House Of Commons
Thursday, 16th December, 1971
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Message From The Queen
The VICE-CHAMBERLAIN OF THE HOUSE HOLD reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address as follows:
I have received your Address praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Trinidad and Tobago) Order, 1971, be made in the form of the draft laid before your House.
I will comply with your request.
Clyde Port Authority Order Confirmation Bill
Read the Third time and passed.
Oral Answers To Questions
Education And Science
Secondary Schools (Improvement)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many financial requests she has now received from local education authorities for permission to start schemes of improvement or replacement of maintained secondary schools for the years 1972–73 and 1973–74; and what percentage of requests she has authorised for each year.
The information asked for in the first part of the Question cannot be provided without disproportionate expenditure of money and manpower. The only secondary school improvement or replacement projects which have been included in the programmes for 1972–74 are those where the main objective is the improvement of conditions in primary schools.
Did the right hon. Lady try to get extra resources for these primary or secondary schools, or did she welcome the opportunity that the cut-back gave to slow down the progress towards comprehensive secondary reorganisation?
I took the view that the conditions in many primary schools required even more urgent improvement than the conditions in secondary schools. In the first two years of the present Government's improvement programme, about three times as much money has been allocated in total than for the previous two years, the greater part going to primary schools.
Will my right hon. Friend continue to emphasise the primary school replacement programme—there are at least 90 primary schools in Derbyshire which were built in the last century—before she starts building new secondary schools, whether comprehensive or any other type?
I am well aware of the urgency of replacing a large number of primary schools and the programme has been welcomed. I should also like to do some secondary school improvement projects as well, but it is not possible except to the extent that I indicated in my answer.
Since the Secretary of State is cutting both primary and secondary school building programmes in 1973, could she not use some money here for the immediate improvement of secondary schools?
I am not cutting any school building programme at all. They are record programmes. There was a building programme for the raising of the school-leaving age, which will come to an end because it will have been completed. Apart from that, the combined basic need and improvement programmes show an increase over the previous year.
Central Advisory Councils
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she proposes to take to implement Sections 4 and 5 of the Education Act, 1944.
In regard to Section 4, none at present. Under Section 5 a report on education for the year 1971 will be submitted to Parliament in due course.
In not thanking the right hon. Lady for that non-reply, may I ask her to realise that she is defying the Education Act, 1944, as well as the requirement of Parliament that reports of the central advisory councils should be made? Is she aware that if they existed they would have a statutory duty to advise her on various matters? Is she afraid of receiving advice on such matters as school milk and school building?
Governments of both parties have taken the same view about this. Both have appointed independent committees to advise them on specific matters. Both have had extensive sources of advice. The hon. Gentleman and I took part in a quite lengthy and interesting Adjournment debate on this subject and I have nothing to add to what was said on that occasion.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what response she has had so far to her consultative document on the financing of students' unions; and if she will make a statement.
Of the organisations consulted, some have already taken part in preliminary discussions, others have sent in written memoranda. Consultations are continuing.
Whatever the outcome of these consultations, will my right hon. Friend take care to ensure that in future no student is obliged to belong to the National Union of Students or is obliged to contribute either his own or his family resources to the cost of a student union? Will she look carefully again at the bizarre proposal in the Green Paper that in future voluntary student contributions to political funds should be a charge on the taxpayer or ratepayer?
I cannot at the moment guarantee what my hon. Friend seeks in the first part of his supplementary question. Some reference to this is made in the consultative document. For the rest, we have already had consultations with vice-chancellors and local education authorities. I have today received a message saying that the students have now fixed a date for a meeting next week and I think it better that we should continue the discussions before announcing any premature decisions.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the fact that the students are unanimously incensed against the Government is entirely of her doing? Does she not understand that it was absolutely predictable that her half-baked ideas would be seen as firm proposals when only one of the various possible alternatives was discussed in detail in the document and when that was prefaced by the words "It would probably be the most acceptable"? Acceptable to whom? Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that if she does not back down on the central proposition, about which the document is wrong, a future Labour Government will revoke it?
I find that, coming from the hon. Gentleman, difficult to take. Would lie suggest that I put back the regulations to where they were when the Labour Government left office? If so, the students would have nothing like the rights which they now have—[Interruption]—because we altered the regulations to give students the right to a compulsory fee. I am anxious for the discussions to continue and they will continue with vice-chancellors, local education authorities and students, who are not unanimously against the proposals judging from the letters I have received.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is desirable that as a result of these discussions student unions should be accountable for such public money as they may receive and that the constitutions of student unions should have within them adequate minimum safeguards to ensure that they are operated in the interests of the majority of students and cannot be abused by militant minorities through defects in procedure? Is it not to be hoped—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long".]—that the position of student unions will be strengthened not only in universities but in other institutions of learning?
I agreed that the two main points raised by my hon. Friend in his supplementary question are most important—that the money should be properly accounted for and that decisions should be taken by a body which is properly representative of the students' wishes.
Does not the right hon. Lady now realise that her good will in the forthcoming discussions would be taken more seriously if today we had one word of encouragement about the useful work that has been done by the N.U.S. and the vast majority of student unions, particularly as not one such word appears in the consultative document?
I gladly acknowledge some of the excellent work that is done by both the N.U.S. and a number of student unions—indeed, by most of them.
Secondary Reorganisation (Derbyshire)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is examining the objections raised by parents in the Melbourne, Aston-on-Trent, Barrow-on-Trent, and Weston-on-Trent areas of Derbyshire, against the proposed reorganisation of secondary education in the Sector "B" of Derby Borough; and whether she will give assurances that equality of educational opportunity will be provided to children in these areas with those offered to children in Derby Borough.
The period for objection to these statutory proposals expired only last Monday. Before making her decision my right hon. Friend will carefully consider all the objections which have been received. I cannot say more at this stage.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that slightly helpful reply, may I ask him for an assurance that parents in the Melbourne, Aston, Weston and Barrow-on-Trent areas will not be let down over the reorganisation of Sector "B" as were the parents in my constituency over the reorganisation of Sector "E", when a botched-up scheme was bulldozed through against the best interests of teachers and parents? May we now please have an assurance that the 500 letters which I have received about this will be adequately considered? May we also have the Minister's confirmation of the fact that the county education committee reluctantly had to lodge an official objection to the Derby Borough education proposals?
I can confirm that objections have been received from, among others, the parents described by my hon. Friend. I can also confirm that a formal objection has been made by the county authority. These and all others that are received will be most carefully considered and weighed. As I have said, the expiry of the period occurred only last Monday. I hope that my hon. Friend will feel, therefore, that my answer was rather more than slightly helpful.
Primary School, Upper Holloway
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she hopes to announce her decision on the proposed primary school for St. Gabriel's Parish, N.19; and if she will make a statement.
The Inner London Education Authority's proposals for the next school building programme include one to build a new Roman Catholic primary school in Upper Holloway. My right hon. Friend hopes to announce the programme next spring.
In view of that very disappointing reply, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that more than 100 children must travel outside Islington to school every day and that this number is growing? Does he intend to do something about this?
I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have appreciated that the order in which this particular school is placed in the local authority's list is the concern of the local authority. I am sure he will take encouragement from the fact that for 1973–74 the authority proposed 24 primary improvement projects of which my right hon. Friend has been able to approve no less than 21 at a total cost of over £2·5 million, which is a good pointer for the future.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will consult with the Home Department to ascertain the area in which the immigrants who are now known to be eligible to receive work permits have indicated they will settle for the purpose of enabling her to estimate the number of children of school age for whom places will be required; and whether she will seek powers to give extra help to those local education authorities who are likely to have a large influx.
I am in touch with my right hon. Friend about this matter. Authorities with substantial numbers of immigrant pupils are already eligible for special help under various provisions.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is not the slightest racialist overtone in this Question and that integration in my area is fantastically good, thanks to the help of the Community Relations Committee, the Willesden Chronicle and the Kingsbury News, which give excellent coverage to these matters? Is the Minister aware, however, that if we must have this large number of people needing school places, we would be grateful for the maximum amount of practical help to enable us to absorb the large number in my area?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments and I assure him that we shall do our best to help.
To what extent, if any, is the concentration of immigrants now a criterion in allocating money in the urban programme?
It is still one of the criteria. The criteria have not changed since the right hon. Gentleman was in office.
Medical Research Council
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many times during the past five years the Medical Research Council has refused to undertake a specific research project requested by the Department of Health and Social Security or the former Ministry of Health.
In that case, is there any need for changes of the kind recommended in the Rothschild Report?
Possible changes have been put before the research councils for the purpose of consultation. Again, extensive consultations have started and I think it would be unwise of me to say anything until they have been completed and the Government have decided what proposals to bring forward.
Have any of the research councils refused to take on such projects?
I cannot speak off-hand about some of the others, but I believe that the Agricultural Research Council has never refused to take on a project suggested to it. I have not specifically looked at the other two.
Violence In Schools
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will establish an inquiry into the problem of violence in schools.
I share my hon. Friend's concern, but I am not sure that a centralised inquiry would make the best contribution towards solving this problem.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that that is not a satisfactory reply? Is she aware that many teachers and parents are genuinely worried, not just for now but about what is likely to happen in the future, as a result of the present trend? Cannot something more positive be done rather than simply expressing hope for the future?
We are all genuinely worried about violence in schools. It is probably true that the situation in schools to some extent reflects the situation in society. I would not like to dash into an inquiry until I am certain that that would make a positive contribution towards the subject.
Is there, in fact, very much violence in schools?
There is some violence in schools. So long as there is, we will be concerned. It is difficult to strike the right balance. One is very concerned about any violence that exists but one must not over-emphasise it.
Handicapped Pupils, Oldham
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the average waiting period in Oldham for admission to a special residential school; and how this compares with the average waiting time in the country as a whole.
I understand from the local education authority that the average waiting time for the six handicapped pupils placed this year was two months. The seven pupils at present unplaced have been waiting on average for nine months but four are attending day schools in the meantime. No national average figures are available.
Does not the Minister agree that these figures are rather disappointing when one considers that to have a child of this kind at home is often very disruptive to the rest of the family? Would he not agree that attention to this matter is of much higher priority than giving £2 million to grant-aided schools? Could not that money have been applied to the solution of this problem?
I would not want to have any note of complacency in my answer. I have studied particularly all the cases awaiting admission, including the one with which I know the hon. Gentleman has been very much personally concerned, and rightly so, in which I think that there is the prospect of admission within the foreseeable future. But the hon. Gentleman will know that three new day schools—I talk of day schools—for maladjusted children opened in Lancashire this year, two more are under consideration at present and four more are programmed to start next year. That is an encouraging indication.
The Under-Secretary will remember that his right hon. Friend a few minutes ago said that she was following previous practice in using the Central Advisory Council only for ad hoc purposes. Does not he agree that there is now a case for re-establishing the council to consider the whole field of special education?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend has available to her in this sphere specialist advice which she draws upon and is continuing to draw upon.
Higher School-Leaving Age
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will give local educational authorities the discretion to allow pupils to spend the extra year, when the school leaving age has been raised to 16 years, in a full-time course at a technical college if both parents and headmaster agree.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will encourage the use of technical college facilities by 15-year-olds when the school-leaving age is raised to 16 years.
Circular 8/71 explained that when the school-leaving age is raised to 16 further education colleges will no longer be empowered to provide full-time education for pupils in the 15–16 age group. In appropriate cases I welcome co-operation between schools and further education by such means as linked courses, to which the circular draws attention.
I realise that there are these linked courses but that is not the point. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is, perhaps, even a small proportion of children who would benefit far more by doing a full-time course at a technical college rather than staying on at secondary school? This would require a slight amendment of the law. Would my right hon. Friend look again at this matter particularly in the light of what is happening in Northern Ireland, where the law is being altered for this purpose?
If a greater proportion of time were to be needed in further education colleges, it should be done in conjunction with the headmasters of the schools, otherwise it would be tantamount to not raising the school-leaving age to 16 if young people could stop going to school and go full-time to a particular course which attracted them in a college of further education even though that did not give full education.
Would my right hon. Friend think again about this? Many people in the teaching profession are extremely alarmed and apprehensive about the consequences of raising the school-leaving age and this would meet their point.
I do not think that the colleges of further education would regard themselves as able to cope necessarily with all the difficult problems from the schools, because some young people do not wish to stay at school for the further year. We have just about the right balance by encouraging maximum co-operation between the colleges of further education and the schools and I should like to see how it works out in practice.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is grave concern about this problem, which will get worse unless something is done about it? Some local authorities feel that they could resolve this problem if they had assistance from her Department with regard to their present plans—the London Borough of Ealing, for instance. Would the right hon. Lady be prepared to see the education authorities of the Borough of Ealing to examine their difficulties with regard to the scales for teachers and their programme? If they could be resolved, this could make a great contribution to the problem.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in his supplementary question. My recollection is that Ealing has not fully decided about the particular pattern of comprehensive education that it finally wishes to pursue. When it does, naturally it will come to the Department.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what response she has had from local education authorities to her recent circular about preparations for raising the school-leaving age; whether she is satisfied with the response; and if she will make a statement.
Fifty-five reports had been received by 3rd December when a reminder was sent to authorities which had not so far replied. I shall make a fuller statement as soon as practicable in 1972.
While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on going ahead with this desirable reform, which the last Government postponed, will she acknowledge that there is real anxiety among many of the teachers involved? Will Ministers do their utmost in speeches and in other ways to make sure that the preparations are pursued with the necessary urgency during the next 12 months?
I know that there is still some anxiety, which is why we are trying to put over as much information as possible while there is still time to remedy any defects. I would gladly make more speeches about the desirability of raising the school-leaving age because it will now be going up without a doubt.
Does the right hon. Lady appreciate that one of the great difficulties in providing suitable education for those who will be staying on is adequate space and that the current regulations on space in schools are inadequate? Will she ask her inspectors to look at the question and report to her on it?
I cannot accept that the current regulations on space are inadequate. I have seen excellent schools built under the current regulations. The sum of £125 million was allocated for buildings for the programme to raise the school-leaving age.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures of children eating school meals; and how this compares with the situation prior to the last increase in charges.
In October 4,658,000 pupils in maintained schools in England and Wales took the school meal compared with 5,148,000 in autumn, 1970. About 805,000 free meals were taken this year compared with 627,000 last year.
Would not the Minister agree that those figures completely undermine her oft-repeated claim that the numbers will eventually return to the pre-increase charges level? Would she not further agree that, if this trend continues, after the next increase is announced and implemented we are likely to be left with the rump of a school meals service very close to extinction?
Before any further increase we shall have another sot of census figures and we shall know exactly what is happening. I remind the hon. Gentleman that school meal charges have been raised before and the take-up has fallen off before.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that whenever charges of this nature are raised there is always a temporary falling-off in numbers which is gradually made good in the following months?
That frequently happens. In some of the secondary schools a different pattern of midday provision is emerging and, for the first time in the statistics, we had a look at the numbers who are taking different kinds of meals from the standard midday meal, and it is quite a number in secondary schools.
Is not the right hon. Lady aware of the fact that it is well over half a year since this increase took place and that the forecast return to the number formerly taking school meals has not happened? Further, would she comment on the tremendous concern being expressed by primary school teachers and medical officers of health about large numbers of children in primary schools going without a hot school meal, without school milk and without any sort of refreshment during the morning and even getting nothing until they get home at night? As many of these children are from deprived areas, they will start showing signs of malnutrition.
If that should happen, the committee on medical aspects of school meals would be the first to report it and naturally we would be the first to wish to do something about it. The level of those taking full school meals in primary schools is greater than the level of those taking full school meals in secondary schools.
Research And Development
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what timescale she has in mind for suggestions sent to her, arising from her Green Paper on the Framework for Government research and development.
The timing is set out in paragraphs 6 and 7 of the Government's Green Paper.
What exactly is the rationale behind saying to the learned societies and the research councils, "You have got only until 14th January to give us your detailed opinion on the most controversial report of recent times"?
They have not got only until 14th January. The final date for consultations is 29th February.
Will the right hon. Lady impress on her right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the need for an early debate after the Recess on this important subject, which is causing great consternation in scientific circles?
I will draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but consultations will be continuing for the two months after Christmas and it is for the House to consider at what period it is best to hold a debate.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what advice she has sent to local education authorities with reference to the pricing policy of milk sold in schools; and if she will make a statement.
Circular 12/71 advised local education authorities that the charge should cover the cost of the milk and the expense of providing it.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that if local education authorities are to abide strictly by circular 12/71 they have to charge twice the cost of the milk? In the light of that, will she follow the practices of some of her Cabinet colleagues and accept that she has made a wrong decision and reintroduce free milk for all primary school children?
I cannot confirm the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. On the contrary, the variation in charges for school milk is considerable. Some authorities are providing it for little above the wholesale cost while for others it is costing a good deal more. So long as the authorities balance their account for milk over the area they do not have to charge specifically the cost at a specific school.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are still many primary schools where milk is not available for the parents who wish to buy it? Will she do everything she can to see that those schools' local education authorities make the milk available to parents who wish to purchase it for their children?
My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important matter. Only just over 30 education authorities are selling milk. I understand that where it is being sold the scheme is very successful. From what I have seen when going about the country myself, I understand that many parents are prepared to pay for the milk, but it must be on sale.
Will the right hon. Lady consult her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with a view to increasing the provision in prisons to cater for the number of Labour councillors who are refusing to implement her school milk policy, so that we can ensure that if the children cannot receive free milk the councillors can go to gaol?
The hon. Gentleman is quite capable of putting that abstruse point to my right hon. Friend himself.
Music And Dancing (Talented Children)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will introduce legislation to ensure that children of any age who show exceptional musical or dancing promise can be educated at special approved establishments at Government expense, in view of the inability of local education authorities to evaluate such talent or to pay for the specialised residential education involved.
No, Sir. Local education authorities already have powers to assist in such cases.
Will my right hon. Friend recognise that in addition to the factors I list in my Question there is a great reluctance on the part of local authorities to send children out of their areas and that this hits particularly hard a constituent of mine, Carmel Russill, who at the age of 15 is still not able to go to Cheetham School, Manchester, to receive the 'cello lessons which he richly deserves?
Local authorities do not usually send pupils outside their area where they feel that they can provide full and proper education within it. I have considered very carefully the case raised by my hon. Friend. Perhaps he will kindly tell the parent of the young person concerned that I have read her letter which he let me have earlier today.
Does the right hon. Lady realise that this is one of the most responsible Questions asked from her side of the House this afternoon? Does not she regret that a great deal of artistically-gifted talent goes to waste among children with such gifts, particularly in the present situation of Tory control—temporary, but transient, thank God—of many education authorities?
I am dealing now with one particular case of a very talented young person. The local education authority has the power which my hon. Friend seeks and I cannot administer any such scheme as he is asking me to administer from the central Government.
Primary Schools (Nursery Classes)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will request local education authorities to ensure that all new primary school buildings should have space for a nursery class.
In appropriate cases local authorities will, I hope, bear in mind the possibility of the later addition of nursery classes when planning new primary schools. But for the present resources should be concentrated on the replacement and improvement of old primary schools and on the expansion of nursery education under the urban programme.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the provision of space in the planning of any new scheme is vital so that a nursery class can be added later? Will she encourage local education authorities to make the space available as far as they can for voluntary activities on behalf of children under five by leasing it to play groups or any other organisation that can provide something for those children?
I agree with my hon. Friend that space should be provided at new primary schools for the later addition of nursery schools or classes when resources become available.
Are not hundreds of thousands of youngsters in rural areas suffering a social blight almost as serious as that suffered by children in urban areas? Will the Minister take special measures to inject urgency into nursery school building in rural areas? Are not peripatetic teachers in the nursery service a means of getting round this difficult problem?
The problems of education in some of the rural areas are quite as great as in some of the old city centres. For that reason I gave an extensive primary school programme for rural areas and when resources are available for nursery schools the needs of rural areas will also be considered.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the raising of the school-leaving age may be an advantage to only a few pupils but that the spending of additional funds at the nursery school level would be to the advantage of nearly every child? We shall never obtain equality of educational opportunity until we have adequate nursery schools.
I should like to do a good deal more for nursery education, as would almost every hon. Member. But it would not be possible suddenly to switch resources which have been devoted to raising the school-leaving age and adding extensions to secondary schools to make extra provision for nursery schools. I will bear in mind that my hon. Friend is also very anxious to have more nursery provision.
Does the Minister accept that her hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) was suggesting that the provision of space for a nursery class should be a condition of planning consent for a scheme even where the building could not go ahead at this stage? Will she bear in mind that should this be done some local authorities might be prepared to spend money from vote heads other than education to achieve the provision of preschool facilities ahead of the provision of nurseries when the Department can allow it?
My hon. Friend was asking me to request local authorities to provide space and where possible to make it available.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the number of teachers' centres in England and Wales.
I understand from the Schools Council that there are about 500 teachers' centres.
In view of the importance of the centres for in-service training, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether she is satisfied with the number and, more particularly, with the distribution of these centres throughout the country?
I am never satisfied. I have seen some of the work that is being done and it is excellent. I applaud the way in which local education authorities are going about this. Inevitably there are some much better than others, but I hope that there will be a steady improvement in number and quality.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that another aspect of preparedness for the raising of the school-leaving age, apart from accommodation and money, is the nature of the treatment of older children who stay on at school? Would she say what encouragement she is giving to teachers to play their part in this and to see that there is created for the older child a more adult atmosphere in school, away from the days of gym slips and pigtails, short trousers and school caps, so often associated with senior pupils in their last year?
Teachers have played a prominent part in curriculum presentation for raising the school-leaving age, through the Schools Council. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read some of the Schools Council literature on this subject. It is distributed to the teachers through the teachers' centres and I know that teachers are finding it most valuable.
Postgraduate Students (Grants)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the question of providing loans instead of grants, to postgraduate students.
My right hon. Friend has no statement to make at present.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many education authorities, occasionally for extremely good reasons, find it impossible to make grants to postgraduate students but that the same students might well be enabled to have a loan and therefore to continue with their studies?
The greater amount of support comes from central funds in one way or another, but, as I say, I am not in a position to make a statement about a switch to loans for postgraduates.
Would the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that when the time comes to make a policy statement, it will not be done simply in answer to a Written or Oral Question but that he will give the House a formal statement in view of the important principles involved?
Yes. There will need to be consultation and we shall not do it in the way that the last Government announced the increases in fees for overseas students—by a Written Question on the last day that Parliament sat.
All these exchanges surprise me. Are the Government considering loans instead of grants for postgraduate students?
My right hon. Friend has said in public that it is one of the matters under consideration in the context of the future development of higher education.
Scottish Business School
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the progress of the Scottish Business School.
|NUMBER OF FULL-TIME PLACES IN NURSERY SCHOOLS AND CLASSES APPROVED IN:—|
Local Education Authority Counties
|Huntingdon and Peterborough||—||—||30||—||30|
I understand that the chairman, secretary and members of the council have been appointed and that an interim programme of postgraduate and post-experience courses is already in operation.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Scottish Business School is getting off to a good start and that eventually the students coming through the school might make an impact on the Scottish economy—if we can get rid of the present Government so that we shall have an economy in Scotland?
I am glad to confirm that the school has got off to an admirable start. One of the three constituent universities is the one in which I spent a year, and the good start is under this good Government.
Nursery Schools And Classes
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science which local authorities are providing places in nursery schools and classes under the urban programme.
The provision of 16,300 places by 76 local education authorities in England has been approved. With permission, I will circulate details in the OFFICIAL REPORT. About 2,000 additional places will be approved shortly in areas of high unemployment.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the emphasis she is putting on this provision and say how glad I am to note that a large increase is proposed?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. She will find when the details are circulated that they are of considerable assistance.
Following are the details:
Local Education Authority
|Kingston upon Hull||…||…||—||60||—||—||60|
|Newcastle upon Tyne||…||…||200||120||110||—||430|
Inner London Education Authority
(i) Phases I and II relate to projects approved for starting in the period 1968–70. Phases III and V provide for building starts up to 31st March, 1973.
(ii) Phase IV comprised non-capital projects to be carried out in 1971–72.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further plans she has for redistributing expenditure on education; and on what aspects of education these will take place.
The present plans of the Government for expenditure on education are set out in the White Paper "Public Expenditure to 1975–76".
May I take that as an assurance that the Minister will not take any money from things like the provision of milk to give it to grant-aided schools? Can she assure us that she has stopped pursuing a policy of taking from the under-privileged to give to the over-privileged?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that extra money will continue to be given to education to expand the education programme.
Secretary Of State For Mployment (Speech)
asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment made to the Ealing Chamber of Commerce on 26th November on economic matters represents Government policy.
Is the Prime Minister aware that in his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that the blame for the present high levels of unemployment was due not to the Government but rather to unreliable economic forecasts? If those forecasts had been accurate, what different action would the Prime Minister have taken?
My right hon. Friend in that speech analysed a number of reasons for the increase in unemployment and pointed out at the same time the difficulties of forecasting, which I thought had been accepted by successive Governments, and in particular the lack of accurate forecasting during this period when we have been moving into a different employment situation. What my right hon. Friend said was that if some of the forecasts had given different indications the timing of reflation could have been different.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the speech was exceedingly well received by Ealing Chamber of Commerce?
It was a serious analysis of the way in which unemployment has developed in this country over the past two years and the different reasons for it.
It is gratifying that the Secretary of State for Employment has stopped blaming all our economic problems on the trade unions. Does the fact that the Government are now in full retreat on all their policies, including the decision announced yesterday to suspend the iniquitous restriction of the payment of unemployment benefit for short-time workers, mean that we are now witnessing a permanent repentance by the Government or is it merely a piece of scene-setting for an early election before the effects of our entry into the Common Market can be felt?
I have never heard anyone utter more silly things in one breath than that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean, after today's very grave unemployment figures, that he is brushing off a series of questions from my right hon. Friend by that kind of reply?
Trying to tie up a general election with entry to the Economic Community is a very silly question.
asked the Prime Minister if he will discuss with President Nixon a joint policy towards relations with the Republic of North Korea.
I have nothing to add to the answer I gave on 14th December to Questions from the hon. Gentleman and from my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).—[Vol. 828, c. 69.]
Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that many of the most serious people in British industry now think it important that there should be a political change of policy towards East Asia?
This Question goes far beyond East Asia. It is a specific Question on North Korea and relations with North Korea are governed by United Nations resolutions.
Trade Union Congress (Discussions)
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Council of the Trades Union Congress on 1st December on economic measures.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his discussions with Trade Union Congress leaders on 15th December on unemployment.
asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his discussions with the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.
I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to the answer I gave last Tuesday to a Question from the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. John D. Grant).—[Vol. 828, c. 70–1.]
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the main concern of the T.U.C. is with unemployment and that all the indicators seem to forecast that by the end of 1972 unemployment levels will be higher than they were in January, 1970, when the Prime Minister made his now famous promise? Would he at least be prepared today to make a new promise that by the end of 1972, in two-and-a-half years, he will have reduced the level of unemployment below that of June, 1970?
The hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for any forecasts that he makes.
Will the Prime Minister make a statement on the suggestion made by the T.U.C. at that conference that we should give a Christmas bonus to the old-age pensioners? Will the Prime Minister also take cognisance of what the T.U.C. said about development areas and going back to investment grants, with a view to giving the economy a push and showing that the Government have some kind of remedy?
There is a Question a little later on the Order Paper about my discussions with the T.U.C. I have already told the House that each of the proposals put forward by the T.U.C. is being examined in the usual way with great care. My right hon. Friend announced a decision yesterday about the six-day rule which followed from our discussions with the T.U.C.
Since the previous Administration did succeed in one thing—that is, in proving that it is much easier to destroy confidence in industry than to recreate it—does not my right hon. Friend think hon. Gentlemen opposite should exercise some restraint on their hypocrisy on this subject?
It is too much to expect.
If the right hon. Gentleman has now stopped regarding questions on unemplyment as silly questions, as he has done in the last couple of minutes, will he answer this question? Since the figures published today show that the numbers wholly unemployed—which is the test that every Government have used—have increased by 20,000 over the last month, and that vacancies are down yet again over the last month, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he now agrees with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his last reflation but one in July—or perhaps it was his last reflation but two—when he said that the unemployment figures would be affected within a couple of months?
There is no need for the right hon. Gentleman to distort what his right hon. Friend said in an attempt to justify it. There is no justification for what the right hon. Lady said.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—In reply to the questions on unemployment, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time give an analysis of the influences which were increasing unemployment, especially from the point of view of the slimming down of manpower in British industry. There is no doubt whatever about this. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the measures which my right hon. Friend took have resulted in increased demand, which by itself is bound to bring about increased production after stocks have been lowered.
Is not the Leader of the Opposition on record as saying that restraint of incomes is our only guarantee against unemployment—and therefore it must be true? Can we not ask him to take a more constructive line in helping to curb wage inflation?
It is impossible for the Leader of the Opposition to have a constructive line on this, as on anything else, because he has no policies.
Yes—[Laughter.]—Yes—[Laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman can for a moment restrain himself from uncontrollable laughter and party quips about the most serious issue of the day, will he apply himself to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July expected a down-turn in employment within a couple of months, and tell us what possible sign of this he can see in today's figures, five months after that statement from the most responsible economic Minister in the Government?
If the right hon. Gentleman could refrain from twice reaffirming that his leader has no policies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."]—
On a point of order——
Order. I very much hope that, if the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a point of order, he will do so at the end of the Question Time.
—we might then be spared the laughter from this side of the House. The fact is that the Leader of the Opposition is not interested in putting forward constructive policies to deal with unemployment but is interested merely in making political party capital out of it.
As the right hon. Gentleman has twice said that I have no policy, and since our policy has been stated in successive unemployment debates when we warned that we should get figures like those of today, will the right hon. Gentleman, if he has not studied our statements on these matters, including investment grants and many other relevant questions, at any rate recognise on the facts that we kept unemployment down to a figure not much more than 600,000, even when we were fighting a deficit of £800 million inherited from him? Is he aware that a Prime Minister who, with the biggest surplus in our history, can achieve 1 million unemployed is the greatest economic failure this country has seen?
What the country and I know is that after 20th July, 1966, the right hon. Gentleman and his Government deliberately set out to create unemployment. We are seeing unemployment today as a result of the release of inflationary pressures which came from his attempt to win the election.
President Of Pakistan
asked the Prime Minister if he will invite President Yahya Khan to visit London.
I have at present no plans to do so, although I continue to be in close and frequent contact with the President of Pakistan, as well as with the Prime Minister of India.
Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that his genuine attempts to influence President Yahya Khan have been completely ineffective, but will he make one more attempt to secure the release of Mujibur Rahman so that he can go back to Dacca to lead the new country Bangladesh? Furthermore, in the light of the situation today and the complete collapse of the military rule in East Pakistan, will be Government now recognise Bangladesh so that we can build a bridge to Bangladesh and play our part in the great humanitarian job of building up that country after the horror of the last eight months?
The political action taken by the President of Pakistan and the announcements he made about action to be taken in December did not deal with the situation. Obviously, that I regret. We made every attempt in discussions with the President of Pakistan and the Prime Minister of India to bring about a political solution to the problem. Events this morning have now shown that there is a military solution. We put forward last night at the United Nations a resolution, with considerable backing—not complete backing—which we hope can be the basis of a solution to the problems as they now exist.
Will my right hon. Friend think seriously about the question of further arms supplies to India because, to my knowledge, no arms have been supplied from this country to Pakistan since 1965 and we are, quite rightly, trying to be strictly neutral? If hostilities are to be continued on the western front, it would be a serious matter if one belligerent only were to receive arms supplies from this country.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained the situation very carefully in his statement to the House earlier this week. Now that we have put forward a resolution in the United Nations which covers a wide area of political solution and the ending of the whole conflict, we should try to get the widest possible support for the resolution and see it carried.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with President Tito.
President Tito's visit to London provided confirmation of the very satisfactory state of Anglo-Yugoslav relations. This was a welcome opportunity for a wide-ranging exchange of views on international questions of concern to both our countries and on a number of bilateral issues.
Has my right hon. Friend discussed with President Tito the implications of our joining the European Communities and its effect on Anglo-Yugoslav trade? Will he now consider the possibility of inviting the President to pay another visit to this country?
We were very glad that President Tito came. He has also kindly given me an invitation to go to Yugoslavia. I accepted the invitation in principle and it would only be right to make those arrangements before inviting President Tito back; but I am always glad to see him. We had discussions about the European situation in general, a European security conference and also about our forthcoming membership of the Community. I was able to remind him of the conversation we had in 1962, in which he feared danger to Yugoslavia from the development of the Economic Community. I told him that between 1964 and 1969 Yugoslav trade with the Community increased twice as fast as Anglo-Yugoslav trade. I hope that our membership of the Community would enable Anglo-Yugoslav trade to increase now at a faster rate.
Would the Prime Minister like to sail to Yugoslavia for Christmas?
I would like to spend Christmas at home.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although President Tito has visited this country twice in the last 20 years there has been no corresponding visit by a Head of State or Prime Minister of this country to Yugoslavia and that a visit from my right hon. Friend in the near future would be extremely welcome?
Yes, I am deeply aware of that. Many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will recall that President Tito visited this country in 1953. We were one of the first Western countries to welcome him after the war. We were delighted that he came again. I acknowledge that there is an obligation on the British Prime Minister to go to Yugoslavia.
Jordanian Ambassador (Shooting Incident)
( by Private Notice)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement in regard to the attempt to assassinate the Jordanian Ambassador in Kensington on 15th December.
Shortly before noon yesterday His Excellency the Jordanian Ambassador was fired at with an automatic weapon on his way by car to the Jordanian Embassy. His hand was injured and he is in hospital.I take this opportunity of informing the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has sent a message to the King of Jordan expressing shock and regret at the attempted assassination. A number of witnesses have given descriptions of the gunman. The car in which he escaped has been found and two weapons which were in it are being examined. Inquiries are continuing, especially at likely points of departure.
The people of South Kensington, and, indeed, the whole country, are deeply shocked that a crime such as this should have taken place in central London in daylight. I assure my right hon. Friend that he will have our support in any proper steps he takes to assure the security of the Corps Diplomatique in future.
I entirely agree about the shocking nature of this episode. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is following up the matter with all vigour.
May I offer sympathy to the Ambassador and also congratulations to the chauffeur? Could my right hon. Friend inform the House what is the strength of the Black September movement in this country?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the chauffeur on his splendid action. On my hon. Friend's second point, I am afraid I cannot say what is the strength of that movement, nor can I detail the actions of the Metropolitan Police in dealing with this problem. But I confirm that the police are well aware of the serious nature of this episode and the importance of avoiding any further episodes in future.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that arrests have been made at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports? Will he give urgent consideration to the security of unlicensed private and disused airfields in this country and the ease with which they are used for illicit purposes, particularly for illegal entry and exit?
On my hon. Friend's first point, I understand that certain people are being held for questioning and, having seen the "tape", I understand that they have subsequently been released. On the second point, the question of the security of unlicensed airfields is an important matter which I shall examine.
Will the Home Secretary assure the House that the Special Branch will be more effective in dealing with this matter than it has been in dealing with the South African spy ring?
I do not accept that premise, which is totally misconceived. The Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police is a very efficient body.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that London is gaining a reputation as being a gathering place for dissident groups and for organising subversive activities against friendly countries? Does he not think the whole regulations regarding entry into this country should be tightened?
I would not accept that. We are all very concerned with the growth of violent crime in this country. London, by comparison with many other capital cities, stands up pretty well.
Pensions And Benefits (Annual Review)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about reviews of pensions.As the House knows, the Government are pledged to protect the purchasing power of the national insurance retirement pension and related benefits by a review every other year. In September this year the up-rating restored the value of the 1969 pension in full and provided a small improvement in addition. The Government have been aware of the growing concern during recent months, which has been shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, about the position of pensioners at a time when prices have been rising sharply. The Government are confident that their policies are bringing inflation under control. But on general social grounds they have come to the conclusion that the arrangements for reviewing pensions should be brought into line with those for supplementary benefits, which are already reviewed annually. This would end the difficulty that, at the present biennial up-ratings of contributory pensions, those on supplementary benefit receive a smaller increase because they have already had part of it in the preceding year. The Government have, therefore, decided that in future pensions and related benefits, including war pensions and industrial injuiries, will be reviewed every year. This improvement on the arrangements proposed in our White Paper "Strategy for Pensions" will be embodied in due course in the Bill to implement our pension proposals, but the adoption of annual reviews will not have to wait for the main reconstruction of the national insurance scheme to take effect. There will be an up-rating in the autumn of 1972 and every year thereafter, with, of course, a review of contribution levels. Because of the organisational requirements for annual reviews both in my Department and in the Inland Revenue Department, the up-ratings will, after next year, take place regularly in the latter half of November. The up-rating in 1972, however, will be in October, half-way between the 1971 and the 1973 up-ratings. We also intend to move to annual reviews of public service and Armed Forces pensions, and these reviews will take effect from 1st December each year beginning in 1972. At the same time the opportunity will be taken to reduce from 60 to 55 the minimum age from which increases are normally paid under the public service and Armed Forces schemes. We have made good progress this year with improvements in social security benefits both by general up-ratings and by selective measures to give extra benefit to particular groups, and the Pensions (Increase) Act has already greatly improved the position for public service and Armed Forces pensioners. I am confident that the House will welcome this further evidence of our determination to give practical help to the elderly and other vulnerable members of the community.
I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will be very glad indeed to hear that an- nouncement. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister a few moments ago accused my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition of having no policies, but the Secretary of State for Social Services will know that we have been advocating this policy repeatedly for the whole of the past year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I must congratulate the Secretary of State, who is very good at seeing the light.I should like to ask two questions. First, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many elderly people reading this news will believe this may mean an immediate increase in pensions. Will he make it absolutely clear in any statement to the Press that this does not mean an immediate increase in pensions? Will he consider seriously whether anything can be done right away on the lines of our debate last week? Secondly, will he say whether the opportunity to reduce the minimum age for public service and Armed Forces pensions implies that this will now become the minimum age for most public service pensions schemes—because, as the statement reads, many people will draw that conclusion?
I am glad that the hon. Lady and the whole House are pleased. However, the hon. Lady should not adopt a high and mighty tone about the advocacy of this policy. For six years the Labour Party geared its performance to a two-year cycle. In fact, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite went into the General Election with a draft Statute that they had laid before the House tying themselves by law to a two-year cycle. It was not the hon. Lady who as recently as last May, only seven months ago, during the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill, advocated an annual up-rating. In fact, the first to advocate an annual up-rating was my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. McCrindle), and he did it in the course of his Second Reading speech.It is true that there is to be no bonus for pensioners. In giving publicity to this statement, for instance in the notice in the Lobby of the House, the Government have been especially careful to avoid any impression that there was to be any immediate increase. As for the hon. Lady's question about the Public Service and Armed Forces pensions, I should prefer to leave that to one of my hon. Friends who is an expert on the subject. I think that the hon. Lady's conclusion is correct. But there may be some small minority for whom it is not correct. Perhaps that question might be asked of my hon. Friend who is concerned with these matters.
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for his kindly mention of my Second Reading speech on the National Insurance Bill? I congratulate him on introducing this reform. While lip service has been paid by many hon. Members opposite, it has fallen to my right hon. Friend to introduce the change. May I express the hope that when the first annual review is contemplated we on this side will not just try to keep pace with rising prices, as we have done so often in the past, but will make it a first positive move to increase the standard of living of the people concerned?
By the action that the Government have decided upon and announced today, I think we shall be bringing great reassurance to the vast bulk of people who receive national insurance and other benefits.
Leaving aside the claims and counter-claims of the two major parties as to which of them first thought of this, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the measure that he has announced today has been the policy of the Liberal Party for nine years? I do not begrudge the right hon. Gentleman yet another suit of Liberal clothing. We shall weave others from time to time. Is he aware that a rate of inflation of 7 per cent. cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as being "under control"? Is not it a fact that he has been converted to the principle of an annual review because inflation is not under control?
No. The Government are taking two steps which are of special importance to the elderly and those on benefits. We are getting the rate of inflation to abate; the figures show that we are succeeding in doing that. We are also introducing an annual up-rating.
Does my right hon. Friend's statement mean that sup- plementary benefits will be reviewed and increased at exactly the same time as national insurance benefits, at the times of the year that my right hon. Friend has mentioned? Does his statement exclude the possibility of making adjustments in supplementary benefits, if necessary, at other times of the year?
The answer to my right hon. Friend's first question is "Yes". The answer to his second question is "Yes"—in any conceivable circumstances that I can foresee.
Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree, if we are going into history, that the Labour Party up-rated the value of the national retirement pension in real terms by 20 per cent. as soon as it came into office and sustained it all the way through in real terms? While I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement, does he not think that there is a certain amount of urgency, in view of the phenomenal rate of inflation, about doing something before next October?
No. I have been careful not to over-state the case. Because of the real improvement in September, the pensioner is marginally better off in buying power this Christmas than he has ever been since the pension scheme was introduced.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been the established practice for many years to deal with wages and salaries annually, and that it has been a cause of considerable resentment amongst pensioners that Governments of former days have not been able to make the same arrangements for them? Is my right hon. Friend aware, further, that his decision will be greatly welcomed and that even when inflation is reduced to a more modest level, as it is beginning to be, it will still be the cause of extreme difficulties to pensioners who have to budget very tightly?
My hon. Friend has spoken of one of the reasons why, for general social purposes, the Government have taken this decision.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, having succumbed to pressure for an annual review, he should now turn to the paramount consideration of the value of benefits? Is he aware, further, that in September his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office was presented with a petition signed by 50,000 people in Wales asking for a rate for a married couple of £14 and for a single person of £8? Are not rates of that kind the minimum on which Welsh and British pensioners can maintain dignity and decency in old age?
There is no question of the Government submitting to pressure. Hon. Members on both sides of the House and people outside have come increasingly to recognise the social advantages of annual up-ratings. But the Government had to take account of all the relevant implications before deciding that it was practicable to enter into a commitment to this new policy.As for figures to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, they would involve massive increases in contributions with who knows what effect on the cost of living and on prices. I think that we must continue to move step by step.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend most warmly on his statement? I believe that all people of good heart would like our pensioners to have an increase. But will my right hon. Friend also take steps to make it clear that the redistribution of income in favour of pensioners must be at the expense of other members of the community?
Yes. I agree with both my hon. Friend's points.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he or one of his hon. Friends can remove any possible misconception about that part of his statement affecting public service pensioners? I rather think that the right hon. Gentleman's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) may have left a wrong impression. In his statement, the right hon. Gentleman said:
This has nothing to do with the age of retirement or with the age of superannuation. I submit that it has to do with those who retire on special grant before the normal retiring age, who may now get increases from the age of 55 instead of waiting until they are 60. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether that is so?"At the same time the opportunity will be taken to reduce from 60 to 55 the minimum age from which increases are normally paid under the public service and armed forces schemes."
That will be so once the legislation has been amended as necessary. The legislation is now in another place, and my right hon. and noble Friend who is concerned with it in another place will be clarifying the position in the very near future.
Can my right hon. Friend go as far as offering some broad hints to the controllers of the pensions schemes of the nationalised industries? I have in mind principally railway men. Historically, they have very low pensions and would greatly benefit from a similar annual review such as that which my right hon. Friend proposes for State pensioners.
My hon. Friend knows that in "Strategy for Pensions", on which the Government will legislate in due course, there are a number of requirements imposed on private occupational pension schemes which seek exemption from the State reserve scheme.
Will the right hon. Gentleman accept, from one who advocated this proposal during the last six years of the Labour Government, that this is a very welcome statement? I am sure that the whole House and the country will endorse that. Nevertheless, will he return to this question of the immediate position of old-age pensioners? He said that the increase granted during the early part of the autumn led, I think his words were, to a small improvement—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Marginal."]—or a partial improvement. This winter old-age pensioners will suffer immense hardship because of the rising level of prices unless they are given additional help now. Therefore, will he reconsider that part of his statement and take into consideration the views of the T.U.C., which is pressing for some immediate grant, bonus, or heating allowance to help our old people over this Christmas and the difficult winter months?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said at the beginning. He should accept as a fact that, despite the rise in prices, pensioners now have more buying power than at any previous Christmas, and pensioners over 80 have considerably more buying power in proportion than ever before. [Interruption.] That applies to every person over 80. I take very seriously the views of the Trades Union Congress on this subject. I met the General Secretary of the T.U.C. yesterday. But, in the light of a very recent increase which has left a marginal real improvement in the buying power of the pension, I cannot offer any prospects of an immediate bonus.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific, urgent and important matter which I think should have the attention of the House, namely,
That it is specific has been revealed by the Prime Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon in which he specifically claimed that the unemployment figures were the responsibility of the previous Government. That it is important is undeniable and is revealed by the figures themselves. That it is urgent stems from the fact that this House is about to go into Recess and that, although the Government have repeatedly denied responsibility for the unemployment figures, none the less when we have debated unemployment on a number of occasions they have brought forward some modest measures to ameliorate the situation under pressure from this side of the House. Although these do not amount to an economic strategy, they are placebos which are of some benefit."the refusal of the Prime Minister to accept his Government's responsibility for the present appalling and unacceptable level of unemployment."
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which he thinks should have urgent consideration: namely,
As the hon. Member well knows, I had very little notice of his application, but in the time that I have been given to consider it, although without doubt the whole issue of unemployment is a very important and serious one, I have to decide whether it is a matter properly to be debated under Standing Order No. 9. I am afraid that I cannot accede to the hon. Gentleman's application."the refusal of the Prime Minister to accept his Government's responsibility for the present appalling and unacceptable level of unemployment."
Questions To Ministers
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House has on many days discussed the issue of Parliamentary Questions. Some hon. Members are finding themselves in a rather difficult situation when they put down Questions and have to be guided by the Table Office. When we accept the guidance of the Table Office that we cannot put down a Question to a particular Minister but it should go to the Prime Minister, and we put it down to the Prime Minister, we find that he dodges it and transfers it. The result is that we are very much lower on the Order Paper with our Questions. Also, from time to time, you, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, have found it necessary to opine on supplementary questions. I do not suggest that your Rulings have not been needed. My point of order concerns Parliamentary Answers. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in the Chamber, because my point of order is particularly relevant to his conscience. I represent a constituency where every month there is a growing problem of unemployment——
Order. The transfer of Questions is not a matter within the rules of order. I can on this occasion help the hon. Member because we now know that there is to be a Select Committee to go into all matters affecting Questions. As I have previously indicated to the House, I have been concerned about the transfer of Questions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will volunteer to give evidence to the Select Committee.
The paradox is that, by having my Question transferred from the Prime Minister to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I at least get a reasonable reply, not a sort of obscene frivolity——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is abusing my indulgence. He must put the matter of principle or practice to the Select Committee.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just said that there is to be an inquiry into the whole issue of Question Time. I am particularly glad that you mentioned it in the presence of the Leader of the House. Is it possible for either you or the Leader of the House to tell us now, or next week, the terms of reference of that Select Committee? Many hon. Members wish to know whether the Select Committee will deal not just with the future but with the strange case of the planted housing Questions. Will they come within its ambit?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I said when I made the suggestion that I would wish to discuss the membership and terms of reference of the Select Committee through the usual channels and throughout the House. I think that this is the proper way to proceed. I am very anxious, in general terms, to ensure that the Select Committee should be free to inquire into all possible aspects of Question Time and Question Time procedure. What I have just heard this afternoon and what I have noticed happening constantly at Question Time, both in Opposition and in Government—I was always silent in Opposition, which was perhaps a good thing—has convinced me more than ever of the value of a Select Committee to go into the whole aspect of Question Time and Question Time procedure, which I do not think is what it used to be.
If it were my rôle to give advice, which I do not think it is, I should say the past, the present and the future.
Orders Of The Day
Consolidated Fund Bill
Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 93 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Iron And Steel Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.Hon. Members will have seen the Memorandum on the Bill, published on 7th December, which explains the reasons for it, and, in particular, that the British Steel Corporation needs new borrowing powers to be authorised by Parliament early next year, when the current powers under the 1969 Iron and Steel Act are likely to run out. The Bill also provides for the write-off of capital and clarifies the powers and duties of the corporation. I shall come back to these matters later in my speech. The House will see that the Bill is a further step in the series of measures the Government have been taking to place the steel industry on a sound and competitive basis. First, there were the measures to improve the structure of the corporation and to rationalise the boundary between the private and public sectors of the industry. They were the subject of statements by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 27th April and 28th June of this year. Since then the corporation has been engaged in a series of discussions with the other interests that have come forward. Second, also on 28th June, my right hon. Friend announced decisions on the first stage of his joint Government—B.S.C. review. These included a higher level of investment for 1971–72—that was £242 million at 1971 survey prices—to allow the corporation to proceed with all the various projects it had decided upon, although without prejudging the results of the long-term review. That was substantially higher than in the previous year, when it was £152 million on the same price basis, and about three times the rate achieved over the few years before then. We have always made clear that the long-term review would examine the main options open to the British Steel Corporation in the light of the demand levels which could be expected over the remainder of the present decade and beyond. As such it would identify the strategic options within which the B.S.C. should plan its main development pattern, so that particular proposals might be put to the Government in the light of an agreed assessment of the longer term situation. We expect this review to be completed—as announced last summer—around the end of the year, and it should be possible to make a further statement shortly after the House re-assembles. The assessment of the future has been made more difficult by the notable change in the world steel environment over the past year, during which the main producing countries have experienced a sharp down-turn in demand. The forecasts of future growth of demand are being re-examined throughout the industry, and the steel industries of a number of countries are taking a further look at their capacity needs. For example, there is current speculation about the future growth of Japanese production, which may now be very substantially less than the 160 million tons earlier envisaged for the mid-1970s. Similarly, in Europe the E.C.S.C. Commission now thinks it likely that production will be in the range 137 million to 148 million tons by 1975, whereas it had been thinking of a range up to 160 million tons by 1974. In the United States of America, although the effect on long-term plans is not yet clear, production this year is 8 per cent. below that forecast. Those changes in the future world environment need careful assessment in relation to the prospects for our own steel industry, and the corporation has not yet reached a firm view as to the speed at which it may wish to introduce new capacity. Accordingly, we do not have firm proposals before us for major new development at a "brown field" or "green field" site, though the corporation is studying its position intensively with a view to being able to present conclusions to the Government by next summer. In the meantime, we are anxious that there should be no avoidable delay in proceeding with the steel development programme to the extent that the future can be clearly seen. I am therefore able to announce that approval is being given to capital expenditure for 1972–73 of £265 million, that is at 1971 survey prices, subject to the reservation of only about £25 million in respect of certain major iron or steelmaking projects on which the board of the corporation has not yet reached final decisions, and which might pre-empt the question of major new development for consideration next summer. That amount is for the full expenditure proposed by the corporation for 1972–73 and provides for starts on schemes, some of which will come on stream in 1976 or later. It will therefore enable the strategic development of the industry to proceed as the corporation has envisaged until the beginning of the second half of the 1970s, which is being considered in the current review. There is therefore no question of holding up any project on which the corporation has definitely decided. Moreover, the amount approved has been increased to allow the corporation to bring forward up to £10 million of minor projects which meet its profitability criteria, most of which are in areas of above average unemployment, and which can be started within about six months from now. The approval of £265 million is £23 million higher than even the record level for the current year and will also have beneficial effects for the plant and construction industries. It is an inevitable consequence of major new investment that old plant should be phased out. The corporation is now proceeding with its plans for rationalisation. I know the necessity for this has always been well uncle stood within the industry—especially as there is the urgent need to get the corporation on to a more competitive basis. Indeed, the extensive reduction in manpower was both recognised and forecast at the time when the Labour Government re-nationalised the industry in 1967; rationalisation on this scale was one of the declared objectives. But it is particularly regrettable that this is now inevitably having such an impact on development areas due to the high concentration of plant in our older industrial centres. However, both the Government and the corporation are determined that the B.S.C. should move into profitability as soon as possible; and the White Paper makes clear that the corporation has undertaken to make a profit in 1973–74 and to maintain it at a satisfactory level thereafter, subject to the normal uncertainties of the steel industry. In the meantime, the corporation has an accumulated loss of £40 million, and is expecting to make a loss of £100 million in the current financial year, and a similar loss in 1972–73. When the House was informed of the loss for this year on 28th June, the corporation's plans included the intention to operate a more selective arrangement for steel price increases. This was, however, shortly afterwards overtaken by the C.B.I.s initiative on prices generally. The corporation is currently adhering fully to a strict interpretation of the C.B.I.s initiative and will consequently not be able to increase its prices until next April, and then only by 5 per cent. It is too early to say what will be the position after July, 1972 when the period covered by the present initiative ends. As from the end of 1972, however, the corporation should be operating under the pricing arrangements of the European Coal and Steel Community, under which there will be no statutory provision for the control of prices. While these and earlier measures of price restraint, under successive Governments, have to some extent contributed to the corporation's financial difficulties, there are other important factors, including the effects of the threat of nationalisation on the steel companies' investment in the mid-1960s and the low level of investment by the corporation up to and including 1969–70, which have had a marked effect. The work involved in the merging of the companies following nationalisation and the successive changes in the corporation's own organisation has doubtless also contributed. Of course there is still some way to go, but I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is very important for the health of the steel industry that the corporation should operate efficiently and profitably as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we have to deal with a situation in which the corporation is faced with the heavy losses I have described at a time when the essential modernisation programme is demanding substantial investment. These losses might amount to up to £250 million by the end of 1972–73 and there is no prospect that they can be recovered in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the Government have decided to provide for these losses to be written off from the balance sheet when they occur. The Bill therefore includes provision for writing off part of the capital of the corporation so that a reserve can be created for this purpose. It is, of course, normal for a large industry to carry a reserve as part of its capital employed in order to meet contingencies and costs of an exceptional nature. This is no less desirable for the steel industry, which has to face special costs, including, for example, the closing and replacing of obsolete plant. The steel industries of other major producing countries have reserves for such purposes and it would be appropriate for the corporation also to have the flexibility that a reserve allows. We therefore propose that the size of the reserve for the corporation should be increased by a further £100 million after allowing for the provision against losses of up to £250 million—this will give a total reserve initially of up to £350 million. In order to provide for this reserve, it is the intention to reduce public dividend capital by £200 million immediately under Clause 1(1), and the corporation's loans from the National Loans Fund by up to £150 million, under Clause 1(2), when a financial objective has been set. All these sums—that is, up to £350 million—will be put into a general reserve, the use of which will be controlled by the Secretary of State under Section 17(4) of the Iron and Steel Act, 1967. We expect that up to about £140 million of accumulated loss will be written off from this reserve next summer, to clean the balance sheet to that date, and a further sum of up to about £100 million in mid-1973, though the corporation will be expected to keep this to a minimum. Thereafter, the reserve will continue on a permanent basis of about £100 million and the use of the money provided by the current legislation will continue to be subject to Ministerial direction. Our intention is that it should not be used for writing off further trading losses after 1972–73, but only for meeting exceptional costs. After returning to profitability in 1973–74, the corporation intends to set aside sums to the reserve from retained profits, after adequately remunerating the Government on its public dividend capital.
My hon. Friend says that the sum could not be used for writing off after 1972–73. Is this because he is advised that under the Treaty of Paris such writing off would be deemed to be subsidised competition?
No. It is because the corporation itself will be contributing to the reserve, hopefully, from its own retained earnings which it will use for these other purposes. Naturally, as my hon. Friend points out, the new environment in the European Coal and Steel Community, into which the corporation will be entering, undoubtedly has a very marked bearing on the extent to which it will be possible for the corporation even to appear to be subsidising its operations. So it will have to perform in a normal commercial manner in this respect, as in all others.
I am intrigued by the criterion that the corporation must go into profit in 1973–74. I find this hard to fathom; I am not an economist. It expects to lose next year £100 million, which means that it will have to earn at least £100 million more in the fateful year of 1973–74. What is likely to happen next year and in 1973–74 to bring about this great turn-round in the earnings of the corporation? Is it going to put up prices? Is it going to accelerate the closure of unprofitable plant? Will the hon. Gentleman say more on this subject?