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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 890: debated on Monday 14 April 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.


Employment (Public Sector)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is his policy on the dispersal of jobs in the public sector in Wales away from Cardiff to areas that have suffered from restricted job opportunities and on the centralisation of existing jobs in the public sector; and if he is satisfied with the operation of his policy in this regard.

I make every effort to ensure that public sector employment is located in the most suitable areas in Wales, but I have no proposals for dispersal of existing jobs away from Cardiff.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Is he aware that in Caernarvon there has been consider- able loss of jobs in the public sector because of the recent removal of employment in the Post Office, the railways, the gas services and the police? There is considerable anxiety that a further loss of jobs will take place because of the move by the Welsh National Water Development Authority to centralise the offices of the river division in Gwynedd. Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that he will bring pressure to bear on the water authority to resist any such centralisation?

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member. The location of the premises of the water authority is a question for that authority under the terms of the Act. I am always mindful of the need to ensure that if there are Government dispersal policies they will be of benefit to Wales generally. We have already achieved a successful programme and we hope to bring Government jobs to Wales in the future.

I recently had the privilege of opening a Crown court building in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Swansea and district is grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his decision in the previous Government to site the MOT centre in Swansea. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a decision tomorrow to abolish vehicle tax, is the Secretary of State aware that we look with confidence to him for some assistance in compensating the area for any job loss which may be involved?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. The MOT centre brought 3,750 jobs to Swansea. I cannot anticipate the Chancellor's Budget. My right hon. Friend and I are always mindful of the employment needs of West Glamorgan.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is aware of the grave employment difficulties facing Cardiff, and will he reject any proposal to take jobs away from the capital city?

I am certainly able to bring comfort to the hon. Gentleman. The Government have a major proposal to bring a large number of Civil Service jobs to Cardiff. This follows the bringing of the Mint to Wales under a previous Labour administration. The hon. Gentleman can be satisfied that plans for the future for Cardiff for Government dispersal jobs are high on our priorities.

Although we do not wish to take jobs away from Cardiff and if Government Departments are to move away into the Principality, will the Secreof State consider setting up offices at the Heads of the Valleys so that Ebbw Vale and other valley towns can have a greater choice of jobs rather than just the basic industries?

It is very much part of my philosophy on the Ebbw Vale problem that there should be much wider job opportunities in the valleys. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Civil Service jobs we shall bring to Wales will demand huge resources of manpower. Civil Service posts for the Cardiff and Newport areas announced last July will bring no fewer than 7,400 jobs. I am mindful of having wider job opportunities in the whole of Wales.

Does the Minister not agree that successive Governments over the last 20 or 30 years have neglected job opportunities in the public sector in mid-Wales? Is he aware of the table mentioned last week in Hansard which says that the number of self-employed is extremely high in three counties in mid-Wales? Cardigan came top of the league, followed by Montgomeryshire and Carmarthen. We are worried about the job opportunities for people in the public sector in mid-Wales.

The hon. Gentleman must be totally unaware of the growth of Newtown—a tremendous success story of the previous Labour Government—whereby we have ensured that the rate of depopulation has been reversed. I am mindful of the needs of mid-Wales for any opportunity that arises.

Newport, Gwen


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will visit Pillgwenlly, Somerton and the Marshes districts of Newport, Gwent.

My right hon. and learned Friend is always glad to go to Newport but he has no immediate plans to visit these areas.

With great respect, does my hon. Friend appreciate that the intervention of the Secretary of State is now urgently needed in Newport? These three districts are severely blighted at present and people are living in deplorable conditions there. Will he come and see for himself so that then he can authorise whatever emergency action may be needed?

My hon. Friend will know that the prime responsibility for resolving issues in these areas, and particularly their redevelopment, is the local authority. In many cases the people would bitterly resent it if we tried to intervene and interfere with their decisions, but, of course, my right hon. and learned Friend and I are very conscious of the problems of housing and redevelopment in Newport. We have paid a great deal of attention to them in the past and we shall continue to do so.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales what will be the percentage rise in the rates, including water and sewerage and the parish or community council precept, levied by local authorities in Wales as a whole in 1975–76 as compared with the total poundage of rates levied for the same services in 1973–74; and how this compares with the average rate levied by English authorities.

First estimates indicate that the percentage rise in Wales for domestic ratepayers will be 63 per cent., compared with 66 per cent. in England, and for non-domestic ratepayers 102 per cent., compared with 86 per cent.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the traumatic reorganisation of local government in Wales not only lessened local democracy in Wales and increased inefficiency but was a significant contributory cause to the staggering rise in rates? Is he further aware that it was the Conservative Government which embodied this reorganisation in legislation but that the original scheme was the brain-child of the previous Labour Government, who outlined it in their White Paper? Therefore, will the Labour Government and the Labour Party accept their share of the responsibility for the consequences?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the present reorganisation is the result of the previous Conservative Government. A number of ideas were proposed and went out to consultation through the Labour Government, but it was a Conservative Government who brought to pass the present system. However, despite the cost of reorganisation—it is difficult to quantify—I think that the hon. Gentleman would not be right if he were to ignore the fact that inflation has played a substantial part, if not the lion's share, in the immense cost of local government. The Government have done a tremendous amount to bring support to local authorities. The rate support grant has been increased from 60½ per cent. to 66½per cent. For England and Wales, that comes to about £2,000 million a year in increased support for local government.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will now seek powers to enable Welsh local authorities to lessen the impact of the increases in rates which have recently been announced.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales, in view of the latest evidence of the scale of the proposals by Welsh local authorities to increase rates, water rate and sewerage charges, if he will seek powers to assist the local authorities to lessen the proposed increases.

Is the Secretary of State aware that that is an appallingly smug answer? Is he also aware of the furious reaction that there is in Cardiff to the 94½ per cent. increase in rates this year? Will he comment on his hon. Friend's statement earlier that the new water and sewerage rates represent a correction of a gross distortion, bearing in mind that in Cardiff they have risen by 89 per cent. and 366 per cent., respectively? Will he make them rebatable for those in receipt of rate rebates, and will he comment on the effect that they will have on small businesses in Cardiff and other areas, especially in view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is expected to do tomorrow?

The hon. Gentleman finds it convenient to forget the lack of reaction on his part to the favourable proposals which I announced in March 1974 and to the very small increases in many parts of South Wales. Indeed, in Cardiff there was a diminution in the rate. I remind the hon. Gentleman that when I brought my measure to the House, all Conservative Members representing Welsh constituencies, including the hon. Gentleman himself, were absent from the Lobby that night. Wales has done very well in the proposals that we have brought forward. We have pumped into local government an extra £2,000 million for the forthcoming year. This is what the increase from 60·5 per cent. to 66 per cent. means. It represents an increase from £3,400 million to more than £5,000 million.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the responsibility for the present situation lies fairly and squarely on the last Conservative administration, for placing on the statute book one of the worst pieces of legislation that we have had this century? Now that the people of Britain are having to pay the bill for it, will my right hon. and learned Friend give serious consideration to undoing this legislation in the near future?

I am not sure to which legislation my hon. Friend is referring. There were several bad bits of legislation by the Conservative Party. All I can tell him is that our priority has been massively to increase the amount of support for local authorities—I note the remarks of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards)—and that has meant major demands on public expenditure.

Is not the Secretary of State aware that this matter is much too serious for him to escape from the consternation and even anger of the public by references to the past? Is he aware that he has to take action to solve a problem whose effect on the public is now exceeding anything that I have seen in 20 years? I hope that he will not view it as a subject for party debate in the House, or for slinging retorts across the Floor. If he does not act, the anger being caused by the grotesque increases—

As for party warfare in the House, it is my recollection that it was the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) who castigated me for being smug. The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) has put a supplementary question that is misconceived. I was referring not to the past but to the future. That is what the 66 per cent. increase in the rate support grant is about. Although Conservative Members are now wringing their hands about the rates position, they did nothing about it when in office. We have set up the Layfield Committee to investigate and to report on the whole subject of local government finance.

Despite what Opposition Members have said, will my right hon. and learned Friend remind them that Wales received a massive increase in the domestic element of the rate support grant 'last year in order to compensate areas, such as mine, that had had large increases in water charges? Is it not only fair that areas such as Cardiff should help to equalise the load this year?

That was one of a number of reasons for the domestic relief, from which I succeeded in ensuring that the people of Wales should benefit, intro- duced by our measures of last March. Perhaps that was why all Conservative Members from Wales were absent from the Division Lobby on that occasion.

I again put the emphasis on the need to reduce expenditure overall. Nevertheless, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that rather than waiting for a commission to report, which is bound to take some time, early action is required to give relief to ratepayers? Should not the Government consider the proposals that have been put to them by the Opposition to relieve local authorities by transferring some of their responsibilities to the Exchequer?

The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. He cannot, on the one hand, attack any increase in public expenditure and, on the other, ask for responsibility to be transferred from local authorities to the Government. The money must come from somewhere. We have made proposals to increase the amount of the rate support grant for Wales by £2,000 million next year. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that that amount should be increased?

Water And Sewerage Charges


asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will issue instructions to the Welsh National Water Development Authority to spread increases in the water rate levied by the authority over a period of several years.

How can the hon. Gentleman refuse to use the admittedly limited powers which are available to him under the Water Act bequeathed by the previous Conservative Government? Is he not aware that both domestic and business ratepayers have seen their water rates increased by over 400 per cent. during the past couple of years? How can people possibly reconcile this with the expectations aroused in them by the Government's statement that the social contract means that everyone can maintain his standard of living? What possible recourse is there for ratepayers?

The hon. Gentleman is completely misunderstanding the issue. He asked me whether we would instruct the Welsh National Water Development Authority to equalise over a longer period. This was a unanimous decision of that water authority. If it had equalised over a period of years the rest of the domestic water users in other parts of Wales would still have had to pay the amount of money that it would have been necessary to raise. The water authority chose to correct gross discrepancies and distortions in charges for 1974–75. Communities such as Anglesey had increases of about 400 per cent. in one year.

Will the Minister look into the question of widening the borrowing powers of the authority, as it seems that the present inflexibility is resulting in totally unnecessary additional costs, which have to be borne on water and sewerage charges?

The chief executive of the authority made this point to me only recently, and other water authorities in England and Wales have complained quite strongly about their restricted borrowing powers under the Act. We are looking at this matter.

Order. I will call the right hon. Gentleman, but he has a Question down on this matter and if I call him now I may not do so for a supplementary question to his own Question.

I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker. In fact, my Question later on the Order Paper has nothing to do with this Question.

Will my hon. Friend say when he expects the publication of the Daniel Report, which will, or which should, present us with some solutions to the problems which worry hon. Members in all parts of the House? Secondly, will he and his right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind once again that what will help Wales most of all is the equalisation of water charges throughout the United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend has mentioned the Daniel Committee's Report. That report has only recently been received in the Welsh Office. We are examining it. We hope to publish it as soon as possible.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received on the subject of the increases in water and sewerage charges in some parts of Wales this year.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received representations from 10 right hon. and hon. Members, 11 local authorities, the Farmers' Union of Wales, three other organisations and seven private individuals.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that nothing that I say is intended to be a reflection upon the competence or integrity of officials of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, but will he comment on the purchase of cars for the directors of the authority and for their deputies? Will he ensure that they are made aware of the feelings of Members of Parliament, as they should be aware of the feelings of members of the public? This is a totally insensitive action on their part. If cars were to be purchased, they should have been made part of the "perks" of the jobs when those concerned started in them.

The purchase of cars is the responsibility of the Welsh National Water Development Authority, but I am sure that the authoritiy will wish to give serious consideration to the disquiet which has been expressed on this matter.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the concern in some parts of Wales at this time of the year, with summer approaching, that not only do they pay an excessive charge for water and sewerage services but that water supplies are not available? Is there not an overall case for making special funds available to the authority to ensure that everyone has available a supply of mains water?

The development of these services depends on the capital limitations on the authority. This is one of the dilemmas that we face. The greater the demand for capital allocations, the greater the cost in charges. There is frequently a difference of opinion in this House. Hon. Members ask that the water authority should exercise financial disciplines of all kinds, and then they press for every possible scheme to be made available in their areas.

Local Government Reorganisation


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the extent to which the recent local government reorganisation has resulted in increased efficiency and better services, or any other advantages; and if he will make a statement.

Reorganisation has been in effect for little more than a year and it is premature to make an assessment of this kind.

Does not the Minister agree that many people in Wales are dissatisfied with the local government reorganisation that took place last year? Will he consider doing away with the county councils in their present form and reverting to the multi-purpose authority, under the old county boundaries? Is he aware that many people in Wales are worried in case we have an executive assembly with executive powers only, in Wales, which would mean that we should have another tier of government in Wales without legislative power?

I have made my position quite clear about this on previous occasions. The creation of the Welsh Assembly is not in any sense an additional tier of local government. It is bringing central Government closer to the people. I have no plans to change the present two-tier system of local government.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Labour Party proposed that local government reorganisation should have waited until Kilbrandon had reported and we had taken the constitutionally important measure to bring about devolution? We might then have had a different form of local government reorganisation in Wales, which would not have been as bureaucratic as it appears at present, and the additional Government tier would not have involved the increased costs about which people are beginning to complain?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, regrettably and unhappily, the previous Conservative Government tackled the whole issue in the wrong way. They should have settled the issue of the Assembly first and then gone on to local government. However, having said that, the present local government arrangement—whether popular or unpopular—has enormous difficulties already, in terms of carrying out day-to-day functions. I have no plans to interfere with that.

Is it not a fact that in the 10 years prior to reorganisation there was an increase of about 48 per cent. in the number of people employed in local government in England and Wales and that, therefore, we should not put all the blame upon reorganisation but should now give it the opportunity to work efficiently and effectively? Is it not right, therefore, that the emphasis should be placed on cutting central Government and local government expenditure wherever that is possible?

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks about cutting expenditure generally. I have made it quite clear to local authorities that they must exercise the greatest possible restraint in their public expenditure commitments. I make that clear again. As regards staff numbers, this matter is being monitored, and we have told local authorities that they must limit their increases to those needed only for inescapable commitments. I make my position abundantly clear on this occasion again.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend publish the comparative figures of the numbers of people employed in local government pre-reorganisation and post-reorganisation and warn those, in various parts of Wales, who are anxious to cut back on the number of officers of the dangers of such activity?

Unhappily, this clear and unassailable comparison is not easily made. I have to consider the position as I see it at present and to monitor and ensure that there is no further increase in local government staffs, save for those to deal with inescapable commitments.

Schoolchildren (Concessionary Travel)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has had regarding concessionary travel arrangements for schoolchildren; and what action is proposed.

Representations are frequently received from parents regarding arrangements for transporting children to school. My right hon. and learned Friend is considering with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science the recommendations of the working party on school transport.

Will my hon. Friend look at this matter urgently and sympathetically? Is he aware that as a result of the recent increase in bus fares, many schoolchildren now have to walk to school along busy roads and by swollen rivers and other hazards, and that it is not good for their education to be sitting in wet shoes? There is serious concern about this problem. One mother trying to cope, remarked, "Duw, it's hard."

I am conscious that such problems exist. They exist in my own community as they do in every other community. The working party's recommendations have been received with widespread agreement, and long consultations have been going on on this matter.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the decline in value of concessionary fares for old-age pensioners as a result of the restrictions placed on them in the Government's circular of 23rd December?

That is a different question. We appear to have moved from one end of the age spectrum to the other. If the hon. Gentleman will table a Question on the subject I shall be glad to deal with it.

My hon. Friend said that he was discussing this matter with the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Are we to assume from that that national aspects are involved? If so, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that well-paid company directors, executives and the like can and do get cars and other allowances for travel, whereas children have to go to the schools to which they are directed, and that it is ludicrous that they should have to pay any fares at all? Should not there be a national scheme whereby all schoolchildren are allowed free travel to and from school?

I do not know what the cost of such a scheme would be to the taxpayer. In any event, I do not think that the working party discussed the broader issue of the cars and other expenses of company directors.

Land Authority (Local Authority Agents)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has made with local authorities in Wales concerning agency arrangements under the Community Land Bill proposals; and if he will make a statement.

Meetings have been held with representatives of the Welsh Counties Committee and the Council for the Principality. I hope that estimates will shortly be available of the potential of each Welsh local authority to act as an agent of the Land Authority.

How does the Minister propose to distribute the 750 additional staff which will be required under the Bill as between the proposed Land Authority and the local authorities? Is not this a serious underestimate of the number of additional staff who will be required, in view of the fact that capital disposals, especially, will amount to between £50 million and £55 million a year?

I cannot answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question until I have seen the position in each county and district authority in terms of staffing. That is why I suggested to both local authority associations recently that they should get together and work out the potential staff required to implement the Community Land Bill. When I have the figures, I shall be in a position to reply more effectively to the hon. Gentleman's question.

As for the second half of the supplementary question, I do not think that the figure referred to is a serious underestimate. It is the best estimate that we can make based upon the number of transactions. It is a reasonable estimate on the existing assumption that we make.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a ministerial broadcast on Government policies affecting Wales on all television channels received in Wales.

I already frequently broadcast on aspects of Government policy relating to Wales.

We always welcome the right and learned Gentleman's television appearances in Wales, since they are informative and interesting, but will he undertake to appear on television to discuss the change of heart which has overtaken him about the EEC and to point out the specific paragraphs in the excellent pamphlet which he produced in 1971 on the issue with which he now disagrees?

I note the way that the hon. Gentleman has put his point in the House today, and I compare it with the intemperate remarks reported recently, in which he accused me of "gross deception" and "slavish support" and wished that I would "come clean". In those remarks, it seemed to me that he was playing the man rather than the ball. I assure him that at the appropriate time I shall explain further the remarks that I have made already. However, I do not regard as my first priority running to the television studio or the other media. My first duty is to my constituency and then, in due course, to the whole of Wales. I shall do that at a time of my own choosing.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement of his intentions concerning the fluoridation of water supplies in Anglesey.

After full consideration of representations made by the Anglesey Borough Council and by my right hon. Friend. I have concluded that it would be best, on balance, to leave the existing long-standing arrangements in the island undisturbed pending the independent report on fluoridation from the Royal College of Physicians and a Government consultative document on preventive health generally. Both these documents are in preparation. I am today informing the Anglesey Borough Council and the area health authority of this view and will let my right hon. Friend have copies.

When is this independent report likely to be published? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that what he has just said will be received in Anglesey with considerable disappointment and dismay? Is he further aware that, whatever the merits or otherwise of the fluoridation of water supplies, the Anglesey Borough Council and the great majority of community councils in the county are asking for fluoridation to be discontinued, because they have no confidence in the claims made for it, because they do not believe that it should be imposed on them now by a nominated body and because, after nearly 20 years of the fluoridation of water supplies, Anglesey remains almost the only part of the United Kingdom where fluoride is added to the drinking water? Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore consider, as a matter of urgency, suspending the fluoridation of water supplies in Anglesey until the report to which he hag referred is published?

I entirely understand the concern that my right hon. Friend has expressed to me and to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on more than one occasion, and I share his view of the importance of the strong feelings of local people in this matter, as expressed through locally elected bodies. However, he knows much better than I that it was a local body—the old Anglesey County Council—which introduced fluoridation. I am satisfied that no harm will come from awaiting the documents that I have mentioned and the public debate that may be expected to follow. I must therefore disappoint my right hon. Friend.

The report of the Royal College of Physicians may be expected later this year. Work is proceeding as quickly as possible on the Government's consultative document and I hope that it will follow shortly after the report of the Royal College of Physicians.

Housing (Noise Insulation)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales when he intends to publish a list of houses on and near Manor Way and Northern Avenue, that may be eligible for assistance under the Noise Insulation Regulations of 1973.

We hope to have the results of the noise studies in May. In the light of these, we expect to make an announcement shortly afterwards.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the effect of widening this section of the Merthyr-Cardiff trunk road is merely to increase the volume of traffic and consequently the volume of pollution? Is he also aware that there is considerable anxiety because of the very long delay in appointing a noise insulation agent?

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says in his latter question. There were difficulties about securing the appointment of noise insulation agents, but we now hope to overcome them. We are establishing these surveys precisely to see exactly how far the extension and alteration of this road affect the noise problem.

Cwmbran New Town (Inquiry)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales when it is intended to hold the public local inquiry into the proposed Cwmbran New Town (Designation) Amendment Order.

A public inquiry will be held only if objections are received to the draft order and are not withdrawn.

On behalf of the Torfaen council and myself, I thank the Under-Secretary for having acceded, despite the present economic difficulties, to our request that the new town's original plan should continue. However, will he give us an assurance that the public inquiry will be held as speedily as statutorily possible, as house building now continuing is likely to end within the next 18 months, unless continuity is assured, with the result that the existing housing problems within the eastern valley will become exacerbated?

I assure my hon. Friend that every effort will be made to arrange this inquiry, if necessary, in the light of the issues that he has mentioned.

Is my hon. Friend aware that considerable disquiet has been expressed that the further development of Cwmbran may have an adverse effect in North Gwent and thus add to its depopulation problem?

That sort of issue may be the subject of a future public inquiry, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the designation is very modest. It is needed merely for the land necessary to achieve the target of a population of 55,000—a target established way back in 1968. I can give the positive assurance that it wil not in any way channel away funds or resources vital to the housing and industrial development of Blaenau-Gwent.

Industrial Production


asked the Secretary of State for Wales by how much industrial production fell in Wales in 1974; and how this fall compared with the fall in the United Kingdom as a whole.

It is provisionally estimated that for 1974 as a whole industrial output in Wales was 5·3 per cent. less than 1973. For the United Kingdom the corresponding figure was 3 per cent.

Do not the Government figures show that the fall in industrial production is evidently greater in Wales than elsewhere in the United Kingdom? Does not that factor, together with the rise in unemployment and short-time working, and also the information about new job inquiries and job creation reveal a pretty grim situation as a result of the Labour Government's economic policies?

Surely the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench, should be the last person to put that kind of question. He knows where the responsibilities lie—or at least he should know. The proportion depends substantially on the mix of the economy. Coal and steel—the hon. Gentleman may not know this—play a large part in the Welsh economy. The massive drop in coal production in Wales is a direct result of the confrontation policies which were pursued by the Conservative Government. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has the face to put such a question.

In view of the variation in the situation between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom, has the Secretary of State tried to assess by contacts with both sides of industry how much more traumatic for Wales, in respect of production, investment and jobs, would be a withdrawal from the EEC?

In view of what the Secretary of State said, will he give the House the figures for manufacturing in Wales?

The figures for manufacturing I cannot put my hands on now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If Conservative Members table a Question on that matter, I shall be happy to give the House details but for the coal industry the figure is 23 per cent. and for steel it is 21 per cent., and increases are recorded in some sectors, such as food, drink and tobacco, coal and petroleum products, mechanical and instrument engineering, gas, electricity and water. These were not sufficient to counterbalance the sharp falls in the sectors of greater weighting in the index or to counter the influence of coal and steel, which play such a large part in the Welsh economy. Those figures for 1974 are a direct result of the confrontation policies so unsuccessfully pursued by the Conservative Government.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important plans of the Government to alleviate the situation lies in a Welsh development agency? What is holding up publication of the Bill to set up that agency—a body which will be welcomed in Wales and which is necessary for the work of the Standing Committee considering the Industry Bill?

I am not aware of anything that is holding up my proposals. Contrary to statements made by the hon. Gentleman earlier in the year, I hope that my proposals, which I shall be publishing very shortly, will be welcomed. That body will play a major part in the regeneration necessary in the Welsh economy. In the interim, we have taken major steps to increase advance factory building and to pump the necessary money into the economy to increase manufacturing potential.

Civil Service

Government Offices (Dispersal)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many Departments or agencies of central Government have their senior Civil Service staff located outside London.

Five Departments have their top management located outside London, including the Scottish and Welsh Offices. But many Departments have a substantial number of senior staff outside London. At 1st October 1974, 40 per cent. of staff engaged on headquarters work were located outside London. A substantial number of Government agencies have senior staff outside London.

I am grateful for that reply, and I am encouraged by its general tone. Is my hon. Friend aware that Sheffield still awaits with bated breath a decision about the future headquarters of the Health and Safety Commission? Will he give some information on that?

I appreciate the encouraging reaction from my hon. Friend over the Government's policies in dispersing Civil Service departments from London. The question he raised on the Health and Safety Commission is still the subject of study, but it is hoped that an announcement will be made in the not too distant future.

Working Conditions (Report)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what arrangements have been made for monitoring the implementation of the recently published Wider Issues Report on the conditions in which civil servants are obliged to work.

Each Department is preparing a follow-up programme and consulting its departmental staff side not only on the substantive problems and how they are to be tackled but on how progress is to be maintained and monitored. My Department is co-ordinating progress. The most recent and important step forward is the agreement recently concluded with national staff side on the cleaning of Government offices, which provides a basis for better standards of cleaning work and thereby improves the environment in which civil servants are obliged to work.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is dissatisfaction among public servants behind counters at the way in which they are treated? If the public is to get the service and civility it deserves, does he not agree that there must be an improvement in morale in the public service?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that the public should receive efficient and civil service from public servants who work behind the counters at Government Department offices. Equally, the public at large is aware of the abuses, assaults and physical injuries sustained by many civil servants in carrying out their duties in the recent past. I hope members of the public will do their best collectively to bring this situation to an early end.

Will my hon. Friend say what progress has been made in discussions over the extension of flexible hours of attendance in the Civil Service?

My hon. Friend has highlighted an important development in the Government staff side relationship The extension of flexible working hours of attendance is proceeding, and negotiations are being carried out with the national staff side. As of December 1974, 80,000 civil servants were covered by agreements relating to flexible hours of attendance.



asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will place in the Library a record of his discussions with the umbrella organisations concerning the referendum.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

No, Sir. These discussions were confidential.

What representations have been made by the umbrella organisations about those who are being disfranchised by the Lord President's statement that the earliest probable day for the referendum would be 19th June?

Those people took their holidays early so as to be back in the country to vote, but they now find that they will not be able to do so. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must listen to representations from those people if they are not to be disfranchised simply by the Labour Government's haste to get the referendum through before the Labour Party splits on the European issue?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) has tabled a Question on that subject, which will be answered later today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, quite apart from the handful of people mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), hundreds of thousands in North Staffordshire and Lancashire will benefit from the announcement of the earlier date for the referendum, and they are very grateful to my right hon. Friend?

I am extremely grateful for what my hon. Friend said. That is one of the reasons why we have put on the referendum at the earlier date, if we can manage it on that date. However, I realise that there are different views on this matter and I shall beat in mind all the points put in last week's debate. Indeed, a Conservative Member is coming to see me later today to explain his plans, and I shall listen to him.


asked the Lord President of the Council how soon after the Referendum Bill has received the Royal Assent he proposes to lay the various orders that may be made under the Act.


asked the Lord President of the Council how soon after the Referendum Bill has received the Royal Assent he intends to lay the orders that may be made under the Act.

The orders will be laid immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent.

Will the hon. Gentleman further clarify what his right hon. Friend the Lord President said a moment ago? Will the further discussions which the right hon. Gentleman is to have relate solely to those Britons who live and work overseas, or will they also concern the important issue of the situation of those who will be on holiday, whether at home or abroad, when the vote is held? Is it not the case that these people should be given a postal vote, and is not this issue of sufficient importance to override considerations of administrative convenience?

I am surprised that we do not get the same passion displayed before each General Election. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do."] Then it is rather hard to understand why there is such fervour on the Opposition benches today, since nothing of the kind happened before last February's election. When and if amendments are made to the Bill in its passage through the House, amendments will be made to the order.

Is the Minister aware that his answer just now was just as unsatisfactory as his answers to the debate last week? May I draw his attention again to the problem of Britons residing abroad with the right of abode in the United Kingdom? Last week the hon. Gentleman gave the impression that the problem of registering them was one of time. If so why should not the referendum be put back for a week, until 12th June?

In that case, will not the hon. Gentleman simply put back the whole ludicrous exercise for a month or two? The only reason for not delaying it is the convenience of the Labour Party, not the country at large.

I do not see why Conservative Members are so dedicated to the notion of enfranchising some who are not registered at the cost of effectively disfranchising a large number who will then be on holiday—not all abroad.


asked the Lord President of the Council what is his estimate of the number of citizens of the Republic of Ireland, not being citizens of the United Kingdom also, who will be entitled to vote in the forthcoming referendum, if the Referendum Bill printed on 26th March 1975 shall become law.

How many citizens of the United Kingdom living in the Republic had a right to vote in the referendum held by the Republic about its membership of the Common Market? Will the right hon. Gentleman please carry out research so that he can answer the Question?

It is impossible to answer the Question, because the register does not distinguish voters by nationality, and there are no reliable figures. I can give the hon. Gentleman the figures from the 1971 Census returns. They show that there are about 710,000 people living in England, Wales and Scotland who were born in Ireland, and another 521,000 who had fathers who were born there. That is a total of 1·2 million, of whom 35,000 were aged 14 or under in 1971 and will not yet be old enough to vote.

Is it just that citizens of the Republic living in Britain should have a right to vote but our own United Kingdom citizens, working in Europe for this country, are not allowed to vote, when the Government have told us that this is a unique occasion for the future of the country and everybody in it?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we try to adhere as closely as possible to the normal electoral law—

I wish that Conservative Members would, just once in a while, allow a Minister to answer a question without interrupting from a seated position. We try to adhere to normal electoral law, under which Irish citizens living in this country are entitled to vote if they are on the register, but British citizens in Europe who have not taken the trouble to register are not. But I said a minute ago that I recognised that there were varying points of view about the matter. I have undertaken to consider very carefully all the points of view put in the debate last week, and I shall do that.


asked the Lord President of the Council what steps he has taken to ascertain the difficulties which might be involved in the distribution of ballot papers to United Kingdom embassies, consulates and high commissions for the forthcoming referendum.

I would refer the hon. Member to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I said in the debate on 10th April.—[Vol. 889, c. 1424 and 1537.] The Government are, however, urgently considering the matter in the light of points made in that debate.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that answer, and for agreeing to see me this evening. Will he bear in mind that the amendment which has been tabled to the Referendum Bill is not aimed just at trying to enfranchise people living within the EEC area? That is a misconception, and it would be unfortunate if it took hold in people's minds. Will the Lord President tell his hon. Friend that the reason why the referendum is different from a General Election, and therefore why we want to try to enfranchise the people in question, is that no constituencies are involved in the referendum? We are not electing Members of Parliament. In the right hon. Gentleman's own words, this is a unique occasion. Therefore, there is no reason why people who are abroad and who are not registered in a particular constituency should not vote, provided they have the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

I am sure that my hon. Friend realises all that—but I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends who put that point of view will realise the difficulties. Many people who have gone to live abroad have turned their hacks on this country and are living on the Costa Brava, in Malta, and elsewhere. [Interruption.] I am just pointing out one of the problems. Under the hon. Gentleman's proposal they would be allowed to vote, but someone in my constituency who, because he lived in a slum tenement and had been moved during the currency of the register, would not have a vote. There are considerable difficulties. Nevertheless, I have promised to reconsider the whole question. I realise that there is a point of view here, but any scheme which could be worked out would be makeshift, of a Heath Robinson type, and full of holes, and there would be a great risk of bringing our electoral system into disrepute. However, in spite of all the difficulties—it is no good trying to laugh them off, because they are consider- able—I promise to examine the matter again.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we on the Labour benches realise that the quicker the referendum is held the better it will be for the British economy, and that he should not delay holding the referendum in order to give people living overseas the right to vote in it?

That is the other point of view. There are these two points of view. As I have said three or four times already, I promise to review the whole situation again this week.

I think that everybody realises that there are difficulties. We do not minimise them. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will look into the matter. Is he aware that many individuals who are doing a useful job for this country, in Europe and other countries, badly want to vote about something which affects the future of this country? These are people who are not in a tax-free situation but who are working for this country as our representatives. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to minimise their political rights, although many others do. Does not he think that "Heath Robinson" is not a particularly appropriate term for the referendum?

It is an inappropriate term for the referendum as a whole, but for any scheme for all the people living abroad it would be very appropriate. The vast majority of the people working in Europe could have registered in this country if they had wished. If they have registered, they can vote by proxy.

In view of the tremendous interest being shown by Conservative Members in the need to make elections as fair as possible, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should arrange a debate before the next General Election on how to make General Elections much fairer than they are now, and in particular on the way in which the two major parties are financed?

There is a case for setting up the Speaker's Conference again before the next General Election. I hope that we shall do so, and that we shall refer a number of matters to it.

With regard to my hon. Friend's second point, I hope in the very near future to announce the composition of the committee the setting up of which I announced in the House some time ago.

In view of the comment made by a number of hon. Members that there is a fundamental difference between a General Election and a referendum, in that the referendum results are not on a constituency basis, will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the pressure applied by such hon. Members with regard to people living abroad will not militate against the declaration of the result on a constituency basis if that is the wish of the House at a later stage?

It will not do that. I do not think that the votes need necessarily be sent to a given constituency. But that is one of the problems that would have to be sorted out if we worked out a scheme for people living abroad.

We are glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to the problem of British subjects living abroad. Will he consider whether, in this unique case, it is necessary to go through all the steps which are rightly considered necessary for a General Election, such as the publication of draft registers, the opportunity for challenge of the registers, transporting the ballot box to the scene of the count, and so on? In a General Election, one vote may make all the difference. Is not the referendum likely to be different?

Everyone will agree that it is in the interests of the country to get the referendum over as quickly as possible and remove the uncertainty about British membership one way or the other. But in view of the time factor it would not be possible to go through all the stages the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We should have to short-circuit many of them.

House Of Commons

Television Programmes


asked the Lord President of the Council if he will arrange for a videotape viewing machine to be available within the Palace of Westminster so that Members may view tele- vision programmes of public interest or controversy.

This matter is at the moment under consideration by the Services Committee.


European Community


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what arrangements he has made to obtain the views of industry on Great Britain's continued membership of the European Community.

My Department has received and continues to receive representations from both sides of industry and its representative bodies on a wide range of Community matters, including the question of membership.

As the Secretary of State for Industry is more concerned to pursue his political prejudices than to represent the views of British industry, which unanimously wishes to stay within Europe, should not the Secretary of State follow his former junior colleague and retire to the back benches to make room for a Minister who is prepared to back up and express the views of British industry and Government policy?

We rather expected a supplementary question like that from the hon. Gentleman. It does not advance the case either for or against membership of the Common Market on the renegotiated terms. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is concerned to ensure the success of British industry and is putting forward his point of view.