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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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Wales

Ceredigion

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to visit Ceredigion during the next month.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many people in Ceredigion and other parts of Wales are wondering what has happened to the Scotland and Wales Bill? Is he able to comment on that today?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that discussions with other parties and with my hon. Friends are taking place with the object of establishing whether a broad measure of agreement can be reached. The Government remain fully committed to devolution in Scotland and Wales.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make a joint visit to Ceredigion with his new Liberal partner so that together they can explain why, on top of all the existing burdens of unemployment, the abolition of regional employment premium and increased social security tax, the Government are now imposing a vicious petrol tax?

I noticed the other day that the hon. Gentleman paid a visit to, of all places, Hereford to warn the populace there of the dangers of the Liberal agreement. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I feel he may be afraid of losing his seat in the next General Election.

Derelict Land Clearance

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from local authorities in North Wales regarding the latest allocation of funds for derelict land clearance.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is at least one protest on his Department's decision, according to the Flintshire Leader, which records the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) as having protested against this decision on the part of the Welsh Office? Is the Secretary of State further aware that his allocation of funds is widely regarded in North Wales as being greatly discriminatory against the interests of North Wales? Is he not aware that if the unwanted, directly-elected Assembly which he and his frightened Liberal mercenaries are proposing to impose upon the protesting people of Wales comes into being, this kind of thing will get worse?

The hon. Gentleman is completely mistaken in his utterances. My hon. Friend constantly makes representations to me on behalf of Clwyd on a whole range of issues, and, if I may say so, with a broad measure of success.

I am aware that there has been concern in a certain part of Clwyd in respect of some schemes which so far have not found favour. But I have told the Welsh Development Agency that I agree to the overwhelming bulk of the proposals—a little under 90 per cent. Because the other proposals had a lower priority and were substantially environmental, they had to be looked at again together with any other schemes which might have a higher priority. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is so concerned about limiting public expenditure, would wish to ensure that public money is spent on proposals with the highest priority. I assure him that there is no bias against any part of Wales.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the greatest amount of derelict land is in the mining valleys of South Wales and that the Mid-Glamorgan county area has a larger proportion of derelict land than any other county in Wales? As well as ensuring that the momentum is maintained in clearing the dereliction, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that he will take measures to attract industry into the cleared derelict areas instead of placing it on agricultural land?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is broadly right in that there are large areas in need of assistance to wipe out the ravages of the past, for which this generation has to pay the price. A large proportion of such land is in South Wales, but some can be found in North Wales. I assure the House that there is not a regional or geographical bias in the determination of this matter, either by the Agency or by myself. What we seek to do is to ensure that the money goes to the areas with the highest priority, and that priority still is for industry and for housing. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with me on that score.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that people in Wales as a whole, from North and South, appreciate the remarkable work carried out by the Derelict Land Unit over the past 10 years? The people of North Wales do not believe that there is any discrimination in favour of one region against another. Will my right hon. and learned Friend be good enough, however, to look in particular at certain areas in Gwynedd—Clwyd has already been mentioned—which are affected by state waste and, for example, Paris Mountain in Anglesey, which is still in a state of serious dereliction as a result of the old copper workings?

It was, of course, my right hon. Friend who started all of this. He has created an enormous appetite in Wales. I do not complain. I boast about his achievements. The result has been £45 million worth of bids for the next programme in Wales. The resources which we could allocate were of the order of £15 million, the totality of which I have agreed, although there has been a discrepancy—10 per cent. or there- abouts—as regards some of the schemes. I will look at any area to ensure that we make the fastest possible progress in removing dereliction throughout Wales.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Education

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he has taken to encourage public debate on that sector of education in Wales within his sphere of responsibility.

I recently chaired a conference in Cardiff attended by about 200 people from all parts of Wales and representing many educational interests, as well as both sides of industry, parents and pupils.

Is the Minister completely satisfied that he is getting a full expression of parental views on all the educational issues involved in Wales? Secondly, will he urge his right hon. and learned Friend to take the utmost care before agreeing to the Welsh Joint Education Committee's recommendation that Wales should have a single examination system for 16-year-olds instead of the CSE and GCE O-level? Will he bear in mind that the Department of Education and Science has not accepted a similar recommendation for England, and that if Wales goes it alone on this it seems that we shall have no means of comparing standards of educational achievement in Wales with those of the rest of the United Kingdom?

To take the latter point first, I am aware of the Welsh Joint Education Committee's views about examinations. I must, however, give them careful consideration and come to no hasty decisions. The decisions must be arrived at between Ministers. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, there were 70 organisations represented at our conference. Of the 52 people who spoke from the floor, many were teachers and representatives of parents in Wales.

Will the Under-Secretary accept that the great debate on education initiated by the Government is basically a "con" trick in that this great debate is taking place at a time of serious reduction in the allocation of resources to education generally and when we have a high percentage of unemployed young teachers in Wales?

It is not a confidence trick. It is a success as a conference. Two hundred people from all over Wales met to debate an important issue—the future of our children in Wales. The hon. Gentleman should remember that without any doubt many improvements can be made, even during a shortage of resources.

Will the Minister consider organising the showing of the film recently made by the BBC about a comprehensive school in Acton so that Welsh parents and governors of Welsh comprehensive schools may compare our schools with what goes on in the rest of the country?

The hon. Member was a distinguished educationist. I think he is really saying that we are doing quite well in Wales with regard to our schooling. There is no complacency, but there is much to be proud of.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we in Anglesey would welcome television cameras into all our comprehensive schools so that the country may appreciate how successful the system is?

Hospital Services (Cynon Valley)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals have been submitted to him regarding the future of hospital services in the Cynon Valley and particularly the casualty unit at Aberdare Hospital.

Those contained in the Consultative Paper on the Reorganisation of Hospital Services in the Merthyr and Cynon Valley and Rhymney Valley Health Districts published by Mid Glamorgan Health Authority in 1975. The authority proposed that minor casualty services should continue to be provided at both Aberdare General Hospital and Mountain Ash General Hospital.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The deputation that came to see him expressed anxieties about the future of the hospital services in the Cynon Valley. There is particular concern about the casualty unit, and there are rumours that it will be taken from the area. Can my hon. Friend categorically confirm that the casualty unit is to be kept open?

I recollect the deputation that came to see me and the strong case that it put. I recollect, too, the many representations made to me by my hon. Friend about health services in his valley. The area health authority, in its submission, has not proposed to discontinue the casualty unit. If it did do so, it would first have to go through the normal processes of consultation.

Rural Wales

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied that the Welsh Development Agency is making adequate arrangements to deal with the economic problems of those parts of rural Wales that fall outside the responsibility of the Development Board for Rural Wales.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the highest levels of unemployment in Wales are outside the Mid-Wales area—indeed, are outside the special development areas? I welcome the emphasis placed by the WDA on the importance of small businesses, but does the Secretary of State think it sensible that the new Budget scheme to help small businesses should be confined to the special development areas? Does he not think that we should reconsider the boundaries of all these regional schemes in order to concentrate help where it is most needed? Are not some of the divisions that now exist becoming most unsatisfactory?

It is always difficult to draw a line whatever one does, but the special development areas have had traditionally a high degree of priority, and this is where we shall start with any problem.

Has the Secretary of State received the appallingly clichéridden document produced last week by the Welsh Development Agency, which apologises throughout for not being a proper strategic plan for the development of the Welsh economy? Will he now accept that it is time to give orders to the Agency to take its finger out, to stop scratching about on the environmental surface of Wales and to invest in public enterprise development in the empty advance factories from which so many of us suffer?

I do not accept any of that tirade. In the short period of its existence, the Welsh Development Agency has taken on major responsibilities for derelict land and the building of advance factories. It has also played a major part in ensuring the development in Merthyr Tydvil and has started, as the hon. Gentleman may have seen in the Press, on its joint investment programmes. For example, an important firm was announced recently for Newport, and there are others.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Welsh Development Agency is doing exactly what we said it would do, unfortunately, in raising very high expectations and being totally unable to fulfil them, particularly in North-East Wales?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the plans so far announced by the Welsh Development Agency in the environmental sector have been largely welcomed. Obviously there have been criticisms about some of the points raised in earlier Questions. Generally, however, the Agency has set out to tackle the task it was supposed to do. It has recruited its staff. It is getting more and more involved in industrial development, and we are already beginning to see the fruits of the seeds.

Transport Fuel Costs

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what examination the Welsh Office has made of the impact of transport fuel costs on the economy of Wales.

The impact on the economy of transport expenditure as a whole forms part of the background to the Government's review of transport policy.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that, particularly coming on top of the abrupt withdrawal of REP, the proposed increase in fuel costs will have a devastating effect on many firms and will contribute to increased unemployment?

I do not accept that. The Budget will have a minimal effect on Welsh industry, and a rough calculation has been made of about 0·056 per cent. of industrial turnover.

Is the Minister aware that it is difficult to imagine a tax more damaging to the rural areas of the Principality? Will he take account of the fact that in large parts of Wales people are peculiarly dependent on private transport? Whatever he may say, this will run counter to the Government's policy of making Wales a development area and, indeed, of setting up the Welsh Development Agency. Is not this an idiotic tax in the context of the problems of Wales?

Coming as I do from rural Wales, I am fully aware of the problems of living there. But I am sure that some of these points will be fully adumbrated in today's debate.

Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one lesson to be learned from the outcry over the recent relatively modest increase in petrol prices is that there is now no chance whatsoever of replacing the vehicle excise duty by an increase on petrol and that, therefore, one effect of that will be that employment at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre is secure?

First, may I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House after his recent illness. I am sure that the welcome he has given to this proposal will be widely echoed in his area, which is an important source of employment for the Swansea Valley. I take great pride in having been one of those who sited the centre there.

If the Secretary of State is aware of the effect that this increase will have on rural areas, will he press the Chancellor very hard indeed, if the measure passes tonight, between now and the Finance Bill debates to ensure that an amendment comes forward to reduce the catastrophic effect that this increase in the price of petrol will have in rural areas, not only on personal transport costs, when people perhaps have to travel 40 miles each way to work, but also on the prospect of bringing new factories to areas such as the Caernarvon area, where transport costs are a disproportionate part of the total revenue?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be putting such viewpoints forcibly if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, either today or in the course of the debates on the Finance Bill.

We are always interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views. How does he justify the doubling of the petrol tax since 1974 in view of its effect on the economy of rural Wales?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman or some of his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will want to put those points in the course of the debate this afternoon. But what is important is that we are doing, and have done, much more for Mid-Wales and for rural Wales than the Tory Government ever did. How will the hon. Gentleman explain after being a member of a party that killed off the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) for Mid-Wales and did nothing at all in the four wasted years afterwards?

Glan Taf School

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the proposed closure of Glan Taf school.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received 47 letters and a petition signed by 3,100 persons objecting to the South Glamorgan Authority's proposals to cease to maintain the Glan Taf High School and to establish a bilingual school in the premises.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that closing a community comprehensive school without a public meeting is an act of folly on the part of the local authority? Would he agree also that, the local authority having refused the request for a public meeting, the least he can now do is to have a public inquiry as part of the great debate, because the parents will not be satisfied with anything less?

Individual parents met the local authority. We shall be giving very careful consideration to the case, and every expression of view will be taken into account. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's last point, the normal practice is to consider a Section 13 proposal on the basis of written submissions.

Health And Personal Social Services

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many projects have been started during the 1976–77 financial year which have been jointly financed by area health authorities and local authority personal social services departments; and how much he plans to make available for joint financing in 1977–78.

Area health authorities and local authorities have already on occasion shared the funding of services on the borderline of their respective statutory responsibilities. I have no central record of these cases. During 1976 I discussed with local authority associations and area health authorities possible arrangements to enable NHS resources to be used to help in financing developments primarily the responsibility of local authorities. My right hon. and learned Friend will soon be consulting on his final proposals.

Does the Under-Secretary accept that that answer is totally unsatisfactory in view of the fact that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made available in the last financial year £6 million for joint funding in England and that £21 million is to be made available in the current financial year? Will he accept that it is time he insisted that local authorities and social services departments in Wales took note of circulars that have been produced by his Department and that the forthcoming circular on joint funding should be a joint responsibility of his Department and the Department of Health and Social Security?

I must reject the inference at the beginning of the hon. Member's supplementary question. He has not told us that the £8 million and the £21 million totals were to come from area health authority budgets in England. Is he really saying that we should do the same in Wales when already area health authority budgets are under great stress?

Industry

Cbi

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he next expects to meet the CBI.

My right hon. Friend expects to meet CBI representatives at the NEDC meeting this week.

Will my hon. Friend ask the Secretary of State, before he meets the CBI, to read the new book about the CBI which was published two weeks ago and ask the CBI whether it can explain the apparent contradiction between its total opposition to public expenditure and the disclosure in that book that it uses for its own membership campaigns the fact that it can fiddle company structures so as to screw more grants out of the Government for individual companies?

Not only have I read something about that book, but I have read my hon. Friend's review of it in Tribune and I recognise that he has very strong opinions about the subject. I will bear in mind the rough tenor of what he has said, but I am sure he will agree that it is in the interests of both Her Majesty's Government and the CBI to see more investment in this country for everybody.

When the Secretary of State meets the CBI, should he not discuss with it objectively a problem of industries in our public sector which has arisen in South Africa? For instance, Alfred Herbert—whose improved results I welcome—has been urging its South African associates to persuade the South African Government to put on a tariff against the import of British machine tools because of Alfred Herbert's great interest in its South African associates. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that such a policy of urging the use of tariffs against other machine tool manufacturers could cause unnecessary hostility to an industry in the publicly-owned sector?

That is a specialised matter which does not arise from the Question on the Order Paper. However, if the right hon. Gentleman writes to me and gives me more information I shall have the matter looked into.

Does not the Minister agree that the logic in the question asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) should lead him to the proposition that neither the TUC nor the CBI should have any sort of privileged position?

That is an interesting observation but I do not think that that is what my hon. Friend meant.

Leisure, Brewing And Manufacturing

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what was the return. before tax, on capital employed in the leisure industry, in the brewing industry and in the manufacturing industries as a whole in each of the years from 1973 to the last year for which figures are available.

For large listed companies operating mainly in the United Kingdom in manufacturing industries, the rate of return on net trading assets, measured at replacement costs, was 7 per cent. in 1973, 3½ per cent. in 1974 and—provisionally—3 per cent. in 1975. Corresponding figures are not available for companies in the leisure and brewing industries.

Does not the Minister agree that it is rather curious that no figures are available for the brewing industry? If they were available—I declare an interest here—they would show that over recent years the brewing industry has been earning less as a return on capital than the cost of new money. Does not that factor make it rather odd that it should be the one industry singled out for examination by the Price Commission?

The singling out of the brewing industry is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, but I am sure that his decision to have that industry examined carefully was widely welcomed by many people who have a direct interest in the drinking of beer. We shall have to wait to see what the investigation finds.

Is the Minister aware that the latest pronouncement on the brewing industry by the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection will, it is estimated by the brewing industry, delay £250 million of new investment, with all that that means for jobs? Will the Minister have a word with his right hon. Friend so that in future, before he makes these grandiose announcements on prices, he takes jobs into account as well?

I understand that in this not-so-crowded hour the hon. Member is seeking to raise all sorts of issues. However, if he wants to tackle the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection he should have the decency and courtesy to put down a Question to him.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the social and revenue implications of the brewing industry, there might be a case for requiring it to hive off brewing interests from the other interests into which it is spreading with a view to securing special taxation arrangements?

The problem of investment in the brewing industry is specifically under examination. The Government are giving every inducement to encourage investment across the whole of industry, and we expect an increase in the level of investment this year of between 10 and 15 per cent., which will contribute towards the economic recovery now on the horizon under the present Government.

Trade

Polish Footwear

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects to be in a position to make a statement on the investigation started on 8th April 1976 into allegations of the dumping of men's footwear by Poland.

I announced on 3rd March that we had obtained a satisfactory undertaking on the future price levels of men's leather sandals from Poland. No other formal investigations into Polish footwear are in progress. The application in connection with men's pigskin suede shoes is still under consideration.

Is the Minister aware—if he is not, he should be—that there are still considerable problems facing the British footwear industry, which will regard the further delay into the investigation, which is still going on, with some concern? Is he also aware that there is a shortage of orders in the home industry? When will he do more to encourage home production to keep jobs in this country rather than Eastern Europe?

I am well aware of the concern that has been expressed by the footwear industry, especially on imports. That is why we have taken extensive action to cut back imports from Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. We are also, for the third year running, holding down the level of imports of men's, women's and children's leather shoes from those three countries to between 5 and 10 per cent. below the 1974 level.

With regard to the continued investigation into imported pigskin suede shoes, a few days ago the EEC negotiated a voluntary restraint level on all leather footwear imported into the United Kingdom from Poland. For that reason I do not think that we could initiate a full antidumping investigation in respect of one part of the overall range. However, we will be having informal discussions with the Poles in the next few days on that issue.

Do the Government contemplate with satisfaction the prospect that in three months' time all these difficult and tedious matters will be dealt with by the bureaucracy of the EEC and not by Her Majesty's Government?

It is the fact that on 1st July anti-dumping powers pass to Brussels. We are, as I have said on a number of occasions, retaining an antidumping unit in order to assist British industry with anti-dumping applications. A member of our Anti-Dumping Unit has recently been taken on by the Commission, in order to ensure that the vigour we show will be taken on by that body.

Energy

Joint European Torus Project

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement about the Council of Ministers' meeting, in view of the consequences of the failure to agree a site for the JET project.

JET was discussed by the Research Council on 29th March. I regret that the Council was again unable to agree on a site. It was agreed that the choice now lay between Culham and Garching, but the view was held that the choice of site could not be made until the basis of the organisational structure had been decided. The organisational proposals put forward by the Commission and Council Secretariat, which we supported, proved to be unacceptable to some member States.

The Council agreed that this matter would have to be further prepared by officials and that the Council should then meet again as soon as possible to try to reach agreement on both site and organisation. In order to give time for this, the Commission will extend the contracts of the JET design team at Culham, which would otherwise expire on 30th June.

Will the Minister explain why the Government were not prepared to make a statement on a research project which is crucially important to the whole of Europe and why it needed a Question to be tabled to receive an answer at all from the Government? Does he understand that the Opposition are concerned about the failure to reach agreement and the bitterness that arose out of the chairmanship of the meeting by the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman)? Will he say what reassurance has been given to the members of the research team at Culham, as there is evidence that it is breaking up? Will he also say whether a date has been agreed for the next meeting, as it is vital that the matter should be resolved at the earliest possible date?

The hon. Gentleman asked why the Government did not make a statement. One of the reasons is that we do not take the cynical view shown by the implication of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman's Question, the Government regard the question of fusion as an issue that Europe will require to decide.

I want to refute the hon. Gentleman's allegation about the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry. The Government cannot accept responsibility for reports that appeared in the Press. The hon. Gentleman may take some comfort from the fact that at that meeting members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend on the manner and the method with which he chaired the meeting, which they admitted was a very difficult one. It is from the Council that the compliments come. The Government cannot accept any responsibility for the Press.

The research work at Culham is complementary to the JET programme and is not dependent on JET being sited there. Culham's work would continue with some modifications even if JET were abandoned.

Is it not regrettable that the decision which was about to be taken to site the JET project at Culham was nullified because of the pique of some of the smaller members of the Community because the British Government refused to accept the agricultural price review proposals? Does not my hon. Friend think that it is highly regrettable that that kind of situation should occur?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is regrettable that no decision was taken. As I said in answer to the original Question, an issue that everyone thought had been decided was the question of the structure. On the second issue, the Government were assured that the agricultural policy had no bearing on the difficulty arising in reaching a decision.

Notwithstanding the last part of the hon. Gentleman's answer, is this not a lamentable example once again of the Government's failure to be positive in their European policy? No doubt this link exists between the agricultural meeting and the energy meeting. Will the Minister confirm that when he next goes back to Brussels on this matter he will try to secure a positive outcome before it is too late?

I am surprised at the way the hon. Gentleman has posed his question—talking about a lamentable failure by the Government. It was a surprise to everyone that the question of the structure and the organisation should be mentioned. One member State, much to the surprise of everybody, said "We have to get this organisation and structure correct. If we do not, the question of legality will be involved and the whole of the JET fusion programme will be in danger." The hon. Gentleman may reflect that we have had a number of debates in the House, and the Government have given a very firm commitment to fusion. If the position went awry on 29th March, of course the Council would require to meet again and come to some decision on it.

We did not manage to speak with one voice at the meeting, although I think that there was a general appreciation at the meeting that the EEC has to deal with the question of fusion and has to have a fusion technology.

As the dispute has been dragging on for around two years, will the Minister answer the important question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) as to whether a date has now been fixed for the next meeting and whether the dispute is likely to be settled at that meeting? Will he further comment on the Press report that one reason why the talks broke down was that the chair was taken by the Minister of State, Department of Industry, the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), so that the Secretary of State for Energy could present his case?

I thought that I had answered the last question first, and I believed that the hon. Gentleman would accept what I said—that members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry on the way in which he chaired the meeting, with the usual expertise that one would associate with him. [Interruption.] It is on the record that the members of the Council complimented my hon. Friend. I am concerned about the manner in which this information is being received. I am giving the House facts about what other member States did and said.

The beginning of May was a suggested date. As for the dispute going on for two years, the hon. Gentleman should check back. A dispute like this has not gone on for two years. The question of where the site should be had been an issue, but I think that most member States thought that the question of organisation and structure had already been decided.

Civil Service

Dispersal

15.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many representations he has received to date opposing the dispersal of the Civil Service; and what is the estimated up-to-date cost of this dispersal.

Since the Government's announcement of the dispersal programme on 30th July 1974, I have received a total of 51 representations opposing the programme. These have come mainly from Members representing constituencies in or near London. By contrast, dispersal is keenly welcomed in the receiving areas. The costs are being reassessed in the light of the current review of the dispersal timetable.

Does the right hand of this ambidextrous Government know what the left hand is doing? In the light of changing economic circumstances, does it make any sense to shuffle 15,000 people and 30,000 jobs out of London when the Department of the Environment is trying to get offices and factories to reopen in London? Is it not likely that the Civil Service Department will spend £300 million on this dispersal of the Civil Service, which the Department of the Environment will then re-spend on getting people and jobs back here again?

There is no contradiction in the Government's policies in this regard. The London situation ought to be kept in perspective. London still has a much greater share of office employment than any other part of the country. The Government's dispersal policy is designed to help ease the structural unemployment which exists in the Scottish, Welsh and English regions.

Is not dispersal of civil servants from London long overdue? It was first suggested by a Conservative Government, and this Government have carried out the policy. Does not my hon. Friend realise that, unless there is dispersal of civil servants, those in other parts of the country who want promotion within the Civil Service will always have to uproot their homes and come to London? That is wrong.

I accept my right hon. Friend's point about the career development prospects for civil servants in the regions.

Does the Minister realise that his words do not match his deeds? Does he recall that in a recent parliamentary answer to a Question of mine he revealed that the total number of civil servants moved to the assisted areas in the last year was 0·02 per cent. of the total? If he really believes that the dispersal of civil servants has a contribution to make to regional policy, why does he not get on with it? If he does not believe it, why does he not scrap the whole thing?

There is no contradiction in the answer I gave to the Question tabled by the hon. Gentleman on a previous occasion. The Government's dispersal programme is phased over a period of 10 years. The programme is to disperse 31,000 Civil Service posts from London and the South-East during the period 1974 to 1984. The timing is under reconsideration, but the Government remain firmly committed to that programme.

Does my hon. Friend accept that as long as he adheres to the policy of Civil Service dispersal he will have overwhelming support from this side of the House? Will he consider, in relation to the projects for the Glasgow area, not necessarily waiting for the full buildings to be constructed but starting on the movement now, particularly of civil servants in the Ministry of Overseas Development?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government remain firmly committed. However, as he will appreciate, and as has generally been acknowledged, the Government have imposed a moratorium on capital building during the next 12 months. This might conceivably affect the time phasing of the dispersal programme.

Do the Govern-men really mean business? When will the Minister give us a new date for starting work on the building of the Ministry of Defence in Glasgow and of the Directorate of Overseas Surveys office in East Kilbride? Is he aware that he told us at the end of last year that the programme had been delayed and that he hoped to announce new dates very soon? In fact, no new dates have since been given. Is he aware that people in Glasgow are becoming increasingly worried about the strength of the Government's commitment?

I can understand the interest which all Scottish Members have shown in the dispersal of Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Overseas Development jobs to Glasgow. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall announce the new timetable as soon as is practicable and possible.

Pensions

16.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service by what percentage the pensions of civil servants whose pensions are index-linked have risen since March 1974.

Since March 1974 three annual increases, payable from 1st December each year, have been awarded to public service pensioners under the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971. These give a cumulative increase of 67·2 per cent.

If, as is rumoured, the scheme is amended or scrapped, will not the sufferers be carrying the can for the social contract, which has been responsible for unemployment and inflation? Does not the Minister agree that the main task is somehow further to increase incentives for skilled workpeople and entrepreneurs, without whom the country will not recover its prosperity and recover from three disastrous years of Socialism, to which has now been added the Liberal seal of good housekeeping?

The indexing of Civil Service pensions arises from the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971, which was placed on the statute book by the Conservative Party, to which the hon. Gentleman belongs.

Will my hon. Friend refute the suggestion in today's Daily Telegraph that the scheme is to be scrapped? Will he also remind the House that if any action were to be taken to amend the scheme legislation would be necessary, since public service pensioners have a statutory right to their pensions? Is he aware that many of us on the Labour side of the House would be vociferously opposed to any such move? Will he also remind the House that policemen, teachers, firemen and other public servants—as well as civil servants—are affected by the legislation?

I can assure my hon. Friend that he is absolutely right in his interpretation of the provisions of the 1971 Act. Civil servants have a statutory right to the indexing of their pensions. I accept that there has been appreciable public expenditure involved in the indexing of pensions for civil servants and public servants generally. As regards civil servants, during the three increases referred in the answer, in 1976 the increase amounted to £31 million, in 1975 to £41 million and in December 1974 to £21 million.

Does the Minister agree that when the scheme was introduced no one contemplated the present high rate of inflation? The nation as a whole has to bear the cost of index-linked pensions. Would it not think it much fairer if the pensions were linked to the rise in average earnings or the cost of living, whichever was lower?

Let me reiterate the point made earlier in an intervention with regard to a review of Civil Service pensions. The review of Civil Service pensions increases is under constant scrutiny by the Government. We invariably announce the outcome of that review each July. The hon. Gentleman is, however, absolutely right when he refers to the alternatives facing the Government by way of the retail price index or earnings. He might be interested to know that, as far as earnings are concerned, the figure I have given represents the rise in the cost of living from June 1973 to 1976. Over the same period the earnings index rose by 70·2 per cent. and the wages index by 86·4 per cent.

Scotland And Wales Bill

23.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he has yet completed his talks with Opposition parties about the future of the Scotland and Wales Bill; and if he will make a statement.

25.

asked the Lord President of the Council what progress he is making in his discussions about the Scotland and Wales Bill.

27.

asked the Lord President of the Council whether, in view of the talks currently being held, he will make a statement about the progress of the Scotland and Wales Bill.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)

The discussions are still in progress. I shall report to the House when the outcome is known.

In order to recommence progress on implementing the devolution commitment, will my right hon. Friend make an early announcement about the possibility of separate Bills for Scotland and Wales and also about the holding of an early referendum according to the policy of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, whose view ought to receive more recognition from this Government than any Opposition party?

I fully accept what my hon. Friend says about the necessity for an early statement, and we shall do our best to make one. We are, of course, having consultations with other parties, as we said, but we are also having close consultation with members of the Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party, and, indeed, with others who wish to make representations. On the two points mentioned by my hon. Friend, representations have been made about proposals for two Bills rather than one. As he will recall, that was debated in the House, but we will consider representations on that subject. On the second matter, a pre-Bill referendum was recommended by the Scottish Conference of the Labour Party, as my hon. Friend rightly recalls. None the less, we still think that there are very considerable objections to such a proposal.

Does the Lord President recall that in last Wednesday's debate he said that he still expected to get a satisfactory Bill on devolution on the statute book within this Parliament? Will he define what he meant by those words? Does he mean in this Session? If so, does he mean by October or so? If that is the case, is he not running very short of time?

It is undoubtedly the case that the failure to secure a majority for a timetable motion has caused some delay in progress. That is well understood by all observant Members of this House and possibly by others outside, but it does not alter the fact that we are determined to carry through a measure of this great constitutional character within the period of this Parliament. As it becomes more and more apparent that only a Labour Government would carry through such a measure, that is one reason among many why this Parliament should go its full time.

Since the Lord President will have noticed the predictable absence of representatives of the Liberal Party, does he not think that there is a strong caes for strengthening membership of the joint consultative committee by adding the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) and possibly the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) to the Committee?

There is a great distinction between those two propositions. I am always very eager to consult my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), but the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) stands high on the the list of hon. Members of whom I cannot say the same.

In view of the fact that a number of us argued very strongly during the course of the devolution Bill that there should be a pre-Bill referendum, and in view of the fact that the Scottish Council of the Labour Party has now adopted that policy, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend and bring it forward as a mater of urgency, because many of us feel that if the people of Scotland or Wales genuinely wanted devolution there could be no more argument against it in this House?

I understand the representations made by my hon. Friend and by those at the Scottish conference. I was present at the conference when the debate on this matter took place. I think that my hon. Friend and others in the House must take into account the extremely powerful arguments against a pre-Bill referendum. It could give rise to considerable confusion. The matters on which such a referendum would take place are nothing like as clear as they would be on a Bill which had actually passed through this House, and I believe that there are serious constitutional objections to such a proposal. However, as I said before, that does not mean that the Government have absolutely excluded the possibility. I have merely said that that is the general approach we have to the matter at the moment.

Can the Lord President give an indication of when he envisages the first elections to a Scottish Assembly taking place? We take a great interest in this matter. Beyond that, can he give an assurance that the passing of such a Bill will be made an issue of confidence with his own Back Benchers, in view of the failure of 44 Members to support the commitment?

We had always hoped that the first elections to the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies would take place in the spring of 1978. We still believe that that would have been a good date. It is certainly not the fault of the Government that that date is to be delayed, if it has to be delayed. But we certainly look forward to the hon. Lady's support and that of her hon. Friends when we proceed further with the devolution measure. I repeat that only a Labour Government can carry through this great constitutional measure. That is why we propose to stay here to carry that measure through, along with many others.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on these Benches were glad to see that the White Paper published on another series of elections as recently as last Friday acknowledges the undesirability of making major constitutional changes without a wide measure of support? Does he recall that over six weeks ago I put to him a proposition that an all-party convention should be convened precisely so that that wide measure of support could be achieved? The right hon. Gentleman rejected the proposition at first and then had second thoughts about it to some extent. Does he realise that the House of Commons would like to hear at an early date what progress has been made with all the parties and whether he will set up such a convention in order to get the widespread support necessary for a constitutional change of this magnitude?

As I said in my original reply, I shall make a statement as soon as we have had time to see what progress is made in the talks. As I indicated before, I am extremely doubtful whether an all-party convention of the type described by the right hon. Gentleman is the best way to proceed—not through any prejudice against him, but because I believe that it would be likely that such an all-party convention would end in complete deadlock. It may be better for us to have some of these further conversations and then to bring forward further proposals which have a good chance of getting a majority in the House.

House Of Commons

Broadcasting

24.

asked the Lord President of the Council when sound broadcasting of the proceedings of the House will commence.

The Joint Committee which has been considering permanent broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings has completed its work and will shortly publish its report. If the Joint Committee's proposals are approved, broadcasting will begin as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those boxes over there have been there for months and that many of us who voted against televising the proceedings of this House were equally keen on continuing to broadcast the proceedings as quickly as possible? Has my hon. Friend a date for this beginning yet?

I am conscious of the time that it has taken, but I have to deal with the Services Committee, the Treasury, the Joint Committee, Members of this House and the other place. It has not been easy, but we hope to begin broadcasting by the autumn.

Does the Minister feel that there is a grave dilemma on the question of financing the arrangement? Does he feel that, as a quid pro quo for getting the facilities here physically, it is the broadcasting authorities which should bear the whole cost?

We have never asked the Press or the broadcasting authorities to pay for their accommodation, heating and lighting, and I see no cause for doing so on this occasion. We are hoping to find an arrangement acceptable to the BBC and IBA, in which we shall provide at least the basic accommodation. The rest will be borne by them, and their annual costs will be much greater than our capital costs on a one-off basis.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the date for the start of sound broadcasting is being put back again and again? If it is not possible to have a definite arrangement for permanent accommodation, could not some temporary accommodation be given to both the BBC and the IBA, with permanent accommodation added at a later date?

We looked at that and, as I understand it, the Services Committee has said that Cromwell Green is not possible. We have now had to look at a permanent arrangement and we believe that we have found a solution which will be acceptable to the House and to the broadcasters. But I give the assurance that no further public expenditure and no arrangements will be authorised until the matter has come back to the House.

Did the Minister say that no public expenditure will be authorised until the matter has come back to the House? Surely some expenditure has already been incurred. How much has been incurred, and on what Vote? On which Votes, in future, will other expenditure be carried?

The decision to authorise the boxes was taken in the middle of the night on an occasion when the hon. Gentleman was obviously not able to be present. I said that no further public expenditure would be used on broadcasting as a permanent arrangement. If the hon. Gentleman would care to see me, I will give him chapter and verse about how those boxes were built by this House when he was absent.