottish National Party tabled a motion of no confidence in the Government because of the Government's refusal to honour their manifesto commitment to the Scottish people. However, the Scottish National Party has other areas of dispute with the Government on which we lack confidence in the Government, and I shall deal with those presently.

The reality of the political situation in Scotland is that a majority voted "Yes" for a Scottish Assembly and that Scottish Assembly is not being delivered. We have heard some complaints during and since the campaign that only about 30 per cent. of the people voted in favour of an Assembly. There were complaints from the "No" campaigners that those in favour of a "Yes" vote were claiming that an abstention meant"No ". Whether or not that was true, it certainly appears to be the case subsequently when we hear the figures being totalled up and the claim made that only one-third of the people of Scotland voted for the Assembly. Of those who turned out, there was a clear majority for a "Yes" vote. That is the reality of the situation, and that is the system by which such decisions have been made both in this House and at elections generally.

Whichever party wins the next election—be it the party of the Prime Minister or that of the Leader of the Opposition—and no matter how small the percentage, it is fair to assume that there will be no great rush of people to work out with computers whether it has a 40 per cent. backing. It will nip smartly into No. 10 and claim that it has a mandate to carry out whichever of its doctrinal policies it was elected on. If the events of the last five years have proved anything, they have proved that the London-based parties cannot be trusted to look after Scotland's interests.

As the Prime Minister said yesterday, devolution has been a question in Scotland for at least 10 years. Yet, although every political party on the Scottish scene went into the last election committed to an Assembly, all that happened after the election was that there were more talks and more White Papers. We then had the first Scotland and Wales Bill, which was killed off. After that we had the Scotland Bill and the 40 per cent. provision was inserted. Now that the campaign in favour was successful, Westminster wants to kill the Scotland Act.

I take the Prime Minister's point about the right hon. Lady's lack of any commitment to devolution. I do not expect any commitment from her. However, she will have to live in the real world, assum- ing that she is returned after the next election. The Scottish people will educate her if she happens to be at No. 10 Downing Street at that time. The problem will not go away. It will be lodged on her desk and will have to be dealt with.

Incidentally, in view of the line that he took in the referendum campaign, the noble Lord Home has a moral obligation to ensure that something emerges from the Conservatives which is better than the Government's Act. They all said that it was a bad Act. It was far from perfect, and we agreed that it was far from perfect, but it was made a bad Act by many of the people who were making that claim because they tore it to pieces in its passage through the House. It was made worse than it was originally.

The Labour Government have made no real attempt to deal with Scotland's persistently lower living standards and poorer social conditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) pointed out in the debate on public expenditure, Scotland has a better export performance than the United Kingdom as a whole. The chairman of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) stated recently: Between 1974 and 1977, exports from Scotland rose by 24 per cent. in real terms compared with 14 per cent. for the United Kingdom as a whole. The latest report by Reward Regional Surveys Ltd.—an independent consumer research organisation—shows that the cost of living in Scotland is 4·5 per cent. above the United Kingdom average and that the cost of consumer goods is higher in Scotland.

Scottish families are double losers in the price war. Although the cost of basic items such as food, household goods and transport is higher in Scotland than the United Kingdom average, the Government's own family expenditure survey shows that Scottish family incomes are considerably lower than they are in other parts of the United Kingdom. Retail prices in Scotland have risen by more than 10p in the pound in the past year—again, the biggest increase in the United Kingdom. Despite all this, it has taken considerable pressure from my party and a good deal of work by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) to get the Government grudgingly to agree to an investigation into prices in Scotland.

The Government have a dreadful record on inflation. When the Prime Minister made the point about a reduction in the figure, the question was well put as to who had raised it to a high level in the first place. Despite the present temporary drop in inflation, the plain fact is that the value of the pound has more than halved in the five years that this Government have been in office.

What are the Government doing in the face of this situation? Scotland is being starved of Government expenditure. Indeed, the White Paper, approved by the House on 19 March, envisages a lower level of public expenditure in Scotland than in the United Kingdom as a whole. The five-year growth rate for the United Kingdom has been set at 10 per cent. while the corresponding growth rate projected for Scotland between 1979–80 and 1982–83 is only 6·4 per cent.

In addition, Scotland receives far less than her fair share in such areas as the nationalised industries, defence and foreign affairs. There is scarcely any money in the forward planning for roads between now and 1983—a glaring omission at a time when Scotland needs additional infrastructure to back up the oil and other industries.

I end by returning to the question of Scottish government. I say to the Government and to the Conservatives that the Scottish desire for self-government is alive and thriving. Resentment is growing at the apparent wish of the majority here to frustrate that desire and to make divisions in Scotland. There can be no excuse of a bad Act, no all-party talks as a further exercise of futility and no propaganda that tries to turn a majority vote into a minority.

These do not take a trick any longer. It is a pity that more Labour MPs do not back their own party policy and legislation, and the Government may have to pay the price.

5.9 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eton and Slough

As I was once a member of the Government but left of my own free will, I do not think that anyone can accuse me of trying to suck up to any Prime Minister.

Having listened to the opening speech of the Prime Minister and that of the Leader of the Opposition, and casting my mind back to the build-up to this debate and how the Prime Minister would be annihilated by the Opposition, all I can say is that if ever a condemned man shot the firing squad, he did.

This debate is supposed to be about devolution and the record of the Government. Whatever the arguments in that respect, the performance of the Leader of the Opposition, in what I understood was supposed to be her moment of triumph, must have been disappointing to almost everyone who listened to it. I was certainly disappointed.

I want to refer, first, to why this debate is being held and, secondly, to several other matters that were raised. We are, allegedly, having this debate on the question of devolution, and we are told that the Government have not brought forward their devolution plans. It seems that history is being rewritten as the debate goes on. I was never a supporter of devolution, and I still reserve my position on the subject. Leaving aside the arguments for or against devolution, the Government have done their best since the referendum to abide by the decision of the House that 40 per cent. of the people must be in favour of it, and they have also tried to bear in mind the aspirations of a minority of the people of Scotland. That is what we are talking about.

In that situation, it seems incomprehensible that those who believe in devolution should now want to throw out a Government who have done their best to reconcile two opposing forces in this way. I do not believe that they will succeed in throwing out the Government, but if they do they will give support to a Leader of the Opposition who has no devolution policy at all, except that she is opposed to it. I find that totally and utterly irreconcilable. However, that decision is up to those who support devolution.

We have also heard comments about the Government not giving support to Scotland. That is not true. The amount of financial support that the Government have given Scotland has been greater than that given by any other Government in this century. Many people in constituencies such as mine ask "What about other areas of the country?"

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eton and Slough

No, I shall not give way. I believe that some of Scotland's problems are tremendous. That is why many Scots come to my constituency, as do the Welsh, looking for, and finding, work. In no way do I deny the problems of Scotland and Wales, because they exist, but it seems a strange way to try to solve them by moving away from the very Government who say"All right, devolution has not won the day, but there are recognisable aspirations of a minority of Scots and we shall try to find a way round the problem".

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eton and Slough

The right hon. Gentleman should not try to rewrite history. The vote that took place in Scotland was not in accordance with what was agreed by this House. [Interruption.] Scottish National Party Members are supporting a Conservative Opposition who talk about law and order, but they are not very good advertisements for it. Why do they not just keep quiet for a moment?

The whole devolution argument was bound to lose out because it was taken in isolation from, and not in conjunction with, the whole question of the reorganisation of government in England, Scotland and Wales. That is where we went wrong. If we again. have the discussions and the argument, and if we consider in conjunction with that the appalling situation facing local government and the aspirations of a minority of the people of Scotland, and a smaller minority of the people of Wales, I believe that we can reach some sort of compromise that will be acceptable to all of us.

I move to a couple of other matters to which I wish to refer briefly. The right hon. Lady spent very little time on devolution, but, as she said, this debate is really not about that subject. It really revolves around whether the right hon. Lady can defeat the Government tonight so that an election can take place. I hope that the Government are not defeated, but I also hope that we shall have an election very soon. The right hon. Lady has stated the grounds on which the election campaign will be fought. I should be very happy to fight on those grounds.

It was interesting that there was not a word in her speech about the EEC. I wonder why. Is it the Conservative Opposition's policy that we give up and stop arguing about the CAP or the budget? Nothing was said in that regard. [Interruption.] I do not know whether hon. Members are waving to me, or what they are trying to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "Wave back."] I shall not wave back. I believe that the EEC will dominate an election campaign more than questions of devolution, whether or not hon. Members wish that to be the case.

The right hon. Lady was asked some pertinent questions. She was asked how she would deal with the present wage disputes and how she would meet them. We had no answer on that. Yet the Conservative Opposition say that they want no Government interference in wage bargaining.

As I have said, I should welcome an election campaign because I believe that the ground has been set for one. The question of devolution has been ducked and the issue of the EEC has been abandoned. In addition, various statements have been made in recent months by Conservative Members, and I assume that we shall take them up as time goes on. There is the public expenditure argument. I am amazed at how people can talk about law and order on the one hand and less public expenditure on the other. In my view, the whole question of public expenditure on education, welfare services and on our whole social structure is bound up with law and order. It is bound up with the sort of society that one builds and the aspirations and hopes of that society. It is incomprehensible to me how one can talk about cutting public expenditure on the one hand and law and order on the other.

There have been statements about taxing social security benefits for families of strikers. Opposition Members have stated that there will be no benefits for families of strikers. We have also heard statements about anti-trade union legislation. All these flags and kites have been flown over the past few months.

The right hon. Lady today spelt out the grounds on which she would want to fight an election campaign. I, for one, and I think that I speak for large numbers of Labour Party members, would be happy to take on the Conservative Opposition on those grounds. I believe that the Conservatives make a tremendous mistake. The Labour Government have demonstrated one thing very clearly, and it is something that is recognised by large sections of working men and women in the country. It is that when the Tories talk about cutting public expenditure they do not mean on defence or on some of the things that I and my hon. Friends mean. They mean cutting back on those social services and benefits that are part of the social wage for ordinary men and women. That message has got through to the ordinary man and woman. They know that when the Tories talk about cutting public expenditure they mean cutting back on the social and real wages of the ordinary working people. That is an argument that we are prepared to meet.

In view of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and in view also of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, I believe that the Government will win tonight. But, win or lose, I hope that there will be a general election very soon. I hope that we shall force the Conservatives to fight on the grounds that have been selected by the right hon. Lady. When the Government fight on their record and on questions such as unemployment, public expenditure and the EEC, I believe that the electorate will again vote a Labour Government into power.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

A week ago the position of my two colleagues in Plaid Cymru and myself was that we would vote in the earliest motion of confidence against the Government and for the Opposition. We had very good reasons and had drafted our own motion of censure which we intended setting down following that of the SNP. We wanted then, and still want, to place on record our disgust with the way in which the Government have fumbled clumsily and sometimes disastrously with the life of Wales. Not a single aspect of Welsh life is stronger because of the activity of this Labour Government.

I refer to employment. When the Labour Party came to power in March 1974, there were 38,000 people unemployed in Wales. Today, the figure is 88,452—an increase of 230 per cent. This is a tremendous waste of human resources at a time when so much work needs to be done in the country. Even now, there is a declining number of jobs for unemployed people in our country.

The Government decided on withdrawal of an active regional policy. The regional premium came to an end in 1976, the IDC policy has become worthless, and, when London found itself needing jobs, regional policy was effectively abandoned. The Government have also consistently refused to draw up an economic plan for Wales.

The Government have failed to give a lead towards a new industrial order—we had expected that—based on co-operation and harmony, and a common purpose in industry, which should be the objective, of industrial democracy. This has not happened. Part of the consequence has been the industrial chaos seen this winter. The period of the last Labour Government between 1964 and 1970 saw one coal mine closed in Wales for every seven weeks of that period. The Government still intend to allow the closure of coal mines in Wales. We have had notice that a number whose stocks have not been depleted are to be closed. The subsidy for coal in Wales is only £3 a ton compared with £11·93 a ton in Germany and £24·60 a ton in Belgium.

Looking at the steel industry, one notes that the promised investment in Port Talbot has been suspended, with the result that uncertainty looms over its future. Shotton is now following East Moors and Ebbw Vale as a victim of the Government's failure to provide conditions suitable for the survival of these basic industries.

We have one of the worst housing records in the United Kingdom. We have an older stock of houses in Wales than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Houses are in great need of repair and replacement, but public expenditure on housing in Wales has actually been reduced below the United Kingdom average. It was only 3·9 per cent. of the United Kingdom average last year. There are now 107,000 houses in Wales condemned as unfit for human habitation, with over 50,000 families on the housing waiting list. Yet, with a job on this scale to be carried out, 15,000 building workers are unemployed. Effectively, no leasehold reforms of any value have been enacted.

My constituency is particularly interested in agriculture, but the Government have failed abysmally to fulfil the plans set out in their pamphlet "Food from Our Own Resources". Half the growth sectors identified in that White Paper have seen a decline in production. There has been no serious attempt to establish effective policies for marginal land, of which we have such a great quantity in Wales. Marginal land development is essential to increased food production in our country.

Morale in the health services has declined sharply because of mismanagement and bureaucratic structures unresponsive to human needs. Adequate resources have not been made available, with the result that the level of service in hospitals has dropped and waiting lists have escalated. In the largest hospital in my constituency, with 560 beds, we do not even possess a unit for intensive care. Insufficient nurses is a situation found in so many places in our country.

In education, there has been a failure to use teachers who have been trained in great numbers in our country, with the ridiculous consequence that hundreds of teachers are on the dole while many schools have classes that are far too large to enable the children to be taught properly. Virtually no lead has been given in what should be the right of all Welsh people to have their children educated in the Welsh language, both in primary schools and secondary schools. The Government have taken no step towards the achievement of this right. We have a higher proportion of pre-1903 school buildings than any other country in Britain. Yet too little money is spent on improving the standard of school buildings.

On taxation, the Government have allowed inflation to increase faster than the rise in the threshold level for payment of income tax, with the result that people on very low incomes, even pensioners, find themselves paying tax.

In broadcasting, despite the commitment of the Government for years past to establish in Wales the fourth channel as a national Welsh channel, no effective steps have yet been taken to that end. This means that the language is being more rapidly eroded than it should be eroded—a language that is the greatest treasure we possess in Wales, one of the greatest treasures in the whole of these islands. The Government have made no attempt at all to implement the fine recommendations of their own Welsh Language Council. It has now been disbanded. Not one of its recommendations has been fulfilled.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

A body must be set up to supervise the recommendations when they are implemented and to start a new wave of sympathy and support for the language in Wales. This is a matter of basic importance for the future of our society and community.

In communications, Wales lags badly behind both Scotland and England in the quality of its principal roads which are so necessary to balanced industrial development. Not one mile of railway in Wales has been electrified compared with over 2,000 miles electrified in England. The Government have failed to grasp the opportunity offered by Air Wales to establish an air service network in Wales. The great potential of the Welsh ports has also been ignored.

On constitutional issues, the Government have failed to present proposals for greater democratic control of government in Wales that were acceptable to the people of Wales. Nor have they succeeded in correcting the failures of the Tories in their Local Government Act 1972. Under this Government, the rate support grant paid to the counties in Wales which are non-metropolitan has been eroded, with the resources transferred to the inner cities of England. This has resulted in a mean rate increase of 24 per cent. for the coming year in Wales. [Interruption.] These matters may appear unimportant to hon. Gentlemen who represent English constituencies—

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

Despite a pretence of an equalisation of water charges between Wales and England, water rates in Wales still remain 58 per cent. higher. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] The inequitable system of charging for water on the basis of rateable value remains. The Government have consistently disallowed to Wales the right that she should enjoy of selling the water that flows from Wales to English industrial conurbations.

Faced with that situation and the needs in Wales that have been neglected, we intended to vote against the Government. However, a week ago today we were offered the possibility of an Act that would create new conditions for quarrymen in Wales and for many others suffering from dust diseases. I know something of the problem. I know how desperately we need a humanitarian measure for those suffering from dust diseases. In my constituency there are many who suffer from silicosis, pneumoconiosis and emphysema. I have seen them struggling painfully step by step up a small incline, having to stop every two or three steps because of the trouble that they have in drawing breath. Sometimes these men are in their thirties and forties. I have been with others who have been bedridden, gasping for breath and trying to speak a few hoarse words while alongside them there has been an oxygen system to keep them alive a little longer.

Although the Government, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have produced an inadequately funded system to help pneumoconiotic coal miners and their dependants, there are victims of such diseases in other industries who have not received anything like adequate compensation, if any compensation at all. In my constituency there are men who have worked in stone or other quarries, in brickworks and iron foundries. There are amongst them those who suffer from respiratory diseases. There are others who have worked in asbestos works. Those who have worked in the cotton mills of Lancashire are aware of byssinosis.

The largest group for which my two colleagues and others have worked so hard is composed of quarrymen. Although the number of quarrymen has declined from 20,000 to 300, there are still about 1,000 men who suffer from silicosis. There are about 1,000 widows of those who died from the disease. Throughout the years they have been shockingly neglected. Some newspapers have alleged that their number is negligible in British terms and that my hon. Friends and I have been bought too cheaply. Those words have been used. Those who speak in that way do not appreciate the value of each human life. France was brought to the verge of civil war because of the fate of one man, Dreyfus.

Whatever electoral cost we may have to pay—I have no doubt that there will be some electoral cost for the line we shall take tonight—we feel that it is right to obtain the best possible scheme for those suffering from dust diseases. The Government have provided such a scheme. The Bill has been published, it is available in the Vote Office, and its terms satisfy us.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

The hon. Gentleman said a short while ago—this is what I think he said—that last week he was approached. He may have said"we were approached ". I believe that those were his words. Will he elaborate on them? They do not quite tie up with what the Prime Minister said.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

A statement was made by the Government that a Bill would be introduced. The Government did not approach us directly.

Whatever the electoral cost that we may have to bear, we believe that we must obtain the best possible scheme. The Government have produced that scheme. We wish to achieve the earliest possible compensation for the sufferers, widows and dependants. We take the view that every week matters. The Government have guaranteed that the Bill will pass through all its stages, if they remain in power, before the middle of May, and that compensation will be paid in October. For these reasons alone, my two colleagues and I have decided to vote in the Government Lobby tonight.

5.36 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

I do not object to hearing hypocritical speeches from the Opposition Front Bench. I am accustomed to that. However, in a set piece debate of this sort I resent strongly an inept, hypocritical speech from the Opposition Front Bench. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition was a disgrace. It contained not one idea, let alone a constructive idea. It helped to expose the shoddiness of the manoeuvres in which the Opposition have been engaged for the past couple of weeks.

It is a shoddy manoeuvre when a Tory Opposition use the trigger of the Scottish National Party to try to defeat the only Government who can introduce elements of democratisation, devolution and decentralisation. The Tories know that it is hypocritical. They did not even have the skill or the ideas to cover the hypocrisy.

The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition said that the Conservative Party is in favour, basically, of two policies. First, it is in favour of tax cuts. Secondly, it wants more money to put on law and order. We have had enough of that from the Tory Party. I have listed about half a dozen massive commitments to public expenditure that have been entered into by the Tories. In contrast to those commitments, the right hon. Lady says blatantly that the Opposition are in favour of tax cuts.

I take only one example of the commitments of the Tories. Their pledge on defence spending will extend to an increase of about £2,000 million or £3,000 million. If the Tories happen, through ill luck or by a peculiarity in the operation of the lifts as Mr. Speaker suggested, to win the vote tonight, I give the assurance that they will be smashed in the country, especially in the regions of Scotland and England where the hypocrisy of the Tory Party has been seen and exposed over the years.

The debate is not about shoddy manoeuvres but about great issues to which the Tory Party has not even yet begun to apply itself. A harbinger of the consequences of a Tory victory to-night, and, even more appalling, a possible Tory victory in the next election, was the hysterical scene on the floor of the London Stock Exchange last Thursday. That was an example of the sort of society that Tories want to introduce. Of course, the Tories will receive a majority from those who operate on the floor of the Stock Exchange. That is an area where no wealth is created and where no intelligence is put into industry or the economy. The opportunity of an apparent crisis was used to make specu- lative profits. That is the basic policy of the Tory Party. That was demonstrated by the hysteria of the Stock Exchange last week.

We are in a period of technological change. The effect of the change is to put more and more power into fewer and fewer hands. In 1910 about 15 per cent. of the gross national product was controlled by the top 100 companies. That is not many companies wielding that power. By 1950 about 20 per cent. of the GNP was controlled by the top 100 companies. However, in the following 20 years there was a rapid increase in the trend and two-thirds of our economy was then in the hands of only 100 companies. Those 100 companies were interconnected through directorships and directors.

There has therefore been a massive accretion of dominant power in fewer and fewer hands. That has taken place on the eve of the greatest technological leap forward that we have yet made. We are no longer introducing machines to be worked by men. We are bringing in machines that will operate other machines. Professor Freeman, when addressing the British Association, said Harold Wilson was not wrong in 1964, when talking about the consequences of technology, to say that it would be one of the crucial issues in the performance of the British economy. He added: Where his government failed and where all other post-war governments have failed, was in the resolute pursuit of an industrial and economic strategy which would have made it possible to carry through this technological revolution, which is needed today more than ever. We need a rejigging of our economy on Socialist lines not for any ideological purpose but because that is the only way in which we can satisfy democracy within our country. We either leave power in the hands of fewer and fewer people or we say that Socialism is no longer just an ideological concept It is now necessary to take this under the democratic control of the people.

These are the issues behind tonight's discussion, not the tawdry manoeuvres of the Tory Party and the SNP on a single issue vote. We cannot tolerate a situation in which companies, through the new technologies and for profit, put 2 million, 3 million or 5 million people out of work. Society must have the economic power to control such a situation.

The Tories are using the trigger of the SNP to try to create a Stock Exchange society. The Tories have waited—willing to move and afraid to strike—and now use the SNP as a most dishonourable trigger.

The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) said that the demand for independence, which he uses as an excuse for entering into an alliance with a party that is pledged to destroy any changes or any extension of democracy, was alive and thriving. I have news for him. There was a by-election last night in East Kilbride. I shall give him the figures.

In 1977, only two years ago, the SNP gained 65 per cent. of the vote in that area. It polled 1,155 votes against Labour's 618. It beat us by nearly two to one. Last night Labour topped the poll with 45·8 per cent. The SNP had slumped to 39 per cent.—which is a turnover of about 30 per cent.—between 1977 and 1979. The fear of the SNP at present is the demand of the Scottish people that this kind of nonsense should stop.

We, in association with our comrades throughout Great Britain, are looking at the task of extending democracy. I believe that one of the reasons for the failure in the referendum vote in Scotland was the fear of the Scottish people that the establishment of an Assembly would lead not to social or class politics but to national politics; that it would lead to clashes between Scotland and England, which had become polarised. As we pick up the bits and pieces after the referendum, we must not desert the concept of devolution and democracy.

I believe, with Mao Tse-tung, that 100 flowers blossom, and I want to see the sense of nationhood blossom, but we must be careful that we do not allow that sense of nationhood to degenerate into a sense of polarisation and conflict between the nations of Great Britain. The common task is to extend democracy. The way forward is for us to recognise the fear of conflict between England and Scotland. There is no other explanation for the combination of the "No" vote and abstentions. We must try to advance on a much broader base.

I would prefer to see economic agencies throughout the regions of England so that arguments are not polarised between a Scottish Assembly and London about the economics of industry. There would be a centrifugal position in which different regions would be competing to achieve the best industrial development for themselves without creating a split.

Several myths are being created. Our present problem in Scotland in relation to the referendum has nothing to do with the 40 per cent. rule. If I were the hon. Member who introduced that rule I should be wondering about the wisdom of having done that. There is no doubt that the exploitation of the 40 per cent. rule by those campaigning for a "Yes" vote led to the present situation. Many people believed the words of the various parties that an abstention equalled a "No" vote.

I am not talking about the poll which was carried out to demonstrate that. We have the evidence from the people whom we meet day in and day out. Without the 40 per cent. rule, I believe that Scotland would have voted "No" in the referendum. So that rule boomeranged, as some of us warned it would. But that is not the issue. The issue is the indecisive nature of the vote—the 33 per cent. for, the 31 per cent. against, and the big abstention. I do not think that the situation can be recovered until we have reset the issue in the context of a wider extension of democracy in Scotland.

The other myth being created is that which involves the so-called bad register. Last night the electoral broadcast by the SNP claimed that 300,000 names were left off the register, or were wrongly on the register, according to an authoritative examination. There was no such examination. That statement is SNP propaganda.

The nearest thing to an authoritative examination was contained in a letter in The Scotsman yesterday. There the electoral registration officer for the Lothian region, Mr. J. S. Gardner, replying to the claim by the SNP that there had been an 18 per cent. error in the register, said that a Mr. Shirley, of the SNP, lodged 82 objections. Of these 19 were upheld, two were replaced, and 61 were withdrawn by Mr. Shirley because he could not provide the necessary standard of proof. Mr. Gardner wrote: If he could not press his objections successfully beyond a total of 19 in 22,856 names then I fail to understand how he can claim a surplus of 18 per cent. which would amount to 4,114 names. It is nonsense, and the myth must be destroyed. I hope that the Government will play their part in helping to destroy it.

The other myth that is constantly peddled by the SNP is that there is greater poverty and economic deprivation in Scotland. This is an insult to the working people of Scotland. We would not have tolerated a lower standard of living and higher poverty. We have fought against that. SNP Members, when asked to support the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, contemptuously tore up the telegrams of Scottish workers and strewed them throughout the House. They have no right to complain. They are not even right with their figures.

I have looked at the average weekly earnings of men over 21 in Scotland and I find to my astonishment that in the industries covered by the Department of Employment Gazette the earnings of male manual workers over 21 in Scotland are not only higher than those in the United Kingdom as a whole, but higher than those in England. They are higher than in every region with the exception of the South-East and Greater London. That is another myth that we must knock on the head.

The SNP believes so much in its own myths that its members sometimes table questions to prove their case. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) asked the Secretary of State for Industry this week if he would list in the Official Report the number of employees in the Scottish shipyards since vesting day, and how many there were now. She asked that in the clear hope of proving that there had been an increase in unemployment. She was wrong. Since vesting day when the shipyards were taken into public ownership, the number of employees has increased by 500.

If I recall correctly, the last time that we faced an unholy alliance between the SNP and the Tory Party in an attempt to defeat the Government was over the shipbuilding Bill. That Bill, which they sought to destroy, has increased em- ployment in Scotland. Let us get rid of the myths and think our way through our problems.

If SNP Members were genuinely concerned with the standard of life in Scotland they would have been here today. They are not even here to listen to their colleague, the leader of the Welsh national life party, who took an honourable and upright stance this afternoon. If the members of the SNP were concerned about the welfare of the people of Scotland, their jobs and the economy, they would not attempt to bring down a movement, a party and a Government who are pledged to extend economic well-being and democracy in Scotland. They have no case. I hope that the Scottish people will treat them with contempt.

One famous Scottish song is entitled "Scotland the Brave." I deplore it. It arose out of a period in which the Scots were mobilised for war and imperialism. Another song has been written by an old jute mill worker in Dundee. She is still alive and she began work at 12 years of age. One of the verses of that song is: Oh dear me, the world's ill divided. Them that work the hardest are aye the least provided. That common concept among the working people of Britain will survive not only tonight but will win a victory in the coming election. Let it come as soon as possible.

5.51 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I have never found either motions of confidence or motions of censure among the happiest or most inspiring parliamentary occasions. Nothing that I have heard in the last hour or so has deflected me from that view.

In about four hours we shall take the decision, possibly by a handful of votes, whether to have an immediate general election or whether to wait a few weeks longer. I was encouraged by the last words of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) in my hope that there will be no delay. It is rapidly becoming impossible, if it has not already become impossible, in this pre-election atmosphere for Britain to be governed with the necessary authority.

Even if the Government Front Bench comprised a collection of archangels—and having examined them closely it is difficult to see clearly those heavenly beings—I doubt whether in the present circumstances they could be followed with the seriousness which the Government should always be able to command.

I say that not because of the present Government's lack of a proper majority, nor because of the mistakes that they have made in the last five years. I do not say it because, during the last five years, they have inflicted wounds upon Britain which will take a long time to heal; but I say that an election is necessary now because we appear to have reached the stage where, without an early election, substantial or recognisable progress is no longer possible. The case for an immediate election therefore rests less on Government mistakes than on the state of the nation, to which they and events have brought us. On this occasion, at least, my criticism of the Government will be muted, because my case in no way depends upon any shortcomings of which the Government are guilty.

I fervently hope that I shall soon see my right hon. and hon. Friends sitting in the seats of power on the Government side of the House. I shall certainly do all that I can, when the time comes, to see that that happens. However, the acceptance of my right hon. Friend's motion would bring for me not so much rejoicing at the prospect of a Tory Government as a feeling of great relief that at last we had reached the bottom of the steep hill which Britain must climb for recovery and be led with all the authority of a new Government.

I should leave the House of Commons more happily if I felt that Britain, about to enter the 1980s, was stronger, freer and more contented than it was 30 years ago when I first arrived in the House. It is sad that that is not so.

Naturally, I regret any shortcomings of my own—whether as an individual or as a member of a Government—which have in any way pushed the country downwards to its present state. I wish that we had heard similar expressions of regret from the Prime Minister this afternoon, particularly as it is now evident to the least observant observer that we have sunk very low and that the climb back to confidence, to self-respect and to real satisfaction with ourselves will be long and horribly difficult.

This may be my last speech in the House. Many of my earlier speeches were too long. I hope that this one will not be. On occasions such as this, and in circumstances such as mine, it is possible to speak with some degree of objectivity. This is why I am less concerned with the shortcomings of the present Government and the superior merits of my right hon. Friends than I am with the state of the country and its need for firm and authoritative government.

Whatever authority the Government once possessed finally evaporated this winter. That in itself is a remarkable achievement. It is probably the only substance that managed to evaporate in the bitter cold since Christmas. When the time comes, I shall do my best to work for a Tory victory; but my overwhelming desire now is for a Government who are new, with the strength to give Britain a new start and a new impetus. I beg the Prime Minister, even if he struggles to victory tonight, to wait no longer but to go at once, before the country grows weaker and the climb back to strength becomes more difficult.

5.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

We shall be sorry to see the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) leave the House of Commons. I have enjoyed listening to him over the years, although I have not always agreed with him. I did not agree with him today. He tried to make out that the conditions of the ordinary people in Britain have not improved. I was brought up in a small working-class house. Ordinary working-class people were my friends and fellow workers. The conditions of the mass of ordinary people have been totally transformed from what they were when I was an apprentice on construction sites.

It is possible that the class represented by the right hon. Member feel threatened and that their conditions are not as good as they were, although I do not think that that is true. Through the actions of Labour Governments, the lives of the mass of ordinary people are totally different. We do not have the mass demonstrations about unemployment that used to occur. That is for one reason: unemployed people, despite all their difficulties, are more protected today than they were. That is because Of Labour Governments.

I do not know how the vote will go tonight—quite honestly, to some extent I do not care. Whether we have an election campaign from tomorrow, next week, a month's time or two months' time, there has to be an election some time this year and whether it is sooner or later is totally irrelevant. Whenever we go to the country, the real issue is the basic difference between the philosophy of Opposition Members and the philosophy of Labour Members.

That is why I am not afraid to get out on the hustings and explain the achievements of this Labour Government, previous Labour Governments and our basic attitude as against the attitude of Opposition Members. Since the end of the war and the introduction of the National Health Service, Opposition Members have criticised the Health Service because they believe that insufficient money is provided for it. At the same time, they make speeches demanding cuts in public expenditure. Yet we have one of the finest national health services in the world—brought in by a Labour Government.

Conservative Members—particularly the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. William Clark) who is shifting in his seat like his party does—want to bring in private health services: the rich will do very nicely, thank you, and the poor will be at the back of the queue. That is the difference in philosophy between them and us. With regard to wage-related sickness and unemployment benefits, if one has not been unemployed and not suffered sickness in the way that the mass of ordinary working people do, and one is well protected by money, those concessions do not matter. However, they do matter to ordinary people. It does matter that there are redundancy payments. It does matter whether one is able to get a council house. All those schemes were brought in by Labour Governments, and that should be remembered in this debate.

I say to Opposition Members, particularly to the Scottish nationalists and the others, that much of what they say is totally irrelevant. They are arguing a case which does not matter. For example, they argue that the problems of Scotland are far worse than the problems in other parts of the country. That is not true. I am glad that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) feels that his party should support the Government tonight. However, it is not true to say that conditions in Wales are worse than in other parts of the country. What we suffer from is the continuation of a system of society that we have modified and softened but which basically still exists—where the rich do very well and the poor struggle in comparison.

We have to transform that society, whether one is a Scotsman, a Welshman or comes from Liverpool, as I do, where there is the highest level of unemployment in the British Isles.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davis:

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a greater sense of discontent in this country, and against many sections of all classes, because of the lack of responsibility of one section of employers and workers towards another? What action does he suggest that the Government should take to be rid of the appalling discontent in the country?

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

That is an argument that we constantly hear, not only from Opposition Members but from the press. It was indicated in the press a few weeks ago that Britain was at the point of revolutionary upsurge. Opposition Front Bench spokesmen were also saying that. We had a series of industrial disputes, but there was no violence on the picket lines. When we see what happened in France last week and the week before in the steel workers' dispute, how dare anybody suggest that we are in the same state of discontent that exists in many Continental countries? There is no question of a comparison between what happens in our country and what happens in many others. Yet Conservative Members drip, drip, drip away.

There is one element of discontent in the country. Day after day the British people watch television. The television tells them "Go to Majorca for your holiday. Buy a new car. Get a new bedroom suite. Get new carpets". The wife says "What about getting a new carpet, Fred? What about a holiday in Majorca?" Fred says "All right, love. I will go to my union branch meeting next week and suggest that we have another wage increase." When they demand a wage increase and get it, Conservative Members say "Absolutely scandalous.

They are bringing the country to a terrible state. They actually want more wages to buy all these consumer goods."

Conservative Members should recognise that much of that discontent is because we live in a capitalist society with that philosophy—get more for yourself. That is the reason why we are in that position, and it is no good Conservative Members trying to get away from that basic point.

I listened to the speech of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) drew the attention of the House to the fact that in her speech there was not one word about the Common Market. She ignored it totally. Labour Members have had many differences on the question of the Common Market. Some of us thought that we should stay out and others thought that we should go in. But the one thing that we are totally united on is that the present contributions of this country to the Common Market and the present agriculture policy are not acceptable. There has to be a fundamental change. Some of us would go further and say that if it is not changed we have to come out. We can point to increases in food prices that have resulted from our membership of the Common Market.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) once said that someone was rolling on his back like a puppy wanting his tummy to be tickled. That is what Conservative Members are doing in relation to the Common Market. They are not standing up and fighting for the basic interests of the British people. Whenever we go out on the hustings, I shall not be ashamed to say that the Common Market has to be changed fundamentally. That will be a basic issue in the general election, and Conservative Members had better wake up to that fact.

Conservative Members should not think that they will win the election on the basis of policies of confrontation with the trade unions and of sales of council houses which leave those without council houses at the end of the queue. If they think that they will win the election on that basis, they had better think again. I say to them "Good luck to you. If you win the vote tonight, well win it. But you will not win the general election on that basis."

6.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne Mr Jock Bruce-Gardyne , Knutsford

It is quite like old times for me to be called to speak after the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). His is a lovely speech and it grows no worse with repetition.

I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address this Parliament. I do not think that you would appreciate it if I craved the indulgence of the House, since you may take the view that I had stretched it far too often in the past. I understand that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Waddington) and I were christened "retreads" by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on our arrival, and I do not think that virginity goes well with a retread.

I think that the House would wish me to preface my remarks by paying tribute to my predecessor, John Davies. It is not given to many to serve in the House for eight years and, during that time, to occupy three of the highest offices of State. It is even rarer for a right hon. Member to gain in that time the sympathy and respect of the House to the extent that John Davies did. I know that in Knutsford he is greatly respected and deeply missed. He is also missed by hon. Members for his unique combination of talent, charm, sincerity and modesty. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that he has made a wonderful recovery from his serious illness and is already back at work and leading a normal life.

My only excuse for speaking is that I come fresh from an election and I am in a better position than are other hon. Members to say something about the confidence of the electorate in the Government. The Prime Minister referred to the great achievements of the past five years. I must confess that they do not seem to have got through to the electorate. The Leader of the Liberal Party referred to the achievements of the period of the Lib-Lab pact. I have to tell him that those achievements seem also to have left no mark in the minds of those who voted Liberal in 1974, but have no intention of doing so again.

The two emotions that came out most clearly in my by-election—on doorstep after doorstep—were anger and despair. There is anger at the way in which, week after week and month after month, every time the housewife took her shopping bag into the supermarket she found that prices had soared, despite frequent assertions to the contrary by the Government.

There is despair at the way in which there seems little point in going to work because of the amounts of tax paid by workers. They showed me their wage slips. There is also deep anxiety about what is widely identified as the defencelessness of this country in an increasingly dangerous world.

There is anger and despair about what is seen widely as falling standards in education and health. Perhaps above all, there is anger and despair at what is seen as the inability of the Government to offer to ordinary working people and trade unionists adequate protection against tiny minorities who try to exercise tyranny over their fellow workers.

That is the message which came through so clearly on doorstep after doorstep. If the hon. Member for Walton thinks that only those from the same class as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) feel threatened, I can only wonder how different the people of Walton are from those on large council housing estates, such as Parting-ton, in my constituency. They feel deeply threatened at their places of work and believe that they do not have adequate defences from the Government under the law.

There is an even more ominous legacy from the Government. It is perhaps inevitable that the generality of electors are not fully aware of it. When I was last an hon. Member I was sometimes accused of being a self-confessed monetarist. In those days that was rather like being called a self-confessed meths drinker, or wife beater, but times have changed, and it seems that we are all monetarists now. The Leader of the House says that he is not, but he must be almost alone.

I get the impression that members of the Tribune group, rather like the gentleman in Moliere, are often monetarists without realising it. As for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is the greatest monetarist of the lot. He preaches all the fatuities of incomes policy, but his counter-inflation policy is based totally on control of the monetary aggregates. That is what worries me.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer once accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) of being a bad monetarist. That epithet is far more appropriately applied to the Chancellor. I have believed for a long time that control of monetary aggregates is an essential and indispensable precondition for the control of inflation and a healthy economy, but I do not accept that it is sufficient by itself. What frightens me is that the Government have combined relative stringency of monetary policy with increasing laxity of control over public expenditure. That combination spells ruination for the productive private sector of the British economy. We are already seeing that.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the danger of our catching the Dutch disease—the disease that afflicts a country when the chance possession of a rare natural resource is allowed to have the effect of pushing up the exchange rate to the point at which that country's manufacturing industry ceases to be competitive.

If the Chancellor were not the sort of doctor who cannot tell chicken-pox from acne, he would realise that we already have a rampant case of the Dutch disease. Not a week goes by without news of further cutbacks in investment, further plant closures and further redundancies. There is nothing else that we can expect so long as we have a combination of relatively stringent monetary policy, total laxity of control of public expenditure and, hence, a grossly excessive borrowing requirement pushing up interest rates and facing us with the choice of allowing our money supply to expand, thus creating inflation, taking the strain on the exchange rate and seeing it rise.

I believe that the inevitable legacy of this Government is a substantial acceleration not only in inflation but of unemployment. Alas, it is too late to stop that now. I shall be joining with all my heart in the censure motion, because it is a matter of the utmost urgency for the country to have in power a Government who will begin to cure our present extremely sinister predicament.

I wish to address a few remarks to my own right hon. and hon. Friends who will soon be occupying the Government Front Bench. This Government's day is played out. We must now address ourselves to the future. The future that my right hon. Friends will face is one in which public expenditure programmes are planned to increase by a further 2 per cent. in real terms. In no way can our economy begin to sustain such a proposition. It will be our overriding duty to cut out that further 2 per cent. in the first year. That will not be easy. We shall need to declare immediately a total moratorium on all Civil Service recruitment. We shall need to disconnect the linkage that now exists between the value of supplementary benefits and the retail price index. Furthermore, we shall have to stop the Government's expensive scheme for the subsidisation of part-time working.

Labour will claim that these and other essential matters, which will need to be pursued if we are to bring public expenditure under control will create unemployment. It is Labour which has created unemployment. That unemployment is inescapable, but what matters is to know where it will happen. Will it happen more and more in the months ahead, as it is happening now, in the productive private sector? If it does, our economy will be damaged beyond repair.

Unless we can switch that inevitable additional unemployment, which is the legacy of the Labour Government, from the productive private sector to the unproductive tax-consuming sector, our prospects are bleak. That is the task we shall face. It is not an agreeable prospect, and it is the full measure of the legacy that the Labour Government will leave behind them.

If ever there was a case for a motion of no confidence in a Government who will leave behind a legacy of that kind, it is proved to the hilt tonight. I hope that we shall win it.

6.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West

I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) on his maiden speech in this Parliament. It was obvious from his lucid delivery and confidence that he is no newcomer to the House. I sympathise with him to some extent. Perhaps that sympathy is not unwarranted when we remember that he has just paid one set of election expenses, and today comes here to support a motion designed to involve him in even more election expenses. Perhaps that is a mark of the confidence that he has in his constituency to return him again.

This will be the unhappiest speech I have ever made in this House. When I was elected in 1966, I sat on the Labour Benches. I was under no compulsion to do so, but I had been a committed Socialist all my life. Therefore, when I came to this House I felt proud and honoured to associate myself with the Labour cause.

When the Labour Government were defeated, I took my place among Labour Members on the Opposition Benches. Throughout a 14-year period in Parliament I have never once voted in the Conservative Lobby. I have at all times committed myself to support the policies which I honestly believed were for the good of the United Kingdom.

Even in the years when we were in Opposition and when the Conservative Government were courageously trying to grapple—and to some extent succeeding—with the problems of Northern Ireland, I voted on every other issue with the then Labour Opposition. I repeat that the Conservative Government of 1970–74 tried courageously to reach a settlement in Northern Ireland. However, all that we had built up so laboriously was wrecked by the election in February 1974. We then in May of that year experienced the UWC strike. That strike terrified the Labour Government. Since then the Labour Government have been running away. They have not stood up to Unionist and Loyalist extremists as they should have done.

When we look back in history, we see clearly that Labour Governments are not the best Governments to grapple with the Irish problem. That does not apply to Labour Oppositions. When Labour is in Opposition, one sees the real conscience of the Labour Party. Labour Members are not then restricted by the reins of office.

This evening I find myself in a most difficult position, both personally and otherwise. I heard the speech of the Prime Minister and I agreed with every word of it. I hope that when there is an election a Labour Government will be returned again. I have also heard the speeches so far from the Opposition Benches. They do not particularly fill me with enthusiasm when one envisages an incoming Conservative Government. But I believe that the policy on Northern Ireland adopted by the Labour Government since 1974 has been disastrous for the communities in Northern Ireland. The Conservatives tried to bring people in Northern Ireland together, but the communities are now more divided than they have been since the onset of the present troubles in 1969–70.

Some journalists and others have said that there is a personality conflict between the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and me. That is totally untrue. The right hon. Gentleman is only implementing Labour Government policies in Northern Ireland. If I criticise him, I criticise this Government. In late 1966 or early 1967 the Government went into a minority and began to make arrangements with the Ulster Unionists. Every deal that they made so antagonised the minority community in Northern Ireland that any denunciation of this Government gets a standing ovation from it. It is sad and heartbreaking that with my record I can stand here and say that.

One must consider what the Government have achieved by these deals with the Unionists. First, there was the deal to increase the number of seats. I tried as hard as I could to explain to the Government, in public and private, at Mr. Speaker's Conference and on the Floor of this House, how dangerous that was to community relations in Northern Ireland. No one believed me. It was thought that the mood would pass, that I was committed and would always he with the Government. I have not got over it and neither have the people that I represent. They see that action as consolidating Unionist supremacy in Northern Ireland.

The first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Borders (Mr. Whitelaw), and the Home Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland were considered in Northern Ireland to be impartial, trying to do what they could to bring the communities together. The present Secretary of State is believed to be a Unionist Secretary of State. That is not personal. He is implementing Government policy, but if that is Government policy we are on the road to disaster in Northern Ireland.

The psychological effect of the increase in seats has divided the communities in Northern Ireland, and could lead to an even more dangerous situation. The minority community may say that it no longer has any faith in politics and does not believe that the Labour Government or any Government are interested in bringing about a settlement. What there is of the SDLP electorate will not split up and go to parties at one or other end of the political spectrum but will withdraw from politics altogether. In that situation there will be only one winner, the men who are using the bomb to vote, the men of violence who have consistently said that politics do not work and that the only way to achieve their ends is by terrorism and violence. Some people in Northern Ireland think that they may be right. Even at this late hour, I say to those who are so disenchanted that it is not too late and something yet might be done.

I have great respect for the Leader of the House. I have tried to put myself in his place and think of the problem facing him when the Government went into a minority after a series of by-election defeats and resignations, and presumably the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) offered to sustain the Government if a Bill was brought in to increase the number of seats.

The last thing that the right hon. Member for Down, South wants is a Government of any description with a big enough majority to legislate. He loves his present position, where he can hold the balance. He can go to little villages and towns in Down, South and tell everyone how important he is, and he does that every weekend. I have not met another hon. Member who suffers from such delusions of grandeur. Only three weeks ago in a little village in Down, South the right hon. Gentleman called attention to his great achievement of a promise of five more seats, and that there would be 17 seats to represent Northern Ireland. The Unionists, of whatever description, will have 13 or 14 and become the third major force in British politics, and that is terrible to contemplate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may believe that the Unionists will not win all those scats, that the Opposition will win them and some will go to representatives such as myself. He knows more about it than I do, but I do not believe that. It would be terrible to return with a hung Parliament that depended on the votes of the Ulster Unionists.

After these deals that antagonised the minority community and created ill feeling and resentment, what thanks do the Ulster Unionists give? Do they thank the Leader of the House and say that they will vote for the Government tonight? No, they are voting tonight with the Tories. The sheer ingratitude of that crowd knows no bounds. The Northern Ireland Unionists have used the Labour Government for their ends, and tonight they will try to bring about their downfall. Seats in Northern Ireland do not change all that often. The Ulster Unionists know that they will come back with the same number. One or two may be called into question, but the possibility is that they will be back. They are not concerned about what happens in other parts of the United Kingdom.

I believe that the Labour Party will win the next election, and my speech is an attempt to point out the Government's tragic mistakes over the past five years. I did not make up my mind about how to vote tonight because of devolution in Scotland and Wales. I made up my mind the Friday before last when I read the Bennett report on police brutality in Northern Ireland. That has not received sufficient attention in this House or in the country. The report clearly states that men were brutalised and ill treated in the holding centres in Northern Ireland. Restrictions were placed on debating that report when we were discussing the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act, and we have not been promised a debate. That report was only the tip of the iceberg. We have heard of Watergate and Mulder-gate, and there will be a "Bennett-gate". When the true story emerges of what has been happening in the interrogation centres, the people in the United Kingdom will recieve it with shock, horror and resentment. That is why I take this stand.

Throughout the years Hansard will tell the story of the votes that have taken place and the way in which I have voted on matters such as the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill, the emergency powers Bill, the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill, and so on. Those hon. Members who are true Socialists voted with me on these matters—they were men who had nothing to gain from coming into the Lobby with me but who were activated by concern about Northern Ireland. It has been hard for me to take the fact that the Government Front Bench has taken a diametrically opposed view to me over Northern Ireland.

It has been said that if I do not vote for the Government tonight and there is an election, the alternative is just as bad. I do not think that that is so. I want to see a continuation of the Labour Government. But if there is a Conservative Government, I warn them not to get carried away with the belief that somewhere around the corner there is a military solution to the Northern Ireland problem. Unfortunately, that is the tune that we have heard from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Every Monday morning at 10 o'clock he sees the Chief Constable. Every Monday at 1 p.m. we hear on the news that so many IRA men have been caught and so many have been sent to gaol. Every Monday the Secretary of State looks for a military solution. But there will be Mondays and Mondays and more Mondays when there will be no military solution, and there will be no solution at all until we start to grapple with the political problem of Northern Ireland.

My grievances are very clear and readily understood. Although not too many of my hon. Friends will stand up and say this in the House, many of them have told me that they recognise w hat has been going on over Northern Ireland and that they are sorry. Many regret bitterly ever having done a deal with the devil in the person of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party. But it is too late now. In all conscience, and understanding the real needs of Northern Ireland, I would be a liar and a traitor to the people who sent me here if I were to go into the Lobby tonight with the Labour Government to express confidence in their handling of the affairs of Northern Ireland. I want to see an election as soon as possible. I want to see the Labour Government win with such a majority that never again will they have to rely on the votes of the Unionists in Northern Ireland.

Rumours are circulating in the House and throughout Northern Ireland about the levels to which this Government will stoop to maintain themselves in office for a few weeks more. I rarely agree with the Leader of the Opposition, but today she said that this Government should maintain their dignity. I believe that too. It is heartbreaking to see a Labour Government without dignity.

The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire)—I cannot really call him my hon. Friend—is very rarely in this House and he has yet to make his maiden speech. On all the Northern Ireland issues that we have had in recent months—the Bennett report, the prevention of terrorism, the Bill on the redistribution of seats—we would have liked to have had the benefit of the hon. Member's opinions. We would have liked to hear whether he accepted or rejected the Government's views on such matters. But he did not appear when such issues were discussed. There is a rumour circulating today, and if it is true it is despicable, that the hon. Member is somewhere within the building talking to someone from the Government Whips' office. He cannot talk to me in case I persuade him to do as I am doing tonight. I shall be watching very carefully, and if the hon. Member goes through the Government Lobby tonight it will be in opposition to everything that his constituents sent him here to do. Such an action would be completely dishonest, and he has not given us the benefit of his opinion or his vote on any of the issues that affect Northern Ireland. If this Government have to depend on such a representative to get support tonight, it is a very sad day for the Labour Party and the Labour Government. It is terrible to think that they have to descend to such a level.

I have supported the Labour Government loyally in every possible way. When the election comes I shall still fight and clamour for a Labour victory in the hope that the Labour Government will have learned from their mistakes in Northern Ireland. I hope that even now the Government will say that there was something wrong in the interrogation centres in Northern Ireland and that the Bennett report may be debated on the Floor of the House. I hope that they will establish a sworn inquiry on this matter. We do not want a committee on which everyone sits with handcuffs, or a committee with terms of reference so restricted as to make it useless. We want nothing less than a sworn inquiry—that is all that will satisfy the people of Northern Ireland.

I have a loyalty to this Government, to my own working class and trade union background, and to the whole working-class movement in the United Kingdom and further afield. But I have a greater loyalty to the people of Northern Ireland who have suffered so tragically over the past 10 years. I am speaking with their voice tonight. It is their voice saying that because of what the Government have done in the past five years—disregarded the minority and appeased the blackmailers of the Northern Ireland Unionist majority—I cannot go into the Lobby with them tonight.

6.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , South Antrim

During the past week the more thoughtful right hon. and hon. Members must have asked themselves what will happen to the House of Commons. It is clear that if we continue on the present course this Chamber will become irrelevant. Its decisions will be predicted and to a great extent pre-empted several days in advance by the Fleet Street computers. Second Readings will be a matter of the Minister in charge moving formally and Mr. Speaker or Deputy Speaker suspending the sitting until 9.59 p.m. when we all come in for the Division. In these circumstances, when the issue has already been predetermined, a debate is a sham, and woe betide any Member of Parliament who dares to reconsider his views in the meantime and prove the computer print-out wrong.

The politicians of the future will have to be very brave to withstand the assaults of the news industry, which has been allowed to elevate itself to the point where it can make or unmake the reputation of any politician or public figure.

Recently, the Prime Minister remarked that if he were to spend his time correcting inaccuracies and misrepresentations he would have time for little else. I agree. Out of consideration for the British public, I am always reluctant to confuse the people with the facts. But we must admit to ourselves that in our attitude to each other we sometimes supply irresponsible people with ammunition.

For example, I find it difficult to understand the criticism directed at the Leader of the Opposition. The very nature of the right hon. Lady's title surely suggests that she should not be entirely sympathetic to the Government. Might she not be rightly accused of dereliction of duty if she failed to discharge her obligation to criticise, scrutinise and, if necessary, obstruct the activities of the Government? Why should it be reprehensible for the right hon. Lady to display a certain restrained enthusiasm to become the occupant of all that desirable property in the cul-de-sac just off Whitehall? Is such an intention not again implied in the title of her office? Indeed, she would rightly deserve castigation were she to shrink from the responsibility that would flow from making good her claim to head a future Government.

On the other hand, why should it be considered dishonourable for the Prime Minister to seek to command a majority in the House? Surely, that is what it is all about. For days past, we have been told by those who no doubt embody all the virtues in themselves that the Prime Minister was demeaning himself by seeking the support of parties other than his own. His course cannot be easy. If he takes no account of others' views, he will be accused of arrogance. If he refuses to take prudent steps to secure wider agreement, he will be condemned as incompetent. Those who lament to high Heaven about wheeling and dealing should remember that such practices were prominent features of our British democracy for decades and even centuries.

I shall say something else, especially to those who are enthusiastic advocates of proportional representation. If they should ever get their way, horse trading, and even worse, would become a permanent necessity in this place.

This debate and the predicament in which the Government find themselves arise out of the Government's obstinate attempts to force upon Scotland and Wales a form of devolution unacceptable to the majority in this House, in Scotland or in Wales. My hon. Friends and I have maintained the same position on that matter throughout. The House may recall the terms of amendments tabled, on Second Reading, to the original Scotland and Wales Bill, in which we urged the House to deny that Bill a Second Reading so long as Northern Ireland remained deprived of any devolved or local administration above the level of district councils.

Now, as then, our object continues to be to see Northern Ireland given not only parity with the rest of the United Kingdom in democratic local government but a form of devolution that does not endanger the unity of the State or Northern Ireland's place in it.

Tonight my colleagues and I will have to take a share in deciding whether this Parliament, which has only seven or eight months of natural life left, should be brought to an end now by a motion of censure. In doing so, we must be guided by two interests that we have set ourselves to follow from the outset of this Parliament—that is, the national interest and our special duty to the Province that we represent.

Perhaps it is just as well that we have two guides and not one, for it could be a matter of nice, fine and difficult decision to know what good or harm could flow from another one, two, three, or six months of this Parliament's declining life.

When we come to the second criterion, we are on surer ground. On 8 May last year, when our votes inflicted a severe reverse upon the Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) reminded the House that parliamentary under-representation was not the only direct injustice under which our Province had laboured. He said: So the further injustice which it is our duty to seek to remedy is the fact that we in Ulster do not enjoy the benefit of democratic local government in the natural and ordinary sense of the term, in which it is taken for granted in the rest of the country."—[Official Report, 8 May 1978; Vol 949, c. 828.] He placed on record the fact that so far there had been no sign, or even a beginning, or an earnest of intention to remove that injustice. In practical terms, the situation has not altered since my right hon. Friend spoke on that occasion.

In moving the renewal, on 30 June 1978, of the so-called direct-rule Act, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland professed his intention to look to see whether the right principles are being properly applied in the allocation of functions and responsibilities between, on the one hand, district councils and, on the other, the regional government which is now being administered by Her Majesty's Government"—[Official Report, 30 June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 1713–4.] Those words led us to hope that we would see at least some progress towards the recreation of local democracy in Ulster by entrusting to the district councils those functions and responsibilites that might properly be discharged at that level.

Whatever measure or form of devolved government may in due course take shape—and the desired form of such government is set out in the policy document of our party, to which we are now all committed—we are now within three months of the time when the statutory instrument on direct rule will come up for renewal. Unhappily I have to record that, apart from a small number of new and very minor powers added to the district councils, there has so far not been any visible progress in the direction which had seemed to be implicit in the Secretary of State's words. I do not believe that in the long run the House will tolerate keeping part of the United Kingdom destitute of the most basic forms of local democracy.

The Lobby of this House is a place that concentrates minds wonderfully—the minds of Governments and of alternative Governments. In the position that we in the Ulster Unionist party occupy in the House, we should be failing in our elementary duty to the Province and to those who elected us if we did not use our votes tonight to mark, in the most emphatic manner open to us, our sense, and that of those whom we represent, that Ulster has a right to local democracy and that Ulster is still being denied that right.

6.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Central Fife

Although the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who has just spoken, did not declare how his party will vote in the Division tonight, we on the Labour Benches have never been in any doubt as to where his party's votes would be cast. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who spoke earlier, said that the Ulster Unionists are Tories, and it was a very great mistake of my Government to try to buy them off in the way they did by giving them additional seats.

The debate could have ended, and perhaps it would have been profitable to those on the Labour Benches if it had ended, after the Prime Minister sat down, because he made mincemeat of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. He won hands down. He did not win only on points. It was a knock-out. But he did not have much to beat, did he? The Tory Opposition had better understand that the right hon. Lady just has not got what it takes. In every major debate in this House—built up by the media and everybody else—in which the right hon. Lady takes part, we can bet our last ha'penny that she will be a colossal flop. I have never known such consistency in the House over the years.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, no move was made by the right hon. Lady until the Scottish National Party chose to vent its spleen on Her Majesty's Government. We can understand the embarrassment and the frustration of the SNP over the fact that only one in three voters in Scotland bothered to vote for an Assembly. Now the SNP is motivated by the fact that it wants to cut its electoral losses—rather that than salvaging something from the indecisiveness and the mess left by the referendum. But the SNP Members cannot now save their parliamentary political skins. After the election, whenever it comes—and I pray to God that it comes soon—the SNP will be able to put its Members of Parliament in a small taxi, if not on a bike. But leave the SNP to stew in its own juice. If the Tories win, the SNP Members will bear a heavy responsibility for having played an active part in bringing that about. The consequences for devolution would be far less important than the other consequences, social and economic, for the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

I should like to quote from The Scotsman, an avowed Tory paper which has supported the Tory Party for a long time, and still does. It also supported the SNP at the height of its good fortune. This is what it said in an editorial on 26 March this year, commenting on the speech of the right hon. Lady in Solihull last weekend, when she was talking of the cuts in public expenditure threatened by the Tory Party: No doubt the programmes of the Scottish Development Agency and the National Enterprise Board will be early candidates for economy". The article went on to say: In general, the Tories' plans augur ill for the health and social services. Cuts in these areas, together with changes in union law, seem likely to provoke another round of class hostility". That same conference was addressed by the chairman of the Conservative Party, Lord Thorneycroft. He made a rousing speech along the same lines as that of the right hon. Lady this afternoon—that we should speak more about creating wealth than about distributing it. Lord Thorneycroft, the ageing John the Baptist of the Tory Party, is not preaching his gospel from the wilderness. Far from it. He happens to be the chairman of Pirelli General Cables Ltd., among other things. In 1977 the directors' haul in that company was £99,000. I presume that the chairman received £30,000 or £40,000 of that lot. In 1978, this same company, chaired by the chairman of the Tory Party, was ordered to repay £9 million to the Post Office for illegal price fixing. No doubt Lord Thorneycroft knew nothing about that as chairman of the company.

Lord Thorneycroft is also chairman of Pye (Cambridge) Ltd., where the directors' rake-off in 1977 was £111,000, divided between seven of them. It went up from £69,000 in 1976 to £111,000 in 1977—a 60 per cent. increase in directors' emoluments in one year under incomes policy. So much for patriotism. Patriotism can be carried too far. There is no nonsense there about wealth creation. That talk is just for public consumption, to deceive the gullible masses.

The other example I want to give of Tory spokesmen who do not practise what they preach is that of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). I have referred to him before in this context. He is the chairman of the Back Bench Tory Members of this House. It is rumoured and wildly speculated that, if and when the right hon. Lady loses the next election, he might well be the next leader of the Tory Party. A week or two ago he won for himself a capital gain of £1,400,000, and all he did was to shuffle a few bits of paper around in the City casinos. There was no nonsense there, either, about wealth creation. My hon. Friends were quite right when they talked about the casino-type society that will be created if and when the Tory Party gets power.

It was interesting to note that in her speech this afternoon the right hon. Lady was more her natural self than she has been for a very long time. Perhaps that is why the disaster was so great. Ever since she became leader of her party she has had everything done to her and for her except a face-lift. That harsh, metallic, voice that we used to hear has now been replaced—until today—by an artificially induced sexual huskiness. We have all noticed it from the very delivery of her speeches. At one time she went into such a high gear that her words could not be properly reported by the press. Now she has changed that. She has been trained as extensively and as intensively as any circus animal but, my God, she will be a lot more dangerous if she gets loose.

I forecast that if the right hon. Lady's policies are carried out as she and her party have threatened they will be, should that disaster occur, we shall have a general strike in this country within 12 months. That is the danger, unless she faces up to the undeniable fact stated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon. Whichever party gets power in this country, it must be prepared to accept that it has to work in as close harmony as possible with all sections of the community, and particularly with organised labour and the captains of industry. It is no use facing them with a sledgehammer and confrontation. Unless the Conservatives are prepared to accept that, there will be no future for a Conservative Government or for this country. That lesson has to be learned by the right hon. Lady and she has not learned it yet.

7.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Rhodes James Mr Robert Rhodes James , Cambridge

The speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), which was characteristic, rather emphasised the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in his very moving, sincere and courageous speech, in which he said that there was intense disenchantment with politics in Northern Ireland. After the speech to which we have just been subjected, I would not be surprised if there were disenchantment with politics everywhere. It was a tawdry harangue. It was shameful for him and for this House.

I have been a Member of this House for two and a half years. I wish to emphasise that, rather than beginning in this debate, the election campaign appears to have been going on for the past three years. We have been in a situation in this nation of inadequate government and almost constant electioneering. As all hon. Members know, although we are all partisans we also have a national interest and a profound responsibility to our constituents. I believe that we also have a profound responsibility to the history, honour and good name of our own political parties and the cause which they espouse.

In the debate tonight we are not simply debating the fate of a particular Government. We are also debating a particular style of government, which I hope the new Parliament, of whatever political complexion it may be, will turn its back on and have nothing to do with again, because this is the politics of the professional foul, of "anything goes" and of clinging to office at any price and at any cost.

I believe these things, because many years ago I came to the House and sat in the Gallery when the House sat in the other place, and I came and sat in the Gallery here when the House came here. I became, for a limited period, an Officer of the House and I believed then, as I believe now, that the aspiration to become a Member of this House is one of the highest aspirations that anyone can have. I also believe that it behoves all of us—whether in Government or Opposition, whether on Back Benches or Front Benches—to be worthy of the inheritance that we have received, and worthy of those who have elected us.

In my view, the manner in which government has been conducted of late, and the manner in which it is being conducted now, is unworthy of the history not only of this House or this nation but of the movement which created those who now betray the trust placed in them.

7.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

At the outset, I refer to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), whom I would certainly like to refer to as my honourable Friend. I believe that he made what will be remembered as a remarkable contribution. His words concerning the future of Northern Ireland are shared by many of us on the Labour Benches.

I hope that they will be responded to by the present Government, and after the next general election, whenever that takes place, I hope that the Government will continue to respond to the message that my hon. Friend has given tonight.

Before I turn to the main matters on which I wish to concentrate—namely, employment and industry—I should like to make two initial points that are of concern to a large number of my constituents. I refer, first, to pensions. I am very glad that the Prime Minister was able to announce this afternoon that the Government are to ensure that the underpayment of pensions is to be fully remedied in the next payment in November. This is a direct result of representations that I and many of my hon. Friends have made in recent weeks.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

Like my hon. Friend, I am very appreciative, but is it not strange that we have to wait until November, when the top salaried people, as reported in today's press, are to get £123 a week extra—a 25 per cent, increase—as from Sunday? Could we not have done this for the old-age pensioners?

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

I fully share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis). We were pressing for a lump sum payment to be made at Easter. That was certainly what we were pressing for. I regret that that has not been possible. However, I am very pleased that the payment will be made in full in November.

The second matter to which I wish to refer will be of benefit to a considerable number of people in the United Kingdom, including many in my constituency. I refer to the Bill that was presented yesterday to compensate workers who contract lung diseases as a result of dust. This measure will be of assistance to thousands of workers in a number of industries, including textiles, pottery, quarrying, brickmaking and thermal insulation. It is something for which I and others have been campaigning for some time.

I should certainly like to nail one lie, which is that this scheme has been produced out of some governmental hat this week in an endeavour blatantly to attract the votes of three particular Members of this House. That is utter and complete nonsense. I want to make it abundantly clear that this scheme has arisen quickly following the report of the Pearson Commission, established by the previous Government in 1973 to examine the whole area of civil liability and compensation for personal injury. Unfortunately, when that Commission reported it was not wiling to recommend the establishment of a scheme of this sort, and in the intervening very short period the Government have chosen—wisely, in my view—not to accept the recommendation of the Pearson Commission but to establish such a scheme.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarvon

Does the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) accept that having brought forward a tripartite scheme betwen the NCB, the NUM and themselves for compensation to coal miners suffering from the effects of industrial dust, the Government could have done the same for these other sufferers? The Government could have brought this forward in advance of the report by the Pearson Commission, as indeed they did for other groups of sufferers who could have been made to wait until Pearson had completed its study.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

I am not wholly in agreement with that argument, though I fully share the hon. Gentleman's pleasure at seeing the scheme announced. I would certainly have wished to see it earlier. I am seeking to argue, I hope with conviction, that this is not a scheme that has been conjured out of electoral air in the last few days in an attempt to maximise the number of hon. Members who will vote against the motion of confidence tonight. This is a scheme for which many people have been campaigning for a long time, and I am extremely glad that it has been presented. Given the defeat of the motion tonight, I hope that this measure will be enacted and will reach the statute book within a period of weeks.

The motion that we are discussing offers an opportunity for those contributing and listening to view the future of this country. If we do that objectively, on the basis of the opening speeches that were made, it is fair to say that the Leader of the Opposition, who talked dismissively about yesterday's jobs, seemed also to be talking in terms of yesterday's problems and offering yesterday's solutions. Many of my constituents, who are fully aware of the very difficult and changing industrial world in which they live, and in which Britain finds itself, will not find much comfort in the words of the right hon. Lady today.

My constituents recognise that they work in industries that suffer from growing import penetration. They are industries that face the challenge of new manufacturing countries around the world—particularly in Asia—which exploit low wages, enjoy all sorts of subsidies and exploit poor conditions in terms of trade union organisation and health and safety legislation. My constituents also know that they work in industries that are facing difficulties because of the adverse trading position that Britain has with the Common Market. They realise that if their jobs are to survive, and if there is to be a job for them tomorrow, there must be increased planning of employment and industry.

We must have alternative job programmes if workers who are to be displaced from the textile industry within the whole of the Common Market over the next few years are to find employment. I think particularly of Yorkshire and Lancashire, the area that I represent.

My constituents and the people of this country also know that if alternative employment is to be found, it will happen very largely as a result of Government intervention and public financial assistance. They realise—I think that this is increasingly recognised, certainly on the Labour Benches—that we shall see a new expansion of our economy only if we successfully mobilise the torrent of enthusiasm of all our workpeople and do not simply seek to exclude those who create the wealth and listen only to the top echelons of management and those who control big business.

For instance, many of my constituents recognise what the Government have done to protect their employment. I refer especially to the temporary employment subsidy, which has been one of the most sucessful weapons in tackling unemployment. Certainly compared with many overseas countries it has been successful. It has protected the jobs of about 500,000 workers, and the net cost of doing so has been virtualy nil. I commend the Government for replacing that scheme with the short-time working compensation scheme, which will do a great deal again to protect the jobs of my constituents and others like them in the textile, clothing and footwear industries. It will also be extremely important for many other workers, including those in engineering.

I believe that many of my constituents will look upon this debate as reflecting an unreal appreciation of the world, because the Conservative Opposition have sought to argue that Britain is the only country in the world that is suffering from structural unemployment and seeing an attack on its manufacturing industries and all the other things about which Labour Members are concerned. That is an illusion. I believe that many people are beginning to realise that we are in the middle of a deep-seated, fundamental crisis of the economic system of the Western world. That is the challenge that we face. That is the challenge of the 1980s, to which I hope the policies of this Government and, I hope, a successive Labour Government, will be addressed.

We look in vain for the real alternative policies of the Tory Party. All we can do is to look at some of the important signposts. Some of us remember the most important signpost of all, erected some time ago by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), when he said—he has never sought to contradict is—that all subsidies and grants do great harm. We must take that as an important signpost of real Tory economic and industrial policy. They think that all subsidies and grants do great harm.

The second important signpost seems to be that of dramatic tax cuts. This seems to be the only policy upon which the Tory party is prepared to stand. We are told that this will resolve all our problems very quickly, will regenerate industry, reduce unemployment, somehow stop the massive import penetration that we see in industry after industry, and leave our nation as an industrial haven of peace, plenty and prosperity.

That is the message of the Tory Party, and it has been its message over a number of years. Although we were told by the new hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) that this was a message that appealed to many of his electors in that by-election, it has not met with total support from some economic commentators. I refer to a particularly perceptive article by Victor Keegan in The Guardian of 19 March, which was headlined "Danger signs on Maggie's road back to Selsdon". In the course of that article, Mr. Keegan said: What then of the Conservatives' policy of cutting taxes? This is an essential, indeed the key part, of their strategy of industrial regeneration—as, of course, it was with the original Selsdon policies.As a taxpayer I shall be the last to object and there certainly is a case for saying that our marginal rates of taxation are at least unfair and possibly, also, a disincentive. Having said that, one should not delude oneself for a moment into thinking that sharp reductions in taxation are the elixir which will transform the country's prospects. There is not the slightest evidence for this.For a start Britain's 100 years of industrial decline have embraced long periods when our taxation rates were far less onerous in themselves and compared with other countries without showing much impact on growth. Second, those countries which most closely correspond to Sir Keith Joseph's ideals of taxation (the United States, Japan, France and Germany—suitably adjusted for 'guest' workers) have similar unemployment rates to our own. The idea that unemployment in this country would somehow be radically different if taxation were not so onerous has not been proven". As more people begin to examine the alternative policies proposed by the Tory Party, I believe that more and more will realise that the case that they propose is not proven, on many grounds. In my view, and increasingly in the view of many other people, the Tory Party will find that its case on reduced taxation is not proven. It will find the alternative of a sharp increase on VAT not proven. It will certainly find its argument for a radical reduction in public expenditure not proven.

I believe that the Conservatives will definitely find that their alternatives for stimulating employment are not proven. As they look around and see the need for company after company to be injected with public financial assistance to enable them to survive and to offer jobs, I believe that they will increasingly find their policy in that regard not proven. Most of all, they will find it difficult to accept that the blithe promises about the benefits that at some stage we shall receive from the Common Market have been proven. It is clear for all to see that the drain, in terms of our financial resources, our balance of payments and other parts of our economy, has been as a direct result of our entry into the Common Market.

This motion deserves to be defeated. I trust that it will be. I hope that this Government will continue to carry out some of the urgent and important tasks that are in front of them. When we enter the next election, I hope that we shall be returned with a convincing majority, so that a Labour Government can continue to tackle the problems of the real world in the 1980s—problems that face every man, woman and child in the country. I hope that the people will reject completely the unreal, fanciful and potentially extremely harmful policies that have been proposed by the Conservative Party.

7.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

I take part in the debate to deal largely and briefly with the vicious attack of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) on the police force. This is a repeat of what he has done before, both inside and outside the House.

The hon. Gentleman stated that the Bennett report declared that the RUC was guilty of brutality to prisoners. That is totally untrue. All that the Bennett report stated was that there were certain cases—and this was in the fifth category that it analysed—where there was evidence of injury being inflicted on prisoners but not indicating by whom. The report suggested that the papers in those cases should go to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

There were, by inference, only a few cases. I am sure that everyone in this House, and certainly people whom I represent, would wish to see those cases fully and properly investigated. But it is a disgrace that such an attack on the RUC should again be made. It is taken up by the press, both in the country and abroad, so that people abroad think that this country is using the police to deal brutally with people they have arrested.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not now in the House. He also made an attack on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and poured praise on the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). The distinction he drew was that the minority had faith in the previous Government but that under this Government and this Secretary of State for Northern Ireland those people feel no hope for the future. I maintain that the hon. Member for Belfast, West is not speaking for the majority in Northern Ireland. I doubt very much if he is speaking for the minority in its entirety in Northern Ireland. The reason why he found it possible to praise the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border is that, as he admits himself, he met the Provisional IRA when he was in office and also created the special category status for prisoners. Those were two glaring blunders. The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is not guilty of blunders of that kind.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland contributed some justice in Northern Ireland with the Bill that passed through this House giving certain extra seats to the Province. The number of seats was fewer than the Province was entitled in justice to expect, but the Bill was nevertheless a measure of recognition that democracy was not fully in operation in Northern Ireland. This development has displeased the hon. Member for Belfast, West. He would be happy, of course, if the Labour Government could assure him that all those extra seats would be SDLP seats and that the electorate would be gerrymandered to ensure that the SDLP would win those seats. But that is not possible. We live in a democracy. He has to take it or lump it, depending on how people vote in elections.

It was incorrect for the hon. Member for Belfast, West to say that as a result of the action of the Secretary of State the SDLP electorate would not split up and go to other parties. That electorate, he said, would abandon the parliamentary system, it would not vote, and might take other measures instead. He is afraid that the SDLP supporters will now turn and support the Republican Clubs' candidates not only in West Belfast but in other constituencies. This fear has dictated most of his remarks for some time. But that is his worry and concern. It is not a concern about the safety for the future of the people of Northern Ireland.

The House must recognise that Northern Ireland needs to be properly safeguarded against the terrorists. The House must recognise, as the Provisional IRA has recognised, that police intelligence in the Province is good and growing. As a consequence, more Provisional IRA terrorists are being arrested. No wonder the Provisional IRA became extremely worried about the systematic dispersal of its forces of evil. When arrested and taken to a police station, most of the Provisional IRA suspects started talking. There is nothing more cowardly than a terrorist: he is a big man with a bomb or a gun in his hand, but let him be arrested and he becomes frightened and scared of the punishment that should properly be meted out to him in a court of law.

The Provisional IRA had to act to stem the flow of information. Its members were instructed to allege, if arrested, that they had been beaten up and that their statements to the police were made under compulsion and not voluntarily. At the same time, as part of its campaign to destroy the State, the Provisional IRA embarked on a campaign to undermine the RUC and to destroy its standing in the community. The RUC is a gallant and dedicated force. It is being subjected to vilification and defamation. By these means the Provisional IRA hoped to stop the flow of information from the minority community. The Provisional IRA hopes to pillory the RUC to such an extent that its morale will be undermined and a splendid force discredited. If that happened, there would be one certain result. The terrorists would come out of their rat-holes and the Province, which has already suffered 10 long years of terrorism, would be held in the vicious grip of death, mutilation and destruction.

While protesting his support for the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Belfast, West does his best to put the boot in. That term best sums up his verbal attacks on the Royal Ulster Constabulary. This House, this Government and this country have a duty to make sure that the RUC gets a fair deal, certainly in the press. It needs a fairer deal. The Bennett report has been largely distorted in the press and such distortions have been publicised abroad. It is time that the RUC was shown to be protecting all decent people, irrespective of their religion or political affiliation, from the men of violence and the criminals that they are.

The first priority that this Government should have adopted, and the first priority that the next Government must adopt, is the creation of a devolved Parliament at Stormont. No matter what is said about changes in local government or second-tier local government, this is not acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. We want a devolved Parliament. I hope that the Ulster people will not be betrayed a second time by the Conservative Party if it wins the next election. I have consistently sought to have an election since last year. I shall, therefore, be voting in the Division Lobby tonight in the hope that an election will come about. I believe that this country needs a fresh Parliament and a Parliament with a fresh mandate from the people.

7.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Listening to this debate, a number of us can be forgiven for feeling a little sad about the speeches of our Irish colleagues on both sides of the House. It is not that hon. Members on this side, or those on the other side, have been uninterested in Northern Ireland. Many of us have taken a serious interest and have been there on visits. I speak for no one but myself. I believe, however, that a number of my colleagues feel that there is nothing good that we can actually do about it.

In a debate during a past Summer Recess recall, I interrupted the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), to ask whether, with the possible exception of Lord Mountjoy in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, any Englishman or Scot, including Charles I, Strafford, Gladstone or anyone else, had had success in Ireland. I say to our Irish colleagues, at this stage in the Parliament, that it is not that we are uninterested. It is just that many of us think that we are no good when it comes to Irish affairs.

As a Scot, I must say that I was sad and rather ashamed at the speech of the leader of the Scottish National Party. His speech was laced with fiction and untruth. I am sorry that none of the Scottish National Party is present when I am making this kind of remark. But it gives our English colleagues a taste, as my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew-shire, West (Mr. Buchan) will know, of what we get week in and week out. It accounts for some of our attitudes.

We are concerned partly in this debate with the future constitutional arrangements of Scotland. I would like to ask, in wholly courteous terms—I believe it is an important question—whether the Leader of the Opposition would clarify one remark that she made. She said that any such decision must be left to the new Parliament. This is not a trick question or, I hope, an offensive one. I would like to know precisely what decision is to be left to the new Parliament.

The right hon. Lady has to face up to the fact that, during the referendum campaign, two very different things were being said by members of her party. On the one hand, there was the view of the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland (Mr. Brittan) and a number of her Scottish colleagues who were in favour of devolution but not this Act. Last week, as some of my Scottish colleagues know, even the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland, Mr. Michael Ancram, was going round saying that this Act was not good enough. I do not think I distort what he said. But what, then, is, "good enough"?

There is that strand that wants a better Bill. I am in no doubt, and neither are my colleagues in the Labour Vote "No" campaign, a separate organisation, that there was a substantial Conservative "Yes" vote in the referendum. That was especially so in the Grampian region, although it was present in other regions. No accurate figure may be placed on that vote, but I am certain, as are my colleagues, that the size of the Conservative "Yes" vote was much more considerable than those who sought a "No" vote wanted from their own point of view. That is a fact that I present to the House. There is that strand of opinion in the Conservative Party.

There is a second strand. I shared no platforms with Conservatives, so perhaps I speak at second hand, but it is a fact that there is a second strand that says that it is impossible to have a subordinate Parliament in a part and only a part of a United Kingdom. Those who form the second strand of opinion say that the scheme that was presented by the Government, or anything remotely like it, is unworkable and impossible.

I have put the two different arguments before the House. I invite the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition to clarify her position. I ask her to do so without making any definite binding remarks and without making a great statement. Will the right hon. Lady clarify what she really thinks about the statement that "any decision must be left to the new Parliament"? Which side of the argument does she genuinely favour?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am glad to respond to the hon. Gentleman's invitation. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that I believe that the present Act cannot be amended. I was referring to any fresh proposals which might arise from discussions which have not yet taken place, that is all.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

That is exactly the difficulty that we are in. Do the fresh proposals bear any relationship to the proposals that were put forward by the Government? Those like me think that the proposals that were put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and others were the best proposals if such a scheme were to be put forward. I think that that is the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who I see is nodding. We think that it was probably the best scheme that could be put forward. Those who are concerned with the future constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom are worried about the sort of proposals to which the right hon. Lady is referring when she mentions proposals. I invite her once again to say what sort of proposals she has in mind.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

We have not even had any discussions to ascertain what sort of proposals should be put forward. I believe that the present round should be completed. The orders should have been laid and they should have been voted upon. I never exclude any future possibilities that might arise from proposals between the parties. The experience that we have had shows that no fresh proposal will ever get through unless it has a widespread measure of support in the House at the outset. How can I say what any such proposal can possibly be before any discussions have even taken place?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

The right hon. Lady has done me a great courtesy. I think, as do many of my colleagues in the Labour Vote "No" campaign, that proposals in this form, or anything like it, do not exist. I and my colleagues believe that we cannot have a subordinate Parliament in part and only a part of a United Kingdom. If there is to be a complete United Kingdom examination of democracy with a view to bringing government closer to the people, that is a different matter.

I say without rancour and without bitterness that at some time in the coming weeks the right hon. Lady will have to make up her mind between what has been written about her by her hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) as the Ayatollah Taylor—I am not being offensive because I have been called the Ayatollah Dalyell—and what is being written about those who take a hard, unqualified "No" view, and those who are searching after some sort of will-o'-the-wisp devolution and say "Yes, we are devolutionists, but not with this scheme." At some time in the coming weeks the right hon. Lady will have to come down one side or the other of the devolution fence.

7.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) referred in a moving speech to those in his constituency and in many parts of Wales who suffer from dust disease. Most of us who have lived in South Wales and who have been associated with public life in that area are aware of the problem. Those in North Wales are aware of it in relation to the quarrymen.

I once played rugby with the Crynant rugby football club. The team consisted of 14 colliers and myself. I know well the hardships that so many of the mining community suffered. I can understand the decision that the hon. Gentleman made today. He says that he made it reluctantly because he had made an agreement with the Scottish National Party. He must have made his decision reluc- tantly because in his speech he included a long catalogue of criticism of the five years of Labour Government.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman and his party have made an error of judgment, although we all understand that they have made it for humanitarian reasons. I think that the hon. Gentleman will come to recognise the truth of his prediction that he and his hon. Friends will pay a political penalty. Tonight he will have the worst of all worlds. He will find that politically he has backed the losers. I believe, too, that he can say goodbye once and for all to any possible support from Tory voters in Carmarthen, Merioneth, Caernarvon and in any other constituency in Wales.

The hon. Gentleman has told me on many occasions that he speaks for Wales and that I do not. On a number of ocasions when the Welsh people have been asked to come to a decision—for instance, in the referendum—I have been on the side of the majority and he has been consistently with his party on the side of the minority. The people of Carmarthen, Caernarvon and Merioneth will say that Plaid Cymru stands not for the unity of the kingdom. They will say that it stands not for the defence of the realm. They will say after tonight that there is no difference between the Tweedledum of Socialism and the Tweedledee of nationalism. He and his party will reap the reward that they deserve.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It is because of the Tweedledum of opportunism that the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) share that there is difficulty in distinguishing between. Socialism is not even in it.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

The origin of the debate is to some extent the disastrous failure of the Assembly policy in Wales and Scotland. In Wales I think that we were entitled to expect at least some of the proponents of the Assembly policy to have it right. After all, Wales has provided a Prime Minister, a deputy Prime Minister and a Minister of State, Home Office, as well as a whole host of constitutional experts.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

They all went to the Principality to say that Wales needed a devolved Assembly. The people of Wales rejected that policy decisively. In Wales it was not merely a vote against the Assembly. It was far more than that. It was a vote of confidence in the democracy of Westminster. It was an expression of faith and confidence in the present system that allows the Welsh people to achieve their democratic aspirations in this Assembly, in this Parliament, as they have done for over 500 years. I think that it is natural that we should say to those who so misjudged the mood of Wales, who were so wrong about a major policy, that it is time that they went to the country, that it is time to put their stewardship to the test.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

I should like to correct one point in the hon. Gentleman's speech. Five hundred years ago we were very near the Glyndwr wars and Wales had not been incorporated into England. Therefore, there were no Welsh MPs in this House.

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

It is true that I could argue about 400 years of history for that particular part of Wales, but I hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen is not rejecting Monmouthshire. I hope that he is not saying that that border area, which we are proud to call part of the Principality, was not represented in Westminster. If he says that, he should look at his Welsh history books again. He is talking about a small part of Wales. He should know better than to try to teach me history.

Unemployment has gone up in the Principality from 38,000 to 88,000. I do not claim that the total responsibility for that lies with the Labour Government. I readily concede that other factors, such as the decline in the steel industry, have caused it. However, I think that the Labour Government could have been a little more honest in Cardiff in 1974 when their candidate who stood against me made his splendid appeal "Vote Labour and save East Moors." People who knew better than he should have hold him that there was no way of saving East Moors steelworks once it had been decided to nationalise it.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Sowerby

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an equally misleading slogan was the one which faced many of us during the referendum on the Common Market? It was "Jobs for the boys".

Photo of Mr Michael Roberts Mr Michael Roberts , Cardiff North West

I did not see that particular slogan, but let me make it quite clear that a "Jobs for the boys" atmosphere was there during the devolution campaign, though it referred to a different set of boys. I concede that much of the unemployment in Wales can be attributed to the world economic position, but it is reasonable to say that those who voted Labour in Wales in 1974 had the right to expect that employment would be at a higher level than it is now.

My indictment of the Labour Government in this respect is tonight confined to their treatment of small businesses. The small businesses of Wales have no confidence in the future. These small businesses would take on more workers, including young people, if they had confidence in their economic future. Because a new Government, making a new start with a fresh mandate, can bring new life to the Principality, I shall support the Opposition tonight with pride and pleasure.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) will forgive me if I do not take up the points he made in his speech.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke for the largest group of the Northern Ireland Members. The group is split into two or three, each with its own leader. The hon. Gentleman referred to newspaper criticisms of the Government trying to stay in power and the attempts of the Opposition to unseat the Government. He said that such criticism about the objectives of the Opposition and the Government was completely misleading. He is absolutely right. The Opposition are trying to bring down the Government. The Labour Party would have seized its chances just the same. Having had their fingers burnt in the past, the Tories had to wait until they were certain that one of the larger minority groups in the House was with them. Perhaps they were looking for two groups to go with them. They then did what any Opposition would do. It would have been said that they did not have enough sense to come in out of the rain if they had not tried to seize their opportunity.

I refer to the moving speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Most of us who listened to it were deeply moved. I take on board the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who said that we on this side of the water have a record of mishandling Irish affairs. We were listening to a colleague who I believe, considering the policies, the party and the community he represents, has been, badly treated in some respects. We were listening to a man who was tortured because his deep instinct is to support the Labour Government. But he genuinely felt that he could not do that. We all admired the clarity with which he explained his position. I am sorry, though I understand his reasons fully, that he finds himself in such a position.

I do not want to dwell on Northern Ireland, but if we had wanted—though it may be too late now—to salvage something, it would have been better to have said to the hon. Member for Belfast, West that though disquieting rumours and damaging reports have been produced we could not, in our hearts and souls, say that we were satisfied with the discussions that have taken place on those issues. Certainly we would not be satisfied if we were looking at these matters objectively—say, at another country's record.

If we had said to my hon. Friend that we would set up a searching inquiry—which I believe is our bounden duty—and remedy those things which he felt could be remedied without constitutional change, I think that he would have done what his deep instinct tells him to do. He would have gone into the Lobby tonight with the Labour Members and other hon. Members who might be joining us.

I refer to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) made a critical attack upon it and described the changes in her voice as it became more mellifluous and less harsh and strident. I did not notice any great change in her delivery, but I think that it was a poor speech for the occasion. I say that as one who probably makes more poor speeches than anybody else—but then I am not the leader of a great party. The right hon. Lady's speech was too low key. I believe that the Prime Minister won the confrontation hands down. He could hardly fail to win it. My right hon. Friend is the best batsman I know on a sticky wicket. Even when his case is not too strong, he has the great ability—which I have described to him—of being able to make comfortable a man on the scaffold. He has assurance, balance, poise and power. Let us be honest. It was Cassius Clay fighting a lightweight and there was only one winner. A referee might have stopped the fight after a couple of rounds.

The importance of speeches is not how they are delivered in the House but how they read. The speech of the right hon. Lady was made for a much wider audience than the Chamber. It was not made to rally the troops into the Lobbies. We condemn bad speeches and appreciate good speeches. Her speech did not live up to the occasion. I hope that in the election campaign, whether it comes in a few weeks or a few months, the public will see, as we have, that the Tories have no real policy. The Tories are bragging on a pair of deuces. They have nothing to offer. The Leader of the Opposition will have to deliver the goods and tell the people what she really means. Then we shall be able to expose the Tories.

Some hon. Members have mentioned the so-called deal by the Government to keep themselves in power for another few months. A new scheme is to be introduced to help constituents such as those of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). Naturally, the Welsh nationalists have said that the scheme is a result of their initiative. That is not true. It is modelled on the miners' scheme.

As an ex-miner I support the scheme for miners and I wish that more money could be spent on them. Before he became a Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) tried to persuade the Government that other groups of workers needed assistance. Many workers who suffer from industrial diseases need help, not only the slate quarry workers. My hon. Friend said then that iron ore workers were also worthy of consideration. He was right.

The situation must be explained clearly. As I told the Prime Minister yesterday, I am glad that he has set the record straight. We were told to wait—and this was reasonable—for the Pearson Commission, set up by the Opposition to research these maters, to report. Unfortunately, the Pearson Commission did not recommend introducing the type of scheme which I and everybody in the House want. The Government referred to this in the Queen's Speech. I believe that they have moved as fast as is reasonable.

The scheme is born out of the Labour Party's wish to establish a scheme to help those groups of workers who most need help. Without Government help, miners who have benefited from the Government scheme would not have so benefited. Without the Government, this extra group of workers would not be helped.

A worker who suffers from a dust disease can sue an employer only if that employer is in business. That is why the Government are setting up the scheme, which is parallel to that which operates in the coal mining industry. Such diseases often take a long time to develop and there is a time limit within which claims can be made. Miners found the situation difficult and it was necessary for the Government to intervene.

Photo of Mr Wyn Roberts Mr Wyn Roberts , Conway

Is the hon. Member aware that when the Prime Minister announced the publication of the Pearson report on 16 March last year he agreed with me that hon. Members on both sides of the House had been anxious about silicosis in quarrymen? I told him then that a special scheme would have to be devised for such quarry workers.

Photo of Mr Michael McGuire Mr Michael McGuire , Ince

The hon. Member confirms that this is an issue which has not just been concocted. It has a long history. The hon. Member confirms that it is wrong to believe that this is a cobbled-up deal. There is a parallel scheme on which it will be modelled.

I asked the Prime Minister yesterday if the Government's purpose was—as it should be—to help those who most need it and who are helpless without Government intervention. I have devised a scheme to help a special group of workmen who have been left behind for historical reasons. I refer to the category of workmen's compensation cases which are in limbo. The first category of such cases involves those who are severely disabled or totally incapacitated. In money terms—and that is what matters—they are neither worse nor better off than the worst incapacitated cases under the new scheme. I am talking of the scheme which was introduced 31 years ago on 5 July 1948.

The second category comprises those workers who computed their claims for miserable sums of money. Some have lost thousands of pounds vis-a-vis the new scheme. I hope that the Government will examine that, although I understand that legally it may be a hornet's nest.

My scheme is designed to help those who are known as the "latents". Those involved can often demonstrate by the loss of a limb or an eye that they are mutilated or badly injured. However, under the old workmen's compensation scheme compensation was related solely to provable loss of earnings, which these men cannot prove. Such people will carry their injured bodies to the grave and nothing will be done to help them.

The Pearson Commission did not recommend that such people should be given assistance, although their grievance is as great as that of any other worker. Under my scheme such people would be medically examined and the medical board would pronounce on their unfitness. The Government are sympathetic, as I would expect them to be. However, they have taken the advice of civil servants who say that the scheme is too complicated. They ask how such people can authenticate their injuries. They will do it like most of the miners, through the permanent relief societies which have kept records for over a century. It is astounding how ordinary people safeguard documents that are 40 or 50 years old. I believe that there will not be the difficulty that the Government envisage. If we do not advance the scheme, we shall be penalising those who can authenticate their injuries. No Government should do that.

I hope that the scheme which has just been announced is the precursor of a deeper and more searching inquiry that is required into other categories of workmen. If no other party helps to do that, this Labour Party is bound to and was founded to help. I have always supported this Government—not just when it has been politically popular—because I was not sent to the House for the luxury of defeating Labour Governments. My job is to come here and sustain them. The outcome of tonight's debate will be, as the Duke of Wellington said about the battle of Waterloo, a damned close-run thing. I hope that at the end of the day, when the Whips come round, it will be our Whips who will announce the vote and that the Opposition will have to wait a few more months before they can hope to get their hands on the levers of power.

At that time, they will have to declare their policies instead of saying "You are the Government. You announce your policies". We shall be able to examine those policies, which I believe that the public will find wanting. That will result in the return of a Labour Government with a sufficient majority for us not to contemplate allies who sit on other Benches.

8.11 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Hillingdon Uxbridge

I hope that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) will forgive me if I do not follow his interesting and important speech about industrial diseases.

I support the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do so on behalf of my constituents in Uxbridge, a constituency on the western perimeter of London. We have heard speeches from Irish Members and Members from other parts of the country, but I am probably one of the first London Members to speak.

My constituents see in Westminster a weak Government who are tottering from one crisis to another, under the leadership of a Prime Minister who seems to everybody, except, perhaps, his own supporters, to be more interested in hanging on to his job than in the overall interests of the country. I was particularly glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) referred to the most important matter that should be uppermost in our minds when we come to vote at 10 o'clock this evening—the good of the country.

I believe—as do the majority of my constituents—that the good of the country demands a new Government and a speedy general election to end the life of this dying Parliament. We need a new Gov- ernment to deal with many of the problems that face our country, before any further consideration can be given to the question of devolution.

Most of my constituents are opposed to the form of devolution that was embodied in the Scotland and Wales Acts. They supported me in voting for the 40 per cent. "Yes" vote rule which was inserted in both those important constitutional Acts. As a London Member of Parliament, I am in no doubt that their support was genuinely expressed because they believed that such important constitutional matters should not be decided on a simple majority.

Therefore, they are somewhat at a loss to understand how and why it is that, when the 40 per cent. was not achieved in Scotland, and when the Welsh Assembly was voted against overwhelmingly, the Government have been reluctant to stage an early debate and allow a vote on the repeal orders. My constituents see the activities of the Government over the past few weeks—even more so over the past few days—as those of a Government who are wheeling and dealing to keep power at all costs, to deny them the right to cast their vote to decide who will govern the country in the next Parliament. They no longer believe that the minority Labour Government have any real authority or mandate to engage in further discussions about this kind of devolution. That is why I would not have supported any attempt by the Prime Minister for more discussions before a debate took place on the repeal orders.

Another important and almost overriding aspect of Government policy in which my constituents have no confidence is their housing policy. They see a Government who, only in the last week, have taken steps to prevent my young constituents from buying their own homes if they have not been tenants of the local authority for more than two years. At the point when many young couples who come to see me every week in my constituency surgery were about to exchange contracts, the Secretary of State for the Environment said "No, you cannot buy those homes unless you have been a tenant for two years". That has caused enormous anger in my constituency.

It is not just the prevention of purchase which has caused that anger. There are other matters which go deeper than house purchase which anger young people; for example, stamp duty. Four years ago it yielded revenue of about £40 million. Today it yields revenue of about £140 million. The Chancellor of the Exchequer increased that duty as part of his policy of taxing us until the pips squeak. On a house costing £30,000 he put up the stamp duty from £300 to £450; on a house costing £40,000 the increase was from £400 to £800; and on a house costing £45,000 the increase was from £450 to £900. In my constituency there are now very few houses that can be bought for less than £20,000 and few that can be bought for less than £30,000. Therefore, young people are faced with another tax, a tax which prevents them from owning their own homes. They want to see that tax swept away by a Conservative Government.

In Uxbridge today, many people are totally disillusioned with the Government's housing policy. It is well known that the Labour Party would, if it could, end the discounts on council houses so that they can be sold at the full inflated market value. That is another powerful reason why many of my constituents wish me to vote against the Government tonight.

Perhaps the most important reason is the lack of incentives and the Government's inability to restore a sense of hope to people about their ability to improve their earning capacity and their standard of living. They know full well that Britain is the lowest paid and the highest taxed country in Europe. How are they to be encouraged to produce more real wealth when they compare their lot with those of their friends and relations in other countries? Australian family men, for example, earning average incomes, pay less than one-tenth of their income in tax, compared with the starting rate in Britain of 25 per cent. The Americans, the French and the Japanese all pay less tax than the average Briton. Unfortunately, the people of this country are beginning to feel that they are little better off working than they would be living on social security. Many hon. Members know that in most cases that is not so, but it is a feeling that goes deep into the community and it is part of the malaise from which we are suffering. That can be removed only by a new Government.

In my constituency there was a Labour council for seven years and it ran up a loan debt of £150 million. I am glad to say that those days are over. We now have a Conservative council which runs our affairs efficiently. However, the memory of those seven years will take a long time to erase.

An announcement has been made today about an increase in the retirement pension. I welcome the increase, as I am sure every hon. Member does, but some of us may feel that it is an interesting and rather strange coincidence that it should have been announced in a debate on a no confidence motion. There is one important group of old-age pensioners for whom no relief has been announced today—those who have scrimped and saved to pay for their retirement.

Those who pay the high penalty for the "crime" of saving are those who pay the investment income surcharge. Many retired people in my constituency want nothing more than to get rid of the Government so that the surcharge can be drastically reduced or removed. It is a tax on incentive and on saving, and it is typical of the Socialism that we have had to endure for the past five years.

It is time for the Government to go. They have sat here for too long wheeling and dealing, wriggling and trying to postpone the evil day. The people of Britain want an election and a new Government. I believe that they want my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as Prime Minister before many weeks have passed. For that reason, I shall vote for the motion.

8.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

One of the characteristic eccentricities of the House is for Conservative Members to say, to reactions of amazement, shock and horror, that they intend to support a Conservative motion of no confidence in a Labour Government. By some magical means, they translate that into a ready understanding with some constituents—they do not give the exact number—with whom they have spoken and who give them full support.

That is characteristic of the Tories. They are not acting from principle. Their principle is opportunism. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the SNP put down a motion and the Tories went into action to follow it up. The Tories did not produce their motion for any reasons that they could adduce about the state of the nation or the economy. All that they have done is to go round doing the sort of wheeler-dealing of which they accuse us and counting the votes among the minority parties. When they start criticising us for wheeler-dealing, they should remember that that is exactly what they are doing as a cloak for their own inadequacies.

The Opposition often betray a duality of standards. I was staggered to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) that the chairman of the Conservative Party could be receiving £30,000 per year from Pirelli, a company which is apparently overcharging the Post Office by £9 million a year. If that is right, what about the Tory chairman taking some individual responsibility? The Tories are the party of individual responsibility. They believe in a hierarchical system. They complain that the highly paid have to pay too much tax. Was their chair-man, Lord Thorneycroft, derelict in his duty because of the tax burden, or was it simply because of the system that they support in which the top elite seem to get away with virtually anything, but if a group of gravediggers in Liverpool come out on strike they are accused of dereliction of duty, even though they are only ordinary working people on £40 or £50 a week? That is an interesting duality of standards.

I hope that in the next few weeks the Tory attitude towards trade unions and trade unionists will be brought out into the open. While the Tories bitterly criticise trade unions, a large number of Tory Members are in the tightest organised closed shop in the world, the Inns of Court, the archaic and old-fashioned system of education which perpetuates the class system in our legal profession. They are busy lining their pockets as fast as they can with parliamentary adviserships and company directorships. But what do they say to ordinary working men and women such as lorry drivers and local authority employees? Those workers are told that they must work full-time, work harder and pull their belts in because rates are too high. All the time those Tory Members are busy accumulating as much as they can. Their philosophy is that of greed and they are busy supporting it.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk

While my hon. Friend is on the subject of double standards in the Conservative Party, perhaps he would like to comment on another example. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who has now left the Chamber, complained bitterly about rich pensioners being the subject of the earnings surcharge, but while he makes that plea from the heart on behalf of the better-off pensioners the Opposition spokesman said in a debate in the House that the £10 Christmas bonus for pensioners should be means-tested. Is that not another example of the Conservatives' double standards and hypocrisy?

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

My hon. Friend is right. The previous speaker, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), has hastened from the Chamber and is therefore not able to hear our interesting interchange.

The Leader of the Opposition made much play in her low-key and ineffective speech about the position of the trade unions. The Conservatives think that there is some political advantage to be gained from that, just as when the tanker drivers and the lorry drivers went on strike the Conservatives thought that there was a political advantage to be gained from declarations of a state of emergency. Of course, both those strikes were settled. The Tories want conflict while the Labour Party is in office.

The Conservatives' solution is, again, that trade unions should be wreathed round in legal circles. Some Tory Members ought to declare their interest in that solution because they would stand to make a pretty penny from some of the court actions.

It is worth looking at the record of the Government, against whom the Conservatives have tabled a motion of no confidence, and compare it with the record of the last Tory Government. They had exactly the same attitude when they came to power in 1970. They said that they would have an Act and put all sorts of legal restrictions on the trade unions.

In the four years of the Conservative Government, the country lost more than 50 million days in strike action. In the first four years of this Government, the figure is about 29 million days—about one-half. Our industrial relations record is 100 per cent. better than that of the last Tory Government.

In 1972, the year after the Industrial Relations Act and the year when it really came into operation, there were a record 23 million days lost in strike action because that Government's attitude was one of conflict.

The Tories talk about the imposition of secret ballots by law. They had them when they were last in Government. Have they forgotten that they imposed a secret ballot on the railway unions? One result was a very high poll—87 per cent.—but the other result was that 81 per cent. of those union members voted for strike action. The Conservatives have tried their magical solution in industrial relations, and it failed miserably.

No one suggests that this Government's record on industrial relations is perfect. Conservative Members may chortle at that. We are not claiming perfection.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Of course, we are claiming that we are the best. Our record proves it. We are 100 per cent. better in terms of days lost by strike action during a Labour Government; there have been 50 per cent. fewer days lost. That represents a considerable improvement over the legal web which the Conservative Government tried to spin when they were in office.

It is worth bearing in mind that five years ago, when a friend of mine who is a bricklayer wanted to become mayor of Keighley, he was told by his employer "You can become the mayor of Keighley, but you can collect your cards on the way out and you are not to come back." That was the position for many workers.

I know that this is hard for Conservative Members to understand, but the Employment Protection Act remedied that position. It is recognised that workers make a contribution to civic, local and national life in many ways. That Act is an important pillar in the record of the Labour Government. It has given workers a decent position in society. It has given them the right not to be sacked unfairly. It has produced a degree of improvement and justice for the ordinary employee.

However, the Conservative Party has made constant attempts to whittle down that Act. The Conservatives want to erode that degree of protection because they want to remove the rights of working men and women under that Act. Only a Labour Government are sufficiently concerned about working men and women to enact that kind of legislation.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned the improvements in pensions brought about under the Labour Government. Labour has a very good record on pensions, a record which we are proud to argue. Furthermore, we have improved social security benefit.

Let us consider the background to the improvement in social security benefits. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and some of his Conservative colleagues have bitterly attacked those who are least able to defend themselves. They have described those on social security as scroungers. We have argued the matter, and we have demonstrated that it is important to have a decent system of social security.

Let me turn to the subject of unemployment. We all agree that the level of unemployment is too high. Nobody knows that more keenly than my Labour colleagues and myself.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

I do not mind staying off, because the record of the Conservative Party has meant that each time we have tried to save jobs Conservatives have voted against us. They voted against the saving of British Leyland and are always keen to attack any British company that contains any degree of public investment. They are week after week selling the British nation short.

When we saved British Leyland, we saved 250,000 jobs directly, and between British Leyland and Chrysler we saved 10,000 small businesses employing fewer than 200 workers. The Tories voted against our proposals.

These ripples would spread from British Leyland throughout the country. As a result of Tory policies, every job in West Yorkshire Foundries, a firm in my constituency, would be threatened. That firm was saved because the Labour Government saved British Leyland.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

If the Labour Government have been so marvellous to workers and have saved so many jobs, how has unemployment doubled?

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

I do not want to go into the reasons why the world experienced a recession. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course, we have had a world recession. The Opposition may not have noticed the erosion in the British manufacturing base as a result of increased import penetration. The Labour Government produced the multi-fibre arrangement on textiles, which is not working too badly. The deficiencies in the MFA are due to the EEC, of which I am sure the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) is a fanatical supporter.

We arc facing difficulties, as everybody would agree, but if we had had a Conservative Government pursuing their policies there would almost certainly have been 1 million more people on the dole. That is the reality of Conservative noninterventionist policies. What do the Conservatives intend to do about the regions? What are their policies for areas such as Keighley, an intermediate area, Yorkshire and Humberside, which comprises many intermediate areas, and the special development area of Merseyside? Intervention is required in the economy to try to provide jobs in areas of high unemployment.

Lastly, a Labour Government is the only possible Government to tackle the multinationals, which, by and large, have the sympathy, understanding and good will of the Conservatives. They virtually have the Tory Party in their pockets. After all, they make substantial contributions to its political funds.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Keighley

Peachey was not a multinational. If the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) wants to talk about Peachey, where was he when I spoke about Peachey in the Consolidated Fund debate last week? I did not notice him around at 3 o'clock in the morning.

It is important that the Labour Government tackle the multinationals. Thorn in Bradford had a £57 million profit in 1977. It is importing 100,000 colour television sets a year, yet it sacked 2,300 people last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) knows that only a couple of years ago Thorn sacked people in an area of high unemployment.

I hope that the motion of no confidence will be defeated. This Government have not carried out every aspect of Labour policy, and some of us are pressing for it to be carried out more vigorously. However, they are the only radical Government who can tackle the difficulties that this nation faces, including that of the giant corporations. I hope that the motion will be defeated tonight and that in the not too distant future we shall have an election that will return the Labour Party with an overall majority.

8.36 p.m

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) has made what I believe is his swan song in this House, so I shall not be too rude about him. He is nothing if not brazen. As I listened to him I could not help thinking of an adapted Yorkshire phrase "Where there's brass there's muck". That is how he started his speech.

To return to the fundamental matters that we are debating, I start with the speech of my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition. The first issue must be the economic record of the Government. As many hon. Members have said, their record on unemployment and inflation is appalling, but worst of all is their record on productivity. Although the figures on unemployment and inflation are shaming, those for productivity are peculiarly so. The steady increase in the rate of output per employed person under both Governments until this one came to power has more or less evaporated. That is at the heart of our economic weakness.

That is partly because people are ceasing to believe that it is worth while working. There is only one area where productivity is booming, and that is in the black economy. Even Labour Members will have noticed the remarks of Sir William Pile a day or two ago. He admitted what many of us have been suspecting, that the extent of the black economy—tax evasion, moonlighting, and so on—is reaching mammoth proportions and losing the country a great deal of revenue. What is worse, it is adding to the bitterness that is growing in our society. The growth of that black economy owes much to the way that we have been governed in the last few years.

The Labour Government have failed to tackle what has created the situation. They have failed to tackle the crazy system of the poverty trap. Although they have had to give ground under pressure, they have failed to tackle the fact that our tax thresholds are far too low. They have pursued incomes policies that have inevitably reduced differentials and increased the belief among low-paid workers and others that it is not worth working and that the system is loaded against those who want to work. When we come to power, absolute priority must be given to solving this problem.

The Prime Minister tried to talk about the economic achievement of his Government, but he was totally unconvincing. He also started to boast about their social record. How could anyone talk about the social record of the Labour Government when the jewel of the welfare State—the National Health Service—has been reduced to the tragic situation that we see at present?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I know that this hurts Socialists to the core because they have had a genuine belief in the National Health Service. Today that Service is suffering from grave demoralisation, which has come about under a Labour Government. To illustrate that one only has to look at the waiting lists since the Labour Government took office. It is there that the crisis in the Health Service can be seen most vividly. Between 1974 and 1978 the waiting lists grew to almost 100,000, and since then they have become even worse.

What is even sadder is that the Government are doing nothing to remedy the situation. They show no signs of trying to achieve an agreement whereby workers in essential services renounce the right to take industrial action in exchange for guaranteed pay increases. Also the Government show no sign of a determination to establish a crash programme to catch up on the waiting lists. This could be done by a Government of resolution. This Government have no resolution about anything at all, except hanging on to power.

Just as serious as the failure in the economy and the social services is the Government's failure to use Parliament properly. We have seen this in many different ways. We have seen the repeated failure of the Government to put vital matters before the House for a vote. Time and time again they have ducked asking the House to vote on matters such as their incomes policy White Paper and their public expenditure plans. They have not even put forward the famous concordat for a vote of the House.

There is no doubt that this has damaged the reputation of the House. It has also gravely damaged the reputation of the Leader of the House. I shall not quote to him what I have quoted before, the passages from his "Aneurin Bevan", in which Bevan denounces deals that were done with the TUC behind Parliament's back and Members have been told later that they must accept the fait accompli. The Leader of the House knows how his hero denounced this in famous speeches in the 1940s. Yet he, above all people, has carried out deals with the unions and has refused to allow Parliament to have a say in the deals that have been cooked up.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

There are signs that Parliament is refusing to accept the deals that are being forced upon it. An example of this is the fact that this debate has been partly triggered off by devolution. Parliament was not prepared to take the Government's attitude on devolution lying down. The bloodiest nose that the Government have had has come from the devolution affair. The House has also rejected the Government's attitude on the reforms of our procedures. When we come to power—as we will shortly—nothing will be more important than using Parliament properly.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , Newham North West

I want to help the hon. Gentleman. He gave us a list. Will he also mention the fact that both parties and the Lord President are responsible for the fact that tonight our catering staff are on strike because we do not pay them a decent pension? We could do so and that dispute could be settled without any problem. Surely Members of Parliament are to blame for that dispute. Perhaps the Lord President will put that right tonight.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

Some of us have sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's point.

When we come to power we must use Parliament as it should be used. We must reform the procedures of Parliament and have respect for it. Above all, we must do something that the Government have never sought to do. We must use Parliament as an instrument to achieve agreement and reconciliation wherever possible. In their earlier moments the Government used Parliament as a means to hammer through their policies without any regard to what other people thought. We must learn from that lesson and avoid that fault at all costs.

The period since 1974 has shown the total failure and bankruptcy of Socialism. We have seen two versions of Socialism. We started with Socialism proper. We saw that from about 1974 to the time of the economic crisis in 1976–77. There was full-blooded Socialism, epitomised by such measures as the Community Land Act and the other nationalisation measures that were brought in by the Government. Have any of those measures done anything to contribute to the good of the country? Of course not. We saw the ignominious collapse of mark I Socialism. We moved on to a milder social democracy. The ruled the Labour Government after 1976–77, the intervention of the IMF and the decision that public expenditure must be cut. What positive good has been achieved by social democracy or mark II Socialism?

Perhaps the second form did not do much harm, but there has been nothing in which the Government may claim pride or about which the country may feel that there has been any success. It has been a dismal period, culminating in the experiences of the winter that we have just endured. Socialism has nothing left to offer. It is a wasting disease. It is totally obsolete. It cannot solve the fundamental questions of employment. Nor can it solve the problems of bureaucracy and bigness. Even Government supporters know that that is one of the great weaknesses of Socialism. There can be no Socialism without bureaucracy. Yet bureaucracy is crippling this country.

Even Socialism's ethical base has withered away in the past few years. That fact has never been more apparent than in the shoddy dealings that we have seen over these past few days. Socialism and this Parliament are dying. It would be humiliating to carry on. There is nothing left to discuss, except how long the Parliament will last and when the election will be held. Can it be argued that the country's forum should only talk about that and that we should merely ask one another whether the Government may hang on for another week? The country must go to the polls. I devoutly hope that the general election will be triggered off by tonight's vote.

8.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk

The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) made great play about Socialism having died. I wish that in the past few years I had seen a little of the Socialism he decried. The hon. Gentleman also made great play about, as he thought, this dismal Government and Parliament. Yet nothing has been so dismal as the speeches we heard from the Opposition Benches, beginning with that of the Leader of the Opposition. We may not have enough support to win votes tonight. The result is in doubt. However, the Opposition have not won the argument. Just as they did not win the argument in the Chamber, they will not win the argument when we go to the country in the next few months.

In a vote of confidence debate we must look at the Government's record. Let us consider the record of the Government in relation to the pledges and promises set out in the manifesto. There has probably not been a Government in this country in the post-war period who have implemented so many of their pledges and fulfilled so many of their promises as the present Government. [Interruption.] Perhaps Conservative Members would care to tell me one pledge that we have not implemented. I can point to dozens that we have implemented.

We promised to repeal the iniquitous Industrial Relations Act 1971, and we repealed it. We promised to repeal the disgraceful Housing Finance Act 1972. It was repealed. We promised to give the people of this country the right to decide whether they wished the United Kingdom to remain as a member of the EEC. We gave them that right and they made their decision. They now accept that they made the wrong decision, but we gave them the right to make it. We promised to take into public ownership their assets in the North Sea, and we have taken a large public stake in the North Sea. We promised to set up a National Enterprise Board, a Scottish Development Agency and a Welsh Development Agency. All those bodies have been established We promised to take over shipbuilding, ship repairing and aerospace. Those industries are now in public ownership.

All these promises were made and they were fulfilled. I am still waiting to hear of one pledge or promise in our 1974 manifesto that we have not fulfilled.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk

The hon. Gentleman has only just found his way into the Chamber. He has not been present during the debate and I do not see why I should give way now.

Not only have the Government fulfilled the vast majority of the pledges they made in the two election manifestos in 1974. They have done it, moreover, in an extremely precarious parliamentary situation, confronted by all the ragbags of the minor parties on the Opposition Benches, sniping at and harrying the Government all the time. They have also fulfilled these manifesto promises in the midst of a major international economic recession.

At the same time, we have also fulfilled to a great extent the promises we made in the social and welfare field, with the move towards the comprehensive re-organisation of secondary education, the gradual phasing out of the blot of pay beds in the National Health Service, the ending, after 75 years, of the tied cottage system and the implementation of equal pay and the ending of sex discrimination and racial discrimination.

There has been a whole battery of social and welfare benefits, such as the mobility allowance and the attendance allowance. All these items have been introduced and constantly uprated. Indeed, we heard the Prime Minister announce today that we are again increasing pensions. They are not poverty pensions, as they were under the Tory Government. The increase is not by any means-testing of the £10 Christmas bonus. We are ensuring that pensions are index-linked and will increase accordingly to the increase in prices or wages, whichever is the higher. We made that promise and have kept it. I am not suggesting that the pensioners receive an adequate or civilised pension in the present circumstances, but this House and the country ought to recognise that pensioners are now better off in real terms than they were in 1974. They are far better off under a Labour Government than they ever were in the previous four years of a Tory Government—20 per cent. better off in real terms today. There are also new measures such as the Employment Protection Act 1975 and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1975.

I accept that unemployment is intolerably high and at an unacceptable level. [Interruption.] I do not need the hoots of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) tonight—not at this stage, please. Representing a region such as mine, with the town of Kirkby in it, where unemployment is at 20 per cent., I cannot but accept that we have a terrible problem of unemployment. I do not need any lecture or fake protestations of sincerity from Conservative Members on this issue. It is also a fact—very rarely recognised—that there are more people in work today in the United Kingdom than there were when we came to office, or than there were in 1973 or 1972.

Unemployment in this country is no different from that of most of our major competitors. Should the vote go against us and by some mischance the Conservative Party, led by the vindictive Leader of the Opposition, be returned, unemployment would reach unimaginable proportions. For example, 6,000 workers in my constituency are in work because of the Government's employment measures such as temporary employment subsidy, community industry, job relief schemes, the school leaver recruitment subsidy and short-time work. All those workers have jobs—6,000 in Kirkby alone—solely because of the Government's temporary measures. Ameliorative though they may be, temporary though they are, palliative though we accept, they are nevertheless extremely important to those individual men, women and juveniles who at least have a wage, some sense of job satisfaction and the self-respect of being at work when they would otherwise be on the dole.

On Merseyside, 33,000 people are in work today because of this Government's employment measures, and over 100,000 in the North-West alone. Yet every one of them would be on the dole the day after a Conservative Government came into office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Oh, yes. Perhaps the Opposition spokesman will now stand up and give me a categoric public assurance—an assurance I have been seeking from the leader of his party and every other Opposition Front Bench spokesman—that no person in my constituency who is presently employed because his company is in receipt of grants, loans and subsidies from the Government, running to hundreds of millions of pounds per year, or other employment measures, will lose his job. Will the hon. Gentleman give me that assurance?

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk

The hon. Gentleman does not speak for his party. The monkeys on the Back Benches cannot speak for the Conservative Party. We want the organ grinders on the Front Bench, but they will not give us that assurance—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. Did the hon. Gentleman refer to Opposition Members as animals? If he did, he must withdraw the word.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Ormskirk

Of course I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker, but it was said metaphorically. I should have thought that Opposition Members, sensitive though they are—and we all know their degree of sensitivity which they take from their leader—would have had a little more sense than to take issue with that. But, of course, if it upsets them, I withdraw it.

What I was seeking, and what I failed to get from the Opposition Front Bench, was an assurance that none of my constituents who are now in employment because of Government measures will be thrown out of work on the return of a Conservative Government. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), given the opportunity, refused to give that assurance. So my constituents now know that on the return of a Conservative Government every one of the companies in my constituency which for their lifeblood need Government loans, assistance and subsidies will lose them and, therefore, there will be further unemployment.

We have the suggestion from the Opposition that we should not have any further intervention in industry. Yet the level of unemployment on Merseyside is a graphic and dramatic demonstration of the failure of private industry. Every redundancy that we have had—we have had many, and there are many more in the pipeline—whether it be at Dunlop, Speke, BIC Connelly's in my own constituency, Akzo Chemic, Courtaulds or Thorn, has been caused by a private enterprise company not being prepared to fulfil its responsibilities to the community, to put further investment into the region or to sustain and maintain jobs.

We on Merseyside know that we cannot afford the return of any Government committed to a policy of non-intervention and to a policy of private enterprise. Employment on Merseyside depends upon an active, interventionist Government prepared to take seriously their duties to industry and to maintain and sustain employment.

Much more important than that is our attitude to the Health Service and social services generally. What a calamity it would be to have the return of a spiteful, divisive, vindictive party that is dedicated to the principle of making economic charges in the NHS. It will increase prescription charges to an economic level. It will make a charge for a visit to the doctor or a stay in a hospital. It will increase optical charges. It will increase council rents to an economic level. Those are all measures to which the Conservative Party has committed itself, and it has never denied that fact. This would have calamitous consequences for the majority of my constituents, who are low paid and do not have the wherewithal to pay for private medicine or for the payments for which the Conservative Party is calling.

Labour Members do not have to go on the defensive. Our record is clear and clean, and is a good one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Conservative Members may jeer, but the country outside will cheer. Conservative Members will be the ones to hear those cheers loudest in the next few weeks and months.

Let there be no mistake that, although my Government have made many mistakes, had many shortcomings and had many failures—I have not been the least quiet in being critical of them—they have a proud and enviable record on employment, industry and the social and welfare services. Whatever else, the country cannot afford the kind of spite, divisiveness and vindictiveness which the Conservative Party peddles as part and parcel of its ordinary everyday philosophy.

The case has been made out clearly and overwhelmingly, not least by Labour Back Benchers. I have every confidence that, if the vote tonight does not demonstrate the case that has been made, the vote in the country will do so.

9.2 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

The House will be happy to know that I have no intention of following the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) down the path that he chose to tread.

I have no idea what will happen in just over an hour from now, but I do know that if the people of Britain were tonight being asked to judge whether they have confidence in the Government they would overwhelmingly say that they have not.

When all the statistics have been stated, the figures argued, and all the talk about GNP and the average national wage is said and done, the best yardstick of the quality of a Government is the condition of their people. I shall mention some names of which few, if any, hon. Members have ever heard. They are real people, and they will make their judgment on the amount of confidence that they have in the Government. [Interruption.] A few moments ago, an hon. Member talked about taxation of the highly paid. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. All this mumbling is not fair to the hon. Lady who is addressing the House.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to mention a pensioner in my constituency, a Mrs. Vera Howell, who wrote to me only last week complaining bitterly that, although she is a pensioner, she has to go out to work. She has a very small wage. She is incensed because so much of that tiny wage goes in taxation. That is the fault of the Government.

I think of Mr. Duncombe and Mr. Phipps, who between them have 24 years' loyal service to a local authority. Both were sacked for one reason alone, namely, that they would not join a union. Mr. Duncombe said "I do not want to join a union. They are all 'Commies' there, and I am not a 'Commie '". Mr. Phipps said "I think that the employer should give the orders and not the union". Mr. Phipps's comments were quite clear. Yet the chairman of the local authority for which both men worked said, in a gem of Socialist Orwellian double talk," We are not sacking these men. They are voluntarily putting themselves out of a job". That is the Government's fault.

I mention Mrs. Cloak, who recently broke a leg. Her doctor made three 999 calls to get her into hospital. The ambulance men refused to take her because, in their judgment, she did not need hospital care. She died a few days later. At her inquest the coroner had something to say about that. Mrs. Cloak's predicament was caused by the Labour Government and by the fact that the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security is a sponsored member of the union which has caused so much trouble to Mrs. Cloak and others in the National Health Service. He will not stand up for ordinary little people when he is a sponsored member of NUPE which pays such a large sum annually to his constituency office. If the position were reversed and an hon. Member on these Benches was so blatantly at the beck and call of any vested interest as the right hon. Gentleman, there would be a riot.

I mention Mrs. James, of Birmingham, who complained to me only this morning about rising prices. That, again, is the Government's fault. I mention four children—I shall not give the surnames—named Jane, John, Bill and Jenny, all of whom have been denied schooling at a most important time in their educational career because of the failure of the Labour Government to get the schools open.

I mention Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, of Birmingham, who are very anxious to buy their own council house, but the Government have no intention of allowing them to do so. I could mention a hatful of names of small business men who are in grave trouble because of this Government, and a large number of ratepayers who are angry at the way in which Labour local authorities are pushing up the rates. That is the Government's fault.

Whoever the Government have paid off with bribes and who might perhaps vote for them for that reason, I challenge the Government and warn them most seriously that the ordinary people of this country, in their thousands and millions, have every reason to say, today and tomorrow, or as soon as they are able, that they have no confidence in this Government.

9.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

Years of experience in Parliament watching the Prime Minister have taught me to look behind the facade and consider the realities. Today, he gave some classic examples of his cover-up technique. He waxed eloquent about support, not sabotage. The Prime Minister knows all about sabotage. He was the man who sabotaged his own colleagues in "In Place of Strife" in 1969, including the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). He was the man who sabotaged my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), when he was seeking to control inflation in 1974, with his disgraceful incitement of the miners at Aberdare. He made great play about confrontation.

What has the Prime Minister's Government been involved in this winter with the lorry drivers, with the ambulance men, with the gravediggers and with the hospital workers; what are the Government involved in now with the Civil Service, if it is not confrontation? Then came the most bizarre claim of all. In answer to my right hon. Friend's admirably clear and unanswerable exposure of the Government's failure—[Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh their heads off now, but they will find that my right hon. Friend's speech, listened to on the radio, will be a most impressive performance. In answer to my right hon. Friend, the Prime Minister referred to his Government's outstanding record of social progress and—[Interruption.] Labour Members may cheer, but 600 men and women have lost their jobs every day that the Government have been in power. Is that an outstanding record of social progress?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not keep shouting like that. It is not fair to anyone who is addressing the House. The hon. Gentleman I am addressing knows who I mean.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

If that phrase about an outstanding record of social progress meant anything in reality and was not falsified by the facts, why did not the Prime Minister put that record to the test at a general election in October 1978? Why did he not accept the widespread feeling in the House and in the country and put that record to the test instead of waiting fearfully for Parliament to force him to do so? The reality of his actions is so very different from his fine words.

In September 1978 the Prime Minister told the country that he saw no reason for a general election at that time. Whatever the considerations behind that decision, there is no doubt that he was taking a considerable risk in terms of the interests of the nation. He was deliberately prolonging the life of a minority Government into the dying months of a five-year Parliament. Inevitably his Government would be working against a background of uncertainty, political speculation and increasing loss of authority at home and abroad. As he looks back now on the past few months, with the vehemence on the picket lines and the bitterness of the industrial disputes, he must surely have grave doubts about the wisdom of his decision in September. Certainly, some of his colleagues must have grave doubts.

It is alleged that the Prime Minister was swayed in his final decision last year by the advice of his right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. Apparently then, as now, the Lord President was in favour of hanging on at all costs, in almost any circumstances and no matter what had to be done in the process.

If the Prime Minister really did listen to his right hon. Friend's advice, that explains a great deal. Whenever we consider the policy failures of the Government in the past four years, we find the advice of the Lord President well to the fore. Some of the misguided provisions in the trade union and labour relations legislation that he piloted through the House when he was Secretary of State for Employment have brought considerable trouble on to the heads of his colleagues in the past few months. His attacks on the independence of the judges have done much to undermine respect for the law and have made the task much more difficult for those who are seeking to protect our citizens from the ravages of crime and violence.

Above all, there has been the right hon. Gentleman's mishandling of the devolution issue, especially the Scotland and Wales Acts. Even in his own constituency area in Wales, his passionate advocacy of the Wales Act was totally repudiated. Only 6 per cent. of the people in Gwent, with whom of course he is supposed to be so closely in touch, actually voted for it.

The right hon. Gentleman shows no remorse. Not content with leaving a trail of shambles behind him, he is already planning a better future for us all. Only last year at the Moss Side by-election he spelt it all out. He said: We offer you 10 to 15 years of exciting politics in Britain if you have the nerve and courage to stay with us. One sees little sign of his colleagues either on the Front or the Back Benches having the nerve or the courage to stay with him now.

The Government have long since run out of both nerve and courage and this Parliament, on both sides of the House, has certainly had more than enough of the right hon. Gentleman's supposedly exciting politics. As a result of the Prime Minister's decision last September, this Government, and indeed this Parliament, have drifted somewhat aimlessly through what have been, and everyone must recognise this, some very unhappy months for the country.

We have now come to another moment of decision. This time the House of Commons has the opportunity, collectively, to tell the Prime Minister, in the words quoted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, "Enough is enough". It must surely be accepted that if the Government were to survive in the vote tonight we should simply be prolonging the life of the Government and this Parliament for a few more weeks of uncertainty and doubt for the country. The country would like a really effective Government, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) made clear in his admirable speech. As one who has enjoyed his friendship for a long time, and as a colleague of his in this House over a considerable period, I regret that he is retiring. If this were to be his last speech in the House of Commons, it would certainly be a fine example of his total integrity through all those years.

If the Government were to survive, no decisions, certainly no unpopular decisions, would be made. Britain's voice in the world would be muted. Worst of all, this Parliament, both at home and abroad, would be written off simply as a forum for petty election manoeuvring. I have heard a great many speeches today and I tell the right hon. Gentleman that not only on this side of the House but on his own side there was a widespread desire and belief that we should have a general election at the earliest possible moment.

During a great deal of the time that I listened I heard the election speeches of some of the Prime Minister's colleagues, particularly of those who will not come back to this House after the next general election. I understood the reason for them. Surely that cannot be good for the value of this Parliament and, indeed, for democracy in our country, which should, I suggest, mean a great deal to us all.

This afternoon the Prime Minister gave us no clear reasons why this Parliament should continue. Indeed, he tried to pretend that the time might be available to discuss constitutional problems in the United Kingdom. But his record since the devolution referendum must cast real doubts on his sincerity. Of course, the referendum results came as a great shock to the Prime Minister and his colleagues. Therefore, it was not surprising that they begged a little time for further consideration. But last Thursday the Prime Minister showed that his only real intention was further delay.

Instead of giving the House an immediate opportunity to debate and to decide on the repeal orders in accordance with the Scotland Act and the Wales Act, he offered all-party talks. Yet he and the Leader of the House always scornfully rejected exactly the same talks when they were proposed from this side of the House. What the Prime Minister described as a "sham and a shower" in February suddenly in March became a most sensible way of proceeding. As the Prime Minister is sometimes tempted to say, "Ho, ho, ho".

In any case, how could such talks really be meaningful now under the shadow of an impending general election? As my noble Friend Lord Home said in a statement last week: In terms of practical politics, nothing can happen before a General Election. That view was echoed by the Leader of the Liberal Party this afternoon. When at most there are only three effective parliamentary months before there has to be a general election, that judgment must surely be right. It must be sensible to consider the serious constitutional problems involved in a new Parliament, backed with a new authority from the people and some years of life ahead.

When we consider the handling of economic issues, it is the same story. Prices are rising again. I remind the Prime Minister that under the last Conservative Government the annual inflation rate was 9·5 per cent. Under his Government it has been 15·5 per cent. Those are the figures. The Prime Minister cannot dispute them. Those are the facts.

Productivity has fallen to ever lower and dangerous levels for the future of our country. Again, the Prime Minister should not be allowed to forget that this January productivity was lower than in what he describes scornfully as "the candle-lit three-day week". Let him not forget that.

There is a fundamental difference of approach between the economic policies of the two parties. There is a difference of approach to the economic future of the country upon which the people are entitled to express a view.

We Conservatives believe in the encouragement of free enterprise and initiative with less government, less State interference and lower taxation, particularly on earnings. The Labour Party apparently believes, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, in more nationalisation, more Socialism and more Government interference, including, it seems, the threat to undermine press freedom with a Government newspaper financed from Government funds.

What can be the purpose of delaying the people's choice between those alternatives for a few more months of drifting Government and a moribund Parliament?

On the important issues of industrial relations arising out of recent industrial troubles, the Prime Minister has paralysed Parliament. He refused even to consider the offer of support made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for extending the use of the secret postal ballot, for action on secondary picketing and for promoting voluntary, no-strike agreements in the public sector. Yet there is no doubt that such simple measures would command widespread support in the country.

When it comes to Britain's influence in the world, further delay would certainly be as disastrous—if not more so. There are important and difficult problems to be faced and solved in Europe. In the Middle East, there is the oil problem about which the Prime Minister rightly waxed eloquent. They are grave problems which, I believe, must be tackled in the context of a new Government and a new Parliament. That is the issue upon which we differ—not about the difficult problems. The more that the Prime Minister stresses those problems, the more he makes my case for having a general election at the earliest possible moment.

There are the problems in Africa, particularly following the Rhodesian elections. No one can forget that this Government and the country have a special responsibility in the matter. We have kept that responsibility, we have claimed it and we have to discharge it. Again, we should discharge it with the authority of a new Government backed by a new Parliament with a proper life ahead of it. Again, that is a strong argument for a general election.

Therefore, in our own interests and in the interests of the world, it is essential that a British Government should speak with real authority. It cannot hope to do that at present and in the months immediately ahead leading up to an inevitable general election. Against that background, we have an opportunity tonight to assert the power of the House of Commons in the best interests of democracy. By supporting the motion, we can bring to an end a disastrous Government and a Parliament which has nothing more to contribute to the wellbeing of our nation. In doing so, we shall be acting in the best interests of all our people in all parts of the United Kingdom.

9.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) was good enough at the beginning of his speech to make a few kindly references to myself. Therefore, it would be churlish if I did not comment upon them. I had intended to start my speech by making a few remarks on the speeches of the representatives of the smaller parties. However, let me say at once to the right hon. Gentleman that I was especially gratified that he quoted—accurately for a change—my words at the Moss Side by-election. So effective were my words on that occasion, and so overwhelming was the force of my argument, that a good Labour Member was returned to the House of Commons. I am not saying that it was entirely due to my words on that occasion, but it shows that the right hon. Gentleman has not picked on the most damning of all indictments against me for what I might have said.

I shall return later to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. First, I should like to refer to some of the extremely important speeches that have been made by representatives of the smaller parties in the House. I do not know whether all hon. Members understand that this is a House in which smaller parties have rights. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not know why Conservative Members should jeer so readily. It would be discourteous of me not to reply to those speeches.

I refer first to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I am glad that there were a considerable number of hon. Members in the Chamber for my hon. Friend's speech. All those who heard it, whatever their views, would have been deeply moved.

My hon. Friend proved again what we on this side of the House have always recognised—that he is a man of great courage and great honour. The House is wise to heed what he says.

I did not agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about the Government and our conduct in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend is one of my oldest friends in the House, and I believe that when he comes to review everything that he said he will recognise that there were some unjust comments on what has been done by my right hon. Friends. Nevertheless, I respect his speech. Of course, I would have preferred that my hon. Friend could have made a peroration in which he said that he would come into the Lobby with us, but even though that peroration was absent it does not detract from the admiration felt by every hon. Member who heard his speech.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) also speaks for Northern Ireland. He is well aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made a statement just under a year ago on many of the matters that the hon. Gentleman touched on. We are pursuing those policies faithfully and properly. Anyone who reviews what the Government have done in that area cannot doubt the straightforwardness and honesty with which we have approached the problems. I do not believe that the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, on both sides of the House, can question what I am saying.

I believe that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and his party have made an error in the way that they propose to vote. However misguided the right hon. Gentleman may be if he adheres to his apparent resolution to vote in the Lobby with those who are most bitterly opposed to the establishment of a Scottish Assembly, hon. Members who heard his speech must acknowledge the remarkable allegiance that the right hon. Gentleman commands from his followers. It is one of the wonders of the world. There has bean nothing quite like it since the armies of ancient Rome used to march into battle. It is only now that we see the right hon. Gentleman in his full imperial guise.

Hail Emperor, those about to die salute you. Which brings me to the Leader of the Liberal Party. He knows that I would not like to miss him out. I am sure that I shall elicit the support and sympathy of the right hon. Lady when I say that she and I have always shared a common interest in the development of this young man. If the right hon. Lady has anything to say about the matter, I shall be happy to give way to her. I should very much like to know, as I am sure would everybody else, what exactly happened last Thursday night. I do not want to misconstrue anything, but did she send for him or did he send for her—or did they just do it by billet-doux? Cupid has already been unmasked. This is the first time I have ever seen a Chief Whip who could blush. He has every right to blush. Anybody who was responsible for arranging this most grisly of assignations has a lot to answer for.

That brings me to the right hon. Lady. I have never in this House or elsewhere, so far as I know, said anything discourteous to her, and I do not intend to do so. I do not believe that is the way in which politics should be conducted. That does not mean that we cannot exchange occasional pleasantries. What the right hon. Lady has done today is to lead her troops into battle snugly concealed behind a Scottish nationalist shield, with the boy David holding her hand.

I must say to the right hon. Lady—and I should like to see her smile—that I am even more concerned about the fate of the right hon. Gentleman than I am about her. She can look after herself. But the Leader of the Liberal Party—and I say this with the utmost affection—has passed from rising hope to elder statesman without any intervening period whatsoever.

I hope that the House will excuse me if I refer to some of the speeches made by representatives of the smaller parties. Although there have been occasional mischievous attacks made on politicians in this House, and sometimes occasionally on myself, I believe that, especially in a Parliament where there is no absolute majority, it is the duty of the Leader of the House to be prepared to enter into conversation with representatives of all parties. What is more, there is not one spokesman or representative of any smaller party in this House who can say that I have misled him on any occasion in any conversation I have had with him. I believe that that process assists the House in transacting its business, and I believe that the House of Commons will come to learn that.

Let me turn to the central theme of the right hon. Lady's speech. She quoted a book which was written by Anthony Crosland, who was a good friend of hon. Members who sit on the Labour Benches. I hope that she will not mind if I quote from a book, published not so long ago, by Reginald Maudling. I do not do this as a taunt, but I believe that it is of major significance to the House in deciding the vote and to the country at large in the more general debate over the coming weeks and months. It concerns a matter of major significance to our country over the past seven or eight years. Mr. Maud-ling wrote of his experience in the Shadow Cabinet: From the start, there was a tendency in the Shadow Cabinet to move away from the Heath line of policy further to the Right: to this I was totally opposed. In particular, I could not support the arguments of Keith Joseph, who was inclined to say that all we had done in the Government of 1970–74 was wrong and not true Conservatism. I totally disagreed with this, because it seemed to me that Keith was fully entitled to measure himself for a hair shirt if he wanted to, but I was blowed if I could see why he should measure me and Ted at the same time. I am sorry that we do not have the assistance of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). That was just a prelude, and Mr. Maudling continued: I could not help recalling Selsdon Park, and the swing to the Right in our policies which occurred then, and how long it had taken in Government to get back to the realities of life. I feared that the same thing was beginning to happen again. I believe that that is an authentic account of what happened in the Shadow Cabinet when the right hon. Lady, out of passionate conviction, led her party back to the Selsdon Park policies. That is the reality of the matter and the reason why the right hon. Lady has never succeeded in securing full political cooperation with the right hon. Member for Sidcup. There is still a great gulf between Selsdon Park Conservatives and those who learnt, in the words of Mr. Maudling, "the realities of life". That comes from someone with great experience in the 1970–74 Government.

Some of us believe that a major purpose in politics is to ensure that our country shall not again have to live through the situation in the period 1970 to 1974. What the right hon. Lady is proposing, which is confirmed by Mr. Maudling's experience inside the Shadow Cabinet, is retreading that path. Nothing more disastrous could happen to our country, not only in industrial relations, which is perhaps most strongly branded on the public's mind, but in almost all areas. It was part of the Selsdon Park policy to abandon support for British industry, drive us into the Common Market on the most disadvantageous terms, and return to the naked laissez-faire policies of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). Those are the policies to which the right hon. Lady has led her party. I give her full credit. She does it because she believes in it. She would hardly deny it. Or will she deny it and pretend that on this issue she has some special new policy of her own?

The Leader of the Opposition has not been able to explain very successfully to the House her special policy for dealing with devolution. We have made a proposal, but the Leader of the Opposition said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that she proposed—and I think that this is a fair summary of what she said—talks about talks about talks about talks. That is her proposal for devolution. In fact, I think that my summary of her reply is rather complimentary because what she really proposes is to do nothing at all—[HON. MEMBERS: "Good."] Conservative Back Benchers shout "Good" and the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) shouts louder than anyone, but the Leader of the Opposition has, on the devolution question, torn up all the original policies of her party—the ones on which they fought the last general election—and now she proposes to do nothing. She has no proposals for a Scottish Assembly or any form of devolution or progress in that direction.

If that is her course, she has come round in a big circle. I will not say full circle, because she has never been very much in favour of devolution. She has torn up the proposals that her party put forward in "The Right Approach" not so many years ago. At that time she said: in our view the Union is more likely to be harmed by doing nothing than by responding to the wish of the people of Scotland for less government from the centre. What the right hon. Lady is doing is what she said a few years ago she was not prepared to do.

We believe that if this House says that it will wipe the Scotland Act off the statute book without proper consideration, very serious injury could be inflicted on the United Kingdom and on the Union itself. This House of Commons should pay resepect to the referendum, even if it does not comply with the full requirement of 40 per cent. laid down in the Bill. It was on that basis that we made our proposal to the right hon. Lady and to the other parties. If we win the vote tonight, we will renew these proposals. I hope that every section of the House, whatever its preliminary views on the matter, will be prepared to discuss these issues afresh, otherwise there will be a deep gulf and breach, which will grow in years to come, between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. That would be a highly dangerous development. I hope that Conservatives will have second thoughts on the subject.

In her speech today, the right hon. Lady sought to make us forget what happened in the years of the previous Conservative Government. She also sought to give a very peculiar impression of the kind of legacy the Conservatives left behind for the Labour Government who came to power in 1974. It is interesting to note the things that she did not mention at all. She did not say a word about the balance of payments. I do not know whether she regards that as a matter of any significance. The fact is that the deficit in our balance of payments in the year that she and her right hon. Friends left office was the biggest in our history—even bigger than the deficit that the Tory Party left us in 1964. But of course she wants all that to be wiped away from the public memory. She wants to have wiped away from the public memory also the real figures of the rate of inflation when the Conservatives left office—what is more, a rising rate of inflation. There was a rate of inflation of 14 per cent. in February, with 15 per cent. and more in the pipeline, and a prophecy then of 20 per cent.—

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

What about 8·4 per cent.?

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

We have heard the old parrot cry from all the right hon. and hon. parrots before, and I dare say that they will utter it again. We shall hear it all through the general election campaign, but it will not alter the fact that the Conservatives left us a rising rate of inflation, zooming upwards, with threshold payments inbuilt to make the rate of inflation continue upwards. That is what they left us, and what we have done is to bring the rate down to less than half what it was when the right hon. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends were put out of office. That is another of the major aspects of what has occurred that the Conservatives wish to leave out of the reckoning.

Worst of all, perhaps, the greatest disservice that the right hon. Lady does to the country in the way in which she presents the argument is that she seeks to pretend that all the burdens and problems that we have had to contend with in the past four years—and nobody can say that the storm has not been a fierce one—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] The Conservatives think that there is no storm blowing outside. So ignorant are they of the outside world that they think that there is a storm blowing only here. So incompetent and ill equipped are they to try to put things right that they do not even trouble to know what is happening in other parts of the world.

When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister goes to conferences to meet the leaders of the United States, Japan and other countries, all that the right hon. Lady and her friends can do in the House is to jeer and sneer as if those were matters of no significance. Moreover, the right hon. Lady does something worse. She says that in some way or other this country has been demeaned in the councils of the world during these past four years. There is no basis for that. It is not what the leaders of the other countries say; it is only what the Leader of the Opposition in this country says. That is not what the other countries have said about the policies that we have advocated at the summit meetings.

Why does not the right hon. Lady say whether she agrees or disagrees with the propositions that we have put at those summit meetings? It is because she wishes to mislead the people of this country into thinking that there is a problem only here, that there is no problem in the wider world. We have had this from the Conservative Party on many occasions before. It has happened so often in our history, and I believe that it will happen again in the coming months when the public go to the polls to decide the issue. The argument must be lifted from the levels where the right hon. Lady would have it to the level of seeing what is happening to our country as a whole. Anyone who looks can see a very different story from the one told by the right hon. Lady today.

It is not the case that we have failed to grapple with all the problems in the past four years. We have started to deal with them, even with the limited power that we have had in this House. We have also, despite all the storms, despite all the setbacks, despite all the hardships, carried out major programmes of social reform at the same time. It is because we were determined to carry out those social changes, those social reforms, those improvements in the social services, despite all the difficulties, determined to share better the wealth produced by this country, even if that wealth was not as great as we wanted to it to be, that we have been able to weather the storm and prepare for other times.

So what will happen? What will once again be the choice at the next election? It will not be so dissimilar from the choice that the country had to make in 1945, or even in 1940 when the Labour Party had to come to the rescue of the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

It was on a motion of the Labour Party that the House of Commons threw out the Chamberlain Government in 1940. It was thanks to the Labour Party that Churchill had the chance to serve the country in the war years. Two-thirds of the Conservative Party at that time voted for the same reactionary policies as they will vote for tonight. It is sometimes in the most difficult and painful moments of our history that the country has turned to the Labour Party for salvation, and it has never turned in vain. We saved the country in 1940, and we did it again in 1945. We set out to rescue the country—or what was left of it—in 1974. Here again in 1979 we shall do the same—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. The noise in the Chamber prevents me from hearing what the Lord President is saying.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

They are trying to stop me from getting your vote as well, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I do not know why Conservative Members are saying that this is shameful. I think that it is high time that the Tory Party recovered some sense of humour, even if it has lost everything else—[Interruption.] Conservative Members really ought to have had plenty of practice at laughing at themselves over these recent years, and they should make a better effort on this occasion.

I repeat—and I hope within your hearing, Mr. Speaker—that over the coming weeks and months the British people will make the decision. If the debate is any test, if argument counts for anything, and if overwhelming support from the Govern-

Division No. 109]AYES[10.00 p.m.
Adley, RobertChurchill, W. S.Fry, Peter
Aitken, JonathanClark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Alison, MichaelClark, William (Croydon S)Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Amery, Rt Hon JulianClarke, Kenneth (Rushcllffe)Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Arnold, TomClegg, WalterGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Cockcroft, JohnGilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Glyn, Dr Alan
Awdry, DanielCope, JohnGodber, Rt Hon Joseph
Bain, Mrs MargaretCormack, PatrickGoodhart, Philip
Baker, KennethCorrie, JohnGoodhew, Victor
Banks, RobertCostain, A. P.Goodlad, Alastair
Belth, A. J.Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)Gorst, John
Bell, RonaldCrawford, DouglasGow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Bendall, VivianCritchley, JulianGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)Crouch, DavidGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham)Crowder, F. P.Gray, Hamish
Benyon, W.Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Grieve, Percy
Berry, Hon AnthonyDodsworth, GeoffreyGriffiths, Eldon
Biffen, JohnDouglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesGrimond, Rt Hon J.
Biggs-Davison, JohnDrayson, BurnabyGrist, Ian
Blaker, Peterdu Cann, Rt Hon EdwardGrylls, Michael
Body, RichardDunlop, JohnHall-Davis, A. G. F.
Boscawen, Hon RobertDurant, TonyHamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell)
Bottomley, PeterDykes, HughHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHampson, Dr Keith
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hannam, John
Bradford, Rev RobertElliott, Sir WilliamHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Braine, Sir BernardEmery, PeterHarvie Anderson Rt Hon Miss
Brittan, LeonEwing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Haselhurst, Alan
Brocklebank-Fowler, C.Eyre, ReginaldHastings, Stephen
Brooke, Hon PeterFairbairn, NicholasHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brotherton, MichaelFairgrieve, RussellHawkins, Paul
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Farr, JohnHayhoe, Barney
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnFell, AnthonyHeath, Rt hon Edward
Bryan, Sir PaulFinsberg, GeoffreyHenderson, Douglas
Buchanan-Smith, AlickFisher, Sir NigelHeseltine, Michael
Buck, AntonyFletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)Hicks, Robert
Budgen, NickFletcher-Cooke, CharlesHiggins, Terence L.
Bulmer, EsmondFookes, Miss JanetHodgson, Robin
Burden, F. A.Forman, NigelHolland, Philip
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Hooson, Emlyn
Carlisle, MarkFox, MarcusHordern, Peter
Chalker, Mrs LyndaFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Channon, PaulFreud, ClementHowell, David (Guildford)

ment Benches counts for much, it will of course be a very good election and there will be a thumping Labour majority, too.
We are quite prepared to have an election, but the Conservative Party has always had the idea that it was born to rule, although I should have thought that the country had been cured of that impression long since. It has always thought that everything must be decided according to the desires and whims of Conservative Central Office, that everything else is unpatriotic. Well, we say that this House of Commons should decide when an election takes place, and that the people will decide which Government they will have to follow this one.

We believe that once the record is fully put to the country we shall come hack here with the real majority that the Labour Government require to govern for the next five years.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 311, Noes 310.

Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Montgomery, FergusShepherd, Colin
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Moore, John (Croydon C)Shersby, Michael
Hunt, David (Wirral)More, Jasper (Ludlow)Silvester, Fred
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Morgan, GeraintSims, Roger
Hurd, DouglasMorgan-Giles, Rear-AdmiralSinclair, Sir George
Hutchison, Michael ClarkMorris, Michael (Northampton S)Skeet, T. H. H.
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
James, DavidMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd&W'df'd)Mudd, DavidSmith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Jessel, TobyNeave, AireySpeed, Keith
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)Nelson, AnthonySpence, John
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Neubert. MichaelSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Jones, Arthur (Daventry)Newton, TonySpicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Jopling, MichaelNormanton, TomSproat, lain
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithNott, JohnStainton, Keith
Kaberry, Sir DonaldOnslow, CranleyStanbrook, Ivor
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineOppenheim, Mrs SallyStanley, John
Kershaw, AnthonyOsborn, JohnSteel, Rt Hon David
Kilfedder, JamesPage, John (Harrow West)Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Kimball, MarcusPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
King, Evelyn (South Dorset)Page, Richard (Workington)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
King, Tom (Bridgwater)Paisley, Rev IanStokes, John
Kitson, Sir TimothyPardoe, JohnStradling Thomas, J.
Knight, Mrs JillParkinson, CecilTapsell, Peter
Knox, DavidPattie, GeoffreyTaylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Lamont, NormanPenhaligon, DavidTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnPercival, IanTebbit, Norman
Latham, Michael (Melton)Peyton, Rt Hon JohnTemple-Morris, Peter
Lawrence, IvanPink, R. BonnerThatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Lawson, NigelPowell, Rt Hon J. EnochThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Prentice, Rt Hon RegThompson, George
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Price, David (Eastleigh)Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Lloyd, IanPrior, Rt Hon JamesTownsend, Cyril D.
Loveridge, JohnPym, Rt Hon FrancisTrotter, Neville
Luce, RichardRaison, Timothyvan Straubenzee, W. R.
McAdden, Sir StephenRathbone, TimVaughan, Dr Gerard
MacCormick, lainRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)Viggers, Peter
McCrindle, RobertRees-Davies, W. R.Waddington, David
Macfarlane, NellReid, GeorgeWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
MacGregor, JohnRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)Wakeham, John
MacKay, Andrew (Stechford)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Rhodes James, R.Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonWall, Patrick
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)Ridley, Hon NicholasWalters, Dennis
Madel, DavidRidsdale, JulianWarren, Kenneth
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Rifkind, MalcolmWatt, Hamish
Marten, NeilRippon, Rt Hon GeoffreyWeatherill, Bernard
Mates, MichaelRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Wells, John
Mather, CarolRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)Welsh, Andrew
Maude, AngusRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Mawby, RayRoss, William (Londonderry)Whitney, Raymond
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Wiggin, Jerry
Mayhew, PatrickRost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Meyer, Sir AnthonyRoyle, Sir AnthonyWinterton, Nicholas
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)Sainsbury, TimWood, Rt Hon Richard
Mills, PeterSt. John-Stevas, NormanYoung, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Miscampbell, NormanScott, NicholasYounger, Hon George
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Scott-Hopkins, James
Moate, RogerShaw, Giles (Pudsey)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Molyneaux, JamesShaw, Michael (Scarborough)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Monro, HectorShelton, William (Streatham)Mr. Michael Roberts
Abse, LeoBoothroyd, Miss BettyCastle, Rt Hon Barbara
Allaun, FrankBottomley, Rt Hon ArthurClemitson, Ivor
Anderson, DonaldBoyden, James (Bish Auck)Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterBradley, TomCohen, Stanley
Armstrong, ErnestBray, Dr JeremyColquhoun, Ms Maureen
Ashley, JackBrown, Hugh D. (Provan)Concannon, Rt Hon John
Ashton, JoeBrown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Conlan, Bernard
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Buchan, NormanCorbett, Robin
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Buchanan, RichardCowans, Harry
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Cox, Thomas (Tooting)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Craigen, Jim (Maryhill)
Bates, AlfCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Crawshaw, Richard
Bean, R. E.Campbell, IanCronin, John
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodCanavan, DennisCrowther, Stan (Rotherham)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Cant, R. B.Cryer, Bob
Bidwell SydneyCarmichael, NeilCunningham, G. (Islington S)
Bishop, Rt Hon EdwardCarson, JohnCunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)
Blenkinsop, ArthurCarter, RayDalyell, Tam
Boardman, H.Carter-Jones, LewisDavidson, Arthur
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertCartwright, JohnDavies, Bryan (Enfield N)
Davies, Rt Hon DenzilJudd, FrankRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Kelley, RichardRobertson, George (Hamilton)
Deakins, EricKerr, RussellRobertson, John (Paisley)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Kilroy-Silk, RobertRobinson, Geoffrey
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyKinnock, NeilRoderick, Caerwyn
Dell, Rt Hon EdmundLambie, DavidRodgers, George (Chorley)
Dempsey, JamesLamborn, HarryRodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Dewar, DonaldLamond, JamesRooker, J. W.
Doig, PeterLatham, Arthur (Paddington)Roper, John
Dormand, J. D.Leadbitter, TedRose, Paul B.
Douglas-Mann, BruceLee, JohnRoss, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Duffy, A. E. P.Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Rowlands, Ted
Dunn, James A.Lever, Rt Hon HaroldRyman, John
Dunnett, JackLewis, Arthur (Newham N)Sandelson, Neville
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Sedgemore, Brian
Eadie, AlexLitterick, TomSelby, Harry
Edge, GeoffLofthouse, GeoffreySever, John
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Lomas, KennethShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Loyden, EddieSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Luard, EvanShore, Rt Hon Peter
English, MichaelLyon, Alexander (York)Short, Mrs Renee (Wolv NE)
Ennals, Rt Hon DavidLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)McCartney, HughSillars, James
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)McCusker, H.Silverman, Julius
Evans, John (Newton)McDonald, Dr OonaghSkinner, Dennis
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)McElhone, FrankSmith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)
Faulds, AndrewMacFarquhar, RoderickSnape, Peter
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.McGuire, Michael (Ince)Spearing, Nigel
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)McKay, Allen (Penistone)Spriggs, Leslie
Flannery, MartinMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorStallard, A. W.
Fletcher, L. R. (llkeston)Maclennan, RobertStewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Stoddart, David
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcNamara, KevinStott, Roger
Ford, BenMadden, MaxStrang, Gavin
Forrester, JohnMagee, BryanStrauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Mahon, SimonSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Mallalieu, J. P. W.Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMarks, KennethThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
George, BruceMason, Rt Hon RoyThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMaynard, Miss JoanThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Ginsburg, DavidMeacher, MichaelTierney, Sydney
Golding, JohnMellish, Rt Hon RobertTilley, John
Gould, BryanMikardo, IanTinn, James
Gourlay, HarryMillan, Rt Hon BruceTomlinson, John
Graham, TedMiller, Dr. M. S. (E Kilbrlde)Tomney, Frank
Grant, George (Morpeth)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Torney, Tom
Grant, John (Islington C)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Tuck, Raphael
Grocott, BruceMolloy, WilliamUrwin, T. W.
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Moonman, EricVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Hardy, PeterMorris, Altred (Wythenshawe)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMorris, Rt Hon Charles R.Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hart, Rt Hon JudithMorris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Hattersley, Rt Kon RoyMorton, GeorgeWard, Michael
Hayman, Mrs HeleneMoyle, Rt Hon RolandWatkins, David
Healey, Rt Hon DenisMulley, Rt Hon FrederickWatkinson, John
Heffer, Eric S.Murray, Rt Hon Ronald KingWeetch, Ken
Home Robertson, JohnNewens, StanleyWeitzman, David
Hooley, FrankNoble, MikeWellbeloved, James
Horam, JohnOakes, GordonWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Ogden, EricWhite, James (Pollock)
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)O'Halloran, MichaelWhitehead, Phillip
Huckfield, LesOrbach, MauriceWhitlock, William
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWigley, Dafydd
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Ovenden, JohnWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Padley, WalterWilliams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hunter, AdamPalmer, ArthurWilliams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)Park, GeorgeWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)Parker, JohnWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Parry, RobertWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Janner, GrevillePavitt, LaurieWise, Mrs Audrey
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPendry, TomWoodall, Alec
Jeger, Mrs LenaPerry, ErnestWoof, Robert
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Phipps, Dr ColinWrigglesworth, Ian
John, BrynmorPrescott, JohnYoung, David (Bolton E)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Price, William (Rugby)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jones, Alec (Rhondda)Radice, GilesMr. James Hamilton and
Jones, Barry (East Flint)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)Mr. Donald Coleman.
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Richardson, Miss Jo

Question accordingly agreed to.


That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Prime Minister, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Mr. Speaker, now that the House of Commons has declared itself, we shall take our case to the country. Tomorrow I shall propose to Her Majesty that Parliament be dissolved as soon as essential business can be cleared up, and I shall then announce as soon as may be—and that will be as soon as possible—the date of Dissolution, the date of the election and the date of meeting of the new Parliament.