Consolidated Fund (No 2) Bill
Order for Second Reading read
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am grateful for this opportunity to refer briefly, under Class VI, Vote 1, Sub-Head A2, to road building in my constituency, especially the carrying out of a major road improvement between Cambridge and Godmanchester along the line of the A604, which has become an increasingly important east-west traffic route between the East Coast ports and the Midlands.The need to turn this road into a dual carriageway has been under consideration for more than seven years. In my remarks I want to help the Eastern Road Construction Unit, with which I have crossed swords in the past and with some of whose major decisions I am still in disagreement. On this occasion I want to help the unit to get its priorities right, to save money and farmland, and to protect the environment and the quality of life in my constituency, especially in the large village of Fenstanton. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport present on the Front Bench this afternoon. I am sorry that he has been given such short notice of this debate. I cannot possibly expect a long or detailed reply to the points that I shall be making, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear them in mind. The action taken as a result of this debate will decide what further action I may find it necessary to try to take at a later stage. Some 15 or 20 years ago a perfectly good bypass, with very wide verges, was built at Fenstanton. Presumably the verges were made wide with a view to the possibility of enlargement at a later stage. Unfortunately, the line chosen for the bypass then split the main part of Fenstanton from its southern outskirts, but the people living to the south of the village were able to maintain contact with the main village because special arrangements had been made for pedestrians and traffic to cross the road. That bypass has had and still has the great advantage of making the old, long, narrow village street fairly free from traffic. However, unfortunately it is now proposed to turn that bypass into a slip road as part of the arrangements for making the new A604 into a two-lane dual carriageway and, instead of using the bypass as it is and widening it slightly and perhaps straightening it a little, it is proposed to take quite a big loop, bigger than the present loop, which will take up a fair amount of farmland. This loop will be about 300 yards long and it is being extended eastwards from the eastern end of the bypass. It is proposed to do that so as to make the A604 into a straighter road. It must be accepted that by not having a bypass far to the south—I will come to that possibility in a moment; I concede that that one has gone past—the people living to the south will be even more cut off from the main village than they were before, because with a dual carriageway we must reconcile ourselves to fast and an ever-increasing volume of traffic. There will be extra expense involved in the construction that is proposed, namely, by turning the present bypass into a slip road and building another bypass immediately adjoining and to the south of it, and by extending it for 300 yards eastwards. I suggest that that will involve unnecessary expense and the unnecessary use of farmland. It would be much better to make the fullest possible use of the present bypass. It was suggested some years ago by Fenstanton Parish Council that an entirely new bypass well to the south of the whole of the village should be built to avoid disturbance. It might have cost more, and it might have used even more farmland than is now proposed, but now that we see what is proposed, both in the proposals that I have described and in the proposals that I am about to describe as regards the side roads, we must recognise that the route to the south might have been better. I hope that even at this late stage the proposal that I have described for the line of this trunk road, where it comes along adjacent to where the bypass is, can be dropped. No new notices would be needed, as I understand it, and therefore no delay involved, because the widening of the present bypass could take place under the present trunk road order and, indeed, would save the compulsory purchase of a great deal of land which it is now proposed to take. My other complaint relates to the draft side roads order as it affects Fenstanton. There are five main matters of complaint that Fenstanton Parish Council has put forward. There are other minor complaints, with which I will not trouble the House. I cannot refrain from saying that this is one of those rare cases when one could make one's views much more clear to the House if one could only point to a map, but our procedure does not permit that, so I must do my poor best without a map. The first main complaint is that the Hilton Road is to be shut off completely. That is the road that goes to a village to the south of the southern part of Fenstanton. The closing of that road will have the strange effect that all buses —a considerable number of them—will have to go right into Fenstanton main street, turn round and go right out the same way. Secondly, there will be a great increase in traffic on the High Street and 90 per cent. of it will have to use the eastern exit only. Next, there is to be a flyover built at the western end of the village. That may be unavoidable, but it will certainly be expensive. Fourth, there is to be a big piece of ground formed between the present bypass and the proposed new line of the bypass that I have described, and this will, in effect, create a sterilised area of no use for farming. This is the sort of land that will lend itself to fill-in development, since one cannot see what other good use could be made of it, but if ever there were a place where fill-in development would be inappropriate this is it. Finally—this is also a matter of public interest there is at Fenstanton a coach station of the Whippet Bus Company. As a result of the side roads order the buses would have to do 1,000 miles more a year, and this would no doubt increase the cost of the service. Thus, the side roads order would be an expensive scheme to put into operation. It would create disturbance and noise again in the High Street, which has been remarkably free from both ever since the present bypass was built. 1 hope, therefore, that there can be second thoughts about the whole of this scheme. I cannot believe that it is beyond the ingenuity even of the Eastern Road Construction Unit to think of something simpler and cheaper which will create less disturbance. I make two constructive proposals. First, any money saved on this scheme could be well spent on matters that have been urgent for years in that corner of my constituency. At St. Ives there is a major road that has to cross a bridge. It is a beautiful little bridge, with a chapel on it, but it is 600 years old, with only one lane of traffic, and it is quite unsuited for modern needs. For the past 15 years one has had to consider what line a relief road and new bridge should take. It has now been decided that there should be one, and that it should go well to the east of St. Ives, but the need is urgent. My second constructive proposal is far more modest, though none the less essential. The recent heavy rains which have swollen the River Great Ouse to such an extent have emphasised the need for it. At Earith, where the main road into the Isle of Ely crosses the River Great Ouse, there are two bridges, separated by only about 80 yards of causeway between them. Those two bridges were rebuilt in recent years, but, unfortunately, when they were rebuilt the causeway was not built up to a proper level, with the result that the causeway is flooded every time there is any flooding in the area. Any money saved at Fenstanton could be used on that alone, and it would do a great public service. The priorities, therefore, I suggest, are these: first, there should be a rethinking of what is proposed for the Fenstanton bypass and the side roads; second, there should be a firm declaration as to when St. Ives will have its new bridge instead of the 600-year-old single carriage way bridge now being used; third—this is the easiest, though perhaps the most important in certain respects—the causeway should be built up between the two bridges at Earith.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) fox raising the question of the improvement of the A604 between Girton and Godmanchester and, in particular, the section relating to the Fenstanton bypass. In company with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I regret that we cannot have an illuminated screen—perhaps above Mr. Speaker's Chair—on which maps and other matters of interest could be shown to illustrate the roads under discussion. It is difficult to explain what one has in mind without some means of illustration, but, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who did it rather well, I thought. I shall do my best to overcome that disadvantage.The right hon. and learned Gentleman has for many years taken an interest in this route, as I know from having studied the correspondence, and has directed attention in particular to the routes of the A14 and A604 within his constituency. I know that he is concerned about the effect of the Fenstanton bypass and the claim on agricultural land which it will entail, although he very fairly pointed out that the original proposal—which he, among others, I believe, advocated—for a bypass much further south would perhaps have taken even more agricultural land if it had been finally chosen as the route. Before doing my best to answer the detailed points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, perhaps I should try to put the matter in perspective by saying that the proposed improvement of the A604 between Godmanchester and Bar Hill near Cambridge forms an important part of the new high standard route between East London and the north of England via the M11, part of which is now completed. I refer here to the route via the A604, the A14 and the Al. Part of the M11 has been built, and the section between Redbridge and north of Bishops Stortford will be open for traffic in the spring. We hope to let contracts for the section from north of Bishops Stortford to Stump Cross and the Cam- bridge western bypass—this will be of interest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—this summer. The A604 Huntingdon—Godmanchester bypass has been open to traffic for some time, and the improvement of the section between Girton and Bar Hill to the east of Fenstanton is under construction. The part which we are talking about, therefore, will be the last link in a rather important chain of high standard dual carriageway road running basically from the Al in the north down to Last London. It is therefore a very important route. There is also a certain amount of cross traffic via the A45 which will ultimately go via the Cambridge northern bypass and will take traffic from the Midlands down towards Ipswich. Again, therefore, it is important in considering the justification for the Fenstanton bypass to recognise that there is here an important crossroads and, what is more, a crossroads between growing areas. Proposals for the trunking and improvement of the A604 between Godmanchester and Girton were published in 1971 and at a public inquiry held in 1972 the Fenstanton Parish Council put forward an alternative route for the Fenstanton bypass to the south of the line now proposed. That was the alternative proposal to which I have already referred, but it was rejected by the independent inspector in favour of the route which we are now discussing. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, although he may not like the the route finally chosen, it has been designed to make as little claim as possible on agricultural land and to make the fullest possible use of the existing road. It is only at the village of Fenstanton that it departs from the existing road, so it is clear that an effort has been made to improve matters along the existing alignment, which I believe to be fundamentally right if one can do it without too much demolition of property alongside the road and so on. The reason for having another bypass as opposed to improving the existing bypass is that, although the existing bypass has wide verges, its alignment is not satisfactory in that it is rather curved for the volumes of traffic which the road improved as I have dscribed will have to take. I think that the estimate is that there will be an increase of traffic of about 87 per cent. up to 1995—a very large increase—and we are talking here of approximately 29,000 vehicles a day. Obviously, those are only approximate figures, and one would not wish to be judged on them, but that is the sort of magnitude. That is why we cannot simply improve the Fenstanton bypass, with its unsatisfactory curves and the roads coming into it from the village, and leave it at that. This is the sort of problem which we have had with the existing Fenstanton bypass. The road from the village itself goes into the main road, and it is not possible to get rid of that junction without the sort of realignment which we have on the new road. These are basically the reasons why we have to go for the solution proposed. It is really a matter of the volume of traffic expected to use the road once all the sections are complete. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about further isolation of the people living to the south of the village as a result of these additional improvements. One can see that that is likely to be the case. Nevertheless, if we had just improved the existing bypass, the people near it would have complained of the noise of the additional traffic. So it is very much a swings and roundabouts situation, as so often happens with road improvements. While the new scheme may have the disadvantage of isolating slightly further people to the south of the village, people slightly to the north of the village will be grateful for the lessening of traffic noise which they will get with the building of the new bypass. Members of the Eastern Road Construction Unit met the parish council and villagers recently. I hope that it was a constructive meeting. Judging by the reports I have received, the matter was thoroughly discussed and many detailed questions were gone into at considerable length. There was a thorough airing of the various complaints. There will be a public inquiry into the side-road orders which will provide further opportunities for these detailed points to be raised. So we are not at the end of the road in talking about the problems which will arise from the new bypass. The closing of the Hilton road would, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, bring more buses into he village of Fenstanton. That may well be so, but I do not think that the increase would necessarily be significant. It may be possible to avoid their going through the heart of the village. One wants to achieve that, if it is possible, and one will certainly work towards that end. I understand that schemes are being considered whereby buses approaching from the east in particular may be able to avoid the heart of the village. That point also applies to the Whippet coaches. We could possibly reduce the impact on the village by a sensible scheme which will at least avoid the heart of the village itself. Whippet Coaches moved into its present site in 1974, well after all these details about the new road proposals were well known—a factor which must be borne in mind when considering these problems. The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised two other points in this context which I would like to study, and if there is anything further I can add I will write to him. He had in mind, for example, the in-fill problem between the old and the new bypasses, and I shall study it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that we should concentrate effort instead of two alternative schemes. The first of these was the St. Ives bridge. I can see that it is an extremely unsatisfactory road. I know it myself, as I know Fenstanton village and the bypass. Last Monday, I had a meeting with the chairman of the transportation committee of the Cambridgeshire County Council, when we talked about various problems of the county. We went into the question of the St. Ives bridge, and I undertook to look into the matter carefully with a view to making the maximum possible progress, although it is subject to the moratorium that we now have. But I will bear in mind what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said and what I was told at my meeting last Monday. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's second alternative concerned the Earith road. That is a county scheme. I accept that a problem has arisen as a result of the improvement of the two bridges, with the causeway now being too low. But it is fundamentally a matter for the county's own priorities. Again, however, it is something that we might take up in the context of the informal discussions that I have had with the county council. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was also in Cambridgeshire recently, so we are all well aware of the problems in that area, and we will take on board what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said today.
Factory Closures (Northern Region)
I am obliged to the Chair for affording us an opportunity to raise the question of the Plessey closures. I am also grateful to the Departments of Employment and Industry for agreeing to a deputation from Sunderland meeting the respective Ministers of State tomorrow. shall confine myself to the subject of the closure of the Sunderland Plessey factory, but I share the concern about the position in the North-West.We have to consider this closure in context, and therefore we must look first at the position of the Northern Region. Along with Scotland, the Northern Region ranks as the region with the worst unemployment, and the prospects are not good. A fairly good indicator are the construction trades. Unemployment among craftsmen in the building trades has increased by 40 per cent. in the last four months. Unemployment in the area is now running at an unprecedentedly high figure in the building industry. All this re-emphasises the need for a quick decision bringing British Shipbuilders' headquarters to the North-East. Wearside is the worst-hit area in the Northern Region. We are told that this is due to the loss of the traditional industries, but alongside that we now have, in the closure of Plessey, the loss of new technological industries. Unemployment on Wearside is three times what it was in 1966. It is running at the level of 11 per cent. to 12 per cent., and the male unemployment rate is between 13 per cent. and 14 per cent. But I emphasise that the Wearside area is large. Within it are districts whose unemployment figures are much higher than these figures. We have unemployment that is comparable with that of the 1930s. This is a serious situation, and we welcome the fact that we are to have seven more advance factories, although I must express my concern that the Department of Industry felt that it could not encourage the local authority workshops. I think that these would have provided an aid and should have been encouraged, While we welcome the building of seven more advance factories, we must recognise that we already have seven factories empty. The building of advance factories will not solve our problem, although we welcome it in that it will provide something for the future. We cannot afford to have these factories empty, and we cannot afford to have Plessey's being added to the seven empty factories. The position of the Sunderland Plessey factory has to be considered in the context of the telecommunications industry, which is largely dependent on the Post Office, which provides two-thirds of the orders taken by the industry. No one can deny that over the past few years there has been an erratic and irresponsible ordering policy from the Post Office. I should like to summarise. There was a 40 per cent. cutback under the Conservative Government just before the General Election. The cuts were then restored, to a limited extent, but further cutbacks were subsequently envisaged, and there followed the statement by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). That statement was understood to be sufficiently definitive to ensure that there would be no loss of working in the factories, but since then the programme has been revised four times. The basic cause has been, first, the economic recession and its effect on the Post Office, secondly, the effect of the increase in tariffs imposed by the Post Office and, thirdly, the swing to a fully electronic switching equipment system and, as an intermediary, the TXE 2 and the TXE 4. The factories are dependent on Post Office orders, and Post Office orders very much affect export orders. Rightly or wrongly, the companies feel that this chopping and changing of ordering, and the way that it has now been imposed, has virtually killed the export potential of the industry. There has been a dispute between the Post Office, the companies and the unions. The Prime Minister said last week that there would be an inquiry into the Post Office calculations and that Professor Posner would hold the inquiry. That idea is not new. Although it was said last week, the Secretary of State said a few weeks ago that there would be such an inquiry. Not only is it not new; it is inadequate. The terms of reference are not wide enough to deal with the issues at stake. In any case, it is unacceptable locally. As some of my hon. Friends will know, we had trouble at Greenwells. There was an inquiry in that case, but at the end of the day the redundancies took effect. As an aside, I would say that a nationalised company cheated on the Employment Protection Act by not affording us the opportunity to take advantage of that Act. We are not persuaded that this inquiry will be either very relevant or very helpful. In the case of the Post Office, we have new measuring techniques. These demonstrate that there would be a substantial and growing surplus of capacity. We are concerned not only about the accuracy of the figures but about their validity. The first point that arises concerns the marketing and pricing policies of the Post Office. The high cost of telephones installation obviously should be drastically reduced in these circumstances. In addition, there must be a promotional policy to increase sales from the Post Office. The case of West Germany has been cited, where an independently-run campaign met with spectacular success. It is all very well producing figures, but we must also consider the assumptions upon which the figures were based. We want to be satisfied that there will be a joint campaign to promote the use of the telephone. I have already touched on the second matter that arises. It has been argued, it seems to me convincingly, that the excessively rapid transition to the fully electronic system should be revised. The industry should be given time to condition itself to the new circumstances. This particularly affects Sunderland, because we are concerned with the phasing out of Strowger. The Government should consider this in its proper context. This may be a saving to the Post Office, but overall it is a loss to the country. Figures have been produced in terms of redundancy pay and social and other benefits. That will undoubtedly be more expensive to the country than the money which the Post Office will save according to its own figures. Apart from that, many other matters demand independent investigation. There is the international trunk-switching contract concerning Ericsson's of Sweden. We were assured that this would have no effect on employment. I do not know how that assurance can now be maintained, but that was the case at the time. We also have the controversial decision to admit Pye/TMC to the domestic market, and there has been the lateness of the Post Office in following up the fully electronic private exchanges. I am not wholly biased against the Post Office exclusively. We want to know why more research and development money has not been put in by the suppliers. Most important is export performance. Here again we have a pattern, which has become almost traditional in this country, of an industry failing to remain up to date and competitive and steadily losing ground in our export markets. The United Kingdom is now running fifth behind Sweden, West Germany, Japan and Belgium. We must realise that there will be an intense rationalisation in respect of these markets. We must look ahead and see what will happen in Europe as a whole. If we are to bid for a position in Europe we must have a viable industry, otherwise we shall be squeezed out of Europe as a whole. The telecommunications industry is having to fight for its survival in extremely difficult circumstances. A new generation of telephone exchanges is coming into operation. They are cheap to assemble and maintain and foreign companies have the edge on us because they are already in production with the systems. Obviously, Professor Posner's inquiry can make no attempt to deal with these essential questions. It has been officially suggested that there ought to be an export consortium. That is well and good, but it is not enough. We are driven to the position that we shall have to have a single company, probably with the National Enterprise Board having the major holding. I was concerned about the power station industry when we had a similar sort of inquiry. The present inquiry must be conducted by the Central Policy Review Staff, or a similar body. That is what is needed overall. We in Sunderland cannot accept the present position that we shall just be put out of work. As was pointed out on Saturday, to some of us who met the trade unions affected, we want a return of the work that has been sub-contracted out of the factory, such as relays being brought in from GEC. We do not want this potential run-down unnecessarily aggravated. Secondly, the key to this problem is to have a temporary employment subsidy to hold the present position for 12 months. That means that we shall have to persuade Plessey to apply for the subsidy and we shall have to persuade the Government to grant it. Compared with other regions, the Northern Region is badly off in terms of the temporary employment subsidy. We have lost regional employment premium—a loss of £64 million—which means that we have a good margin within which to work if the intention is to turn to selective aid. If we look to the temporary employment subsidy, oddly enough, we find that in the North we have had only £10 million, whereas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) will know, the North-West has done very well out of it, having had more than £48 million. So this is an opportunity, at any rate, for us to begin to match the North-West. I am sure that this is a proper use of the subsidy. It would keep the work force in productive employment while the basic structure of the industry was examined and while the Post Office, to some extent at any rate, revised its ordering programmes. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned this problem last week, he talked about retraining. Retraining could be done under the umbrella of the temporary employment subsidy. There has to be retraining, of course. Sunderland cannot survive unless there is retraining to get on to new work. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also talked about alternative production. If we cannot keep Plessey in being, we have to have alternative production. We cannot see this factory closed. We have suffered too much. We have had the experience of Thorn Electric and Greenwells. Now we have Plessey. This factory must be kept going. Again, if we are thinking of coming in with alternative production, the best umbrella is the temporary employment subsidy. This can be provided to Plessey. The company can be persuaded to apply, and the Government should grant the money. I regard this as a test case for the Government. They were defeated on devolution, partly because some of my colleagues from the Northern Region felt that, as an assisted area, the region had second-class status. We have to overcome this feeling. I do not think that this charge is made out, because, on recent figures, the Government could show that they have aided the North-East comparatively better than some of the other regions. But the feeling is there, and we are very sensitive to it. Therefore, the keeping of this factory in employment is a test case. Also coming along we have the Budget, and we hear talk of tax concessions. But the major responsibility of the Government is to deal with unemployment. That must be done before any tax concessions are given. I suppose that this is a matter of about £2 million. We need this money. It can keep in employment a couple of thousand people for a year. We need that, and the Government must show that they have the right priorities and that they will ensure that this factory is kept in work.
I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has been able to initiate this debate on what is a very important subject in the Sunderland area and the Northern Region.In my right hon. Friend's introductory remarks, he very properly laid stress on the heavy unemployment which exists not only in the Northern Region but more especially in Wearside itself. My constituency lies half divided between Durham County and the Sunderland metropolitan district as a result of the last local government reorganisation, and it is fair to say that everyone in my constituency is every bit as much concerned as my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier). My right hon. Friend dealt at some length with the vacuum which would be created if all the efforts to retain the Plessey factory in his constituency eventually failed. There is already building up in Sunderland a massive reaction, with people realising the extent of unemployment, the special skills which they have acquired in telecommunications and the inordinately difficult problems which they will face in finding suitable alternative employment should the Plessey factory close. My right hon. Friend also referred to the construction industry, with which I have been associated all my life. We extend a very warm welcome to the statement last week about a programme of new advance factories. Even though there are quite a number of empty factories in the Northern Region at present, we must at all times seek to make provision for the expected upturn in the economy, when we are entitled to expect that more industries will come into the Northern Region, so that we have facilities for them to occupy. In turn, it provides a small but much needed fillip for large numbers of construction industry workers who have been unemployed for a considerable time. I endorse entirely my right hon. Friend's remarks about the first priority having to be the retention of the Plessey factory, preferably in its existing form. But, if it is to be retained, we also understand fully that it must be responsible for the right kinds of manufacturers. I recall the lobby on this subject of telecommunications by Post Office workers a few weeks ago. The Post Office Engineering Union advised right hon. and hon. Members by letter that it was its firm intention to support all efforts to retain telecommunications work in the development areas. However, the union also went on to point out at some length that it could not support the investment of public funds to manufacture equipment which already was obsolete. In this connection, the Plessey organisation, anyway in Sunderland, has deservedly come under criticism. It seems that, although it has seen this development coming for some time, it has not been prepared to reinvest and to retool to meet the new challenge in the telecommunications industry. This is the price which 2,000-odd workers in Plessey's Sunderland factory may be called upon to pay for the shortsightedness or possibly the greed of the Plessey company. As a public corporation, the Post Office is also entitled to some share of recrimination—I put it no higher than that—because of its ordering policy. We are told that there are considerable hiccoughs in the placing of orders. There is no relatively continuous flow of orders for equipment to the firms which are contracted to the Post Office. But, here again, the firms concerned—and I am sure that this is equally true of Plessey—apparently have been quite content for a long time to feed upon the home market to keep their factories in operation, when everyone knows that in this rapidly developing technological age there are ready avenues open all over the world for the exports which these companies are capable of producing. There appears to have been a wholly inadequate accent on the export aspect of the telecommunications industry in Sunderland. The problems on Sunderland is accentuated, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North has said, by the fact that a considerable amount of work appears to have been sub-contracted to firms outside the northern area. This is work that the union representatives claim could have been done equally well in Sunderland and may well have saved some, if not all, of the jobs. There is also, as my right hon. Friend also pointed out, the question of materials being bought from GEC and from Plessey's own factory in Northern Ireland, which of course does not meet with the approval of the workers in the Sunderland factory. Unemployment in the Sunderland area is enormous. The morale of people in the area is at present very low indeed. If another 2,000-plus redundant people from Plessey are added to the labour market in a few weeks time, one can imagine how much more chaotic, difficult and desperate the position will be for so many people searching for all too few vacancies of all kinds. It is imperative that in the 90 days breathing space from last Wednesday, when the announcement was made, the NEB should start busying itself to ascertain just what the prospects are for the retention of the factory and what the NEB can do to assist in rejigging and retooling in order to meet the increasingly difficult challenge of the developing technological age. We must have this breathing space. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North also referred to the temporary employment subsidy. This morning my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and I went to a meeting attended by a very wide range of local authority representatives, including representatives of the Northern Economic Development Council, representatives of Government Repartments, trade unions, and everyone else who has an interest in employment in Sunderland. The importance of the temporary employment subsidy was referred to at the meeting, but here there could be a difficulty. While the subsidy would certainly be a lifeline in the present difficult circumstances, I understand that it is only the employers who can be held responsible for making an application for temporary employment subsidy. If the attitude of the Plessey management is as intransigent as was outlined this morning and on Saturday at another meeting, I am afraid that the management might not be prepared to make that effort. In the interests of Sunderland and the interests of the morale of the people of Sunderland I call upon my right hon. Friends in the Department of Industry and the Department of Employment to do everything that they possibly can to ensure that this highly damaging blow does not fall on the people of Sunderland and in particular on the Plessey factory in Sunderland, North.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for being fortunate enough to obtain a debate at such early notice after the disastrous announcement of the closure of the factory by Plessey last week.I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) is anxious to speak, but I know that he understands that it may be for the convenience of the House for those hon. Members representing Sunderland to put their views first, and he then hopes to mention the issues that affect Liverpool. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) and I attended a meeting this morning with various representatives from the North, comprising trade union leaders, the development council, the Tyne and Wear County Council, Sunderland District Council, also representatives of the Department of Trade, the National Enterprise Board and the Department of Employment. The message coming from that meeting load and clear was that this factory must not be allowed to close, certainly not at this stage, for various reasons. There were long discussions this morning on the reasons why the Sunderland factory was in difficulty. One was that it was producing outdated equipment, the Strowger equipment. Another was that the equipment is no longer required because the Post Office has changed its ordering policies and has not maintained the flow of orders to the extent which was expected by the factory. There were other reasons, but all these did not take into consideration the attitude of the people who actually work in the factory. None of those factors could be laid at the door of the people employed in the factory, who had been taking their intruction from management via the Post Office and, I suppose, via the Government. They feel extremely angry about the treatment they have received. When I asked this morning what discussions had taken place, and what advance notice was given by Plessey, I was very surprised when a local representative of the Department of Trade said that his Department knew nothing about this. The Department knew that the equipment was out-dated and that some changes would he required and that there was a need for new investment in order to produce other equipment, but the representative said that the Department did not know—and I accept that it did not know —that Plessey would announce last Wednesday that a factory employing 2,088 people was to close. I do not want to put this local official across a barrel, but he told me that in his view his bosses at national level in London also did not know. To me this is an indictment of the Plessey company. Nor is it the first time that I have had trouble with the Plessey company. Two or three years ago I criticised the company's management-staff consultation procedures to such an extent that Dr. Willits, the chairman of that section, came up to Sunderland to see me about it. Last week we had another example of the staff first finding out that they are out of a job when they saw it on television. These are extremely serious cases. The Plessey factory employs men, women and younger people. We have families with as many as four wage earners all working in the factory. We can imagine the disastrous consequences on their living standards if four members of the same family, all working at Plessey, find themselves without employment. We have to find out where the blames lies. I was abroad last week and heard the story of the closure then, but a Plessey director at the conference that I was attending was able to give me some more information. I have read newspaper reports stating that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), said during Questions that he had received some undertakings from the Post Office about forward ordering. I want to find out whether that is true. I do not doubt my right hon. Friend's word, but if what he said is a fact and there has been a drastic change of direction in Post Office ordering, the House should know something about this because time is of the essence. Our unemployment rate in the area is already 13.5 per cent. male unemployed. Perhaps we shall be able to look at the problem better in 12 or 18 months' time. We should have a period in which we can consider redeployment of the staff and carry out an examination to see what is wrong with the organisation of Plessey or the Post Office. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for announcing that there is to be an inquiry under Professor Posner, but, as my right hon. Friend for Sunderland, North has said, we have seen these inquiries before but nothing seems to come from them. It is nice to be promised that the Manpower Services Commission will move in and that we shall have the fullest possible inquiry into alternative job opportunities. We already have quite a number of empty factories, and with an unemployment rate of 13·5 per cent. we are looking for jobs to fill those factories. We just cannot produce the extra 2,000 jobs that are needed. There is no way in which these people can be employed except by the continuation of the Plessey factories which must be kept open. This is a matter of some urgency which should be examined not by Professor Posner and his staff but by the Central Policy Review Staff. It must get down to examining why a nationalised industry is at fault, if it is at fault, and how a large corporation which is responsible for the livelihoods of so many of our people can fall down so badly and drop this bombshell at this time. I suggest, therefore, that the matter should be referred to the CPRS. That is an urgent requirement. Secondly, the Government must step in to maintain this factory. They must find money to do that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that it might cost £2 million or £3 million. I do not know what the cost will be, but the money must be spent to give us the breathing space we need. We cannot possibly accept the 90-day redundancy notice and watch the gradual closing of the factory. We must know the full facts of the situation before that is allowed to happen. Let us have a full and urgent inquiry by a major body which has the power to act. Further, we have to examine why Plessey's export performance has been so deplorably poor. This factory has an immense turnover, but only 10 per cent. of that turnover goes for export. That seems to indicate that this major company has been cruising along comfortably on a home order policy from the Post Office, and that is not good enough. We are aware that the equipment made by the Sunderland factory is out of date, but that is not the fault of the people who work there. There should have been a gradual moving over to the production of sophisticated equipment with a more realistic attack on world markets. It gives us no joy to see countries such as Saudi Arabia placing orders for telecommunications equipment in Japan and elsewhere. The recommendation of Sir Raymond Brown of NEDO last year that a telecommunications export order body should be set up and should be considered a matter of urgency, although I realise that this will not save our factory. The trade union representatives said at the meeting this morning that life was tough, that they know that Plessey has problems and that the demand for equipment is probably low. But their point is that not all the weight should be allowed to fall on Sunderland. A great deal of sub-contracting work has been spread throughout the country because Plessey has been unable to handle it. Some of that work should be brought back to Sunderland. I realise that this could affect factories and sub-contractors elsewhere in the country, but such a move would soften the blow for a town which already feels that it has been tremendously hammered. The message I bring from the meeting this morning is clear. Tomorrow we shall be meeting my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment, with a representative group from the North of England Development Council, from the trade union leaders, from the councils, from Members of Parliament, and from the work people in the factory. We have to decide what should be done about this matter in the first instance, but the underlying aim is to point out that in no way can we accept this savage closure if it is possible for the Government to intervene. I have mentioned three important points which must be tackled—Government help, the bringing in of the CPRS and the export potential of Plessey. If we can succeed in these points, not only will it do this factory good, it will do the whole industry good. It would give us a year or 18 months in which to retool, rejig and retrain in order to keep the work force occupied. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is actively interested in Post Office matters. He will be interested to hear that over the weekend, with the Post Office announcement of a ½p increase in postage rates to boost a collective overall profit of some £400 million, the people in the North-East have been spurred on to a mood of anger. They have been lashing out angrily and demanding to know whether the Post Office is just a publicly-owned piece of capitalism which has to make as much profit as it can or whether it is supposed to look after the people who work in the industry.
You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I usually obey the injunctions of the Chair by trying to keep my remarks to 10 or 15 minutes. If today I exceed that time, it will not be to catch up on the time taken by my hon. Friends from North-East England but a recognition of the importance of this debate.There are no differences between hon. Members from the North-East and those from the North-West on this subject. There are no differences between the workers in Plessey factories on Merseyside and those in Plessey factories in the North-East. We are not fighting each other for a larger share of a smaller cake. This is an occasion on which we each give our own experience and put forward the case of the factories and the people in our own constituencies. We are, however, engaged in a parallel endeavour. The meeting of Merseyside Members last Thursday was not an attempt to steal a march on anyone from the North-East. Only an extreme optimist would try to do such a thing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that Merseyside had done rather better than the North East from the Temporary Employment Subsidy. He gave the amounts at £10 million for the North-East to £48 million for Merseyside. Yet on Merseyside I am constantly told that if only I made as much noise about things as the North-East Members do, Merseyside might do better. My hon. Friends from the North-East therefore are envied on Merseyside, and no doubt I am envied in the North-East—that is the way of things. We have a common cause for concern, about the employment of those who work in our respective areas. There are no differences between the two sides of the House on the subject. This is not a party political matter. We have to link our debate with particular parts of the Estimates for 1976–71. To show, therefore, that my comments are relevant, I refer the House to page 128 of the Supply Estimates, 1976–77 Class IV, 15 under the description
I was surprised to see there the sum of £410 million, which is an increase this year of more than £1 million. I refer also to page 84, Class IV, 3 Section B under the heading,"expenditure by the Department of Employment on grants in aid to the Manpower Service Commission".
because the telecommunications industry depends very much on research and development. I take also Class XIV, on telecommunications, and also the section which refers to overseas aid. A great deal of overseas aid ought to be in the form of overseas trade. These are the four sections which I hope will make absolutely certain that my remarks are relevant to the Bill. The Plessey company is a major electronic engineering company. The Financial Times recently reported:"Industrial Research and Development Contracts",
Plessey is relatively successful, but not wholly so—at least holding its own abroad, although the company has been less successful at home. On 14th February this year a delegation from Plessey Telecommunications came here to tell their Members of Parliament from the North-East and the North-West of their complaints, fears, anxieties and anger at the threats of enforced redundancies and unemployment in the near future. These were skilled workers, trade unionists, who wanted to continue to work. Members responded in their own way. There was a series of meetings with Ministers. My hon. Friends in industry and employment have been most anxious, careful and diligent in making sure that communications were constant all the way. They know of the continuing discussions and our real concern. One unique aspect of the Plessey company on Merseyside, compared with any other company there, is that Plessey is the one major company which has never, in the 12 years during which I have been a Member made any attempt to interest local Members of Parliament of all parties in the management of the company, their problems, and hopes. So far as Plessey was concerned, we did not exist. Every other company on Merseyside—Ford, Lever Brothers, Cammell Laird, GEC, United Biscuits, Ogden's Tobacco, whose interest is understandable, Fisher-Bendix, Standard-Triumph, Royal Liver Insurance and Royal Insurance and many other companies large and small have kept close contact with their Members, not only when there was a crisis but to keep us informed of progress, to report and to involve us in their affairs. They had an interest in us and we in them. Their purpose was to continue working and our purpose was to help them to do so. Not Plessey, Liverpool. Others may have had a different experience in other parts of the country, but this is my complaint. I did not complain too much. After all, there is more than enough work for any MP in the area. I assumed that if we did not hear from the company this was because the company did not need us, and we wished it good luck. Experience showed us otherwise. The unions at Plessey were not much better. During the Thorn Ericson dispute a delegation came to visit us in November 1976 and again on 14th February, but we did not have the closest possible contracts which ought to exist. After 14th February there was an attempt to have a meeting, but it was not possible in the time available. Then, on 2nd March, I received my first-ever letter from the Plessey management, local or national. The letter, from Mr. M. E. Glynn, Managing Director, Public Telecommunications Systems, I presume went to every MP in Sunderland and on Merseyside. It said:"Electronics group Plessey is still holding up well to the sharp drop in telecommunication orders from the Post Office. In its third quarter, the group lifted overseas sales to more than half the total. Profits rose from £8,013,000 to £9,650,000, bringing the nine-monthly tally to £27.99 million against £25.02 million."
"It is with great regret that I have to advise you of the decisions forced on us by the continuing falls in changing Post Office ordering programmes. The situation is summarised in the Company's public announcement, issued tonight, and I thought you would wish to have the attached copy without delay.
To be fair to the Plessey company, that was appreciated. It is important that we get on record what the company said to its Members of Parliament in a public statement. Released on 2nd March, 1977 and headedObviously, this matter is the subject of consultation with the Trade Unions concerned but should you wish to discuss any questions arising, perhaps you would contact my office so that a meeting may be arranged."
it said:"Post Office Cuts Force Redundancies in Plessey Telecommunications ",
"The cumulative effects of Post Office cuts since 1974 will cause a net reduction of about 4,000 jobs and some factory closures in the electromechanical systems sector of Plessey Telecommunications, it was announced tonight.
The Company is issuing formal consultation notices, under the Employment Protection Act, covering a total of about 4,800 jobs but it is expected that by retraining and redeployment there will be new job opportunities for about 800 of the people affected in growth product areas, such as TXE4, Pentex and System X.
There was more, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members will have copies of that statement. The Plessey company has known about continuing problems for some time, but it has now said to its workers, "These are the problems, this is the solution. How will you help to work out the details?", instead of telling the workers months and years ago that the company was going to have difficulties, how the company saw future programmes, and how it would have to change and organise. In other words, the people who work in the factory should have had the opportunity of providing other solutions at other times. But the decision was announced and the only opportunity the workers have is to object or to sit-in as is being done in Kirkby because they want to keep on working. The company allow only minimal changes in the closures now imposed. The whole attitude of the Plessey company, public and private, to Members or its own workers is to say " These are the problems, and these are the solutions. The fault, the responsibility, is entirely that of the Government and the Post Office." The company says that this is where the responsibility for the difficulties lies. Plessey blames the Post Office and then the Government cuts. It is not as simple as that. The Post Office and the Government have some responsibility, but the main responsibility for the management of its own affairs and its failure to manage them lies with Plessey. It is time that Plessey accepted at least a major share of the responsibility instead of trying to push the blame on to the Post Office and the Government. My hon. Friend will also have the views of the Post Office Engineering Union, which were put on the record some time ago. That union seems to be taking a more responsible attitude. Everyone ought to base comments and proposals on facts, not assumptions. I am not the most avid reader of The Sunday Times. I often complain about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House always quoting it and The Times. The number of people in my constituency who read them is minimal. Their influence in West Derby is not too great. More of my constituents read the Daily Mirror and the Liverpool Echo. In The Times last week there was a letter from Mr. Peter Rodgers, who set out a balanced idea of what the Post Office was doing. One of my hon. Friends referred to the £400 million profit that the Post Office had made. In that paper this neutral observer said:Tonight, the Company's management presented the facts to representatives of the Trade Unions concerned at national, regional and local meetings."
"The much-maligned Post Office offers some of the best telephone bargains in Western Europe and has an extremely well-organised tariff structure. This remarkable conclusion emerges from what is claimed to be the first full survey of European telephone charges and services.
Your total telephone bill here is about average for Western Europe, but the Post Office does more than anybody else to promote cheap offpeak calls, at anything from an eighth to a half of the levels in most other European countries.
International calls from Britain are also among the cheapest in Europe, on and off-peak, and the PO is the only telephone company to offer a proper system of cheap off-peak rates for international calls.
Rental and connection charges do not look quite so bad when compared with the rest of Europe. Only Belgium, Luxembourg and Portgual charge substantially less for connection, and Denmark charges nearly three times as much. (This does however hide the fact that subscribers a long way from an exchange can be heavily penalised in Britain, unlike most other countries.)
Again, monthly rental charges are about average for Europe, with some countries considerably more expensive—West Germany charges two-and-a-half times as much.
. That was not a survey commissioned by the Post Office. There have been comments about changes in Post Office charges for letters. In the Sunday Times, which is a useful newspaper to read, even if only occasionally, there was a front-page report this week headedThe survey, by the London-based computer and management consultants Logica"
It compared costs in terms of working time compared with 25 years ago. Iii 1950 it required 21 minutes of the average worker's time—if there is such a thing as the average worker—to pay for the postage of five letters. Nineteen minutes are now required. It is easy to talk about the Post Office using some of its £400 million profit to help prevent unemployment in Plessey. I went to the Post Office telecommunications headquarters at No. 2 Gresham Street this afternoon, when it was confirmed that there would be 400,000 business connections this year and 1 million domestic connections. The Post Office plans a programme of 1,100,000 domestic connections next year, a record level. There are 40,000 on the waiting list, and the Post Office recognises that that number should take two months to deal with at the most. It is proposing to do all it can, so the suggestion that a drastic reduction in installation charges and othet telephone costs would have a dramatic effect on the immediate position of Plessey, or even the position over the next 12 months, is open to doubt. I think that there is room for adjustments, but they would have a marginal effect at most. My hon. Friends from the North-East have said that 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of the telecommunications orders for Plessey, GEC and Standard Telephones come from the captive home market. The Post Office places hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of orders with those three companies each year. It is also providing GEC, Standard Telephones and Plessey with £65 million investment in research and development for System X, which is the real growth area for the years ahead. That investment is one of the best examples I know of co-operation between Government and private enterprise. I understand that on the electrical-mechanical engineering side the present versions of the Strowger and crossbar systems began before the 1940s. Research and development on the new systems is not a matter of turning something on this year and having the results coming out of the pipeline next year. These are long-term programmes. Plessey has invested a large amount in the TXE4 electronic systems, a great deal of the work going to Huyton. I do not know the full significance of that, but it is a fact that while the company neglected the older part of Merseyside it poured a great deal of money into the newer TXE4 work, which has not been affected to any appreciable degree by the Post Office cuts. System X and TXE4 are the growth areas for the future. The Post Office tells me that it has six years supplies of the older type of equipment being made at present by the Plessey company. It normally holds three years' supplies, and its present holding is twice its normal reserve. Since November the Post Office management and Ministers have met and met again to talk about the continuing programme. There are times when politicians are not very popular. I think that most of us have stopped hoping that we ever would be popular. In some ways the Post Office is in the same position. If it is regarded as a public service, there are newspaper headlines if it makes a loss. If we then tell it, as Parliament did, "It's your job to act as a commercial organisation, to raise your own capital, to create money for your own investment", we complain if it will not act as another means of rescuing private enterprise. Therefore the Post Office knows that it will not win. But it does not matter who gets the credit or the blame so long as we get something done. The Government have been pressing the Post Office since long before last November to look at its ordering programme. If it does give help, is it to come out of the £400 million profit this year? We do not refer to the last year or the year before. I believe that Post Office capital equipment is worth £1,000 million. All that capital investment produced a profit last year of £400 million. The Post Office would do better to sell up and put the money in the Post Office Savings Bank, where it would have a better return on investment. Changes could be made in the Post Office sales policy. These would have a useful short-term effect, but it would be only marginal. Someone told me at my advice bureau last Saturday "I want to put in a telephone for my mother, a widow who lives on her own. I could manage it if it cost £20 or £25, but at £40 or £50 it is more than I can reasonably provide" Perhaps there could be lower charges for some connections that are socially desirable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week that under the Employment Protection Act there was a 90-day delay in making the workers redundant. I believe that during that period something can be done, though it is not a great deal of time. The present position should have been planned for six years ago, and could have been foreseen nine years ago. In the Labour programme for 1973 it was proposed that in such circumstances, rather than wait for a concern to go bankrupt and an official trustee in bankruptcy to be brought in to dispose of the assets, the Government should be able to appoint an official trustee who would be able to keep the situation as it was. All the options would be kept open so that there would be a viable operational unit still in existence while talks continued. My workers in Kirkby are holding on to the factory and carrying on production in the hope that during the 90 days something will be achieved. Anyone who thinks that the British Medical Association representatives are tough negotiators has not yet met Plessey representatives. There must be co-operation between Plessey and the Government, but the Government must also involve GEC and STC. I do not want another debate such as this in six months' or a year's time about GEC Telecommunications or STC. They must be brought in now. Temporary employment subsidy must be offered, and strong pressure must be put on the company to accept. The company has nothing to lose and everything to gain. If it is a matter of tax concessions in the Budget or of some of the money being used for the maintenance of employment, I should have no difficulty in arguing with my workers on Merseyside that employment for others must come first. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will have a word with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development. Overseas aid has been flowing back from Egypt to GEC on Merseyside, which has been supplying pole-mounted transformers. That is a good example of taxpayers' money doing a good job in Egypt, right where it is needed, in the village—not for the massive Kariba Dam but following through from that—and coming back to Merseyside to create more employment there. The Manpower Services Commission is also important, as is the advance factory programme, although it is a tragic irony that alongside the Plessey factory at Garston, which the company proposes to close down, the Government are building an advance factory. The idea is to provide sub-contracting work on Merseyside. The Government have the right to complain that Plessey failed to provide them with any advance information on this matter. I appreciate that my hon. Friend knows about the unemployment situation on Merseyside. I need not go into detail. If the three parties concerned accept their share of responsibility and are prepared to work together, then I think that within the 90 days available to us, there is some hope of a solution. All we are asking for, whether on Merseyside or in the North-East, is the opportunity to work."Are we really so badly off?"
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and others of my hon. Friends from the North-East and Merseyside on raising this subject today. The debate has ranged to a large extent on the problem of Plessey in Sunderland and in Kirkby, but it raises the important need for the Government to make additional provision for dealing with unemployment and redundancies following the closure of local factories generally.Most hon. Members will have had experience of the closures of local factories. We should realise that unemployment in any area affects employment prospects throughout Britain. We in South Wales have plenty of experience of unemployment over the years. It is not good to hear of any factory closing anywhere. When a factory closes, it tends to have a cumulative effect on other industries. I thought that I knew the circumstances of all local factories in Aberdare and Mountain Ash, but I was surprised to discover that, had British Leyland collapsed, it would have had a serious effect on a number of component manufacturers in my constituency. People tend to think that the British Leyland problem affects 200,000 workers primarily in the Midlands. In fact, it has a major effect on 1 million people throughout Britain, many thousands of whom are in my constituency. Therefore, I hope that the difficulties facing British Leyland will soon be overcome. Last week it was announced that British Leyland production was 30 per cent. up this January compared with January last year. There was a substantial improvement in the company during that period. I hope that the difficulties can be resolved. If British Leyland fails, the effect on British industry and on component manu. facturers in particular will be tremendous. The debate has centred on the recent development at Plessey. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) said that other companies supplying the Post Office could also be affected. For example, Standard Telephones and Cables and GEC supply equipment to the Post Office. Representatives of the Post Office Engineering Union have lobbied Welsh Members on this matter. Mention has been made of the profit of £400 million made by the Post Office last year because of increased efficiency. I suggest that there should be some new thinking on industrial strategy. We tend to have a situation in industry of all go or all stop. The Post Office having made a profit of £400 million, I suggest that the Government should encourage it to go ahead with the installation of telephones. There are many skilled workers in the telecommunications industry and many people are waiting for telephones to be installed. Therefore, the Government should, at a time of recession, encourage the Post Office to meet all the demands being made for the installation of telephones in houses, offices and factories. They should say to the Post Office "We wish you to plough some of this surplus profit into encouraging demand for telecommunications equipment rather than cutting back". There is a danger of over-simplifying the problem. We get demands for cuts in public expenditure. Industry is being encouraged to cut back. I believe that at a time of world recession we should call on industry to involve itself in increasing public expenditure if it results in more employment opportunities. When we get out of the present recession, manufacturing industry will be calling out for skilled workers and it will not be easy to get them. Therefore, during a downturn we should plan to encourage the public sectors, especially those involved in manufacturing, to expand. The Post Office has considered moving into manufacturing. It is strange that it has been prevented from manufacturing its own equipment. The Under-Secretary of State is knowledgeable on these matters because, in another context, he has close contact with the Post Office Engineering Union. If there is no other way out of the problem, the Government should seriously consider extending public ownership in this area to maintain jobs. I am glad that this important issue is being discussed early in our proceedings on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Unemployment is the major problem facing the Government. I know that many suggestions have been and are being made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding what he should do in his Budget. I hope that the main emphasis in the Budget will be to try to get this country back to full employment. Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Watkins) introduced the Industrial Common Ownership Bill, which was supported by the Government and the Opposition. That measure gives powers to afford assistance in the formation of workers' co-operatives. That measure may not be applicable to large industries, but it provides for assistance to be in cases where workers are willing to take over the management of small factories. In many instances the factories concerned have good order books and are efficient. Their problems are the result of the financial set-up of the organisations to which they belong getting into difficulties. Therefore, we should have machinery available to encourage the formation of workers' co-operatives. I hope that the Government will consider setting up a co-operative development agency which, with the National Enterprise Board and other development agencies, could play an, important part in keeping local industries going. We are concerned with additional provision to deal with unemployment and redundancies. We must seek, in a more positive way, to prevent unemployment and redundancies. The Government are taking many measures and have a catalogue of various things that they have done to encourage industry but I hope that they will look again at the regional employment premium which has played an important part in encouraging manufacturing industries to move into needy areas.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), and my hon. Friends the Members for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin), Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and Aberdare (Mr. Evans) have spoken eloquently and with great feeling. I need hardly say how distressed the Government were to learn of the declarations of the Plessey redundancies in Sunderland, affecting 2,088 workers and at Kirkby, Speke and Edge Lane, Liverpool, affecting 1,278 workers, because of the massive unemployment in those areas. We know the great hardship that this will mean for many families and the blow that it will be to the pride of the individuals concerned.My mind goes back to the visit that I made to Plessey in Liverpool before 1974 when that company was campaigning against the possibility of further modernisation by the Post Office. The company specifically said that it had invited me to the factory to see the girls and other workers who would be made redundant if the modernisation programme took place. I have a picture of those girls and other workers in my mind when I speak this afternoon. I shall clarify the situation from the Government point of view. But before doing that I shall restate the case which Plessey has made and which is supported to some extent by the workers in the Plessey concerns. In a letter to workers and unions about the proposed redundancies within the customer service and installation division the company stated:
"Following the successive cuts by the Post Office in its requirements, it has been necessary for this Company as a major Post Office supplier to examine critically their cumulative effects on its present and future position. Particularly this is because cuts have fallen most heavily upon the labour intensive electromechanical type of equipment which currently forms a substantial proportion of our total output which will become obsolete progressively over the next few years.
The rapid decline in requirements for electro-mechanical switching equipment, the installation of which is labour intensive, is occurring at the same time as a change to electronic and semi-electronic equipment, the installation of which has a lower labour requirement.
In the company's letter to all district officials, staff and hourly-paid workers involved in manufacturing, the company stressed:As a consequence of the reduction in ordering levels and the change in technology, the present levels of employment in the installation division cannot be maintained. It is therefore proposed that redundancies be effected to reduce the work force to a size consistent with the level of demand existing."
It goes on:"The rapid decline in demand for such equipment is a reflection of increasing requirements (including overseas) for electronic equipment, the production of which has a considerably lower labour requirement."
In its PR handout Plessey, while not mentioning to the Press the fall in export orders, says that it is the cumulative effects of Post Office cuts since 1974 that will cause a net reduction of about 4,000 jobs and some factory closures in the electromechanical systems sector of Plessey Telecommunications."As a consequence of the successive volume cuts and the changes in mix requirements by the Post Office and the changes in overseas demand, it is apparent that the level of employment, and production activity, both in terms of numbers and locations within the Company is higher than can be sustained. In this situation, with the greatest reluctance, the Company must now propose substantial redundancies (including some factory closures) in order to reduce the total work force to a figure which is consistent with the market demand as it now exists and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future; and also to enable the Company to concentrate upon the newer technology and thereby safeguard the position of the work force which will remain."
My hon. Friend has said something which is important about the developing situation and the development of new techniques. Has Plessey said anything to the Government about its intention to develop new techniques in Sunderland or in Liverpool?
I was impressed by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring. I am sure that he will wait for me to reach the point where I make it clear that developments are taking place. Those are in Liverpool, but I am not aware of any such developments in Sunderland. However, I shall come to that later.The company in their Press handout went on to say:
"A reduction in resources is now essential, due to continually changing Post Office ordering programmes, the most important effects of which are:
I was making the very simple point that the major supplies are in the domestic market and that this determines the production of the companies, and that is where the fault has been. What my hon. Friend is saying confirms that. There has been a bad ordering policy over the past years and it is reflecting itself now in the inability of companies to meet an export demand because other countries have progressed over us.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend if I misunderstood him. It has certainly enabled me to stray from my brief and to speak with some degree of feeling on this subject.Certainly the Post Office has also faced the discovery that it does not need to instal as many switches as it once thought would be necessary to carry the traffic. If it were to buy this unneeded exchange equipment, the cost would fall on either existing telephone users or the taxpayer. The Post Office does not feel justified in doing this. Rather, it aims for a relatively cheaper and more efficient telephone system, less dependent than at present on borrowing from the Exchequer —because Exchequer money is only taxpayers' money. But, of course, the Post Office estimates could be wrong. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, following representations from both sides of the telecommunications equipment industry, announced that Mr. Michael Posner, of Cambridge University, had been appointed to consider the assessment that led the Post Office in November 1976 to reduce the future levels of orders for telephone exchange equipment and to report. He will be seeking the views of unions and manufacturing industry and will report as soon as practicable—not that I would want Plessey workers to pin too much hope on this, because the company has made it clear that the restoration of these orders would have no effect for 12 months in any case. Even the Post Office estimates are correct, there are further steps it could take. It could reduce connection charges in order to encourage more people to have telephones, and the Department of Industry will ask the Post Office to consider this once again. I emphasise connection charges because although I would not want to prejudge the result of any discussions, it could be that reducing rentals and call charges, while being of little help in increasing demand for equipment, could place an enormous burden on the taxpayer if it were necessary to make good any losses. Many people outside the Post Office think that the Corporation could conduct more vigorous marketing campaigns. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested this—wisely, I believe—in the debate today. The Government are prepared to back such initiatives, and I understand that the Post Office is discussing this with those who would be affected by it. Sadly, however, these measures will not solve the problem within the 90 days' notice that Plessey has had to give under the Employment Protection Act. I wonder how much notice would have been given had we not passed that Act.
My hon. Friend has no need to wonder. The majority of workers would have had one week's notice and then the jobs would have gone for ever.
We would have liked to see a much longer notice given than the statutory minimum with redundancies of this size. When the Secretary of State for Employment learned of the prospect of redundancies and that private manufacturing companies had mainly developed much of their work, which had a future, outside Liverpool and Sunderland in the non-assisted areas—Huyton is an exception—he was most disturbed. He decided that this might provide the occasion for the first major jobs initiative by the Manpower Services Commission. Unfortunately, the problem has been that since the autumn the firms concerned have not been prepared to concede that they would be affected by redundancies. In these circumstances it was useless to mount an initiative without the agreement of management and unions at the plants concerned.
Is my hon. Friend saying that the companies at that time—and they must have had some knowledge of what was going on—refused to cooperate with the Manpower Services Commission in order to see what could be done? This is the burden of our remarks—Plessey made its announcement suddenly, without any consultation of any substance at all.
My understanding of the situation is that when we knew within the Department of Employment that because of technological changes and changes in Post Office expectations, this problem would arise, the Secretary of State asked the Chairman of the Manpower Services Commission to examine whether this was the right occasion for the first major jobs initiative on the part of the Commission. Of course the Chairman was only too pleased to help. But when the MSC tried to discuss this with the firms concerned it appears that they buried their hands in the sand and no real discussions could take place. The companies failed to recognise that this situation was imcminent. Certainly the Government took an initiative and the Manpower Services Commission took an initiative months ago, but the response was not there.
The lion. Gentleman said that the Post Office made its decision in October or November, and reduced its amount of ordering. Presumably from then the Government knew the sort of situation which was likely to arise, and which is now occurring. Is he saying that from then on the Department engaged on a survey to see what could be done through the Manpower Services Commission but the firms concerned refused to co-operate?
I will be absolutely precise and say what actually happened. The situation has not arisen merely because of the reduction in November. I have spelt that out very clearly. The situation has built up over the years ever since the decision of the last Conservative Administration—a decision which I supported—to go ahead with the TXE 4. Thesituation was aggravated by the discovery of the Post Office that it had spare capacity in switching, and therefore it would need to reduce ordering levels yet again in December. In December the Secretary of State was very disturbed to learn of the possible redundancies. Of course we could only know the overall effect of the decision in terms of jobs. We could not know in which locations and at which plants these redundancies would be declared. Given the level of ordering, it was for the companies to determine in which plants the redundancies should occur. It was for the companies to determine whether redundancies should be shared out equally over the country or whether they should shut plants at Liverpool and Sunderland. From the departmental point of view, all we could know was that there was a serious problem. We acted immediately and asked the Manpower Services Commission to mount a jobs initiative. My understanding is—and I think I am right, but if I am not I will let the right hon. Member know--that the chairman involved officers of the Commission in talks with each of the companies concerned. But the companies were reluctant to say where the redundancies would occur; in fact, they were reluctant to admit that their companies would suffer the brunt of the loss of orders. In a sense, the companies put off the evil day and that meant that the job initiative could not take place. We regret this situation very much indeed. We are hoping that the same will not occur in the case of Standard and GEC-AEI. If there are to be redundancies in these companies, we hope that we shall have more time to deal with them. In the public relations handout, Plessey said that it would call in the Manpower Services Commission. I hope that the unions will assist the Commission in this terrible situation, because to date the unions too have not helped the Commission to deal with the redundancies. We hope that they will in the future. The job initiative scheme, to be properly effective would have taken 18 months—
I am a little puzzled by my hon. Friend's reference to the unco- operativeness of the unions. After all, only five days have elapsed since the notices were issued and the decision was announced. My impression, and that of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend from Sunderland, is the reverse. It is that the management has been difficult over meeting the unions. I am not aware that at any time since last Wednesday, or prior to that, there have been difficulties on the union side about the proposed redundancies. I repeat that the decision was not known until last Wednesday.
I stand corrected on the point of view held by my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring about Sunderland, but I think that there have been difficulties in this connection, certainly on Merseyside. The reaction has been there. They have not wanted to accept the inevitability of the redundancies.
There is no sit-in in Sunderland.
The major objection of my hon. Friends is that they are concerned about even one person becoming unemployed. They are concerned, too, that redundancy means that jobs will for ever leave Merseyside. A job declared redundant is a job lost. Nobody can come in and take it over, and the total number of jobs available in the area is reduced. There is a real fear that once there is talk about redundancies it means that one accepts sackings and that jobs go for ever. That is the reason for the resistance and reluctance on Merseyside.
I understand that, and if I were on the shop floor I should be fighting hard and saying hard things about everybody in authority, but we hope that the unions will assist the Manpower Services Commission to deal with these terrible redundancies.The Plessey proposals cannot be dealt with by way of a job initiative, because of the time factor. Joint teams from the Employment Services Agency and the Training Services Agency will go into the Plessey factories to discuss what help can be given, and particular attention will be paid by the Training Services Agency to the possibility of using some of the firm's facilities for training purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the public trustee. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), the Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Industry, on hearing what my hon. Friend had to say assured me that the Department was giving, and would continue to give, careful consideration to the points that had been made. My hon. Friend also asked about overseas aid and the use of it to boost our exports, as it were. I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development. The Manpower Services Commission will do all that it can within the plants if it is allowed to do so. In the localities also, particularly Liverpool and Sunderland, the Government and the MSC will seek to alleviate what is a desperate situation. Both Merseyside and Wear-side have been designated special development areas, which means that industries are offered a full range of incentives to relocate or to expand there; for example, regional development grants, selective financial assistance under Section 7 of the Industry Act, and Government factories. Talking of selective assistance, the House may like to know that the £4½ million loans and grants offered to Merseyside during the last two years could provide about 3,800 new jobs. On Wearside, in 1975–76 offers of assistance amounting to nearly £500,000 were given, and that is estimated to involve 1,000 new jobs.
My hon. Friend will remember that I said that we already had seven empty factories? Seven more are to be built, but that will not deal with the problem that we are facing.
I appreciate that, and I realise that we have to do everything possible to provide jobs in those factories. But it is better to have factories and try to provide jobs in them than not to have the factories and therefore be unable to try to get the jobs. The Government will do what they can for Wearside.
I appreciate my hon. Friend's difficulty, because of the situation, but the burden of our message is that we do not want these Plessey factories to close. We have suggested several ways in which the Government can deal with the situation. With respect to my hon. Friend, we are aware of all the opportunities that are available to us as a special development area, but the fact is that we now have a 13½ per cent. rate of male unemployment. Every lost job is a disaster for the individual. The burden of our argument is that we do not want 2,088 people added to the present unemployment figure. The only way in which something can be done is not through my hon. Friend's good offices, certainly not in the short term, but by my mounting a rescue operation of some sort to keep these factories open. That is what we want to hear.
I shall be up and down like Punch and Judy and be told what I should say before I say it, but I shall do my best. The men from the North-East are very rough.
Not at all.
They are Punch, and the hon. Gentleman is Judy.
If I were in the place of my hon. Friends I should be punching as hard at any Judy standing at this Dispatch Box.My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 3rd March that he had asked the National Enterprise Board, which has a regional director in both the North-West and the North-East, to investigate the investment potential in both areas and to report to the Government on what can be done to offset the disastrous consequences of the Plessey closures. In that sense, the Prime Minister and the Government are determined that we take a close look at what can be done in practical terms to offset the disaster of these closures. My Department is determined to do all that it can to assist. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North made a specific request about the temporary employment subsidy.
I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is still the possibility of a rescue operation for the factories which it is proposed to close M. the North-East and on Merseyside. Or is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government's action is concerned only with trying to do something to mitigate the disasters that will follow when those factories have closed? In honesty to the men, the women and the families concerned, no false hopes should be held out as a result of the Minister's not using clear language. Is there a hope of a rescue operation, or is the only action that the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and others are likely to take one that will help to deal with the disastrous unemployment situation in those regions?
Under our system of private enterprise, that depends largely on Plessey. I wanted to come to the question of the temporary employment subsidy. Plessey has given 90 days' notice of redundancies. The Government in turn have drawn the company's attention to the temporary employment subsidy, which could give 12 months' grace. So far, Plessey has said that it is not interested.Bluntly—I have said this publicly on television—I do not think that there is any chance of those factories continuing to produce out-of-date equipment which is not required, but the Government would very much like the situation to arise where Plessey could find another product to produce in that factory. If Plessey says that it would take more than 90 days to arrange that, we in the Department will again point to the TES. I would do everything that I could to ensure that those jobs were saved by TES, not only in Sunderland but on Merseyside. The Secretary of State for Industry will do everything he can to persuade Plessey to produce alternative products in Liverpool and Sunderland. It is clear—again, I depart from the brief—that there are telecommunications products which would have a sale in the export market. However, they certainly could not be out-of-date products.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but this is perhaps the most important statement that my hon. Friend has made in his speech. He will recall that I pointed out that the TES can be applied for only by the employer. There is some doubt about the willingness of the Plessey management in Sunderland to do so and about whether that application could or would be made. What my hon. Friend has said must be borne in upon the Plessey management in Sunderland at least. TES available to the company would amount to over £2 million for one year. This would assist the company's research and help it towards the development of a new technique which would fit in with Post Office and export requirements. If the company did not take up that offer, would the same offer be made if a co-operative were established in Sunderland?
I would not answer that question as categorically as I answered earlier points. Some hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench who have just come in seem to think that that is a joke. I do not treat this matter as a joke. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who has sat here throughout the debate, has treated it in that way either.I would need to discuss this with officials of the Department of Industry, but if my hon. Friends wants a meeting to discuss the subject, the Government would be willing to meet him and his colleagues from the North-East and Liverpool to explore the possibility. However, I could not give such a categoric answer to that question as I have given to the others. I am to discuss the situation of Liverpool shortly with the North-West Regional TUC. I should be only too willing to do the same in the North-East. Our special measures include not only the temporary employment subsidy but the job creation programme, the work experience scheme, the youth employment subsidy and the job release scheme, which together have helped over 20,000 people on Merseyside and about 3,000 on Weir-side. We are prepared to increase our efforts even further in the light of these closures, but we know that these special measures are not enough. That is why we are pledged in our industrial strategy to bring about the recovery of British industry and why the Prime Minister is so keen to ensure international action against this international course of unemployment. Only in that way, eventually, when we are making goods which people at home and abroad want to buy, can we ensure prosperity for the workers of Liverpool, Sunderland and the country generally. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for the courteous way in which they have approached the terrible situation which faces their constituents. We in the Government feel deeply for them and will do all we possibly can to help them in this dilemma.
The Under-Secretary of State for Employment has just spoken for 46 minutes, which is between a fifth and a quarter of the time that it would take Concorde to fly the Atlantic.We are now to debate
The very wording of this topic shows that the British Government and the British taxpayer have been having to pay a considerable financial price for the deliberate delay to Concorde's entry into service to New York. The money spent during this time, and all the money spent on the development and production of Concorde, has been spent on the reasonable assumpton that treaties are worth the paper they are written on when they are signed on behalf of the Government of the United States of America. We shall see on Thursday whether that is so. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter. It is a happy coincidence—perhaps one of the few that we are likely to enjoy this week. Another is the timing of the visit of the Prime Minister to see President Carter. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister not only for deciding to fly to Washington in Concorde but for doing so with enthusiasm and élan. I am confident that he will do his utmost the promote the cause of Concorde while he is there. The question is whether the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of France can persuade the President of the United States to abide by the treaty obligations entered into on behalf of the United States Government by the President's predecessors. I shall do my best during this debate to keep in order. I realise that it is not appropriate at this stage to have a lengthy discussion on the question whether or not Concorde should have been built. It is not appropriate to review the progress of the whole project. I should also like to declare an interest, in that a number of my constituents work at the British Aircraft Corporation factory at Hurn, where Concorde is being built. Although the numbers involved are comparatively small, nevertheless it is an important factor, naturally, in shaping my thinking on this subject. I believe that Concorde has tremendous popular support, although it has its detractors and there are two sides to every argument. The Minister has occasionally chastised me for being outspoken and perhaps for being an over-enthusiastic supporter of the project. However, I have been at it rather longer than he has and I hope that the House will not consider it immodest if I quote from my maiden speech:"increased expenditure on the development and production of Concorde, having regard to landing rights at New York."
As a result of my commitment to Concorde I have always been aware that the problem that the aeroplane faces on Thursday of this week would have to be faced eventually. For that reason I accompanied the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), now the Secretary of State for Energy, to Washington and New York as long ago as 1971 to do what we could to oppose the strong anti-Concorde campaign that even at that date was being waged against the aeroplane. I greatly regret that the previous Conservative Government would not accept the suggestion that I put to them, as long ago as 1971, that a strong pro-Concorde campaign should be launched in New York all those years ago to combat the campaign that was being waged against the aeroplane at that time. Perhaps I may be excused for making one or two further quotations. The Bristol Evening Post of 8th September 1970 said this:"I refuse to contemplate the possibility that a Government, my Government, elected to promote the individuality, energy and enthusiasm of the British people, and determined to accelerate the growth of European cooperation, could contemplate any course other than immediate, unequivocal and determined support for Concorde."—[Official Report, 6th July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 412.]
On 5th December 1970 Air-Commodore Donaldson, the air correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, wrote:"We must launch a major pro-Concorde exercise in the United States."
The Financial Times of 23rd February 1971 reported the Secretary of State for Energy as he now is, as saying that:"The Americans are also expected to use every means, fair or even foul, to eliminate Concorde's undisputed lead."
So by way of apology to the Minister for being consistent on this issue I can claim that I have, perhaps, lived with it rather longer than he has. In fact, when I returned from that visit to the United States I wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph of 28th February 1971. The article was entitled"If the New York State Assembly took action which led to the cancellation of Concorde without really going into it the result would be a major political issue between the United Kingdom, France and America."
I quote briefly from what I said then:"Fight for Concorde's entry right."
The environment, of course, is the pretext which is being used by the anti-Concorde industry in New York. As I said earlier, Concorde has its opponents in Britain and it has its opponents m the United States. In Britain we have for years had to take highly critical comment from Andrew Wilson in the Observer, who has been proved wrong consistently. He said that the aeroplane would never fly. He then said that it would never fly across the North Atlantic. He said that customers would not pay excess fares to fly in it. It is noticeable how, when one argument has been disproved, Mr. Wilson has shifted to another. Mary Goulding, ex-editor of the Economist, was another who for years waged a violent campaign against Concorde. One wonders how she must feel now when she sees the publication that she used to edit offering as a prize a trip across the Atlantic in the Concorde! The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who has a strong constituency interest to prevent airport noise, has been a perfectly proper opponent of the aircraft, because he believed that it would add to the problems of his constituents. A Mr. Richard Wiggs of the Anti-Concorde Society, which may or may not be still in existence, was for a time outspoken on the subject. Even the Bishop of Kingston took the trouble to go to the United States recently and speak out against the aircraft, although his evidence was, I think, slightly less effective than it might have been when people realised that one of the other projects that he was promoting was the belief that Jesus Christ was a homosexual. So we have a variety of opponents to face in this country. Their motives are perfectly respectable. We respect those who say that this aircraft should never have been built. But that is not the issue we face today. We face today a vicious and determined battle in New York itself from people who have never hidden their determination to use any argument that came to hand to prevent this British-French aeroplane from landing in New York. People such as Mr. Andrew Stein and Mrs. Bella Abzug are a very different breed of people from the sort of people who in this country we are used to arguing with on political issues. For them, of course, the anti-Concorde debate is a Heaven-sent issue; it is long lasting, so they can constantly keep their names before their constituents. It has emotions of patriotism which they are able to bring into their speeches. They can claim to be "the voice of the people". They can use the environmental argument in any way they wish and, perhaps most attractive for them, the truth can very easily be bent. The bending of the truth in New York is not a new industry. However, Mrs. Abzug and Mr. Stein would, I think, get honours degrees in the art of bending figures. For this reason, I deeply regret that the British Government did not five years ago launch the pro-Concorde campaign in New York which has now been mounted effectively in the past few months by the present British Government and particularly by the French Government. To the Americans, and I suppose to anybody who is minded to take up the anti-Concorde cause, the name itself is an easy target. Perhaps if the aeroplane had been called the BAC169 nobody would have taken any notice of it. Nobody has yet answered the question that I have posed on many occasions to opponents of Concorde in the United States: what is it about a supersonic civil aircraft flying subsonically over the land but which happens to be operating under the colours of British Airways or Air France which is supposed to do things to the environment that supersonic military aircraft flying the colours of the United States Air Force do not do to the environment in the United States? As yet there has been no satisfactory answer. We have an agreement between the British Government and the United States Government which allows Concorde to land in the United States. This agreement was not signed between Her Majesty's Government and the State of New Jersey or the State of New York; it was signed by the United States Federal Government. It is shocking to think that an incoming United States President is unwilling, particularly in the light of the campaign he waged for honesty, fairness and decency, to stand up and support a commitment freely and openly entered into by his predecessors in office as Presidents of the United States. Let us imagine a perhaps analogous situation—that the port authority at Dover decided that it did not want to have Germans landing at Dover because it did not like Germans. The German Government would make a complaint to Her Majesty's Government that German citizens were being prevented from landing at Dover. Is it conceivable that a British Prime Minister would say to the German Chancellor "I am terribly sorry, but this is a matter for the Kent County Council. You will have to take the matter up with the council. I cannot get involved in these details. It is nothing to do with me"? Of course it would be. It would be a matter that should be dealt with Government to Government. The Concorde question is one with which the United States Government should deal; they should honour a clear legal commitment entered into. The opposition to Concorde in New York is political and has some really rather nasty overtones to it. Governor Carey of New York was quoted as say- ing—I believe only yesterday—that perhaps he would accept Concorde if Abu Daoud were to be the first to step off the aeroplane. The implications of that are that the New York and New Jersey Governors and their supporters are prepared to use Concorde as a weapon with which to chastise the French Government for a recent political action that took place in France, which no doubt upset many of the Jewish voters in New York. I have no intention of discussing that, but the mere fact that a Governor of New York could produce a remark like that as a reason for not allowing this aeroplane to land is quite intolerable. I recall that when I was over there discussing this issue, at a time when the pro-IRA lobby was active, it was openly stated that people who were anti-British and who were supporting the IRA felt that any stick was suitable to beat a dog, and I must say that I often wonder how much Senator Kennedy's opposition to Concorde has to do with his known support for the Irish nationalist cause."Strong voices behind the scenes will go far to prevent a foreign company from winning a share of new aircraft orders from United States airlines. The 'business isolationists' are always at work here, as B.P. well know. But the environment can be a useful hat for some."
That is a grave misrepresentation of the statements of Senator Kennedy.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me what Senator Kennedy's attitude to Concorde is now. He is known to have taken exception to the aircraft. All I am suggesting is that people's motives are often not so clear or quite so straightforward as they are supposed to be. I hope that my hon. Friend will not dispute that. I assure him that there are people who are not always as straightforward in stating their reasons for opposing Concorde as may appear at first sight.The noise factor is often used as the main argument against Concorde. In fact, no case has ever been proved to show that Concorde is a noisier aircraft than other civil aircraft currently in service. I wonder how far President Carter has gone to check the facts. On our television screens last night we saw him talking about noise and the environment. It is all very well for these comments to be made, but I consider that the American Government should take the trouble to seek evidence with which to convince themselves that Concorde is the environmental disaster which its enemies claim it to be. How far has President Carter studied the complaints that have been coming from Dulles Airport in Washington? Has he, or have his advisers, studied, for example, the facts at Heathrow? In a Written Answer to a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), it was stated on 28th February that the two occasions when the noise was greatest at Heathrow during 1976 were in February and June, and the guilty aircraft was a Boeing 707. In my view, the argument based on the environment has been totally misrepresented in New York. It has been a convenient hat for Concorde's opponents to wear, and there is no statistical evidence to prove that Concorde is a noisier or environmentally less acceptable aircraft than many of the other jets flying into and out of Kennedy Airport or dozens or other airports in America and elsewhere in the world. Of course, no one argues—at least, I trust not—in this country or in the House about the importance of the environment. But for New Yorkers I should have thought that the ability to walk the streets alone and in safety would be an environmental problem which they would regard as just as important as whether Concorde was more or less noisy than a Boeing 707. One can fly over Phoenix in Arizona and see the haze that has been created over a period of years by aircraft pollution—pollution that has nothing whatever to do with Concorde—and one might have thought that that was an environmental problem that could attract the attention of Americans. One recalls the river in Cleveland that caught fire not so long ago because it was so polluted. That, also, might be an issue that the American environment lobby could get its teeth into. The Great Lakes are so polluted as to be unspeakable. There is also the lack of planning controls, which has resulted in the defacing of thousands of miles of highway in the United States. I submit that there are many issues to which the American environmentalists could turn their attention instead of concentrating upon Concorde. I do not believe that Britain and France have a bad record in promoting civilisation. One could speak at length about the contribution that both countries have made. I ask myself what contribution to civilisation and the environment the Americans are making. On my television screen I see "Kojak", "Starsky and Hutch", "Serpico", "Cannon" and "Columbo", and it seems that violence is part of the American way of life. Only this morning on the "Today" programme I listened to an interview about a Mr. Carmine Galanti, who appeared on the streets of New York—
Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would tell us how he gets the time to watch and listen to all these programmes.
I listened to the "Today" programme on my radio this morning before I left home at 7.25 a.m. The "Today" programme is a radio programme which I commend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.I believe that the opposition to Concorde, which uses the environment in New York as the peg on which to hang its campaign is, in fact, political. It is significant that the trade unions in New York, the institutions of commerce and industry and the authorities concerned with the development of tourism are well aware of the damage to New York which the ban on Concorde has already done and the damage to that city's commerce and industry that could be done if the aeroplane were not allowed its legitimate rights to land. The ports of Tyre and Sidon learned long ago that no city on earth can claim in perpetuity a position as a major international gateway. I do not know whether the Minister is able to tell us anything about the proposition that Braniff Airways will want to fly Concorde subsonically onwards from Washington. I saw it reported the other day that a spokesman in the United States said that this proposal would be rigorously opposed, not because Concorde would be flown supersonically over the United States—no one has ever suggested that—but just because it was another weapon to use in the anti-Concorde battle. I fear—I say this as one who has the closest of ties, commercially, with America and a great affection for and affinity with its people—that underneath all the anti-Concorde trouble there is an unspoken doctrine, which I may call the "Great America" doctrine—the doctrine —that says that Americans should go anywhere in the world in the interests of private enterprise, to develop their commerce and industry and, if possible, dominate and take over sections of industry however vital they may be to the host country concerned. That is all part of the freedom of private enterprise, which Americans support. But if any foreign company should actually dare not only to set foot in the United States but to obtain a major slice of a vital industry, or an industry that the Americans consider to be vital to their own national interests, all of a sudden the shutters go up. It was significant in the early days of Concorde, when the Americans were still considering whether they should build a supersonic aircraft, that it was an open secret that the American aircraft manufacturers were hoping to get into production with their own supersonic transport, hoping to buy off Concorde until they were ready to sell their aeroplane to those whom they saw as their own customers. Now, however, the situation has changed, and two of the main organisations that are worried about the entry of Concorde into the United States are Pan American and TWA. I remember the time in 1973 or 1974—I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will remember it, too—when Mr. Fred Corfield, now Sir Frederick Corfield, used a phrase that has stuck in my mind ever since—that "Pan American could not afford to buy a bicycle." That company's fortunes may have improved a little since then, but there is no doubt that Pan American and TWA do not want to face the competition of British Airways and Air France flying Concorde from New York to London and New York to Paris. Therefore, behind the scenes, they are, I suspect, doing their bit to aid and abet the anti-Concorde industry in New York. Where does all this leave us now? On Thursday the British Government will be backing British Airways and Air France in the next stage of their battle with the Port of New York Authority. I hope that we win. I would be the happiest person in this House if it could be shown that everything that I have said was totally unjustified and unfair, and I am certain that many of my hon. Friends would join me in that pleasure. But if the answer on Thursday is "No", we are likely to embark on a protracted legal battle in the courts of New York and New Jersey. If so, it will be an expensive lengthy and painful process. As I see it, Britain and France, through their airlines, will be arguing in court that the Federal Government have made a ruling for a trial for Concorde and that this is being opposed by the States of New York and New Jersey. So, in effect, these two European Governments will be fighting a battle against the States' rights of New York and New Jersey. Not only would this process take years; the assumption leading from it is that the two airlines would be fighting on behalf of the Federal Government and of the rights of the Federal Government against the rights of State Governments. Yet we see the Federal Government in the shape of President Carter washing his hands of the issue and saying "I do not want to get involved". So long as he hides behind the skirts of the Port of New York Authority, I cannot see how such a legal battle could end in a victory for our airlines. Their position is nothing like as strong as that of our enemies. I revert to the remark about "fair means or foul" which I quoted from the Daily Telegraph. I believe that the means being used in New York are far from fair. I believe that sooner or later the British and French Governments will have to recognise that diplomacy and the tactics employed so far have failed to preserve for our two nations the rights to which we are entitled. I want to ask three things of the Minister, although I do not expect categorical answers now. First, I want an assurance that the Government will, inch for inch, match the determination of the French Government in standing up for the rights of Britain and France in this battle. Secondly, I want an assurance that if the answer on Thursday is "No", legal action, for what it is worth, will be started immediately. Thirdly, I put a suggestion that the Minister may not welcome. I believe that we have to act. The time for words has gone on too long. If we identify the enemy of Concorde as the Port of New York Authority, and therefore New York itself, I believe that Britain and France jointly should be prepared to take specific action against the interests of New York. I would like to see the British and French Governments getting together and withdrawing traffic rights between New York and Britain and New York and France. I am not suggesting the withdrawal of traffic rights between the United States and Britain and France but specifically from New York. This move would harm British Airways and Air France, but it would also harm individual American carriers, as well as a number of international carriers with traffic rights between New York and London or Paris. I believe that the people in and around the New York area who have to come to Britain and France would continue to do so—they would fly first to Washington or Philadelphia or Boston and from there across the Atlantic. The effect would be limited to New York. If those waging the anti-Concorde campaign in New York are really so concerned about the noise that they claim that Concorde would bring to Kennedy Airport, they must be aware that the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8 are as noisy, and we would be doing a kindness in removing more aircraft from their overall environment. I was sorry to read today that New York is again hovering on the verge of bankruptcy. I cannot believe that the proposition that Concorde should be denied traffic rights will help the city's financial circumstances. I have never been able to understand why, if those in New York waging the anti-Concorde campaign are so convinced that they are right and that Concorde is a noisy, dirty environmental monster, they do not want it to have a trial in order to prove that they are right. One would have thought that the first thing they wanted was a trial in which they could be proved right. The truth is that they are afraid that the trial would prove them wrong, and that is why they do not want it to take place.
It is a pleasure to speak following the speech of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) in this debate. I know that over the years he has done a great deal to promote the interests of Concorde. I have an interest also in that many of my constituents are employed at the aircraft works where Concorde is built. As a trade unionist and official of the Labour Party for many years before coming here, I helped to promote the interests of Concorde in and around Bristol.I consider landing rights for Concorde into the Port of New York most important for the continued success of the Concorde project in general. The continued delay by the New York Port Authority in making up its mind one way or the other has created great uncertainty within the British aircraft manufacturing industry. A great many jobs are now at stake in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope). I am grateful for the stand now being taken by the British Government in making it clear to the New York Port Authority that they expect a decision one way or another on Thursday. I believe that the authority must not be allowed to delay the matter further. I am grateful for the points made by the Minister in the Adjournment debate on Concorde on 24th February. He made it clear that the British Government contend that they have treaty rights entitling them to operate Concorde into the United States, including New York, that the air service agreements between the United States and Britain and France specify the requirements that aircraft must meet and that Concorde meets those requirements in full, and that the New York Port Authority is not entitled to withhold our rights to land Concorde at New York itself. I believe that the Americans fear that once Concorde is on regular service across the North Atlantic, which is still the most lucrative route, their own airlines will be faced with supersonic competition and will either have to get hold of Concorde somehow—which means buying or leasing—or risk great financial consequences. For I believe that British Airways and Air France are going to steal a very lucrative market. I believe that they will soon cream off with their Concordes the high-yield markets on the North American routes. The American airlines will then have to go supersonic in order to survive. I believe that the Americans are still bitter about the fact that they spent £655 million in an abortive attempt to develop a supersonic transport, only to find themselves, at the end of it all, with no actual aircraft to show for their trouble. Concorde is a great British achievement. It is something that we can be proud of. I congratulate the Prime Minister on making his trip to Washington this week in Concorde in order to meet President Carter. I believe that is throwing down the gauntlet in the present situation. Many of my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, are pleased that the Prime Minister has shown his support for the Concorde project at this time. It is something that we are grateful for. But in the light of the treaty rights that we have with the American Government the American Government cannot stand by and say that it is not a federal matter. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington. These points must be brought home to Governor Carey this week before a decision is made in New York. The Americans have always said that their country is the land of the free. It appears to many of us that it is free to us no more and that future relations between the two countries are now under question. I believe that the American Government are responsible for the actions of the New York Port Authority this week. The American Government must get the authority into line if a confrontation between our two countries is to be avoided. I certainly hope that a confrontation will be avoided. It is the last thing that we want to happen, but to my mind it is coming to that stage. A month ago the New York Port Authority asked for more time to evaluate data. I believe that was just a time-wasting exercise and that the authority is playing a waiting game. The opposition that we have experienced from the authority covers a large number of vested interests and lobbies in the United States. Pan American and TWA certainly do not want Concorde to survive. American aircraft constructors also have vital interests. I believe that they see those interests being hurt, and their sales being hit, once Concorde is in operation. This has caused the American Government to break an international treaty fully drawn up in good faith between our two countries. It is now a vital matter. Mankind in future will want to travel safely and comfortably at more than the speed of sound. If for one reason or another we were to cancel Concorde at this stage Britain would have no influence whatever over this important aspect of mankind's future activities. That would please the enemies of Concorde. But supersonic travel is happening and it cannot fail to dominate the long-haul and, eventually, the medium-haul routes of the world for the remainder of this century and beyond. The New York Port Authority cannot end supersonic flying by taking punitive action against Concorde aircraft going into New York. Hon. Members on all sides of the House will remember that 20 years ago the operating arguments that are now being hurled at Concorde were used against the pure jet. Those arguments were used to such a sad effect in this country that projects were cancelled that would have secured for Britain the world leadership, which later went to Boeing. That is what happened then. Pressure is certainly being put on us at this stage to do almost exactly the same thing. The only serious question mark against our supersonic airlines is whether the same kind of spurious argument will result in the hand-over of Concorde and its technology to the United States. It is as easy as that. That is why the Americans hope that Concorde and its programme will fail. They were hoping all along that it would fail technically. But Concorde has proved itself fully. As a result they can only take power over our technology if they can get us to cancel the present Mark I in time to build the next generation of supersonic aircraft, which will surely come irrespective of what President Carter or the New York Port Authority do on Thursday. Both know full well that supersonic flying, and the Concorde aircraft in particular, represent the aircraft of the future. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington said that for many years military aircraft had been flying supersonic. That is so. That is why the environmental argument is such a spurious one and cannot really be taken seriously. Britain and France have undertaken a huge investment in developing a supersonic aircraft. Whatever we say in this House, however far we go and however militant we are, we are but trying to protect the investment of this nation, the jobs of our people and the technology that has been the base on which the aircraft industry has developed. I hope that we are all wrong about this. I hope that there will be a green light from New York on Thursday and that British Airways and Air France will be able to go into operation. But, at the same time, I hope that both airlines have sufficient trained crews to start flights immediately. We must start at once, because the plane makers have waited far too long for success. The development of Concorde has taken many long years. When the green light does come, I hope that we can move forward quickly. It is only when Concorde is in regular service that we shall get the fresh orders necessary to keep the project teams together and the whole project alive. The continuation of the work is important. The present aircraft is, in my view, only the first step. The determination that has been shown all along by the French Government, and is now being shown by the British Government, has been most encouraging. I myself have been to France on one occasion to talk to parliamentarians and on another occasion to speak to the manufacturers. The feeling there has always been that they foresaw this kind of situation arising and that there would be a confrontation with the Americans over landing rights into the USA. Certainly it was foreseen some 18 months ago, when a number of hon. Members formed an all-party group for the Concorde, and it is a matter on which we need to work closely in co-operation with the French if we are to crack this nut. I should like to ask the Minister one question about British Airways. I hope that he will be able to give us an assurance that British Airways will be able to take advantage of the situation in flying to New York and Washington and will also be poised to take advantage of opening up the London to Australia route as well. There are rumours—and they are only rumours⁁that British Airways have had difficulties in training crews. It would be very sad if this were to hold back the implementation of the routes after we had negotiated them. We must be prepared to grasp the opportunities which we hope will be available to us, and British Airways must not be allowed to hold back for one reason or another. I hope that the Government will look at this to make sure that fully trained air crews are available to implement these services as soon as possible. Concorde has great potential. I hope that the Government will keep a very close watch on what is going on because a great many of us who have had consultations about it are worried. There will be strong resentment in this country and in France if New York continues to delay the entry of Concordes, and it will be difficult for us to explain it to those many thousands of people who have contributed their skills and labour to this fine aircraft. All of us want to see British and French technology succeeding. The action in not allowing us a fair trial period is not what we would expect from a friendly nation. If that is friendship, I hate to think what our enemies may do to us. To my mind, there is a growing volume of support, even in New York itself, for the entry of Concorde. Many important organizations, representing both labour and the business community, have come out in favour of the aircraft being allowed in. The common theme expressed by all of them is that New York needs Concorde's services to Europe, and there will be benefit for them in this happening. There will be benefit for us as well. We do not deny that. But they can see Concordes bringing more business to New York. We have to bear in mind that conferences are being moved to other places and that people are going to Washington just to fly in the Concorde. This is a very telling factor. The State of New York is in deep financial trouble. I hope that, in conjunction with the French Government, we shall take whatever steps are necessary. I fear that the legal battle in this matter will not be the best way to resolve the difficulty. It will be long, and I believe that it will be unsuccessful. That means that a decision will have to be made about the work force. It means that a decision will have to be made about the future programme before the legal action is brought to a conclusion. As I have said, the French have for a long time considered that this matter ought to be dealt with more quickly. Bearing in mind all the implications for us, at the end of the day we must consider retaliatory action against American interests in this country. I know that the Government hope very much that this will be unnecessary, because it would damage us as well. But the damage has already been done, and further damage may well be done on Thursday to Anglo-American and Franco-American relations. We have to show our resolve in standing firm on what we have said. The decision must be made. We can no longer be fooled around with. But many of us in this House will not fudge the issue when it comes. To my mind, we are being dealt with unfairly, and we must be prepared to take action against New York and American interests generally if the United States Government refuse to back us up. Our investment, our technology and perhaps even Britain's role as an aircraft manufacturer are at risk. With the French Government, we must protect our interests and secure the future access of our supersonic aircraft, on which so many hopes and livelihoods depend. I hope that the British Government will take the very strongest action, in consultation with the French, to make sure that the Americans know exactly where we stand.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and the hon. Member for Kings-wood (Mr. Walker), I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are wasting your time, in the sense that the New York Port Authority will make the right decision on Thursday and come down on our side, thereby proving that we need not have held this debate at all.. I want to refer briefly to one remark of the hon. Member for Kingswood about the training of air crews. By all means let the Government look at this, but I hope also that the unions involved will consider their position. If the opportunity occurs and if it is missed because of action of that kind, they will not lightly be forgiven. I wish to make two points. The first is one of detail and, I am afraid, statistical. However, that befits my profession as an accountant. The second is a more general point. I deal first with the detailed point. Which concerns noise and the controversy that I seem unwittingly to have caused by putting down a Written Question to the Under-Secretary for Trade last week, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington referred. I asked the Minister whether he would list the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow and the noise that they made. The published answer did not show Concorde in the list. That was taken by some, notably the Earl of Kimberley in another place and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington here, to mean that Concorde was not the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow in any month during the 13 months referred to in the answer. In fact, the Concorde figures were given recently in a CAA report—the so-called DORA report from the authority's Directorate of Operational Research and Analysis. Therefore, the Concorde figures can be compared with the figures for subsonic aircraft which were given in the Written Answer last week. Blending the DORA information on the Concorde with the Written Answer's information on subsonic aircraft, it appears that only in three months during the 13-month period was Concorde the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow, as measured at the normal fixed monitoring points. 1 understand that this will be confirmed in a Written Answer to be given later on by the Department. The figures also indicate that in the whole period during which the Concorde has been operating, in one month the Concorde and in two months a Boeing 707 made the loudest noise, of 124 PNdB. I am not sure why the answer was different from that. It has misled a number of people and upset a number of people, including Mr. Richard Wiggs, of the anti-Concorde project. I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington that this organization is still in operation, because I had a letter from Mr. Wiggs this morning in connection with the Written Answer that I received. He sent me a copy of a letter that he has sent to the Department of Trade, to Governor Carey, and to the Chairman of the New York Port Authority, attacking the information given in the Written Answer. In that respect his letter is correct but in other respects it is disgracefully misleading in the way that it misrepresents the DORA report on Concorde's operation from Heathrow. The DORA report makes clear on page 1 that it is comparing the performance of all the Concordes that flew out of Heathrow in the relevant period with the performance of some but by no means all subsonic aircraft. Page 1 of the report makes clear that it is concerned with only a sample of the other aircraft. I also asked a parliamentary Question about the size of the sample, but I was told that information on the size of the sample in the DORA report was not readily available. I am not sure why the information should not be readily available. The numbers in the DORA sample are given in the report and are obvious from the tables. I cannot believe that the Government do not know the other figures needed to indicate the size of the total from which the sample was taken, namely, how many aircraft took off or landed at Heathrow. I understand that in one representative week, from 6th to 12th September, there were four Concorde movements and 137 Boeing 707 movements. The DORA report deals with the noise from all the Concorde movements but less than one in 20 of the Boeing 707 movements. Mr. Wiggs and others, in considering the DORA report, tried to make out that the report deals with all subsonic flights, but in the Written Answer that I was given about the report, some of the noisiest flights in that period were not included. It is this kind of answer, concealing the size of sample, that gives some of us the idea that some people in Government are not as keen on Concorde as we are. I am aware that the noise of different aircraft makes different patterns, different footprints and different graphs on the ground. One can measure any aircraft at different places, but the fact remains that according to the normal fixed monitoring stations at Heathrow Concorde is not the noisiest aircraft there. By a short head, the Boeing 707 is. That opens the door to retaliation. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington, am thinking of retaliation against New York rather than retaliation against the whole of America. The only thing that has brought us to discussing this problem at all is that we are fed up with being patient with the Americans. That brings me to my general point. I have always counted myself a friend of the Americans. I like them, and my wife is partly American, but there is a limit to our patience, and we have reached it. [Interruption. ] I must tell the Under-Secretary that I was not talking about patience with my wife. Just because I have been married for seven years does not mean that anything else has happened. We have reached the limit of our patience with the Americans. If they decide against us and take the wrong decision on Thursday they must expect to have to deal with a belligerent and determined campaign. It is sad to see New York, of all places, in this mood. I believe that New York is making a mistake not only from our point of view but from its own point of view. To single out Concorde would be a blunder. Already traffic is diverting to Washington—and there is also the Braniff application. Increasingly New York will find this sort of thing happening. New York has no prescriptive right to through traffic. Geography helps, but it does not guarantee New York's position as the main airport city of the East Coast. It seems that New York has been overtaken by a death wish, like an aged fighter who has outlived his strength but still thinks that he can throw his weight around without regard to the consequences. I hope that the Government will make clear to the New York authorities that if they refuse Concorde it will not kill Concorde or kill its entry to America—it is already flying to Washingtonߞbut it will cut New York off the supersonic map. That will be a self-inflicted wound. It will also start a landing rights war in which my hon. Friends and I will be firing some of the shots. Such a war will not be in anyone's interest, and I hope that it will not be necessary.
It is difficult to match the grasp of facts and the eloquence of the three preceding speakers, who have for long been acknowledged not as members of the pro-Concorde lobby but as leaders of the national movement for taking the frontiers of British and French—and that means European—aviation one critical step further forward for the benefit of mankind as a whole. If that sounds dramatic, it is deliberate, because that is just what is at stake in the decision that the New York Port Authority is to take on Thursday.All the subordinate details and all the facts that we have had on Concorde over a number of years, despite ferocious and cruel opposition from all quarters—and the resistance continues beyond the bounds of all pragmatic fairness and natural justice—show that Concorde has progressed. I, like the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), noted what a difference there was between the forceful posture of French Governments and the rather hesitant posture of British Governments. That is now being counteracted. A lot of that is due to the Under-Secretary of State for Trade. He and his colleagues know that there is now a more clear-cut realisation of the critical nature of the stage that we have reached. All those in the industry—employers and trade unions—see what a crucially important week this is.
wish to put the record straight on one comment made by the hon. Gentleman, in which he may have inadvertently made a misstatement. It was my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry who gave evidence at the Coleman hearings. He was the only Minister so to do on the part of either Government. The determination of the British Government was made patently obvious at those hearings.
I did not want to give any impression that would cause anxiety in the Minister's mind. The realisation has grown that this matter has to be pushed forward. It is a very complicated scenario, as the localised resistance in New York has increased.We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for initiating the debate. My hon. Friends gave the impression that this ferocious resistance on the part of some malevolent people in New York and in New York State was universal, but that is not true. I have used the word "malevolent" reluctantly, but deliberately. There is a growing lobby in New York, both numerically and in terms of central forcefulness, which is in favour of Concorde. The worst fears of the environmentalists in Washington, expressed when the Dulles experiment began, have been completely confirmed. There is no evidence that Concorde is any more of a nuisance than any other aircraft, in terms of noise and smoke emission. Smoke emission is still a bit of a problem, but noise is the main factor. The statistics show that every aeroplane causes noise nuisance. What would have been the attitude of people in the United States if there had been an outcry here in Britain about noise when the Boeing 707 first came upon the scene? We can imagine what that reaction would have been. Over the last two decades the United States has made the running and dominated the world markets in avionics and aviation. It has done it for all sorts of reasons, fair and unfair. We could debate them at great length, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but not tonight. Now, however, it is time for Europe—represented in this case by France and Britain—to assert itself. We have seen what happened recently when the French lost the "sale of the century" for the latest all-purpose aircraft ordered for NATO. There has been a saga of unfairness all through the years. Now it enters the field of the supersonic transport. There is a complicated political situation in New York, which it is impossible to analyse in my short speech today. There is an immensely complex web of interests, lobbies and sub-lobbies. The recently appointed Commissioners of the New York port authority had to give an undertaking to the State Traffic Commissioner, for example, that they were definitely anti-Concorde, and they made a number of speeches to that effect. There is, therefore, the fear that Thursday's decision will not necessarily be fair. The Prime Minister has made his position clear on the matter. The Government's stance has been unequivocal and declared repeatedly on various occasions. The Prime Minister will be flying to the United States in Concorde on his official visit. We hope that President Carter will be courageous on this issue, and he has the opportunity now to be so. There is an enormous complication between federal politics and local or state politics. In addition, the whole doctrine of interpositionism arises in this area, and it is difficult for us here in Britain with our different political patterns to analyse that. All these factors must be taken into account. If President Giscard d'Estaing makes a vital phone call to the President of the United States that plea is something that the Americans have to heed. The New York port authority does not have to give a final definitive "Yes" when it reaches its decision. It can endorse whatever is sought, which in this case is a trial period along the lines of that in Dulles, Washington. Hon. Members are quite right to raise—I realise that they have done it reluctantly—the possibility of retaliatory action if the wrong decision is taken on Thursday. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the British Government will apply every pressure on the Americans to make the right decision. A great deal will flow from what is decided on Thursday. A lot of money has been spent by Britain and France in this project on what is undoubtedly the most exciting frontier-breaking aircraft constructed for many years. There are those in the American aircraft production lobby who wait with eagerness in the hope that the project will be killed at this stage. I do not know whether there is enough at stake here for it to be killed. Concorde has shown what it can do on other routes. Air France has done well with its route to South America. Once the Bahrein route is extended enormous progress will be made in that direction. Concorde has had perhaps the most heartbreaking battle of any aircraft, civil or military, since the war. Complete victory is not in sight, or even round the corner. Thursday could provide not just one small additional step in the long path towards progress and success, but that decisive breakthrough that the Americans themselves will ignore at their peril.
I rise to support by hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker). I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for having raised the matter tonight and for giving us the opportunity to have this brief debate.My hon. Friend said that he had been involved in this subject for many years. I have a tremendous feeling of déjà vue because when I was an official of this House I wrote the report of the Estimates Committee in 1962–63 at the beginning of the Concorde project. The Committee was chaired by the then Mr. Robert Carr, now Lord Carr, and it expressed considerable scepticism at the price estimates given to the House, about the break clause factor and over the proportion of investment to be made in relation to expenditure on subsonic aircraft. Many of these apprehensions turned out to be true, but we are now in an entirely different situation. This technological triumph has created also a political triumph. One of the most fascinating and important aspects has been the unique agreement and understanding between British and French engineers, and it is in that respect that the project is the most impressive. I would be unhappy if this debate were to conclude without some appreciation of the genuine difficulty which faces the United States Administration. Many people tend to underestimate the degree of autonomy given in the United States to individual States and even to authorities within States. The situation is not quite as simple as many people appear to think. However, I fully accept my hon. Friends' point about the degree of pressure and about the need for the United States Government to honour their responsibilities under the treaty. I should, however, be unhappy if we gave the impression that we did not understand or sympathise with the difficulties which confront the Washington Administration. I think that perhaps some of my hon Friends underestimate the power and sincerity of the environmental lobbies and groups in the United States. I have lived in New York State for the last four years. The concern and seriousness of those people, which might have been exploited, was a major factor in the destruction of the American SST. It would be slightly unfair to many of these sincere people if we gave the impression that this was entirely a power ploy. I hope that the President realises more than almost anyone else the importance of appearances and of symbolism here. If the agreement does not go through and if Concorde is not allowed at least a brief, fair trial, the people in this country and in France will draw conclusions which may be harsh against the President and the administration and which may be slightly unfair, but which will nevertheless be drawn because Concorde asks and merits a fair trial in New York. I regret some of the language used by the French Government about retaliation. I do not think that this is the right way to talk to the United States Administration, particularly to a new Administration. However, I hope that the United States Government will be left in no doubt by the Prime Minister of the sincerity and the fervour of feeling which lies behind the wish to give Concorde a fair chance. I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will recognise the sincerity of us all in this matter. I have no strict constituency interest comparable to those interests held by my hon. Friends, but I believe that I have a national interest as someone who wishes that this remarkable aircraft and this remarkable example of Anglo-French co-operation may be given a fair chance.
I have a great regard for Concorde. It is the plane of the future. Probably the American attitude is governed in the main by the fact that we and the French were the first to produce such an aircraft. There is, however, one thing which worries me considerably, and I have had correspon- dence with the Minister about it. It is the mysterious 9 o'clock boom which hits my constituency every evening. It coincides with the return of the French Concorde. If we are to convince the Americans that it is right and proper that they should accept the Concorde—and I believe that to be so—the French Concorde should go subsonic at the Scillies. That would leave the boom in the Atlantic and would not cause great problems to my constituents.
Would my hon. Friend confirm that that boom, which should be put in perspective, appears to be from a sideways direction of supersonic flight, as he has indicated, and that as there is no similar circumstance in the United States to the relationship of his constituents and mine to the English Channel, the situation is not one that could be used by Americans seeking to use his experience in the battle that they are waging?
I shall be absolutely fair. My own experience of this was only last evening. As I was watching television I heard the boom, which sounded like someone blowing up a cooling tower. There was no rattling of windows, nor was there any damage to my property. But some of my constituents further west, about 30 miles beyond me, have put forward evidence that damage has been caused to their property.The Minister has written to me giving me all the details of the investigations that have been made, which appear to be expert investigations, but there is no concrete evidence that the damage has been caused by the French Concorde. However, if Concorde went subsonic a mile earlier, we should have a better argument to put to the Americans. It seems that most of these booms and most of the damage occurs at 9 o'clock at night. It could be just a coincidence or just one of those things. If we want to make certain that the Americans will accept this plane—which I believe they should, because it is a great plane and ought to be accepted, certainly on long flights over the Pacific in future—the French ought to co-operate in going subsonic a mile earlier and so protecting my constituents and all the constituents of Cornish Members.
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friends and to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) because my attendance on a Select Committee meant that I was unable to be here at the start of the debate. I gather that since the debate started word has come over the tapes that Governor Carey has repeated today his assertion that he does not want Concorde to land in New York. As he appoints half of the Port of New York Authority personnel, I do not think that we can be too optimistic about the decision later this week.When I was in the United States a few months ago I talked to people in New York and in Washington about this problem. I was struck by the fact that a considerable body of opinion indicated that although many people were not necessarily all that keen on Concorde as a project they thought that their own Government were being unfair. If the Federal Government decided that Concorde should run for a trial period, it would be sensible to use that period to monitor the environmental impact. If the decision is adverse, there may be evidence that Concorde had an adverse effect on the environment in New York. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) was right to point out the problems, which anyone who has been to New York and seen people's proximity to the airport will recognise. There is no argument that I can conceive in natural justice and equity for not allowing the trial to take place. If Concorde is allowed into Washington it should be allowed into New York as well. Many people in New York, particularly trade unionists and businessmen, are concerned about the loss of revenue from people who would otherwise have used New York in its historic rôle as a port of entry into the United States. In this context it is not insignificant to note that about 25 per cent. of the present Concorde passengers from Washington are travelling from New York to Washington to commence their journey. Admittedly, there is not an enormous number of people using that service, but it is a trend. I hope that the Prime Minister will take a strong line with President Carter when he meets him this week. One cannot help but speculate about what might have been if the United States had had a supersonic aircraft which it was hoping would he allowed to land at Heathrow. One can imagine all the pressure that would have been brought to bear on us. We would have been told that we must be British, that it is a great British tradition to see fair play, and that surely they must be allowed to carry on with the test. All sorts of sinister things would happen and different moneys would not be available to us. Now that it is the other way round, the President is saying that the Americans have a federal structure and he cannot interfere with New York's decision. New York—whatever semantic phrase one uses—is virtually bankrupt. It is looking to the Federal Government for cash. One does not have to be clairvoyant to see that the President has a certain amount of leverage which he could exercise over the New York authorities. It is not good enough for him to say that it is a decision just for the local authority concerned. That is the kind of statement which is made by people who do not want to get involved. It is always a decision for someone else when one wants them to make a rotten one, but it is something one will step into when one believes that one has the power. I note with interest, and support, the pressure that is being exerted in typical Gallic fashion by the President of France. I wish that our own Prime Minister would be equally vigorous. Perhaps he is keeping his powder dry for the close confrontation. I hope that the Minister will take the message from this debate to the Prime Minister that those of us who have spoken represent many who feel that this superb technological achievement is being discriminated against by a country which feels a certain amount of sour grapes that it has no comparable project, and is doing everything it can by dragging its feet to stop our aircraft from getting in.
The House and the country will be grateful that the debate has taken place. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for taking this opportunity to raise itThree days remain for a vital decision to be taken. As I said in the recent debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), on the basis of the evidence available there is room for only one decision, a favourable one. The time for delaying ploys, for pretext, for politicking by the Port of New York Authority has come to an end. We have to take into account the possibility that the Port of New York Authority may place its own allegedly—I use that word advisedly—political interests ahead of the long-term interests of New York and will come to an adverse decision. We must be prepared for that possibility, and we are. It is for that reason that we have fixed a hearing date for 15th March. That appeal to the courts should never be necessary where two countries have entered into treaty rights one with the other. We have always asserted that those rights are paramount, that it is not for a local authority to consider that it can override such rights. Therefore, we shall pursue our legal rights in the courts and at the same time—for these are not matters which are mutually exclusive—pursue our diplomatic rights.
In the event of a refusal by the New York authorities, would the hon. Gentleman regard the Americans as being in breach of the treaty?
That is obviously the view we take, otherwise we would not have embarked upon litigation in the first place. The matter has been raised before a Federal court on the basis of our treaty rights. All that has happened is that that has been adjourned generally, with liberty to restore, and we have taken advantage of the situation to fix the hearing date for 15th March. It will be heard if there is, unhappily, an adverse decision.Hon Members have rightly asked during this debate what would have happened if the situation had been the reverse and we had excluded some American aircraft, perhaps a somewhat less remarkable American aircraft. I sense that there would have been a certain degree of trauma on the part of the American Government, and there might even have been a quiver here and there coming from New York. The Americans would have asserted that we had discriminated against their aircraft. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington has from time to time made certain allegations which I have tried to temper a bit. When he has made them, the United States authorities have asserted that there is no discrimination, and they continue to assert that. One excuse after the other is put forward to justify what I consider to be a pose. Another highly significant point has been made during this debate, and I believe that it is a view which is mirrored in many parts of the United States, including New York. It is that it is New York that will be disadvantaged by an adverse decision. I do not believe that New York is in a position to throw away this opportunity to take advantage of this great new technological achievement, which can bring immense benefit to that city. During the Adjournment debate on 24th February I spelled out the importance of New York to the Concorde project. It is a reciprocal state of affairs. There are advantages both to the New Yorkers and to the project. I stated that New York represented the key to Concorde's success, because it is a tremendously important route. It is the route for which Concorde was primarily designed and which must be exploited by the French and British airlines if the investment in Concorde is to be paid off. It is a route which we are entitled to exploit. The profound concern which has been expressed in the House about the possibility of an adverse decision has been mirrored in the personal messages from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of France to President Carter, who has several times stated his support for Mr. Secretary Coleman's decision. Indeed, he repeated it over the weekend. But President Carter has also asserted on equally numerous occasions that the decision is for the Port of New York Authority or the Governor of New York. President Carter has now added to the argument a new dimension which we must take seriously, that tighter noise standards may be unilaterally—I stress the word "unilaterally"—demanded and applied within the United States. Let me deal with the two essential points separately, beginning with the treaty rights. The Governments of the United Kingdom and France have stated publicly that we regard the delay m allowing Concorde flights into New York as a serious violation of not only the spirit but the specific requirements of our bilateral air services agreements with the United States. The position we have taken with the administration and the court is that the airlines have satisfied all the conditions which may be imposed in regard to Concorde services by the United States under the respective bilateral agreements. First, British Airways and Air France are designated airlines for the operation of commercial services to New York from London and Paris respectively. Secondly, these designations have been accepted by the United States Government. Thirdly, the United States Civil Aeronautics Board has concluded that the airlines are "fit, willing and able" to perform their functions under the meaning of United States law, and has therefore granted foreign air carrier permits for air services on these routes. Fourthly, the Secretary of Transportation concluded that Concorde would comply with all the rules and regulations which, under the bilateral agreements, affect air services into the United States. It was in those circumstances that both airlines were authorised to conduct services to Kennedy Airport using Concorde. These findings have established completely the necessary compliance with all the relevant provisions of the bilateral agreements. These agreements also give the United States Government rights to revoke or limit the airlines' treaty rights to operate agreed services if a violation of United States laws or regulations occurs. But such action is reserved to " each Contracting Party "—that is on the United States side the Government of the United States. The Port of New York Authority is not a contracting party. It was never contemplated by either the British or French Governments—or, I believe, the United States Government—that local authorities could arrogate to themselves this power to limit landing rights as though they were contracting parties to the agreements. That is the treaty rights position in a nutshell. I deny President Carter's statement in the weekend phone-in programme that it is possible for the Federal Government of the United States to shuffle off on to the Port of New York Authority or Governor Carey the whole question of determining the treaty rights, or that those treaty rights can be subordinated to the diktat of a local authority. On the facts of the matter, I stated the other day and I repeat—I need not rehearse them in detail—that we, the French and British Governments, Air France and British Airways, notwithstanding the view that we have taken on treaty rights and without prejudice to them, have co-operated in every possible way with the United States Government and the Port of New York Authority in determining whether Concorde ought to be admitted to New York. Notwithstanding the unprecedented severity of the tests to which Concorde was subjected, it has come out with flying colours. There is not a scintilla of evidence available which can lead to any other reasonable conclusion. I turn to the second point made by President Carter concerning the capacity of the United States to administer tighter, more rigorous noise standards unilaterally. I believe that to be in flagrant contradiction of the views expressed by the United States representatives of ICAO, the international body which controls civil aviation operations by rules and procedures which are mutually agreed between its members. We trust that there is no question of the United States imposing new regulations unilaterally while discussions in ICAO—discussions which are proceeding under the co-chairmanship of the United States—on the question SST noise are still proceeding. Having said that and, I hope, having disposed in essence of the two essential pillars of the arguments which have been relied on in the United States, I should point out that the facts to which hon. Members have alluded about the predictions concerning the performance of Concorde have been fulfilled in every way possible. Hon. Members were right to refer to the unfortunately inflammatory way in which some of the fears and anxieties of people who live close to Kennedy Airport have been exploited. As Minister with responsibility for aviation, I know only too well that it is easy for people justifiably to get anxious about noise which can sometimes be intolerable. However, I suspect that the impact of Concorde at New York—if and when we are able to use Kennedy Airport—will have a minimum effect in terms of the overall noise disturbance which is currently prevalent at that airport. Judging from the propaganda which has emanated from the Port of New York Authority and from some of those in this country who bear Concorde ill will and have never been slow to produce their evidence to its enemies, one would have thought that the aircraft would dramatically change the whole picture of disturbance and environmental pollution at New York. Nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore, I state now, as I stated the other day—if necessary, I shall go on stating—that Concorde has fulfilled all the predictions which we said would occur and which Mr. Secretary Coleman indicated at the time of the important and profound investigation which he carried out.
Would it support the Minister's point on the question of noise if he told the House about the impact of Concorde within the Heathrow context? I believe that some figures recently produced by his Department show that other aircraft have been noisier than Concorde on all occasions that it has been flying.
I was going to come to that point. The hon. Gentleman need have no fear on that score. I was invited to refer to that matter by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope). It may be convenient if now in parentheses I say that his question was unfortunately misunderstood. I accept responsibility for that. When the hon. Gentleman asked his question, we assumed that it referred to fixed monitoring points. Of course, the hon. Gentleman had noise infringements in mind. Indeed, I have answered a Question on this matter today. It may be for the convenience of the House if I refer to that Answer.Concorde is, of course, exempt from the statutory noise limits. No mention of Concorde was made in the original Answer for that reason. I think that the hon. Gentleman wanted Concorde noise levels included, so we have put the record straight. We have set out a table which makes clear what the league results would have been had Concorde been included within the specification requested by the hon. Gentleman. Only in May, September and October was Concorde the noisiest aircraft. That is a relevant factor. It does not accord with the propaganda which the opponents of Concorde have been seeking to enlist on this matter.
Which aircraft were the noisiest for the other months?
I think that the hon. Gentleman had better look at the Answer. I do not want to weary the House with a catalogue of facts which will be available in Hansard tomorrow.The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) referred to the confirmation hearings of the Port of New York Authority Commissioners. I was deeply disturbed by some of the evidence which came out at those hearings. I believe that it is incumbent on the Port of New York Authority to view the evidence objectively in a judicial way. It is not a judicial authority. Nevertheless, in my view, it is required to do that. I do not believe that the confirmation hearings were an entirely happy augury. I have no doubt that the views of those who gave evidence were based on information provided by the Port of New York Authority itself. That worries me, because it was a decidedly one-sided version. The interrogation by Senator Caemerrar was clearly designed to secure a response to various anti-Concorde questions which he posed.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the Secretary of State for Energy and I met officials of the Port of New York Authority way back in 1971, it was made clear to us that, from the evidence available to them, Concorde was going to be perfectly acceptable, but, as they told us, they were in the hands of the politicians, and the politicians would decide what the facts should look like and what the answer would be at the end of the day?
The hon. Member has reinforced my point and he has done so anecdotally. I am sure that his experiences in those days filled him with justification about his belief as to how the Port of New York Authority would handle the matter. I know that the hon. Member has had grave reservations about that.We have tried constantly to encourage the Port of New York Authority to deal with the evidence objectively. If at the end of the day they decide not to do so, I have explained to the House some of the consequences. Even though there are only three days left, there is still time for that objective approach. I have not given up hope. Any negative decision based on the type of questioning with some of the answers that we read about the other day would constitute a perverse finding which is wholly against the weight of available evidence. Hon. Members have raised the question of support for Concorde amongst the citizens of New York. That is right. It has been revealed not only through business interests, which are widely representative, but also by the New York Labour Council, which represents over 1 million members. Even more significantly, and perhaps even humorously in the context in which we are attacked on this matter, Kennedy Airport is in Long Island and the Long Island Association for Commerce and Industry has come out on our side. The members of that association know what they are talking about and what are the interests of Long Island. We and the French have spared no efforts to bring the true facts home to the ordinary New Yorker. Hon. Members have raised the question of retaliation. I recognise the strength of feeling that has been expressed. No doubt hon. Members and the whole country would be embittered if it were decided on Thursday evening that Concorde should be denied entry into New York. I hope that the Port of New York Authority will have an opportunity of noting the feeling that has been expressed in the House. More to the point, what we expect the United States to do is to meet the treaty obligations. If they fail to do that, we must reserve the right to take whatever action that we think most appropriate. It would be wrong for me at the Dispatch Box to disclose the hand of the British Government, and I certainly cannot disclose the hand of the French Government. It would be unhelpful to speculate on the form that any such retaliation might take. There can be no doubt about the impact of the message of President Giscard to President Carter the other day. I want to emphasise the close co-operation that we enjoy with the French Government. The Prime Minister will be in the United States at the time that the decision is made by the Port of New York Authority. I can give the House a categorical assurance that he will take the opportunity to reaffirm the views that he has already made unmistakably to President Carter on this matter. A denial of our treaty rights would be regarded as grave. Should the decision be negative I expect the Prime Minister to restate that our treaty rights were being denied, particularly in the context of the United Kingdom-United States negotiations for a new air services agreement. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) raised the problem of the sonic boom. I have dealt with that in correspondence with a number of hon. Members who rightly raised the issue. There has been no parallel complaint in the United States as a result of flights into Washington or out of Washington. The Bristol University study has put the issue in its correct perspective. Having said that, I can assure the hon. Member for Totnes and the House that we take these matters very seriously. We are at present engaged in a joint investigation and monitoring exercise with the French. It is only by getting the evidence together and carefully analysing it that we can come to the right conclusions. I have said that there are five reasons why Concorde should be admitted to New York. First, President Carter's own statements have said that Concorde should be allowed to enter New York. Second, the Port of New York Authority had every little bit of information that it could have required from us. We have co-operated to the full. Third, the experience at Washington shows that the information that we have given is totally correct. Fourth, New York will benefit from Concorde's services to Europe. Fifth, let no one misunderstand the depth of feeling both in this country and in France should Britain and France be denied their right to exploit this remarkable aircraft.
It is right that I should welcome the vigorous and forceful statement by the Minister on this important issue. Not only is the future of Concorde vitally affected by the decision but our national interest is at stake. The Prime Minister should know that he has the support of both the major parties and, I believe, the support of the minority parties, when he goes to New York in a few days' time. The Conservative Party gives the fullest possible support to the Government and to the Prime Minister on this issue. As my hon. Friends have said, I hope that there will be a happy conclusion to this very important matter by the end of the week.
Teachers' Superannuation (Scotland)
I have a short statement to make. First, I want to remind hon. Members that we are on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill and hon. Members are able to speak but once. I hope that hon. Members will remember that.Secondly, I have a more important statement to make. Two hours and 20 minutes ago I was advised that the next debate was one that could give cause for substantial doubt whether it was covered by the Vote under which it is to be discussed. I have given much thought to the matter and I believe that it is unreasonable and that it offends against one's sense of fair play to rule out the debate at such short notice. Therefore, I shall permit the debate, but I want the House to know that I shall certainly not regard this as a precedent. On the Consolidated Fund Bill we must keep to our rule that we debate that which is covered by the Vote. Since there is a little doubt in my mind on this occasion, I shall allow the debate.
I know that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) is eager, but I must remind the House that the next debate is not about the closure of teacher training colleges in Scotland. Passing references are inevitable but to go into it in depth would certainly not be covered by the subject which has been chosen by the hon. Member for Dumfries.
My hon. Friends and I are grateful for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. We appreciate the opportunity to raise the matter this evening since many of us have come down from Scotland especially for the debate. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary is in his place, but I am sorry that I must begin by saying one or two unkind things about his handling of the situation. I shall relate the total complement of teachers in Scotland to the subject of the debate—superannuation. The hon. Gentleman must accept that he has handled this matter so far with lamentable inefficiency. I doubt whether any Scottish Education Department Minister has set out so successfully to put every back up in Scotland.The consultative paper that we are discussing in relation to the provision of teachers opens up the numbers of teachers that will be required in Scottish education in the next few years and directly relates to the numbers who will require superannuation. It is this total, related to the number of colleges training teachers, upon which the sum of superannuation will in part depend. Secondly, the Minister cannot have read the document, otherwise even he would have seen the consequences of publication. It was minus most of the facts required for anyone to make a balanced judgment. The Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend then had a chance in a two-day debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. Questions of great moment flowed from hon. Members on both sides. We waited full of hope for a reply. Reply there was none. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) initiated an Adjournment debate—he who had himself raised many questions in the Scottish Grand Committee debate. I am told that he gave the hon. Gentleman prior notice of the questions that he intended to ask that night and then allowed the Minister 28 minutes in which to reply. The Minister in fact filibustered his own speech. We waited breathless for the important information upon which hon. Members could make a judgment, but none of the facts was relayed to us. That is something upon which the Minister will look back with a great deal of regret. The Scottish Education Department has a world wide reputation, and the Minister has done his best to destroy it in this instance. If he had come clean right at the start and told everyone what they wanted to know of the economic position in relation to the numbers of colleges and teachers, we should have shared with him a constructive effort to try and put matters right. Tonight we try again. The Minister has adequate time tonight, and he can—I hope that he will—reply in the greatest detail. As I say, the principal cause of this whole unhappy saga was the document relating to the provision of teachers in the future. As a basic premise, we welcome the great improvement in staffing. Indeed, despite the difficult period and particularly the raising of the school-leaving age, it was forecast that it would turn out in the way in which it has. That was in the White Paper. I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read it. It would not be a task of great magnitude to read the only White Paper this century on education, because it is full not of political dogma but of the practical development of education as such. Does it mean, with the economic disasters that have afflicted the Labour Party, that the great opportunity that the Minister had for developing the White Paper has gone for ever? He inherited an opportunity and he has cast it aside. The Secretary of State for Scotland has also spoken recently on this subject. Again relating this to the number of teachers we require, it is sad indeed that he has turned his back on nursery education—which was in the Labour Party Manifesto in 1974—on nursery nurses, remedial education, in-service training, non-teaching duties, community education, deprived areas, and sport and recreation. The Under-Secretary is the Minister responsible for sport in Scotland. If the Secretary of State had kept on with the programme, all of these things would have been complementary and would have required a rising supply of teachers to come into education in Scotland, and eventually the provision of adequate retirement superannuation. I shall nip smartly over the next few quotations. I should have loved to give them to the Minister. However, I was rather annoyed that the Secretary of State said on 15th February in the Scottish Grand Committee,
The Secretary of State must have been terribly badly briefed by the Scottish Education Department. Does he not remember the Estimates debates? I shall not wave all the volumes about. However, I should like to quote what the Labour Party said about increasing the number of students into the colleges of education, and the Scottish Education Department papers—"With regard to the pupil-teacher ratio, the last time the Conservative Government said anything about this was in their statement of policy in December 1972."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 15th February 1977; c. 56.]
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I may take some guidance on this matter. I shall not go into the background to the discussions that we had prior to the debate, but Mr. Speaker said that passing reference would be allowed to colleges closed or to mergers. I suggest that what the hon. Gentleman has said is more than a passing reference.
I vacated the Chair to enable Mr. Speaker to give his ruling, under the exceptional circumstances in which this debate has arisen, and I heard what Mr. Speaker said. As the Minister has said, Mr. Speaker said that there could be just a passing reference. So far, I have heard nothing at all about superannuation of any kind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, having got the support of Mr. Speaker for this debate, will respect Mr. Speaker's ruling as to what is to be discussed.
I certainly shall, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, if you have a chance of checking in Hansard tomorrow, I think that you will find that I have mentioned superannuation about five times.I am sorry that the Minister should intervene in that way, because it is much better that he should get this matter off his chest rather than sit back with the whole of Scotland looking at him and feeling that he has his head so deep in the sand that we cannot even see his heels. In deference to Mr. Speaker's feelings, I shall move over a host of other quotation that I could give on the provision of sufficient teachers to raise the standard of education in Scotland during the period under discussion—between 1970 and 1976. This is confirmed not only in Estimates debates but in Scottish Office briefings and a host of other pamphlets. Therefore, Ministers must not in any way decry what the Conservative Party did to raise the standard of education in Scotland. The one comment by the Secretary of State about which we were all very sad was his indication, by an interruption, that even if he had a great deal more money he would not do anything about raising the standard of education. In relation to the whole approach to the provision of teachers and, therefore, to the later provision of superannuation, the pupil-teacher ratio is not the end of everything. The minimum class size is much more important when we get down to individual schools. While in Scotland we have reached our pupil-teacher ratio figures, we have not reached our objective on class sizes. The Minister will have read Circular No. 819 of March 1972, which very clearly indicated that it was a minimum supply of teachers and not a maximum supply. Therefore, he should have seen paragraph 3 of that document and must not try to hide behind that bush either. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will like what I shall say next. [Interruption.]
I am sure that provided that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is asked questions about superannuation, which in a spirit of good will Mr. Speaker has indicated can be discussed now, he will be only too happy to consider them.
I do not think that the Minister of State will save his hon. Friend. Perhaps the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary will bear in mind that the Under-Secretary would not give way in any of these debates. He has made the most impassioned refusals to give way to other people when he has been speaking, but he does not mind interrupting when others are trying to address the House.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that this is the third opportunity that we have given Ministers of the present Government to say something about some aspect—in this case, superannuation—of the details of their proposals for teacher training, and that on every occasion Ministers have tried to avoid giving information, as they appear to be doing once again tonight?
What the hon. Member said is probably correct, but we must consider Class XVII, Vote 4 and the subject to which it refers. What we are debating tonight is what falls under that particular heading. It does not refer to redundancies in colleges. It refers to a situation in which people getting normal retirement pensions retire early. There is no provision made under this heading for discussing the Crombie Report, and the hon. Member knows that full well. I do not think that he will trespass too much on the kindness of the Speaker in making an exception in this case.
The number of teachers who have to retire and have their superannuation depends directly on the number of teachers in post. If we are not training sufficient teachers we shall have a different situation—one in which not only will there be an insufficient number in colleges, but under the Minister's programme they will be forced to retire earlier, and more superannuation will be required than would otherwise be necessary.
Let us get this straight. We are discussing a situation in which members of the scheme are, under the regulations, eligible for pension benefits on retirement, on or after attaining the age of 60. We are not discussing premature retirement, and there is no provision in the regulations before the age of 60, other than in cases of incapacity. That is what we are discussing.
But what about those who are unemployed because of the Minister's action? Will they not get superannuation?
I shall finish on this note. What we are not discussing—and the hon. Member must appreciate the particular distinction—is the question of what happens if colleges close and consequent upon those closures teachers are asked to retire before the normal superannuation. We are not discussing that.
That is a point of some argument, but I accept what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, if teachers are forced to retire earlier, inevitably they will require retirement pensions earlier. We have a right to question the Minister on this matter.
I do not think that the hon. Member for Dumfries is deliberately trying to fail to understand the matter. The heading of Class XVII Vote 4 does not cover the situation he has just mentioned.
I do firmly believe that the action taken by the Minister will inevitably affect the number of teachers who have to retire. I think that the Minister is wrong in the recommendations he has made in the paper before us. I have said many times that I accept that there has to be a reduction in the number of teachers. That is not the point in argument. But the Minister is wrong in his attitude towards the closure of colleges rather than taking an overall percentage reduction, weighted against Jordanhill College and Moray House, which are the largest colleges.I will hurry along with my speech as others wish to speak and I do not wish to unduly delay the House—
The speedier the better.
I really do wish to ask the Minister the question that he has dodged so often in the past. I presume that he will try to dodge it yet again tonight. This is indicated by the fact that he raised a point of order before the debate had got under way. The Minister will rue the day that he treated us so offhandedly. He must answer the question about Dunfermline and Craigie and the number of teachers required from these two colleges. Craigie is of particular importance to South-West Scotland as colleges should always be in the area where the teachers are required. Dunfermline is unique in Scotland and it must be retained as a centre of excellence. Will the Minister spell out the cost of the change to Dundee, which we believe will be catastrophic in relation to both sport and recreation and the supply of physical education teachers?I hope that the Minister will not opt out once again. He can rest assured that if he does we shall come back on a more broadly based debate until he produces the answers and shows Scotland that his heart is in the right place even if his mind is not.
It is marvellous to behold the glee of the Scottish Office at the way in which they have managed to avoid yet again answering questions on this matter.
No, I shall not give way to the Minister. I shall confine my remarks to the narrow point, and remind the Minister that Mr. Speaker has accepted the subject matter on the notice board, and that it does refer quite clearly to the question of superannuation for teachers whose colleges are subject to closure. I accept Mr. Speaker's ruling in that spirit. I do not intend to speak on the deplorable way in which the Scottish Office has handled this matter. I simply leave that at what I have said in Scottish Grand Committee, and those remarks stand on the record.It is not possible now to go into the question of the treatment of teachers who come to the age of superannuation, but I am grateful that once again we have brought Scottish Office Ministers kicking and screaming to the House to answer questions about it. Whether we like it or not, there are many teachers who will be relying on superannuation to get them out of financial difficulties. Those getting superannuation may well have been affected by terrible family and personal disruption resulting from the Government's current policies, and those expressed in the consultative document. In that light, we must look at the superannuation we are able to give them. It is not just a question of the Government doing anything they like to their employees without thought. The Government are quick enough to criticise private industry when it is laying off people or superannuating them. The Government are quick to criticise private industry on that. They jump in and make noises criticising firms such as Plessey, and Scottish Aviation in my constituency, which has had its business decimated by the Government's defence cuts. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that the superannuation of teachers is something that the Government can carry out just as it suits them, without taking account of the fact that every one of these lecturers and other senior people in teacher training colleges has great professional training behind him, has great dedication to his job, and in many cases has a family relying upon him. One of the most distressing types of case that will need to rely on superannuation in future involves those who will find themselves having to leave work because the college is to be closed, but who previously had good jobs in other teaching training colleges that are not being closed. I know some people who will find that when they come to require superannuation, and so on, they will bitterly regret having left their previous teaching posts, for a better job perhaps, and now find themselves, without any warning, in a college that is about to be closed, and therefore in danger of losing their jobs. Some of them feel bitterly about this and wish that they had never taken the better job, because had they not done so they would now be working in a college with an assured future. I ask the Minister to come clean about whether the Scottish Education Department is prepared formally to approve a scale of contributions and compensation arrangements for teachers and lecturers in Scotland. As I understand it, from the unions involved, although there are regulations for the English situation, parallel arrangements for the Scottish colleges have not been approved by the Scottish Education Department. I think that that is deplorable. It is another chapter in the deplorable way in which the Minister and the Government have handled this situation. A consultative document has been produced which everyone thinks is wholly inadequate in both its financial and educational aspects, and now the Government produce this bombshell to the profession, without any regulations which have been approved by the Department and upon which people can rely. The Minister must not be surprised that one of the saddest things about the whole business is that a considerable number of skilled professional people are extremely worried, and more worried than they need be, because they cannot even look at a piece of paper and say, "If the worst happens, these are the superannuation arrangements which the Government are prepared to approve". I hope that the Minister will give us a clear answer on that. I should like the Minister to tell us what the precise conditions will be for those who are put out of work. Who will decide in each case how an individual teacher or lecturer is affected? Will that be decided by a panel, by a committee, or by the college itself? Who will decide which of the lecturers will be affected? Will it be only those in a college that is closed, or will it be "last in—first out" throughout the system? Has a lecturer who has a long record and a fine career in teaching any right to be given any consideration for continuing that career? Or will it just be pure accident that he happens to be working at one of the colleges that the Minister is to close and he has to go while others continue at work elsewhere? I find that question asked on several occasions. I have met many of those affected in this way. Then there is the question of the amalgamation of colleges. We can visualise what will happen in the wholly deplorable event of a college being closed, but when a college is amalgamated who will decide which lecturer will have to go on superannuation? Will it be the college, or one of the colleges? Will it be a committee of both colleges, or will the decision be made by the Minister, by the Scottish Education Department, or by a committee involving the unions? Nobody knows. I have asked this question of almost everybody to whom I have spoken, including union representatives, of whom we have seen quite a lot during the last few weeks, and no one knows the answers to those questions. It is a bad way of treating one's employees to put them in this situation, and I hope that the Minister will be able to clear up as many of these matters as possible. I now come to the question of the superannuation proper. Are lecturers and teachers in colleges of education who are at or near retiring age to have the normal superannuation provisions applied to them, without any alternative at all? I ask that because there may be some who will lose a small but vital part of their careers. Some are within a year or two of retiring and it is unlikely that they will get other employment, yet they still do not know whether they will get terms to take them to their retirement or whether they must try to eke out their resources until the usual retiring age. This debate is yet another regrettable chapter in the decisions about reducing the teacher training system in Scotland. We know that the numbers have to be reduced and that the Government have run out of money to finance many other things that we should like to see the colleges go into. [Interruption.] I am not sure what the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) wants to contribute to the debate, but I would humbly point out that there is an established method of doing so. This is the third or fourth stage of the arrangements which any well-organised Government would have laid down before hand but in which this Government have been found wanting, which are unknown to all those affected and about which, to judge from what he has already said, the Minister is determined to avoid answering questions. That is a bad way to treat people. Members of Parliament try to fight for their constituents as well as they can, but if they are well treated they will be reasonable. We have never sought to insist that the colleges of education should continue to produce exactly the same numbers of teachers. We have been prepared to be reasonable, but the Government have given us little chance. I am sorry that the Minister should have taken that line I hope that, this evening, he will explain as much as he can about the superannuation arrangements.
For reasons that I have explained to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), the Scottish Office is in no way responsible for the restrictions on this debate.
The hon. Member has not helped.
We have gone a lot further than we might have done in encouraging this debate, in that I have had discussions behind the Chair with the hon. Member for Cathcart, when I explained the reasons for the restrictions on the debate. They are in no way the responsibility of the Scottish Office.
I am always prepared to accept the good will of the Minister, for whom we all have a great affection, but one cannot extend good will beyond a certain point.I come back to where I started. Mr. Speaker in his wisdom has accepted this subject for debate as titled. Therefore, I believe that I am entirely justified in asking for answers about superannuation. My constituents are waiting for them and will be very angry if they do not get them.
The reason that we have made passing reference to the document "Teacher training from 1977 onwards" is not just that the teachers affected are unhappy about it but that it has incensed every teacher and member of staff of a college of education in Scotland. That is the purpose of this continuing debate.Teachers and college staff are not just angry with the contents of the document, although that is bad enough. The anger stems from what the document fails to state—from the educational, financial and human considerations so blatantly ignored by the document and by the Ministers who presented it to Parliament and to Scotland. It is a document about numbers, not a document about people.
The Government cannot even count.
As the hon. Lady says, the Government cannot even count. That seems to be the consensus about the figures, whether one is talking about intake or about superannuation.Paragraph 46 of the document states
It is necessary to point out to the Minister that at times of very high unemployment it is not just the unemployed who are concerned. People in employment become increasingly worried about their job prospects and their job security. When a figure of about 400 redundancies is mentioned for 1978–79 in the consultative document, the anxiety of every teacher and every member of teacher training college staff in Scotland is understandably aroused about superannuation and their job prospects. Paragraph 48 of the document says:"academic staff in colleges should be reduced broadly in proportion to the reduction in student numbers. … Natural wastage will not produce anything like this order of reduction; and redundancies will clearly be necessary."
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) pointed out the deficiencies in information available to the unions and to everyone concerned with the recommendations in this document and about the prospects for those who may be made redundant. The trouble with the consultative document is that it makes recommendations which appear to have been plucked out of the air, for they do not seem to be based on anything like a factual assessment of the costs of redundancy, of superannuation and of so-called mergers. Time and again requests for information on staff costs have been directed to the Secretary of State and to the Minister but they have been rejected. How long does the Minister think he can go on ignoring Parliament and the feelings which are running high in Scotland because of the incompetence of his Department and his reluctance or inability to answer straightforward questions addressed to him by hon. Members? There are no costings of compensation, of superannuation, or of the effect of redundancies on superannuation funds. There is no similar costing information about mergers. In times of high unemployment and high inflation people worry themselves sick about the adequacy of their pension arrangements. It would be a very stupid person indeed who did not relate his pension prospects to the large number of redundancies which are being projected in the consultative document. These people must naturally be concerned about the Government's ability and willingness to honour the superannuation arrangements to which people continuing in employment look forward. When teachers and others read newspaper reports of Government proposals to withdraw retrospectively gratuity arrangements which form part of a contract between the Armed Services and officers on short service commission they rapidly lose faith in the contents of the consultative document and in the good will of Ministers on education or on any other matter, and it makes them very anxious about the integrity of any consultations that Ministers may have and any promises or commitments that may be entered into about their superannuation arrangements. I am sure that those many hon. Members who have had dealings with representatives of the teaching profession in Scotland will agree that they have never seen people with such a convincing case behaving more responsibly than the staffs of the teacher training colleges in Scotland. 'That is in sharp contrast to the attitude of the Secretary of State. Only last week, I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that he could visit all four colleges affected in one day. He does not choose to do so. Such a visit would be greatly appreciated by all the staff, who wish to discuss with him superannuation, redundancies and a great many other matters, and who would obviously give the right hon. Gentleman a courteous reception and listen to what he had to say, if, indeed, he himself has any faith in the proposals which he has put before the House. In my view, the staff have shown that they are extremely flexible in the proposals which they have made for the future, and it is a great pity that the Secretary of State and the Minister are utterly inflexible in their attitude. Above all, teachers would like to see, in response to the many questions which have been put to the Secretary of State and the Minister, a new consultative document setting out realistic proposals properly costed in relation to the whole exercise and the various choices available to the Government, including, in particular, the cost of the proposals for the superannuation funds themselves. Such a new document, of course, should be laid before Parliament well before any final decisions are reached in this matter. It has been pointed out already that the Under-Secretary of State, in the half-hour Adjournment debate last week initiated by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), refused to reply to important questions. In so doing, he reduced to tatters his reputation as a considerate Minister. He must know better than most the pressures and concerns among many people in all walks of life in Scotland—the Catholic Church as well as the teaching unions and people not necessarily employed in any aspect of education. Parents, for example, are deeply worried about the whole future of education in Scotland. Tonight, at no little inconvenience, the House is providing another opportunity for the Minister to speak out in response to the feelings of Scottish people on this issue, to speak out for Scottish education and to answer his critics. If he cannot, he should resign."staff made redundant will be eligible to apply for compensation under the Crombie code '."
I thought it unfortunate that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) gave an indication in his closing remarks that the people of Scotland had not been interested in education affairs prior to the present situation. That was rather unjust, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to withdraw that remark later.
I was not aware that I had made any such suggestion. If anything which the hon. Lady thought I said amounted to any such suggestion, of course I withdraw it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In normal circumstances, on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, Class XVII Vote 4 would probably pass unnoticed by most hon. Members, and it is therefore important that we bear in mind throughout this debate on the superannuation scheme the current background in Scottish education circles. The present circumstances are abnormal and unacceptable. Never has morale been so low in education in Scotland.Members of Parliament who have visited, as I have, various colleges in Scotland in the past year or so have found that morale was slipping long before this document came before us. It has now slipped to an all-time low. Indeed, in some colleges it has reached a point at which lecturers believe that it is not worth their while preparing courses for next year. I regard this as very worrying. The whole question of superannuation is related to the question of the number of teachers available and how much will be needed in the future for superannuation purposes. In these circumstances, we must again return to the question of staffing standards in Scottish schools and colleges. The Under-Secretary of State always makes great play of the fact that we no longer have part-time education in Scotland and we have improved standards. It is true that, statistically, there is no longer part-time education and we have improved standards, but those of us who understand what is happening in our schools know that that is not the whole case. In my constituency, the so-called improvement in standards meant that many teachers were sacked and we had reductions in staffing standards. I find it unacceptable that a Labour Government should aim for the lowest common denominator in terms of education. Only last week, in reply to me, the Under-Secretary of State indicated that he was not prepared to enter negotiations with teacher's unions about staffing standards. The unions find that as unacceptable as do hon. Members. Minimum standards are being adopted as maximum standards, and as far as we can see that situation will continue under this Government. But I do not hold out any great hope for change should there be a Conservative Government after the Conservative Party's proposals for expenditure cuts. There is the question of enforced early retirement of many lecturers in our colleges. Many of them to whom I have spoken have indicated their concern that the Government have not yet said what they mean by "redeployment". It seems to many of them that there is no possibility of alternative employment for them in education. Given that qualified school teachers cannot find employment, lecturers cannot see themselves being transferred readily to the schools sector. These people are also interested to know which section of the Crombie Report will apply to them. When the Crombie Report was first introduced for local government officers, it was of a very high standard, but that standard was was reduced when the Department of Education and Science wished to apply it to England and Wales. Lecturers are wondering whether in Scotland it will be reduced yet again. These are aspects that the lecturers must know. We in the Scottish National Party oppose any redundancies whatever, but people at least have the right to know how their superannuation will be affected and what kind of redundancy period will be available to them. The Scottish National Party cannot accept that there is need even to be discussing this question, because we shall not accept public expenditure cut-backs in Scottish education. On Saturday, at our National Council—one of the main bodies of the SNP—we passed by acclamation a resolution condemning the Secretary of State's action in the consultative document and pledged ourselves to fight the Government's policy because we believe that no Scottish Parliament would wish to treat education in Scotland as this Parliament has treated it.
I shall be brief, because I realise the constraints upon us as far as relevance is concerned, in that this is the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, which is essentially a public expenditure document. I think, however, that it is most appropriate for us to be discussing some aspects of the proposed closure of colleges of education in Scotland, and I am glad that Mr. Speaker has given his approval for at least a limited discussion, because basically the Bill is a financial document, and part of the Secretary of State's case, or pseudo-case, is supposedly based on certain aspects of financial expenditure, or saving in that expenditure.My right hon. Friend told the Scottish Grand Committee on 15th February:
Clearly, there is a tie-up there between possible financial saving and the superannuation proposals in the Consolidated Fund Bill. Many of us on both sides of the House have tried, by tabling Questions, to get more background financial information about the Scottish Education Department proposals out of Ministers. Unfortunately that has not been forthcoming. Little wonder that among Back Benchers, and the whole Scottish educational community, there is a feeling that this particular proposal has not been adequately worked out in financial terms. The Secretary of State has said that we do not want to produce teachers for unemployment. That is fair enough. Nor do we, who criticise the document, want to produce teachers merely to go on the dole queue. But it is surely a nonsense to imagine that we can solve the problem of teacher unemployment, or potential teacher unemployment, by simply closing down certain colleges and merging others and thereby creating lecturer unemployment. In the initial stages at least, that does not necessarily mean savings in public expenditure, because there will be redundancy payments and possibly superannuation payments under the Consolidated Fund Bill that we are discussing. All of these payments will have to be met. It is doubtful whether in the early stages there will be any net saving at all in public expenditure. It will simply be a transfer of public expenditure from one Government Department to another. It is doubtful whether many of those well-qualified lecturers will be able to find employment elsewhere. Where else in education will they find employment? It may be easier south of the border where college administration is very much connected with other sectors of educational administration through the local authorities. But it is different in Scotland. The colleges are almost unique in the way in which they are administered through boards of governors with, of course, the Secretary of State breathing down their necks. This makes transition from one sector of education to another all the more difficult. Will they be able to find jobs in industry with the way in which industry is going just now, mainly due to lack of vacancies caused by lack of investment? Although a minority of teachers involved may be qualified to take jobs in industry at roughly the same level as they are in education, nevertheless, because of the lack of vacancies at present, it will be very difficult indeed kw them to find employment. The recent EIS survey of college graduates showed how difficult it is to make the transition from education into industry, in the present economic climate. As well as a lack of educational thinking in the SED document, there is also the economic stupidity of redundancies which will inevitably happen and which will cause senseless public expenditure under the terms of the Consolidated Fund Bill and other measures. I must make a passing reference to the sheer hypocrisy of some hon. Members opposite who shed crocodile tears about the poor lecturers and teachers who will possibly be thrown on the dole with little in the way of alternative employment prospects but possibly something in the way of superannuation benefits and redundancy payments. The proposals that are coming from the Shadow Treasury spokesman are such that the public expenditure cuts that we are having to suffer just now would be almost minimal compared with the savage public expenditure cuts that we would have to suffer if the Leader of the Opposition were now in power. I also think it is sheer hypocrisy for the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), to be shedding crocodile tears over the plight of unemployed workers such as teachers and lecturers when he himself is involved with the company which owns the "Globtik Venus", which has exploited underpaid seamen and resorted to actual piracy and threatened violence and which brings British shipping into disrepute. I wonder just how much the hon. Gentleman is paid to be a lackey of this particularly disreputable company? I return to the subject. We do not train teachers merely to contribute to or collect superannuation as provided in the Consolidated Fund Bill. We train teachers to teach, and there is no educational justification at all for saying that there are not jobs for the teachers. The jobs are there. There are thousands of jobs which newly qualified teachers can be doing and, as such, there is a valuable continuing role for the colleges and for the lecturers in the colleges. There is no excuse, whether it be financial or educational, for any college closure or merger, and the Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary must take into account the sheer weight of parliamentary opinion and public opinion about the proposals in this document, especially the proposed closure of Craigie and Callendar Park and the proposed mergers of Dunfermline and Craiglockhart with other colleges. There is no educational justification for them, and the economic justification appears to be non-existent. All that they would do is throw more well-qualified people on to the dole queue, leading to a national wastage, which would be a national scandal. I have already asked the Under-Secretary and his boss to take back this document and think again. I plead with them to come up with more constructive proposals to save the colleges of education, first. because of their vital educational contribution and, secondly, because any financial saving would be negligible, if indeed there were any at all."The other criticism being made is that I have not given any precise financial figures of the savings that will occur. Given that the total cost of the college system is more than £20 million a year significant savings will be made which must eventually run into millions of pounds a year. The exact savings depend on certain factors which cannot be quantified at present. These include, for example, the particular college closures, the number of lecturers who are made redundant and the particular payments to be made to them, which will depend on age, length of service, and the rest."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 15th February 1977; c. 9.]
As Mr. Speaker rightly said, this is a very restricted debate. The subject which has been chosen for discussion is the increase in the payment of superannuation to teachers made redundant before normal retiring age in teacher training colleges in Scotland.The Under-Secretary has reminded us twice of this fact by making leaping interventions and explaining that certain vital issues, which unfortunately he was unable to answer, could not be answered in this debate. I simply make the point that he had two unique opportunities to give all the information about every aspect of this deplorable consultative document. He had the opportunity of the two-day debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. He had the opportunity of an Adjournment debate when he had 28 minutes in which to talk. In one case he avoided giving any information by making what appeared to be almost a filibustering speech. Once again he is taking the opportunity to avoid giving any information, this time by exploiting the rule book. However, even within the restricted nature of the debate, there are several questions which need to be answered, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will deal with them on this occasion. My hon. Friends and I have raised the subject because we want some information. The Minister must accept that this is a consultative document which has been handed out so that people may consider it and its implications. Therefore, we need to have information about the arguments behind the document and the alternatives which might be proposed. The Minister has failed singularly to outline any of the arguments both on earlier occasions and tonight. The second reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has taken the unusual step of coming here to speak in this debate when he has a very high temperature and is suffering severely from 'flu is to emphasise how we all regard the Government's proposals as utterly unacceptable. The Government's proposals have been rejected by everyone. Therefore, we feel that once again we should make it clear that the proposals are utterly unacceptable. This is a restricted subject, but we want to know the cost implications for superannuation in the proposals outlined in the Government's document. The Minister said that the Government would save a lot of money with their proposals on teacher training. We have been trying to find how precisely money was to be saved. As far as we can see from the figures available, it will not be saved on the mergers and transfers. The Minister will have received from Dunfermline College a letter stating that that college has made careful estimates of what the so-called savings will be. Dunfermline College was opened only in 1966 at a cost of £1.3 million. The college estimates that to transfer to Dundee College, as has been suggested, would cost in excess of £1 million and involve three years' work, so there is no saving there. The proposals for Craiglockhart have also been looked at carefully to see where money would be saved in the appalling proposal for the merging and virtual destruction of this college. Here again we cannot see any saving. Turning to Craigie College my hon. Friend has eloquently put forward arguments against its closure. It is the only college in the South-West of Scotland, and the cost of closing it and having the students move elsewhere will mean extra cost, not less. When we look at Callendar Park, here again we cannot see where the savings are. That is why we have been probing the cost to see whether there are any savings in any area at all. It could well be that there are savings because the Government have said that about 76 per cent. of the costs involved in running the colleges are teachers' salaries and related costs, which no doubt includes superannuation. I hope that the Government will give the facts on what would be the effect on superannuation costs if their proposals were implemented. We are entitled to know, and the teachers are entitled to have some indication of what will be the effect on their income and their future income if these proposals go ahead. The Government are well aware that promises made by Governments are unfortunately not looked on with a great deal of confidence, particularly after the disgraceful action of the Ministry of Defence, where pledges to those who took commissions were broken. On the question of teachers who are to be made redundant, the only indication that we have had from the Government was that the Crombie Code regulations would apply. That issue was raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). He said:
That was one request made in Committee asking the Minister what was the position on superannuation and other benefits for those who would be made redundant under the proposals. Unfortunately, although the Minister made a long speech, he said nothing about that at all. In a public service, particularly in the teaching profession, superannuation is not just an operational extra that one receives when one retires. It is very much a part of the pay and conditions of service in such professions. It is very important today to know what will be the effect of these proposals on superannuation. It would help if we had some indication of how many teachers will be compulsorily retired and how many will receive superannuation because they are retiring through normal wastage. The Government have said little on the subject. In the consultative document it was said that at present there were 1,417 teachers. That figure will have to be reduced for several reasons: if the college closures and mergers go ahead; if there are fewer students; if the Bachelor of Education course is to be abolished; and if the Government meant what they said about the overmanning of colleges. The Secretary of State stated in Committee:"I understand that ACCES, the teachers' union, was given a commitment that the Crombie Code regulations would be laid before the House in December of last year. We now have the consultative document which suggests 400 redundancies among teachers, yet we do not have the Crombie Code either negotiated in agreement with the union or in the form of a draft statutory instrument before the House. That is a very unsatisfactory situation."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee,15th February 1977; c. 21.]
If the Secretary of State means that there will obviously be a very substantial reduction. I think that it was the Minister who estimated that if the 10-to-one student-teacher ratio were applied, the figure of 1,417 would come down to 875 in 1977–78 and again to 812 in 1980. There was reference in the consultative document which said that instead of that the figure might be 1,000 in 1978–79. Whichever way we look at that, it means a lot of redundancy. It could mean 200, 300 or 400 redundancies, but we do not know what the figure will be until the Government give us some indication. It would help us in dealing with superannuation if the Government would say how many teachers they would expect to retire at the normal retirement age. What is the element of natural wastage, apart from those who are leaving the profession to go elsewhere, likely to be? If the Minister could give us that figure, which he cannot deny is directly relevant to what we are discussing tonight, we might get some indication of how many extra redundancies there might be."They will see that there is a considerable margin, and there are more lecturers in college at present than we can reasonably and adequately occupy."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 15th February 1977; c. 55.]
In view of the wish of the Leader of the Opposition to have even more public expenditure cuts, may we have a guarantee that the Conservative Party is totally opposed to any further cuts in education and to any further redundancies in Scotland? If his party were in power, would it be cutting the education colleges or would it be continuing them and expanding them?
I do not want to get out of order, but I shall say in passing that the cuts that a Conservative Government would impose would be infinitely different from those imposed by this Government. I have given many examples of the kind of things we would cut. One of the most obvious is the nationalisation programme. I should like to cut the SNP as well. We have always made it clear—and we are honest, unlike the SNP—that we do not say that every college lecturer should be retained in post. We have made it clear that we believe that the number of students going into the colleges needs to be reduced. It would not have been such a big cut if the Minister had been sensible and had not reduced the numbers last year.
Whether or not the number of students going into the colleges remains the same, there is no need to make any lecturer in Scotland redundant if we are to diversify the education system and to keep it in the van of educational thinking.
If we had more information, we might be able to give an answer to that, but we do not have these facts. We believe that there is a case for additional teachers in areas of deprivation which have suffered from teacher shortages for a long time and which have seen a great deal of part-time education. This would make a difference to the figures. We are arguing as strongly as we can, however, that the closure of four colleges, or the closure of two and the merging of two, is not the right answer. We believe that the answer is to have scaling down elsewhere, if it is required. We believe that that is a preferable option, but before we decide, we want information about the costs involved, with the alternatives and the extra cost saving if we retain the 10 colleges and scale the system down to the major colleges. We should like information. This is a consultative document and the Government should therefore give us the absolute maximum of information.
Does my hon. Friend not agree also that if the present Government had not ruined the country with their wild spending spree over the last two years the money would be available for making the improvements that we all wish in education.
I am sure that the SNP would at least accept that when the Conservatives are in power we can create the economic growth which makes additional, well-directed public spending possible. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the enormous strides made in social and educational progress when the Conservative Party was in power. This was most obvious after the efforts by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, as education Minister in the Scottish Office, to make sure that the teachers would be available as soon as possible to eradicate part-time education.I have a number of detailed questions to put. If a college lecturer were made redundant, what would be his position in terms of superannuation if he went into other public service? Say, for example, he is unable to get a job in teacher training, but manages to get a job in a school, in a social work department with a local authority, or perhaps in a List D school. Would he be able to continue making superannuation payments and be no worse off than if he had carried on as a teacher in training college? This is the kind of question which we should be asking. The Minister must be aware of just how unhappy the staff in the colleges are about what is happening, about the plans and the lack of detail. I want to read from paragraph 14 of an excellent document which we have all received from Craiglockhart:
This is the nub of the arguments which my hon. Friends have put forward in three successive debates. The Government have a duty to justify their proposal. They have not done this on the basis of education or cost. We hope that the Government will try to put forward an argument, perhaps on the grounds of cost, to support their proposals and also to give us the information on which we can assess the various options. This consultative document has caused a great deal of concern in Scotland. It has resulted in a savage drop in educational morale not just in the colleges but throughout the educational system. We all know that if its proposals were applied there would be an immense danger to education in Scotland and to our whole long-term ability to get an adequate supply of teachers when we require an increase in them. The Minister is aware that this document has not one friend in Scotland in educational circles or elsewhere. I hope that tonight at least, as he has failed so miserably on the last two occasions, he will give us some of the answers to the questions on the restrictive area which we have been debating."Members of staff are also uninformed about how the reduction of the total lecturing force by over 400 is to be carried through. There is no reason why the Secretary of State should not have stated explicitly that any staff reduction policy would be applied equally to all colleges, including those he proposes to merge or close—unless there was an intention in this way to exploit different interests among the staffs of the different colleges and paralyse union resistance. The omission of such an explicit statement, apart from its injustice to staff of this College, makes it very difficult for the Governors to assess the merits of the case for mergers."
I shall begin by putting the record straight once again because there has been a scandalous allegation from the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) that the Scottish Office was using this opportunity to dodge answering questions. Despite the discussions I have had with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), it is typical that he should say, despite the explanations he has received, that I was exploiting the rule book, or that the Scottish Office was. Hon. Members know very well—it is a disgraceful act on their part—that the Scottish Office had no part in restricting this debate. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) looked through the Estimates to try to find a vehicle on which to come before the House and initiate a debate. We pointed out on Friday to the appropriate authorities that under this Vote it was not possible. I could easily point out quite factually that under Class XVII, Vote 4, the Crombie Report cannot be discussed. It does not come under that class. Nevertheless, in the interests of the debate, I decided that we should attempt to make—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not the hon. Member disputing the ruling of the Chair to allow this debate to go forward? Would it not be better if he replied to the debate rather than put himself in your position?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Crombie Code is covered by Class XVII, Vote 4, which I understand is not the case.
I do not want the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) to make cheap political points when he knows that his party was in the wrong from the beginning. It is most unworthy of the hon. Member or for other hon. Members to take advantage or to try to insinuate that advantage is being taken of the Chair.The Scottish Office in no way tried to restrict the debate, the basic answer to which I could give in about three sentences, in accordance with the Vote. We were not trying by any mechanism, constitutional or otherwise, to dodge any particular debate that might arise on the Vote.
If the Minister is sincere, as I am sure he is, it was unwise of him to leap to his feet at the first opportunity to try to prevent us from discussing these matters. Am I to understand that he knew on Friday that the debate could not be held and got in touch with somebody about that? Did he not have the courtesy to tell those hon. Members whose names were down to this subject? It would have been the most elementary courtesy to tell them, but none of us knew anything about this until tonight.
I would not have raised the matter but for the credibility of the Scottish Office being impugned by hon. Members. I do not want to make this a debate on the reliability of the Public Bill Office. That would be most unfair to people who cannot answer back. But the hon. Member for Cathcart can make the hon. Gentleman aware of the circumstances. I think that it is sufficient to say that I am prepared to respond to the debate as far as I can.There was no possibility that the Scottish Office could attempt to restrict the debate. I waited several minutes while the hon. Member for Dumfries waffled on in his predictable way, casting all sorts of slights on me and others. No reference had been made to the nature of the debate.
Will the Minister withdraw that statement if it is in tomorrow's Hansard?
In the end, the hon. Gentleman was following a course which was against Mr. Speaker's original ruling.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that we are not complaining about the Scottish Office and far less about our excellent Deputy Speaker, in whom we have full confidence? We are complaining about the Minister's attitude. If he were genuinely seeking to give information and help us, his interest would surely be to try to get the most out of the restricted debate. Instead, from the moment my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) started, the Minister was trying to restrict the debate and usurp the function of the Chair. We accept the problems of a restricted debate, but if the hon. Gentleman wanted to give information to the people of Scotland and teachers who may be made redundant, he should be trying to make the most of the restricted subject and not to restrict it further.
I do not wish to make this a constitutional debate. I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding the House that the debate centred on the question of Crombie and the laying of the order, and in no way can Crombie be debated under this Vote. Nevertheless, I am trying to be reasonable to the Opposition, who have been totally unreasonable ever since the debate started. The Conservative Opposition's tactics have been shameful. They have not tried to put forward an alternative strategy for compensation for redundancy. By referring to compensation and redundancy I am keeping within order. I should have to stray very far if I tried to match them. We still await from the Conservatives suggestions about compensation and superannuation and an alternative strategy to the document.The hon. Member for Cathcart said that there would be no cuts in education under the Conservatives, that they would make the cuts in other forms of public expenditure. I should like to quote from their much-hallowed document. They get very annoyed when I keep quoting it back at them. On page 17 of "Education in Scotland: A Statement of Policy" we read:
the Tory Government—"The Circular indicated the Government's view"—
that is, a pupil-teacher ratio of 25: 1 for primary schools, and we have 22.4:1—"that once these standards had been achieved "—
The second point is that when a ratio of 15: 1 is reached in secondary schools in 1977–78 it"any additional resources should not be used to expand further the primary teaching force".
In other words, the document envisaged unemployment among teachers and the curtailment of teacher training well in excess of anything which might be contemplated by my right hon. Friend."may involve placing some restriction on the number of graduates entering teacher training."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I do not intend to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I shall not give way at this point. When I asked the hon. Gentleman to give way, in order to make an important point, he did not give way. Therefore, I hope that he will accept that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.Never in my experience of politics has there been so much consultation as on the future of teacher training. We had a two-day debate on the subject. I have gone out of my way to see many Opposition Members either as a group or with delegations from various colleges for which I knew they would get a certain amount of publicity. With my right hon. Friend, I met several groups involved in this exercise. My right hon. Friend is meeting the principals of colleges of education today. I shall be seeing a number of bodies this week, including COSLA, the National Union of Students, teachers' unions' leaders and others. My hon. Friend will also be meeting the hierarchy over the question of Craiglockhart, and other matters.
Will these consultations produce a completely new document which will be laid before Parliament?
We must not split hairs. This is a consultative document. It is there for everyone to read. We have consulted well beyond any consultations carried out by any previous Government. This is a serious exercise. Both the Opposition and the Government start from the premise that there must be reductions.
The Opposition cry for reductions, which involve redundancies and compensation. I am endeavouring to keep within order. It is inevitable, given the reduction in births, that there will be fewer pupils. In fact, there will be 100,000 fewer primary pupils between now and 1980–81. Therefore, it stands to reason that there must be constraints on the intake in teacher training.I cannot understand why the Conservative Opposition go on making every political point they can in the hope of getting some extra votes at the next General Election when they have consistently refused to put forward an alternative educational strategy. That is totally dishonest. I lay that charge at the door of the Conservative Opposition. There is no point in squealing consistently. The people of Scotland will reject mere indignation and this exercise in the hope of getting extra votes. I suggest that the Opposition's duty is to accept, as they do, that there will be cut-backs in teacher training and to put forward an alternative strategy.
Does the Minister accept that we have said that our preferred policy would be to retain the 10 colleges if that were justified by costing? We must have the Government's costing estimate and the effect in other terms of maintaining the 10 colleges, albeit on a reduced scale, and of having the six colleges.In view of what the Minister has said about consultation, can he give us an assurance that if the Government, on looking at the matter again, find that their proposals are wrong, they might scrap them and put forward others that would not involve any closures? I do not ask the Minister to commit himself.
Decisions are made by the Secretary of State, although there was a pitiful Early-Day Motion tabled by the Opposition calling for my resignation. I am involved at every stage in the consultation and the decision making, but the hon. Member should know, having been an Under-Secretary of State himself, that I do not make the decisions. I should have looked silly if I had put down an Early-Day Motion calling on the hon. Member for Cathcart to resign when his party was in Government when I knew that the responsibility lay with his right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State.There is no point in hon. Members pressing us for consultations because the same hon. Members were involved in a Government who were ready to destroy Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and Rolls-Royce without any consultation. The Opposition have not got a good record for consultation, compensation or redundancies. I am the first to recognise that we are involved in a difficult exercise. We accept that there must be reductions and we must therefore ask where we should make them—in a number of colleges or by doing as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart suggested and keeping all the colleges as they are. No options are closed in this exercise. [Interruption.] Hon. Members accuse me of not answering questions but they cannot have listened to the debate properly or read the report of the Adjournment debate recently because on that occasion I answered questions put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).
I will not give way at the moment.
I have already given way four times although hon. Members accuse me of not giving way. I hope that that challenge will not be repeated.I return to the substance of the debate and I hope that I may stray into the question of Crombie, with the permission of the House. [Interruption.] When one has issued a consultative document and asked the colleges and many other bodies for information about how they see the future of the colleges in Scotland, it would be nonsense and arrogance to lay down conditions for the period of consultation. The Opposition have never had any experience of consultation. The lesson of the miners should have taught them that. The colleges, the trade unions and the teaching profession recognise that the Government are bending over backwards to consult everybody who is involved in the exercise That has never been done before and it has been welcomed by all the groups to whom I have spoken. For the record, Class XVII, Vote 4, is the vote that covers superannuation payments to members of the Scottish Teachers' Superannuation Scheme under the Teachers Superannuation (Scotland) Regulations 1969–76. There are lecturers in colleges of education in Scotland who are members of the scheme and who, under the regulations, are eligible for pension benefits on retirement on or after attaining the age of 60, which may be the "normal retiring age" mentioned in the subject for debate. There is, however, no provision under the for the payment of superannuation benefits before the age of 60, other than in cases of incapacity. In referring to an increase—and that is what the debate has done—in payment for teachers made redundant before normal retiring age, hon. Members may have in mind the compensation which will be available to redundant college lecturers under the Crombie Code. No provision for such compensation has been made in the current financial year as the whole question of redundancies will have to be the subject of detailed consultations in the light of my right hon. Friend's decisions on the future size and shape of the teacher training system. In any case, compensation payments under the Crombie Code are certainly not a charge on Class XVII, Vote 4, and irrespective of at what age teachers might he redundant, there is no question of paying increased superannuation on that account. That is in statute. It is not something that I can change overnight. The question of laying the code conditions in order that the lecturers who might be involved—I stress the word "might"—will understand that we are showing some good faith in this matter and that they will have some understanding as to the future has been alluded to often in the debate. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may briefly refer to Crombie in order to clear the doubts and concern expressed by hon. Members, supposedly on behalf of lecturers and others involved in colleges of education that they have met in delegations to the House and in meetings that they have attended in Edinburgh and elsewhere. Crombie terms are available on redundancy only where there is "statutory intervention" in employment. The Secretary of State's decision to make regulations under paragraph 11 of Schedule 1 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1976 to require governing bodies to comply with directions made by him about college intakes will set in train such statutory interventions. In the Department's letter of 17th January enclosing the Secretary of State's consultative paper about the future of teacher training, interested bodies were consulted about the Secretary of State's intention to make such regulations. The body most affected by this proposal, the Joint Committee of Colleges of Education—incidentally, my right hon. Friend met that group in Edinburgh this afternoon—has already indicated its agreement to the making of the proposed regulations. I hope that that will satisfy hon. Members to some extent. The regulations have already been drafted. I put this point particularly to the hon. Member for Ayr, who, I am sorry to say, got the information wrong. The regulations might be made in March or April after comments from other bodies have been received. There is another piece of particular information that was requested strongly by the hon. Member for Ayr. When the Secretary of State has decided how many students should be admitted to colleges, and to which colleges, in the autumn of this year, directions will be prepared to put these decisions into effect. The boards of governors will, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, have to be consulted. This is another point that has been put strongly this evening and on other occasions. This consultation need not be prolonged since the views of the boards of governors will be given in response to the Secretary of State's paper of 17th January. The Secretary of State met that body in Edinburgh today, as I have already told the House. Another set of regulations will have to be made to authorise the payment of the Crombie terms. Undertakings have been given that interested bodies will be consulted on these regulations. We cannot go much further than that. We have given the promise of delivering the Crombie Code to any college lecturers who might be made redundant in Scotland. We expect to circulate the draft of the regulations in April. The ALCES—the college lecturers—will have an opportunity, before the regulations are drafted, to have consultations and that is all they are seeking. Of course, we shall be as reasonable as possible in meeting the requests that they make. The view has been expressed to me—wrongly—that the Crombie regulations will apply only to redundant lecturers. But the provisions will apply generally to all those employed in the undertakings affected—that is, the colleges. That means that they will apply to the nonacademic staff—the technicians, the janitors, the cleaners, and so on. The draft regulations and the compensation terms cannot be prepared until my right hon. Friend has actually taken a decision on the consultative document. At the end of the day it is extremely difficult in talking about compensation to decide a precise sum. It depends on the areas of service, the grade and the age of the particular person. One could have 200 or 300 permutations and come out with a different answer each time. Who knows which staff and how much service is involved? No final decision has yet been made on any particular college. I will not drift hack into the Adjournment debate that we had last week, and the points that were put very strongly by the hon. Member for West Lothian. I answered fully the points he put both then and in the Scottish Grand Committee. The fact that he chose to take only two minutes and that I had to speak for 28 minutes was unfortunate, but that was his choice in conducting the debate. and I chose to respond in the proper way. The hon. Member for Ayr asked what would happen to lecturers nearing retirement age. He asked whether they would get only superannuation benefits. Lecturers made redundant before the age of 65 are eligible for compensation under the Crombie Code. Many teachers choose to retire from 60 onwards. I hope the hon. Member will accept that I am not here to encourage prolonged or acrimonious debates. I understand the uncertainty of the staffs who may be involved, but this is a genuine consultation process in which I hope an alternative strategy will be forthcoming from the Opposition. 'I he final decision will be made by my right hon. Friend only after he has carefully scrutinised the submissions which he has asked various colleges and other bodies to make to him.
Will the Secretary of State also take into account the fact that the Government's proposals were defeated in the Scottish Grand Committee? Even discounting the English invasion towards the end of the sitting, the majority of Members representing Scottish constituencies voted against the document.
I take my hon. Friend's point. That was a somewhat unfortunate, if not disgraceful, exercise, and perhaps those who engineered it are somewhat sorry that they carried it out.
I hope that the same people will defeat Crombie.
I leave that for the record. My hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in the matter, can express views on the consultative document, but he does not have the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) who was a teacher before being elected to this House.
The hon. Gentleman keeps saying that he wants consultation, but the only reasonable basis upon which Members of the House can consult is if they know the economic facts. Will the Minister give the facts about closures and retentions? Only then can we make a positive contribution to the debate.
I hope that I do not have to repeat what I have said on this issue. This is essentially not an economic argument but an educational one. Let us not go back on what we have agreed. We cannot continue training teachers for the unemployment register. That is agreed, and therefore there has to be some restriction on numbers.It is true, of course, that costings come into the issue, but I have pointed out that we are going through a genuine process of consultation. The difficulty is that Conservative Members have never understood the process of consultation. They have never carried out much consultation with the trade unions, with local authorities or with staff bodies. The hon. Member for Cathcart asked what would happen to the superannuation of a lecturer who became a teacher or a social worker. If he became a teacher he could remain in the teachers' superannuation scheme. If he became a local authority social worker he could transfer his benefit rights. Some people have expressed concern about what will happen, and that is the proper answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Cathcart. I assure the House that no final decisions will be made by my right hon. Friend before he has considered all the representations from colleges and other bodies—
What about Members of Parliament?
—and from Members of Parliament because, believe it or not, my right hon. Friend reads the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.
Can the Minister give us an assurance—if he can he will make us very much happier at the end of this debate—that when he has had the consultations and worked out his sums he will present to the House the alternative costing of a scheme to keep open the 10 colleges and the ones in his consultative document, so that we can work out the sums? If he can give that assurance, we can leave this long debate feeling a great deal happier than we would other-wise do.
I will certainly put that point of view to my right hon. Friend. I have bent over backwards to be fair tonight because of the genuine concern expressed here and outside. All points of view will be considered carefully by my right hon. Friend. The ultimate decision will be made in the best interests of education; that is, of the students who have left colleges and are still seeking employment—that is a distressing feature—of the students coming out of the colleges this session who hope to become teachers in Scotland and of the lecturers who have done a magnificent job in training our teachers. We are very concerned about their future.At the end of the day, the decision will rest with my right hon. Friend, assisted by myself and his advisers. We hope that the House will accept that it will be taken in the best interests of Scottish education.
After a rather rowdy debate by Scottish Members on teacher training, I hope that English Members can address themselves to a similar problem in a slightly more orderly way.The expenditure by the Government on grants for students to attend teacher training colleges is closely linked with the Government's strategy on the training of teachers and their proposals, announced on 24th January, to reduce to 45,000 the number of places in our teacher training colleges. My own concern is that the increased grants which appear on page 249 of the Consolidated Fund Bill will not be able to be spent at Thomas Huxley College in my constituency, since that college is threatened with closure. It is this change in the pattern of expenditure under the Consolidated Fund that I wish to raise tonight. I must confess to surprise at Thomas Huxley featuring in the list of proposed closures, since, in a report in 1975 to the Chief Education Officer of Ealing, Mr. H. A. Harding of the Department of Education and Science said:
We therefore have a statement from the DES that Thomas Huxley College is a successful one, which ought to be retained. I shall develop the argument in a moment, quantifying its success, but I must tell the Minister at the outset that the great debate on education in my consituency is in fact whether the Government are going to go ahead with the closure of this popular and successful training college. In the eyes of my constituents, the action of the Government in seeking to close this College speaks far louder than any words in any regional conference, and simply convinces them that, despite protestations to the contrary, education is fairly low down the Government's priorities. My constituents are also struck by the number of closures proposed by the Secretary of State in Conservative-held constituencies. It is a statistical convenience, to put it mildly, that of the 26 closures in England, 20 are in Conservative-held seats. Of the six that are in Labour-held seats, half are held by members of the Government who are not therefore in a position to protest. There is inevitably a suspicion of political expedience in the incidence of these closures, and it would be most unfortunate if the future of our teacher training institutions were to be subject to micro-political influence of this kind. My hon. Friends and I are prepared to take our share of the increased unemployment which the Government are creating, but we are not anxious to take other people's share as well. Since we hold fewer than half the seats in England, we find it rough to take over three-quarters of the cuts, and I notice the same political bias manifesting itself in the proposals for Scotland and Wales. I turn firstly to the academic record of Thomas Huxley College. It has a very low percentage wastage of students, and this is an important consideration if money is not to be lost by training people who do not complete the course. The total number of students registered for certificate examination up till June 1977 was 772, and the percentage wastage was 14·3 per cent. This is well below the national average of around 20 per cent. for 1976 and is evidence of the college's ability to select students with potential, and to hold their interest throughout the course. Looking at the Certificate in Education results for examinations for 1976, over 20 per cent. of students were awarded marks of distinction in the theory of education —well above the national average. The failure rate was under 5 per cent. The B.Ed. results are also very good, as are the awards of distinction in other subjects apart from education theory. Another important measure of academic success is whether the teachers are snapped up by schools in the locality. The output of Thomas Huxley College is in great demand at local schools in Ealing. I would like to quote a letter written to me by Mr. Childs, the headmaster of Derwentwater Middle School in my constituency:"We recognise that Thomas Huxley has done much very good work in the past and has in particular a record of B.Ed. successes which is remarkable for a small College catering for mature students. Moreover, we appreciate the College's local importance as the only teacher training establishment in the four London Boroughs of Ealing, Brent, Harrow and Hillingdon. It would clearly be wrong to underestimate its contribution to easing teacher supply problems in London or its potential role in meeting induction and in-service training needs in the areas of the four Boroughs. In principle, therefore, we agree with you that it would be desirable to find some means of retaining an initial teacher training base in Ealing".
May I also quote from the headmaster of Reynolds High School, a comprehensive school in my constituency:"As a headmaster whose school has been well served by Thomas Huxley in the past, I fully support the retention of teacher training in the Ealing College of Education which is to be established on 1st September 1977. I would add that the value of preparing mature students to serve the special needs of urban, multi-cultural schools together with the contribution made by the College in the training of teachers for the shortage areas of maths, science and French, is such that it is foolhardy to destroy the expertise which has been acquired in these areas over many years by Miss Carter and her staff."
He went on to say that he urged"The quality of the students which have come from this College over the years and of those members of my staff who trained there is of the highest standard."
I have also received a large number of letters from students, both past and present, endorsing the remarks of those two headmasters. Indeed, the headmasters of 36 schools in West London who employ teachers from Thomas Huxley have sent the Secretary of State a petition urging her to reconsider her decision on the closure. One reason why this college is so popular is that the students are mature students. I come now to the role of mature students in our schools. At a time when the Prime Minister is opening a national debate on education, and when the education service is criticised for paying insufficient attention to the needs of industry and commerce, it is short sighted to close initial teacher training in an institution sited in an urban industrial part of London, which recruits students with experience of industry and commerce. Fifty-five per cent. of students entering Thomas Huxley College in September 1976 had such commercial or industrial experience. Further, at a time when there is anxiety about discipline in schools, we ought to be placing greater emphasis on the recruitment of mature students. Many mature students have had experience of bringing up their own families, and of the disciplinary measures that are most effective. Older people, in any case, are better able to keep order in a classroom than younger students, with less experience of life. The environment at Thomas Huxley of mature students is particularly conducive to in-service training. The Secretary of State has made it clear that she wishes to see an increased emphasis on in-service training and I put it to her that a college of higher education such as Thomas Huxley, containing a high proportion of mature men and women, provides a more suitable climate for most in-service work than the average college with a large 18-plus intake. The particular ethos of a mature student centre, with its adult relationships, is likely to prove more attractive to qualified teachers. The Secretary of State will also wish to concentrate teacher training on the shortage subjects, where there is great public concern. Approximately one-third of the total number of students at Thomas Huxley are following main subjects in the three shortage areas of mathematics, science and French. In addition to these, approximately one-third of the students take a special subsidiary course in the teaching of mathematics. This is an additional reason for having second thoughts about the closure of Thomas Huxley and continuing to make grants available in the forthcoming year. I turn now to a criterion raised specifically by the Secretary of State in her statement on 24th January 1977."the Secretary of State to reconsider her decision in the light of professional and academic achievements of students from Thomas Huxley College, and the contribution of the college to the educational service in both initial and in-service training in an area of Greater London not served by any other institution providing such courses."
If ever a society was multi-racial, it is the society in the London Borough of Ealing, where in Southall we have one of the densest concentration of Indians in the country, and in the eastern part of the borough, which I represent, we have a large number of West Indians, in addition to a significant number of Indians, Poles and other ethnic minorities. The Minister of State will be the first to realise the problems which this poses for the schools in the area. Thomas Huxley College has developed courses specifically to tackle the needs of the schools in West London, which are grappling manfully with the diverse backgrounds of the children who are being educated. I have myself sat in on one of these multi-cultural courses at Thomas Huxley, and I am convinced that they play a priceless role in helping teachers to integrate the immigrate community into our society and also in explaining the cultures of the ethnic minorities to the indigenous population. The skills acquired by the teachers at the training college and the courses themselves have been developed over many years to reflect local needs, and we stand to lose both."In formulating these proposals the Government have been very conscious of the need to preserve a significant number of large teacher training units sited in areas of educational difficulty, which should be capable of developing as centres of excellence in aspects of teacher education particularly relevant to the problems, such as education within a multi-racial society…".
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but, as he has probably noticed, I have been looking at Subhead F1 under which he has put down his subject—
The whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech seems to be presented on the basis of whether a college is to be kept open, and this is not a debate on the closure of colleges; it is on awards for students."Increased provision for mandatory awards for students following courses of teacher training".
The point which I am trying to develop, Mr. Speaker, is that these awards should continue to be made available to students who are attending one college in my constituency. As I understand it, the sum under debate is over £5 million, that is, grants to local education authorities of 90 per cent. of net expenditure on mandatory awards, which includes awards to recognised students following courses of teacher training. It is part of that sum of money which is currently directed to the London Borough of Ealing, and the proposal to withdraw it threatens the existence of Thomas Huxley College in my constituency.I hope that, in so arranging my speech, I have been in order in raising in relation to this sum of money the threat to a particular college in my constituency. Perhaps I may say that I am drawing my remarks to a close, if that helps you in any way, Mr. Speaker. I invite the Minister to read some of the speeches which his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has been making about the inner cities, their problems and the solutions. If the Government are really to tackle some of these social problems, a Department of State such as the Department of Education and Science, when making decisions about where to spend money on mandatory awards to students, must take account of the needs of those areas and not close institutions which are situated within them. I come now to my penultimate point, that is, the geographical implications of the awards. In her statement on 24th January, the Secretary of State said:
I understand that mature students receive grants under this Subhead. Yet the Secretary of State has proposed to close a mature students' college in Greater London. How she reconciles that with her statement on 24th January that "care must be taken to make adequate provision" is something which we may learn in this debate. Not only is greater London to lose its training provision for mature students, but for West London the remaining colleges of higher education which will retain teacher training are in Hounslow, Buckingham and West Hertfordshire, which are virtually inaccessible, whereas the college in my constituency is readily accessible by public transport, and is particularly suited to students on nonresidential courses, which the Government are seeking to encourage. May I end by pulling together the threads of my argument and suggesting what the Secretary of State should now do to make amends. First, she should make clear that she will back success in our teacher training colleges by ensuring that the good ones stay open and the not-so-good close. There is public concern about—"Care should be taken to make adequate provision for mature students."—[Official Report, 24th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 963–79.]
Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he is stretching the argument far beyond what is reasonable. We must talk about student awards here, not keeping colleges open, which would be under another subhead.
I draw my remarks to a close, Mr. Speaker, by making a final plea that the amount of money we are debating will continue to be spent in broadly the way it is now spent, and that included as a recipient will be the London Borough of Ealing so that Thomas Huxley College can remain in existence.
I, too, wish to devote myself to Class X Subhead F of the supplementary Supply Estimates down for debate. I do not propose to raise the interesting fundamental question of the correct number of teachers for the education system at present, or the pupil-teacher ratios, but, within the rules of order, I wish to concentrate on one particular problem which is of great concern to the ratepayers and taxpayers of Kent and to the Kent Education Authority.I do that for much the same reason as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), and I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will find me within the rules of order, because this subhead is concerned with mandatory grants for teacher training by local education authorities. So it concerns not only the quantum of boys and girls processed through the colleges of education but also the weight of expenditure in any particular local education area. I shall be indicating certain reasons why I do not feel that the proposal of the Secretary of State accords with the Supplementary Estimate that the House is debating. I shall, of course, be, I hope, ever ready to keep myself within your injunction to my hon. Friend, and I hope that, with this prelude, I shall gain your indulgence.
Order. May I say how grateful I am to the hon. and learned Gentleman in advance? I am casting my bread upon the waters, and I hope that it will return in due course. He will, I know, confine himself to student awards, which is the subhead we are discussing.
Of course that is so, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I shall always be obedient to your injunctions. The subhead deals with student awards as chan- nelled to and through local education authorities. The point I wish to raise is concerned with a proposal to close the Nonington College of Physical Education, which is, as I shall demonstrate, if you will be so kind as to let me develop my theme, a gem in the educational crown of the Kent Education Authority, which is concerned, rightly, with the awards that it has to make, properly, to students, some of whom go to this college. I hope that you will allow me to develop my theme, and you will see, with your usual indulgence, that I am keeping myself fairly closely within the rules you have stated for the debate.
Order. I shall be surprised if I do. I may say to the hon. and learned Gentleman that I should have been much more strict with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young)—and the hon. and learned Gentleman knows it—and I hope that, in the interests of those to follow, he will make passing reference and at least hang his coat every now and then on the subhead we are discussing.
Of course I shall hope not to deviate one whit more than my hon. Friend did, Mr. Speaker. I have, in fact, under your gentle guidance, disclosed the particular point I wish to make, although it is encompassed in the general principle, I respectfully submit, exemplified by the Supplementary Estimate. It is the proposal—and at the moment it is no more than that—to close the college. I wish, through you, to assure tl1, Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State that I can recall few issues on which I have had such a large postbag expressing such unanimity of view both from inside and outside the teaching profession.In our House magazine—I do not know how appropriate it is to refer to it in our debates—the Secretary of State is described, in charming and eulogistic terms, as a lady who opposes without rancour. I suggest that her problem on this occasion is to demonstrate that she can close without rancour. I wish to approach this problem from a variety of avenues, all within the rules of order, I hope, that you, Mr. Speaker, have laid down. First, I should like to look at it from the point of view of the local education authority because these grants have to be channelled to and through the local education authority. I would therefore draw the Minister's attention to the position of the Kent Education Authority and its relationship with, or its availability of, teacher training colleges. I am very much conscious of the general criteria for restructuring the teacher training system which the right hon. Lady put in the Library when she made the initial announcement. I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 2(b), which says that
I make no apology for quoting these general criteria to the House. It will be important to judge this Supplementary Estimate, and the proposal that I wish to draw to the attention of the House, by reference to these criteria. Paragraph 3 is headed, "Regional and Demonimational Considerations". It states:"initial and in-service teacher education should be closely related and the institutions providing the former should have a major role in relation to schools and teachers in their area. The corollary follows that there must be as good a geographical spread of teacher training institutions as is compatible with overall numbers and other requirements;".
As I shall submit to the House, that is exactly what the Kent Education Authority is being asked to do. In the first instance, as hon. Gentlemen will recall, the teacher training college at Sittingbourne has already been closed against the wishes of the Kent Education Authority. With regard to the teacher training college at Stockwell, which was then part of the Kent Education Authority, the authority has been asked to relinquish its interest so that it will form part of the Bromley Institute of Higher Education. There is the Christchurch College of Canterbury, which is a Church of England institution—"The need for the best geographical distribution in support of in-service education and training referred to above would in any case require attention to be paid to the regional distribution of institutions in relation to their prospective school populations. In a period of contraction regions and the local authorities within them will also be vigilant to see that their institutions are not required to make disproportionate sacrifices."
Order. I have deliberately allowed the hon. and learned Gentleman to make his special points. I must draw his attention to the fact that he is discussing "Section E: Teacher Training", whereas we are at the moment discussing "Student Awards".
With the profoundest respect, I would draw the attention of the Chair to the fact that the allocation of expenditure on student awards, and the way they are spent, must naturally be the concern of an education authority.
That may well be, but the question of teacher training colleges is not what this debate is about.
With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, I have indicated—I hope with suitable deference to the Chair—that I would go no further beyond the bounds that you allowed to my hon. Friend. Perhaps you would permit me to confine myself as closely—
I made a mistake with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton. I allowed him to go much too far. If I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to do so, I must allow everyone else to do so. I must say that this is not an occasion on which we are debating the closure of colleges. It is a debate about student awards. We must have some order in our rules. I have given a lot of rope to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
My speech will then become unintelligible by reference to what has gone before. I have always understood that within the rules of debate one should try to follow the previous speeches. I would draw your attention to the fact that this heading states:
The education authority in Kent is deeply concerned about the way that it has to expend its mandatory awards to students. It is naturally concerned that there should be the maximum scope for teacher training and, therefore, with the channelling of its awards confined to the county of Kent. The authority does that by reference to these general criteria. I do not wish to take up a Jesuitical, hair-splitting position on this, but this is a matter of deep concern in my constituency. I know that you will appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, and be sympathetic. I am trying to follow the rules as they were laid down for my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, and I hope that you will permit me to continue."Grants to local education authorities of 90 per cent. of net expenditure on mandatory awards."
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be able to help my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees). Since this is 90 per cent. which is rebated back to the local authorities, it means that there is an important cash flow problem for local authorities to find the other 10 per cent. If my hon. and learned Friend related the problems of the local authorities to that aspect, he might find it an effective point to make.
I do not want to be unfair to the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), but I have to be fair to the rules of the House. I have confessed to the House that I was not sufficiently strict with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and that I should have pulled him up much earlier. If we do not keep to the rules of order, these debates will become meaningless.
In the interests of symmetry, perhaps you will allow me the same latitude as that which you allowed my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton.
I am saying that I cannot do that. I made it clear that I was wrong with the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton. But, having seen that I was wrong, I do not propose to go on being wrong.
With profound respect, Mr. Speaker, this cash flow problem is a very important one. The education authority in my area is deeply concerned about its educational budget and the Supplementary Estimates that we are voting, and it is concerned in the context of this proposal for the reasons that I was uncovering in that there is left responsible to it only this one last college of Nonington. If it is closed, the authority will be making mandatory awards to students from Kent who cannot go to any teacher training college in their area. I hope on that basis that I have demonstrated to you—
I am grateful for your nod of assent, Mr. Speaker If I may be allowed to proceed, I assure you that I shall behave with appropriate discretion.As I was saying, the last teacher training college in the county of Kent for which the Kent Education Authority is responsible is that of Nonington. I am not here to criticise Christchurch College, which is an admirable Anglican foundation. Indeed, there is interchange between Nonington and Christchurch College. But it cannot be right that one of the major education authorities in the country will no longer have a teacher training college responsible to it. The Minister must appreciate the spin-off advantages for any education authority in having a major teacher training college within its purview. The last one left in Kent is that of Nonington. I emphasise the effect on East Kent as an area. In parts of it, there is an unemployment rate of 11 per cent. and a limited range of job opportunities. Already the area is threatened by the closure of the Royal Marine depot. The college has a teaching staff of 54, with supporting secretarial and domestic staff. Now their careers will be blighted or they will have to move to another part—
The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal knows as well as I do that grants for mandatory students who cannot go to college in Kent are beyond the scope of what we are discussing. I must now indicate that I intend to insist that the hon. and learned Gentleman keeps within the ruling which I made.
I am sorry if it appears that I am lacking in suitable deferrence to the Chair if I take up this point. But, obviously, the spending of student grants, whether they are spent in Kent or in Cumberland, is a matter of deep concern to the local education authority. Awards made to students who take up places in Nonington are of crucial importance to East Kent. We are talking about student awards, and this matter is closely within the item that we are discussing. Awards made to students at the Nonington College of Education are of great significance to the economic and social life of that part of East Kent. I need instance only landladies, local institutions and suchlike matters. It is not only the educational impact but also the economic and social impact which I feel that I should stress.I come now to the college itself as an educational institution on which a great deal of money has been spent. I raise this point because the college is obviously financed to a degree by the awards made to the students. The college may he small in numbers but it is high in quality. I note that paragraphs 11 and 12 of the general criteria suggest that the minimum size at which an institution is likely to be educationally and economically viable depends on a number of factors. In deference to what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I shall not touch on the general and important subject, which I hope will be debated on another occasion, of whether it is more appropriate to have a monotechnic college—I hate the jargon—or a polytechnic. We shall have to develop that argument on another occasion. I am keeping closely to the impact on Kent. The college, which has a magnificent site, has been established for 30 years. It is lavishly equipped, and in the last five years about £1 million has been spent on it. I should like to indicate some of the equipment available to students for their awards. I am doing this because the financial equation is crucial to our debate. Students at the college can use an indoor swimming pool, a performing arts centre incorporating a theatre with closed circuit television, a drama studio, two specialist dance studios, a music department, a well-equipped library, two modern gymnasia with equipment designed by the college and a separate—
Order. I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that if he persists I shall ask him to resume his seat. I have made perfectly clear that we are discussing student awards and I must ask him to keep to that subject or I shall ask him to resume his seat.
With deepest deference to you, Mr. Speaker, what is available to students for their awards and the value that they receive for money must surely be a matter of concern to the House and education authorities. I was discussing purely the financial aspects. I have deliberately eschewed whether it is preferable to have monotechnic or polytechnic colleges. I am keeping scrupulously to the financial aspect. I hope that you will not consider me wanting in deference to your earlier ruling. I hope that I am observing that ruling scrupulously.On the financial aspect, I am entitled to ask what alternative use would there be for these buildings if they were closed?
Order. That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman is not able to do. The future of colleges does not come under this heading. I shall not permit the debate to go wider than Section F, on student awards.
I hope that you will allow me to come to the subject of the students themselves. One question that is connected with the awards is, who is able to take them up? What type of student is taking up the awards, and what educational qualifications and attainments will such a student have? Surely that must be a matter within the scope of this debate.I remind the House that applications nationally—and this is well within the scope of the item that we are debating—have dropped by more than 33 per cent. in the past year. It is a matter of curiosity that we should have this Supplementary Vote at all. Applications to Nonington dropped by only 18.6 per cent. for girls while male applicants have risen by 12 per cent. On any view the standards of the students applying and being passed out from the college are as high as if not higher than any in the country. A dedicated staff is turning out high quality pupils. That is not a story of mediocrity or failure. It is a success story. But at the moment we are in a period of financial stringency. The question of numbers may weigh with the Minister. I shall leave him with one practical suggestion. The Chelsea College of Physical Education at Eastbourne is to be amalgamated with Brighton Polytechnic. Why not with Nonington? We appreciate that the pressure on Ministers is very great. Instead of the generalised debates on education which the Secretary of State has been holding throughout the country she should concern herself with more concrete decisions, with seeing to what purpose these awards are put, and the kind of end product in human terms that they give the country. I know that the right hon. Lady is well briefed, but there is no substitute for the eye of the Minister herself. Let her dispel the unworthy suspicion that perhaps these decisions are taken with party political considerations in mind. Let her come down to Nonington herself to see whether the claims being advanced are exaggerated. If she comes she will surely appreciate that this proposal is a disastrous one, not only for East Kent and for Kent as a whole, but for the whole educational structure of this country.
My two hon. Friends who have spoken have displayed a great deal of interest and concern about their individual colleges, and I do not wish to get entrapped as they did at times. All I can say is that I wish I could debate the question of Nonington. I know a charming young lady there for whom the college has done great service. I endorse what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) said about the college.Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to allay some of the concern and to demonstrate to the House whether the proposals are genuinely proposals and whether there is any prospect of reconsideration of them. Clearly morale is bad, and the way that the announcement was made, without prior negotiation, and with local education authorities not even written to, merely phoned on the day of the announcement, has caused a great deal of ill will. The suspicion is this has been agreed as a fait accompli. We would like the Minister to give us some assurance that this is not the case. On the question of the grants themselves I want to deal with the point which emerged from the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, which was that the 90 per cent. rebate to local authorities takes time to come through. There is therefore a problem of cash flow for local authorities, and they will probably have to find an increase shortfall as student numbers rise. Clearly they have to pay mandatory grants for an increasing range of courses. I am in favour of that, and I supported the move in 1975 to extend the range of courses eligible for mandatory grant. It is, however, a problem for local authorities which have to find the money and bridge the 10 per cent. gap by loans, building up debt interest which falls on the ratepayers. This was one of the key points raised by my hon. and learned Friend. It is ratepayers' money that is being spent. It is not simply money coming from the State to support students on higher education courses. There is increasing resentment in local authority where all of that money is going outside the authority and is not in any way being spent within the authority's boundaries. My hon. and learned Friend was making the point that this large authority —Kent—will have no higher educational institution through which to gain some return from its ratepayers' money. This is a matter of great concern and we must look closely at the general effectiveness of the operation of the grant mechanism. We should go beyond that. The House will no longer just automatically accept Supplementary Estimates, or the old pattern of operation. We must now consider whether the present grant system is the most effective. We are having the triennial review, and it seems to have emerged that there will be no rethinking and no major changes proposed by the Government. Yet when the effect on students of other developments such as social security changes, are considerable, it is imperative that we rethink the entire grant system. We are concerned about the breakdown of this large amount—£5.4 million —which is just there as a lump sum. The Minister must tell us something about its distribution and make-up, the mix of students in benefit. Under this heading there are the people on degree courses and their equivalents, the HND, the DipHE, the teacher training courses. There is a world of difference between the courses in the range. Some of us are very keen to have far more people going on the HND-type course, to have more people going through not the traditional degree pattern but courses which will open them up for more to the world of work and experience. That is why the Opposition formally supported the Government when they made the DipHE and HND eligible for mandatory awards instead of local discretionary awards. We are increasingly finding in the present economic troubles that the discretionary area is being cut back. That is the very area that we should be trying to promote, because those in it are usually doing craft-level courses and other courses that are central to the great debate that the Prime Minister has launched. Very often they are mature students. It would be useful to know what proportion of students who have benefited from the extra £5·4 million fall within those categories of HND and DipHE, and particularly how many are mature students. These are the areas where hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see an increase, but one suspects that the trend is the other way, that there are now increasing disincentives to mature students to re-enter the system. The new fee levels that the Government propose from next year will build into the system even more disincentives to the person who is self-financing and to the small and medium-sized firm sponsoring such people, the very people who the system really needs, the in-service system that we all want to promote. I believe, for example, that it is more sensible to achieve a greater awareness of industry in the schools not simply by making teachers more aware of industry but by attracting into the schools people from industry, training them as mature students. That is the opposite of what is happening. The trend is to move away from hiring the older, more experienced people who want to return to teaching and to mop up the initial teacher training places caused by the falling birth rate and the Government's decision to change the teacher-pupil ratio decided in the White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Such matters have flooded the market with people who have done their initial teacher training. Consequently, people in the very categories that we are trying to bring back into the system are hit. The grant system that we are discussing refers to mandatory categories. One of the Government's policies is to mop up some of the surplus places in the colleges by encouraging them to retrain teachers into shortage and speciality areas. There is an acute problem if they are young people who have gone straight out of the colleges and found themselves without jobs because they were in a sub- ject area that was already over-supplied. If they want to stay in teaching and so wish to retrain in, say, mathematics, foreign languages or design, who finances them? As far as I know, there is nothing in these Estimates to cover that matter. It has taken so long for such courses to be organised. They are not entitled to another mandatory award. Therefore, they fall on the mercies of the local education authorities and the discretionary system, which is being massively cut back in the number and level of the awards. All the time in education one finds one hand of the Government not operating in line with the other. What is correct as a policy is frustrated by inaction or inadequate action in other areas. We are seeing an escalation in the cost of student support. This is an enormous Supplementary Estimate. It is the largest that affects the education service. It will clearly go on escalating as demand picks up after the last few years when it has been stagnant. I believe that the largest single element in marginal costs in the higher education system now is student maintenance. Therefore, the Minister must give some assurance about the possible impact of the student support system on local authorities and their colleges and the spinoff that they will or will not get—also an assurance that some of the serious effects of the cutback proposals are still open to reconsideration. We want an indication of the breakdown within this Supplementary Estimate, to where he hopes the policy will lead, what balance in students numbers, type and nature he wants to see and whether he is considering any changes in the system. The cost is considerable and one wonders whether it can be met or whether there are more effective ways of giving help to those groups of students whom we want to encourage in the system—the mature students on in-service, short specialist and topping up courses, and those taking sub-degree craft courses who are not technically within the terms of this Supplementary Estimate, but who have to be viewed in the overall context of student support.
This has been a varied debate between the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) on the Opposition Back Benches, who tried to bend the rules of the debte to raise matters affecting their constituencies, and the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), on the Opposition Front Bench, who has construed the arguments much more strictly.You, Mr. Speaker, are notorious—or famous, I should say—for your generosity as a Back Bencher, a Minister and Speaker. But that leads me into difficulties as a Minister replying to the debate because I have to steer between the Scylla of obeying your injunction to be in order and the Charybdis of replying to hon. Gentlemen whom on some occasions you had to upbraid for being out of order.
Order. If I am Scylla, the hon. Gentleman had better stick to Scylla. If I am Charybdis, he had better stick to Charybdis.
I shall try to stick to Scylla, Mr. Speaker. At the outset I should like to talk on Scylla lines about the debate. Mandatory awards are made by local education authorities in respect of a large number of different courses leading to degrees and certain comparable qualifications, to a Higher National Diploma, to the Diploma of Higher Education and to an initial teacher training qualification. There is a wide variety of mandatory awards.Estimates of expenditure, 90 per cent. of which is borne by my Department, are based on returns made by the authorities. The original Estimates for the financial year 1976–77 amounting to £200,273,000 were based upon an estimate of 325,000 award-holding students overall for the academic year 1976–77, of whom over 100,000 were estimated as the numbers expected to be taking courses of initial teacher training. While later returns showed a drop in the estimated number of teacher training students for that year—to 94,000—they showed a small increase in the overall number of students to 328,000. The estimated expenditure on mandatory awards was thus increased in the spring, although the main part of the increase—about £39 million, giving a total estimate of £239,187,000—arose from the decision to increase the levels of student grant for the academic year 1976–77 by about 18 per cent. That was the bulk of the increase. I hope that in this strictly financial debate I have answered the question that has arisen about the increase in the amount. Treading gingerly, I want to deal now with some of the other points that have arisen in the debate, in particular with the number of awards being given for teacher training at present and more particularly with the number of awards that will be given in the future. One of the elements that has been missed, except by the hon. Member for Ripon is the effect of the birth rate. That is crucial to our discussion. After the post-war bulge the number of births fell each year until 1956. Then they rose steadily until 1964 when they began to fall again. In order to plan for a number of services, including school buildings and teacher training, the Government of the day—and it was not my Government—had to make some forecasts of future births. These forecasts, based on past data about the age at which women had borne children and the size of families, indicated that the birth rate would begin to rise again soon. The historical date, however did not and could not take into account the new factor of widespread use of contraception and especially the contraceptive pill. With hindsight, we know better. The number of births has fallen every year for the past 12 years and, on the evidence available, it is still falling. That is a crucial matter that any Minister at the Department of Education and Science must take into account when he considers mandatory awards for teacher training places. If he does not take that into account he will train teachers for certain unemployment. That is something that neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are prepared to do. We have to try to find a balance looking at the existing figure of births and projected births. As a result of that, the decision was made to reduce the teacher training figure to about 45,000—a rather high figure—of which 35,000 would be for initial training places and 10,000 for in-service training at places provided within the existing teacher training colleges. The figures were based on the birth rate continuing at its present level—although it is declining. In case statisticians were wrong, as they were in the past, and there was a sudden birth rate explosion in the late 1970s, we tried to deal with proposed closures of training colleges in such a way that we could increase the number of mandatory awards that would be available for people going into teacher training in the 1980s to a figure of up to 60,000. We have tried to deal with the situation rationally so that we do not create further teacher unemployment, but, on the other hand, if the statisticians are wrong, as they have been in the past, we can increase the number with a fair amount of ease within existing colleges. I say to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton that I appreciate his point of view in putting forward the credentials, as it were, of Ealing College. It is a good college. There are many good colleges where teacher training is proposed to be closed, not because there is anything wrong with the college but because within the number of mandatory awards to students that have to be given we must bear in mind the birth rate, and we must bear in mind the birth rate in the future. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with a college that has to be closed or where there is a propsal for closure. It is because of the birth rate itself. I take issue with the hon. Gentleman —I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow me to reply to this point—when he says that this was done on some party political basis. I was very much responsible for looking at every college in the United Kingdom. There was no special list in the Department, as some newspapers said. We looked at every college—the great, the good, the famous and otherwise. In no way did it occur to us to look at it on a party political basis, as to where the college was physically situated. The college to which the hon. Gentleman refers, by an accident of boundary redistribution, is in the constituency of Ealing, Acton. It could easily have been in Ealing, North or another constituency which is a Labour-held constituency.
I am afraid that the Minister has been misinformed. Thomas Huxley College is in the existing constituency of Ealing, Acton and the old constituency of Acton. Under no conceivable boundary redistribution could it have been in Ealing, North or Ealing, South.
Perhaps 1 may intervene. It would be unfair to the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal, who is expecting a reply to his case, if the Minister is allowed to answer the arguments that I have already tried to rule out.
I appreciate that I am straying, Mr. Speaker. I shall stray no longer in that direction, except to say this: clearly, it would be madness for a Minister to try to decide this matter on the basis of some party political programme. Students in colleges come from all over the country. Lecturers in colleges often live in constituencies far from those in which their colleges are situated. It so happens that, given the trend of what we are trying to do, to place the mandatory awards very much where other courses take place, in polytechnics and so on, there may well be bias in favour of Labour-held constituencies, because inner city areas tend to be Labour-held, and many of the colleges and monotechnic colleges are situated in rural or seaside areas that are normally held by Opposition Members. But in no way at all was it ever considered where a particular college was or on which side of the House sat the Member of Parliament representing the area. That was never a criterion that we considered.I should like, within the rules of order, to discuss further the debate so far. It has been suggested that my right hon. Friend did not consult sufficiently when deciding on the number of mandatory awards in the future and secure the agreement of the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers. We have put this matter to the Advisory Committee and to the CLEA. They said "You put your proposals to us and we shall consider them." When one thinks of the proposals in 1972 and 1973 and the three years that it took to decide upon places, one appreciates that in no way could we do that again, because if we did, we should be projecting this into the middle of the 1980s, even into the late 1980s, and still continuing to produce teachers for whom no jobs would be available because of the decline in the birth rate. That is crucial to the decision on the number of mandatory awards made for teacher training in the future. I have a duty to the House to try to indicate what we are trying to do in the future on mandatory awards, bearing in mind the certain knowledge about the birth rate to the mid–1980s and the projected rates for the future. The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton referred to his own particular college. I shall not fall into the trap and incur your wrath, Mr. Speaker, by following him on that. On 30th March, a delegation about this college is coming to see me to discuss its merits. That is the right and proper way to do it—it should not be done by way of this debate. The hon. Member for Dover and Deal described the excellent college that houses the mandatory awards given for teacher training and challenged me to visit it. I do not think that it would be productive, either for me or my right hon. Friend to visit any colleges at the moment, particularly those where the closure has been proposed.
No, it would not be safe.
It is not a question of not being safe. I do not think it would be wise. There are 28 such colleges, and if I visited some and not others, I would be in difficulties. Hon. Members should remember that these are proposed closures—not actual closures. As a Government we do not have the power to make closures. We can only make proposals to the local authorities concerned. The local authorities have the right, and that right is being exercised time after time when they come to see us and tell us where we have gone wrong.Given the fall in the birth rate, and given the fact that we do not want to create more and more teachers for certain unemployment, I urge hon. Members to have a sense of responsibility. I can forgive them for fighting for the colleges in their constituencies, and even for trying to bend the rules of debate to get their arguments in. But I plead with them not to give blanket opposition to closing colleges. If they do, they will be advocating the training of teachers for jobs that will not be there. When we are considering mandatory awards for teacher training places, the birth rate is a crucial factor that must be considered.
Could the Minister indicate a deadline for a date for the decision?
We want it fairly quickly. There is no deadline date, but we want the representations to be made quickly because it is very damaging for colleges to be left in limbo in this way. I would hope that we could make the final pronouncements by Whitsun, and if hon. Members wish to make representations to discuss the closure of a particular college with me or my right hon. Friend they may do so.I come back to the point about the number of places available in teacher training colleges. The hon. Member for Ripon raised a point with me about—I am having a little difficulty in reading my note about it.
Perhaps the Minister can think about that while I put a point to him. Can he comment on his policy about mandatory awards for teachers who want to be retrained and who have already had a three-year mandatory award?In connection with that, there is the whole key point about the nature of the planning for forecast numbers, and hence grants. What the hon. Gentleman has been saying is that the Government are planning on the basis of 18-pluses coming into the system. I said that if we were to build in other forms of incentives to get more mature people back, that would affect the number of grants and the cost.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has directed my mind to the point that he made and the scribbled note that I could not read. One of the greatest problems is illiteracy, from which I suffer when I try to read my notes.I assure the hon. Gentleman that a mandatory award is made to a three-year trained student who comes back to one of the specialist one-year courses to which he referred, be it mathematics, science or craft education. A mandatory award will be made to a three-year student who wishes to come back to such a course.
As I recall the circular, the 10 pilot schemes were to investigate the possibility of courses in craft design. It has taken two years of reorganisation, and we still do not have another set up in mathematics. That circular said that if these people had already enjoyed a mandatory grant they would have to fall back on the discretionary awards given by local authorities. I remember that clearly, because it seemed a major failing of the system. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government have reconsidered that?