Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjourment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the proposed decision by the chairman of Volvo Truck and Bus to sack 400 workers in the Leyland bus plant in Lancashire, near my constituency."
I was shocked and disgusted when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the current chairman of the Conservative party, failed yesterday at the Dispatch Box to give any indication of the Government's resolve to prevent Volvo Truck and Bus from betraying the Leyland- Daf Buses work force, thus further weakening the industrial base of the economy of the north-west.
Two years ago, the Government promoted the sale of Leyland-Daf Buses to a new foreign owner, with a fanfare of optimism and promises of new investment, job opportunities and long-term security. Yet, without either a warning from the company or any note of caution or regret from the Government, bus production in Lancashire is being put at risk and the production of all bus chassis is to be ended. How can a company such as Leyland, with a worldwide reputation for quality, be so cynically undermined by a boardroom decision made outside the United Kingdom but affecting the entire British manufacturing base? Under the present Government, British manufacturing industry is being bought wholesale by foreign companies, and is being closed down on the Government's whim. The Government, in the guise of the Minister for Roads and Traffic--the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins)
Column 160--the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, must take full responsibility for allowing the present situation to develop.
Labour Members in the north-west are demanding action from the Government to prevent the Volvo corporation from imposing its two-week deadline on the work force. They must come up with a scheme to prevent the closure of the plant. It is an outrage that the workers should be put under such strain at such an important time, and the guarantees given two years ago should be recognised and implemented by both the Government and the Volvo corporation. Suspending the redundancies is not enough ; they must be withdrawn immediately, and a commitment must be given that the 400 jobs in Lancashire will be retained.
Finally, let me thank the editor and staff of the Lancashire Evening Post for joining in the campaign on behalf of the work force.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the announcement that nearly 400 redundancies are to take place at Leyland Daf Buses."
As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20 I must announce my decision without giving my reasons to the House. I listened with care to what the hon. Gentleman said. As he knows, I have to decide whether his application should take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order, and that I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to give guidance on the subject of the declaration of interests by hon. Members? In last night's television programme "World in Action", a number of Members, whom I have no intention of naming, were said to have commercial interests outside the House which they had not declared. I believe that that programme raised matters which concern the reputation of the House. We have said--as you have said, Mr. Speaker--that this is an honourable House. It must be said that undoubtedly a number of people who watched that programme last night must be wondering how those with commercial interests, who in many respects are just lobbyists paid for by companies, can raise on the Floor of the House of Commons, at Question Time or on other occasions, matters in which they have a direct financial interest. That would not be allowed in a local authority. Indeed, the traditions--
It was said last night that it was not necesary to declare an interest at Question Time. If you come to the conclusion, Mr. Speaker, that the reputation of the House is being abused because Members are exploiting that loophole by not declaring their interests at Question Time, when in fact they have a direct financial or commercial interest, may I ask you to rule that they do so?
Mr. Howarth : My point of order concerns the same matter, Mr. Speaker, and I think I can be of assistance. In view of the sanctimonious nonsense that is traditionally spoken by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), whom nobody would employ to do anything, may I express the hope that, in taking this matter into account, you will bear in mind that many Opposition Members are nakedly sponsored by trade unions and who spend their entire time using the House in furtherance of their trade union interests?
I made it clear yesterday that these are matters in the first instance for the Select Committee on Members' Interests under Standing Order No. 128. That Committee considers any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests. The Committee also considers any proposals made by Members or others as to the form and contents of the Register of Members' Interests.
The Committee is currently examining the whole question of outside lobbyists and their relations with Members. I cannot comment from the Chair on
Column 162allegations of non-compliance with the rules for registration. Any information that Members or others have relevant to these issues should be sent to the Committee and not debated across the Floor of the House.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On a matter of clarification relating to lobbyists, would you agree that that word would cover any body which is involved in lobbying Members of Parliament? If so, it must embrace trade unions and other bodies which actively lobby all of us. I hope that that will be borne in mind.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? You will be aware that in a highly dynamic situation which was developing during the course of the day today, I tried to raise through the usual means the question of the dumping fly ash in the North sea off the north-east. I was advised by your office that one reason why the issue could not be raised was that, because three people had been arrested, the matter was considered to be sub judice.
This is a matter of some puzzlement to me. People are frequently arrested in relation to demonstrations about matters of public concern and are not necessarily subsequently charged, or there may not be a case to answer. The point on which I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, is whether we are to assume that when anybody is arrested in the course of some matter of public concern, we are prevented from raising it in the House. If so, that seems to be creating a precedent.
Mr. Speaker : I can give the hon. Gentleman guidance on that matter. He sought to raise the matter in an application under Standing Order No. 20 asking for a debate which would take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. My office gave him the guidance that that would not be in order because the men concerned--I think they were all men--had been arrested, and clearly it would not be in order to have a debate on the subject. The hon. Gentleman can put down a question regarding the disposal of ash ; that would be a completely different matter.
Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? The Register of Members' Interests shows that about 90 per cent. of Labour Members are sponsored by trade unions in their constituencies. The Register of Members' Interests states that many of them are under something called the Hastings agreement, which, as far as I can tell, seems to be that the unions pay for all those goods and services in their constituencies which other Members of Parliament have to pay for themselves out of their taxed income. I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, as a matter of guidance : is it not right that hon. Members who receive vast benefits from various trade unions should declare the exact amount that they are receiving, because they are receiving it in kind?
Several Hon. Members rose--
Column 163Mr. Speaker : Order. I have already made the position absolutely clear to the House. It is a matter for the Select Committee on Members' Interests.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I pursue just a little further the matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) raised with you? The House is aware that, if a legal process is in action, you exercise the sub judice rule across all our business, whether it is a debate or an application under Standing Order No. 20. I think I am right in saying that that has never before happened on arrest.
As a matter of law, someone is innocent until proved guilty and certainly is not regarded as apprehended until he is charged. May I ask you to reflect on the matter generally? It affects not only the issue that my hon. Friend raised about dumping in the North sea, but all our business. Could you rule either today or tomorrow whether, between arrest and charge, a matter is not sub judice, as is the traditional understanding as a matter of law?
Mr. Speaker : I have made the matter absolutely clear. It is not a suitable subject for an application under Standing Order No. 20. If we had applications under Standing Order No. 20 every time anyone was arrested, we should never get any business done. The hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) made a specific request under Standing Order No. 20 to discuss those arrests. I passed the message to him that that would not be appropriate. If he would like to discuss the matter with me, I should be happy to do so.
Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I beg your indulgence to explain to the House that the Hastings agreement is an agreement between the trades unions and the local Labour party relating only to a percentage of the money paid for an election? None of us receives any personal remuneration whatsoever. Therefore, it is a total lie for hon. Gentlemen to suggest otherwise.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that the House would be well advised to wait until the Select Committee has carefully considered the matter, which I have already said is before it. Doubtless there will then be a debate in which all these matters will be in order. We should not deal with it this afternoon, on a day when we have very heavy business before us.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Ian McCartney presented a Bill to protect the general public in the purchase and application of toxic and
Column 164hazardous substances within the home environment ; to provide a code of conduct for use by consumers and contractors ; to set up a register of proscribed substances ; and for other purposes. And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 26 January and to be printed. [Bill 52.]
Mr. Bob Cryer, supported by Mrs. Alice Mahon,Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Terry Lewis, Mr. Pat Wall, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Dave Nellist,Mr. Eric S. Heffer and Mr. John Hughes, presented a Bill to provide a public register of organisations who carry out the lobbying of Parliament for commercial gain and the disclosure of expenditure by such organisations ; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 26 January and to be printed. [Bill 53.]
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Have you seen early-day motion 290, which questions the right of members of the press lobby to publish information on the proceedings of the House? Have you read the motion, Mr. Speaker? While it refers to me, it then
"calls upon the Select Committee on the Televising of the House to review the terms upon which the Chamber and committees are televised to seek to prevent further similar uses of the proceedings of the House."
The motion is similar to asking the Services Committee to prevent newspapers from publishing the proceedings of Parliament, which in itself means that there are 43 hon. Members who think that they have the right to require The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent and every national newspaper to refrain from publishing information which they believe should be in the public domain.
The motion is an attempt to censor the House of Commons and to censor hon. Members because we are raising issues relating to the private interests of Members of Parliament, an issue of great public concern.
Ten-minute rule motion--
Mr. Bennett : It is on the circulation of the Register. The programme to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred was very one-sided. It referred only to Conservative Members. Could you arrange, Mr. Speaker, for a copy of the Register of Members' Interests to be sent to Granada Television so that it may see, for
Column 165instance, that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has three adviserships? No mention was made of Labour Members who are advisers and consultants.
Several Hon. Members rose
Ten-minute rule motion, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require local authorities and health authorities to monitor the condition of their retired population ; to eliminate standing charges on gas, electricity and water ; to exempt pensioners from licence charges and telephone rental ; to extend pensioners' concessionary fare schemes ; to make provision for the calculation of old-age pensions by reference to average earnings ; and to appoint a Minister with responsibility for retired people.
This is the seventh occasion on which such a Bill has been introduced. I introduce it because the plight of elderly people is growing poverty, growing misery and a growing fear that they will not be able to make ends meet and that they will lead a lonely and miserable life. It is up to the House to address the problem urgently and to introduce a comprehensive measure, said as this Bill, which would eliminate the poverty that causes the problem.
The state old-age pension in Britain is the lowest of any European industrial country. The proportion is getting worse compared to the rest of Europe. That is compounded by cuts in social services provision by local authorities and by cuts in health provision. It is further compounded by the steadily increasing cost of gas, electricity, water and telephones, all of which have been privatised since the Government took office, and all of which are charging considerably more for what is often an inferior service.
The life expectancy of elderly people in this country is becoming lower that that of those in other industrial countries with which it is reasonable to make a comparison. I am glad that, so far, we have not had a cold winter, but should there be one, once again the horror of deaths from hypothermia will occur, not because there is insufficent capacity to heat old people's homes but because the cost of heating is far too high. The Bill includes a series of measures to eliminate much of the poverty from which elderly people suffer. In 1980, the Government broke the link between the state old-age pension and the level of average earnings, which was a disgraceful and shameful act. That link should be restored, and the Bill aims to do so immediately. If it were restored in April 1990, the state old -age pension would be £13.10 a week higher for single people ands £20.70 a week higher for a pensioner couple. Pensioners have been robbed of that money since the earnings link was broken in 1980. That scandal must be put right.
The Government claim--indeed, their strategy is based on this idea--that an increasing number of people will subscribe to occupational or private pension schemes. That may suit the god of the market economy--indeed, it probably satisfies those many people who are making much money out of it-- but the reality is that only half of all pensioners have any income from occupational or private pension schemes. That is a small figure, and only one third of women pensioners have any income from private pensions. The majority of old people rely on the state old-age pension and other state benefits for which they may be eligible, which is why the Bill is timely and important.
The proportion of the state old-age pension compared with the level of average earnings has steadily declined, and is now at its lowest level for over 20 years. From April
Column 1671990, as a percentage of male industrial earnings, the state old-age pension for a single person is merely 16 per cent., which is a disgraceful figure. Many people in work find that figure disgraceful, and the enormous and growing active pensioners movement is campaigning hard for an entirely different deal for the state old-age pension and pensioners in general. It campaigned before the first world war to get the state old-age pension introduced. Elderly and retired people have always faced an uphill struggle, which is why I am introducing the Bill.
A Minister should be appointed with responsibility to co-ordinate policy for the retired population and for old-age pensioners. That Minister would report annually to Parliament on the condition, health, life expectancy and average income of old people, which would offer an annual opportunity to focus on their plight.
The Bill would require local authorities and local health authorities to produce an annual report on the services that they offer old people in their communities, what provisions they make and the conditions from which pensioners suffer, be they housing, lack of health facilities, domiciliary care, or any other concerns. Those who receive meals on wheels and other care are least able to protest about them. When cuts are made, they often suffer terribly, but in silence.
The Bill would abolish standing charges on gas, electricity and water for pensioner households. The unit cost of gas, electricity and water is considerably higher for low-consuming pensioner households than for other people. The Bill would also do what other hon. Members most notably my hon. Friend for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), have tried to do--to end the scandal of pensioners having to pay for a television licence--and it would stop them having to pay telephone rental charges. For them, a telephone is not a luxury, but a necessity so that they can maintain contact with friends and relatives.
The Bill would also protect the concessionary fare schemes in some parts of the country. They do not exist through the action of the Government-- indeed, the local authorities that introduced the schemes were often penalised for doing so. The Bill would protect the existing schemes and would seek to introduce a national scheme to allow concessionary travel schemes for elderly people throughout the country. Old people deserve and should have that right of mobility. The Bill also seeks to re-establish the link between the state old-age pension and average earnings. Each April, the state old-age pension would be increased in line with
Column 168average earnings. The Bill would include provisions to give old people what the National Pensioners Convention demands--a state old-age pension equal to half the average industrial earnings for a pensioner couple and to one third for a single person. That would be a big increase and would do much to right many of the injustices and wrongs that pensioners face.
The treatment of pensioners is bad and wrong. Pensioners are suffering seriously from the changes in the social security system, and the cuts in local government expenditure and local health authority expenditure. Old people are in a difficult position. They may not be as ambulant as they were when younger, or able to protest as loudly as those in work or as younger members of the population. They are the least able to mount a major protest. Despite that, the National Pensioners Convention and all the local pensioners' organisations are daily demanding justice for old people. If a measure of the quality of a civilisation is how well it treats its old people, this civilisation is sadly and badly wanting and the misery of many elderly people is a scandal. I hope that the House will do what it can to redress that imbalance and to right that wrong by passing the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. David Winnick, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. Bernie Grant, Mr. Frank Cook, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Tony Banks and Mr. Bill Michie.