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Orders Of The Day

Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

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Consolidated Fund (No 2) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Social Contract

5.3 p.m.

I am glad to have this opportunity of initiating a debate on the need to preserve the social contract. We have just had exchanges on unemployment figures which will fit in nicely with the text of my speech.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will need no reminding of the long arguments and discussions during and since the election, outside and inside the House, about what the social contract is. We had some lengthy exchanges on the matter at Question Time on Tuesday this week. My right hon. Friend, who, I presume, will be answering my debate, said then
"The social contract covers the whole range of Government economic policies."—[Official Report, 21st January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 1205.]
I start from the proposition that the basic aims of these policies are: first, to halt inflation; secondly, to redistribute the national wealth of this country; thirdly, to maintain, so far as we can, full employment; and, fourthly, to improve our competitive position as a world trading nation.

All these problems and others have been with us for at least the last 30 years, and no Government have ever come up with enduring solutions to them. Even during the years immediately after the war we as politicians played little part in damping down the expectations of our people of an automatic, steady, annual increase in their standard of living. We have tended to regard that automatic increase, year by year, as some God-given right. We have seen it as a hangover from the days of our imperialistic glory when for generations, even centuries, we sucked the blood of our colonial empire, and the private owners of our industry at home exploited their ill-organised workers who had never dreamed of the real power that lay in their hands.

Today all that has changed, and it is changing fast every day. We are witnessing a massive shift of power within the United Kingdom and in the world. The British Empire as it was known, and about which we were taught in school, has gone for ever. With it have gone our sources of cheap food and raw materials, and who in this House would regret that? Yet we still assume, or some still assume, that we could have access to that same cheap food and these same cheap raw materials.

All of us are having to learn the hard way that this is an illusion. The Arabs have got us by the anatomy where the pinch hurts most. Our long-suffering sugar suppliers in Jamaica and elsewhere are refusing to be exploited any longer by their former masters in the United Kingdom. One could go on applying these cold douches of the realities of the modern world in which we must fight for our standard of living and work for it. It is a world in which we have very few friends and still fewer philanthropists prepared to bail us out.

Internationally there are unmistakable signs of a shift in the balance of power from the rich and developed northern hemisphere—if I may generalise in that way—to the poor and under-developed southern part of the globe. There is a similar shift within our own boundaries. There is a transfer of power to those who produce the wealth from those who own it. Our sovereign Parliament—and we have heard a great deal about the sovereignty of it—is less sovereign than we in it care to think. To fear the loss of our sovereignty—and this fear has been expressed by certain Cabinet Ministers in recent weeks—from joining and remaining within the EEC is just about as credible as Zsa Zsa Gabor fearing the loss of her virginity as a result of her sixth marriage. That power has moved from this House to forces outside.

No British Government could today survive for long without the approval, support and co-operation of organised labour outside the House. That does not mean simply the leaders of the separate trade unions like Mr. Jack Jones or Mr. Hugh Scanlon. Still less does it mean the General Secretary of the TUC, the genial Mr. Murray. Twenty shop stewards in a key industry like electricity supply or a majority of one or two on the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers have more power in their hands than all the back-bench MPs in this House.

These seem to me to be the hard realities of our situation, and it is a recognition of those hard realities that produced the social contract.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the executives of unions have the power only so long as they have the support of the rank and file?

I am not dissenting from that. I am simply making the general proposition that the power to disrupt the country's economy lies not in what we do here but in what is done by people outside, including the trade unions, the CBI and other bodies that are not elected in the way that we are.

The recognition of that fact has brought our party to the point where we have sought to devise a contract, which we commonly call the social contract. It is easy to make jibes about it—about its vagueness, the ease with which it appears to be broken and the fact that some trade unions and their members have refused to accept it. The extreme Right and the extreme Left of the political spectrum seem to have one thing in common, which is to break both the letter and the spirit of the social contract.

Here I speak for myself and, I think, all responsible and reasonable people. All who have the welfare of the country at heart are concerned for the well-being of all our people and the protection of the weakest sections. All of us who accept that proposition must also accept the principle underlying the contract, which is to ensure that such sacrifices as must be made are fairly shared. That was a fundamental concept on which we fought and won the February election and the October election. But I find it hard to reconcile that principle with some of the things that have happened since the election.

I should like to give a few examples. The Government made what I can only describe, as politely as I can, as furtive announcements about substantial salary increases for the chairmen of nationalised industries, judges and the other higher-paid professional sections of our society. There was, equally surreptitiously, an announcement of increased school meal prices. It does not seem to me that those two announcements fit in with our concept of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, and demanding sacrifices from those best able to make them.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take what I say next in the spirit in which I say it. We had from him a harsh criticism of a recent pay award to certain members of the BBC, but there have been few such criticisms from him or any other Minister of any of the other substantial wage and salary awards made since October. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers have told us that 75 per cent. of the claims met recently have fallen within the terms of the social contract. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State repeated that point a Tuesday. Certainly many of the lower paid, especially in the public services, have had substantial increases which are thoroughly deserved and justified. As my right hon. Friend knows, I speak strongly and emotionally about the nurses and about the teachers. Increases to them and to postmen, old-age pensioners and the disabled fit very well within the terms of the social contract.

There has been rather slower progress towards equal pay than I would wish. I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something about that. We have had the freezing of rents, and there have been the food subsidies. I gather that there will soon be an announcement of a further increase in food subsidies.

By and large, and taking account of these factors, few can doubt that the Government have played, and are playing, their full part in keeping their side of the contract. We had a good example yesterday in the consideration of the Finance Bill. I compare the packed Opposition benches yesterday, when we discussed the capital transfer tax, with the presence of just two Tory back benchers now. When we were talking about taxing the very wealthy 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. at the top it was not possible to find a seat on the Opposition benches. Now that we are discussing something that is designed to protect weaker sections of our society and to build a more just society, which is what the social contract is about, not a Tory gives a damn about it.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government benches are also denuded? The number of Labour Members present can be counted on fewer than the fingers of two hands. There are far fewer present than when the capital transfer tax was being debated.

I am making the point that the Conservative benches were packed for the whole of the debate till half-past one yesterday morning, when Conservative Members would normally all have been tucked up in bed in the Savoy or the Hilton. They had important and privileged people to protect. That is the fundamental difference between the Conservatives and my party.

The invaluable work of the independent Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service has gone on, and is going on, largely unobserved, unpublicised and unappreciated. I hope that my right hon. Friend will do more to tell the people the value of what the service is doing and how it is doing it.

Despite all the progress on the Government side, the contract could be in grave danger of total collapse within the next few months. I think that my right hon. Friend is disturbed about that. There are ominous signs. My right hon. Friend gave us an indication about one of them, the increase in unemployment, this afternoon. I had a note only yesterday about youth unemployment in the county of Fife. Last January it was 343 boys and girls, and this month it had gone up to 731. If that kind of increase is spread over the country it is a matter of grave concern.

The spectre of mass unemployment is a more daunting discipline than anything the House can put on the statute book. No one who has had first-hand or secondhand knowledge of unemployment can fail to understand the fear that working people have of it. The speech made a few weeks ago by Jack Jones expressed it in blunt and courageous terms. He said in effect that, to re-turn a phrase, one man's wage increase could mean another man's standing in the dole queue. There is not much point in a man's getting a big wage increase if it contributes to the bankruptcy of the firm in which he is employed or of someone else's firm. Many firms are finding it difficult to continue. The massive wage increases being handed out give further twists to the already frightening inflationary spiral, which results in a massive loss of confidence in our currency at home and abroad, and increasing discouragement to save, with resultant disastrous stagnation in investment, both public and private.

I want to ask about an article in a newspaper yesterday. It may have been mischievous, mendacious or without foundation, but I must put questions about it to my right hon. Friend. How does he see the social contract developing over, say, the next six critical months? I think that he said a little while ago that we could not yet judge whether it was failing or succeeding, and that we should have to give it another few months. Will my right hon. Friend give his views on that? Will he reassert, as I am sure he will, that it will never be the Government's intention to seek to reimpose a statutory incomes policy? Because of experience over the past few years, there are still suspicions, some of which are being voiced, perhaps within the Government, that there will soon come a time when some kind of statutory incomes policy will have to be introduced.

Thirdly, in what circumstances do the Government envisage a tightening up of the existing terms of the social contract, and how would such an exercise be undertaken? I think that Mr. Len Murray gave some indication of the way in which his mind was working. I presume that he was able to speak with some knowledge of the Government's thinking on these matters. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that over the next 12 months at least the Government will take all possible steps by fiscal or other means to ensure that no one in receipt of salaries of, for example, £5,000 will receive any increase in remuneration? The total sums that are involved in the increases proposed for the chairmen of nationalised industries, judges and the rest may not be large, but psychologically such increases can be particularly damaging. Whenever I go to my constituency and say to people "For God's sake, try to get your trade union to observe the social contract", I have the pay increases recommended by the Boyle Committee hurled at me. Many of my hon. Friends have had the same experience.

The amounts are large. It is not correct to say that they are not. The increases are of the order of 28 per cent. That is a higher percentage than most wage-earners are able to achieve. An increase of 28 per cent. on a salary which is already about £18,000 is a considerable increase. Even though my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the increases should be put into effect in two stages, those involved will still receive them by a year next summer.

My hon. Friend is underlining and re-emphasising what I have already said. They are substantial increases. It is impossible for us to persuade ordinary working people to deliver the social contract while the Government accept that kind of policy. I should like my right hon. Friend to take more active steps to give the House of Commons more specific information about how the social contract is working and developing. By deliberate intent or otherwise, the Government are creating the impression that they are giving Members less information than they are giving to outside pressure groups on both sides, including the CBI and the TUC. In that sense we are becoming second-class citizens. We are getting our information about what the Government are up to either in answers to Written Questions or through the Press.

My right hon. Friend over the years has been a good parliamentarian. I think that he will accept the point that I have just made. We are anxious to be partners and to play our part in the great changes facing us as a nation. We are not prepared to be mere Lobby fodder groping in the dark for such information as we can find on what the Government are doing.

I hope that the Conservative Party will soon resolve its bloody civil war. One of our great difficulties and dangers is that we have no effective Opposition. The Tories have no leader and no alternative policy. Nothing whatever comes from them except negative belly-aching and the history of a three-day working week. That is all we have. That is bad for government. It makes for bad, indolent and incompetent government. That is a luxury that we cannot afford. I still have great faith in the social contract. I think that the most inspired appointment made by the Prime Minister—I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be embarrassed by this flattery—was to appoint my right hon. Friend to his present job. If there is anyone who can deliver the goods in this context it is him. We look to him to help us to help him and for him to help the Government in this great experiment. Until now no credible alternative has been put forward to the social contract. If it does not work I fear for the future of the country.

5.25 p.m.

There was a great deal in what the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said with which my hon. Friends and I were in considerable disagreement. However, we entirely agree with his central points, that the House needs more information about the social contract and that there is grave unease and uncertainty in the country about its workings.

The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated not only on drawing first place in the Ballot but on bringing this important subject before the House and on putting questions to the Secretary of State which should certainly be answered. Some of the questions which I shall be putting to the right hon. Gentleman and some of the questions which will be put by my hon. Friends will be along the same lines as those put by the hon. Gentleman. As he said, there is growing concern about the way in which the social contract is working. There might well be concern as the figures published for the calendar year 1974 show that wage rates last year rose by 28½ per cent. The right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in other words, the Government—have admitted that one in four people who received pay settlements during the course of the year settled outside the terms of the social contract.

I now think back to the words of warning which the Prime Minister uttered in the summer of last year when he was settling down after his election victory. He said then that, while import prices had been a major cause of inflation up until last summer, the danger was that wages would become so. He warned very much about the dangers of wage-push inflation taking over from imports. He was right about that. He was right to warn the country, and his fears have been more than fulfilled. The 28½ per cent. increase in wages during 1974 more than fufilled the Prime Minister's worst fears when he was pleading for restraint during the halcyon days following his election victory.

It is not only the hon. Member for Fife, Central who has been expressing unease within the Labour Party. Before Christmas the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) wrote an extremely interesting article in the Financial Times about the social contract. In his article he put forward far-reaching proposals which he said were designed
"to prevent our economic difficulties from getting completely out of hand."
He argued that the Government should set up some form of authority to determine whether settlements had been or were within or without the social contract. He suggested that a White Paper should be published to give information to the House and to the country about the exact nature of the social contract. He also suggested that the CBI should be brought into the arena. He proposed that tax penalties should be levied on all working people to compensate for the pressures which excessive wage claims were bringing forward.

My hon. Friends and I are in agreement with much of what the right hon. Member for Battersea, North said. It is a matter of regret that the hon. Member for Fife, Central should have to make the kind of speech which he made today and that the Secretary of State did not respond earlier to the kind of suggestions that were being put forward by his right hon. and hon. Friends as well as by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

It is not only among the moderates in the Labour Party, if the right hon. Member for Battersea, North think of himself in that context, that there is grave uncertainty and concern being expressed. On Tuesday no less a figure than the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) was expressing some confusion about the way in which the social contract was working and about its purposes. The hon. Gentleman, a bastion of the Left wing of the Labour Party and, I understand, a close associate of the Secretary of State, seemed uncertain as to whether the social contract referred to take-home pay or to gross pay. That is a fundamental and central point. If the hon. Member for Tottenham, with all the advantages that he has during this present administration of being on the Left of the Labour Party, does not know the answer to that question it is clear that the Government have been not only less than frank with the House but less than frank with the Labour Party.

I hold the Secretary of State personally responsible for the confusion that has arisen. Since he became Secretary of State he has consistently failed to provide the House with sufficient information to judge whether the social contract is working. We are not here concerned with whether the guidelines are right or wrong. We are concerned about the fact that we do not have sufficient information to know whether the policy put forward by the Government is working.

We have only to look at the admissions made in the past few days by the Chancellor and by the Secretary of State, to the effect that 75 per cent. of wage settlements have been within the social contract, to see some of the problems. It is difficult to reconcile the fact that as many as 75 per cent. of settlements have been within the social contract in the light of other figures we have about the performance of the economy during the past year.

We know, for instance, that there has been a 28½ per cent. increase in wages and a 19 per cent. increase in prices. Those figures certainly suggest that rather more than 25 per cent. of wage settlements have been outside the social contract. Perhaps the Secretary of State is right. Perhaps the Chancellor is right. The only way for us to judge is by being given details of the wage settlements. The Secretary of State, as is his wont at the moment, attacked the Press, particularly The Times of Tuesday for what he called irresponsibility over its headline about the prevailing rate of wage settlements.

It is the Secretary of State who is being irresponsible. His Department has the details. It knows what is happening. How can it expect the Press, the House of Commons, even the hon. Member for Tottenham to know how the social contract is working, and whether it is working, if it will not publish the details? It is no good the Secretary of State or any other member of the Government resorting—and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to—to ministerial evasion. As members of the Labour Party, from the highest to the lowest, are for ever telling us, the social contract is the centre point of this Government's policy. It is the key to their attempt to overcome inflation and to get the economy on to a sounder footing.

The Foreign Secretary told the Labour Party conference that everyone was involved. In his television performance on Monday the Chancellor hinted that the gravest possible economic measures would follow if the social contract failed. He also suggested in that speech that it was vital for people to restrain their rate of wage increases because otherwise high unemployment would follow. That is a point of view with which I and my hon. Friends entirely agree. The Chancellor has recently been talking a certain amount of good sense on this subject. In his speech of 10th January he pointed out, quite correctly, that when the social contract was originally negotiated the world was a very different place. He pointed out that at that time both the economy of this country and the international economy were enjoying a boom, perhaps the greatest boom since the war. Now the international economy and, more particularly, the economy of this country are facing grave difficulties. It is not surprising, therefore—and this would apply to any form of contract—that a contract signed in the halcyon days of a boom should need alteration, tightening up and modification in today's changed circumstances.

It is difficult for us to know whether the Government are endeavouring to tighten up the social contract or whether they feel it needs tightening up. It is difficult to know what the social contract means when no information that could possibly cast light on the subject is ever brought before the House or, judging from the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central before the Labour Party.

There are two things which the Government ought to do in response to this debate. The first is to publish the relevant information for which we are all asking. Such information should be published immediately. We have been asking for it for many weeks, and now Labour Members are asking for it, too. Second, the Government ought to look back to their programme of June 1973 and to some of the wise words of Mr. Len Murray, whose counsels play such an important part in the Government's policy. In the Labour Party's programme of June 1973 the social contract was described as
"a contract which can be renewed each year as circumstances change and as new opportunities present themselves."
That is a sound proposition. Mr. Len Murray has also said that the contract was:
"comparable to an industrial agreement which was subject to modification from time to time from both sides in accordance with changing circumstances."
I know that the Secretary of State approaches economic problems from a somewhat different standpoint than that of the Chancellor, but I feel sure that even he would agree that circumstances have changed since the social contract was originally negotiated. He may even agree that circumstances have changed during the year or so that the Government have been in office.

As we know from the statement made earlier this afternoon, the Government believe in renegotiation. Renegotiation is a central part of their policy in some other areas. We would like to know what proposals the Government have for renegotiating the social contract in the light of changed circumstances, in keeping with their programme of June 1973 and in keeping with Mr. Len Murray's words in the Daily Telegraph of 23rd May 1974.

In this debate, when time is of no consequence, when the Secretary of State has all the time in the world to say whatever he wishes with no possible excuse for not saying something because it is not a suitable time—as he said earlier—we want to know how the social contract is working. We want the figures and details which are available from his Department and will enable us to form a judgment. We also want to know what, in the light of the changed circumstances, his proposals are for renegotiating the social contract.

5.37 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for raising this subject, which is of crucial importance to the whole of Government strategy. I am particularly gratified that my own subject for debate during the proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill has been usefully grafted on to this basic issue. The social contract concerns the whole relationship of the trade union and Labour movement to a Labour Government.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central had said, it involves an irreversible shift of wealth from those who have been receiving it to those who actually create it. The debate on capital transfer tax last night provided us with a quite different picture. While we congratulate the Government on the thoroughness with which they are dealing with the Budget, may I remind them of their commitment to "open government"?

In spite of the political opportunism which has been shown on the Opposition benches, I have to say that some of us are less than satisfied with the method used to introduce one element affecting the social contract. My hon. Friend has referred to the wrong sort of psychological atmospere which this creates. I refer to the findings of the Review Body on Top Salaries and the way in which those findings were introduced to the House by means of a reply to a Written Question. As we all know, Written Questions can be tabled at useful points in time. I understand that the previous Conservative administration made plentiful use of this method, so that Conservative Members have no basis for criticism. But we want to be committed to a much more open and democratic system of government. It was imprudent and mistaken to put down a Written Question for answer on the last day before the House rose for the Christmas Recess. When the Written Question procedure is used in that way the House has no opportunity for debate before the policy is implemented.

The Government accepted certain sections of the Review Body's report, and those sections were implemented on 1st January, 13 days before the House reassembled. When this matter was raised on a previous occasion the Leader of the House said that it would be difficult to arrange for a great many statements to be made to the House. He said that it was a matter of judgment on what is important and what is not and whether a statement is justified. But I suggest to my right hon. Friend that matters relating to pay are of paramount importance because they are part of the key policy of the social contract. The Government should consider whether it is necessary for the House to sit earlier so that more statements may be made and issues debated.

I congratulate the Government on having stuck to the policy on which they went to the country on the necessity for a referendum. It is a matter for commendation that some degree of Cabinet dissension will be permitted, depending on the final outcome of the negotiations, so that the tradition of collective Cabinet responsibility on this unique occasion can be modified. If the Government can produce modifications on this scale they can surely produce modifications to ensure that the Government are open to the check, scrutiny and jurisdiction of the House.

When I talk to my constituents about the social contract they often say "What about these huge sums that have been awarded?" Sometimes they say "It was announced in the Commons." That phrase is often used by the media. People do not realise the academic complexities of the House. They do not realise that "an announcement in the Commons" means that a Press release is produced at 4 o'clock and an answer goes into Hansard which is not available until the following week, so that there is no opportunity for debate. I was criticised for not debating something which I had no opportunity to debate. It is essential that we must be seen to justify every Government decision.

The hon. Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) said that the social contract had been breached by 25 per cent. of wage agreements. To put it in another way, 75 per cent. of agreements have been within the social contract. I wonder whether the social contract was borne in mind when the report on top salaries—which the Government inherited—was accepted. With the present economic uncertainty and gloom, that sort of award is not conducive to encouraging rank and file constituents.

The report makes one a little uneasy. On the list of people who gave evidence to the Review Body I can find no reference to engineers or textile workers giving their opinion on the salaries that judges and chairmen of nationalised bodies should receive. Nor can I find evidence from boiler firers in the Central Electricity Generating Board or porters on the railways on what they think their respective chairmen should receive. But, in the light of the social contract, that is the sort of discussion there should be. It is not simply a question of doling out large amounts of money to a tiny group of people. The people who gave evidence to the Review Body represented an élitist approach.

A group of people have received an increase of £2,650, which is more than many people in my constituency earn in a full year. During 1975 the economic climate of this group of people will be cushioned by an additional £3,000. In another instance the first increment is £3,325. People feel that increases of that size are unfair. Members of Parliament receive a copy of the "Low Paid Bulletin." The issue dated January 1975 points out that in 1974 nearly 3,750,000 men and women were paid poverty wages. That calculation was based on statistics provided by the Department of Employment. Just under 3 million were men working a full week but receiving less than £30 a week, overtime excluded, and 800,000 were women employed at wages below £17 a week.

I was approached in my constituency by a member of the public who showed me his wage slip, according to which he was taking home £32 after working a week of 52 hours. When we talk of the social contract and the shift of wealth we have to bear in mind that, on the one hand, awards of £2,500 are doled out and, on the other hand, people are taking home £32 a week. According to a weekly magazine, the doormen of London luxury hotels are getting £24 a week. When people realise this discrepancy they do not believe that we are moving towards a more just society. They regard the people who gave evidence to the Review Body as an élitist group who do not represent a cross-section of working people. When the decisions which are based on the evidence given by the élitist group are accepted by a Labour Government people feel that the social contract and the irreversible shift in wealth which we were promised at the last election are being undermined.

The Labour Government should not accept the market theory of wages, which is that to get the best talent and the best ability we have to go into the market place. It is a good thing that that theory has never been applied to nurses. Nurses over the years have given their skill and ability for a pittance. If the nurses and other members of our community can make that kind of contribution to our society, it is reasonable to ask those in the higher income income groups to make the same sacrifice to make it clear to everybody that wealth is being redistributed.

If the Labour Government govern with flair and courage, we need not worry about their replacement by a Conservative Government for many years to come. But that flair certainly is not exhibited by the report on top salaries. I believe that the Labour Government should set an example by taking a cut in salary. It would not be so extraordinary and would be very much to their credit throughout the nation. I subscribe to the theory that if top salaries were curtailed at £7,500, it would be a symbol of our endeavour to solve our economic problems.

I should like to turn to the subject of the nationalised industries. We have a very large public sector, and if the social contract is to work people must be shown that they are involved in decision making in the nationalised industries and that there is not a highly-paid elite making decisions in which the people play no part. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment regards participation in decision making as an important part of Labour's programme. I am pleased that the Labour Government have set up a Royal Commission on pay, but I believe that the pay of nationalised board chairmen should be looked at carefully so that the people who sweep the platforms and drive the trains feel that the industry for which they work is their own industry and that the Government are not merely perpetuating the existing system.

The curbing of wage demands is not the sole answer to the problem of making the social contract work in order to solve our economic difficulties. We expect working people—those who create the wealth of the nation—at least to keep abreast of living standards. No Labour Government could stay in office if they were to try to cut living standards of the vast body of working people who helped to elect them. We must at least maintain living standards and ensure that the lower paid receive wage increases to keep abreast of inflation. But we must do more. We must seek increases in productivity—and that means increases in investment, too, for this has not happened in the private sector. It means that we must introduce the National Enterprise Board as a matter of urgency as a key weapon in ensuring that both investment and productivity are raised. If we raise productivity, the increased wealth can be distributed among working people. Furthermore we must consider some form of selective import control. For example, in the textile industry the scale of cheap imports has been such that the situation can almost be classified as dumping.

The Government must look at all these weapons in their economic armoury and say "We are prepared to employ these weapons and to have a much greater control over the economy". They must seek to ensure that market forces which have such a great effect on our economy are diminished. They must decide that our salary and wage structure must be so organised that the people on top salaries set an example by taking cuts, or certainly not by accepting increases in salaries.

If we keep faith with the policies on which we were elected in February and October of last year, we shall retain people's faith. We shall then ensure that the social contract, which will bring about an irreversible shift in wealth, will succeed and in future elections we shall fear no opposition whatever.

5.55 p.m.

I apologise to the House for the fact that I was not in the Chamber to hear the beginning of the speech made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). I also apologise in advance for the fact that, owing to a somewhat pressing engagement in an upstairs Committee room a little later, I shall probably not be able to hear the complete reply of the Secretary of State for Employment.

I support the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) on the matter of open Government. He drew attention to the way in which the top salaries report had been published. He will also be aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry used an even more devious method, since he published a Written Answer on the day before the Christmas Recess—in fact it was not even a proper answer; it was a document which he put in the Library. One copy was deposited in the Library—at 5.30 in the evening after all hon. Members had left the House—on the subject of the IDP co-operative. I regarded that as the most devious way of trying to avoid publicity, and I believe that it is a matter which the Leader of the House and all hon. Members should take seriously. Ministers should make statements in the House and have the courage to stand by them and defend them here rather than to hide matters in documents in the Library.

I accept the hon. Gentleman's general point that more statements should be made in the House. However, I am sure he will agree that the matter of the Kirkby Co-operative had been extensively discussed and was not a matter which was totally unknown to the House. It was quite different from the case of the top salaries report. In regard to the co-operative, deputations came to see the Secretary of State and there were wide consultations.

I am not sure the hon. Gentleman is aware of what was put in the Library. I refer to a statement of dissent by the advisory board on the unwisdom of the whole project. That board was not just a board of top industrialists, but included a distinguished trade unionist, and there was no note of his dissent from the view of the Secreary of State for Industry. That was an extremely important report, and the way in which it was produced did no credit to the Secretary of State for Industry.

The hon. Member for Keighley said that the Government should not allow any cuts to take place in the living standards of working people, but the truth is that they are now suffering a cut in living standards. I should like to know what percentage of the present working population is now undergoing a cut in living standards. The answer might surprise the hon. Member for Keighley. Certainly the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) has at last woken up to the real impact of the situation. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) has spoken in the past about a level of increase of 28 per cent. for people on top salaries. However, since they probably pay tax on 83 per cent. of their increase, they are suffering in effect a 12 per cent. cut in their standard of living. That point is rarely mentioned or bandied about. Anybody on a higher salary in the last two or three years has unquestionably suffered a cut in his standard of living. If inflation continues at a rate of 20 per cent. per year at the present rate of tax, a person who now earns £10,000 will, in four years' time, need an income of £40,000 to retain the same net spending power.

Such is the effect of the combination of the high rate of inflation and our high rate of tax. On that basis, there may be something else to put into the pot for the hon. Member for Keighley to consider—whether taking 12 per cent. off our living standard is not making a marginal contribution to the working of the social contract.

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) said about our approach to the social contract. I am one of those who have never knocked the contract. I am a great believer in it. We have all worked away at it. The Conservative Government, through endless tripartite discussions, by threshold payments, by improvement of pensions, and so on, made tremendous efforts to feel their way towards establishing a social contract, although perhaps their aim was not so presentationally beautiful, and was not given a nice name.

Would the hon. Gentleman describe the three-day working week as progress towards a social contract?

It was an attempt to try to restrain the total monopoly bargaining power of one trade union—to give the community some protection against it—so that the country could at least start to take a stand against inflation. The figures of unemployment announced today are part of the price we shall pay for our failure to face that challenge now. The Secretary of State knows—he cannot be looking forward to it—that in successive months he will be announcing worse and worse figures. The figure which worries me most, and which the right hon. Gentleman was not able to give, is the short-time working figure. This is an increasing problem, perhaps in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East as well. All these things are bound up in the same problem.

During the election campaign the Prime Minister said, that all "God's chillun" wanted a social contract, and he caused great laughter. I think that it is true. If we are to succeed, there must be, whether named or described, a social contract of one form or another. I hat is why my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South was right in saying that we do not know enough about it—that half the nation has not been taken into the confidence of the Labour Party or the TUC about what the contract really is. If it is going to work—and something along these lines, whether Socialist or a Conservative, is desperately needed—it must be done by the Government and in such a way that everyone, as far as possible, feels involved.

That was the point made by the hon. Member for Keighley when he said that certain people do not feel involved because of the top salary situation. I do not necessarily agree with him, but certainly the social contract has not been properly explained by the Government. They should take every opportunity of explaining it.

The great glaring absence from the contract is the involvement of industry—of directors and managers of companies. I know that there are those who feel that these people are a terrible relic of our feudal industrial past, but that is an obsolete idea. In a modern industrial society, managers are, in reality, very often worker-directors, having risen from the shop floor and worked their way up, establishing themselves on their merits. It is against this background that if the balance is tilted too much in one direction, one side will feel left out.

I recognise the efforts which the right hon. Gentleman makes with the unions and the very close contacts he has with the TUC as a whole, but the impression I get from my contacts with industry suggests that his great weakness at the moment is that the management side of industry has no confidence in him. This is not based on any dislike of him as a person, or, necessarily, of his political views, but the impression rife in industry is that he is the kept man of the TUC—its front man. I withdrawn the phrase "kept man", because that has a connotation I would not want to make, but let us say that he is the personal representative of the TUC—that he is really there to implement whatever recommendations come from the TUC.

In the old days, however, St. James's Square was regarded as a place where genuinely independent judgments were made—where the two sides could go for a fair and impartial hearing. However, during the last Government I often heard the same criticism made of St. James's Square and the rôle of the Secretary of State. If the balance was too much the other way in those days, it has gone completely in the other direction, and now the other side does not feel involved—does not feel that it is being consulted.

The Employment Protection Bill and the preparations for it are an example. There were discussions with the TUC, and then the CBI was effectively told what had been decided. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to justify himself to me, but—

Neither does the hon. Gentleman have to listen to anything that I say.

I shall read it with interest. I recognise the problems of the Secretary of State for Employment, who, with his natural courtesy, friendliness and personal charm, can make people believe that we are all getting along swimmingly—that people can come into his office and it will all seem friendly and nice—but I am sure that he is much more worried about what people are really thinking, and whether there really is a measure of confidence.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke of the seriousness of the industrial situation generally and the problems facing us. If ever there was a time when, in the national interest, a Government should be gathering people together and sayings, "You are all important; you all have a rôle to play, and we shall only solve our problems if we can do so together", it is now. But at the moment appeals are being made to the shop floor, while another significant group is feeling singularly left out. The right hon. Gentleman should make an effort to see whether something can be done to bring in people who are a little less disruptive, a little less feudal and a little less traditional in their views than he expects. He should start the process of the growth of confidence again. He could be a great help to these people, and I am sure that they could help him.

6.8 p.m.

The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) said that he would have to leave before he heard me reply, but he has not been so lucky. He will have to wait a minute or two now. I shall give him an immediate reply—or shall attempt to do so—and then he can depart, although I thought that the election was not until the week after next or a little later. I shall liberate him as soon as I can.

I repudiate at once the suggestion that the Department of Employment has not acted with perfect courtesy towards employers who wish for its assistance and advice in dealing with various problems. We had the newspaper proprietors with us a few days ago and did our best to assist them in their very difficult circumstances. I do not think any one of them went away saying that we had not done everything possible to listen to their case and get a sensible settlement of the dispute. Many other employers have been to see us at other times, either when there have been disputes or with other problems which they have wanted to put to us.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has spent many hours listening to representations made by employers. When we were still pursuing a statutory control of wages, we had groups of employers coming to us and pleading with us to help them in the difficulties in which they were encoiled by that system. We did our best to assist them, too. When I went up to Aberdeen and saw some of the employers' organisations, they passed a vote of thanks to me, much to my amazement. They said "If you had not abolished the Pay Board, we would either be in prison or be bankrupt."

Many employers have had assistance from the Department. Therefore, they cannot say that we have not treated them fairly. It is true that they do not like some of the proposals—or, rather, the employers' organisations, such as the Engineering Employers' Federation, do not like some of the proposals—in the Employment Protection Bill. That does not mean that we have not listened to their representations about it.

I have explained to them that we have commitments to the social contract. Many of the measures figuring in the Employment Protection Bill are part of the social contract. The employers knew full well that we were going to carry them through and that we had a special association with the trade union movement. That has never been concealed. I do not think that the employers have any reason to protest about the way in which we have proceeded in this matter.

Of course, we have closer associations with the trade union movement. That is a political fact. It is part of British history, but it does not mean that we have conducted the Department of Employment in a way which has in any sense injured the possibility of getting sensible agreements to try to get on with the job of helping to secure the nation's recovery.

My point is exactly the same as the right hon. Gentleman has made. The Department behaves with perfect courtesy. The right hon. Gentleman has friendly relations, because of his personal charm. It all looks fine. I am saying to him—this is an outsider's warning; it is up to him whether he takes it—that under his leadership the Department of Employment is not regarded by employers as a place to which to have recourse except possibly in emergencies, where it is the only place they can go. I should like there to be a situation in which people looked upon the Secretary of State for Employment as a real aid and asset.

It seems that there is some misunderstanding of the situation amongst many employers, as the hon. Gentleman has represented it. All I am trying to say, with some evidence on my side, is that his charges are baseless in fact. Of course it is the fact that we have different views from many employers' organisations. Nobody should be surprised about that. Nobody should be surprised at the fact that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I do not immediately see eye to eye with the Confederation of British Industry on many political questions. We would not be members of the Government if we did.

We won an election on a different programme. We are seeking to carry out that programme. Within the terms of carrying out that programme, in particular the social contract, we certainly wish to establish and sustain the best possible relations with employers' organisations and those who speak for them. We at the Department of Employment have sought all the way through to secure that. I could give the hon. Gentleman instance after instance—I know that he is eager to get away—to refute his suggestion.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for introducing the debate in the way that he did. He said that neither he nor others of my hon. Friends must be regarded as Lobby fodder. I have never regarded my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central—still less my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)—as Lobby fodder. If we had regarded them as Lobby fodder in this Parliament we were in for a starvation diet, and I am not looking forward to that prospect. I would not be so foolish as to place reliance on any such thing.

I do not complain at any of the criticisms my hon. Friends made, or about their raising matters in this debate, because this is one of the special arrangements in the House whereby subjects which it has not been possible to raise by other means can be raised on this Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central for raising the subject of the working of the social contract. I hope that I shall answer almost every one of the questions he asked. I shall not go into what he said at the beginning of his remarks about the fading of the British Empire, and the wider topic that he then introduced. I shall try to deal with the specific questions dealing with the social contract.

My hon. Friends asked, first, a question about unemployment. I refer to that because of the figures I gave the House earlier and the statement made by others that over the coming months we may have to face figures that are even worse in some respects than those we have to face today.

I certainly do not minimise the significance of these dangers, in any sense. Of course, if unemployment were to soar upwards, it could do the greatest possible injury to the operation of the social contract, apart from any other objections that we would have to such a happening and all the human considerations that are involved.

I assure my hon. Friend and everybody else that we do not regard these figures with any complacency, and that we wish to do everything in our power to guard against them. As I said in my earlier remarks, the Government have already taken some steps to guard against these dangers, particularly in the areas which are most threatened—the regions in which unemployment is traditionally higher. In the middle of last summer the Government took measures which will have some effect now. I refer to the measures taken in the mini-Budget.

Many people said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not have embarked upon those measures at that time, but my right hon. Friend had the courage to do so, and some of those measures, such as the doubling of the regional employment premium, were taken deliberately to try to ward off some of the dangers of unemployment this winter and this coming spring. Many of the measures that were taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget were designed for that purpose as well.

No doubt we will have to consider other measures—emergency measures, if you like—to try to deal with many of these dangers. As part of the social contract the Government will be considering the proposals which have been put forward by the Manpower Services Commission and other such bodies, because we see absolutely eye to eye with what Mr. Len Murray said the other day, namely, that fighting against unemployment is also an essential part of the social contract itself.

It is the case—we must keep our fingers crossed on this—that we have guarded against it better than some other countries in the western world have. I am sorry to say that they have higher unemployment figures than we have. That is not beneficial to us. I am not saying this in any sense of boastfulness—of course not. We wish to see those countries taking measures to bring down their unemployment. Nothing could assist us more in dealing with our own unemployment than that they should do so. That is also an essential part of the Government's policy and the policy that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has pursued. I hope that that deals with what my hon. Friend said on the subject of unemployment.

My hon. Friend then raised a general question about the information given about the social contract, and the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) pressed us even more closely, suggesting that in some way or other we are denying evidence or information on this subject to the House of Commons. We have no desire to do so. I should like to try to explain what is the Government's view about it and why we take the attitude that we take.

The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) wrote me a letter the other day accusing me of engaging in some form of Government censorship, or of seeking to withhold information from the House of Commons on the subject of wage settlements and the operation of the social contract guidelines generally.

We have no such desire and no such intention of withholding information in that sense at all, but we are not in favour—I do not say that this is an absolutely cast-iron view for all time—of having a system whereby the Government publish a judgment on every wage settlement that goes through, with the Government putting a stamp of approval on some, saying, "This settlement is inside the social contract" and saying of others "This one is outside the social contract", with figures being published on that basis.

We do not want to do that for a variety of reasons. If we were to set up such an elaborate system, many people would believe that it was part of the preparation for the reintroduction of a statutory incomes policy. That is one of the reasons why we do not want to do it. One of the dangers that we have had to guard against—this was one of the reasons, perhaps, for some of the special difficulties that occurred in Scotland soon after the election—was the fear that a statutory policy was to be brought back at any moment. We have done our best—I certainly have—to guard against that fear. But there are other reasons why we think that it would not be satisfactory to publish information along the lines hon. Members opposite have suggested.

Let me say a few words on the famous 75 per cent. figure. When I replied to the right hon. Member for Lowestoft in the House yesterday, I said that if only he had looked at my speeches in the House he would have seen that I had referred before to the 75 per cent. figure. It was certainly my belief, when I said it, that I had quoted the 75 per cent. figure in the House on more than one occasion, but that does not appear to be the case. I have quoted it elsewhere in several speeches—for instance, earlier in the week, at the Industrial Society. I have used it on so many occasions that it never occurred to me that I had not used it in the House. If any inconvenience was caused to the right hon. Gentleman on that account, I apologise for it. I should like to get the facts absolutely straight.

I have told the House before that my Department is reasonably well informed about the details of major pay settlements. There are gaps in our knowledge, but we have reasonably full information about settlements covering about two-thirds of the working population. Leaving aside the special cases—miners and nurses—covering about 1 million people, roughly 75 per cent. of the people covered by settlements about which we have reasonably full information settled within the TUC guidelines.

It must not be assumed that the settlements about which the Department has limited information, or no information at all, were all outside the guidelines. That would almost certainly be wrong. A more likely assumption is that the pattern in the areas where we are not well informed is much the same as the pattern in the areas where we have reasonably full information. That is another reason why we do not believe that we can publish a Department of Employment section of the Department of Employment Gazette on social contract wage settlements in the same way that we publish unemployment figures or other kinds of figures, because the figures are not available to the same degree and, moreover, the comparisons are not so precise.

It may be said that the comparisons of whether settlements are within or without the social guidelines cannot be precise because the guidelines are not tight enough. One of the virtues of the guidelines is that they are not inflexibly fixed. With fixed guidelines which were absolutely precise, so precise that one could publish statistics week by week or month by month on exactly what had occurred—not that the TUC would ever have been prepared to do so because it laid down the guidelines—one would not be able to achieve settlements in many cases and one would not be able to use the flexibility of the system to bring common sense back into our bargaining system.

What we have been trying to do in the past few months—it is not an easy job—is to escape from all the follies, stupidities and rigidities of the statutory system. One of the great vices of the statutory system is that it is difficult to get out of it. When hon. Members ask why we do not publish in the way they have described details of this or that settlement, they still talk in terms of the old statutory system, as though the Department of Employment was some kind of undercover pay board which was dealing with these matters. We are not dealing with them in that way.

We want to get back to a much more flexible and intelligent collective bargaining system. It takes some time, and we do not believe that the process would be assisted if we were to create the kind of elaborate machinery which right hon. and hon. Members opposite suggest.

I have followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument as closely as I can. However, I do not think that he entirely appreciates our point. We are saying that there is considerable misunderstanding about the present situation and that we do not have the information necessary to judge whether the 75 per cent. figure is accurate. The remarks of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) demonstrate that. Misleading figures are sometimes published in the newspapers. If the right hon. Gentleman would give us the Department's information, at least the argument would take place on a basis of common statistics.

That is not so. If the Government did what the hon. Gentleman suggests, they would have to publish the details of every wage settlement, with a Government stamp on it showing whether it was within the guidelines. In my view, so far from assisting us in carrying out our policy, that might disrupt it.

The guidelines were laid down not by the Government but by the TUC. The TUC understood and appreciated the economic circumstances which the Government presented to it in our discussions and, in response, said, "We shall give guidelines to our negotiators on how best we think we can assist the country and the trade union movement". The TUC does its best to sustain the guidelines. If the Government said, "Let us see whether this settlement comes within or without the guidelines", it would reintroduce some of the disadvantages of the statutory system.

That does not mean that we want to withhold information from the House. I repudiate that charge. That is one of the reasons why we have given the House the figures and why we shall answer as best we can the questions put to us in the House, as I am seeking to do now. We wish to give the House every scrap of information we can. But we are not in favour of setting up the elabarate statutory system for which hon. Members opposite hanker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central asked for a fresh assurance about our determination not to introduce a statutory policy. I am eager to give him that assurance. What I had temporarily mislaid—all matters are dealt with very speedily in the Department of Employment, and I have it now—was a copy of the Financial Times, which seems to be coming round to the view which I have expressed ever since I have had this job. I have been bitterly opposed to a statutory system, and I have said many times in the House and outside that we shall not return to it. We have had to stand un to a barrage of propaganda from hon. Members opposite and from members of the Liberal Party—who have so much interest in the social contract that none of them is attending this debate—who have been going round the country saying that within a few weeks or months of the election the clamp would come down and we would be back to a statutory system. One newspaper after another said the same.

We have always denied that. Therefore, I am glad to welcome the article written by Mr. Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times today, not because his political and economic views accord with mine—very few of them do—but because he has belatedly reached the same conclusion that I reached some time ago. He took the low road, I took the high road. I wish to read the article to the House, because it was not written by a wicked opponent of statutory policy such as myself or other members of the Labour Party. Not only does Mr. Brittan object to the idea of a freeze or a statutory policy; he goes on to say:
"Similar objections apply to milder suggestions, such as that of the independent umpire to referee the 'Social Contract'—the favourite consensus idea endorsed this week by Mr. Robert Carr. The direct effect would be small and would be more than outweighed by the false sense of reassurance it might engender".
I recommend hon. Members to read the whole article because here at last—it has taken a long time—the pundits of the Financial Times are coming round to the view that it is not sensible to talk about trying to reintroduce a statutory policy and that even the mild measures and the latest wisdom of the right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) are to be condemned. Therefore, I hope that we shall have better informed discussion on this matter throughout the country. The Government have no intention whatsoever of reintroducing a statutory system. We think that would be a gospel of disaster and despair. We are not proposing to do it. We are very glad to see that others are now coming round to our point of view that this would be a foolish way for us to proceed.

By chance, I have Mr. Samuel Brittan's article by me. Will the Minister say whether he agrees with my distinguished ex-colleague in what he says, in the article, about monetary policy and employment? Since the whole article should be read as one, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should devote some time to monetary and unemployment aspects.

If the hon. Gentleman had listened with his usual care he would have heard me guarding myself against that by saying that I disagreed with Mr. Samuel Brittan about many things. The Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times have been coming forward drearily as the advocates of the reinstitution of the statutory system in one form or another. However, a gleam of wisdom is now emerging from the Financial Times. I hope that will be taken into account.

I apologise for having been unavoidably absent during the earlier part of the Minister's speech, being involved in the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill upstairs. But I have long been interested in this subject and I recall writing articles against a statutory incomes policy, while the right hon. Gentleman trooped through the Lobbies in favour of the statutory incomes policy introduced by the previous Labour Government. So I do not think he should argue as to who got there first, because the road is rather tortuous. There is neither a high nor a low road, since the road goes up and down.

In addition, is it not the case that we should take the argument put forward in the Financial Times as a whole? An alternative to the statutory incomes policy is put forward in the article. I believe that it is the only serious alternative. I do not believe that the Government have an alternative. If the Government have an alternative, I should be interested to hear from the Secretary of State what it is.

The hon. Gentleman should have made his own speech at another time—not in the middle of my speech.

The hon. Gentleman is misinformed about my trooping through the Lobbies in defence of statutory policies. The complaint of my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip at that time was that I was not doing very much trooping through the Lobbies. On some critical occasions I did, but I always held the view that that was the wrong way to proceed. I am glad to say that the rest of the members of the Labour Party have since come to the same view.

As for swallowing Mr. Samuel Brittan's article as a whole, I have never made such an outrageous suggestion and I trust I never shall. He should be taken in small doses. This is one good dose today, which may be a sign of better doses in the future.

My hon. Friend raised the central point regarding top salaries, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). I appreciate their feelings on the subject. They make a powerful case. I do not think that the recommendations of the Boyle Report accord with the TUC guidelines in any sense. Indeed, the report was drawn up before the guidelines were in operation. The Government were faced with the difficulty that the recommendations in the Boyle Report bore very little relationship to the guidelines. It is not the case that the Government accepted the Boyle Report. The Government modified many parts of it. Some of those modifications may have brought the recommendations nearer to the guidelines. There is no doubt that it presented considerable difficulties for the Government. I appreciate the views held by my hon. Friends on the subject. I understand the warnings they have given about the future. I take the warnings to heart. We shall see what can be done.

As regards the constant apologies being made for the Boyle Report, the reason that the Government put this forward, and felt, on balance, with certain modifications, that it had to be done, was that they recognised that there was also a certain equity in the case. If there was collective responsibility, why has the right hon. Gentleman made no attempt to give any justification for the Boyle Report? He slithers around it, apologises, looks embarrassed, and does nothing. He has not even made the elementary point that everyone on the top level receiving those increases will take a 12 per cent. cut in their living standards this year. Why did the Minister not say that?

I shall not enter into the whole discussion on that subject with the hon. Gentleman. There are many other aspects which could be cited. I said, and it cannot be disputed, that the Boyle Report presented the Government with considerable difficulties because the principles on which the report is based bear very little relation to the TUC guidelines.

Let me give one further illustration. The whole principle of comparability does not figure in the TUC guidelines. That is another of the problems which arise.

I turn to a further aspect of the argument on this subject put by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley when he talked about low pay. I fully agree with my hon. Friend on that subject. Indeed, the emphasis on low pay is one of the essential parts of the TUC guidelines. The £30 target was adopted at the last congress of the TUC and it became an essential part of the guidelines. Within a matter of a day or so, the Government agreed with the TUC that we would do our best to sustain that part of the TUC recommendation. I think we have carried out that obligation faithfully. That means that, so far as the Government has any influence in this matter, we recognise that there must be a move towards the £30 target. Many settlements have been reached on that basis.

Looking back over the past year, whatever deficiencies we may have had, low-paid workers have been better treated under our incomes policy—if we can call it that—than in any previous period, partly because we took direct action to deal with the cases of some of the people who were worse treated of all, such as nurses, teachers and postmen. However, they were not the only ones. Some of the others were paid similar or even lower wages. They were covered by the £30 target negotiations taking place. The Government claim that we have sought not only to abide by the social contract in the general legislative measures being carried out to try to fulfil it but to do our best to carry out, under those conditions, the Government obligations of the social contract. In my opinion one of the most important aspects of Government policy over this period has been the way in which we have sought to deal with those problems.

My hon. Friend then asked what was the Government's attitude towards the tightening up of the guidelines of the social contract. We had discussions with the representatives of the TUC General Council on Monday. I do not believe that there was any great secret about the common approach to these problems. We do not believe there can be a situation where the guidelines can suddenly be twisted or tightened up in that sense.

I do not think that that is a proper approach. On many occasions I have said to the House, to the TUC, and in public that I believed that we must have a stricter allegiance to the terms and principles of the guidelines. That means that we must carry out those guidelines in a sense which does not stretch them. I believe that to be the way in which Mr. Len Murray has spoken during the last day or two. One of the most important principles in this respect is that wage settlements should not be made on the basis of anticipating increases in the cost of living over the future period. Different aspects can be taken into account but that is not to be applied as a general principle. Mr. Len Murray has stated that clearly in the last two days. It was not a question of closing a loophole that had been there all the time. It was a question of re-emphasising what had been the understanding of the TUC and of the Government. We do not say there have not been some breaches of that principle, although we deny what was said in the National Institute report, which read as if the loophole was one of the TUC guidelines. That was never the case. Nor was it the case that settlements were generally being made on that anticipatory basis. That is why we deny forcibly what the institute says.

I come now to the false figures, and why I am so angry about them. I was rebuked for being so concerned about these figures in the newspapers, as if I had some mania to attack the newspapers about them. I have no desire to attack the newspapers for the sake of attacking them, but when we are seeking to carry out the social contract and to say how we propose to apply the guidelines of the social contract, what the newspapers say and what individual politicians say on the subject is a matter of great importance.

If the general impression is spread throughout the country that wage settlements are taking place at a level of, say, 40 per cent. when the figure is, say, half that, as a national average, it creates a dangerous state of affairs. Many people may believe it. During the election campaign, the Leader of the Opposition was saying, in speeches throughout the country, that the general level of wage settlements at the time was 40 per cent. It was not true. It bore no relation to the facts. It was based on a statistical fallacy which was pointed out to him at the time. But he was too eager proclaiming how he always told the truth to admit that he was telling a lie on that occasion. However, the lies of the Leader of the Opposition outside this House are perfectly in order, so Opposition Members need not get too het-up about it. But that is what happened.

Now the same fallacy is repeated by The Times. A great many people regard it as a reputable source of information on these matters. I do not say that trade unionists are poring over their copies of The Times in order to see what wage increases to claim, but if they are told that earnings are rising at the rate of 37 per cent. a year, they may believe it. However, it is not true.

The claim of the Leader of the Opposition and the statement in The Times are both based on a simple statistical fallacy. The figures published on Monday show an increase in the wage index of 28½ per cent. to December 1974. According to The Times, earnings may be rising at the rate of 37 per cent. The latter is based on the rate of increases over the past few months. These produce alarming results, because the monthly increase depends on how many people get an increase in that month as well as how much they get. If a large number get even a small increase in a given month, the index will show an appreciable rise. To talk of increases at an annual rate of 37 per cent. is quite nonsensical, especially when the figure is based on increases in the past few months when large numbers of people have been receiving threshold payments. Stage 3 threshold payments were triggered for the last time in November, and there is no question of increases of this kind continuing at the same annual rate.

I hope that we shall not have to destroy this statistical fallacy again. It was pointed out that it was a complete fallacy when it was raised by the Leader of the Opposition. I have pointed it out again now. I have received no apology from The Times. But we shall not be rebuked, as a Government, by newspapers or by an Opposition who are so loose in their figures that they think it proper to tell people that this is the rate at which settlements are being made when the facts dispute it.

Yesterday and again earlier today, the Opposition were squealing at me for not providing sufficient facts. We provide the facts, and we correct the Opposition when they get them wrong. We have shown that what the Leader of the Opposition said about wage settlements during the election was falsely based. They continue to get the figures wrong. We have said the same to The Times. The Times continues to get them wrong. But I hope that I have now repudiated this statistical fallacy once and for all.

It is perfectly true to say that the rate of wage settlements presents difficulties for the conduct of the Government's economic policy, but matters are made far more difficult if people who should know better, now that they have been told, continue to spread throughout the country stories of settlements which bear no relation to the facts.

Is the right hon. Gentleman really saying, at a time of unparalleled economic crisis, with rampant inflation at an unprecedented and accelerating rate, that our sole protection is a socal contract which is so fragile and feeble that one or two newspaper reports can blow it to pieces? That is a most alarming suggestion.

I have never suggested that. I have indicated some of the measures which the Government seek to take to enable the social contract and the guidelines of the social contract to operate, and I have reported the discussions that we have had with a view to seeking a stricter allegiance to those guidelines, but it stands to reason that if false estimates of wage settlements are being peddled round the country, it makes it more difficult for people to hold to their agreements. It must be remembered that what happens in wage negotiations is that people make comparisons with settlements being made in other places. If, over the coming critical six months, people are going into wage negotiations accepting at face value what The Times puts on its front page, it will be much more difficult to reach sensible settlements.

What, for example, will the miners think? Let us suppose that they believe what they read on the front page of The Times. Will that make it easier to resolve the mining dispute? I think that we shall get a settlement with the miners which is honourable to them, to the Government, and to the community, but matters are not made any easier when a newspaper publishes figures of this kind, based on a statistical fallacy which can easily be disproved. Even I can disprove the statistical fallacy, so it must be very easy to do.

Wage negotiation is only one part of the social contract. All my right hon. and hon. Friends understand that, even if the Opposition do not. The National Enterprise Board is another essential part, and the sooner we get it into operation the better. The sooner we can get into operation many of the other measures that we wish to secure, the better. But we have to get from this critical economic situation to the situation in the middle of the year, at the end of the year and at the beginning of next year. We have to get through this period. During it, our economic success will depend greatly on the respect that there is for the guidelines laid down by the TUC. We shall have constant discussions with the TUC as to how best we can fulfil the guidelines. I believe that the overwhelming majority of trade unionists—their leaders and the rank and file—are eager to assist the Government and the country to ensure that we overcome these difficulties.

If there is one criticism of the Government, it is that, perhaps, we have not put together all the measures being taken and explained them sufficiently so that people may understand how one part relates to another and how essentially this part of the social contract relates to avoiding unemployment. If that is so, we can be rebuked and we shall see whether we can do it better in the future. One of the purposes of this debate is to be able to set these matters in a different context and to do so over the coming months in a more ambitious and sensible way than we have so far done.

None of us underrates the scale of the crisis that this country has to overcome. It is a crisis of complexity unparalled in the whole history not only of this country but of many others. The western world has never faced such problems in such a way. In this country, thanks in some respects to the social contract—not only that: there are other assets in the Government—I believe that we have a better chance than some other countries of overcoming these problems.

We should not be defeatist in facing our problems. I repudiate all such suggestions—particularly the idea that we are seeking to hide from the House or the country what we mean by the social contract, what the TUC means by it, and how we seek to co-ordinate our ideas. It is not a question of the Department or me surrendering to the TUC. It is a question of a proper understanding. We cannot have a democratic Government unless the Government understand the unions, and vice versa. I believe that that understanding is closer and stronger than ever before, and that that is one of the foundations on which we can overcome our economic problems.

Employment Agencies Act 1973

6.51 p.m.

Over the years countless words have been poured out in this House about employment agencies. As recently as 16th February 1973 the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) succeeded in introducing a Private Member's Bill on the subject. In doing so, he stressed the urgent need for reform to license and regulate the private sector in employment agencies "nationally, realistically and firmly". That was a fine intention, but despite considerable support from both sides and the insistence of hon. Members on the need for this regulation, nothing firm has happened to this date.

In that debate, much was said about the particular need to protect young people. Part of the discussion hinged on a recent scandal involving some 250 young girls who had gone to Spain to work in various kinds of sleazy establishments with "conditions of residence"—a term which does not usually apply to such situations—which according to a Guardian article at the time, appeared to have including sharing living accommodation either with Service men or with groups of men and women. The subsequent fuss gave rise to a good deal of Press comment. It is interesting to read in that debate the Minister's reference to the LCC's Employment Act of 1921, which related primarily to immorality and fraud. He said that they were subjects about which we did not need to be quite so concerned today.

I refer particularly to the need to protect the young because of revelations within the last week about young girls—in the case of one agency up to 100 over the last year—having been sent out to Belgium for similar activities. Perhaps it would interest the House if I gave some details.

Advertisements have been appearing in a journal, sold primarily for advertising purposes, which read:
"Girls! Tired of that routine job? Do you enjoy dancing, night life? Take a break—have fun working in a discotheque in Belgium (no experience necessary). £40 to £60 per week plus bonuses."
I suppose that the only experience needed would be that of dancing, whether in discotheques or anywhere else.

That advertisement was in a magazine for which one had to pay, but others having been appearing in give-away magazines.

Would the hon. Lady name the publication?

Yes, of course—it is the London Weekly Advertiser.

It is interesting to note that, although that advertisement does not appear in the current issue, there is a different one which I had intended to bring to the attention of the House. That one is headed not just "Girls", but "Photogenic Girls". Those photogenic girls are required to model for nude photographs. One of the attractions, apparently, is that free photographs graphs are provided. Perhaps this adds interest to this kind of job for the girls themselves. I mention the fact that girls are involved because although it is true that the word "girls" can cover a multitude of sins, those going over to Belgium are aged between 16 and 20.

I am concerned about the nature of the advertisement and the implication that it is young girls who are wanted. I am even more worried about the fact that advertisements of this kind have been appearing in journals which are given away in their thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the streets of London. One is called Girl and another is called Miss London. Both are free, pushed into the hand of every likely-looking young woman who passes. I was even given one myself, by mistake, probably in connection with the advertisements for office workers rather than those for discotheque dancers.

I think that the House should know what happens after a girl has seen an advertisement and before she actually reaches foreign climes. I know of two agencies particularly concerned in this. One calls itself a theatrical agency—Ballet Jon McGrath. In response to inquiries it sends out a letter and then interviews suitable girls, of whom there seems to be no shortage. The letter says:
"We have noted … that you have been interviewed for work in Belgium. We are at present interviewing Disco-Birds for the King Discotheque, Ostend. Salary 600 Belgium francs per day (approximately £6·50) less Ten per cent. agency fee, also social security. Accommodation is arranged"—
a fact which should be noted—
"costing approximately £1 per day … The contracts used are passed by the Westminster City Council and comply with the Belgium laws. Should you be interested, please telephone my office and arrange a meeting.
P.S. Disco-Birds. The name Disco-Bird was taken from Discotheque Disco-Bird Bird-lands as some of the pubs are called in London.
A Disco-Bird is employed for the Disco-theques in Belgium just to create ambience"—translated in brackets as "atmosphere"—
"to encourage people to come into the Disco-theques especially in the early part of the evening something similar to the crowds as seen on TV programmes i.e. Top of the Pops, Ready, Steady, Go etc. Ordinary clothes are worn just as one would wear in any disco."
So the young girl goes along and is interviewed and told that she is the lucky person who is to get this fabulous job abroad.

I have been the mother of a 16 to 17 year old girl. Until I entered the House I was employed on counselling girls in this age group. I know only too well the lure of travel anywhere across the sea, the lure of anything to do with television and the lure of anything to do with disco-theques. Further, I know the pressures that these youngsters can impose on their parents, especially if their friends are already involved in this kind of activity.

The young ladies who are fortunate enough to be engaged are given a contract to sign, which is the standard contract of the Variety and Allied Entertainers' Council of Great Britain. It gives the address of the King Disco in Ostend and gives the hours the girls are to be employed as from 7 to 4 p.m. or 8 to 5 p.m. That is what it says on the card. Further back, however, somehow the hours seem to change. They change in the schedule of performances from 7 to 4 p.m. I am sorry—I have mislead the House. They still remain the same, but my information is that they are the opposite—7 p.m. to 4 a.m.

In fact, if young people in Belgium were to apply for jobs of this kind they would be precluded by Belgian law from taking them because no girls under the age of 21 are allowed to be employed in any kind of entertainment industry at night. From that point of view, therefore, their employment is illegal.

It is true that the wage, as set out in the original letter, is 600 Belgian francs per day. It goes on to say:
"The artiste will be fined for any 1 minute late two Belgian francs. The artiste is not allowed to work or visit any other disco within the run of this contract. Doing so will mean a breach of contract."
It also says:
"Should the artiste stay in Belgium for any other reason than sickness they will forfeit to the agency £2 for any 1 week of this contract completed."
I have no idea what that means. I am sure that the signatories to the contract have no idea either. I mention that because it is another example of the misleading nature of the contract.

I return to the point which I have asked the House to remember—that accom- modation is arranged. It is arranged in an establishment called the Night and Day Hotel in Ostend. During last week the BBC televised a programme showing some of these young girls aged from 16 upwards who had gone to Belgium on a contract of this kind and had gone to the Night and Day Hotel. That hotel turns out to be a brothel and is known to be a brothel by the Belgian police. In the interview which the Chief of Police in Ostend gave on television he expressed grave concern about the situation and said that these young girls were on the threshold of prostitution.

A lot has been said, as I have mentioned, about the need to protect young people. In the debate on his Bill the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford said that it was nonsense to pass his Bill without adequate regulations being made. He referred—I agree absolutely with the example he gave—to his Bill as "a slumbering elephant—all trunk and no movement" without the regulations which would force its implementation.

The sad thing is that although that Bill received Royal Assent in July 1973 no regulations were introduced until June 1974, although the regulations which are set out would in many ways serve to deal with the kind of situation I have described today. As I understand it, the Government sent out draft regulations for consideration by interested parties in the industry. The proposals include one which states that an agent will not be allowed to introduce to an employer anyone under the age of 18 years unless he has first satisfied himself that the young person has received vocational guidance from a local education authority. I wonder about the vocational guidance necessary to be a disco-bird.

However, we then move on to the recommendations regarding employment overseas where it is said that
"The written consent of parent or guardian will be a pre-condition of placing anyone under 18 years in a job abroad, or from overseas into a job in this country. Agents placing young people from abroad, or going abroad, will have to satisfy themselves as to the suitability of accommodation and its cost. Premature termination of employment in under a year makes the agents responsible".
I mention this because the misleading sentence that I quoted, describing what would happen in the event of sickness, or whatever it was, in Belgium, is quite contrary to this, which states that an agent would be responsible for financing the cost of the fare for the employee's return to the home country and that
"Advertisements issued by agents for publication outside Great Britain will have to state any conditions that must by law be satisfied by job applicants before they can take up employment in this country".
It is a pity that these regulations have not so far been implemented. I know that it is the Government's intention to introduce them. I hope that the time will not be too long delayed. However, what I feel I should do today is draw the attention of the Government to the fact that movement of young people under the age of 16 abroad is amply covered under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Section 25(1) of that Act clearly states:
"No person having the custody, charge or care of any person under the age of eighteen years shall allow him, nor shall any person cause or procure any person under that age, to go abroad for the purpose of singing, playing, performing, or being exhibited, for profit, unless … a licence has been granted in respect of him under this section."
Penalties are laid down for breach of the regulations in this respect. It seems, therefore, that already, before we have the regulations which cover the whole of the Employment Agencies Act, there is the possibility of taking action against agents who are flouting the conditions of an existing law. That is one aspect, but there are many others.

I was a little troubled, in view of the information I have given to the House, to see that in the discussions on that Bill theatrical agencies were expressly excluded. I can well understand that the relationship between genuine members of the theatrical profession and their agents may be a subject which ought not to be tied in quite the same way. Nevertheless, where an agency is using its freedom as a theatrical agency to do this kind of thing as a sideline the Government should be very well aware of what is going on, and such an agency should be certainly subject to the conditions in the Children and Young Persons Act even if it does not have to abide by them under the Employment Agencies Act.

A further point which is of considerable importance concerns the whole question of advertisements. At present the control of advertisements is entirely on a voluntary basis. It is dealt with by the code of advertising practice of the Advertising Standards Agency. Unfortunately, it has no powers over the give-away books. I have consulted it on this matter and it is confirmed that these magazines are totally outside its realm. In any case, it can make recommendations only, and it tells me that it usually does so very discreetly. We then come into an area of concern about a whole range of advertisements. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear this in mind when talking to his colleagues because it is something to be taken into account.

There is one other point which does not relate to young persons. I am as concerned for people over 18 as for those under. A number of such people are among those who are in Ostend at the moment. There are two agencies and I have named one of them. The second is the H and V Agency which apparently is a Belgian-based company. I have its full name if hon. Members are interested. It has a branch in this country and is engaged in the same kind of business as the first agency. However, it has an additional interest which my hon. Friend might find of particular concern in view of the problems in other areas. The second string of the agency is exporting "lump" labour to Belgium. It is sending a wide range of building workers out to Blankenberghe and these workers are putting in something like 12 hours a day under the same conditions which apply to "lump" labour in this country. In view of the concern that trade unionists here are expressing about "lump" labour I should imagine that if what is happening comes to be known among Belgian trade unionists, they might take a similar view.

This subject has been discussed ad infinitum. I mentioned originally the London County Council's 1921 Act. Subsequently there have been Private Members' Bills, not all of them successful. There was a Prices and Incomes Board report on the matter and a House of Commons Select Committee has reported on it. There is an ILO Convention of a similar nature, but that convention goes much further than the proposals which are before this House by saying that agencies should be either regulated or abolished. It is quite clear and specific on that aspect.

The Government must take action. I am sure that there has been a sufficient succession of events surrounding foreigners coming here to work—and I refer to the au pair girls and the Philippino women who have come here in the past few years, and workers going out of this country to the most unsatisfactory conditions—to give cause for concern. People are making substantial sums by handling an illegal trade—in the case of the young girls it is not too melodramatic to say that this trade is verging on white slavery—by sending youngsters unprotected abroad to a place where they are, according to views of the police of that country, in very serious danger and at moral risk.

I ask the Minister to consult with those responsible for receiving the girls into Belgium. I have recently had a case in my constituency of a young woman, quite legitimately and with the consent of her parents, going with her fiance to live in another Common Market country. However, because she had only a small amount of money with her, and although her fiance had an ample supply of money, a job and a flat for them both to live in, she was turned back at the port of entry. If the Belgian police are concerned about what is happening the British Government should put pressure on the receiving authorities in Belgium not to allow into their country young girls who have inadequate money and unsatisfactory jobs.

This matter has been talked about long enough. The regulations would do a great deal to rectify most of the abuses I have described. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford, in introducing his Bill, was dealing with a very important subject of great public interest, not merely to the parents of the youngsters and to trade unionists concerned about "lump" labour, but to everybody who is concerned that we should not be misled about the way in which jobs are advertised. I hope that what I have said today will help to speed up the introduction of the regulations without which the Act, which is now two years old, will continue to be meaningless.

7.17 p.m.

First I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising this subject. It has been somewhat nostalgic to listen to her speech and think back on the Bill that I introduced. It now seems a long time ago. I congratulate her, too, for raising the subject at this civilised hour. We have had two rather late nights and I do not know what we would have done if this subject had come up at 5 o'clock in the morning.

Introducing a Private Member's Bill is almost like having a child. There is a certain amount of activity well in advance to produce the Bill, as with a child. There is a long period of hard labour in actually producing it, and afterwards one is never quite sure whether it will be implemented immediately. I am told that it is not unusual for a Private Member's Bill to take some time to be implemented. This Act has been on the statute book long enough and we require regulations to be introduced as soon as possible.

However, in this case I think the regulations which have to be laid under Section 5 of the Act require a certain amount of consideration and a good deal of discussion. I have kept in touch as far as I could with what was going on. I understand from the Government that they have almost completed their consideration, so it may not be too long before they have the regulations. The regulations will cover what the hon. Member for Ilford, North has rightly pointed out is required in order to establish a good pattern of employment agencies and a system of working which will give confidence to the public.

While my Bill was going through the House, I was in close touch with those involved in the question of employment agencies which belonged to the Federation of Personnel Services. Without any doubt, they want the measure, its regulations, and the standards which will follow. They believe it is the only way in which they can provide the kind of service which the public wants, and in which they can root out the kind of agency that the hon. Member for Ilford, North described and which seems still to exist.

After the Government have put their proposals before the House the agencies will have to register, and if they do not conform to standards they will cease to exist. There is no reason why the sleazy agency should exist now, however—certainly in London and some of the big cities. The Greater London Council can take action already. In many ways it should have begun to take action under its existing powers as soon as the measure was put through the House. Perhaps the fact that the hon. Lady has raised the subject, and that we are having this short debate, will lead the GLC to consider what it should do.

I do not think that the newspapers should be blamed for taking the advertisements. Having investigated the matter, the hon. Lady discovered that there was something underlying the advertisements that she read out. But the advertisements appeared to be perfectly reasonable as she read them out. I am glad that the hon. Lady was not tempted to become a disco-bird, because she would have been lost to the House. Doubtless she thinks that she has enough night work here, anyway. The publication in question does a service to London. I believe that it is widely used by people wanting jobs and that most of the advertisements in it would normally meet the standards laid down by the Advertising Standards Agency.

I imagine that the publication had no idea that there was anything unsavoury about the advertisements the hon. Lady read out. The GLC can deal with the matter if it wishes.

I support the hon. Lady's request to the Government to introduce the regulations as soon as they can. I believe that they will be fairly comprehensive. The Act provides that they should be. They can deal with the two questions that the hon. Lady raised—of young persons and of people leaving this country for employment abroad, as well as people coming from abroad to be employed here. I want to see the measure activated as soon as possible.

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the subject.

7.22 p.m.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising the subject. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) said, it seems a long time ago, although it was not, when we put the Act on the statute book. Any reasonable person would be on the hon. Lady's side in her condemnation of unsavoury practices such as she described. It is right that the Press and others should expose such practices. But the hon. Lady will agree that, whichever Government are in power, there will always be those who try to get round the regulations. There will always be examples of such malpractices, however much we legislate.

I must declare an interest, because I am a director of a management consultancy firm of international repute. The important thing is to get a good, high standard generally among the majority of operators in a particular area.

My hon. Friend did a Trojan amount of work on the Employment Agencies Act, which had the benign acceptance of the Department of Employment, in which I was then engaged. The Act went a long way towards levelling up the standards of all types of agency. The vast majority of agencies throughout the country are honourable and of good repute, whether they are engaged in the kind of activity in which my firm is engaged—executive search—or in dealing with domestic employment, clerical employment or other specialised interests. They welcomed the Act, and, as I know from my time in Government, co-operated in making it a sensible measure which could show the way to those who perhaps were not quite up to the previous standards. Once the regulations are implemented, those who flout them will lose their licence and can be hounded out of business.

Like my hon. Friend, I hope that the Government will be able to indicate when they will be able to produce the regulations. I also hope that the regulations will be sensible and workable, and in the spirit of the Act. During the passage of the Act there was a good deal of unanimity between the two sides in Committee.

I appreciate the hon. Lady's concern about advertising. I know that in another context the code of advertising practice is well operated by all reputable publications, and that people in the advertising industry and the newspaper industry are constantly giving concern and attention to making sure that malpractices do not occur. But advertisements can be worded in such a way as to have a different meaning from that which they appear to have. It is hard to guard against that. However, it would be wrong to introduce statutory control of advertising, as some Labour Members have suggested. It would be dangerous in the long term to go down that road.

I am glad that the hon. Lady raised the subject. We look forward to having the regulations from the Government. I hope and believe that they will be sensible and workable. I am positive that the employment agency profession will do its best to co-operate in their implementation.

7.25 p.m.

I must first declare an interest. As the Minister knows, I act as an adviser to the Federation of Personnel Services, and I know full well that most agencies in this country will be as grateful as we are to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) for raising what is obviously an outrageous case.

As the promoter, or perhaps re-promoter, of the Indecent Displays Bill, I am totally in agreement with what the hon. Lady said, and I hope that she will be with me next week, at least in spirit.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) said, it is important to get it firmly on the record that what the hon. Lady described is not typical of the behaviour of employment agencies. The hon. Lady spoke moderately and sensibly, and did a service to the House and the whole industry, but it is important to underline that there will be just as much revulsion and horror among the vast majority of decent agencies, which place millions of girls in good jobs over the years, at these malpractices.

The federation with which I am associated will never have any truck with that sort of agency, as the Minister knows. Such an agency is not admitted to membership. If members misbehave, they are expelled. A tight code of practice is operated by the federation and rigorously applied to all its members.

Agencies are anxiously waiting for a definitive pronouncement from the Minister, who has been extremely helpful over the last two years. He was on the Opposition benches when the Act went through, and made many constructive suggestions. He enjoys a happy relationship with the federation. I hope that he will be able to tell us tonight when the regulations are likely to be implemented, for it is essential that they should be implemented.

I underline a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), who has done so much in this matter. Within London and many of our great cities, there is already the power to deal with rogues and pirates. I hope that certain officials will blush when they read Hansard and realise that the sort of thing about which we have heard tonight still goes on. Theirs is the obligation and the responsibility, and they should be doing something about the matter.

I hope that the regulations will be produced soon, and that they will be sensible and workable. But that is no reason why they should not be tough and rigorous and solve not just most of the problems, as the hon. Lady said they would, but all the problems.

7.29 p.m.

We have had an interesting short debate. I join my hon. Friends the Members for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) and Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) in congratulating the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) on raising the topic. It is good that we have the father of the Employment Agencies Act here to tell us something about it, to tell us of some of the difficulties of getting it on to the statute book and of the need to introduce the regulations so that it works at 100 per cent. capacity.

I have before me the draft regulations from the Department of Employment which were published in December 1974. I feel that the section that deals with placings outside the United Kingdom or with workers from outside the United Kingdom goes almost the whole way in dealing with the points that the hon. Lady raised in bringing a particular case to the attention of the House. As she has said, the Bill received all-party support. It is not yet properly off the ground because the regulations have not been laid before the House.

I shall refer briefly to two points which are of importance and which stood out in the Bill when it became law. Section 13 of the Act deals with licensing authorities. It provides that licensing will be done by local authorities rather than by some sort of national unit. I hope that we shall have a hint from the Minister about the plans of the local authorities to train inspectors for licensing purposes. For some local authorities the licensing of employment agencies will be a new function.

I hope that my next point will be noted by the public. If we are to give power to local authorities—I am all for getting as much power as possible out of Whitehall and Westminster and into the hands of the local authorities—the question may arise of whether a local authority has carried out its licensing duties properly. There could be a case in which a member of the public felt aggrieved by the way that he or she had been treated by the licensing authority. He or she might feel that it had not investigated an employment agency properly. As I read the Local Government Act 1974, it would be open to a member of the public to go to the local ombudsman if he or she felt that there had been maladministration by the licensing authority, which, as the Act provides, is the local authority.

I desperately want the public in local matters to make full use of their local ombudsman. We put a provision to that effect into the Local Government Act. We gave local ombudsmen a wide range of powers. In my view, we do not have enough local ombudsmen.

The Act gives a new responsibility to many local authorities, and there is an extra safeguard if a member of the public feels that the licensing authority has not done its job properly. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that he means to keep the local authorities as the licensing authorities. I hope that he will be able to say something about the training of inspectors and about any plans that the Government may have in that respect. I am sure that the public will be given confidence as the Act gets off the ground. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford said, the sooner the regulations are made law the better.

7.33 p.m.

I must straight away add my congratulations to those which have been properly and readily extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller). I think she has done a service for young women. She made a sensible and effective speech. I hope that this short but useful debate will add to the attention which has been rightly focused on what seems to me to be a clear abuse and exploitation of young womanhood. I think that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) will see as I proceed that I intend to respond to the points that he has raised.

I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's concern. Similarly understanding and sympathy have been reflected during the debate. I agree that there is a need for the activities of private employment agencies to be controlled and for there to be careful regulation governing the placing of young people in jobs abroad.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has rightly reminded the House that we were largely in agreement in Committee when dealing with the Bill and, indeed, during its passage through the House before it became the Employment Agencies Act 1973. As he and the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) will recall, there were one or two points about which we had some difference of opinion. For example, there was the matter of which authority should be the licensing authority. Perhaps the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford will not be completely happy about what I shall say on that point at a later stage.

I have noted carefully what my hon. Friend has said about the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the way in which that Act is available, in her understanding, to do something to deal with the problem about which she has spoken. I must tell her that that Act does fall within the responsibility not of my own Department but of the Department of Health and Social Security. I see that my hon. Friend nods in agreement; I am glad that she understands that. I shall convey what my hon. Friend has said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. Equally, I shall convey her remarks to the attention of those responsible for the overseas activities of my Department. Having regard to what she has said about the need to draw attention to these matters with those who have relationships with foreign Governments, I shall pass on her remarks.

The House will recognise that private employment agencies have grown into a major commercial activity. We recognise that at present they have a rôle to play in the labour market alongside advertising and other forms of recruitment and alongside the public employment service. As the House will know, that service is undergoing a radical and successful modernisation. I believe that the private employment agencies will have a rôle to play only if they are properly and honourably conducted. I am sure that I echo the feelings of all hon. Members who are present.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West said that he spoke to some degree on behalf of the Federation of Personnel Services. The federation has done a great deal to lift and maintain standards, but there still remains a real need for effective national licensing and for controls to raise standards generally to those of the very best. There are those who take the view that private employment agencies should be abolished altogether. We have been required to look carefully at the representations to that effect that were made recently by the Trades Union Congress. We concluded, as did the House of Commons Expenditure Committee in its Seventh Report for the 1972–73 Session, that abolition is not a practicable proposition at present and that such abuses and malpractices as there are in the current system can best be dealt with through the implementation of the Employment Agencies Act.

I should say to my hon. Friend that we are sharply aware of the manpower policy commitment of "Labour's Programme for Britain" and the declared objective of using a strong manpower board and its facilities to
"be responsible for using its vastly superior resources and expertise to drive almost out of existence the private employment agency …".
I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that declaration of healthy competition. Let me assure her that it is our intention to deal with the immediate situation by bringing the Act into operation. I am afraid that the consideration given to abolition has delayed implementation. I must tell the House that I expect some further slight delay. I am sure that the reason will be seen as fully justified as the result will be to increase the effectiveness of the legislation.

The Act at present provides for licensing and enforcement to become the responsibility of 160 larger units of local authority. During the period of consultation on possible regulations to be made under the Act it has become increasingly apparent that there is a need for stronger and more uniform enforcement than that which can be achieved by a large number of local authorities with differing interpretations and standards. I see the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford smiling in recollection that that was very much the point that I made when the Bill was in Committee. It was also a point that was recognised by the House of Commons Expenditure Committee in the report to which I have already referred.

We hope to amend the Act to transfer the licensing authority responsibilities to the Department of Employment. I think that the House will agree that a centralised system of licensing will ensure stronger and more consistent standards of enforcement. We hope to incorporate the necessary amendments in the forthcoming Employment Protection Bill. It is our intention to bring the amended Employment Agencies Act into operation as soon as practicable after the Employment Protection Bill is passed.

The Minister has made an interesting and important announcement. I do not cavil too much at that. I do not feel too strongly about it. We debated this during the proceedings on the Bill. Some people favoured the county council and others the district council. On balance, we came down on the side of the smaller authorities because we felt that they were local and knew the local scene. There was one other reason, and that was that we felt it would be rather difficult for the Minisstry to be judge in its own court since the Ministry, through the Manpower Services Commission, has its own employment agencies. The Manpower Services Commission is the State arm of employment agencies. We have the free enterprise agencies competing with the Manpower Services Commission agencies. The Minister would have the power to regulate the free enterprise agencies. It is possible that the Ministry, in certain circumstances, and with certain Ministers, might feel that it wanted to support the State sector rather than the free enterprise sector. This was the argument that made us come down in favour of local authorities. I do not over-rate the point. I want to see this Bill effective, and, therefore, I will not make too much of it.

The hon. Gentleman has put his point most reasonably. I understand it. I ask the House to appreciate the great and growing pressure that there has been—all hon. Members have seen evidence of this—for the abolition of private employment agencies. We cannot ignore the strength of the demands made not merely by trade unions but by some employers, who see employment agencies as a disagreeable activity with which they come into contact from time to time. We have also seen Government civil servants protesting on the streets about the activities of these agencies. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman said that he did not wish to make too much of the point that has been repeatedly made about the State having access to the internal affairs of its competitors and to some degree having influence over such agencies.

We must recognise that the State is in the business not as a commercial activity but, instead, to render a social and economic function. Therefore, it is wrong to see it as a kind of commercial competitor. It is important to bear that in mind when making the point about the position of the State vis-à-vis the confidential information of the private employment agencies.

This is an important point. Everyone knows to what considerable pressure and powers of persuasion the Minister and his colleagues at the Department have been subjected for some months. Nevertheless, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) has considerable substance. I hope that the Minister will clarify who, in each area, will be personally responsible for the supervision of the area. If he cannot do it tonight, perhaps he will undertake to do it at the earliest opportunity.

I am anxious to be as frank and as helpful as possible. Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman by saying that it is our intention to create a unit within the Department that will have its own officers to look after the enforcement of the regulations.

I, too, am extremely interested in what the Minister has said. This is probably not the time or place to debate it. Could I ask him to make absolutely sure that there is some worthwhile and fair basis for appeal if the whole procedure is centralised? It would be utterly wrong for the Minister to be judge and jury in his own court. There has to be some means of appeal, because there will undoubtedly be occasions when there should be an appeal. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the good sense which he, his officials and the Government, have shown on this one occasion in resisting the reactionary forces who want to abolish almost everything which is of a private nature. For once the Government can be congratulated.

The hon. Gentleman ought not to be too premature in his congratulations. I have not yet reached the end of my speech. I thank him for his remarks. I speak off the cuff here—I have the Act at my side but I do not want to take up time by going through it—when I say I believe there is provision for appeals in the Act. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford nodding.

Yes, There is provision in the parent Act. There is the power for the Secretary of State to establish an appeals machinery. He has the power to appoint a person to listen to appeals.

I have the Act here. The relevant section is Section 4. There is one slight hiccough here, and that relates to the Secretary of State appointing someone independent to hear the appeal "in the prescribed manner". If the Secretary of State is changing the registration it will be necessary for him to appoint someone who is independent.

The Act says that the Secretary of State has the power to appoint someone to hear appeals. I am sure that in those circumstances the Secretary of State would seek to appoint someone who would have the confidence of the parties to the appeal. Otherwise it would, manifestly, be a charade.

The amendments we propose will not, however, preclude the possible delegation of these functions to the Manpower Services Commission at some future date if it is thought, in the light of experience, that that would be an appropriate way to proceed. We think, too, that there would be value in a study being undertaken on the rôle of the private employment agencies and employment businesses in the labour market, particularly in the light of changes resulting from the bringing into operation of the Act. It might be that the Manpower Services Commission would be a suitable body to carry out such a study. I intend to have discussions on this with the commission.

I turn now to the regulations to be made under the Act. We have referred to the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford as the "father" of the Act. I am not sure whether we have not been confusing birth with conception. I could not help recalling the words of T. S. Elliot, that
"Between the conception and the act Falls the shadow."
Here has fallen a shadow which will continue to delay the regulations for a little while.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North that the Act and the regulations cover theatrical agencies. The exemptions are dealt with in Section 13(7), and theatrical agencies are not among the exemptions. I ought to qualify that by pointing out that the Secretary of State has power, under Section 6, to exempt from the requirement not to charge employers for finding work. That could apply to those employers operating in the theatrical world.

The Act gives my right hon. Friend the power to make a variety of regulations. The heart of the Act is Section 5 which provides for the making of regulations to secure the proper conduct of not only of employment agencies but employment businesses, which are separately de- fined, and to safeguard the interests of workers and employers who use them.

We have consulted a large number of interested bodies about our proposals for the regulations, and the House will be glad to hear that we are now close to the stage of finalisation. We are confident that the stringent set of rules we propose will go a long way towards dealing with abuses which have been the subject of frequent criticism and complaint. They will help to achieve a uniformly higher standard in the industry.

I would single out for special mention some of the proposals for regulations which will bear on the sort of situation to which my hon. Friend referred; namely, the placing abroad of young people. One or two have been referred to in the debate, but I think it would be as well for me to spell them out.

First, our proposals will require an employment agent to obtain the written consent of the parent or guardian before placing a young person under 18 abroad.

Second, and most important, an employment agent will not be permitted to arrange for the employment abroad of any United Kingdom resident unless he has obtained written information from a person or source of suitable standing—for example, a firm of solicitors on a British consul's list—testifying to the satisfactory nature of the proposed employment and to the good character of the prospective employer. Similar clearance will have to be obtained of the standing of any agent abroad whose services an agent in this country proposes to use. Such an agent would have to hold a licence in the country concerned if the law there required it.

Third, before placing a young person under 18 abroad the agent will be required to satisfy himself that the young person has suitable acommodation to go to, and that the charge for it is commensurate with the wages to be paid and that these arrangements are acceptable to the young person. Fourth, he will have to satisfy himself that the young person has a return ticket. Otherwise he will have to obtain a written undertaking from a suitable person who agrees to advance the amount of the return fare in the event of premature termination or non-commencement of the job, or on its completion if it is for a fixed term. Moreover, in the event of failure of a written undertaking of this kind the agent will be held responsible for advancing the return fare to the young person. Thus, where the job falls through, or turns out to be very different from what the young person has been led to believe, he or she will not be left stranded and unable to get home without the assistance of a British consul.

Fifth, in the case of all placings abroad the agent will be obliged to give the worker, before he departs, a written statement setting out full details of the job, including its nature and the duties to be performed, plus particulars of such matters as wages, hours of work, notice, accommodation, travel arrangements and information about the general requirements of the immigration law of the country concerned. Similarly, he will have to give written information about the worker to the prospective employer.

Sixth, the agent will not be allowed to introduce a worker to an employer where he has not satisfied himself that the employment would be legal, and in cases where legal conditions attach to the taking of a job the agent will be required to ensure that both employer and worker are aware of them. This will mean, for example, that if the law of the country concerned provides that no person under 18 shall be employed in a particular type of establishment, the agent must take reasonable steps to ensure that he places no one under 18 with such an employer.

My hon. Friend referred specifically to advertising, and I note what the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) said. Seventh, we also intend to make regulations in relation to advertising by private employment agencies and businesses. We have not yet finalised our proposals, and we are considering carefully how such matters as false or misleading advertising should be dealt with. I should certainly welcome any views that my hon. Friend or any hon. Member might have.

Finally, the agent will have to keep records on all these matters to enable an inspector of the licensing authority to check that the regulations are being complied with.

These are some of the matters that we have in mind to include in the regula- tions. I will make sure that my hon. Friend is sent a copy of our full proposals and would certainly welcome any comment which she or any other hon. Member may care to make on them. I feel confident that she will agree that they will help to curtail the undesirable overseas placing activities of certain less scrupulous—or as my hon. Friend says "sleazy"—agencies which have been the subject of publicity and complaint in recent months.

There are, of course, penalties for non-compliance with the regulations. Contraventions will render an agent liable to prosecution and on summary conviction to a fine of up to £400. Furthermore, the agent's licence may be revoked on the grounds that an employment agency has been or is being improperly conducted.

Will the regulations require that agencies should not set up in business initially until they have been licensed? Under the present system of local authority licensing, where it applies, local authorities allow agencies to be set up pending the granting of the licence.

I understand my hon. Friend to say that there are circumstances at present in which, in a licensing area, an agent can set up a business first and then apply for a licence.

I understand the point, but I cannot tell my hon. Friend exactly the position. I think it is as she wishes it to be and that a business must seek a licence before it can operate, but I had better make certain of that. I will do so and let my hon. Friend know exactly what the position is.

My hon. Friend referred to "lump" labour. She will recognise that this problem, apart from what the Government are bringing forward in terms of other legislation, will fall not so much on employment agencies but on employment businesses, which are separately defined in the Act and for which we intend to bring forward regulations as for employment agencies.

In conclusion, I should perhaps explain the present position in relation to the licensing and control of employment agencies. As my hon. Friend may perhaps be aware, a number of local authorities, mainly in London and the home counties and a few other cities, currently license employment agencies under local Acts and require them to comply with byelaws relevant to their conduct. Thus, until the Employment Agencies Act comes into operation complaints about the conduct of any agency situated in one of these areas should be raised with the local authority concerned. I understand that the appropriate licensing authority is, in fact, aware of the case about which my hon. Friend is concerned.

I thank my hon. Friend once again for having brought this matter to the attention of the House. She has given me the opportunity to explain the latest state of play and to give assurances for which the House has asked about the introduction of regulations. Although I have not perhaps answered all my hon. Friend's questions, I hope that I have assured her that the action she seeks has been taken.

National Health Service (Consultants)

7.57 p.m.

I am fortunate to have drawn third place in the Ballot for the Consolidated Fund debate instead of the 23rd or 33rd. It reassures one's faith in parliamentary democracy on a day when it has been somewhat tarnished.

I want to use the opportunity to raise the whole question of the rôle of private consultants and specialists in the National Health Service. The House will appreciate that this is a matter which affects many of my constituents, representing as I do central London, including Harley Street and Wimpole Street. Among my constituents are many thousands of consultants, some of whom work exclusively in the private sector and some exclusively in the public sector. The great majority work in both sectors, and many of them have written to me and seen me over the last few weeks to express their great sense of outrage at the way they are being treated by the Government. I am told that the feeling in the provinces and in hospitals in towns all over the country is even greater than is the feeling in central London.

The doctors and specialists are aggrieved because what started as a reasonable request from them for a renegotiation of the contract under which they work to take account of the fact that they do not get paid for overtime has led to a mapjor dispute in which the very existence of the part-time consultants is at stake. This is the central issue in the negotiations on this contract. The doctors—specialists and consultants—have been driven by Ministers to fight for their independence as professional men.

I begin by asking the Minister about Labour's intentions on this subject. In certain aspects of policy on the health service Labour has come clean. It has made clear its position about pay beds. The Labour Party manifesto made clear, as has the Secretary of State for Social Services, that the object is to phase out pay beds or private beds in the health service. That is a decision which I shall oppose medically and politically, but at least we know where we are.

However, in regard to the rôle of the consultant in the health service—the doctor who works both for the NHS and in private practice—Labour intentions are much vaguer. On occasions the Secretary of State and her Minister of State have said that they have no intention of abolishing the rôle of private practice in the health service. However, that is not the sort of declaration they tend to make on the platform at a Labour Party conference, although they tend to mumble that sort of obligation when meeting representatives of the medical profession.

In 1973 the Labour Party programme said that
"All new medical appointments of a consultant status will be on a full-time basis."
That expresses the real intention of this Socialist Government. They are trying to achieve the object of having consultants working either exclusively for the health service or exclusively for the private sector. In the negotiations they have been trying to achieve that object by stealth.

The situation has been made worse by the way in which it has been handled by the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services and her Minister of State who is now present on the Government Front Bench. She seems to have pursued the object of separating the public and private health services with an intensity which I can only describe as a personal vendetta. She has a personal vendetta against private practice in the health service. This can be seen in the way in which the negotiations have been conducted.

When the Labour Government first took office, just under a year ago they set up a working committee, which was referred to as the Owen Committee. I understand from the doctors that they were making reasonable progress through the summer and autumn of last year. I gather that they were close to coming to some sort of arrangement or a compromise which would allow consultants in the health service also to work in private practice. But at some time in November or December the Secretary of State called in the papers and, having read them, obviously realised that the Owen Committee was going a little far. I understand that she published the contract before Christmas on the basis "This is what I want. It has not been agreed in the working party, but you can take it or leave it." If the Minister of State disagrees with that interpretation of events, no doubt he will say so in his reply, but that was the effect of the right hon. Lady's personal intervention, which added a degree of bitterness to the negotiations.

Before we rose for the Christmas Recess the contract was published, and the Government's view was that it was nonnegotiable. During that recess they modified their position to some extent and said that they were prepared to start talking again.

Since the hon. Gentleman is implying that my silence may be taken to be agreement, I should like to say that that is not the case and that I shall put the facts at the end. Has the hon. Gentleman read the initial proposals which were placed in the Library, not in December, but when the document was presented—namely, in October or November? The time scale would appear to be confounded by that factor.

The time scale may be confounded, but the Government's intention is in no doubt whatever. When the Owen Committee was moving towards some compromise, in which the profession was prepared to accept proposals, for political purposes the compromise was not allowed to happen.

Since Christmas the Secretary of State has said that the negotiations can recommence, but only on details and not principles. This is an absurd negotiating posture. Ultimatums are not the language of industrial relations. This raises the question: what are details and what are principles? The details of the contract are very complicated. In some cases the details are so important that they affect the original principles. Therefore, it appears to be quite unacceptable for the right hon. Lady to say that only details, not principles, can be negotiated. The whole profession—doctors and consultants—is concerned with the principle at stake. For the right hon. Lady to say, "This is not negotiable" reminds me of the comment made by Beatrice Webb at the end of her life. She was asked why her marriage with Sidney Webb has been so successful over the years, since it appeared to be a rather unlikely union. She replied, "When we got married, we decided that from that day on Sidney would decide matters of detail and I would decide matters of principle." The point was then put to her that life was not really like that and that one could not compartmentalise married life in that way. She was asked, "How did you decide the dividing line?" She replied, "The difference as to what is a matter of detail and what is a matter of principle is itself a matter of principle." That is what the Secretary of State is saying. Therefore, I urge the right hon. Lady to return to the negotiating table now without preconditions.

I want to mention three important details in the contract. First, consultants in the NHS will have to work set hours, from nine to five. Those times are specically laid down. It may be asked, "If somebody wants to work 40 hours a week as a National Health Service consultant, from nine to five, and then wants to undertake private practice, when is he to do it?" It does not take the Owen Working Party to answer that. Obviously he has to undertake that work either before 9 am or after 5 pm. That is an absurdity. Doctors in the health service run their clinics at a certain time, for the convenience not of themselves but of their patients. Therefore, for the Government to say to a consultant, "You can undertake your private work after 5 o'clock in the afternoon, or on a Saturday morning" is an absurdity.

I am sure that the Minister of State will appreciate this fact, because he has practised as a doctor—is, I understand, still a doctor, and no doubt will practise again as a doctor when he returns to Opposition. He should appreciate that as consultants go ahead in their profession not only are they involved in practising their art, they become involved in the whole paraphernalia of committee work which, in teaching hospitals in London, does not begin until 5 or 6 o'clock in the evening. A prohibition is being put on the activities of those consultants. Therefore, flexibility is essential.

My second point of detail relates to merit awards which are given to consultants, based on experience and skill. The proposal in the contract is that if the consultant wishes to work in the NHS and qualifies for a merit award, and also has a private practice, that merit award is reduced pound for pound by the level of earnings in private practice. That is unfair.

I am not saying that a consultant in the NHS who has a private practice and who has, say, a merit award of £1,000 and spends only 80 per cent. of his time in the NHS, should get the full award, but it is unfair that, compared with a consultant who wants to work 40 hours in the NHS and to do only NHS work, the consultant who wishes to work 40 hours in the NHS but, in addition, to do private work, should have a reduction of his merit award pro rata to his earnings outside. I hope that here at least there will be some give by the Government.

My final point of detail concerns the area where detail and principle come together—the pay differential for full-time service, or the "two-elevenths" as it is called. The right hon. Lady has said that this issue is non-negotiable, but of course it is, because it is at the centre of the negotiations. It is a change in the basic principle of remuneration. Up till now, if a consultant worked both for the NHS and the private sector, he was paid hourly rates on a pro rata basis. The right hon. Lady's proposals would mean, in future, that when a consultant opted for full-time NHS work he would get a premium for that, whereas a consultant who worked the same number of hours but, in addition, had a private practice, would not. This is the instrument by which the right hon. Lady seeks to make part-time consultancy unattractive. I hope that it is far from being nonnegotiable, and is put back into the centre of the discussions.

I turn now to the broad principle involved—whether there should be an element of private medicine in the NHS. That is really what it is all about. I believe that there should be such an element.

The first reason is that doctors—particularly specialists and consultants, who are highly skilled and experienced men and have a great tradition for public devotion—are not greedy. Other professional groups which have skills and arts which can be sold in the international market—airline pilots, for example—have in the past acquired negotiators who have provided them with substantial salaries and attractive working conditions. This is not the case with the doctors, and the Minister knows it. What they cherish above all is their professional independence. I believe that of all the professional groups they cherish independence more than anything else.

They fear that if they became wholly State employees they would be open to direction in a way that they would find objectionable—that they would have to conform more and to succumb to the administrative mentality. I can express this only by comparison with our own status as Members of Parliament. Consultants are being asked, "Do you want to become full-time State employees in the NHS, or not?" If it were proposed to hon. Members that they should become nine-to-five wholly-employed Members of Parliament, I would vote against it. I would do so because it would impoverish this place and be a bad day for our constituents and democracy. Over the years it would choke off a great flow of talent into the House. The doctors feel much the same way.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the 45 per cent. of consultants who work full time, often because they have no choice because of their locality or specialty, have in any sense sacrificed their clinical independence by doing so?

I would not argue that, just as I would not argue that those among us who are full-time Members of Parliament have sacrificed their independence. But if one makes everyone conform to a pattern in such a profession, one makes it less attractive to the open-minded person. That is surely evident.

Secondly, if the Government pursue their policy they will do grave damage to the NHS. These men and women have rare skills, and already the country is suffering from an export of such talent. If the Government devise a system which will make it more difficult for these people to adjust themselves and to accommodate themselves to what we have been talking about, they are bound to seek jobs overseas. An hour's flight from here will take a specialist or consultant to Holland, Belgium or France, where he can earn, net, in real terms, three times what he is now earning here. In my constituency, a recruiting team from the Queensland medical service has been in the Middlesex Hospital for the last three weeks. In Manitoba, in 1974, more doctors who came from England went on to the register than came from the remaining provinces of Canada. This is an export of talent we can ill afford.

If the Government impose too rigid a scheme, too restrictive and too conformist, they will promote the flow of doctors away from this country. They will also promote something else. They will force doctors to move more into the private sector of medicine exclusively. I have several private hospitals and nursing homes in my constituency, and many consultants who work exclusively for the private sector. But I do not believe that the public health services of Britain should be rigidly divided into public and private sectors, because I think that it would impoverish the services in both. Separatism means duplication, a waste of resources and a lower standard in the NHS. I do not have to argue this case. It was argued much more eloquently by Aneurin Bevan, when he said many years ago, that
"If we do not permit fees in hospitals we will lose many specialists from the public hospitals for they will go to nursing homes."
The Secretary of State and the Minister of State know that to be the case.

Because of Socialist dogma and attitudes, the Government want to impose a degree of conformity upon this profession because they think that conformity is efficient and also because, in my belief, they have a sneaking softness for conformity itself, which they prefer to diversity. But the doctors and many other groups do not want it. They cherish their freedom and independence of action, which this contract would compromise. The opposition to the contract in the profession is overwhelming. In the Middlesex Hospital, a meeting of all grades of hospital staff—not just senior consultants—voted 135 to three against the contract. All the London teaching hospitals have objected to it. Doctors in the Plymouth area have said that they prefer to resign rather than sign the contract.

What the Government as a whole must learn, not only in this matter but in tax matters as well, is that one cannot impose a law upon any community of people who will not accept it. The Conservative Party has learnt that lesson. It is a very hard lesson, but we have learnt it. It should not be for me, a Tory, to lecture a Labour Government on the lesson which they have to learn now. What they have to learn in their area of social policy and tax policy is that Governments can govern only with the grain of human nature and not against it. That is the central issue in this dispute.

It is the Government who are being dogmatic and stubborn. I appeal to the Secretary of State, through the Minister of State, to return to the negotiating table with no preconditions. Let the Government put the interests of the profession and of the patient before their own prejudices.

8.20 p.m.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Saint Marylebone (Mr. Baker), who spoke so ably, I represent what might be called a hospital city, in that hospitals are the main employers in the city of Lancaster.

For many years the National Health Service has been enjoying the benefit of a great deal of absolutely free overtime worked by consultants in every specialty and throughout the length and breadth of the land. By the terms of their contract, full-time consultants must work 11 sessions during the week. Consultants with nine-elevenths contracts must work nine out of 11 sessions. In other words, full-time consultants are committed to working morning sessions and afternoon sessions five days a week and a morning session on a Saturday, which very few other people do nowadays.

Whether consultants are full-time or part-time, they work virtually precisely the same hours—and very long ones at that. In practice, most consultants work at least double the number of hours for which they are contracted and paid, whether they are full-time or theoretically part-time. In their lunchtime they see patients. Often they are operating or seeing NHS patients well into the night and through the weekends—National Health Service patients as well as their own private patients.

The consultants do this without a penny extra in pay. Who else in this day and age would work such very long hours for no extra pay? The position of the part-time consultant—the one on the nine-elevenths contract—is even worse, because although in theory he is contracted for only nine sessions he works just as hard and just as long as the full-time consultant but receives pay for two sessions fewer than he works. Therefore, he is even more seriously underpaid than his full-time colleague. He does his private work in his very limited off-duty time.

When Aneurin Bevan set up the National Health Service he gave as one of the reasons for keeping private beds in the National Health Service that given by my hon. Friend—and also the very practical reason that if private beds were inside National Health Service hospitals consultants did not waste their time doing a great deal of road travelling. It was the best use of skilled time to have private beds in National Health Service hospitals. Therefore, a consultant doctor was more efficiently and effectively used, to the benefit of the whole service, and this was not done for the benefit of his private patients, but for the service as a whole.

In her aversion to private practice the Secretary of State is wrecking these very sensible arrangements and will oblige consultants to spend more time in transit and less attending to their patients. In the hospitals in Lancaster private patients paid no less than £26,000 in a six-month period last year. This money was used to the benefit of the service. If the Secretary of State has her way, such money will no longer be available to the service but will have to be provided by the hard-pressed taxpayer or the services will be that much worse off.

The Secretary of State has tried alternatively to persuade or to bully consultants to accept full-time contracts and do no private work. She has tried the carrot and the stick but a rather higher proportion of stick.

It passes my comprehension why the Secretary of State should be quite happy for consultants to be free to do anything they like in their spare time—gardening, even electioneering if they choose to do it, playing bridge—everything except the very thing that they have been trained to do, love to do, and want to do—their work.

Whether a consultant wishes to exercise his right to undertake private practice is obviously his affair, or it should be, but to try to dictate to doctors what they may or may not do when they are off duty seems to me as an average British person to be an intolerable intrusion into the private lives of these people and a hopeless infringement of human freedom.

I do not want to raise any difficulty or contention, but, speaking as one who is closely associated with the National Health Service, I do not think that that is what the Secretary of State is suggesting. I think that she is suggesting that a full-timer is a full-timer and nothing else and cannot take a fee from any private patient, but that a part-timer has a full-time contract in the National Health Service and can take a private patient elsewhere than in the National Health Service. That is what I understand the situation to be.

It seems to me that the Secretary of State, by giving a very much higher inducement to those in full-time employment, is gradually, by the thin end of the wedge, trying to phase private patients out of the National Health Service altogether.

It is very interesting to remark in this connection that the feeling against this sort of bludgeoning, as the doctors clearly feel it to be, is just as strong amongst consultants who are and who will remain full-time consultants in the National Health Service as it is among consultants who have a private practice. Consultants in my area come out at about 60 to 40 in the two categories. The feeling against the present contract is just as strong amongst those who are full-time as it is amongst those who are not.

An even more absurd aspect of the proposed new contract is the way it deals with distinction awards. Part-time as well as full-time consultants will be eligible for the new awards, but the whole of the consultant's private earnings will be deducted from his payment, so that literally he will be paying himself for his own skill and services. Just imagine trying that sort of thing with a miner or a docker and seeing how it goes down!

What angered the doctors most was the way in which the Secretary of State tried to force them to accept these terms when they had been negotiating for six months with the Minister of State. I gather that the hon. Gentleman had been conducting the negotiations with considerable tact and patience, and the doctors were convinced that they had nearly reached—indeed, they believed that they had reached—a verbal agreement with him on a new contract. They simply wanted it to be in writing and all, they thought, would have been well, when the right hon. Lady suddenly intervened, more or less thrust a contract under their noses and told them that vital parts of it were not negotiable but that she would graciously permit them to discuss what she called "an area of detail".

Just imagine the right hon. Lady in her days of "In Place of Strife" going to Joe Gormley or Hugh Scanlon or Jack Jones and informing them that they could discuss not their main wage claims but only the details! Would she then have described the industrial action which would inevitably have followed within minutes as "industrial backmail"? Of course she would not. Why, then, has she decided to treat the doctors in this highhanded manner?

Moreover, the consultants, in the industrial action upon which they are em- barked, have fully safeguarded the patients. They have made it clear that no patient will suffer, by dealing with emergencies and making themselves available for any treatment required outside their contracted hours, provided they are paid for the work they do. Any lengthening of the National Health Service queues is quite unnecessary, and if it occurs it will be the clear responsibility of the Secretary of State.

The consultants are fighting for a fair choice of contract to cater both for those who wish to work only for the NHS and for those who do not. The Secretary of State should stifle her invective, swallow her pride, which is fast wrecking the health service, and give the consultants and all others who work in the health service a fair deal.

I had not intended to intervene in this debate, and I shall be extremely brief since I have tabled a subject for debate later. However, I am moved to comment by the hon. Lady the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman)—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should hate to put the hon. Gentleman in the difficult position of not being able to speak on the subject which he wishes to raise in due time because he had preempted his right to speak by speaking now. Would it be helpful if you were to guide him in this matter?

Yes. I have looked to see whether the hon. Gentleman has a subject down for discussion later. If that is the case, he cannot speak now except by leave of the House.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). I do not ask for leave.

8.30 p.m.

I did not realise that I should be called so promptly, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said that he would be brief. He was very brief.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) on his good fortune in obtaining an early place in the Ballot to raise this important subject. I declare an interest in it as a result of my association with BUPA.

I welcome, as I am sure does the whole House, the signs of greater flexibility by the Government which were amplified in the statement of the Secretary of State for Social Services on 13th January. I welcome the discussions which are taking place with, I understand, officials in the Department, and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to tell us more about them and, above all, about the timetables which are envisaged.

However, I hope that the Government realise that a great deal of damage has been done and that the consultants and other doctors strongly resent the way in which they have been dealt with and the Government's take-it-or-leave-it attitude. They feel hurt by the Government's insensitive approach. They are suspicious of the Government's motives. In a profession which is usually noted for its individualism there is a strength and unity which is unusual and which the Government would be foolish to ignore. It is clear from the surveys made by the British Medical Association and BUPA that there is a strength of feeling in the profession which is marked and which runs throughout the profession among consultants, be they part-time or full-time, and among the juniors. I hope that the Minister of State, with his medical background, and in view of the long discussions which he has had with the medical profession, realises how strong and united this feeling is.

The job pressures on the consultants are increasing all the time. The advances of medical science, the greater demands by patients and the poor working conditions in which many doctors operate are obvious examples of this. The work load far exceeds the contractual hours. The average consultant works about 35 hours a week over and above the contract, and he does it for nothing. The contract, must therefore give greater financial recognition to these growing pressures and the work load, quite apart from the adjustment required to deal with the substantial increase in the cost of living.

But there is something much more important than matters of pay, hours and working conditions, what one might call the nuts and bolts of the contract, and that is freedom—freedom to treat patients without political or bureaucratic interference, and freedom for patients to spend their own money on health if they so wish and to go to the doctor of their choice. A consultant's contract which compelled him, either directly or by financial penalties, to go wholly public or wholly private would be wrong in principle and bad in practice. It would undermine the freedom which the consultant and the patient have always had. In practice it would mean less effective use of time and of medical skills, and as a result all patients, both National Health Service and private, would suffer.

I thought that the BMA, in a note produced in January headed "Consultants Care", summarised this deep feeling on the part of the consultants when, in commenting on the contract which was offered before Christmas, it said:
"Such an unacceptable contract could force doctors either to leave the Service altogether or compel many of them, against their professional judgment, into a complete commitment to the NHS. This could in turn lead to a monopoly State service which would restrict the individual's freedom to seek medical care from the doctor of his choice and, in years to come, endanger the clinical independence of doctors which enables them to work solely in the interests of their patients."
That is a very good summary of the issue of principle which the consultants and other doctors feel is involved.

Surely we should be breaking down barriers in the health service and not making new ones. We should be forging links between all aspects of medical care and strengthening the existing ones, not breaking them.

Consultants are not only fighting their own battle and the battle of their patients. A wider issue is involved, which I thought was well illustrated in a leading article which appeared in The Times on 11th January. The article was headed "The Anger of the Middle Class". Having dealt with the pressure to which all sections of the community are subject these days, it went on—and this illustrates the wider theme—to say:
"Many people in the middle class feel all the resentment and anxiety of being boxed in. The doctors, who know that they would be earning several times as much in almost any comparable country and find private wards being closed because, on ideological grounds, the cleaners refuse to clean them, are the group who are nearest to action. Mrs. Castle seems to be intent on making the same misjudgment of their mood that Mr. Heath made of the miners. In their sense of social usefulness, their unity and now their indignation, the doctors are the miners of the middle class."
I am not sure whether the consultants would accept that definition. I do not agree with all the analogies there. There is a very real sense of being boxed in which is perhaps most graphically expressed in the present conflict and which is also felt amongst other sections of the community. Therefore, this matter is of greater significance than just the aspect which we are discussing.

In my judgment, the onus is on the Government to undo the damage fast, to restore the confidence of the consultants, to negotiate an agreement with them, and not to try to dictate to an honourable and dedicated profession.

8.40 p.m.

It was not my intention to intervene in this debate—in fact, I hope in a very short space of time to be returning to the deliberations of the Committee sitting upstairs—but it is a welcome relief from the intricacies of the Finance Bill.

I intervene only to draw attention to the considerable amount of mythology which is growing up in the dispute between the consultants and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. To hear people talk, one would imagine that the whole trouble started when this Government came to office and that it started principally because my right hon. Friend heads the Department of Health and Social Security.

In fact, of course, the trouble started back in 1972 when the consultants were fuming and threatening industrial action. In the event, they did not take industrial action. But they had no redress from the then Government. Eventually they came round to asking for a working party to be set up to discuss their pay and conditions. The then Secretary of State decided to wait until the following administration took office.

That was in February 1974. The next administration took office and immediately got down to the job of looking at the salaries and conditions of the con- sultants. A working party was set up. It worked fairly rapidly, and even more rapidly at the insistence of the consultants when they again threatened to take industrial action.

The mythology to which I refer is that arising from the charge that my right hon. Friend acted in bad faith and completely ignored the consultants. It reached the point where a final decision was to be made by the consultative committee. The meeting was fixed for 12th December. However, just before the meeting, further demands were made by the consultatnts, which could not be met singly by the Secretary of State, who made it clear that this would have to be a Government decision. Accordingly, the meeting was postponed until 20th December.

Then it was said—and here again I refer to the mythology—that my right hon. Friend had acted in bad faith by not turning up at the meeting on 12th December and by ignoring the consultants. This is patently untrue.

It is fair to say that when the Government decision was taken and the report was issued the consultants did not have a great deal of time in which to consider it. It was in their hands only about 24 hours before the meeting on 20th December which finally brought about the break down in the service.

The hon. Gentleman is giving what passes to be an authoritative account, and he is attempting to demolish a number of myths. He has referred to a period of 24 hours. Does he know it was as long as that?

Only recently I met consultants in my district who authenticated this. I agreed that there was not a lot of time, but they had the answer in the meeting on 20th December. Something more than simply pay and conditions is involved: to my suspicious mind there seems to be a political element.

There is a malaise in the health service, and the doctors have complaints, but in this instance the consultants are very much on their own. They are making contradictory claims—for example, about the closed contract. On the one hand they say "We do not want to work 9 to 5, five days a week like other workers." On the other hand they say "After a certain point, we must get overtime." Without prescribed hours, how does one calculate overtime?

There should be some flexibility, of course. A surgeon might work late into the night, and if he has little to do in the morning, why should he come in at 9 o'clock? The accusation is made that it was a take-it-or-leave-it arrangement. That is not true; everything was negotiable—

Well, that is my reading of the matter. The Minister has made it clear that she was prepared to negotiate the arrangements. I am sure that that is the situation now.

I was appalled at that meeting by the complacency of these consultants, these men who had taken the Hippocratic oath, who said that the longer it went on—

I have here the Hansard containing the Minister's statement on 13th January. In column 34 she said that certain principles were not negotiable, only certain areas of detail.

Certain factors were not negotiable, but I am sure flexibility on hours was. I was appalled to hear consultants saying "We are beginning to like this sort of leisurely doctor-patient relationship—never mind the people waiting urgently to see us". That comes ill from such people who had previously condemned others in the health service who had been fighting for a living wage.

8.49 p.m.

As one who represents a constituency in which many doctors and consultants live and which also includes two major hospitals, I think that it is my duty to reflect their attitude to these proposals. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) introduced the debate so ably and comprehensively that I need not detain the House for long.

Three points need re-emphasising, even after the very able contributions to the debate which have been made by Opposition Members. The first point is the intransigence of the Secretary of State concerning these proposals. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett- Bowman) has indicated quite accurately the Secretary of State's attitude, and the consultants' joint working party has made the Secretary of State's obstinacy very well known indeed. It is deeply regrettable that an issue of this importance should be in some way jeopardised by the Secretary of State's unforgivable attitude.

The second point is that in this issue we have another example and expression of the present Government's attitude to State control. They are attempting to force men who need individuality, and who need to express themselves in an individualistic way, into some kind of stereotyped mould, which just will not serve the nation as the consultants ought to do.

The third point is that we have an exceedingly serious drain away from the profession. In my constituency there is great concern about appointments which have been made and some which ale due to be made. I do not wish the House to misunderstand what I am about to say. I certainly do not intend to introduce a racialist note into the debate. However, the fact is that because we are losing many of our most able consultants to other countries—and not all to underdeveloped countries; I shall come to that point shortly—we are having to rely on appointing to very important positions men who would not have had such appointments some years ago. The choice, the degree and comprehensiveness of selection, does not obtain as it did some years ago. That reflects on the quality of service and work offered to the whole community.

This is a very serious and important point. It also has a converse side, which is that the countries of origin of many doctors and consultants who are trained in Britain—countries which would benefit immensely from their skill and dedication—are being deprived of their skilled contribution because of the incentive to stay in this country. We owe the underdevelopment countries the right to develop their health services. We do not help them in that respect by making it almost impossible for our best doctors and consultants to remain and to function in this country.

There are many other things I should like to say, but most have been stated already and I shall not reiterate them now. However, I again urge the Secretary of State, through the Minister of State, to think again concerning her intransigence and to meet these men as they seek to acquire a just settlement of the dispute.

I have been assured by the consultants to whom I have spoken that they are deeply embarrassed by the present dispute. I think that they would be the first to admit that they are very poor negotiators. They are not used to this kind of argy-bargy or cut-and-thrust. During their negotiations they feel themselves to be at the mercy of a very expert, very ruthless and certainly a very vitriolic Secretary of State. I have their assurance that these men, who certainly exercise a tremendous degree of dedication to society, would not in any circumstances be prepared to let society down over an issue like pay beds. Although it is a related issue it is one on which those of whom I have spoken would not be prepared to strike. Where principles are concerned, however, particularly those enumerated by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) it is quite a different matter. It is our hope and prayer that we would not force the hand of these well-intentioned and very able citizens.

8.56 p.m.

I add my congratulations to those which other speakers have already tendered to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) on his good fortune in the Ballot and the good use he has made of it. We have had a valuable debate. I hope the Minister's contribution will make it yet more valuable. We are dealing with a highly topical and most important matter, and the House could not possibly be accused of having wasted its time in spending an hour or so on it this evening.

There was a remarkable degree of unanimity in the contributions which were made, with the exception of that by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) whom I am sorry to see has now left us. He will have to read in Hansard what I would have been prepared to say to his face, which is that the only effect of his intervention this evening has been to cast grave doubts on the value of his contributions to the Finance Bill Committee. With that exception, everyone who has taken part in the debate has fixed the attention of the House on the real issues, and I hope briefly to add a little more to what has been said about them.

As I understand it, the situation now is that talks about talks are restarting tomorrow, if they have not actually restarted today. I hope that the two parties will find a way of getting serious negotiations going again, because this dispute has done no good for the health service, and in certain respects it has already done damage, which will be difficult ever to repair. For instance, there has been—this is unfortunate—an upsurge of ill-feeling between the doctors and some of the ancillary staffs in the way in which some of the latter have reacted, by breaching their own contracts in reaction to the consultants' decision to work to contract. This is bound to leave an unfortunate legacy.

The pressure created by the action has also served to highlight some of the deficiencies which have for long existed in the health service. I believe that the public have begun to understand how far the service has relied on unpaid overtime from its staff. Not only the doctors but nurses and others have been working long hours without adequate remuneration, and anyone who has been concerned with these matters in the past must accept a share of the responsibility. It would be well to remember the recent statement by the Secretary of State in which she made plain that there is little likelihood of finding a considerable increase in resources to put right some of the deficiencies which we see so clearly. It therefore behoves us to be even more careful about how we tackle the present stresses and strains on the health service. I hope that the Minister will give us evidence of his awareness of that fact.

In many ways the consultants can be said to have acted in a responsible and restrained way, even though they have been driven to this difficult pass. If the Minister does not think that it is responsible for them to have elected to give priority to emergency cases, to ensure that the emergency cases receive highest priority and treatment, perhaps he will say so. If he thinks that working strictly to contract is irresponsible, when the consultants have been instructed to work as required under contract and for the hours upon which their remuneration is based, let him say so. But if he believes that the action which the consultants have taken is irresponsible and unrestrained, then the chances of the two sides getting together must be smaller than ever.

I hope that the Minister will be restrained and responsible in his approach to this difficult matter. The talks about talks are I think, based on the presumption, on the consultants' side that if there is evidence of a real change in the situation—if the atmosphere is different, and if the most objectionable proposals are withdrawn, there is every likelihood that their members would be prepared to resume their normal schedules of work. That must surely be the objective to which the Minister is first and foremost dedicated.

I hope that in the Minister's approach to the talks he is ready to say to the consultants either that their reactions are mistaken, and patiently to persuade them, or to understand their objections and to show flexibility and a willingness to go as far as need be, consistent with what the Minister thinks to be the essential principles at stake, to meet them.

It may help the Minister and the House if I identify some of the proposals in the paper of 20th December which the consultants seem to find most objectionable. The first, in order of appearance in the paper, was the insistence that the Department's agreement was available only on the basis that the new contract was taken as a whole. It is that statement which is the basis of the accusation, in the leaflet headed "Consultants Care", that it was a "take it or leave it" situation. It may be that there was a certain carelessness or rigidity in the phrasing If so, I hope that the Minister will say so. Other proposals in the paper have aroused strong objection on the side of the BMA and the HCSA. For example, though this may seem a trivial matter, the new standard contract required that a doctor should be in hospital from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., including meal times. He was not even allowed to go home for lunch. It would seem an unnecessary provocation if that were rigidly insisted upon.

There was concern about the effect of the proposals on the differential and about the way in which they would favour the man who opted for option B. There was a stipulation that a consultant who agreed to take a full-time contract would have to undertake to work extra sessions as an indefinite commitment. He would be tying himself to compulsory overtime on a continuing basis. If the Minister thinks that that is justifiable, the House will be interested to have his explanation.

There are other features upon which I could spend time but I do not want to delay the House unduly. I shall merely refer to three points which are worthy of mention. First, it was stipulated that the consultants who elected to retain their existing contracts would in so doing retain their existing merit awards. As the proposal appears to be drafted there would be no opportunity for them to move to a higher grade of award. In other words, election to remain on the old contract would carry with it the freezing of award levels.

Second, the provisions on the career supplement relating to earnings from private practice would have had the effect that the doctors most successful in private practice, and, by presumption, the most successful and able in their speciality, would forfeit the career supplement even though the contribution which their skills make to the NHS must be among the most valuable of any.

Third, for some curious and unexplained reason, the limited session contract for disabled doctors or married women unable to work full time carried with it a stipulation that no private practice would be allowed to anyone taking a contract of that kind.

In running through the provisions the House may have detected—certainly, in the exchanges which have taken place in the past it has been evident—that this Government, seem to have a phobia about private practice. I very much hope that the Minister, even if he thinks that that is an unrealistic attitude on the part of the consultants and even if he is persuaded that they are entirely wrong in the belief, will take some pains to explain precisely why those who believe that he and his right hon. Friend have a phobia about private practice are, in fact, mistaken.

We must accept that on the face of it there is a fairly wide gap between the Minister and the doctors. The solidarity of the doctors, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has pointed out, is one remarkable feature of this unhappy situation. But how does it look to the Minister? I hope that he will not mind if, in an attempt to analyse the situation, I refer to a letter which he recently sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). My hon. Friend has kindly let me see a copy of the letter. If the Minister has no objection I shall quote one or two passages. If he objects I shall not do so, as I accept that I have given him no warning.

I am grateful to have the Minister's agreement. In his letter he says that he believes

"that there are many, many misunderstandings about the present consultants' contract that can only be developed in further negotiations. We have never tried to insist on everyone becoming whole-time and if you study the proposals I think you will agree that it represents a broadly fair package of measures'.
In the next paragraph the Minister sets out the points of dispute as he sees them. The paragraph begins:
"The points of dispute are that the BMA want the Government to give up the long standing 18 per cent. differential that has existed between the whole-timer and the maximum part-timer. This we are not prepared to do."
The Minister then lists his reasons. It may be that he will go through them tonight, so I shall not take time to read them to the House. He ends the paragraph by saying that
"Apart from that 18 per cent. differential, the only way that we would be changing the position of the balance between whole and part-timers would be in the suggestion that the career structure supplements, which were put forward to replace the present distinction award system, would be subject to an offset arrangement whereby you would take account of private practice earnings. This, though controversial, has some positive merit; but the Government has been careful to say that this is not a principle on which it is not prepared to negotiate. We are certainly prepared to discuss the method of payment."
That seems to be a step forward and, if I may say so, without in any sense being patronising towards the Minister, a step in the right direction. But if the paragraph to which I have referred summarises all the areas in which he sees himself as being in dispute with the consultants, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that, from what I know of the consultants' side, he does not seem to have hoisted in sufficiently the extent to which they see his actions and the statements of his right hon. Friend as presenting an almost vindictive attitude towards private practice. This appears consistently in the proposals that I have mentioned.

It is encouraging to note that in this letter the Minister says
"Admittedly the meeting on our proposed contract could and should have indicated that there was a little more flexibility than might appear."
It is good to have the admission that that is so, because it shows that there is some willingness on the hon. Gentleman's part to say that this is not a "take it or leave it" situation. He seems to be saying that the Government are prepared to sit round the table and talk about this. It seems to imply that one and a half hours was not sufficient time during which to examine the document.

I am not trying to lead the hon. Gentleman into criticisms, implicit or otherwise, of his right hon. Friend. I am hoping to give him some suggestions as to how he can make the most of the opportunity, which we all want to see developed to the best advantage. At the top of the next page of this letter he comes to the nub of the matter because, with devastating frankness the hon. Gentleman says:
"The medical profession is traditionally almost impossible to negotiate with."
The hon. Gentleman should know. I do not know why this is so—whether it is because those in the profession are desperately bad negotiators, which I guess he did not mean, or because they are quite tough negotiators. If that is the case I can tell him that the BMA would be glad to have that testimonial, since it would do much to reconcile some of those in its ranks who feel that it has not been sufficiently tough. The hon. Gentleman may think that the profession is not skilled in this business of negotiation—that it is not a professional negotiator. If that is what he means, perhaps it is fair enough.

I do not believe that doctors need to be trained—so far—in the art of negotiation before they are let loose, if that is the correct phrase, upon the public. But if the Minister recognises that the profession is almost impossible to negotiate with, it is most inept that his right hon. Friend should have been so insensitive as to provoke and exacerbate the situation by her attitude towards pay beds in particular and private medicine in general.

After all, this is a contract which has its roots in 1948. It is based on the presumption that people want to work a five-and-a-half day week. The 11-session contract presupposes Saturday morning work. I do not believe that that is generally known. If it is, I do not believe that it is generally supported in current social conditions. On this, at least, if people understood the position, they would have great sympathy with the doctors and all those who have to work for them on a Saturday morning, under a contract long since out of date. That makes it all the more unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend should say that if the doctors do not like the new contract they can always go back to the existing one. That is adding insult to injury.

I realise that it is difficult to be brief when dealing with this subject, but there is one further argument that I want to put in some detail. Why does it matter to the general public that the case of the doctors should receive the most sympathetic consideration possible? Naturally it matters to the doctors. We have their testimony, and we can see by their actions and hear by their words that they care deeply. But why does it matter so much to us—the general public? There are some important reasons which go beyond that connected with our immediate reaction, which conjures up the possibility of emigration. That is an obvious danger. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) mentioned the existence of overseas recruiting teams. Perhaps the most instinctive reaction of anyone who considers the situation is that we shall be left with no doctors. But if we were left with doctors who had no independence, what would be the consequences?

First, we should lose the check which private practice provides on the performance of the National Health Service. I do not know whether the Minister, when he was in practice in the NHS, was ever asked by a patient for a second opinion. I suspect that a doctor in the NHS who is asked by a patient to obtain a second opinion is unlikely to be wholly sympathetic, on the grounds that if he had thought a second opinion necessary he would already have arranged for it, so the patient does not have freedom of choice in that situation, and if there is no private practice the patient cannot go outside to seek a second opinion on his or her own initiative.

I speak here on a personal point. If private practice is stifled, the spur to progress which it provides will be lost to the NHS, and a great many people will suffer thereby. One of these days, when I get the time, I shall need to go to a doctor and ask him to be kind enough to give me a new hip joint. The fact that I am able to do that inside or outside the NHS stems from the fact that one brilliant surgeon, working in the private sector as well as in the NHS, drawing upon private patients in larger number than could ever have been referred to him within his own hospital area, was able to develop a technique which has been applied more widely and brought relief to large numbers of people who would otherwise have ended their days sitting in a wheelchair.

That kind of spur to medical advance would not survive without the ability of people constantly to demand better medicine and to urge doctors to raise their standards and their sights, because they would be at the mercy of medical bureaucrats and tied down by the financial limitations of the hospital administrators.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we need to recognise that the hospital service sets out to cure but not to care. In certain situations the NHS, in effect, says to a patient, "We can do no more for you". I have had personal knowledge of this in recent months. Given that that is so, and given that the resources to alter that position are not there, it is essential that private practice and private medicine should be available to take over where the NHS leaves off. People who want to provide for themselves from their own resources, or to provide for others by means of charity from their own resources, will then know that the medical skills of the consultants who are essential in this area will be there, and they will be confident of getting the kind of care and attention to which they are entitled.

It may be difficult for Labour Party conferences to understand that. It may be difficult for Socialists to accept that there are, inevitably, inadequacies in the NHS, and that when they occur it is right for people themselves to seek to meet the need and for the doctors to be there to help them to do so.

I hope that the Minister will not misunderstand me when I say that the doctors feel themselves to be left out of the social contract and to be part of an important element in our society which is not being given its due.

The negotiations, to which the Minister is, I hope, honestly committed and in which I hope he will work towards success, turn as much on his understanding of that point as on the fact that he needs consent if he is to have a National Health Service worthy of the name. He needs the consent of the consultants. I hope that no personal dogma or political prejudice will stop him seeking that consent. I do not doubt that the consultants are prepared to respond as far as they can.

9.20 p.m.

This has been an interesting debate. I do not wish to go too much into the philosophy and principles of private practice because we shall probably wish to spend most of our time in this debate concentrating on the consultants.

In response to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), I should like to say that my political philosophy, and, indeed, the policy of my party, aims at widening the area of consent and, indeed, extending it. Indeed, one of the papers which were put to the working party about the philosophy in a democratic State over private practice said that it should be clearly demonstrated that the adverse effects to society of failing to restrict individual freedom are such as to outweigh decisively the disadvantages of restrictions, and that there is a predisposition in favour of individual freedom. That document was presented to the working party before the General Election and subsequently published.

If we go on to question the problem of why the controversy over private medicine exists, we are bound to say that the experience in the National Health Service is that the general public have begun to recognise that no system of health care will ever be able to provide wholly adequate resources. Some degree of rationing is now seen to be inevitable and this realisation, instead of damping down the controversy over private medicine has tended to emphasise it. People realise that there will always be unsatisfied demand, so they question whether rationing of scarce skills can be justified other than on the basis of need.

If society decides, as it did in 1946, that its national pattern of health care should be organised on the basis of need, inevitably it will question the justification of a health care system organised on the basis of ability to pay. There is inevitably additional controversy if an alternative minority health care system based on ability to pay not only exists but operates within, and is tied to, the public system, organised on the basis of need. That is why the Government have come to a policy of separation. That is why there is a controversy on which there is more than one view, and I ask the House to recognise that this is a controversy which now exists within the health service. Any Government would face the prospect of dealing with it.

There are two other points I wish to make at the outset. I believe that it is possible to have a second opinion within the National Health Service. Many full-timers encourage second opinions. It may have to be decided whether a second, third or fourth opinion is required, and, in my experience, many patients are referred to other centres of excellence for a second opinion.

I was not casting doubt on the willingness of doctors spontaneously to refer for second opinions. I was seeking to ask what would happen if the patient sought a second opinion and the sort of response he would be likely to get.

My experience is that most general practitioners, if asked for a second opinion, are only too happy for that to be done and agree that degree of choice is an important part of the health service.

In my reply, I am taking what I am sure is the basic view of the House—a wish to see a settlement of the dispute. It is sad for me, as a doctor, to see a situation where, since 2nd January, a section of the medical profession has been taking industrial action. But I must say to the hon. Member for Woking that I hope that it is not the considered view of the Opposition that the consultants have acted with responsibility and restraint. I take a different view, quoted from The Times of 3rd January. It said of the industrial action:
"As an exercise in industrial pressure, the campaign has a fair chance of success if a large number of doctors are prepared to persist in it. But it does not deserve to succeed, not at least if its targets are those proclaimed by the leaders of the British Medical Association and the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association."
It went on:
"… the proposals are in truth not out of reach of what most doctors would accept. With a softening of the (broadly desirable) service supplement proposals, a modification of the rule about taking meals on the hospital premises, and with less passion in the air, the plan might appear in a very different light."
At least we have the right to expect that the Opposition would not seemingly almost support industrial action which can, and has in some cases, damaged patient care.

It is in an attempt to try to resolve the dispute that we must approach the situation. Hon. Members have mentioned private practice as being an element in it. I quote again The Times. In a leader on the grievances of the consultants, it said:
"It is possible to hold, without inconsistency, that the proposals are within reach of reconcilement with the interests of the profession and the health service, while also believing that the present relationship between private and public medicine is broadly beneficial to both sides."
It is against the background of such quotations that we should look at the issue more dispassionately than has been done so far in the debate. It is striking that, throughout the dispute, with the objective case which needs to be argued and on which the medical profession has taken precipitate industrial action, it has not been able to persuade many people outside the profession of the total validity of its claim and of the need to take industrial action. I have quoted from The Times. I could have quoted also from The Guardian, from the Observer, from the Financial Times and from the Economist. Of course, opposing views have been expressed—the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail would be two examples. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Sun."] Many of the Sun's comments have tried to personalise the issue. I say, therefore, both to doctors and to hon. Members, that if they consider the difficulties with which my right hon. Friend has been faced since she took office last March they will realise that they owe a great debt to her for what she has done for the National Health Service.

Ever since we took office last year, we have faced unprecedented problems of industrial relations. We faced difficulties with the nurses, the ancillary workers, the technicians, the works engineers and the hospital pharmacists. My right hon. Friend inherited a whole legacy of problems, mainly of pay. Many of these have now been resolved, I am thankful to say, and many are in process of being resolved. I believe that the dispute with the consultants is equally capable of resolution. Unfortunately, it is a very complex issue, but I do not want to go too much into the background and the legacy we had.

Completely absent, so far, from the comments of the Opposition is any indication of whether they support the differential pay which has been given to the whole-timers ever since 1948. In their comments, the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and the hon. Member for Woking have concentrated on the career structure supplements. It would be helpful to know, in this dispute, whether they support the Government in their belief that it is right to maintain the two-elevenths differential, which has broadly stayed in existence since 1948. Do the Opposition agree that the doctors, by putting this factor as one of the major planks in their negotiations, have been wrong to try to change the differential? If the doctors would at least concede that—it is hard to see a single major concession by the profession's negotiators to date—the chances would be greatly increased of finding a resolution to the problem. There is a peculiar and particular reason why this should be done. This dispute has gone on for some time. In July 1972 the BMA submitted to the then Government its proposals for a new contract. In its proposals the association made clear that all consultants should be permitted to engage in private practice consistent with their contractual obligations—that is, they wanted the differential and the ban on whole-timers engaging in private practice to be removed.

Discussions proceeded between the profession and the Department from July 1972 until October 1973. They made little headway. No conclusions were reached. In October 1973 the profession indicated that the contract claim details I mentioned should be laid on one side and that it wished to submit a claim which took full advantage of the then existing Pay Code.

In January 1974 the profession asked the then Secretary of State for the establishment of a working party to consider consultants' contracts. The profession was told that the request would be dealt with by the incoming Government.

In early March my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in a speech on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech that she had agreed to meet the request of the profession to set up a joint working party, which was to be chaired by myself.

The request for a major change came from the profession. We have constantly reiterated that it is not the Government who are seeking to impose a new contract on the profession. Quite the contrary, it is the profession that came to the Government. It is the profession that asked for a closed contract. I believe that some of the requests for a closed contract were made without full recognition of what this sort of contract involves.

I am anxious to know whether the hon. Gentleman will tell me that he supports the two-elevenths differential.

I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would give me an opportunity to reply on that point. It is clear that there must be a distinction between those who work full-time and those who work part-time.

What seems to me to be most extraordinary—it is understandable that the consultants should find it extraordinary, because it is a new element injected into the situation since they first came forward and asked for a review of the contract—is this obsession with separation. That is a deliberate act of policy to which the. Minister of State has committed himself tonight. If only he would show some signs of being prepared to accept reality and would moderate his dogmatic views, it might be possible for a workable solution to be found to the differences which there must be between a full-timer and a part-timer.

The hon. Gentleman has intervened to say precisely nothing, so the House is no closer to knowing whether he and his right hon. and learned Friend support the existence of the differential, which they supported all the time they were in Government between 1948 and 1974. The question is whether they support it now. It would help the resolution of this dispute if they were to make their views quite clear on this issue. To introduce the question of separation of private practice into what is a discussion about the contract seems to me to have evaded the issue.

The hon. Gentleman spoke for long enough but did not introduce much light into the discussion.

The question I was dealing with was the question of what are the implications of a closed contract. This is a serious issue. Broadly speaking, the professions have adopted the attitude that there are no fixed hours for their professions. They work long hours. They get higher pay than most people on fixed closed contracts perhaps. That is part of professional status.

With that has gone considerable freedom to choose their hours. The Times had this to say—
"The first is the humiliating proposal that men of distinction should have in effect to clock in and out of hospital. This requirement arises, however, almost inevitably from the professions' own insistence on a 'closed' contract with extra pay for work outside the sessional hours."
Whatever we say or do about the hours of nine to five, the proposals had actually said that "normally from nine till five"—but I am perfectly willing to concede that there should be greater flexibility about this; it was never meant to be a rigid implication—was to be one aspect of the closed contract. [Interruption.] No, it was not. Everyone knows that there are some times, quite properly, when it is of considerable advantage to have sessions out of closed hours. Paediatricians and venerealogists work very different hours. We must try to give a broad outline. Basically, if one goes for additional sessions—for payment out of hours, for emergency payments—some degree of definition becomes absolutely inevitable and implicit in the request for a closed contract. Many of those in the profession had not recognised the inevitability of that—in effect—restriction in order to gain the other advantages which they wanted of a more work-load sensitive contract.

The question of the definition of the session needs further discussion. It was our intention not to specify where a consultant has lunch but simply to get across the point, which should not be too controversial, that under a contract of the type which the profession negotiated there must be a clearer definition than there is at present if the system for paying extra remuneration is to be fair.

I shall not deal with the question of the differential. A number of comments have been made about the proposed career structure supplements. These have been warmly welcomed by many people who find the existing distinction award system in need of change. The profession has many views about this system. Our proposals are an attempt to spread the money for the distinction award system more evenly through the country and to be a bit more sensitive to some of the specialties which perhaps do not have any private practice. This is an important element, when we consider why the Spens Committee first introduced the whole concept of distinction awards. But our proposals are in many ways a novel concept, and that is why discussion of all the details and methods of application will be needed. They have not been discussed as fully as they should have been.

The principle of the service supplement is that it should provide financial recognition for special efforts to maintain or develop National Health Service services, particularly in situations which are specially burdensome or difficult. As the Secretary of State said in her statement in the House, it should be possible to negotiate criteria and methods of payment for these supplements which are both right for the health service and fair to consultants.

The question of payment for on-call has been raised. This is extremely difficult. When it was first discussed in the joint working party, we argued and hoped that payment for emergency visits on a fee basis, which is a new provision, would recognise, to some extent, the unsocial hours responsibility of consultants without payment for on-call as such. We anticipated that the visit fee might be priced accordingly.

We are prepared to consider any proposals made for the remuneration of on-call as such, but it is fair to say that there are difficulties of definition in a system which ensures that the cost of such remuneration is not out of proportion to the cost of consultants' remuneration generally. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker), who has considerable interest and concern in this matter, knows from his experience with the Civil Service how repercussive on-call arrangements might well be. We cannot look at any contract, which will be for the future—many people will decide to stay on their existing contract—without taking into account the implications for many other people in other jobs.

It is difficult to argue whether these are points of detail or of principle, but it would be wrong to mislead the House by saying that there are not considerable practical difficulties about payment for on-call.

Other points were raised concerning the extra session and the overload situation. I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members understand the peculiar way under which the whole-time and maximum parttime contracts have come about. The evidence suggests that the hours worked by maximum part-timers are similar to those worked by whole-timers. In any event that is expected, since under the terms of the agreement reached between the then Minister of Health and the profession, candidates are not allowed to specify in advance of appointment whether they would prefer to be whole-timers or maximum part-timers. Under the terms of the agreement, where an employing authority decides that the needs of the hospital service demand a whole-time appointment, the competition should be thrown open to all applicants who are prepared to give substantially the whole of their time to the post, whether they prefer a whole-time or a maximum part-time contract. In such a case the successful candidate should not be asked to state his preference until after he had been selected for appointment.

The commitment between a whole-timer and a maximum part-timer is important to the employing authority—I am sure the profession would wish to keep this in any new contract—if the decision whether to go whole-time or maximum part-time is not made until after the appointment has been decided.

I have dealt with some of the detailed proposals. There is room for considerable negotiation on many of those aspects. However, I wish to draw attention to the extent to which the Government have already compromised their proposals. If we compare the proposals put to the working party in October, which were then published, because of the heated reaction of the profession and the proposals published late in December it is clear that the Government considerably modified their proposals to try to understand the profession's viewpoint. In the October proposals the career structure supplements were not going across the board and were confined to whole-timers. When the case was put that there were many part-timers with small private practice earnings who would feel this to be very discriminatory, there then arose the suggestion of the offset which has caused a great deal of criticism, although there is some positive merit in the system and in retaining the money within the Health Service. This was an attempt to meet genuine objections made by the profession.

The working party worked for the last few weeks almost under the constant threat of sanctions from a profession which had started to ask its people to sign on with employment agencies, which seemed to want a confrontation, and which pushed the Government into producing proposals in a rapid space of time.

I say to the profession that now is the time to think carefully before continuing with industrial action. It should come back to the negotiating table, remove the sanctions and enable us to agree to a pricing of the existing contract for implementation as soon after 1st April as is humanly possible, which is what the general practitioners and the junior hospital doctors want. We can hopefully negotiate a new contract which will meet many of their demands and make the modifications and changes necessary to the proposals put to them on 20th December.

The Government have exceptionally agreed to price the proposed new contract before the agreement is made, which I think allows the profession to see both the new and the old contracts. The Government is not imposing a contract.

The hon. Gentleman said that there is considerably more give and take in the Government's attitude than there was in December. This is not a debating point. He has asked the medical profession to return to the negotiating table. He has indicated some of the areas of important details where there can be further discussions. Will the hon. Gentleman undertake, on behalf of the Government, to return to the negotiating table and meet the request I made earlier, namely, that the Government should be prepared to negotiate on the underlying principles of this contract? It is not just a matter of details. There are important principles in this contract, of which the Minister is aware.

The Government made clear their view about the existing differential between the whole-timers and the part-timers. That is a principle to which they attach considerable importance.

The other aspects where principle and detail merge need to be discussed in negotiations. My plea to the profession is to take off the call for industrial action and to negotiate in an atmosphere which is conducive to settlement. We are discussing neither pay nor an existing contract. This is a strange industrial dispute, not about pay or an existing contract—because there is an existing contract—but about a future contract. The negotiators would serve the interests of their members now if they called off sanctions and negotiated a new contract to be priced by the review body before the profession needs to make a final decision whether to accept it.

Scotland (Grant-Aided Schools)

9.45 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Consolidated Fund Bill and to draw attention to the freeze as it relates to the grant-aided schools. I congratulate warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) for having made the Government aware of the present serious predicament of these schools in Scotland.

If the freeze is continued at the same level, it is possible that 25 per cent. of the children at these schools will be withdrawn from them because their parents are unable to keep them there. If that happens, there will be no alternative form of education available for them, especially in Edinburgh. There are approximately 7,000 children at these schools in Edinburgh, and already Edinburgh's comprehensive schools are packed to capacity. If no increased grant is made to the grant-aided schools it is likely that many children will not be able to have a reasonable education in Edinburgh.

Last week I met some parents who were seriously considering, if the grants were not increased, withdrawing their children from school and sending them to their grandparents in Darlington in Yorkshire. However great a regard I may have for Yorkshire and the comprehensive system of education there, it is a tragic situation when parents in Edinburgh are so afraid about their children's future that they consider sending them to the State system of education in England.

There are at present 25 grant-aided schools in Scotland, and 21,000 pupils go to them, of whom about 7,000 are in Edinburgh. Until 10 years ago the grants covered 60 per cent. of the running costs of these schools. The proportion has been gradually reduced over the years and is now in the region of 33⅓ per cent., the remaining two thirds of the running costs being met from fees. The result of the 1973 freeze and the recent implementation of the Houghton Report means that the grant covers only 25 per cent. of running costs, with the result that fees will be increased enormously, by 50 per cent. and in some cases by as much as 100 per cent. In the case of the merchant company schools—George Watson's Daniel Stewarts and Melville College and Mary Erskine—there will be a 100 per cent. increase in fees.

We feel that Scottish pupils in grant-aided schools are being treated most unfairly and far more unjustly than pupils in direct-grant schools in England and Wales. In England and Wales, in a freeze situation, 72 per cent. of pupils benefit either from rate support grant or from a national free remission scheme wholly financed by the Exchequer. This means that 72 per cent. of pupils in direct-grant schools are protected by the Exchequer against the full impact of rising fees and costs.

When the Scottish Education Department grant is frozen, no fresh Government aid is made available, directly or indirectly, to the pupils themselves. In all, 98 per cent. of the pupils at grant-aided schools in Scotland are affected, which means that only 2 per cent. of pupils at grant-aided schools enjoy benefit from foundations.

This is a critical situation. The example which I have given of the parents who are thinking of sending their children to Yorkshire is particularly tragic. But they are only one case, and in Edinburgh there are several thousand families in the same situation.

The parents whom I met last week made it clear to me that if the grants covered only 25 per cent. of running costs, with the effect of the present rate of inflation, they would be unable to keep their children at their respective schools. Their son is at George Watson's. Their daughter is at Mary Erskine. While they can afford fees of £270 a year, they cannot afford £540, so one child will have to leave; for the son this would be shortly before taking his O-level examinations.

Whatever the Government's view of the justification or otherwise of grant-aided schools, it is grossly unfair that children now at these schools should have their future careers threatened by an insensitive Government. A refusal to increase the grant will mean an inevitable massive increase in fees, which has come as a huge financial shock to parents. Many parents send their children to these schools on the basis of a substantial grant. Now, a large number of families will not be able to afford the fees.

I have mentioned to Ministers the disruption in the lives of many children which would result. I hope that the Government will consider the interests of the thousands of children in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland and take immediate action to increase the grant. First, this might be cheaper to the Exchequer than the additional burden of far more pupils in the comprehensive schools. Second, the corporation schools in Edinburgh would in any case be quite unable to cope with the numbers involved. Third, the grant-aided schools in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland have a high reputation within the capital, within Scotland and elsewhere in Britain. They have proved themselves excellent, and there can be no advantage in refusing to take this necessary action, thereby causing a serious educational crisis when it could so easily be averted.

Fourth, a refusal to increase the grant will be unsettling for the children, worrying for the parents and depressing for the teachers who are trying to give them the help they deserve. I beg the Government to remember that irreparable damage can be done to children's future lives by forcing parents to take them from school at a crucial moment. Since it is families with relatively modest means who will be suffering—the more wealthy can afford the increased fees—I ask the Government to think again and to act not through dogmatism or ideology but from a sense of humanity.

9.53 p.m.

Of all the shabbier aspects of the Government's educational policy, there can be nothing more deplorable than the way in which they have treated the grant-aided schools in Scotland and their sister schools—the direct grant schools—in England and Wales. Over the last few months, having stood by while the local authority education system descended into a shambles throughout Scotland, they have now moved from a negative position and are positively wrecking some of Scotland's finest schools without any care for the hardship they cause and the disruption which is involved for parents, children and teachers.

I oppose these measures for two reasons. First, I oppose the Government's longterm objective of phasing these schools out. Second, and equally important, irrespective of that objective I utterly condemn the way in which they are treating the schools at present. On the general question, let us consider the Government's objection to the existence of these schools. It is undisputed that they have provided first-class education for many generations for thousands of Scottish schoolchildren from all backgrounds.

So what, then, is the Government's objection? First, it is sometimes suggested that it is wrong in principle that the State, the Exchequer or the public, should give grants towards schools which are not themselves State schools but which are at least partly independent. Let us examine that suggestion, because it is clearly an important point of principle.

The first thing I suggest to the House is that it is in no way unique for the Government, the State or the taxpayer to provide financial help to institutions or bodies which are not fully controlled by the State. The very existence of regional development and the regional employment premium shows that. That goes not to nationalised industries but to independent firms acting privately, because it is clearly in the public interest that they should receive such help—likewise through virtually every aspect of Government policy.

Equally, there can be no moral objection to the mere fact that schools which are partially independent, and which accept Government standards throughout every aspect of their structure, should receive financial help. These schools are not independent, in the public school sense. They have to conform to national regulations on the payment of teachers. They may not employ any teachers they wish; they may employ only recognised teachers, in the same way as local authority schools. They have to conform to standards of educational examinations. Throughout the whole administration they come under considerable Government control. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that they should receive a financial contribution.

I accept that if it could be argued that it was somehow against the financial interest of the taxpayer that these grants should be made, there might be a good reason for withdrawing the grants altogether from these schools. But let us examine what the situation is and whether it is in the interests of taxpayers as a whole that these grants should be withdrawn.

I refer the Minister and the House to the figures which have been produced on this matter. I refer to the latest figures in the Scottish Educational Statistics for 1971–72. These figures show that the cost per child at a State primary school is £130, but for a child in a grant-aided primary school it is £53·75. If we go to the secondary level, the figures are just as revealing. A child in a State secondary school costs £282. The same child, if attending a grant-aided school, costs the taxpayer £116.

Let us work out what that means in total. It means that if grants were to be withdrawn from all the Scottish grant-aided schools the extra burden on the taxpayer would be an annual sum of at least £4½ million. So we can say, quite specifically and without fear of contradiction, that far from the grant-aided schools being a burden on the public they actually save the public a tax burden of £4½ million at today's prices. It would be interesting to find out whether the Government disagree with those figures, which have been culled from their own statistics.

It is equally possible to argue, "Despite that, the children at these schools get a better deal and have more money spent on their education." Let us examine the figures on this matter, which are also available. We find that if we add to the grant which the schools receive the income they receive from fees and other sources, the total amount spent on children at grant-aided schools amounts, in the case of a primary school, to £115·85, as compared with the £130 spent on a child at a State primary school. In the secondary schools the figures are £251 as compared with £282, including fees and all other forms of revenue which these schools obtain.

Therefore, at the end of the day we find that not only do these schools save the public £4½ million but that at these schools much less is spent, per child, than is spent in the State system.

If, as is argued—I would not for a moment wish to deny this—these schools have managed to produce a first-class education, the fact remains, from the Government's statistics, that they have done that while spending less per child than does the State system. If they are to be condemned for that, it is a very remarkable example of the Government's lack of concern and insensitivity to the problems of education in Scotland and throughout the country.

If the financial objection cannot be maintained there is always, of course, the suggestion that, somehow, these schools are exclusive and must be condemned for that—that they are restricted to a certain social sector of the population.

Let us examine the facts. I am particularly concerned with the schools in Edinburgh. I am sure that the Minister is aware that schools such as the George Heriot School or the Merchant Company schools and the other grant-aided schools draw their children from practically every walk of life. Like every other Edinburgh Member I have received many representations not just from parents who live in grand houses but from those who live in council houses, from active trade unionists and such people who have allocated part of their income to sending their children to these schools because they believe they provide a first-class education.

I do not believe that these schools are in any way socially exclusive. Let us for the purposes of the debate, however, assume that they are, and let us examine the effect of Government policy. The Government have stated that their long-term objectives for grant-aided schools are to force them either to go into the State system or to become completely independent. Clearly, one or two of those schools might opt to be merged into the local authority system. It is equally obvious that a large number of them will move, however reluctantly, towards complete independence. The result of that will clearly be a necessary and substantial increase in fees, and the long-term result will be the one that the Government wish to avoid. The schools will become socially exclusive. Without the grant they will have to charge higher fees. If that is the Government's objective it demonstrates their lack of sensitivity and their lack of any appreciation of the educational needs of Scotland.

The reasons that the Government have put forward in the past do not, therefore, bear close examination. The Scotsman said this morning that these schools deserved to continue to exist in their present form because they had been proved to be good schools. It is vital that we maintain some variety in our education system. It would be wrong for education to become a State monopoly so that, ultimately, it would be forbidden for a parent to have his child educated other than in the way the State determines.

We know that there are fashions in education. Just after the war the grammer school was seen to be the great liberator for working-class children. That is now unfashionable, and the current craze is for the comprehensive system. It would be a pity if, when this system becomes unfashionable—as it will sooner or later—there is no alternative in our educational system. Let us assume that the Government insist upon carrying out their long-term policy of phasing out these schools. The Government will stand to be condemned for the way they have treated the present situation.

Even compared with the attitude of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is responsible for England and Wales, the attitude of the Scottish Office has been particularly deplorable. Unlike their English counterparts, Scottish Ministers have refused to give any timetable to the House, the parents, or the local authorities, who are equally involved in the future of these schools. I shall be interested to hear the Minister explain why his English counterpart has been able to state a timetable for Government policy while the Scottish Minister has manifestly refused to do so and has evaded answering questions when they are put.

We deserve to know what the position is. No only the schools and the parents are in difficulties; if the schools are to be phased out the local authorities must be able to plan ahead and, so far, they have no timetable or indication what they must plan for—the type of influx they can expect and when it will arrive.

On the immediate problem of freezing the grant the Government have acted with an alarming and incredible lack of concern for the feelings of parents and children involved. No one can suggest that the parents are responsible for the rate of inflation or for the Houghton recommendations, which recommended large increases for the teaching profession. Every grant-aided school had to make these payments to the teachers, and it was quite happy to do so. The payments were backdated to March.

On what basis do the Government refuse not to increase the percentage of grant but to maintain the grant at the level at which it has always been—to increase it in actual money terms but to maintain it in real terms?

The Government know perfectly well that their long-term objectives can be achieved equally well without punishing parents and their children. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that considerable hardship is being created for many parents and children. I have letters from one parent with five children at Merchant Company schools, and numerous letters from those with one or two children who cannot afford to pay. It is not only those people who will suffer. The local authorities are concerned about the influx they can expect.

It is not just a question of children now at those schools being withdrawn. There is the equally dangerous problem that children who might have been expected to begin next session will not do so, because their parents, seeing the sort of fees they will be expected to pay, will change their minds and send the children into the local authority system. They are free to do so.

The local authorities know that it is their duty to accept those children, but they do not have the means. If only a quarter of the children were withdrawn in Edinburgh it would mean a burden of more than 1,500 children. In my constituency, which has George Watson's school, the two local authority schools are grossly overcrowded. They cannot take the present influx, never mind the new influx. But the Government seem determined, for ideological reasons, to ignore the effects of their actions.

I hope that the Government and those who support them will not underestimate the strength of feeling not just in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland—not just among the parents of children presently at the schools, not just among parents who themselves went to the schools, and not just among people who have a direct interest in them. Many people who have never been to them and have no direct concern with them believe strongly that they have made a valuable contribution to Scottish education, and that they could continue to make a magnificent contribution if they were allowed to do so.

The Government must realise that this is not a policy that they will be able to implement by stealth. They will not be able to get the local authorities to do their dirty work for them. I hope that they will not expect that the parents and the public as a whole will stand by and watch fine schools destroyed, with no concern for the effect on the schools or the general local authority structure.

If the Government are determined to go ahead not just with their long-term policy but with their thoughtless short-term application of it, they will have a long, bitter struggle, which will not be in their interests, or anybody's interests. I hope that they will carefully consider not only the feelings but the true interests of all those who believe in Scottish education.

10.8 p.m.

I welcome this opportunity to speak about grant-aided schools in Scotland. There is no doubt that the matter is becoming the dominant issue in Scotland. Last Session it was the teachers' salaries dispute, which has created a substantial part of the dispute of this Session.

The Scottish National Party has a different attitude toward the problem than that of the two hon. Members who have just spoken. We are totally committed to the comprehensive ideal of education, because we believe in equality of opportunity. It is an ancient Scottish tradition to believe in that, and it is something that we wish to see continued.

I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) that there are reasons why parents have been opting out of the State system. I am sure that the Under-Secretary is very much aware of them. We need only to look at the statistics of designations for schools in Scotland, the number of mobile classrooms, which have been increasing almost day by day, and the fact that many children in Scotland are on part-time education.

When we look at the State system, we can understand what is behind the parents' anxieties. It is a terrifying situation for many people in Scotland. We would like to see a phasing-out take place over five years. There have been arguments about the time that should be involved but we prefer five years. It is the shortest possible period which would give the State system the opportunity to readjust, expand and provide the facilities and resources which the parents concerned are looking for in terms of their children's education. Five years will also give the parents the guarantee that there will not be the disruption of education that they fear, since children currently in grant-aided schools could finish their course; and there should be no further intake of pupils into the grant-aided schools. Five years seems a logical period and I ask the Minister in the Scottish Office who is responsible for education to consider that period.

I should also like to know whether the Minister, like myself, is committed to the ideal of comprehensive education. I am sure that he is. The Labour Government should be considering the future of the ultimate bastion of privilege in educational terms, namely, the so-called public system of education. That is the system that we in Scotland would call the private system.

It is a system that must go eventually in order to give equality of opportunity to all.

10.12 p.m.

I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) have highlighted the most important situation that is developing rapidly in Edinburgh in particular and throughout many areas of Scotland in general. My hon. Friends have explained the statistics to the House clearly and accurately. I do not propose to go over that ground again, save to remind the Minister that the Government have forced the grant-aided schools into imposing swingeing increases in fees, of the order of 100 per cent. That means an increase of about £300 per annum. For many parents that is an impossible increase.

We want to know what alternative the Minister considers is available to the parents concerned. As my hon. Friends have indicated, there is nowhere else for their children to go. For many children this situation has developed at a critical time in their educational lives, when examinations are imminent. When I was the Minister concerned—that was my position until 12 months ago—I not infrequently had representations from Edinburgh Corporation and received deputations from the corporation's education committee. It was rammed home to the Government that there was a desperate shortage of accommodation. The Government of the day were asked to increase the building programme by X hundreds of thousands of pounds because of the acute shortage. Yet here the Government of 1975 are making it inevitable that 1,500 or 2,000 additional pupils will have to be taken into the State sector.

The Minister must explain tonight where the places will be and where the money and resources are to come from to provide the places. From 1970 onwards the Conservative Government gave a percentage increase of grant to the grant-aided schools each year. They updated the grant that had been frozen by the Labour Government during 1964–70.

It is so wrong that whenever a Labour Government are in power they should seek to impose their will on education instead of leaving the matter to those most involved. We made it clear in our election manifesto in October that we would continue wholeheartedly to support the grant-aided schools and to increase the percentage grant in line with the rapid rise in costs. Indeed, on 4th October, I published a detailed plan in an educational journal. We made it clear that we would reopen the possibility of increasing the number of grant-aided schools and make further provision for assisting the parents having difficulty in meeting the fees.

There was a working party looking into all these matters with the grant-aided schools. What progress is it making? Or has it been snuffed out? In the EIS Journal of October the Minister made absolutely clear where his party stood. I cannot prevent a wry smile at the Scottish National Party. There was no mention of grant-aided schools in its manifesto. Not a squeak. It seems to have a different policy for every constituency. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) said that her party would carry out its policy in five years. In its manifesto expenditure on education is doubled, to £900 million, and takes 10 per cent. of the GNP. I doubt whether the resources of this country could stand that.

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Scottish National Party has had a long-standing policy to the effect that direct-grant and independent schools will be phased out in an independent Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the basic philosophy behind the idea of spending 10 per cent. of GNP on education is a good one? It would eradicate problems in the State system and would give us the oppor- tunity to build up a good system with an element of choice within it, which was not based on ability to pay.

It is interesting to have a policy that is not written down. Then it can mean all things to all people. If the hon. Lady thinks that this country can spend 10 per cent. of its GNP she must tell us what other expenditure will be cut. It is no good saying that defence expenditure must be cut, because that is vital.

I remind the Minister that we are talking about 1·9 per cent. of the children in our schools, and a cost of £2·2 million. These figures should not be ignored just because they are thought to be insignificant. What will be done about specialist schools, such as St. Mary's Cathedral Choir School? There is no other school in Scotland that can provide extremely high-quality musical education for particularly gifted children. The Minister ought to know that the Department has been trying to find ways and means of extending this type of education with courses supported by Yehudi Menuhin and many other important people in the musical world. Does the Minister intend to phase out the grants to such a unique school?

What about the Morrison Academy at Crieff, or even the Robert Gordon School in Aberdeen—part of which the Minister represents? Why should he attack the Merchant Company schools, which boast exceptional administration and an extremely high standard of education? We can give particular reasons why these schools should be supported in their areas as alternatives to the State system.

All of these schools have had to bear the increase in the cost of living, which the Government have now admitted to be 25 per cent. There has been the Houghton award, giving a deserved increase to teachers. It is essential that we have an increase in the grant for these schools and an updating of the increase in current grant—which they did not receive last year. It is up to the Government to respond to the wishes of the parents who give up many little luxuries to send their children to these schools.

The individual has a right to spend his money as he wishes, despite what the Chancellor of the Exchequer may wish to do. It is right that people should have the opportunity to send their children, at a reasonable fee, to these secondary schools. I make the pledge tonight that the Conservatives will return to this scene time and again until the Government give an increased grant to the grant-aided schools and assure the House that those schools will continue for as long as they wish.

10.20 p.m.

I do not know for how long the debate will go tonight, but some of us have trains to catch, and if I do not manage to hear the whole of the Minister's speech I hope that he will not think that it is because of any lack of courtesy or interest on my part.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) on their good luck in securing this important subject in the Ballot, because the future of the grant-aided schools is vitally important for the well-being of Scotland. The Government's policy puts the continued existence of these schools in jeopardy. The Government only put them in jeopardy, but the Scottish National Party, to which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) belongs, intends to cut their throats. I was glad to hear what the hon. Lady said tonight. The people in my constituency who voted for her party will have their eyes opened and will realise that what I said during the General Election campaign was true. Far from expressing the proper Scots attitude towards education, the SNP has it wrong, as it has everything else wrong. Opportunity, yes, but not drab uniformity. That is what is betraying the proper heritage of Scotland, and I am thoroughly ashamed to belong to the same race and nation as these people.

After that parenthesis, I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions to find out the reasons for the Government's attack upon grant-aided schools. In his reply, will the Minister say whether he thinks the education provided in these schools is a good education or a bad education? Surely, the answer cannot be that it is a bad education. If it is not a bad education, why do anything to limit its extent?

My two hon. Friends have referred to cost. Is that the reason? If the number of grant-aided schools declines, the cost to the Exchequer will be more, not less. Will the Minister tell us what figure is at stake? I am afraid that he is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

I have often heard speeches made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), which have wrung our hearts with pity. Tonight he appears to have no pity, and no feeling, either for the parents or the children who attend these schools. That makes me think that his assumed pity is humbug and hypocrisy. Otherwise, he would take a different attitude.

This is a concentrated form of attack upon individuality in schools and excellence in education. Only a few years ago we saw the abolition of the fee-paying schools—

The Under-Secretary of State says "Hear, hear", but he has not any of these schools in his constituency, otherwise he would not be grinning as he is.

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has plenty of opportunity to make a speech.

Not long ago the selective schools—schools that cater for and give a good education to children from the poorest classes in our community—were the subject of attention. In my constituency the Girl's High School has gone. These schools cannot be recreated. Now the attack is being directed at the grant-aided schools—schools such as the Kelvinside Academy, the Westbourne Gardens School and Hutchison School. Some may continue, but others will go to the wall. Many of those that continue will go if the Scottish National Party has its way—and if the Labour Party has its way it will get rid of the independent schools. I see the Under-Secretary of State indicating his agreement.

Why does it want uniformity? Does it not know what uniformity means? It means dictatorship. Variety is not only the spice of life; it is the essense of good education. It is a good thing to be able to experiment, to have competition between one form and another and not have to be dominated by the power-hungry figure in the form of the hon. Gentleman from St. Andrew's House. It is no good the Minister's putting that look on his face. He knows what it would mean. If he gets rid of fee-paying schools, grant-aided schools, and, eventually, the independent schools, we shall end up with no variety in education at all.

I am not necessarily against the experiment of trying out comprehensive schools because we should try a bit of everything. What I am opposed to is the tendency towards uniformity.

The present decision does not appear to be required through financial necessity, and it cannot be said to be required by educational wisdom. The decision seems to be taken on what are called grounds of social engineering. It is inspired by envy. Because everybody cannot have something, nobody should have it. Taken to its logical conclusion, we are saying that because selective schools are to go, grant-aided schools must go and the next will be independent schools. What is left then? Only the parent is left. The next aim of the Labour Party will be to remove children from good parents, in the interests of fairness, because some are good and some are bad. That is the logical extension of what the Minister proposes.

It is utterly wrong to try to fix a straitjacket on education. What we should be doing is to encourage each parent to choose for himself his own school according to his means and to try to lead more people towards self-help, instead of abolishing the lot and going in for drab uniformity.

Despite some of the things I have said to the Minister, I should like to ask him to reconsider this matter. We have a mixed economy in this country, and time and again the Labour Party has expressed its belief in that philosophy. It does not yet believe in a Communist State. If we have a mixed economy, surely we should have a mixed educational system, too. If there is to be a move towards comprehensiveness—which I am not necessarily against as to some of it—let us hasten in that direction slowly, otherwise the Minister may throw out the good with the bad.

My last appeal to the Minister—because I believe that despite his stern exterior he has a soft heart—is that he should have some compassion for the children who attend these schools now. Do not force them out, for it will affect their future. Scottish education is being needlessly jeopardised by what I can only describe as a shabby example of parsimony and social dogma.

10.30 p.m.

Speakers in this debate have raised what is obviously a matter of some public concern. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) raised the matter with great passion. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) referred to education as the dominant issue in Scotland today, while the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who initiated the debate, made a passionate—although in a sense it was dispassionate—plea on the facts of the case.

I acquit hon. Members of any blame if they have to leave the Chamber to catch a train. I understand the difficulties of parliamentary life. However, I shall be disappointed if they are unable to listen to the whole of my speech. That is something which I may well have to bear.

I am very glad that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) acquitted the Government of trying to deal with the question of grant-aided schools by stealth, since it was made very clear in the Labour Party manifesto for Scotland in the last election and in my piece in the E.I.S. Journal that the Labour Government had frozen grants to grant-aided schools as a first step to the longer-term aim of phasing out grants. We do not believe that such schools should continue to enjoy a specially privileged place in Scottish education. Indeed, that has been our policy for a number of years. The previous Labour Government also froze the grants to grant-aided schools. The Labour Party manifesto, on the basis of which we fought and won the election, said that the Government would stop the present system of direct grants to schools—although that referred mainly to England—and would abolish tax relief for public schools as a step towards our long-term aim of phasing out fee-paying schools. Our policy has been perfectly clear from the beginning. There was no question of doing this by stealth.

A number of hon. Members said that some parents make sacrifices to send their children to grant-aided schools. We read from time to time in the Press what those sacrifices are—such as doing without a car or a holiday. I understand why parents make sacrifices to obtain what they think is the best education for their children. For example, my parents made sacrifices for what they thought was the best education for me, as a bursar of Robert Gordons.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East said that there were difficulties in some State schools, which was one reason why people opted out of the State system and sent their children to grant-aided schools. The system of grant-aided and private schools has existed for a long time.

Difficulties arose during the last term over the Houghton Report. I am glad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) recognised that the Houghton Committee awarded large increases to teachers. It is the first time that the Opposition have conceded that fact. Although nothing more was made of the point, I am glad that they recognise the amount of money going to Scottish education for teachers' salaries as a result of the Houghton Committee recommendations.

Dealing with Scotland as a whole, we should ask ourselves why 8 per cent. of the pupils in Edinburgh and 3 per cent. of the pupils in Glasgow should go out of the State system. Paragraph 6.8 of Part Two of the Public Schools' Commission Report says:
"It was put to us that: There is a first and second class education service in Edinburgh. The removal of so many able children (many from the age of 5) to fee-paying schools and the great gulf between the esteem and support enjoyed by these schools and the lack of interest in non-fee-paying schools seems impossible to bridge. This militates against the success of comprehensive education in Edinburgh."
The Public Schools Commission, in effect, agreed with that assessment. In its main recommendations it said that it believed in comprehensive education and that the grant-aided schools should become comprehensive.

That was an examination of the independent schools—the public schools and the grant-aided schools. But surely there was something in between. I refer to the selective fee-paying schools, which are at a lower level of parental contribution but not of scholastic excellence.

This report goes into a number of matters—fee-paying schools, grant-aided schools and independent schools.

The fact that there was such a gulf between the State system in Edinburgh and the fee-paying, grant-aided and independent schools is a savage condemnation of the Conservative Party, which controlled education in Edinburgh for many years and did not take care to see that the children of ordinary people had the opportunity to obtain a proper education.

Reference has been made to the types of parent who send their children to the schools that we are discussing. In this connection, I tried to discover the social backgrounds of children who go to grant-aided schools in Scotland. According to paragraph 435 of the Report of the Public Schools Commission, an overwhelming proportion of the children in grant-aided schools—about 80 per cent.—came from social classes 1 and 2. Fewer than 20 per cent. were from class 3, a very small group from class 4, and a negligible number from class 5.

There were variations, of course, because some grant-aided schools are really the local schools. There, between 65 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the children were from classes 1 and 2, whereas in all the other schools of the 26 or 27 which exist, more than 85 per cent. of the pupils were from social classes 1 and 2, and in some there were more than 90 per cent.

It may be argued that a report published in 1970 on the basis of information collected in 1968 and 1969 is out of date, but there is no reason to believe that it is. Some of the people interested in financial matters in Edinburgh are in no doubt about the social classes from which the children come.

It is purely fortuitous that the Scotsman on 22nd January carried a two-page advertising feature and a large advertisement saying "Education or State School?" put in by a company named Education and School Fees Planning (Scotland) Limited. The advertising feature is headed,
"Painless way of paying school fees."
It says:
"Parents who have decided on a private education for their children despite the financial sacrifice involved—are faced with constant increases in school fees caused by inflation. Many fear that they will be unable to afford to pay school fees, yet the prospect of state education does not appeal. What can be done?
"The answer lies in early financial planning. Last year a specialist company was launched in Edinburgh to advise parents on financial provision for private education. A subsidiary of Kirton Webster Financial Services Limited, this new company, Education and School Fees Planning (Scotland) Limited, met with an immediate and overwhelming response."
It says that people who look after their money reasonably well may have to invest only 10 per cent. of their income, although fees at senior school can cost 40 per cent. It says that they must start planning early.

Beside the advertisement is an article by the financial editor, headed, "A philosophy for investors", which says of this educational planning service
"They can also devise applications of their philosophy to meet the needs of parents who are finding school fees a very heavy and always increasing burden."
I do not know the connection here in terms of research, but it says
"It has been possible for a couple with four children, ranging in age from two to eight, to settle £20,000 on the children which has the prospect of growing to £85,000 when they have all reached 21. To get the exemption, the father settles £5,000 on each of two children and the mother settles £5,000 on each of the other two."
There are two ends of the spectrum, and hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They say that many of the parents affected cannot meet the school fees and that Labour policy means that children whose parents are in more difficult circumstances will have to leave school. But the schools can determine their own fees, and can operate their own remission schemes if they wish.

As always, we have heard that schools should not be exclusive to children from only one class. The figures I quoted show that the social mix is very limited. On this matter, this useful document from the Public Schools Commission says:
"Moreover, social segregation of young people in their formative years is likely to impoverish their education in some fundamental ways. They will grow up lacking understanding of and respect for large groups of their fellow countrymen."

Does not the Minister agree that that quotation is a description of the ideal qualities for Tory candidates?

Let us leave Tory candidates out of it for a moment.

I agree with social mix. It is important that people from different walks of life should mix, but the trouble is that, when Conservative Members are talking of social mix, nine times out of 10 they are really thinking of giving working class children of ability the opportunity to mix with their betters, in socially desirable grant-aided or independent schools. They may not mean to, but they denigrate the working class way of life. Children from privileged and wealthy backgrounds—children of doctors, lawyers, academics and so on—would benefit from going to the ordinary neighbourhood comprehensive school with the children of the whole catchment area.

Does not the Minister agree that if there is a large exodus from these schools the comprehensive schools in Edinburgh will not be able to cope, as they are at present crowded to capacity, and he already has a crisis on his hands?

I am coming to the points about timing and a large exodus, but since at least one hon. Member suggested that the Government's policy was built on envy and greed, that we were seeking to destroy and not to build, the philosophy behind the policy is important. This is not being done because of cost, or because we object to the amount of money being spent; It is an argument about education and social philosophy.

I turn to the question of the timetable. First, it is speculative, at present, certainly, to try to say how many children will come out of the grant-aided schools next term. We just do not know. We shall have to look at questions about the timing details. There is again no question of this being done by stealth or behind anyone's back. For the policy of phasing out grants to continue, the Government will require legislation. That legislation will be open to discussion on the Floor of the House and in Committee. It will go through the normal processes of Parliament and we shall be able to discuss this matter. Before we reach that stage there will have to be discussions with the local authorities and the schools about the timing with regard to the phasing out of grants and on the question of the integration of the schools in the system.

It is certainly not our intention to compel grant-aided schools to become part of the State system by legislation. They will certainly have the right to choose which is the best course for them. I should very much like to see them becoming simply part of the comprehensive system of education. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West is making a great mistake if he thinks that anyone in the Labour Party is trying to drive people into a common mould and make them all the same. We shall never get the real variety of education or real improvements in State education if we insist on creaming off people of ability and interest. That is a sad fact, with which it is very difficult to come to terms.

Very often people from socially deprived backgrounds find it difficult to make their impact on the education system and to understand what it is about. They have been tied down in this cycle for so long. They see their children rejected, in the way they have been rejected by the selective system, and they see them rejected by teachers and those who say "Let us solve the education problem by letting them leave school as quickly as they can". If children are rejected by society, one cannot be surprised if the children themselves reject society. That rejection on the part of children may take different forms, such as vandalism or children simply becoming apathetic towards what goes on around them.

It is very important that we should have an education system which is of great value to all the children in our schools. I certainly hope that within the different schools in different parts of Scotland we shall have educational variety and educational experiment—as long as at all times we have the interests of the children at heart.

I have made it perfectly clear that my party is fully committed to the comprehensive system. I cannot tell hon. Members tonight the exact timetable for the phasing out of grants, but I do not think that they are right to draw the conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science—in England—has made any more specific pronouncements than we have in Scotland. Nor are we treating grant-aided schools in Scotland any more harshly than they are being treated in England and Wales.

Our Scottish system—even the grant-aided system—has grown up in different ways, with different legislation. The fact that there is a fees remission scheme in England and Wales results from the way in which their system has developed—by education authorities having nominated places at schools and the schools taking the children nominated. We have not developed in that way. It is not a question of being especially harsh. There are two different systems.

I cannot say what the timing will be. I can only say that the Government do not intend to increase the grant for 1975–76. There is plenty of time to discuss what will happen after that.

I have one last quotation from the Public Schools Commission. That was an excellent report—not that I agree with all its conclusions. I agree with a lot of the evidence and with some of its conclusions. Paragraph 7.2 says
"An educational system which enables a fortunate minority of children to take their education a long way while permitting the rest to leave school for the labour market at the minimum leaving age is obsolete."
I agree that it is obsolete. We have made a great start by moving over mainly to a comprehensive system. I believe that a lot of the barriers to a proper education have been removed. I believe, too, that the individuality and personal freedom that Conservative Members speak about so much would be far better achieved by having a Socialist system of education, where people are more important than anything else.

We have made a very good start by pursuing a policy of integrating the grant-aided schools and, eventually, the independent schools, into the State system. That will help us to remove most, if not all, of the barriers which exist. The Government are operating a policy of compassion. We care very much for the children who are never mentioned and who face difficult circumstances. They need more of our care and compassion than those who are able to look after themselves. As the Government's policy unfolds and is seen to work I believe that it will be agreed on all sides that it is both socially and educationally desirable.

Rent Officers

10.52 p.m.

I wish to discuss the effects of the Rent Act 1974 since it came into force about six months ago. I have said before that politicians generally do not have a good record on housing. Every time a Government have interfered in housing since the war their legislation has made the situation worse. Some of the legislation even goes back to the First World War and it still affects a considerable number of properties.

When the Minister introduced the Bill which subsequently became the 1974 Act he said that one of its purposes was to help relieve the situation of the homeless in the stress areas. I do not believe that has happened. In addition to the legislation I have described there has been a freeze on rents. A landlord who was interviewed on London Broadcasting this evening mentioned the case of two houses in the same street. The rent for one was £13 a week and for the other 59p. That is a ridiculous situation.

I am delighted that the Government are to examine the whole question of housing finances. However, tonight I wish to deal with rented accommodation and its control under the 1974 Act. I believe that that Act has given the rent officers an almost impossible task. They are having to deal with an enormous backlog of cases and inquiries. We were told in answer to a Question on 10th July 1974 that the cost before the Act was running to £3½ million, and the cost of the rent tribunals was £1½ million. Applications then were 19,000, and there is no doubt that there has been a vast increase since.

Another aspect is the tremendous delay. The delay between application and decision on 10th July was about three months, in London boroughs. I am sure that it is now worse, though I have no evidence. Perhaps the Minister will tell us.

I believe that the Act has dried up the supply of furnished accommodation. It has been in force for only six months. What are the results? Let us consider the categories of people who need furnished accommodation, beginning with students. When we debated the matter on 30th July I raised the question of student accommodation as it affected my constituency. I told the House that the students' magazine had said that there was great anxiety in the university about what would happen as a result of the Act. The Minister agreed that there were anxieties, but could see no problem. He said that he would keep an eye on the situation.

Today I spoke to the Vice-Chancellor of Reading University to discover what he felt about the Act, and he said "Thank heavens the intake last October was fairly small." That meant that the situation was not so serious, but the university expects a big intake next October and the Vice-Chancellor is worried about where they will be accommodated, because the supply of rented accommodation is drying up.

The rent officers, who are under pressure, are themselves putting on pressure to get early decisions. A professor at Reading University let his house to students on a very amicable arrangement at a nominal rent. One of the tenants behaved badly, upsetting the whole household, and the professor asked him to leave. An application was made to the rent tribunal, and the professor's house was investigated. He was put under duress and stress by the rent officer to make sure that all the tenants, his students, submitted their cases to the court. They did not want to. Most of them were quite happy where they were.

There was a happy outcome, because the rents were increased. But the incident created an unhappy atmosphere, and as a result the professor is considering whether to continue with that type of letting, which he had begun with the best will in the world towards his students.

The next category with which I want to deal is that of the young marrieds, who face a tremendous problem. Many of them do not have large incomes and cannot afford mortgages or high-rent unfurnished accommodation. They would therefore like to start their married life in, say, two rooms, as I did. I took a two-roomed flat in Notting Hill Gate. I doubt whether I should find such a flat today. The Act has done tremendous damage to the availability of that type of accommodation, which is required by most young people when they marry.

Another category is that of the single person. The single person who travels considerably wants furnished accommodation. The idea of digs is becoming unfashionable. People prefer to cater for themselves instead of having one room and being looked after by a landlady. I enjoyed that existence, but it does not seem fashionable. Most people who are mobile like furnished flats.

The opportunity to obtain furnished flats is much on the decline. In Committee on the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill the Minister said that he wanted to see only two forms of housing, namely, publicly-owned and owner-occupied. He wanted to see the private landlord phased out as soon as possible. If that is his object he has set about putting it into practice extremely well. He has destroyed the desire to let out rented accommodation.

I wish to make a plea on behalf of private landlords. In the main they are not winklers and crooks but ordinary decent citizens, who probably have one or two houses to let out. They may have inherited them, or have put their savings into them. There may be many different reasons for their ownership. They are worthy people in our society, but they are now under vicious attack. That is a great pity.

When the Minister says that all he wants to see in the housing market are the publicly-owned and owner-occupied sectors, what will be the outcome? Between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. of rented accommodation is still provided by the private sector. If that is to be abolished, I believe that the Minister is giving himself an enormous housing problem. I believe that the private sector should be allowed to continue.

As a result of recent legislation many small landlords no longer wish to let. They are being advised by the banks, for example, not to continue. They are advised to keep their property empty and try to sell it. They are told that the sooner they can sell it the better. Many of them have rented their houses at low rents and they have often ended up with bank overdrafts after trying to maintain them. The bank may have said "This is your only asset. If you want to clear your overdraft the best thing is to sell the property. Do not let it. If you let it you will not be able to get the tenant out."

The small landlords are fighting back. They have set up a new association. There was a report on the new association in yesterday's issue of The Times. At a meeting in London the secretary said:
"The small landlord has become a second-class citizen to the tenant."
That is beginning to be the case. Small landlords no longer have the same freedom of action. They no longer feel that it is their property. The Acts that have been passed, the rent officers, and the investigations are making them into second-class citizens. I regret that very much. I believe that they are a valuable part of our society.

A number of letters have been passed to me from ordinary citizens who either want accommodation or rent accommodation, who are being hit badly by current legislation. I am on their side. I shall fight on their behalf as hard as possible. I urge the Minister to think again. He has a reputation for wearing nice, bright ties. I hope today that he will react to what I have said by putting forward some bright ideas to amend the Act and to help the small landlord.

I ask the Minister to consider the three categories of person who are worried about the Act—the students, the young marrieds and the single persons. What will happen to them on the housing market? In a Written Answer on 8th November the Minister said that he would give consideration to the position of students. I am pleased about that, but I urge him to consider the other categories that I have mentioned. Unless he faces the situation realistically more and more people will become homeless in the next few months. Every Member has to deal with homeless families. What advice do we have to give them? We have to tell them that the best thing to do is to ensure that they are thrown out on the street.

What a situation for young couples, with, perhaps, one child. I urge the Minister to re-think this and to relieve the pressure on rent officers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to do their job. In my constituency they are concentrating mainly, and regrettably, on the decent landlord who lets out rooms or small flatlets to students, and are not dealing with the multiple occupation problem. They realise that if they move in on that they will create a further problem for the local council. There is a tendency to go for the small landlord, and this is a great pity. I urge the Minister to re-think the workings of the Act and deal with its bad effects.

11.7 p.m.

It would be wrong to let this opportunity go by without congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Reading. North (Mr. Durant) on raising some aspects of the operation of the Rent Act 1974. I hope that it will be possible in the not too distant future for us to have an investigation in more depth into this subject. The Government have been complaining that they have no evidence of the way in which the legislation is going. From a variety of sources evidence is beginning to build up as to the shortages which are being created and the distortions which are emerging as a result of an Act which was hurried through and which is turning out in practice to be anomalous and unfair.

I hope that the Minister will give us some idea of the Government's thinking. It would be intolerable if he were simply to repeat the expression of astonishment of the Minister for Housing and Construction and ask Conservative Members to do the Government's work for them. It was their legislation and they should now be monitoring the way in which it is working.

There are those who say that the way forward in housing is to abolish all controls, because that would somehow are create a new market in housing and would solve all our problems. I do not hold that view. I take the view that there was a case for extending control beyond the artificial divisions, certainly in terms of London, between furnished and unfurnished accommodation. In rushing legislation through in the summer of last year the Government—as Labour Governments so often do—allowed a rather unwise heart to rule their head. What has clearly emerged from the operation of the legislation is that sitting tenants have gained something from the Act at the expense of a great deal of heartbreak on the part of those seeking furnished accommodation in London and other big cities.

We have increasingly seen the stock of furnished accommodation being devoted to holiday accommodation and short lets. This has been a mistake. It looks as though the Government are still hell-bent on repeating the same sort of mistake in turning their attention to the question of tied housing. Here, again, for all sorts of reasons which arouse great emotion on the Labour side of the House, they have decided that tied housing is a bad thing and must be abolished. If they embark upon this road they will create disaster, just as they did in setting out this blanket control of furnished accommodation.

Their first mistake here is that they have again allowed their heart to rule their head. They have not thought through an initiative in the housing area and seen where the balance of advantage lies. I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that the Government have not provided any extra resources for the increased burden of work which will be placed on the rent officer service in extending control in this way. If extra provision has been made I hope the Minister will tell us about it.

I do not believe that, overall, in housing, the Government have any ideas where they are going. They repeat, time after time, phrases about the whole rented sector coming into what they are now pleased to call social ownership. They know perfectly well that the legislation they are passing, whether the Housing and Subsidies Bill or the Rent Act 1974, is turning the landlord out of this business, that councils cannot cope with the extra burden placed on them, and that they are in many ways unfitted to cope with it if this policy is carried through to its logical conclusion. Yet they are prepared to see housing in the rented sector decline.

By their policies they are creating new slums with which the community will eventually have to cope. My hon. Friend, in raising the question of this Act as well as that of the administrative burden, has done a great service. I hope that we shall be able to return to the matter in the not-too-distant future, but that tonight the Under-Secretary will be able to give some indication of Government plans to mitigate the extra burden which this hurried and thoughtless introduction has placed on the rent officer service.

11.11 p.m.

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) for this opportunity to look, if only briefly, at the working of the Rent Act 1974, if only to give an opportunity to dispel some of the misapprehensions which have arisen over the working of the Act—misapprehensions which are embodied, as they have been tonight, in emotional language with little evidence behind it, as I shall be able to show in one respect in which the hon. Member for Reading, North raised it.

In the 10 months during which I have been a Minister I have sat through what have appeared to be countless housing debates, here in the Chamber and in Committee. I have yet to hear, on any occasion, an Opposition Member speak on behalf of tenants. The hon. Member for Reading North, was at his most typical, and repeated the kind of thing he said in Committee, namely, that he wanted to make a plea on behalf of landlords. Hon. Members opposite can never be accused of not making pleas on behalf of landlords.

Many landlords are seeking, perhaps in vain, to get a small return on a small property and the economic climate is highly unsatisfactory for them. At the same time, far too many landlords are still, in almost the last quarter of the 20th century, behaving in an almost legendary way—the way in which landlords behaved in the fiction of Charles Dickens and others. From my constituency, day by day, including today, I get letters from the constituents and at weekends I visit the homes of those who have been victimised in the most unscrupulous and appalling ways by absentee landlords who treat them badly and are not fitted to operate a tenancy of this kind.

I understand the reasons for the hon. Gentleman speaking as he does, but I cannot accept the spirit in which he and his party approach these subjects—landlords, landlords, all the way, and scarcely ever a word for tenants.

In addition, the Conservative Party operates far too much on the basis of conjecture and imagination rather than fact. If there was one phrase which occurred again and again during the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, North it was "I believe". Almost every extreme assertion of alleged fact was preceded by "I believe". The hon. Gentleman then went on to make statements which cannot be borne out. He spoke of "an impossible job for rent officers", "an almost impossible backlog", "the rent officer service being worked off its feet" and "tremendous delay". He is supported, not in his language but in his sentiments, by his hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott).

What is claimed by the hon. Member for Reading, North about the effect of our legislation on the rent officer service simply is not true. At the time of the passing of the Rent Act 1974 it was expected that some further strengthening of the service would be required, to deal principally with the further general decontrol work which would result from the Housing Finance Act 1972, and to ensure that the service could cope with the former furnished sector coming within its jurisdiction. It was estimated that a further 55 rent officers and 88 supporting staff would be recruited.

With the ending of general decontrol, these proposals have been dropped. The Conservative Party came to power with great claims about the way in which it would reduce the Civil Service, but the numbers employed in the Civil Service rose when the Conservatives were in power. In the rent officer service we do not intend to increase the numbers. We find that it is not necessary to do so. The present strength of the service is 550 rent officers and 900 supporting staff, and this complement is quite sufficient to deal with current work. Any further strengthening will be to meet short-term bulges in work, and will normally be met by temporary appointments.

In many areas existing backlogs have disappeared and rent officers are dealing with current work. Where there is spare capacity, it is wherever possible being used to help harder pressed neighbours. Two areas being helped in this way are Birmingham and Newcastle, which have the largest backlogs, but help is being given across county borders, and, indeed, across panel boundaries.

With the loss of decontrol work, in most areas, the former furnished cases are not being kept waiting. Six thousand two hundred former furnished applications have been received throughout the country, of which 2,000 have been dealt with, 1,400 have been withdrawn and 2,800 are in hand.

There is certainly no backlog in Berkshire. The 330 cases in hand are all current work; 91 furnished applications have been received, 14 withdrawn, 46 determined and 31 are in hand. There are no problems here.

At present we are at fullest strength in the service. I am convinced that the rent officer service is carrying out efficiently and compassionately the rôle assigned to it—to give the public a service it deserves and needs. I say to the hon. Gentleman—who is not given to rash charges and is moderate in his expressions, even if I cannot generally bring myself totally to agree with him—that I regret his language when he talked about "duress" and "stress" from a rent officer. That is a serious allegation. I have had the opportunity of meeting rent officers in conference, discussing their work with them in private and meeting them in other ways, and I have found that they are dedicated to what they rightly believe is a public service. Although it is possible to have subjective views about their behaviour, I think it was unfortunate for the hon. Gentleman to use the language he did about a rent officer who could certainly be identified.

I wish to make two points. First, for the greater part of my speech I spoke about tenants; and the minor part of my remarks dealt with landlords. I spent a considerable time on students, young marrieds, and the proportion of single people. Let us get the matter in proportion. Secondly, I did not wish to bring the case out into the open, but I will send the hon. Gentleman the details.

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I shall ensure that anything he puts to us will be looked into.

Will the Minister say what is the average delay between approach and settlement?

Not without notice. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and give him my best information.

The hon. Member for Chelsea chided us for not bringing forward evidence about the working of the Rent Act and rightly said that it was the Government's responsibility to accumulate such evidence. We shall take what measures we can to obtain evidence which we shall make available to the House. When allegations are made about the ill effects of the Rent Act, we say that they should not be based on nebulous statements but that facts should be brought forward to underpin the allegations. We are not saying that it is the responsibility of the Opposition or other bodies outside the House to provide us with evidence—evidence which it is our responsibility to collect, so far as we can—but if allegations are made about the disastrous effects of the Act—the effect on the rented market, on the homeless, on resident landlords who do not wish to let—it is only fair that those who make the allegations should buttress them with statistical information rather than intermittent anecdotal information. Everybody in the House can bring forward an anecdote, but the only information I have seen so far about the working of the Rent Act is a brief piece in New Society about cards in shop windows—a respectable piece of research but one from which no large conclusions could be drawn.

I hope the hon. Member for Chelsea is not going to refer to the Conservatives' bible "Putting Britain First" or Time Out which I think they cite these days.

I was going to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he had received any communication from the National Union of Students about the operation of the Rent Act 1974?

I shall come to the subject of students in a moment. The hon. Member for Reading, North was moderate on this topic, and, indeed, we had a moderate statement from the Vice-Chancellor of Reading. We are giving consideration to students following the undertaking we gave during the passage of the Rent Bill.

The hon. Member for Reading, North referred to young married couples. It is true that if they cannot get anywhere else to live they have to fall back on furnished accommodation, but there seems to be some delusion on the part of many Conservatives that most young people require that type of accommodation. It seems to be a phantasmagorical impression on the part of Conservatives—we used to get it at one time from the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi)—that the first thing a couple do when they get married is to look for a furnished flat. That is not so. Experience of my constituents who find themselves in such a position is that they do one of two things—they either try to buy a house, if they can get the deposit, or try to rent an unfurnished house, mainly through the local authority.

We have never denied that furnished accommodation is useful at the margin but it can never be more than at the margin. The main tenancy supply must be left to local authorities, for the very reason which the hon. Gentleman gave—that the private rented market has gradually declined, not because of legislation passed by this Government, but over a period, and inexorably. He was right to accuse his own party of having contributed to whatever problems there are in the private tenancy sector, because the most drastic loss of rented housing—about 300,000 a year—in recent years occurred between 1958 and 1964, when the Conservative Party was in power and during the period of greatest decontrol.

The graphs, as it were, of decontrol and the decline of rented accommodation do not march together. Whatever happens, whether a Government like ours bring in legislation to assist tenants, or a Conservative Government bring in legislation to assist landlords, the graph of rented accommodation declines, because it is no longer, and can never be again, a profitable field of investment. It cannot be, because landlords cannot secure, without rents being enormous, a return from tenants which will enable them to maintain their properties and at the same time secure a return on their investment. That is the reason why private rented sector is disappearing.

The hon. Member for Chelsea might have looked behind him when he was claiming, genuinely, that his party did not believe in decontrol and leaving tenants to fend for themselves. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), an admirable disciple of his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), shook his head in a severe manner when the hon. Member for Chelsea was saying that.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is right. The only way one will restore the private rented sector is by removing controls, allowing private landlords to name their own rents and removing protection from the tenants.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West agrees. He is most straightforward in his views. One knows where he stands on all things, including this one.

The hon. Member for Reading, North referred to the student situation. We made clear during the passage of the Act that we would seek to set up a registration system for students and reduce the measure of control for students which exists in the Act. We asked the House to reverse the amendments put in by another place on the understanding that a registration system would be set up.

I regret that the Evening Standard, in a report which appeared a few days ago, implied that our proposal to set up a registration system and amend the Act in that respect only was something of a climb-down from the position we took during the passage of the Act. But my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction gave a commitment that we would do this, and it was only lack of time which prevented us from attempting to do it during the passage of the Act.

We are at work on it and are hopeful that we shall be able to introduce such a registration system in time for the new academic year. I cannot give an undertaking—Parliament will have to decide whether it passes the legislation—but it is our aim to bring it forward, if we can, in time for the new academic year, in order to allay precisely the kind of problems to which the Vice-Chancellor of Reading University referred when he was in conversation with the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member also claimed that landlords were withdrawing accommodation from the market. Here again, we have anecdotal rather than statistical information. I cannot say whether the hon. Gentleman is right or not. What I will say is that if landlords are withdrawing accommodation from the market, and if, in particular, resident landlords are withdrawing accommodation in their own houses, it is because they have been misled by the somewhat hysterical propaganda which has been got up by some hon. Members opposite and interests outside the House.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), during the General Election, used a memorable combination of words about one of my right hon. Friends going about stirring up complacency. Nobody in this Government is going about stirring up complacency about the operation of the Rent Act, but some people are going about stirring up quite unnecessary fears among landlords, and particularly among would-be resident landlords, about what would happen to them if they let rooms in their houses.

Going back to an earlier point about the whole position of landlords, the Minister rightly said that it was my view that rents must ultimately be allowed to rise to their market level. One of the other ways in which the landlord could be brought back into business would be by giving him some measure of tax relief. One of the difficulties the landlord has is that he is competing with the owner-occupier. The owner-occupier has his tax relief in respect of his mortgage interest payments, whereas the landlord has no tax relief. Even if rents were allowed to rise to the market level, the landlord would always be competing unfairly against the owner-occupier.

I am astonished and pained by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. That he of all people should suggest that we should interfere with the free working of the market by a subsidy to landlords, which is what he is proposing, is very hurtful to me. I thought that there were three or four Tories left in the House of Commons—of whom he was one. I shall now have to reduce that figure.

There is widespread misunderstanding among resident landlords. Part of it is a fear that the Labour Government may again extend the provisions of control and whip them in at some point in the future. As the Minister knows, I was not in the House in the summer when the Rent Bill became law. However, it was my understanding that at that time the Government undertook to consider the publication of a simple guide to the Act. That would help to remove these misunderstandings. I have seen no sign of such a guide yet.

That is a fair point. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House at the time of the passage of the Act. If he had been, we would have had a much more agreeable time in Standing Committee and perhaps we would not have had to go through those ludicrous all-night sittings. The hon. Gentleman is a reasonable man. I will not say the same for all the opinions he proffers.

I agree that it is very necessary for us to make the position clear, and I think that it is right that we should look again at ways of making the position clear. I accept that entirely from the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman said that this Government do not know where they are going in housing policy. We know exactly where we are going. We are attempting two things. First, we are attempting to expand the market for owner-occupation. We inherited the most appallingly disastrous situation for the private developers and builders, who came to tell us of the straits into which they had been plunged by the policies of the Tory Party. The market for private building had almost disappeared when we came into office.

Through the £500 million bridging loan, which was bitterly attacked by Tory Members when we brought it forward, we have now been able to bring about a much healthier mortgage position. There is now a great deal of mortgage money about. We are hopeful that before long we shall be able to bring forward further proposals which will give incentives to people to buy houses. But I must not stray into a later debate which we shall have on the Second Reading of the Bill and during which, with the leave of the House, I shall be able to reply to further remarks from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

One prong of our policy is the expansion of owner-occupation, but the other prong is the expansion of rented accommodation through what my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction vividly calls the social landlord—local authorities and the voluntary housing movement, whose efforts we have stimulated through the Housing Act 1974, an improved version of the Housing and Planning Bill introduced by the Conservative Party in its dying days in government.

I am happy to tell hon. Members opposite that while we have no cause for complacency and only a little room for optimism, at the moment, as regards owner-occupation—we must do a great deal more over the years to expand that sector—the number of starts in council house building is markedly up, and the number of council houses which will be started next year and the year after will increase in a way which will assist. This is the only way in which we can begin to make inroads on the problem of helping people who wish to rent houses.

Meanwhile, we have the Rent Act, which has been attacked by the Opposition for perfectly respectable ideological reasons but which we defend for equally respectable ideological reasons. We believe that it was right to introduce it. We have provided protection for about 80 per cent. of the 764,000 furnished tenants in the country as a whole and for about 75 per cent. of the 279,000 furnished tenants in London.

We built into the Bill protection for resident landlords, and I say without equivocation to the hon. Member for Chelsea that that protection will not be eroded. That protection stands. We built in that protection because we believe that the only sector for private landlordism which should survive in the long run is that of the resident landlord who lets rooms, whether furnished or unfurnished, in his own house. That is a useful contribution to making housing accommodation available, and we wish to provide the necessary protection for the resident landlord to continue to make it available.

The hon. Member for Reading, North and I sat through many long, weary and rather grubby hours in Committee while the Rent Bill was being dealt with. It was subject to attack at the time, and it has been subject to attack since. If I am associated with no other piece of legislation during the period that I am a Member I shall be proud to have been associated with that Bill, and I am satisfied that though it may from time to time have to be looked at again—as any legislation may have to be looked at—it is a worthy piece of legislation which has brought about a good deal of happiness to people who were under threat.

May I put the record straight? I did not serve on the Committee on that Bill.

I am sorry. That is a good illustration of the stress to which I was subjected by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). The hon. Member for Reading, North served on some Bill with me. It might as well have been that one for all the good he did in amending it.

Northern Ireland (Customs Service)

11.40 p.m.

My colleagues and I were motivated to seek this debate on the Customs Service in Northern Ireland—with special reference to their functions in relation to the land frontiers—by three factors. The first was the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and me on recent tours of the frontier, where we noticed that there was no apparent liaison or co-ordination between the security forces and personnel from Her Majesty's Customs. That view was subsequently reinforced in various discussions which we had with people during that tour.

The second factor was the answer given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 16th January 1975 when, in reply to a question as to how many persons had been the subject of exclusion orders made under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, he indicated that no orders had been made. However, notwithstanding the difficulties involved, he considered that the control of the borders was essential, and said:
"I intend to carry out this Act because I believe that it is necessary." [Official Report, 16th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 654.]
Strong representations were made to hon. Members with border constituencies by legitimate business interests who were concerned by the delays and difficulties experienced at the frontier crossings. As a consequence of our decision to seek this debate, I decided last weekend to investigate personally the conditions which existed along the land frontier of my constituency and with particular reference to the six approved crossings. I did not do that with any malice. I did it on three days within the last week, during the afternoon, when one would have expected normal conditions to have existed. I did it at what was considered by members of the security forces to be considerable risk to myself, because they refused to accompany me on one of the days when I asked for a security guard. Nevertheless, this was done in an attempt to produce a spot check report on conditions which existed there.

Before giving that report I shall remind hon. Members of this part of my constituency. The border is extremely long, and meanders over desolate land and, frequently, mountainous country. When one looks round the barren greenness of this Chamber one almost feels at home.

There are approximately 90 crossings along that section of the frontier in my constituency. They range from the main trunk route between Belfast and Dublin to rutted mountain tracks. There are six approved crossings and two concessionary crossing points where the Dundalk-Castleblaney road enters and leaves my constituency. The Army, with varying degrees of success, have attempted to close many of the crossings. The six approved crossings are the A3 at Ardgonnel, two miles outside Middletown, the crossing of the B32 at Carrickduff, four miles outside Keady, the crossing of the B30 at Cullaville, two miles outside Crossmaglen, the crossing of the A29 at Tullydonnell, two miles from Forkhill, the crossing of the A1 at Killeen, on the Belfast-Dublin road, and the crossing of the Newry-Omeath road. That list reads like a war record.

On 18th January, accompanied by my agent Mr. J. A. Anderson, I visited the Middletown and Keady crossings. On Sunday afternoon, 19th January, accompanied by my wife, I visited the crossings at Omeath and Killeen, and on Monday, 20th January, again accompanied by my agent, I visited Cullaville and Tullydonnell.

At Middletown the customs post has been moved back four miles from the border. There was a sign displayed outside the temporary building stating "Customs—Stop". I drove past it both going out of Northern Ireland and returning to Northern Ireland. All the other traffic did the same, with the exception of one lorry. No attempt was made to stop me or even to request me to stop. However, I did stop and I returned to the post, identified myself to the customs officials there and learned that they make no attempt to stop any traffic. They told me that they were open from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., although I was unable to confirm that one way or the other.

Certainly they had no knowledge of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974. I have learned subsequently that they did not need to have any knowledge of that Act, because they are not examining officers. But, as people involved in the control of the frontier, I should have thought that they would at least have been briefed about the order as it applies to Northern Ireland and concerned about its operation and perhaps how they might be involved in it.

The village of Middletown lies between the post and the border, and the Army has an efficient permanent vehicle checkpoint there. I understand that the Army feels that this would be a useful place for Customs examinations to be made. However, there is no liaison between the Army and the Customs. If soldiers venture anywhere near the Customs officers, they shut up shop and drive off in their cars. They will have no contact with the security forces, and perhaps this is understandable. But they perform no function as examining officers, and I question whether they perform any function as Customs officers.

At Keady, the post has been moved back a mile from the border. No attempt was made to stop me leaving Northern Ireland and no other vehicles stopped while I was in the area. I stopped there again when I returned to Northern Ireland and spoke to a Customs officer. He told me that the post was open from 9 am to 6 pm. I asked him what procedures I had to observe when entering and when leaving Northern Ireland. When I was last there, which was in 1968 or 1969, there were fairly strict procedures in operation. However, I was told that there are none now. What is more, due to the position of this post, vehicles can disperse before reaching it.

At Omeath, on Sunday afternoon, I was unable to locate the Customs post. Later I discovered that it is housed in an ordinary caravan parked at the side of the road. It is about two miles from the border. There are no signs indicating that it is a Customs post. There was no obvious presence there, the curtains being drawn and the door closed. Further up the road there is a permanent vehicle check point operated by the Army, and all vehicles entering or leaving Northern Ireland are checked.

As a result of the interest in Flagstaff Road, which has some notoriety because our security forces were obliged to take down a permanent blockage there, I turned into Flagstaff Road. I drove past the Eire Army's permanent check point. The soldier on duty made no attempt to stop me. I reversed and stopped beside him. I asked whether he wanted to ask me any questions or to search my car. He told me to drive on. A little further on, an Eire Customs officer pulled aside the barrier and let me drive on. We were assured that there was control on that very dangerous road, but I saw no evidence of it. I returned to Northern Ireland by an unapproved border crossing, which is illegal.

At Killeen, the post has been moved one mile back from its original position. I drove past it into the Republic. I turned, and drove back into Northern Ireland. As I approached the post, I slowed as if to stop. A Customs officer put his arm out of a window and waved me on as if I had no business even to think of stopping.

At Cullaville, the permanent post has been destroyed. This is one of the very dangerous areas in my constituency. There is no temporary post. I crossed the border. I did not realise that I was crossing it, but I noticed some Gaelic hieroglyphics on a sign and I realised that I was outside the Eire Customs post. The Eire official waved me on. He was annoyed when I did not move, and asked what I wanted. I asked where the British Customs post was. He said, "You need not worry; they are not here any more." That is an "approved" crossing point. At Tullydonnell, the permanent post has been destroyed. There are signs showing that there should be a temporary post, but it is not there. Traffic was moving quite freely.

So of six approved crossings, at two we have no control at all, at two there are efficient vehicle checkpoints manned by the Army, but no Customs staff, and four of the six have a Customs presence but no control is being exercised. The two permanent posts are at the extreme eastern and western ends of my constituency, so that whole border area is completely open to the free movement of traffic. The Secretary of State has said that the implementation of this statute is essential to control the frontier, so this needs some examination.

How many border posts are operational and effective in County Armagh even for the normal Customs function? How many uniformed Customs officers are engaged along that frontier? What are the opening and closing times of the Customs posts? What is their function? I have seen them perform none. Are they, as we have heard, authorised not to co-operate with the other security forces? Finally, are they really necessary? If they are performing no function, there must be something better they can do somewhere else. I should like to know who are the designated examining officers under the anti-terrorist Acts, and whether they are on the spot to perform their duties.

Over 100 lives have been lost in County Armagh in the present troubles, and over 50 were members of the security forces. A soldier going to Northern Ireland is twice as likely to be killed in County Armagh as in any other constituency. In the deep south of the county, 30 soldiers and one terrorist have been killed. One could ask, who is winning what war?

There is a free and easy transfer of arms and explosives over that border. I do not expect Customs officers to control that flow, but if we are ever to convince the enemy that we see the frontier as establishing Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, we should make sure that frontier controls work. We should use the Customs officers to show that any traveller is leaving a hostile country and entering my country.

11.54 p.m.

I think it will be agreed that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) has performed a service in bringing before the House the circumstances and conditions on which he has been able to report first-hand. But I think it would also be right to link with the recognition to my hon. Friend a word to the Financial Secretary, who is at present carrying a very heavy load in other directions and has made himself available, as the representative of the Department responsible for Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, to listen to the debate, to take note of the points and, so far as may be at this stage—no doubt more fully later—to respond. I would certainly link with that a reference to the representative of the Northern Ireland Office, for in this respect the responsibility of the two Departments of State is very difficult to disentangle.

There are two distinct aspects to the subject which my hon. Friend was covering. One is the functioning of the Customs on the international frontier in the narrower sense of the term—the Customs as the service which has the object of ensuring that whatever duty is payable is, as far as may be, levied, and that there is no reasonably avoidable loss of sums which are due by way of duty.

In that more limited context of the work of the Customs, properly so called, I think that a scandalous situation is disclosed in County Armagh. As my hon. Friend very reasonably observed, if the Customs officers and the Customs posts which are there are not in fact exercising any Customs control over the traffic passing those points, that manpower could certainly be better used in other directions. I may say that it could be better used not many miles away; for certainly the Under-Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office will be aware of the existence in Newry in my constituency, on the main route among those mentioned by my hon. Friend, of a vehicle Customs post, and I must bring to the attention of the Government the unsatisfactory nature of the service which is provided at that Customs post.

If I may quote from one statement which was given to me by the CBI of Northern Ireland:
"The service given by Customs"—
at that point—
"has not been uprated to deal with the ever-increasing volume of traffic passing this way, and they have neither sufficient staff nor the right sort of premises to carry out checks"
on the type of vehicles and the volume of traffic which is now passing.

Again, the Road Transport Association of Northern Ireland, referring to the same post, describe it as
"completely inadequate, having regard to the volume of business"
and says that
"vehicles have no alternative but to park on both sides of the public highway causing a traffic hazard."
There is also very serious complaint about the adequacy of the manning of the post at Newry. The opening hours at present are, at any rate ostensibly, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In practice it is found that traffic builds up rapidly just after opening time and around the closing time. This has a very serious economic effect upon road hauliers who are making relatively short journeys; for a delay of that kind, at that time and at that point, can prevent a round journey being made within one working day, which especially for a small haulier, can be a very heavy economic burden indeed.

I should add finally, while I am on the subject of the unsatisfactory Customs arrangements at Newry, that while Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have assured the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who assembled these observations, that
"any driver who is delayed or wishes to pass through Customs after 5 p.m. merely has to telephone and, on payment of a small fee, arrangements will be made to clear him outside hours,"
I must tell the Financial Secretary that this is a highly imaginative piece of information in the light of what I have been assured not once but repeatedly by the road hauliers who are using that road. So, merely for the proper performance of the ordinary Customs functions as anywhere else in the Kingdom, it is clear that major improvements are necessary at the Newry customs post both physically and in respect of manning.

If the Government are looking for the nearest place to find additional manpower the investigations of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh suggest that many of the personnel who are idle in Customs posts at or near the border which are not working properly could be utilised in Newry in order to facilitate the flow of traffic through the post there.

That brings me from the narrower aspect of the Customs to the broader and more urgent aspect of control in the wider sense over the crossing of the frontier. I venture to remind the House—though it is less full now than it was when the decisions were taken under two months ago—of the form of control which it then decided requires to be exercised. Section 8 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 empowers the Secretary of State—I pause there to observe that although, as is invariable in statutes, the power is couched in permissive form—
"The Secretary of State may … provide"
for certain following things—the clear intention of Parliament, and the normal interpretation of the meaning of a statute, is that the Secretary of State shall provide. When the House passed the Act it did not mean that it would be no bad idea if, occasionally, when he thought fit, the Secretary of State instituted some kind of control. This is none other than the standard form in which the House gives instructions as well as powers to the Ministers of the Crown.

I resume after that digression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, intended to make sure that there is no misunderstanding of the importance and intention of that provision. Section 8 says that the Secretary of State is to provide for
"the examination of persons arriving in … Northern Ireland".
Again I pause to say that by an order made by virtue of that section it was made perfectly clear that the arrival in Northern Ireland which is referred to includes arrival in Northern Ireland by land. Over and over again in Statutory Instrument 2038/74 provision is made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to cover entry into Northern Ireland by land from the Republic.

Again I resume. The Secretary of State is to provide for
"the examination of persons arriving in … Northern Ireland"
by land
"with a view to determining—
(i) whether any such person appears to be a person concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".
I pass no judgment upon the general appearance of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh, but even if he had borne innocence upon every trait of his features, even if the vehicle and the man had screamed innocence, there would have been nobody, in most cases, to take note of it.

Persons are to be examined
"with a view to determining—
  • (i) whether any such person appears to be a person concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, or
  • (ii) whether any such person is subject to an exclusion order".
  • I pause again. The exclusion orders which have been made by the Home Secretary are, in a number of cases at any rate, exclusion orders which apply to the United Kingdom as a whole. They forbid persons to return to the United Kingdom, from which they have been excluded by order of the Home Secretary in pursuance of the decisions of the House. The second of the objects of the control which the Secretary of State is to institute is to ascertain whether they are among the persons seeking to enter Northern Ireland by land.

    The section continues:
    "(iii) whether there are grounds for suspecting that any such person has committed an offence under section 3(8) of this Act"—
    that is, other offences connected with exclusion orders.

    It will be clear that it was the intention of the House that there should be a real and thorough control for those purposes upon entry into the United Kingdom. I am not saying that in order to be real and thorough the control needs to be either 100 per cent. or even 24-hour. What I am saying is that the circumstances which exist on that frontier today, as described by my hon. Friend, and observed by myself on the other occasion to which he referred, in no way correspond—cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as corresponding—to the duty laid upon the Secretary of State and the Government by the House in the Act which was deemed necessary as recently as November of last year.

    We have, then, an Act which says that there is to be that control, with those purposes, for the examination upon those criteria of persons entering Northern Ireland by land. I ask, to whom has the responsibility for carrying it out been assigned by the Secretary of State?

    A few days ago I asked the Treasury how many Customs and Excise personnel were engaged in Northern Ireland in the control of points of entry by land, sea and air respectively. I was given the respective numbers, which were 232, 60 and seven. I also asked, in view of the duties and powers given to them under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974, what increases were proposed in their numbers. In his reply, the Paymaster-General drew my attention to the fact that at present no such functions had been assigned to Custom sand Excise officers. He said:
    "Customs and Excise officers carry out immigration functions only at a small number of Northern Irish seaports"—[Official Report, 13th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 22.]
    If that is so then, of the three types of servant of the Crown mentioned as potential examining officers in the relevant order, one is eliminated: there are no Customs officers serving that purpose. So we are left with the constabulary and, secondly, wtth the immigration service. I want to know whether the constabulary or the immigration service have been assigned to the duties of examining officers on that frontier. We should know how many have been so assigned. We should also know something about the manner in which their duties are carried out. We need to do so after the revelations of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh. The clear implication of his evidence is that in effect there is no control, and that if examining officers exist they are lucus a non lucendo, named from the opposite of what they actually do; they are certainly not officers who examine.

    Perhaps it may be said that this is too nice an interpretation either of the intention of the Act or of the policy of the Government. It might be said—I do not think that it should be said—that the Government regard the provisions to which I have referred as merely existing in terrorem, as a deterrent, as something which is nice to have on the statute book, something which is handy to pull out in a particular case but which is not intended as far as may be practicable to be actually applied. I am glad to be assured that that is not so.

    I quote again the words of the Secretary of State on 16th January that have already been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh. It is not my opinion of the right hon. Gentleman that he is careless in the use of language. On the contrary, I regard him from my experience as a man who when he says something carefully means it and intends to carry it out. He said:
    "It would be idle to pretend that there are not difficulties, given the nature and the length of the border.…"
    Of course there are difficulties. One would be foolish to deny or to minimise them, as foolish as one would be to suggest that the difficulties render negatory the intention of Parliament, the passage of the Act and the intention of the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman said:
    "I intend to carry out this Act…"
    That is the Act that I have just read to the House. We have the right hon. Gentleman's word that he intends to carry it out. He continued:
    "I believe that it is necessary."—[Official Report, 16th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 654.]
    So do we who represent Northern Irish constituencies both on the frontier and elsewhere in the Province. We, too, believe that it is necessary.

    We raise this debate not for the purpose of petty criticism. There might be a humorous aspect to one or two of the observations of my hon. Friend, but there is nothing to laugh at in the whole of this matter. It is serious indeed. We are confronted with the fact that the Act and the order made by the Secretary of State are, for all practical purposes, not being carried out.

    We wish to use this debate as a means of encouraging the Government to institute an urgent investigation not only of the Customs position, to which I have drawn attention, but of the non-implementation of the intention of the Secretary of State. We ask the Government to do that. It is manifestly their duty to do so without being asked. What is more, we assure them that despite the difficulties that they will face in making the Act a practical reality, which it is not at present, they will in so doing enjoy the total support of all the United Ulster Unionist Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. I am pretty sure that, if they were here, other Members of other parties from both sides of the House who passed the Act would assure the Government of similar support.

    There is an ultimate reason why, to use the adjective of the Secretary of State, this is necessary.

    The loss of life, of property, the loss even of hope, which has devastated Northern Ireland for near upon six years now, has its root cause in an ambiguity, a doubt, an uncertainty which has permitted and encouraged the violence of a tiny minority, the violence of the enemy, to whom my hon. Friend referred. Every act of Government which removes that uncertainty, which renders it clear what the status of Northern Ireland is to be, is the most direct contribution towards the restoration of peace and the preservation of the lives, both of the security forces and of those whom it is their duty to protect.

    The fact that, having passed an Act to control the border, this House insists upon it being reasonably seriously fulfilled is one of the principal ways in which that sureness of purpose can be asserted and ambiguity can be banished from the scene. My hon. Friend, on an impulse of the moment, discerning the expanse of green opposite, was tempted to imagine that he was once again on his native heath and peering across the border. I assure Ministers on the Treasury Bench that this is not how we on this bench regard them. We on this bench consider ourselves duty bound not merely to prompt but to assist the Government in carrying out the duty of Government in Northern Ireland. I hope that it is in that sense that any criticism we have offered tonight will be taken and will be acted upon.

    12.17 p.m.

    It is more with trepidation than with diffidence that I attempt to reply to a debate that was opened so eloquently by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), supported by his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I have to reply to the debate because it is primarily concerned with Customs matters. Before I reach the more serious aspects of the debate I must say to the hon. Member for Armagh that he is indeed a happy fellow if, every time he sees these benches, visions of the county of Armagh float before his eyes. I only wish that I was so fortunate at any time, day or night, to be so privileged.

    We do have some farms in my constituency of Dudley, but I must not expand on that now. The hon. Member recognised, as did his right hon. Friend, that there are terrible difficulties on the border and it would be almost patronising for me to refer to them because I have not a tithe of the knowledge that he and his right hon. Friend have about them. I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that this is a matter ranging wider than the Treasury. It ranges over the responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has been listening to this debate with me.

    I shall first attempt to deal with the specific questions put by the hon. Member about various border points that he inspected a short time ago. He talked of the border post at Middletown. I am advised, as he is doubtless already aware, that the post has been moved back to its present position from a site nearer the border where it had been repeatedly destroyed. On the day that he was there and spoke to the staff on duty it was not manned from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. but from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In that respect the information I am giving might be said to confirm his worst apprehensions. The post is not supposed to be open as long as he expected.

    The post at Keady has not been re-sited during the emergency but has been in position for several years, and is manned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I have to say to the hon. Member that we have inquired into his movements, or such as we can trace. The officer at Keady knows him well, and I gather, from the freedom with which he moves around, that many officers know him well. The officer at Keady did not see him, any more than he saw the officer. I cannot understand how it came about that they were looking in the wrong directions, but I am assumed that the officer on duty that day when he paid the visit knows him—

    I shall not quibble, but I stopped my car and walked in and had a talk with the officer. I did not identify myself.

    I am advised that the officer did not think he had seen the hon. Gentleman, so there is some confusion of identity somewhere.

    I am advised that at Omeath, although the hon. Member was not aware of the Customs presence, the officers were on duty until 6 p.m. that day. The caravan and stop sign were burnt on 13th January, six days before his visit, and the stop sign has, unfortunately, not yet been replaced.

    At Killeen, the officer on duty apparently saw no reason to stop the hon. Member's car, because he is, as we have agreed, well known to many officers on that border. [Interruption.] I hope I am not implying anything improper about his movements, but that is what I am advised.

    The posts at Cullaville and Tullydonnell are on roads which carry little commercial traffic. They are not at present manned, and are being covered by Customs patrols. It is not the case that there is no Customs control on the land boundary. We are maintaining our controls, which are primarily concerned with the movement of goods. This is done both by selective examination of traffic at patrol points and by the patrolling of roads.

    Very largely, the rates of duty on most goods in the Republic do not vary much from those in the United Kingdom, but there is some risk of evasion, and duty has to be paid. Those Customs officers who are on the spot carry out their duties in conditions of considerable hazard. I repudiate any suggestion that they are lax in the exercise of their duties. They have an extremely difficult job—probably the most difficult job of any civilian in the United Kingdom—and they are probably the most significantly exposed officers in the United Kingdom, in the exercise of their duties.

    The right hon. Member for Down, South spoke of the scandalous situation of the Customs service, and raised complaints about the service which he said was not available at Newry. He said that there were not sufficient staff and that there were inadequate premises, and quoted from a CBI report to that effect. As he will be aware, the Customs station at Newry was bombed and virtually totally destroyed in 1972, and four members of the staff were killed on that occasion. Since then, the staff have been working in makeshift accommodation, which does not make their job any easier.

    In August last year Customs and Excise introduced a new system of processing documents at Newry specifically to facilitate the movement of lorry traffic through the control at that point and to attempt to reduce congestion there. The reports we have from our collector at Belfast all suggest that these procedures have been an improvement and have been welcomed. I was not aware of any recent complaints until the right hon. Gentleman spoke, but I will undertake to look into the matters he has raised.

    Passing to the question of immigration control, which was raised primarily by the right hon. Member for Down, South, I shall always bow to him in knowledge of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, but when he was discussing various categories of individuals who were eligible to be appointed as examining officers, he mentioned constables, immigration officers and officers of Customs and Excise who are listed under paragraph 2(a), (b) and (c) of Schedule 3 of the Act, but he did not include members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces who, under paragraph 3 of the same schedule, can perform the functions.

    Immigration matters on the border are primarily security matters, and the prime responsibility for them lies with the constabulary and Her Majesty's Armed Forces. The rôle of Customs in controlling immigration in Northern Ireland is in no way related to security matters and has for some time been operated solely with respect to immigration at the few airports and small seaports in Northern Ireland. That is the full extent of their involvement in immigration control, and that has been so for a considerable time.

    Will the Financial Secretary, either now or later, please answer this question: to whom, apart from the Army, have the duty of the examining officers under the Act and the order now been assigned?

    I am relying on the text of the Act in front of me. I have neither day-to-day experience nor departmental responsibility for this aspect. I am responsible only for Customs and Excise matters, which are not involved. To answer the question, I should have to be familiar with the responsibilities of another Department. As I read Schedule 3, other than members of the Armed Forces, the constabulary would be involved, but I hesitate to give the definitive answer because it is a matter which is outside my responsibility.

    I well understand, and I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentle- man a second time. Those are the categories that can be examining officers. The practical question of my hon. Friend and myself is, to whom are these duties on that frontier actually assigned? Who, apart from the Army, is carrying them out? The hon. Gentleman and his colleague might arrange for that question to be answered specifically later. I appreciate that there is a difficulty here of different departmental responsibilities being involved.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for appreciating my difficulties tonight. I am sure that if he seeks the information by tabling the appropriate question, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will seek to give him the information he requires. I have sought to examine the question of immigration control, but I must emphasise that the Customs authorities have no function at all in security matters.

    I must apologise to the hon. Member for Armagh for not answering his specific questions about the number of uniformed officials assigned to border positions and patrols in his country. I shall try to give him the information as soon as possible.

    Will the hon. Gentleman confirm whether a car leaving the Republic has to stop at the post? This is a critical matter even in the normal performance of customs officers' duties.

    I understand—I speak subject to correction—that if it involves a free-travel area, these matters are enforced by spot checks. I shall take advice on the subject, but that is my understanding of the situation. I shall try to give the hon. Gentleman the information which he seeks as to how many uniformed officers are engaged in Customs work in Armagh. If he would like to approach the matter by means of a Question, exactly the same course is open to him as to his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South.

    I hope the answers I have given have satisfied the hon. Member for Armagh. I assure him and the right hon. Gentleman that we treat these matters just as seriously as they do. We are fully aware of all the implications of what has been said in this debate. It is our concern to see that controls in the Customs Service are exercised in a proper way and that, given the appalling conditions in which members of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have to work on the border, there is no avoidable loss to the Revenue and that people attempting to evade payment of proper duties are prevented from so doing.

    Does the hon. Gentleman intend to have a proper departmental examination of the rôle of the Customs officers in implementing the 1974 Act?

    I should like notice of that question. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Schedule 3, I shall not say that that provision is a dead letter in respect of the Customs and Excise Service, but the whole thrust of the Act, so to speak, has been to the effect that Customs and Excise officers are in no way involved in the prevention of terrorism and security matters. I think it would be the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House that that state of affairs should continue.

    Armed Forces (Recruiting)

    12.33 a.m.

    The subject of recruiting has exercised the House of Commons for many years. As we remember from history, there has always been difficulty in persuading young men to come forward for the various Armed Services. In the past we have had to resort to press gangs, recruiting sergeants and all the rest to try to make young men take the Queen's shilling.

    We have moved from those rather extraordinary times to something more spohisticated in recruiting terms in that we try to persuade, by all means available to us, those we should like to see in our Armed Services. Yet clearly as Britain's rôle in the world has changed, so the opportunity available for young men—and nowadays for young women—to join the Armed Services as a way of seeing the world also has changed. Thus, the task of those who seek to keep up the numbers of our Armed Forces is entirely different. They have to find the essential element that attracts young people to the Services and have to play on certain themes to persuade young people to come forward. Yet I suggest that whereas that is what they should be doing, they have not defined their task clearly or brought to their assistance many of the aids used by industry and commerce.

    Therefore, when I saw in the Supplementary Estimate a further £100,000 for publicity and recruiting services over and above the £1,720,000 in the Estimate, I felt that this was an opportunity to ask the Minister if he would answer some questions about the general subject of recruiting. I have taken an interest in this subject for six or nine months, and therefore some of what I want to say is the result of my not very deep research.

    First, we are spending about £6½ million on Service recruiting, advertising and promotion. But "promotion" is an ill-defined word, and if the hon. Gentleman could help me to understand exactly what comes under it, I should be grateful. For this expenditure in 1973–74, we obtained 2,237 officers recruits and 30,196 Service men and women. In other words, for the expenditure of £197·30, we obtained one recruit, never mind the rank, Service or sex. That is our base figure for the debate.

    When we break it down, however, we discover that in advertising expenditure it cost about £863·80 to obtain a Royal Navy or Royal Marine officer, £466·20 to obtain an Army officer, and £618·60 to get a Royal Air Force officer. One might say that Army officer recruiting is apparently the cheapest form of officer advertising recruiting we have.

    In other-rank terms, a sailor cost £123·90, a soldier £99, and an airman £116·70. I emphasise that these are the advertising figures. Therefore, in the recruiting of other ranks, we come up with an average figure of £100 per new other-rank recruit.

    That may not seem in these days of inflation particularly high, yet when I put it to someone in civilian life, he said, "A secretary would cost you that." I countered with the argument that, whereas industry may have to recruit a single person for a single job, we are here talking about recruiting sailors for the Royal Navy, soldiers for the Army and airmen for the RAF, and therefore we cannot use the argument that one has to have a particular advertisement for everyone one gets. So the figure of £100 for every other rank recruit, in my submission, is quite high, and I hope to be able to persuade the hon. Gentleman that it is actually even greater than I have so far suggested. Indeed, it is on this question that what I want to say turns.

    If we have to have a Supplementary Estimate and a debate on this Bill to discover why extra money is required, it is equally fair to ask what cost-benefit analysis has been carried out by the Ministry into expenditure on recruiting and whether the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the British taxpayer is getting value for money. Does he know how every pound is being used? Is he satisfied that every pound is achieving a particular target? Does he share with me the thought that recruiting is an extraordinarily haphazard process—so haphazard that no one can be in any way specific about what any piece of promotion achieves?

    For instance, we cannot divorce the figure of £6½ million for advertising in 1973–74 from the cost of what are now called career information offices but which used to be called recruiting offices, of which there are no fewer than 295 throughout the country. Those 295 career information offices and the many people staffing them are also part of the recruiting drive.

    Was the answer given to me by the Minister of State in April last year, that there were 596 civilian personnel staffing these offices, correct—or was the answer given to me on 7th November, that the number of civilian personnel was 396, correct? Whether the number is 596 or 396, there is this large number of civilian personnel employed. There are also 1,500 Service personnel manning these career information offices.

    The career information offices are filled with models of guns, and all the paraphernalia of defence. There are glossy magazines, posters, and books, claiming that one Service is better than any of the others. In short, the offices are full of material which can be described under the one word "promotion".

    Next, what is the cost of upkeep of these offices? Seventy-eight of them are freehold. How valuable are the freeholds? Two hundred and seventeen are leaseholds. When do the leases fall in? Will the Minister confirm that the cost of running the offices is £5½ million? So, instead of talking about £6½ million for recruiting advertising, we are really talking about a figure of £12 million. That is a 1973–74 figure. I wonder what it is today with the effects of inflation.

    Obtaining 32,430 recruits in the course of 1973–74 from 295 recruiting offices thus works out at 109 recruits per office, which means that we are getting two recruits per week per office. This is a fairly expensive way of recruiting young men and women for the services. The Minister must wonder with me whether we are getting value for money from these offices when the output from each office is only two recruits a week.

    Added to the recruiting offices and advertising is the cost of all the Service displays which are used to attract people. There are special parades and displays at agricultural shows. There is "beating retreat". There are mobile exhibitions. There are small mobile recruiting offices at such places as the Battle of Britain shows and the Farnborough Air Show. There are open days on warships. I suppose one might even say that there is the Royal Tournament.

    What is the cost of all those promotions? When that cost is added to the cost of the recruiting offices and the advertising expenditure, are we talking about a figure of £12 million? If not, what is the figure. If it is £12 million, it means that it costs us on average well over £200 to get an other-rank recruit. That is a lot to pay to recruit a young sailor, soldier or airman. If we add the officers, my figure of £197·30 rises to over £400. That too seems an excessive figure for what we are achieving.

    It may be that I am being very unfair. Perhaps the task of recruiting is incredibly difficult and if only I understood the problem better I should not be making this speech. But I have the feeling, backed by fact, that what I am saying would be substantiated in many career information offices.

    I recall a visit which I paid to the recruit selection centre at Sutton Cold-field last August. I asked the staff from where the recruits came. Were they attracted by the advertising—"The Professionals", which I think is the Army other-rank advertising concept; or had their fathers been in the Army? Had they walked past the recruiting office and thought, "Gosh, that is a super life. I shall join"? The staff said that they had not the faintest idea which magnet brought young people into the Services. That seems to provide fairly powerful evidence that what I am saying bears more than a grain of truth.

    However, I wish to go beyond the question of what the recruitment selection centre tells me and to use my own judgment. I thought that perhaps the best way to do this was to look through four national newspapers last week to see what sort of recruiting advertising was being carried. I selected the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Sun. I chose them in alphabetical order so that no one should think that I had any preference. It made fascinating reading, for hardly a day goes by without each of the Services vying with another for new recruits.

    It is interesting to read the arguments which are put forward in those advertisements to attract recruits. I am not in advertising professionally, though I have taken some interest in the subject, but I gather that there is one phrase which is used by advertising companies when they consider a new client and how they should approach his problems. It is to discover the "unique selling proposition" which applies to the product they are being asked to advertise—in short, USP. When I look at the Service advertisements, I feel that most of the advertising agencies—and I remind the Minister that there are seven involved in Service recruiting—have not discovered what the USP is. They do not know what they should be advertising. Therefore, there is an extraordinary hit-and-miss approach.

    I wish to carry the matter further by quoting some of the headline slogans, but at the moment I want to stick to this concept because it seems to me that one of the agencies has got it right. I do not know the name of the company, but it is the one which does the advertising for Army officers. Earlier I pointed out that we get Army officers more cheaply in advertising terms than either Royal Navy officers or Royal Air Force officers. Perhaps my judgment is supported by my eyes when I look at that advertisement, for it seemed to have got hold of a USP concept. When we had an Empire, or even the bases at Cyprus or Hong Kong or Singapore, they were attractions to offer Service men. Now we have a different, more rugged situation, in which our Services will be less attractive from the point of view of a lot of free travel and will demand from those who join them a much greater appreciation of what it means to be a soldier, an airman or a sailor today.

    As I have said, I read the advertisements which appeared between 13th January and 18th January in four national newspapers and found that the Royal Navy advertisers, who were essentially advertising for other ranks, told me that I could have "a secure future", and that if I wanted "a great career and was between the ages of 17 and 20½" I should be in the Royal Navy. I was told that I could "swap my job for a career", and that "if it was easy I would probably not be interested". That was an advertisement for helicopters pilots. As I read the slogans I wondered why they applied only to the Royal Navy rather than to a dozen other professions.

    For instance, one of the Royal Navy advertisements spoke of security and said one could earn over £2,970 at 21. It was not bad, but it did not have much to do with being in the Royal Navy.

    The Royal fleet auxiliary took a slightly different angle—it was the engineer officer cadetship that set you apart. I suppose that that is a rather elitist concept. I wonder whether it appeals to the Minister.

    Then there were the other charming advertisements, used by the Army and Navy, inviting people to write for either a "Free Book of The Facts." I suppose that when one has no other ideas a "Free Book of The Facts" will do.

    On 14th January an advertisement for Army officers appeared in the Daily Express under the heading "Are you prepared to die for them". I thought that the copywriter responsible for that advertisement had thought seriously about the USP of the Army and had come up with an advertisement which, while it required a certain amount of reading, seemed to put the Army in its contemporary setting and asked the questions that should be asked of a young person who is serious about doing something for his country. However, there was one sentence in the copy which, if it did not stick out, somehow rang a familiar bell. It said:
    "By laying such stress on the dangers of an Army officer's life it is not our intention to give anyone schoolboyish thrills. It just seems more honest at the present time than showing photos of cheery young men water-ski-ing or tinkering with advanced electronics."
    On Monday, 13th January in the Daily Mirror an R.A.F. advertisement, showed—guess what?—a young man water-ski-ing, while a naval advertisement showed a young man tinkering with electronics. I found myself wondering whether these advertisements illustrated a lack of Service recruiting co-ordination or whether the advertising agents were having a go at each other. Clearly someone is out of step with someone else, or perhaps the Army is more serious about its task than either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force.

    The Royal Air Force advertising slogans read "A better life in the RAF", "It is easy to make friends in the RAF", "Broaden your horizons. See a bit more of the world. See a bit more of life." Have those slogans much to do with being in the Royal Air Force, servicing aircraft and generally acting as a Service man? All those phrases could apply to 1,001 civilian jobs, and I suggest that whichever agencies are responsible for Royal Navy and Royal Air Force advertising should seriously consider what they are about.

    I also wonder why advertising for officer recruits is so much better than that for other ranks? Why is it so much more intelligent? Why is it written in a way which makes one think about the Service while the other rank phraseology is so often slap-happy and, it seems to me, out of place today?

    I come back to the advertisement for the Army officer. I went to the recruiting officer in my constituency town of Newbury and asked the recruiting sergeant there what he thought about advertising. I asked him what he thought about the other rank advertising for "the Professionals". He said that he did not think that that was what a young man wanted when he came to the office to join the county regiment. He wanted to meet a job which would test him physically. He wanted risk-taking, toughness, and toughness combined with fairness. He wanted to sense that it was not a chore to be in the Army, but that he was performing a really valuable function in defending our democracy and the free world. That is why I think that the Army officer advertisement was so good, and that its theme is one which other agencies might get on to. I noticed the Royal Marines advertising went much the same way.

    It is not my task to tell the Minister which advertisement is better or worse than another. I have my own view, but I do not claim to be a professional. But we both know that the best recruiting sergeant for the Army in the past five years has been the troubles in Northern Ireland and that deserves a great deal of careful consideration. Perhaps it was because Northern Ireland was a task which was worth doing and people respond to that sort of situation. Although it may now have fallen off as a recruiting plus, there are not many recruiting officers in the United Kingdom who would deny that they had plenty of young men coming forward when those troubles started.

    But I come back to the main purpose of my speech. It is to kindle in the Minister the same enthusiasm that I have to get some sort of cost effectiveness out of recruiting, and to discover whether the figure of £200 plus for an other ranks recruit is the sum that we should pay, whether we need 295 careers information offices and the vast number of personnel who man them, what is the cost of all other promotions being used to get recruits, and finally whether he is convinced that the £6·5 million plus this Supplementary Estimate has to be spent. Is it achieving what it should be achieving, or does the Minister feel, as I do, that his Department or the Service chiefs, or both, should be looking at the whole subject of recruiting again, especially in view of the reductions in the Services which have been announced, to decide whether we are getting value for money and whether next year, instead of having a Consolidated Fund Bill debate about additional money for Service recruiting, we shall be told that it has been possible to reduce the amount spent in that direction.

    12.59 a.m.

    We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for bringing an important fresh approach to a subject which we have discussed too infrequently in the past. Modestly, he said that he was not an expert, but his research has been very thorough, and his presentation of his case was all the better for being so fresh and so thoroughly well briefed before he started.

    I am amused by the thought of the careful thumbing of the columns of Hansard that will go on in the various advertising agencies concerned following my hon. Friend's speech. I know something of that competitive world, and I imagine that a league table will be drawn up showing who was criticised most in his entertaining description of the various methods of advertising.

    I had great sympathy for those members of the recruiting staff that my hon. Friend interviewed at Sutton Coldfield in trying to give any information about what persuades someone to join the Services. Even when one goes to experts, one gets as many opinions as there are people. For instance, large numbers of people in the Army believe that the best recruiting factor is the county regiment or the regimental tradition itself. Others say that it is the satisfied Service man. As with all advertising, it is difficult to tell whether a particular advertisement or some other factor is bringing about a certain result.

    I would put one of my hon. Friend's questions the other way round. It is fascinating to draw up a league table of how much each Service spends for each recruit obtained, but I should like to know what monitoring is done—perhaps monthly, perhaps six-monthly—of the need to cut or step up advertising for a particular Service which is doing well or badly in recruiting.

    What is the rationale behind advertising for naval and RAF officers? Both are well recruited. The RAF is pretty well up to strength, and in the Navy there are 12 applicants for every one selected. One wonders whether the truly magnificent advertisements for naval officers need, therefore, be on such a scale.

    The standard of most Service advertising is extraordinarily good. The efforts are very lively and obviously represent a great deal of thought. But I would sound one note of caution. Some of the more adventurous copy writing of the last few months is getting near to being a little too racy, certainly for my taste. I am not sure that some of the Army slogans bear in mind the fact that people who are not concerned with recruiting are also reading them and getting a subliminal impression of Service life.

    Will the Minister give us his latest assessment of the trend in Service recruiting? At various times this causes us extreme concern. Then we find that things improve and we all relapse into euphoria. There was extreme concern last year. Some recent figures have been very interesting. I hope that the Minister can give definite opinions about them.

    Finally, when we are considering recruiting and expenditure upon it, we should remember the most important factor of all, which is that it is not only the recruit that we take in from civilian life that is important—although that is very important, and in some cases a dominant factor in our recruiting; it is also the existing Service man who decides at the end of his engagement to re-engage. He is not only very important, in terms of numbers, but he is very much more valuable, because of his experience, than the new person from civilian life.

    Much of the public relations and expenditure on welfare and the good projection of Army life should also be directed to thinking how we can encourage our skilled Service men to be sufficiently happy and satisfied in their jobs to make them wish to re-engage. That is really the key to keeping the Services up to strength.

    The House will be very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important subject. We hope that the Minister will be able to give us some impressions and opinions of the current situation.

    1.7 a.m.

    The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force
    (Mr. Brynmor John)

    I have been bombarded with questions and, in part of the speech of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), subjected to the tyranny of figures. I shall try to answer the questions and to understand the figures as best I can, but if either the hon. Member for Newbury or the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has a question that is unanswered, I hope that he will forgive me, and I shall write to him upon that.

    I agree that the subject which has been raised is important. I should like to explain what the philosophy is behind our total package of advertising and recruiting.

    This is an important subject, for two reasons. The first is surely that in an age in which defence establishments are much less frequently happened upon, often the only contact which the public has with the Services is either the Service advertisement or the local recruiting office. More important still is the fact that in each case the first point of contact that a recruit has with the Service of his choice is either through the advertisement or through the recruiting office or information office. It is extremely important that the information he gets there throughout those first few days is as accurate as possible. As has been said, we are looking beyond the immediate three or five years of the first engagement towards his subsequent re-engagement, and subsequent career. The accuracy and candour of the information that he gets on his career prospects in the early stages very often decides whether he re-engages.

    Secondly, in recruiting and advertising for recruitment there is no static policy. Everything done, every move made, is subjected to self-criticism. We hope that analysis and change is made where necessary so that we may attract recruits of the highest possible calibre and character and in the numbers which will enable us to fulfil our defence commitments.

    It is worth while putting on record something which may be axiomatic to hon. Members opposite as well as those on the Government side of the House—namely, that we shall still need our recruiting effort because we need to keep a flow of recruits to balance the age structure, the career and promotion structure, in the Forces. There will still be an extremely fine career for suitably qualified men and women in the Forces.

    But on the matter of achieving this flow of recruits, I return to the cardinal point which I hope to make in this debate, and throughout the time I am charged by the Secretary of State with overall responsibility in this matter—which is something I have acquired fairly recently. It is that we must give a truthful and realistic picture. Sometimes we have overplayed the recreational pursuits—elevated them as if they were the whole of the Service man's career and the hard work was just an unpleasant interlude. Recreation and travel, however, certainly play a part in recruiting some people, of course.

    It is a matter of judgment, which varies from time to time, whether a satisfied Service man is the best recruiter. However, it is beyond peradventure that if we do not tell the truth and if we release a flood of disgruntled Service men who feel they have been misled about the prospects open to them, they may be a positive disincentive to the recruiting effort. So, for the sake of the young men's careers involved, and for the sake of future recruiting effort, we need candour and realism.

    I must tell the hon. Member for Newbury that his unique selling product falls down at precisely that point where human beings differ from soap or deodorants. We are infinitely more complex, and I fear that there is no such thing as the unique selling product in the Armed Forces. There are certain factors which we know sell the Forces to some people. We know that for some the thought of comradeship plays a part. The hon. Member was talking in a rather disparaging way about meeting friends. I think that he referred to the advertisement which dealt with friendship. To some young men the prospect of comradeship of that nature is extremely attractive and therefore it is right, in some advertisements, in a balanced way, to mention that.

    The hon. Member referred as though it were an inconsiderable factor—which it is not—to the appearance in an advertisement of the figure £2,900 at age 21. We know from research that the salary and its comparability with civilian life is important and is an attractive factor to people coming into the Forces, and therefore it is right that that should be mentioned at some time on a balanced basis. There are as I say these infinite variations in human beings, but one can at least try to reduce these varied motivations to certain propositions upon which to place emphasis in our advertisements. There is certainly not now, nor will there ever be, a unique selling product—one coin-operated phrase which will enable us to get all our recruits at the cost of one never-changing advertisement.

    In order to attract the sort of people we want in the numbers we want we have to emphasise different facets of the Service career, to emphasise where it differs from other careers in the hope that one or more of these will appeal to the sort of person whom we need to attract to Service life.

    I was seeking to suggest not that there is a unique selling point, but that there is a unique selling proposition. We have to get hold of what the Services have to offer. I agree that we cannot categorise human beings like soap, and that we should not try to. The problem is to discover why a man wants to go into the Royal Air Force rather than the Army.

    As I have tried to make clear, that proposition is irreducible to one single cause. A complexity of factors plays some part in the composition of the individual, that is why one advertisement will cover different aspects of the same career.

    The hon. Gentleman will also see a different sort of sales pitch—if I may be allowed to use the Americanism—in each Service's advertisement. Although the hon. Gentleman said that the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were competing with the Army for the same pool of individuals, there is not, so far as we know, an attraction to Service life in the abstract. There is an attraction to a single Service. The needs of those single Services vary. That is why in advertising for recruitment the type of appeal one must make differs.

    I take a simple example, that of the advertisement the hon. Gentleman saw for the Navy, where the man is tinkering with electronic equipment. It may be that in advertising for recruitment to the Army one must not, for candour's sake, build up the prospects of being an electronic operator. But the sailor—a compendious word, which does not mean a great deal nowadays, because the skills are such that the men are hardly interchangeable—may well need the capacity to understand and operate electronic equipment. That is why the fact that one Service emphasises one facet rather than another does not necessarily mean that the Services are competing or criticising each other. Each is appealing to the sort of person who is most likely to join that Service. There is a whole gamut of factors which cause this.

    It is true that we have seven advertising agencies, all of which deal with recruitment for the various Services. It is not true that it is a hit-or-miss arrangement. I have only recently taken up the tri-Service responsibility for this aspect of Service life, but I have already managed to visit one advertising agency. I was surprised not by the fact that the matter was approached scientifically and in great detail but by just how scientifically and in how much detail it was approached.

    Interviews are conducted to see what attracted a particular recruit to the CIO in the first place. Each of the little forms that the hon. Gentleman so nobly refused to fill in, because he was not between 19 and 21 at the time, bears a tag which identifies the newspaper in which it was placed, to show which newspapers are most effective in reaching the target audience.

    There is also a massive programme, not only post-campaign, but pre-campaign, to assess the effects of each campaign on the recruit. When there are live features the serving soldiers or airmen often play a vital part. They will often say to the agency which wants them to pose in a certain way, or do a certain exercise for the purposes of recruitment, "That would not happen in real life", and in that way the realism and candour of which I have spoken comes across.

    The hon. Gentleman asked me, as if his request were necessary, whether I was satisfied with the value we get for our money. One can never be completely satisfied that one is getting value for money. I promise the hon. Gentleman that so long as I have responsibility it will be part of a continuing function of mine to search for better ways of advertising and recruitment, so that we get the sort of recruit of whom I have spoken.

    I now turn to the careers information offices. I think that the recruiting factor has been overstressed at the expense, as I like to think of it, of the counselling factor. It clearly is important that the man who joins knows that he is being treated and advised to the best of our ability. I am considering whether there are too many CIOs, whether they are in the right places and whether we are getting value for money out of them. Since, whilst in Opposition, I asked a Question about tri-Service recruiting offices, there has been a modest increase in the number of CIOs in recent years. However, I am keen, where at all possible and practicable, that there shall be shared use of accommodation, so that the overheads can also be shared. That in no way derogates from the single Service appeal. It means that certain common factors are shared.

    The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) referred to monitoring. As he will know, each Service has its director of recruiting. He is naturally extremely concerned to monitor the progress not only of CIOs but of professional advice and the performance of professional contracts that are carried out. The agencies do not get a contract on a dynastic basis. They do not assume a throne never to step down until the agency goes out of existence. They are subject to competitive stress at certain times. Of course, it would be unrealistic to pretend that experience does not help them. However, that is discounted to the maximum extent possible. There is fair competition to ensure that the agency which has been given the job is still up to it.

    I cannot give the assurance that everything is perfect; I should be a fool to do so. I can give the assurance that I shall make it my business to ensure that everything is as good as it can be made to be.

    I was asked to give an assessment of the latest trends in recruitment. For the year ending 31st March 1974, 25,800 Service men were recruited. That compares with 39,000 for the previous year. It was a sharp and disastrous drop. The main factor was the raising of the school leaving age. I am happy to say that this year there has been a definite increase in recruitment. We have already recruited more men than in the whole of last year. I hope that this year we shall be able to push recruitment levels beyond the 30,000 barrier again.

    Recruitment is not a matter for complacency. However, even with the commitments which the previous Conservative administration undertook, there was not a serious shortage of manpower, although there were crucial weaknesses in certain trades. I hope that the present trend will continue. My object will be to ensure that the young man who is placing his future at the disposal of the Armed Services will know what he is doing and will be appreciated and valued. If I can achieve that I think that I shall have satisfied the spirit of the valuable contribution of the hon. Member for Newbury.

    Wales (Water And Sewerage)

    1.25 a.m.

    The purpose of this debate is to seek clarification of Government policy in connection with the provision of water and sewerage facilities in Wales. I shall therefore put a number of questions to the Minister. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whom we congratulate on his birthday yesterday, will have observed that the planet Uranus is in the ascendant and that it is supposed to have an enlivening influence on birthday celebrants, even at this late hour.

    We shall therefore expect from the Minister in his reply to the debate not the usual re-hash of criticism of the Water Act passed by the last Conservative administration but a fresh and constructive appraisal of the problems we shall bring to his notice. We know that water reorganisation has suffered from at least three handicaps additional to those experienced in local government reorganisation.

    First, there was the shortage of time between the Royal Assent being given to the Act and the coming into being of the authorities on 1st April. Second, the methods of financing water services had, of necessity, to be of an interim nature. Third, there was the problem of the estimates prepared by the authorities' predecessors, including some local authorities that were being abolished. These estimates were, in some instances, so inaccurate that there had to be a complete re-examination of programmes within a short period and with a limited number of staff.

    We accept that all of these difficulties confronted the Welsh National Water Authority, along with others, last year. But we are now entitled to ask what progress has beep made in dealing with these problems and whether the Government are satisfied with the rate of progress being made. At the end of the Adjournment debate on 6th May, initiated by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) the Minister said:
    "before next year's charges are fixed, there will have been a complete review of how charges should be levied in future."—[Official Report. 6th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 178.]
    That review was clearly different from the long-term review being carried out by Sir Goronwy Daniel's committee, as was indicated by a Written Answer to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan) on 4th November. What were the results of that review and of the consultations that the Secretary of State and, I believe the Minister, had with the Chairman of the Welsh Water Authority to discuss charging policy? This was referred to in Questions on 29th July.

    It is clear from the replies that the Government at least share the responsibility with the authority for charging policy this year. As regards fundamental changes in charging policy, the Government may well reply that they cannot act before Sir Goronwy Daniel's committee has reported. That is understandable. Meanwhile, the Welsh National Water Development Authority is taking certain actions which are causing concern and the Government cannot escape their share of responsibility in connection with those actions.

    Before dealing with the Welsh Water Authority's most recent actions I would like to draw to the attention of the Minister the working party report "The Water Services: Estimates and Accounts", published last year, and to the point made there that water authorities should make provision in their estimates for depreciation rather than loan charges. Did the Welsh Authority base its estimates for 1974–75 on this principle, which is more common in commercial than public sector accounting? If not, is the authority basing its estimates for 1975–76 on this principle recommended by the working party? Some experts believe that failure to adopt this principle could have been a factor in last year's massive increases in water and sewerage charges throughout England and Wales.

    This is obviously an important point and I hope that the Minister will comment upon it. I referred earlier to actions which the authority had taken and for which the Government have various degrees of responsibility. First, there is the proposal for equalisation of water rates which the authority approved on Tuesday. It will mean excessive increases in urban areas. I note that my district of Aberconwy was one of the objectors, with Cardiff and Colwyn Borough, and I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) will draw particular attention to the problems of Cardiff.

    My district council wanted phased equalisation because the present proposal will mean a 135 per cent. increase in the Conway valley area if it is to be implemented in a single year. What is the view of the Government on this equalisation proposal, and phased equalisation, which has been put clearly to the Secretary of State by the Chief Executive of Aberconwy?

    I understand the increase will have to be approved by the Price Commission, but apart from that, what is the Government's rôle in this? They should tell us whether they gave a direction to the authority to implement the equalisation proposal and, if not, what advice was given? What is the reaction of the Government to the suggestion that implementation should be phased to avoid exorbitant increases? Are the Government at this stage in a position to intervene—or perhaps I should say to intercede—by grant under Schedule 3 of the Act to assist those areas liable to suffer the biggest increases?

    Those are all questions to which we should like answers.

    The Government have acted directly and of this there can be no doubt, in that they recently told the authority that its capital allocation for 1975–76 would be 06.8 million as opposed to the £42·9 million which the authority wanted, after early trimming of some £18 million from projected expenditure. This allocation necessitated further cutbacks in expenditure of some £7 million, including about £4 million worth of sewerage schemes. These cutbacks make sad reading—£230,000 in the Usk area; £324,000 in the Wye area, £754,000 in Morganny; £488,000 in Dee and Clwyd; West Wales, £683,000; Tawe, £390,000 and Gwynedd, £835,000.

    How many started schemes will have to be abandoned as a result of these cuts? Is it true that £800,000 will be lost on the Sker scheme? What will be the effect of these cuts on housing? One cannot build homes without sewerage, and the Minister has been tramping the Principality urging local authorities to build more houses. Will he now detail the housing programmes likely to be postponed because of the cuts?

    The cutback is bound to have an adverse effect on industrial development and my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), who is at present speeding peacefully to his constituency, is deeply concerned about South Pembrokeshire sewerage schemes and has given me a letter from the chief executive of the local authority to the national water authority. I should like to read part of it.

    The chief executive states:
    "I will not reiterate the situation of inadequate sewerage in the district, the steps taken by former councils to rectify, and the manner in which, outside their control, these were aborted. Enough correspondence has already flowed on this matter. What I will reiterate, however, is that the water authority must be fully aware of the situation in this district, must be fully aware of the necessity to provide services (which in the national interest will cope with the expansion and development of the Celtic Sea) and in the light of all previous evidence, and submissions made; why the Water Authority now propose to give these schemes an apparent low priority will never be capable of a satisfactory explanation—whatever the circumstances."
    The reference to Celtic oil introduces an entirely new, United Kingdom and, in-indeed, international, dimension to the problem. My hon. Friend was right to suggest that the Secretary of State's Oil Advisory Committee should give urgent consideration to the implications for Celtic Sea developments, of delaying the South Pembrokeshire schemes. What has been the Government's response to my hon. Friend's suggestion?

    Other hon. Members will, I am sure, indicate the effects of the cuts on their own areas, and I shall refer only to one other by way of contrast. Included in the cuts is a £40,000 scheme to provide basic main sewerage for the little village of Minffordd, near Bangor, in my constituency. At the request of the residents, I visited the area some months ago and saw for myself what the absence of main sewerage meant—people having to carry buckets of excreta, sometimes through the main living room, to a communal dumping ground, which was undoubtedly a serious health hazard, especially for children. I regret to say that this is the second time the scheme has been postponed. When I see that the authority is to spend £300,000 on increasing the size of its headquarters in Brecon I wonder on what basis the authority's cuts in expenditure were made, and the people of Minffordd will wonder, too. Perhaps the Minister will give us some hope and tell us when these desperately needed schemes will be implemented.

    We all understand the need for economy and restraint in spending—a need spelt out clearly to local authorities on 23rd December by the Welsh Office circular. With such exhortation—which we hope was not lost to the authorities in the Christmas mail—and with the scathing cutbacks in expenditure on sewerage schemes as the result of Government limitation on capital allocation, one might have expected that the water authority's rate increases would have been more moderate than they appear to be. We know that the authority inherited debts of £180 million, but are the Government satisfied that the proposed rate increases are fully justified? Do they have the Government's approval?

    On the brighter side, there is the authority's decision, based on the provision of the Act, to charge more for future supplies going outside Wales. I refer particularly to the negotiations in connection with the expansion of the Craig Goch reservoir, in the Elan Valley. I wish the authority all success in its efforts.

    Overall, the subject of water and sewerage facilities in Wales is a depressing one, and the Government cannot shirk their responsibility—certainly not for the cuts in sewerage expenditure which are the direct consequence of the Government's economic policies. Neither can the Government blame the Act, as they have done repeatedly in the past, for although the Minister may have believed that water services should be paid for from general taxation as much as by a direct charge on the consumer, the Government do not share that belief as regards water, or any of the services provided by nationalised industries.

    The Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared the Government's policy to be that of charging realistic prices for the goods and services of nationalised industries. As I said at the beginning of my speech, we need clarification of the Government's policy and I hope that we get it in the reply to this debate.

    1.40 a.m.

    At this late hour I shall not go in detail into the grave problems of sewerage, which have been so admirably covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts).

    The problem of sewerage, aggravated by the Government cuts, has been causing difficulties owing to disputes over the interpretation of Section 16 of the Water Act. This has resulted in arguments between the Welsh National Water Development Authority and the district councils as to who precisely is responsible for providing new sewerage facilities for new housing developments. In certain cases this has led to absurdities.

    I know of one case in which a sewerage scheme on a new development does not function because it has not been connected to the main scheme. The gap is a matter of feet. The scheme crosses a minor road, but because there is no proper co-ordination between the water authority and the district council the connection has not been made. The authorities are blaming each other for the failure to complete the scheme. I hope that the Minister will encourage his officials to bang a few heads together and will consider whether more co-ordination and co-operation can be achieved.

    The district council has been in touch with me urging that the Act should be amended, but clearly we cannot amend the Act after it has been in operation for such a short time. If we were to attempt to do so we should almost certainly make matters worse. Clearly, the Act has imperfections, but we must allow it to remain in operation for a little while before we decide to amend it. However, even without any amendments to the legislation, I feel sure that the Minister and his officials could make the process work more smoothly if they were to call together round the table the district council and the water authority to discuss some of these practical problems.

    Even at a quarter to two o'clock in the morning, I thought that I must be present in the Chamber to convey to the Minister a fact of which I am sure he is well aware of, namely, the continuing fury of my constituents, as no doubt of constituents elsewhere, at the way in which water rates doubled last year. Furthermore, some of those people can look forward next year to still steeper increases. Some commercial ratepayers have no water on their premises, but they will still have to pay water rate or sewerage charges—and that also applies to people whose premises are not connected to main drainage. They are compelled to pay charges for services which they do not enjoy, at a time when the Government are for ever telling them how successful they are being in keeping the cost of living down by tight and effective price control.

    I received a letter from a constituent today complaining that he had written to the Price Commission asking why his water rate had virtually doubled at a time when the commission was supposed to be keeping a close eye on these things—and my constituent had not even received an answer. I am looking into that, but I can see the difficulties the commission is in.

    People have been led by the Government to expect that measures are being taken to keep costs down, but they find that these costs, imposed on them by public authorities, are not being kept down. This leads to a sense of uncomprehending despair by people whose incomes are fixed as they face rising charges which they cannot escape. One can cut down on other things, such as fuel, sugar, and postal charges—not writing to one's parents when they are ill, for example—but one cannot economise on one's rates or water rates. They are totally non-elastic.

    For those whose incomes are frozen, rises in rates and water rates inexorably drive down their living standards at a time when some Ministers and all union officials are saying that we all have a right, at the worst, to maintain our living standards. It puts me and other hon. Members in difficulty when our constituents write to us in anguish and ask what they are to do. They are told that they can maintain their living standards, yet those living standards are falling because of demands imposed on them by public authorities.

    If only the Government would say frankly that we must all take a cut in our standard of living—as some Ministers are beginning to do—I could urge my constituents to be a little more philosophical. But I give a pledge that, whatever the provocation, I shall in no circumstances ever encourage any of my constituents to refuse or delay payment—although I can well understand the motives which lead many of them to do so.

    I hope that the Government will feel able to give more help to hard-pressed ratepayers and water ratepayers and accept the notion not just of the absolute but the relative hardship of those who are not in absolute want but are suffering a sharp fall in their living standards because they have no flexibility.

    I assure the hon. Gentleman—I am sure he found this in his own constituency—that in both elections last year this above all was what was said when people buttonholed me at the doorway. I am sorry to say that I see no sign whatever of this indignation beginning to die down.

    1.48 a.m.

    I want to raise two issues. The first concerns a sewerage scheme in an area in which I lived until recently, and the second concerns the charges now falling to the city of Cardiff.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) has already mentioned the cancellation, or postponement, at any rate, of the treatment and disposal scheme at Sker. This has been under way for two years and is one of the most amazing examples of the 40 schemes to be put on ice by the water development authority. I presume that the Under-Secretary of State is aware of the details, so I shall not rehearse them now. But a number of major questions arise. The first and most obvious is, for just how long has this scheme been postponed? We hear that it has been "temporarily abandoned". I fear that there is nothing more permanent than the temporary. I should like to know when the Minister expects this scheme to be taken up again. The director of the development authority has said that it will be "utilised at some time". I cannot think of more depressing words. What do they mean? I am sure that the Minister will try to enlighten us.

    It has been stated that the cost of diverting the sewage from the central scheme to the Merthyr Mawr plant could be as high as £3 million. If that is true, it would seem to be easier and cheaper to have continued with the original scheme on which already well over £½ million has been spent.

    In the end, three major points arise. The first is the apparent complete failure of the development authority to forewarn or consult the Ogwr District Council or the community councils, all 23 of which have protested vigorously at the announcement of the step the authority propose to take. Nor did the authority consult the consultants engaged on the Methyr Mawr treatment plant itself. This is a failing of statutory bodies, and we in Cardiff have had a prime example this week.

    The second point concerns the capacity of the Merthyr Mawr plant itself. Can it deal with the new demands which are to be made upon it? I have read that with the diverted sewage that is to be put through it it will reach its capacity in about two years. If that is so, clearly it will put a considerable strain on the development of Bridgend and the valleys in the hinterland, for which the Merthyr Mawr scheme was first devised.

    Perhaps worst of all in some respects is that the sewage is now to go out through a leaking pipe, of which I know, having walked with my children in that area. Can it be right, at a time when we take pollution seriously—when we look to cleanliness on our beaches, when we are considering health—that this enormous weight of sewage diverted through the Merthyr Mawr plant should go out through this old, outworn and pre-war pipe? I cannot think that it is right, and I hope that the Minister will say something on the point.

    For a relatively small sum—small when set against the extra £1,000 million the Government seek for food subsidies, a form of expenditure which should be phased out, not increased—we are endangering the environment and threatening the development of one of the most promising areas of South Wales, one of its growth areas. I wonder whether we are returning to the brake on housing and industrial development which we saw under the last Labour Government in the latter part of the 1960s—a break which was released by the last Conservative Government, as the Minister well knows from the major sewerage scheme in his constituency.

    I turn to the problem facing Cardiff—the problem of the water and sewerage charges. This has arisen overwhelmingly from the decision of the water development authority to equalise charges throughout Wales. I have serious reservations about the policy and I want to say something about the way in which it is being carried out.

    The Consultative Paper on Finance said that water authorities
    "should plan to eliminate variations in water charges over seven years."
    The Third Report of the Steering Group on Economics and Financial Policies appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment has been published. Among its recommendations, the 26 members of the steering group—except for the Chief Executive of the Welsh National Water Development Authority—said that
    "In view of the substantial increases in the general level of charges that must be expected next year, any moves towards the greater equalisation of charges in 1975–76 should be both gradual and limited in extent in order to avoid further sharp increases in charges to particular groups of customers".
    I cannot conceive how, in that case, the present situation has arisen. It is the development authority, by this sudden and violent increase in charges, which is out of line with the original consultative document and with the steering group.

    May I illustrate what this has meant for Cardiff? In the coming year, water charges will rise by 89 per cent. following last year's rise of 82 per cent., and sewerage charges will rise by 353 per cent. These increases are quite monstrous and grossly out of proportion to any possible increase in anybody's income, particularly as they affect houses of lower rateable value. In Cardiff, a house with a rateable value of £100 will, if these proposals are accepted, pay water charges of £17·50 in the coming year, compared with £8·20 in the current year. I say "if they are accepted", because they are to go before the Price Commission, and I hope that when they get there they will be drastically amended or, better still, turned down completely.

    But what is most resented by people who live in Cardiff, as I do—and I should point out that I have an interest in this matter—is that we cannot see the fairness of this policy of equalisation as it is proposed. Equalisation of bills for water consumed, yes; but equalisation of rate poundage, no. Apart from the fact that we are being saddled with the high cost of new installations in other areas, we are expected to pay more for every gallon of water we use in Cardiff than people in any other part of Wales.

    It is difficult to get comparable examples in housing and, therefore, I take a three-bedroom council house built to Parker Morris standards. In Cardiff it has an average rateable value of £177, in Port Talbot, £126—one cannot tell me that the average income is lower in Port Talbot than it is in Cardiff—and in Merthyr Tydfil, £119. In short, compared with other areas in South Wales, the house in Cardiff has a rateable value which is approximately 50 per cent. higher.

    On the equalisation of poundage, that applies to the bills we must pay for the water we consume. Next year, the average ratepayer in Cardiff will be paying £12·19 more for his water and £17·70 more for his sewerage. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that for a clear and final answer we shall have to wait for the report of the Daniel Committee. The development authority should also wait before implementing its proposals.

    We in Cardiff represent about 10 per cent. of the population of Wales, and yet we are expected to provide between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. of the receipts of the Welsh National Water Development Authority. This is a monstrous policy. It is unfair and unjust, and I do not think it should proceed.

    2.0 a.m.

    I am delighted to join in this short debate. I was fascinated by the fact that the Opposition were so concerned with water charges that they should seek it. I was also fascinated to look forward to what they said. They have not let me down. We have had a great deal of confused thinking. However, I am glad that the Opposition have joined us in the campaign to change the structure of the water authority. They were missing a year ago, but we welcome them now as converts.

    The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) seemed to suggest that the formal financing should be of an interim nature. I find it difficult to recall his having said that a year ago. It is only now that that has dawned on him. He also mentioned that the Aberconway District Council objected to equalisation, and that the 130 per cent. increase in one year was just too much to bear. I do not recall that the hon. Member helped me last year, when the local authorities in my area were suffering from 297 per cent. increases, while those in another area were suffering from a 250 per cent. increase.

    The hon. Member told us what the people in Aberconway believed. He failed to tell us what he believed. I recall that some months ago he said on the radio that he believed in equalisation. He should tell us what his view is now, not what the people of Aberconway are thinking.

    The hon. Member then complained of the cutbacks in certain schemes of the former river authorities, and named several authorities. Does he believe that those schemes should go ahead and that the charges for water and sewage should be increased? He did not come clean on that point, either. He complains that the money is not being spent and that the charges are too high. He should tell us what he believes about those matters.

    The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) suggested that we should delay the amendments to the Water Act 1973. That is exactly what the Government have said. There has already been a delay of two years, but I would be satisfied with a delay of one year. I hope that the hon. Member has no complaint on that score.

    The hon. Member seemed to suggest that meters should be installed, since consumers could not control, or cut down, their payments. That suggests to me that he is in favour of domestic metering. However, I wish that he had made that point clear in his speech. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) said something similar. He complained that the equalisation should apply to the volume of water consumed. Was he complaining that the Government were responsible for the change in the Ogwr scheme? He seemed to suggest very strongly that the Government were responsible. Since the Welsh water development authority took that decision, it is unreasonable to blame the Government, when we were not responsible for giving so much power to that water authority.

    The hon. Member also complained about the Cardiff water charges and said that equalisation should be a gradual process. I invite him to tell that to my constituents who are anxious for change. They have had enough of the present scheme, and are desperately anxious to be relieved of the burden from which they suffer.

    Those points should be clarified, since the Opposition are shielding themselves behind the fact that the Government have borne the brunt of the attack on the anomalies and shortcomings of the legislation for which the Conservative Government were responsible.

    This evening, I returned from a very wet part of the country. It is also extremely beautiful. Besides suffering a heavy rainfall, a lot of the rain is stored in the form of man-made reservoirs, providing water for people in various parts of the country. I refer specifically to the Elan Valley. Other areas in my constituency have reservoirs, and we are fortunate in that many, but not all, of my constituents have running water and mains sewerage.

    The existing Craig Goch reservoir is to be replaced by a project costing about £100 million. Its capacity at present is 2,028 million gallons. The capacity of the new reservoir will be 120,000 million gallons. Its height will be increased from 120 feet to 350 feet. It will have a perimeter of 36 miles. I quote those figures only to demonstrate the magnitude of the project. The water stored in the reservoir will supply the needs of people living in the Severn-Trent authority's area and areas beyond it.

    We undertake this kind of activity and are glad to be of assistance. But there are factors which do not make the project an attractive one to many of my constituents and others living in the community.

    With the emergence of the new authorities, formed as a result of the Tory legislation, we found that residents in Radnorshire and North Breconshire were to pay 20p in the pound water rate, when residents in Montgomery were paying 4.1p in the pound. For the benefit of the uninitiated, I remind them that Montgomery is next door to Radnorshire. Meter charges have been 50p and 16.7p per thousand gallons in Radnorshire and Montgomery respectively. Simply because of the accident of an arbitrary boundary line, Montgomery is in the Severn-Trent area, whereas Radnorshire is in the area of the Welsh National Water Development Authority. To my mind, Montgomery cannot be separated from Radnorshire. They are virtually identical counties.

    Montgomery benefits from sharing with Birmingham, with its concentration of population, and thus the rate per head or per household is considerably reduced. But why should not Radnorshire benefit in the same way? Again, it is the accident of the boundary. We understand the historical explanation, but we cannot accept that the situation should be allowed to continue. Whenever I have spoken about it to those of my hon. Friends who represent Midlands constituencies they have hardly been able to believe me when I have told them of the situation, and that Birmingham pays something like 4p in the pound in water charges, whereas Radnorshire pays 20p in the pound. I ask hon. Members to imagine what it is like trying to explain to someone living in the shadow of the reservoir, where they have all this water on their doorsteps, that it can be trans- ported 80 miles and still obtained for a fifth of the price.

    We have covered this ground many times in the past, and suggestions have been made of ways to correct the anomaly. Equalisation is one. The Welsh National Water Development Authority is proposing for its area a scale of £5 per household, plus a rate of 12p in the pound. That is all that it can do at this stage. Without further legislation, it can only suggest equalisation within its boundaries. But this is still well above the scales for other parts of the United Kingdom, which means that we must continue to campaign at least for equalisation throughout the United Kingdom rather than simply throughout Wales.

    It has been suggested that we should sell water, that we should charge for the water which crosses Offa's Dyke. I have been opposed to that all along. Such a proposal is full of contradictions. Water leaves Breconshire for Cardiff. Are we to charge for that water crossing the county boundary? I see no sense in that, I am opposed to charging by volume, because it is just metering again.

    Logically, we should have to charge for every transfer—for water coming back to Wales, as it does, as much as for water leaving it. Any charges should be uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Gas, coal and electricity are not charged for in this stupid way, when the rate in one area can be five times the rate in another.

    I have made what I believe to be a sensible suggestion to the Daniel Committee, set up by the Secretary of State to study charges in Wales. There is much talk of transferring to central Government such costs as teachers' salaries. I have proposed that domestic water charges should be transferred. It would be difficult to do this for industry, because consumption varies so much, and metering is essential, but this proposal could cure all domestic anomalies immediately. Then water provision could be paid for by grant, in the same way as are so many other activities.

    I was glad to see that the Welsh water authority has proposed that charges should be cut for those who are not connected to main sewerage. They have been cut by 50 per cent., but I am disappointed that they have not been abolished altogether; after all, the reduction recognises the anomaly. I ask my hon. Friend to press on the authority the fact that it need not stop there.

    We inherited a hotch-potch from the Conservative Government. It is ironic that Conservative Members should be critical now, when they were silent a year ago. I welcome them to our ranks. We were complaining last January. I hope that they will join us in trying to achieve justice for everyone and not be parochial. We shall be blamed for the set-up, as we were at the last two elections. We have this anomaly to correct, and I hope that we will undertake the task.

    2.14 p.m.

    The Under-Secretary of State for Wales
    (Mr. Edward Rowlands)