By KEVIN McNAMARA, MP
The difficulty of writing this column is that it is supposed to be written on a Sunday afternoon when we have come back from Children's Mass and before television comes on for us to watch "Anne of Avonlea" or so is the legend.
Having seen Mr Whitelaw dry a cup and Mrs Thatcher peel potatoes, I now feel that the dreadful truth must be told and I must make an open declaration, indeed a confession of my own domesticity which should obviously qualify me for high office of State, should the Tories ever win an election.
This article is written between washing the dinner dishes and doing violence to a tin of beans with a can opener, punctuated of course with listening to the children's violin and piano practice and putting little plasters on the dear little fellow's grazed knees. I listen appreciatively to the latest awful joke from the Gang Show.
So now you know, surprise, surprise, I am a politician, I have children, I can open a tin and have patience. Not only that but I clean my own shoes, have been known to take my wife tea to bed when at home. I am very experienced in the two different ways of changing nappies and can tell the difference between Barnsley Bitter and Federation.
In fact, I am so ordinary that if I hadn't been so modest as well I might have answered the advert in the paper for cook-butlernannie, Leader of the Tory Party.
Mrs Thatcher and Mr Whitelaw could have shown far more understanding for ordinary people than all the kitchen chores nonsense had they shown some concern for ordinary people when they were last in office, just one small example would have been if Mrs Thatcher had considered the effect on the health of the nation's children and the purses of the lower paid who didn't qualify for Family Incomes Supplement when she took away free milk.
Mr Heath's Irish policy
The irony of Mr Heath's fall from Leadership of the Tory Party is that he was the most radical Conservative Prime Minister of this century. His claim to fame lay in the mishandling of three great issues: Europe, Industrial Relations and Ireland, He was a great innovator and a man of courage and yet in each of these fields he lacked success.
The Common Market is subject to increasing controversy and a referendum which may see the British people voting themselves out of the European Economic Community, an organisation into which they might have gone quite willingly had Mr Heath carried out his promise of "obtaining the full-hearted consent of the British Parliament and people." In the field of industrial relations, the Industrial Relations Act was aimed at curbing the power of the unions, containing them, restraining their monopolistic economic power — something which I have yet to see. Nonetheless, his policy failed and was brought into contempt not by the actions of the five dockers, or the miners, or Hugh Scanlon, or Jack Jones, but by the pranks of the Official Solicitor who appeared, deus ex machima, to get the Government and the Industrial Relations Court off the hook, and has long since disappeared into the obscurity from whence he came.
The third casualty, as I suggested a fortnight ago, was his Irish policy which he threw away as a result of his confrontation with the miners. He had courageously broken the traditional ties of the Conservative and Unionist Party with the discredited Unionists of Northern Ireland.
After Derry's "Bloody Sunday" he was determined to end "the nonsense" in the Six Counties. One can imagine him applying his logical mind to the problem and deciding to get rid of Stormont, work for a "fair and just" solution and Eine which all Irishmen would have the good sense to accept.
Indeed, people who saw him in operation at the Sunningdale Conference declared that its success was due not so much to the Celtic magic of the SDLP or the Republic's representatives, but to Mr Heath's essential grasp of the problem, that there were three basic objects which had to be achieved — protect the Protestant position: give the Catholics an outlet for their aspirations towards a United Ireland; and to find a way of making the police acceptable to the minority community in the Six Counties. He failed in his Irish policy not because it was wrong or that he lacked sympathy for the various Irish factions, but because in fighting the miners and calling the February election, he allowed the disgruntled rump of the Official Unionist Party, Craig's Vanguard Party and Paisley's Democratic Unionists to coalesce into the new United Ulster Council and to play upon Protes tant fears before the newly created Northern Ireland Executive could deliver any of the goods. It was sad and noticeable that none of the heavy quality papers in their wisdom thought to examine Mr Heath's Irish policy. Had he not been so obstinate with the miners he might well have gone down in history as the man who solved the Irish question, or the British question, depending upon which side of the Irish Sea you may be reading this paper.
Well-earned rest for Bob Mellish
Thursday was the end of one of the longest running mysteries in the Palace of Westminster. When a number of Labour MPs voted with the Tories over the Pensioners' Earnings Rule a fortnight earlier and the Government was defeated, Bob Mellish failed to explode into his usual colourful and forthright language and to state exactly what he thought of people who not merely voted against the Labour Government but voted against the Labour Government with the Tories.
As a result the palace was agog with rumours. Bob was going to resign. Ernest Armstrong or Brian O'Malley was to be the new Chief Whip and Bob was going, no one knew quite where, perhaps to be the new chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Association. Then last Thursday we had the answer and the news. Bob was going to Lancing for a fortnight's rest. He had had a slight heart attack just over a fortnight ago and was not in a fit condition to make his comments about the Labour rebels. Lady Plowden is going to be in charge of the IBA — end of speculation. Nevertheless, the heart attack does illustrate the strain under which Bob Mellish has been liv ing for the past five years; constant attendance at the House, father-confessor for all Labour Members from the newest Back-bencher to the
Prime Minister and having always to be so many moves ahead in the game of outwitting the Opposition. They are not carved pieces of ivory he is moving but real men and they are as likely as not to put him into check as to mate the Tories.
Everyone hopes he will enjoy his rest and looks forward to seeing him back in his corner seat on the front bench by the gangway where he can keep a watchful eye on the Opposition before him and his honourable friends above and below the gangway — all good Chief Whips have eyes in the back of their heads,
Packed House for Abortion Bill
Friday saw the House of Commons more packed than on any Friday I can recall since the day Mr Heath dissolved Stormont, and imposed direct rule on Northern Ireland.
Friday's debate was the introduction by Mr James White of the Abortion Law Amendment Bill, The great attendance showed the concern felt by Members over the issue and the strength of feeling amongst their constituents.
My earlier appeal in the Catholic Herald for short, serious, honest letters to MPs did not apparently go unheeded. Many Members who were in the House when the abortion controversy was originally raised, have commented upon the quality of the arguments and the temperate tone of the letters. For this better temper and level of debate as far as Catholic Herald readers are responsible, I am grateful.
The outcome of the debate is well known. The Government came to an agreement with the sponsors of the Bill that if, following the Bill's having been debated, the sponsors would withdraw the Bill, then the Government would ensure that the Bill would go to a Select Com mittee of the House where the principles in Mr White's Bill could be examined.
Now it must be made absolutely clear that the Abortion Amendment Bill concedes the princi ple of the legitimacy of abortion, it merely seeks to regulate the conditions under which abortion may be carried out, "foetal material" removed.
However, the advantage of the Bill going to a Select Committee, in the Government's opinion, is that from the Select Committee may emerge a comprehensive and agreed measure on abortion that would remove it from public controversy.
Obviously that will not happen but there are positive advantages in this procedure, both to opponents of abortion and to those who seek tO extend it.
' Such a committee will have far more power than had the Lane Committee, established by Sir Keith Joseph, to summon witnesses and to hear evidence. A Select Committee cannot only request evidence but can compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of papers. It will give an opportunity to those who oppose abortion, and therefore want to set Mr White's Bill attacked for conceding a principle; to those who support the Bill as a compromise, and to those who reject the Bill for not allowing Abortion on Demand.
All these bodies and anyone else can request to come before the Committee to argue their case.
However, just in case they thought the Government might not appreciate the degree of concern that Members felt and to show that on Private Members' Day the Government cannot always have their own way, the House refused to allow Mr White to withdraw the Bill and voted by 203 votes to 88, a majority in favour of the Bill of 115. The Bill was then committed to a Select Committee.
Barbara Ward puts it straight
Sunday. Amidst the heavy atmosphere of doom and the apparent hopelessness of the tragedies like Bangladesh, it was good to see and hear Barbara Ward in "Time Running Out" demonstrating a positive attitude to these awesome problems and putting our own difficulties into perspective, with a combination of idealism, practicality and commonsense.
She did not wish the problems away but indicated how they could be tackled without throwing up one's hands in despair.
There were some memorable quotes: "Men shall not live by bread alone, but by God it's a good start," "Treat problems with generosity," "Put the cost of feeding 320 million starving children in its proper perspective as a small percentage of what the world spends on defence," "It would cost just 20 dollars a head," "Plan, prepare."
This was practical Christianity. "Write to your MP," she suggested. She was right. When the Rome Congress was held last year to discuss World Starvation, I received six letters on the subject, all from Anglicans.
The only problem that I can recall arising from my correspondence dealing with world starvation, poverty and what perhaps is our future, is that everyone would like to do something, to give more for distribution to the needy, but they write that it should come out of existing taxation and not out of an increase in taxation.
Everyone could point out ways in which the Government are just wasting money which could be better spent. . .
One day perhaps constituents will write not in their half dozens but in their thousands to say that on top of' their already high burden of taxation they consider that the Government should levy an extra amount on progressive income tax as a special levy to feed and to provide for the starving to enable them to help themselves. When such letters come Barbara Ward's message will have been understood.