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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 895: debated on Monday 7 July 1975

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


Housing Subsidies


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest available estimate of the cost to the central Government of (a) construction of new local authority housing in Wales, and (b) the repairs and maintenance of local authority housing in Wales for the current financial year; and how these figures compare with corresponding ones for 1974–75.

£21·98 million is to be provided by the Welsh Office towards the cost of construction of new local authority housing in 1975–76. The Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975 does not provide for subsidising repairs and maintenance incurred in 1975–76.

For 1974–75 central Government housing subsidies, for local authority new house construction and repairs and maintenance, are estimated at about £17 million. It is not possible to apportion this between the two headings.

Is the Minister aware that there are considerable misgivings in many parts of Wales about a cut-back in the amount of money available for the maintenance and repair of council properties, and that in my constituency this has had, a severe effect on schemes that were to go ahead? Can he assure us that if a cutback has to take place at all, it will be no greater than the 17 per cent. cutback referred to by the Secretary of State on 16th June in a debate on housing, and that every effort will be made to ensure that the areas that most need the money will get the money that is available?

The problem of improving old houses which have been acquired by local authorities is a considerable one which causes concern throughout Wales, to my right hon. and learned Friend and to myself. One reason why the circular was issued was to enable us to stop the present position, to examine it and to see what we can do to improve the especially difficult areas.

Can the Minister tell us whether the figure for new houses constructed includes houses which were originally intended to be for private ownership and which have been acquired by various authorities? If so, can he tell us whether those are broadly on the same price levels or cost the same to local authorities as those which they plan in the normal way?

No. The £21·9 million is the amount provided for the cost of construction of new houses.

Can the Minister assure us that the £21·9 million will result in the Government reaching their target for housing construction? Is he aware that the housing situation is now desperate and that complaints are coming in from all parts of the Principality?

I am certainly aware of the housing problem in Wales. Perhaps the best reply I can give to the hon. Gentleman is to indicate to him that public sector starts for the first four months of 1975 were 3,398, which is a considerable improvement on the corresponding period last year when only 1,979 were started. If the Conservative Party, when in office had done a little more, we might not be in such a bad situation as we are today.

European Community


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how his policies for Wales will be affected by the results of the referendum.

I shall continue to do my utmost to ensure that Wales derives maximum benefit from our continued membership of the Community.

In view of the serious economic situation of the country, can the Secretary of State give an assurance that the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Assembly proposals will not be shelved until 1980 or later?

Without going into detail at this stage, can my right hon. and learned Friend give the House an assurance that he has officials who are constantly working and studying the position to ensure that Wales derives the maximum benefit by way of grants and loans from all the Community funds? Moreover, against the background of our present economic difficulties does he agree that this is more important than ever before?

Yes. I immediately reassure my right hon. Friend that the other day the Commission made it clear that allegations that we were not getting what was due to us were wholly unfounded. Indeed, my officials are constantly travelling between Britain and Brussels. There is one there today and he will also be there tomorrow. He was also there last Monday and Tuesday. Two senior officials were in Brussels on 18th and 19th June and further visits are being arranged.

Will the Secretary of State urge his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reject completely Mr. Lardinois' milk policy, which would be especially disastrous for Welsh farmers and would involve a cut-back for winter milk? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman also aware that this would mean that Welsh farmers will have paid a crippling price for continued membership of the Common Market?

I take note of the hon. Gentleman's remarks and I shall certainly convey them to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who I am sure will do his utmost to ensure that Welsh agriculture is fully, properly and adequately protected.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many Welsh farmers market their sheep and lambs in Oswestry Market? Is he further aware of the importance of sheep and lambs in the rural economy of Wales? In the light of that, will he take this opportunity to indicate to the House what are the main desirable characteristics he would like to see written into the Community regime that is promised for sheep?

There is no need for me to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am deeply conscious, for family reasons, of the importance of Oswestry as a marketing centre. I assure him that in due course my right hon. Friend will be making a statement to the House and representations on the very subject about which he has spoken.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales in what ways Wales is to be represented in the institutions of the EEC.

The interests of Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom, are fully safeguarded through our membership of the Community.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his reply is totally unsatisfactory, especially in view of the fact that small countries in Europe, like Denmark, Ireland and even Luxembourg, have permanent representation in the institutions of the EEC, members in the Council of Ministers and the Commission and an adequate quota of members in the important committees, such as the Economic and Social Affairs Committee? Is he aware that Ireland has 10 members in the European Parliament and Luxembourg has six while Wales has none? Does he not accept that this is due to the fact that those countries have full national status, and will he join with us in pressing for full national status for Wales?

My statement may be unacceptable to the hon. Gentleman but I am sure it is not unacceptable to the people of Wales. The hon. Gentleman's remarks amounted to a demand for separation and an independent Wales. The other countries he mentioned are separate and independent. The last time this matter was put to the test in Wales, his party received the votes of only 10·7 per cent. of the electorate, and that figure went down marginally in three successive General Elections.

Why has the Welsh Office no officials on the United Kingdom delegation in Brussels when there are officials from other Government Departments?

In the post-referendum period I am anxious to ensure that we improve the contacts which already exist between the whole of the United Kingdom, particularly Wales, and Brussels. This is a matter which I shall consider. I want to emphasise that my officials are in Brussels this week, were there last week and have been there in recent months. There is a constant interchange between my officials and various departments in Brussels.

School Leavers (Employment)


asked the Secretary of States for Wales what projects he proposes to initiate under the special powers now available to him in order to provide useful occupation for school leavers who are unable to find employment at the present time.

The powers my right hon. and learned Friend has assumed under the Industry Act 1972 do not enable him to initiate such schemes. However, we will use these powers to the full to create new employment opportunities generally, thereby increasing the jobs available for school leavers.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of unemployed school leavers has reached an unacceptably high level even before the end of the school year? What is the outlook for school leavers who will be leaving in the next few days for finding a reasonable job? Is this what the Labour Party meant when it talked about getting Britain back to work? Is it not time that the Secretary of State admitted that the number of unemployed now and the even greater number to be expected next year are due solely to the failure of this Government to tackle the problem of inflation by telling the people that unless they accept a cut in their living standards now they will be without a job next year?

The hon. Gentleman is scraping the barrel on this one. I stress that the Government inherited a miserably stagnated economy from the previous administration and that the Government are currently engaged on the major issue of organising a strategy to defeat inflation.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's own locality, I looked at the figures relating to North-East Wales. They are not good enough. The present Government regard unemployment as something to be defeated and they will take every measure possible to do so—for example, the Community Industry Scheme, the contingency plans of the Training Services Agency and the Training Award Scheme. These are schemes announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and they are making a positive contribution to getting rid of school-leaving unemployment.

Will my hon. Friend, together with the Department of Employment, direct attention to the decline in the number of apprenticeships in Wales, particularly in the construction and engineering industries in the present recession, so that this country will be prepared for the expected upturn in the economy when it occurs?

Yes, I can take that on board. I have mentioned the Training Award Scheme. This is designed to keep the young off the streets and out of the dole queue by, for example, giving a £15 a week tax-free grant so that youngsters can have an apprenticeship training scheme for one year.

If I may take up that last point, is the Under-Secretary aware that in 1972 his fellow Under-Secretary said that he felt especially strongly about school leavers and in the course of a debate put forward specific proposals designed to deal with that situation, and that that was at a time when unemployment was lower than it is now? Will the hon. Gentleman assure me that he will take up those proposals? Does he share the view that his hon. Friend expressed at that time that the unemployment figures are an absolute condemnation of the Government and of their policy?

I have already outlined the way in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment intends to tackle the problem in Wales with regard to school-leaving unemployment. As for the hon. Gentleman's quotation of a remark by a colleague of mine, the record of the previous administration in 1972 was a miserable one.

Local Authority Mortgages


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the present position with regard to the granting of local authority mortgages within Wales.

My right hon. and learned Friend has suspended local authority mortgage lending for the time being. This and the withdrawal of the general consent to acquire dwellings will enable us to reassess expenditure levels in the housing budget and make any necessary adjustments in the light of the overall housing expenditure situation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a continuation of this suspension will have a most devastating effect on housing stress, particularly in our older industrial areas, because authorities like my own in Swansea have directed mortgages at the older terrace-type property which building societies will not touch? Therefore, will my hon. Friend try to make this suspension as brief as possible, relax it early and, more particularly, initiate discussions with building societies in Wales in the hope that some building society funds can be channelled into this sector which currently the building societies will not enter?

I assure my hon. Friend that I appreciate that local authority mortgage lending is a very necessary service in Wales, particularly in older industrial areas like his and the constituency that I represent. We hope that the suspensions need last for only a short while to enable us to know exactly how much money has been committed to this sector The problem facing us is that we do not know how much money has been committed to this sphere.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the building societies. I am already arranging to have discussions to see whether building societies can advance money in areas which up to now they have sought to avoid.

Did the Minister actually say that the Government were not aware of the amount of money spent in this sector? Is he aware that what his hon. Friend just said makes one wonder why the Government persist in allowing councils to proceed to purchase enormous numbers of privately-built houses?

I said "committed". I followed the pattern followed by the previous Government. On this question of mortgage lending, we are not in a position to know exactly how much local authorities have committed to this purpose. If we intend, as I believe we should, to allocate our finance to the areas of greatest need, it is essential for us to know the individual commitments of each local authority in Wales.

Is the Under-Secretary aware—I am sure that representing Rhondda he is—of the great discrepancy between the percentage of owner-occupiers in many parts of Wales and the pattern that may be prevalent in the London area and most of England? For that reason, will he press that we should have policies that respond to these different circumstances, particularly in this instance, so that money can be available for mortgages through the councils for older houses which cannot get money from building societies rather than that all the money is piled up on new housing projects when there may not be land in many parts of Wales for such projects?

It is because we are aware of that point and of the essential differences between the housing needs of Wales and those of England that the policies for Wales do not follow the pattern in England. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that my right hon. Friend responsible for housing in England transferred one-third of the money available for this sort of purpose from home loan mortgages to improvements. We do not believe that this is necessarily the right thing to do for Wales.

Employment (Gwynedd)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is aware of the threat to the employment of road workers and Crosville employees in Gwynedd; and what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the situation.

I am aware of these difficulties in the council's area, but I understand that no formal decisions on job losses have yet been taken.

Bearing in mind that Gwynedd is the fourth highest rated county in England and Wales and that it is therefore contributing very considerably from local resources, is it not clear that the transport grant and the rate support grant for Gwynedd are totally inadequate?

We have had this discussion in the course of the year. The rate support grant for Wales and for Gwynedd is very high. Having regard to the particular point of the transport supplementary grant, which is perhaps of more immediate concern to the hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport has already told local authorities that in our consideration of the allocation of this grant for 1976–77 priority will be given to proposals to provide or maintain minimum public transport services in less densely populated areas. I hope that this will be welcomed by the hon. Gentleman.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the statement which he has just made is totally unacceptable to the people of Gwynedd for the coming year, since workers on road schemes in Gwynedd and those employed by the bus companies will be made redundant this year and money next year or the year after will be too late for many of them? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that the increase in rate support grant for Gwynedd which he announced before Christmas, which was 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. below the average increase for England and Wales, was unsatisfactory and insufficient and that something must be done to prevent the redundancies which are now facing our county?

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the planning of transport services and the allocation of resources within Gwynedd is a matter for Gwynedd itself. I certainly do not accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, but I say to him, as I have said before—I do not have the exact figures here with me—that the higher proportion of general rate support grant to Wales in relation to that for England includes the figure for Gwynedd itself, which is very high, probably one of the highest in Wales.

Will the Secretary of State agree to look again at the whole problem of our rural counties with above-average road mileages to maintain?

I am always ready to look in relation to future years at the possibility of increasing whatever resources are available in order to ensure that those in greatest need have as adequate access to public finance as is possible. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is now advocating an increase in public expenditure. If he is, perhaps he will make his position clear.

Schools (Truancy)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will institute an inquiry into the problem of truancy in Welsh schools.

A departmental working group has already reported to my right hon. and learned Friend on absenteeism from the schools of Wales. The Welsh Joint Education Committee, teachers' associations and others are now being consulted about this report, which deals with truancy as well as other forms of absenteeism.

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the truancy statistics which seem to have shocked the journalists came as no surprise whatever to masters and mistresses in Welsh comprehensive schools? Will he now try to ascertain the cause of truancy, and will he look at the raising of the school leaving age to see whether that is a major cause?

I recognise the seriousness of the figures shown in the report. I regard truancy as a distress call and as a missed opportunity to prepare oneself for life. There is no complacency whatever in the Welsh Office on this matter. We shall treat it with urgency and consult widely, returning to the House with measures to get rid of the bad figures which presently exist.

In view of the anxious concern expressed by many experienced teachers in many parts of Wales, especially in the pressure areas, the larger urban conurbations and so on, can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that his right hon. and learned Friend and all who are involved in the Welsh Office will treat this matter with the utmost urgency with a view to examining and implementing this report at the earliest possible date?

I give that assurance. I can tell the hon. Gentleman also that the South Glamorgan local education authority has itself, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Social Services, initiated a study, and I am awaiting that report as well. I am fully apprised of the correlation between urban areas and high rates of truancy. Finally, I must stress the extreme importance of the contribution that parents can make in this matter.

Road Programme


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will list his current order of priority for schemes in the Welsh road building programme in the light of reduced public expenditure.

We are giving priority to the M4 motorway and Britannia Bridge schemes. The order of priority of other schemes is being reviewed.

I am a little perturbed by that reply, notwithstanding my personal interest in the M4 motorway. Against the background of questions about the road programme in Gwynedd and the rural areas, will my hon. Friend give a categorical assurance that the resources which are available for road building will be spread equitably throughout the whole of Wales and not be concentrated on one or two schemes?

Our overall priority in the short term is completion of the M4 motorway. Thereafter, such resources as are available—or the majority of them—will be switched to the A55. I stress again that the Britannia Bridge project is to go ahead. Moreover, throughout Wales schemes under £1 million will also go ahead.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the fairly extensive improvements which are now taking place on the English side of the border on roads into North Wales, coupled with the total failure so far to make further progress with the improvement of the A55, will make the traffic problem along the A55 very much worse in a year or so as the larger flow of traffic comes sweeping into North Wales to meet the congestion which it will there encounter?

I take the point which the hon. Gentleman made in his opening words, but I think that he exaggerates the problem in relation to the A55, because there have recently been some very good improvement schemes there.

May I, on behalf of West Wales, pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his achievement in preserving the priority of the M4, which is the key to our industrial development?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I recollect that he himself made a contribution in that respect in an Adjournment debate on the M4 in April.

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that between 1966 and 1970 the then Labour Government in successive years reduced expenditure on Welsh roads, at a time when they were increasing expenditure on roads in England by no less than 150 per cent.? Will the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and learned Friend do their utmost in these circumstances to resist any major cuts on Welsh roads at present?

The Government's record here is good. We are well aware of the need for good road communications in Wales, especially with reference to the need to safeguard and enhance the provision of jobs.

Opencast Mining


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions have taken place between his Department and the National Coal Board relating to the environmental aspects of opencast mining in South Wales; and whether he will make a statement.

Both under the Opencast Coal Act 1958 and under the Countryside Act 1968 there are obligations on the National Coal Board and the Government to have regard to environmental issues in dealing with opencast proposals. This is a matter to which we shall give close attention when we are consulted.

In view of the likelihood of our entire energy programme being modified by North Sea oil, is it not time that greater weight was given to the environmental disasters which this type of mining precipitates in South Wales? Will the Minister give an assurance that if the National Coal Board proceeds with its present proposals at Abersychan, which would ravage our eastern valley, and if the Torfaen council objects, a public inquiry will be held at which the people of Abersychan will be able to demonstrate and explain their unremitting hostility to the present proposals?

I give an assurance that if the National Coal Board makes application for this sort of development at Abersychan and there are objections by Torfaen or by the county council, a public local inquiry will be necessary and will be held. Moreover, such an inquiry would be necessary if there were a substantial volume of objection from other sources as well.

Unemployed Persons


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the increase in the number of unemployed in Wales, and the fewer job vacancies now available in the Principality.

The Welsh Council has expressed its concern to me, and I am aware of the concern of many other organisations in Wales.

Does the Secretary of State recall that he and his colleagues used to assail Conservative Governments month in and month out, and year in and year out, over a very long time when there were far fewer unemployed than there are at present and many more vacancies? Can he imagine the sort of outcry there would have been if a Conservative Government had published such dismal statistics as his Government recently published?

Certainly, we face a serious situation, and the hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that. I am confident that the measures indicated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week will ensure that we tackle the serious problems which face us all—problems about which I warned the House on the first Welsh day last year, when I said that things would get worse before they got better, in view of our inheritance from the previous Government.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we have recently lost a major industrial project which would have given us many jobs in Caernarvon? Is he aware that there were two main reasons, inadequate road network and the cost of water? Is he further aware that there has been an astronomical increase in the cost of water for industry and did he know that a firm in my constituency, Bryncir Woollen Mills, last year paid £54 for water and this year has received a bill for £17,000? In the light of that sort of proposed increase and the effect it has on employment, can the Secretary of State say when he expects to be able to announce the findings of the Daniel Committee?

The Conservative Party set up the Welsh Water Authority and the present board operates under the same Act. It might have been as well if the hon. Member had remembered this when he supported the main Opposition on Thursday in attempting to defeat the Government on the Industry Bill.

Does the Secretary of State think that because he warned of dangers, that is an excuse for the present situation? Does he recall that in 1972 he said that Wales would not tolerate a level of unemployment which was a good deal lower than it is now? Does he think that the people of Wales will tolerate that level because it has been caused by the policies of his Government?

The unemployment figures are grave. I do not, and never have attempted to, minimise the gravity of the situation. Measures are being taken to tackle inflation and I hope that they will be supported by all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) made a very serious charge when he said that a major industry had failed to come to North Wales? I think he was referring to Glaxo, Can my right hon. and learned Friend look at this matter and perhaps talk to the firm's chairman and directors and find out why it failed to come to this area of high unemployment?

I will do that. This issue arose before I took over certain industrial powers on 1st July, but it is right to examine cases where industry is lost. No one is more aware than I of the inadequate road communications in North Wales, but I think it is right to concentrate on certain priorities and get one job properly done at a time to avoid the pepperpot road pattern which exists throughout North and South Wales.

Economic Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will ask the Welsh Council to report on the impact of the Government's economic policies on the Welsh economy.

The council discussed these issues at its meeting on 12th May and the chairman subsequently wrote to me. I met a deputation from the council on 30th June for further discussions.

Having achieved simultaneously through his policies the highest level of unemployment in Wales for 35 years and a record rate of inflation, does the Secretary of State now expect that his policies will cause unemployment to rise or fall in the coming months?

I think it is right to expect unemployment to rise in the coming months.

M4 Motorway


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give the latest estimated date for the completion of the M4 motorway; and if he will make a statement.

About 30 miles should be under construction by the end of the year, and most of the motorway should be completed by the end of 1977, but the Bridgend Northern bypass and the Castleton-Coryton sections are unlikely to be finished before late 1979. The section between Baglan and Lonlas is in the initial stages of preparation and it is too early to forecast a completion date.

Is the Minister aware that there is a cynical view in South Wales that this completion date is for ever receding into the distance? When may we expect the results and findings of the inquiry into the section bypassing Cardiff?

I think that the hon. Gentleman's cynicism is a little misplaced. The inspector's report on the Castleton to Coryton section has been received by my Department.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that the date has slipped back under successive Governments and that it is disappointing that it is now even later? Can he give us any date for the completion of the extension work on the Carmarthen bypass and the dual carriageway to St. Clears, which is of equal importance to my constituency and to developments which may take place in the Celtic Sea?

I take on board the importance of any development in the Celtic Sea. We envisage the terminal point of the M4 at Pont Abraham and a much improved road to St. Clears on the A40 and A48.


Aircraft (Sales To America)


asked the Secretary of State for Industry what plans he has for increased British penetration of the American civil aircraft market.

The United States is our best customer for aerospace products, taking one-third of our aerospace exports in 1974, worth about £192 million. We shall continue ever effort to improve on this and consolidate our already strong position in the aero-engine and equipment fields.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend on the considerable Government support for the 524 engine and its penetration of the American market through the Boeing company? Is he aware that the McDonnel-Douglas company is the third major manufacturer expressing interest in this engine? Will the Government be prepared to consider sympathetically any request for a similar adaptation from this third manufacturer? Will my hon. Friend also say to everyone in my constituency, managements and unions alike, that taxpayers' money is involved and there are no additional resources for the kind of wage bargaining now going on at Rolls-Royce?

It is not for me to get involved in wage bargaining questions. On my hon. Friend's other question, this is one of the benefits of the wise public ownership of Rolls-Royce carried out by the Conservative Party.

In view of the Under-Secretary's new responsibilities, does he not agree that one of the main features of attempts to sell aircraft in the United States is the natural opposition and competition from the American aircraft manufacturing industry? If Europe is to succeed in penetrating this market and holding its own market, does he agree that all Ministers in European Governments must take positive steps towards a European aerospace policy, and will he make a specific point of setting his sights on this target?

By the vote of the British people last month, we are members of the EEC and we are always prepared to consider co-operation with our European allies. On the question of aerospace equipment to the United States, we had 37 per cent. of its import market last year compared with France's 7·5 per cent., Germany's 6·8 per cent. and Italy's 4 per cent. We are not doing too badly.

Does the Minister appreciate that penetration of the United States market and other markets has been greatly damaged by the uncertainty created by the Government's nationalisation proposals? What is happening to help aircraft companies in this uncertain situation, particularly with respect to performance guarantees on future contracts?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made perfectly clear what the interim position will be until the Bill is enacted, which will be as soon as possible. If the hon. Member thinks that the delay in achieving public ownership is causing uncertainty, if he would agree to the Bill going through the Second Reading procedure we could make it law this Session.

Civil Service

Employment Relocation (Consultation)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether he is satisfied with the consultation procedures for Civil Service personnel who are being asked to change their place of work.

Yes, Sir. The Civil Service Department has a joint committee with the national staff side for the discussion of dispersal problems. Dispersing Departments similarly are in close touch with their departmental staff sides.

Does the Minister agree that there are certain specialised skills in the Civil Service which often have limited alternative opportunities in the private sector, and that it seems very unfair if such people are forced to relocate when it might be inconvenient for them to do so for family or personal reasons? Is he aware that they are then in a position of having to resign from the Civil Service without redundancy benefit and without adequate alternative employment?

Non-mobile grades—clerical officers and grades below and their equivalents—will not be required to disperse but may volunteer to do so. As for mobile grades of staff above the executive officer and equivalent level, it is the Government's intention that where possible they should be transferred only on a voluntary basis, but in some cases there will be no work of the same type left in London after dispersal. This is a fact of life which the Government are seeking to deal with.

Has my hon. Friend consulted the staff of his Department and of Her Majesty's Stationery Office in Norwich about the apparently obstructive attitude towards the expansion of public service opportunities in Norwich by the Norwich County Council?

The issue to which my hon. Friend referred is a matter of concern to the Civil Service Department. We were grateful for the action which my hon. Friend took in drawing public attention to this particular difficulty.

What is the point of consultation if the Government do not intend to pay the slightest heed to the wishes of the people consulted? Is it not clear that the Government intend to move the directorate of Overseas Surveys to Glasgow although the people who work in it wish to stay in London?

I do not wish to give the impression that the Government as an employer are impervious to the wishes and understandable domestic difficulties which civil servants in London who are subject to dispersal are likely to encounter as a consequence of the dispersal policy. However, the Government have a responsibility to the nation in relation to the dispersal of Civil Service posts. Their policy is to disperse 31,000 Civil Service posts over the next 10 years.

As the Government are committed within the fairly near future to setting up an Assembly in Edinburgh, what consultation is going on about the rundown of the London Civil Service in that event? Is it intended that personnel should be transferred from London to Edinburgh?

Any final arrangements for the creation of a separate Civil Service in connection with the establishment of the Assembly in Scotland will have to await the working out of the constitutional framework.

There is an obvious solution to the points raised by the hon. Members for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) and Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), and that is to provide Civil Service job opportunities in Scotland, particularly Glasgow. The people of Scotland will not be too happy about the remarks of the two hon. Members because Scottish families have been unrooted for decade after decade.

It is because we are concerned about the unemployment situation in Glasgow, Merseyside, the North-East and elsewhere that we are determined to honour our commitment to disperse the Civil Service to these regional locations.



asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will consider introducing amending legislation to the Pensions (Increase) Act 1974 to allow special supplements on lump sums for those public servants who retired after December 1972.

No, Sir. The purpose of the 1974 Act was to ensure that those retiring after December 1972 on salaries affected by the 1972–73 counter-inflation measures did not, as a result of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 arrangements, receive for the rest of their lives pensions below those of colleagues with the same pattern of service who had retired immediately before the introduction of those measures. Lump sums were not affected in the same way. No one retiring in the period in question would have received a smaller lump sum than a predecessor with the same pattern of service.

Does the Minister agree that those living on fixed incomes and who retired during this period comprise one of the sections of society which are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of inflation? In this respect does he not agree that the Government have a responsibility to their former employees?

I do not disagree with the hon. Member about the difficulties facing those living on fixed incomes. However, conceding supplements on lump sums would involve accepting the principle of notional rates of pay, which is something that successive Governments and the Inland Revenue Department have been reluctant to do.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends would be outraged if the Government took the steps suggested by Conservative Members at a time when we are seeking to curb public expenditure. Is my hon. Friend aware that this suggestion comes very low in the order of priorities for public expenditure?

Will the Minister review the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971? Is he satisfied with the way it is working? Is he aware that it gives all former public servants inflation-proof pensions which no private pension scheme could possibly afford to give? Does he agree that the capital value of these pensions for some civil servants runs into six figures, which is far in excess of what was originally intended?

The hon. Member is suggesting that the inflation-proofing of Civil Service pensions was not intended. I can tell him only that the legislation was put on the statute book by the Conservatives. As for whether the Government are satisfied, we recognise that we have an obligation to retired civil servants in this regard.

Government Departments (Relocation)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what steps are being taken to redress the imbalance in the number of civil servants of central Government Departments employed in the various economic regions of England outside the South-East.

As my hon. Friend knows, we announced last year an intensive programme for the relocation of Civil Service work away from the South-East involving some 31,000 posts, nearly 90 per cent. of which will be located in the assisted areas. It is our policy to continue to look for opportunities to disperse Government work from London and the South-East and to set up any new work in other regions whenever possible.

I welcome the action taken to situate the Manpower Services Commission in Sheffield, but is the Minister aware that the number of nonindustrial civil servants in Yorkshire and Humberside is 23,000 compared with 33.000 in the Northern Region, 44,000 in the South-West and 47,000 in the North-West? Will he bear this in mind when considering future redeployment programmes?

Clerical Officers (Pay)


asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will consider shortening the number of increments on the pay scale for clerical officers.

The present incremental scale for clerical officers is agreed with the staff associations concerned, and does not fall to be reviewed until 1976.

There is general support for the principle of incremental scales. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is hope that these will not be restricted by the current discussions between the Government and the TUC but that the increments in the clerical officer and clerical assistant grades are so long that it takes almost a decade to reach the top point of the scale and that they are therefore almost meaningless?

I understand and appreciate the concern my hon. Friend has expressed, particularly since I was once a civil servant in a grade which at that time had 18 points on the incremental pay scale. I appreciate the irritation and frustration felt by civil servants in such grades.



asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will move for the appointment of a Select Committee into the workings of Parliament.

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

I am planning a major review of parliamentary procedure in the autumn. Whether this should be done by Select Committee or in some other way is still to be decided.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his answer will be warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will he accept that Parliament's rôole as a check on the executive and also as a forum for national debate needs re-examination in the light of modern conditions? Will he also accept that we need to look at the servicing and working conditions of Members of Parliament, including late parliamentary hours?

I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. The first point is the fundamental one. The relationship between the roles of the executive and of the legislature has rather changed in recent years. I agree that this is fundamental to parliamentary democracy. The second matter is the kind of practical problem with which a radical review of this kind should be concerned.

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he gave an assurance recently to find time for debating the valuable report of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) on the preparation of legislation? As this deals with a substantial aspect of the working of Parliament, can the right hon. Gentleman say when that debate may take place?

I pay tribute to the excellence of the report by the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). I hope that we can debate both this report and the report from the Select Committee on Procedure before the end of the present Session.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the review of the working of Parliament, take into account the changing nature of the composition of the House of Commons and the fact that it is now a multi-party Chamber, whereas many of our procedures are still geared to the outdated two-party system?

Certainly I should welcome the views of hon. Members over the next few weeks on the scope of the review.

May I take up a slight ambiguity in my right hon. Friend's remarks and ask whether he is aware that this House and the other place are masters of their own procedures, and that a Joint Committee would be better than any such body as a Royal Commission or anything of that sort?

I rule out a Royal Commission, which would take much too long, but there are a number of other possibilities. One is a Joint Committee and another is whether we should bring in one or two people from outside to help us. I think that the public have a point of view here, too.

Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that his remarks ruling cut a Royal Commission are wholly welcome to everyone on this side of the House? It is pleasant to be able to agree with the right hon. Gentleman for once. May I ask whether he is aware that while the Opposition would welcome a review of the working of Parliament we would want to be assured that not too much influence would be exerted by those who have succeeded in gumming up the proceedings of the House of Commons with the present congested legislative programme

I think that the gumming up, as the right hon. Gentleman rather inelegantly calls it, is due to a number of factors. That cited by him may be one, but there are others that I could mention. The right hon. Gentleman started his supplementary question in a harmonious way, and I shall not disturb the harmony.

Political Parties (Subsidies)


asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects to receive the report of Lord Houghton's committee on the proposal that Government subsidies should be made available to political parties for their work outside Parliament.

The terms of reference of Lord Houghton's committee are:

To consider whether, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, provision should be made from public funds to assist political parties in carrying out their functions outside Parliament: to examine the practice of other parliamentary democracies in this field, and to make recommendations as to the scope of political activities to which any such provision should relate and the method of its allocation.
The committee met for the first time on 19th June. It is too early to say how long it is likely to take.

Will the right hon. Gentleman please look at this again in the present situation? At a time when so many voluntary organisations are fighting for their lives against inflation, would it not be a scandalous abuse of power if political parties were to give themselves special protection by voting themselves subsidies from the public purse?

That is a point of view, but it is not the only one. I believe that political parties are an essential part of the machinery of democracy. Many parliamentary democracies have done this, including such countries as New Zealand, Sweden and so on, and all that this committee is doing is inquiring into this and making recommendations to us. It has no recommendation before it, and it is open to anybody to submit evidence. The committee has welcomed this. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has submitted evidence to it, and any other hon. Members may do so.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that this matter must be treated with the greatest of care because many hon. Members on this side of the House, and on the other side too, believe that unless we are very careful this could undermine the type of democratic system that we have? The idea of payments to political parties could lead to the sort of situation that exists in some of the European parties where there are lists of candidates, kept members who have little independence. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend note that many of us who passionately believe in the democratic process feel that in certain circumstances this could undermine the democratic process?

That, too, is a point of view, and it is the kind of consideration that Lord Houghton's committee, which is a balanced one, will take into account.

House Of Commons

Travel Facilities (Members)


asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will arrange for similar travel facilities as are available to staff of the House of Commons after late sittings to be available to those Members who wish to use them.

I recognise that late sittings impose a heavy burden on many Members. The arrangements that operate for members of staff would probably not be ideal for Members, but if there is strong feeling on this I will consider it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that those who have constituencies a considerable distance from the House are forced in present circumstances, when there is a late sitting, either to possess two cars, which is beyond the means of most of us, or to travel home by taxi, for which at most we can claim 7·7p per mile? Is he aware that that is not adequate and we should be glad if he would do something about it?

May I, for the benefit of hon. Members, make the position quite clear, because my hon. Friend did not get it quite right? Perhaps I may put on record exactly what is the present position.

Hon. Members travelling home by their own cars may receive the car allowance. Hon. Members going home by taxi can claim the car allowance and charge any difference between the taxi fare and the car allowance against tax liabilities. Hon. Members who travel by rail can use warrants. Bus fares paid to get home can be reimbursed. Hon. Members can use their travel allowance to enable them to travel either to and from their constituencies or in London. A scheme was introduced on 17th March 1947 but it was so unsuccessful that it was suspended on 23rd April 1947.

Will the right hon. Gentleman be careful to avoid any further measures which tend to equate hon. Members of this House with paid servants of the Crown?

Without commenting on that, what I said was that if there was a general demand for me to look at it I should be prepared to do so. I have looked carefully at the scheme introduced in 1947. It was very difficult to organise, and in the end it had to be abandoned.

Devolution (Legislation)


asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will now make a statement on the timetable for the proposed legislation on devolution.

My right hon. Friend the Lord President has several times told the House that there will be a White Paper in the autumn and that he hoped that the Bill would be ready by the end of the year, and there is no change in that position.

Bearing in mind that Assemblies for Scotland and Wales were promised in the Labour Party manifesto and that reference was made in the Queen's Speech to urgent preparations for such plans, will my hon. Friend do all he can to expedite the implementation of that decision and not listen to those Cabinet Ministers who are quoted as thinking that the devolution plans can be scrapped or shelved because of the recent EEC referendum result?

Everything has been and will be done to expedite the preparation of plans. If my hon. Friend accepts that this is a major constitutional change, I hope he will agree that we would be very ill-advised to rush into it with undue preparation.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people would entirely agree with his view that this is a major constitutional development which will have most profound repercussions for the whole of the United Kingdom and its future unity? Is he aware that any suggestion that this House should rush into it without the most careful consideration would be extremely unwise? Will he give an assurance that when the White Paper is published in the autumn there will be the opportunity for a debate and that the White Paper will do its best to give a realistic estimate of the likely cost of any developments outlined in it?

I hope that the cost of our devolution proposals will be minimal. They may well lead to a more sensible and coherent use of resources in Scotland and Wales. We are publishing the White Paper in the hope that there will be the fullest and freest discussion of its proposals in the House and outside it.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his last statement and his reply to his hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) represent a disgraceful piece of backsliding on this issue?

There is no backsliding. I repeated today the pledge that has been made in the past. It would appear that the hon. Gentleman is waiting to hear bad news which has has come to expect merely because his party sees an advantage in hearing bad news. There is no backsliding and I repeat the pledge I gave earlier.

As the Minister has said that there must be ample time for discussion after the publication of the White Paper in the autumn, will he give a guarantee that the Bill which follows will be introduced sufficiently early in the Session to allow proper discussion in Parliament rather than have what has happened this Session when important Bills have not appeared until April or May?

I will give an assurance that there will be adequate time for a full discussion of what will be a most important piece of legislation.

In view of the rumours that the Government are backpedalling on this question of devolution, may I ask the Minister to give a categoric assurance that the Bill will be published before the end of the year?

No, Sir. I have repeatedly said, as has my right hon. Friend, that we shall endeavour to have a Bill ready by the end of the year. As for rumours, we are not a Government who believe in Government by rumour. We may be reaching a point when Conservative Members and Members of the other parties start rumours which they think are to their political advantage and then quote them against the Government.

Is it true that the Government are considering giving separate powers of taxation to a Scottish Assembly? If this is the case, will the Government bear in mind the danger of Scotland becoming the most over-governed and over-taxed country in the world?

The hon. Member will get an answer to his question when the White Paper is published.