David Harris – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by David Harris, the then Conservative MP for St. Ives, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

I welcome many parts of the Queen’s Speech and especially endorse the proposals for tougher legislation against riotous assemblies. The powers of the police need to be strengthened. I was delighted at the way in which the Prime Minister called on the nation to stand four square behind our police forces in the difficult role that they have had to play in recent months, particularly in the inner city riots.

I am encouraged by the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), to say how glad I am that the Government are apparently going ahead with the Okehampton bypass Bill. I believe that it is an open secret in the House that the Government intend to introduce such a measure, and I hope that it will have the backing not just of this House but of another place, in view of the importance of that bypass to the south-west of England, to west Devon and to the whole of Cornwall. One of the problems faced by the county of Cornwall is the communications bottleneck caused by the awful state of the A30. If ever a road needed to be built quickly, it is the Okehampton bypass. I ask hon. Members in this House and in another place who have sincere doubts, based on a misconception of the facts about that Bill and the effects of the proposed road on the Dartmoor national park, to look at the map and see how the proposed bypass will just clip the edge of Dartmoor national park. It is the best route in environmental terms.

I have reservations about one aspect of the Queen’s Speech which has already been mentioned today—the Government’s intention to legislate on Sunday shopping hours. This will come as no surprise to the Whips, because I was one of those Conservative Members who voted against the proposals that were put to the House earlier in the year. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly spoke of the importance of choice. Choice is important. I do not see why we necessarily need a uniform approach to the subject. What might be right in the suburbs of Greater London or the midlands could be wrong in areas such as the far west of Cornwall which I represent. I do not see anything wrong with letting localities decide whether they want shops open. I urge my right hon. Friend to look again at this proposal. The arguments that I have heard developed since the House debated this subject have not changed my views.

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the crisis which is facing Cornwall and, indeed, the whole of the tin industry. Thirteen days ago trading in tin on the London metal exchange was suddenly suspended. The decision cast a long shadow over the Cornish economy, especially those parts of Cornwall which still have tin mines, one of which, Geevor, is in my constituency. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade for seeing me about this issue. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) also attended that meeting. We urged my right hon. Friend to do everything he could to ensure that Britain took the lead in reopening talks in the International Tin Council. Those talks had already started when we met the Minister, but it was clear that they would not end in agreement. I am pleased to say that since then, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has taken the lead in reconvening the International Tin Council, and a meeting started earlier today. I hope that, at that meeting, there will be an attempt to achieve some stability in what is an international crisis.

However, what disturbs me is that, up to now, comment has been chiefly concerned with the consequences for the City and for the London metal exchange. These are extremely important matters, and I would not wish to belittle them, but what concerns me is the plight of the tin mines in Cornwall. I fear that their plight has been overlooked because of major financial considerations. My simple plea to the Government is not to overlook the tin industry in Cornwall. Ministers might be tempted to think that it is a somewhat insignificant industry in United Kingdom terms. It employs just over 1,500 people directly in Cornwall and the same again indirectly. It is vital to certain parts of Cornwall.

Geevor mine is a few miles from Land’s End on the north coast of Cornwall. The remote area of St. Just and Pendeen is absolutely dependent on that tin mine, which employs over 300 people. It would be devastating for that area if that or any other tin mine in Cornwall were to close. Closure would have a serious impact on a region which already has very high unemployment.

I believe that tin mines have a strategic importance, because they are the only ones of their type in the whole of the European Community. If the talks in the International Tin Council do not stabilise the situation, the Government would be justified in giving special temporary assistance to enable them to withstand this temporary crisis. I am convinced that it is a temporary crisis brought about by the fluctuation in currencies and other factors which have complicated the international situation. Only ​ a few months ago, the trading price of tin was over £10.000 a tonne. When trading was suspended, it was £8,000 and falling. Unless something is done, the price could drop to £4,000 a tonne. I hope that that never happens, because it would cast serious doubts on the viability of the mines in the short term. I am prepared to wager, however, that after a reasonable period the price of tin will go up again. It would be ridiculous if in the meantime, tin mines were to close, never to reopen. That must not be allowed to happen. I am aware of the difficulties facing the Government, but my hon. Friends and I will do everything in our power to ensure that those mines have a chance to survive and that the mining communities are saved.