House Of Commons
Tuesday 5th April 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
British Transport Docks Bill
Lords amendments agreed to.
Shrewsbury And Atcham Borough Council (Frankwell Footbridge) Bill
As amended, considered; to be read the Third time.
Oral Answers To Questions
Health And Personal Social Services
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether there will be a fall in total public spending on the health and personal social services in 1977–78 compared with the current year.
No, Sir. The total public spending planned for the health and personal social services in England is £7 million greater in 1977–78 than in 1976–77 at 1976 survey prices.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State could reconcile that with the figures in the Public Expenditure White Paper, which indicate a fall.
Yes, indeed. The figures for health and personal social services took account of the estimated revenue from the levy on motorists through vehicle insurers. The net amount of these services will, therefore, be higher by this amount—in England, £15½ million in 1977–78 and £34 million annually thereafter, at 1976 prices. Therefore, that factor was not included in the figures that the hon. Gentleman read.
Does the Minister agree that reduction in public spending is assisted by the income derived from pay beds? What steps is he taking to ensure that the Health Services Board carries out the Goodman proposals, fulfils the undertakings that the Minister gave to the House and carries out the requirements of the Act?
First, the revenue for the year about which we are talking, 1977–78, would have been very modest indeed in terms of pay beds. Secondly, the Health Services Board is, of course, carrying out absolutely to the letter the conditions laid down by the legislation of this House. I have very great confidence in the Chairman and members of the Health Services Board, who are doing their job very well.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will report on recent meetings between Ministers and representatives of widows' organisations.
On 9th March I spoke at the "Fair Play for Widows" rally organised by the National Association of Widows, and on 11th March my right hon. Friend met the Chairman of the War Widows' Association of Great Britain. In each case we listened with interest to the views of widows on a variety of issues.
Is the Minister aware that we are very disappointed that those representations have clearly had no effect whatsoever? Does he accept that as the personal allowance increase in the Budget is less than 10 per cent. and as widows' pensions seem bound to rise by more than that, the tax position of widows will get even worse later this year than it is now? Will he make sure that his Treasury friends do something about this in the Finance Bill?
I am well aware, as are the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), that the issue of taxation was raised very strongly by widows at the rally and with my right hon. Friend. Those views were passed on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. However, for the fourth time since we took office in 1974, there has been a rise, and the real value of these benefits is now about 15 per cent. higher than it was in October 1973.
No doubt the Minister will recollect that he got a very rough ride indeed at the widows' conference at Central Hall. Will he realise and accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) that the great burden of their complaint was that they now have to pay tax at a ridiculously low level of income—indeed, almost at the same level as their pension? Why has nothing been done about this in the Budget, in view of the very strong representations made by the widows, and presumably made to the Minister at the meeting to which he referred?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, no one came out of that rally—including himself—smelling of roses. The ladies concerned were very forthright. I make no objection to that. In fact, following the rally I received from Mrs. June Hemer, the honorary general secretary of the National Association of Widows, a very generous letter of thanks for attending the rally. The points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised were passed on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Will the Minister let the House know how much better off widows with children are because of the new Child Benefit Scheme, and how much administrative expenditure has been involved in implementing that great improvement in their income?
There has been no loss from the transfer to child benefit to the widows.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the administration of the Child Benefit Scheme.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many children are still not registered for child benefit purposes.
The Child Benefit Scheme started yesterday, and I am satisfied with the way things have gone. Nearly 14 million children will be within the scope of the scheme. About 11 million of these are in families previously getting family allowances and, therefore, already on the record for child benefit. Of the 2·8 million children in families with only one child, about 2·4 million have claimed the benefit. We are, therefore, only about 400,000 claims short out of nearly 14 million. I hope that many of these will claim now that the scheme has begun.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State can explain to the House and to all single-parent families why Form CH11 for single-parent families was not issued earlier than the middle of March so that these families could claim the additional 50p. In many social security offices and in no post office that I have come across is the form available now that the scheme has started. The situation is an utter disgrace.
That is rubbish, because people were able to make their claim, they have made their claim, and we have written to all those who have not made their claim to make certain that they get their full entitlement.
Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House when every post office will have the relevant form for every category of both parents and children who wish to claim any of these benefits?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that almost every post office has those forms. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true."] It is true. We have made a careful check of the Post Office. I know that every now and again it has been possible to find a post office that has run out of supplies of the leaflet, but by dint of the fact that up to yesterday only 400,000 people out of a total of 14 million had not claimed one can see the extent to which people have known of their entitlement. I have no doubt as a result of the publicity that has been given to the launching of the scheme, and of Press conferences held by my right hon. Friend and by myself, many of the 400,000 who have not claimed will now do so. I believe that we shall achieve almost 100 per cent. take-up within the next few weeks.
The right hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. The fact is that it is 400,000 out of the 2,800,000 who had to claim. The rest did not have to make a claim. Is not the fact that one person in seven has not claimed a universal benefit of this sort a disgrace and a real reflection on the way in which the Child Benefit Scheme has been bungled from its very start?
Some of the 400,000 who have not claimed will be children who will be leaving school at Easter—they have probably left this week—and others will be leaving school in June. They have 10 weeks in which to claim, and I hope that they will do so. That accounts for a large number of those who have not claimed.It is about time that the Opposition stopped nit-picking on this issue. In spite of our economic problems, we have been able to make a start with what all of us recognise is an extremely important social change. Not only will it provide immediate help for the poorer families by providing for the first child in every family, but it is the basis on which we shall be able increasingly to channel help to families. It is about time that people on both sides of the House who genuinely believe in the scheme gave a welcome to it instead of indulging in all the nit-picking that is discouraging people from applying.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent consultations he has had with organisations representing the disabled.
My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled is in close and constant touch with organisations representing disabled people. I myself had a meeting earlier this month with representatives of the Central Council for the Disabled and have also recently met the ex-Service organisations concerned with helping the war disabled and representatives of the Queen Elizabeth Foundation. I shall be addressing the annual conference of BLESMA in May and, with my hon. Friend, will be maintaining the closest possible contact with all the voluntary organisations in the disablement field.
What answer does the right hon. Gentleman have for young people newly and severely disabled with no hope of providing a vehicle from their own resources? What chance have they of anything remotely approaching a normal mobile way of life under the right hon. Gentleman's present policy?
I have said that it is our anxiety to ensure that no one is immobilised as a result of the withdrawal of the tricycles. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the number of people who receive that assistance will be increased greatly as a result of the mobility allowance.With regard to the particular point made by the hon. Gentleman, my reply is that I have been having discussions with the Central Council for the Disabled to examine the possibility of further assistance to recipients of mobility allowance to enable them to use the allowance to purchase a suitable vehicle. The discussions are proceeding. It is too early to make any announcement.
Has my right hon. Friend, or our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the disabled, had any discussions with organisations of dentists that are trying to do something for those who are mentally or physically handicapped? Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is a disgraceful blot on the Government's otherwise first-class record that those who are either mentally or physically disabled are not able to get dental treatment under the National Health Service?
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has received a deputation on precisely this subject from my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues. I assure my hon. Friend that we are giving the matter careful consideration.
Has the right hon. Gentleman had discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer following his Budget? The imposition of the tax on petrol means that many of the disabled who still have a vehicle will be less mobile than before.
This is a matter about which there is consultation. The mobility allowance will be uprated when we come to November of this year, and it will not be long before I shall announce the uprating figure.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the criteria for mobility allowance are being applied consistently?
I know that this problem has been worrying my hon. Friend, and I believe that he is in correspondence with our hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the disabled. If there are ways in which it is thought that we can make the criteria more acceptable, I assure my hon. Friend that we shall do that.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the operation of the orange dot parking scheme for the disabled?
I think the hon. Gentleman will know that this scheme has recently been extended. Perhaps it would help if I were to write to the hon. Gentleman giving him the full details.
I thank the Minister.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he plans to introduce further legislation to assist the disabled.
Important advances have been made in legislative provision in recent years. Further improvements are necessary to help disabled people and will be carried through when resources allow. Regulations to extend the non-contributory invalidity pension to disabled housewives from November of this year are now before the National Insurance Advisory Committee. We shall also be making regulations this summer to provide the attendance allowance for foster-parents caring for severely handicapped children.
Is it not clear that the mobility of the disabled will be affected adversely by the increase of 5½p per gallon in petrol tax? Instead of introducing new legislation, is the Minister prepared to listen not only to Liberal Party Members but to those representing the disabled, with a view either to an interim increase in the mobility allowance or to finding a way in which the disabled will not have to pay the additional 5½p?
My right hon. Friend has already commented on that. We appreciate the importance of mobility costs to disabled people. We are in the process of trebling my Department's expenditure on mobility for the disabled. At the same time we have said that we shall increase the mobility allowance, not only in amount but in value, this year. The hon. Member can be assured that his request will be considered carefully.
Does my hon. Friend agree that much can be done for disabled people, particularly those confined to their homes, within the confines of present legislation? Having seen the scheme in Rossendale for decorating the homes of the disabled, will the Minister approach voluntary groups and local authorities in other areas and suggest that they use job creation schemes to ensure that projects such as that in Rossendale are extended to other parts of the country?
I visited my hon. Friend's constituency recently. The Disablement Income Group in that area has, with the help of the job creation scheme, operated a remarkable programme of help for disabled people. I agree that the scheme is one that could be studied with profit in localities throughout the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his part in the making of the scheme.
Will the Minister make it clear that the word "disabled" is not confined to people with handicaps and problems of movement but includes people such as the deaf and the blind?
I am aware of the hon. Member's senior office in one of the main organisations helping the blind. I agree with him that people believe that there is such a being as a standard disabled person. It would sometimes help employers to meet their commitments if they realised that we were talking not only of people in wheelchairs but about those who are blind or deaf or who have other severe handicaps.
Will my hon. Friend give a progess report to the House about the modern hearing aid provided privately and perhaps under the National Health Service?
We are making good progress with the new behind-the-ear hearing aid. We estimate that there will be about 1 million beneficiaries of this new provision when the phasing-in programme is complete. As the latest date for which figures are available, 175,000 people in England had received the new aid. The figure for the United Kingdom at 31st December 1976 was 215,000. That is a remarkable achievement for people who are hard of hearing.
Will the Minister reconsider his answers to the Leader of the Scottish National Party and to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) about the increase in petrol tax? Is he aware that for seven months disabled drivers must pay the increased cost of petrol because the Liberal Party did not oppose it last night? Is it not time for this to be reconsidered? I know that it may require legislation, but why should disabled drivers have to pay for seven months?
The hon. Member must appreciate that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has already said that we are in consultation. There is nothing that I can add at present, other than to say that it was the present Government who restored the petrol allowance for disabled drivers and who doubled it in 1975.
Doctors' Lists (Removal Of Names)
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the working of paragraph 10 of the terms of service for general medical practitioners, under which a practitioner is not required to assign any reason for the removal of a patient from his list; and whether he has any evidence of anxiety caused to elderly people, in certain cases, by the operation of this paragraph.
I recognise that removal from a doctor's list may sometimes be upsetting, particularly to elderly people, but general practitioners are independent contractors who have a freedom to choose their patients, as patients have the freedom to choose their doctors.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are at least grounds for suspicion that a minority of general practitioners rather resent having elderly people on their lists because, naturally, they take up more time and attention of the doctor than do younger people, and that such patients are removed from the list without justifiable cause?In any case, is it not a matter of common sense and, indeed, common justice that once a doctor has accepted a patient on his list and, therefore, undertaken at public expense to provide the necessary care and attention when needed, the doctor should at least be required to give a reason if he wishes to remove that patient from his list?
If there are general practitioners who take the attitude that my hon. Friend describes, the evidence indicates that they are a small minority. If my hon. Friend has a particular allegation to make, I shall be grateful for the details so that I can look into the case.On the question of accepting people on to a list, from time to time there are disagreements between patients and doctors, but it is not obvious that the announcement of reasons in public as to why people are removed from a list would be to the advantage of patients.
Is the Minister ready to condemn the slur on doctors by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther)? Will he accept that the really important point in this matter is that there should be a foolproof arrangement for patients who have been asked to leave a doctor's list to be covered by some other doctor, and would not the arrangement between a doctor and a patient whom he did not wish to have on his list be intolerable if it were forced to continue?
I did not understand my hon. Friend to be making any slur about doctors in general. However, I do not accept that all doctors are beyond criticism. There are procedures whereby someone who is removed from a doctor's list and experiences difficulty in finding another doctor may apply to the family practitioners committee for help.
Elderly Mentally Infirm Patients
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will issue guidance to the area health authorities covering their responsibility for the elderly mentally infirm, and the balance of responsibility between area health authorities and local government.
Guidance on the provision of services for mental illness related to old age was issued to statutory health and local authorities in 1972. I am considering whether further advice is needed.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that an argument is developing in Sheffield between the local authority and the area health authority about the care of the elderly mentally infirm? Is he aware that the health authority claims that they do not need medical treatment and that the local authority claims that they are beyond basic care? Should not the position be clarified?
One thing that pleases me about the dispute is that a joint working party has been established between the Sheffield Area Health Authority (Teaching) and the Sheffield Metropolitan District Council to see how they can improve the services for the elderly mentally infirm in the area. They have recently accepted the recommendation of their joint consultation committee and a joint working party has been set up to try to work out an agreement. It held its first meeting on 11th March, and I hope that an agreement will be reached on this difficult issue.
Does the Secretary of State accept that this, sadly, is an increasing problem? Is he satisfied that sufficient resources are allocated tinder the National Health Service for mental health care, particularly for the elderly?
It is a problem in many parts of the country. In the consultation document that was sent out last year we emphasised that priority should be given to services for the mentally ill and mentally handicapped, and particularly to the elderly mentally ill. In many regions that priority has been fully accepted. In some areas it has not been accepted as fully. I am investigating the situation as it applies region by region because it is one of the services to which priority should be given even at a time when the growth of resources is admittedly modest.
When looking at the situation region by region, will the Secretary of State give guidance to the area health authorities, because there is some evidence that psychiatrists and geriatricians find it difficult to deal with elderly psychiatric patients because they believe that geriatric patients should be treated as psychiatric patients and that in some instances psychiatric patients should be treated as geriatric patients? Will he look at this situation, because many elderly people are suffering unnecessarily?
I understand that there is some dispute. Our anxiety is to ensure that the elderly mentally infirm should be able to live as long as possible in the community and not in our hospitals. We lay great stress on domiciliary services to minimise the number of people who have to be admitted to psycho-geriatric wards.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, despite his guidance to area health authorities, the funds available to deal with this problem are completely inadequate? Is it not a fact that this is unlikely to be overcome until we increase our gross national product and have more money to spare?
I cannot disagree with that. It is true that if there was more money in general we could allocate more funds for this purpose. Conservative Members are very insistent on limiting public expenditure, and we cannot exclude even the Health Service from such limitation. However, what we can do, within our limited resources, is to get our priorities right, and our principal priority must be to give help to the Cinderella services, which include those for elderly people, the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped. This is the policy that I am pursuing.
Elderly Persons (Mobility Allowance)
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further representations he has received regarding the extension of the mobility allowance to older persons; and if he will make a statement.
I have had a number of representations about extending the allowance to people over pensionable age. The problem is one of cost. An extra annual sum of the order of £125 million would be required to make the allowance payable beyond pensionable age. Our immediate priority for older people has been to increase the level of retirement pensions, and this has already been done four times in the past three years. Altogether, the improvements to date in pensions and benefits since we took office have cost about £1,500 million.
Will the Minister, who has done so much in this House for the disabled, bear in mind that many of the disabled persons who do not get the benefits of the mobility allowance suffer from regressive illnesses and may never receive any such benefit unless the age category is extended as soon as possible? I appeal to the Minister to do his best as soon as the resources are available to extend the scheme and so enable other disabled people to enjoy these benefits.
We hope to build on the present scheme as soon as we can. No one knows more than my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) that there is a strong claim on behalf of blind people to be included in the mobility allowance scheme. Unfortunately, we have an infinite number of claims but finite resources.
Is the Minister aware that there is a progressively greater need for the allowance among elderly groups? These people are worse off under the current Government proposals than they were under the previous plan. Will he extend the scheme in some way in order to help these unfortunate people?
I appreciate the problems of elderly people who are disabled. Under the terms of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, we have been able to take some elderly disabled people across retirement age while retaining the benefits of the allowance. I shall bear in mind the points that have been made in this series of questions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is something rather ridiculous about the present arrangements, which mean that a constituent of mine in his twenties who needs a tricycle to get to work—in all other respects he is self-supporting—cannot have such a vehicle, but that if he were 51 years old he could?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the transitional problems. It is because people are not entitled to a mobility allowance if they are over 50 that they may still apply for vehicles. There is an implication that his constituent is a person who needs extra help to get to and from work, and I shall have the particular case looked at in conjunction with my colleagues at the Department of Employment.
Is the Minister aware that the average weekly travel-to-work payment of the Department of Employment is £9·04? This is nearly double the mobility allowance. Would it not be sensible, in order to release more money for pensioners to receive the mobility allowance, to look at what further mobility allowance might be made to the disabled so that they may be made self-supporting by provision of additional help for travelling to work?
I am in very close contact with my ministerial colleagues at the Department of Employment on this matter. I emphasise that the sum is not less than its parts. Those who want to increase public expenditure in every particular item yet depress it in totality should realise that to govern is to choose. I am arguing for the claims of disabled people. I know the interests of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and I am doing everything I can to help disabled people, in consultation with my colleagues.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services by what percentage the parental take-up of whooping-cough vaccine has dropped in the last year.
Complete figures for 1976 are not yet available, but returns from 68 of the 90 area health authorities in England suggest that the number of whooping-cough vaccinations for children under 16 was 4 per cent. lower than in 1975. A much more serious drop occurred in 1974 and 1975.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one factor in the continuing fall in take-up is the uncertainty engendered by the refusal of the Government to take liability for whooping-cough vaccine damage and to pay compensation? The United States Congress has passed into law the swine flu Act under which the American Government accept full liability for the damaging side effects of swine flu vaccination. Is he aware that a document, sent to me by Senator Edward Kennedy a few days ago, indicates that the relationship between the American Department of Health, Education and Welfare and its public is similar to that between the British Social Services Department and its public, and has similar responsibilities?
I am prepared to read carefully any document from any distinguished friend that the hon. Member has in the United States. On the question of compensation, this is not uppermost in the minds of parents. The questions they most consider are whether to get their children vaccinated, and the risks and the advantages. However, following representations from the Association of Parents of Vaccine-Damaged Children, I shall give further consideration to reaching a quick and early decision on the question of compensation. The issues are very complex and are being considered by the Royal Commission on Civil Liabilities and Personal Injury. I am not yet in a position to make a further statement.
Will my right hon. Friend undertake to remind parents of the positive advantages of vaccination? One of the dangers of the present campaign, with which I sympathise, is that people have forgotten what whooping cough is really like and the damage that it can do to small children.
I very much agree, and I deplore statements that have been made that throw doubt on the wisdom of vaccination. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation at its meeting on 29th March issued a statement saying that the continuing decline in the uptake of vaccination, in particular of whooping-cough vaccination, must be viewed with grave concern. The committee stressed that if this trend continued it could only lead to a recurrence of serious communicable diseases, such as diphtheria and polio, on a scale that has not been seen for many years. Already there have been more cases of polio in the past six months than in any similar period in this decade. I honestly hope that young parents will be guided by this expert advice which I have at my disposal.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important thing here is the future of the vaccination programme as a whole? Is it correct that his committee is about to make a further report to him, and, if so, will he publish that report?
The committee issued the statement that I have just read to the House. I have asked it to prepare a more substantial report, to review all the evidence that has been brought to its attention and to publish a report indicating the basis of its advice to me. I anticipate that this report will be available in the next few weeks.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the responsibility for the decline in the immunisation programme must rest clearly with the Government and not with the mothers asking for compensation? A week last Saturday, those parents decided that they would approach the Prime Minister and take the campaign into higher gear. However, they accepted a recommendation that they should stop campaigning for a fortnight in order to allow the Secretary of State to consult his colleagues in the hope that he will grant compensation.
I have told the House that at the earliest possible moment I shall see whether it is possible to make a further statement about compensation. The issues are very difficult indeed, and are not just for me to decide. I think that there are two main reasons for a fall in the level of vaccinations. The first is that too many people think that these diseases have been wiped out for ever and, therefore, they need not worry. The second is that there have been so many statements which cast doubt on the wisdom of the vaccination policy, in spite of all the advice which is brought to bear on me by my most expert advisers.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether within the plans for Preston Hospital provision has been made for a social gynaecology unit.
Provision for the social aspect of gynaecology is included in the general provision for that specialty in the Preston district.
Does that mean that the Lancashire Area Health Authority is prepared to establish an abortion unit at the hospital? If not, how would my hon. Friend seek to advise it in this sphere? Secondly, will he say whether the consultations that the authority is having will include consultation with community organisations concerned with health matters?
The Select Committee on Abortion recommended that there could be separate abortion units, to be established on an experimental basis. We are considering this as a way to solve the particular problems in different parts of the country. But it should be borne in mind that many people share the view expressed by the Lane Committee that abortion should not be separated from other gynaecological services, for reasons of safety. I certainly hope that the authority will consult community groups on its plans in my hon. Friend's part of Lancashire. My right hon. Friend and I are very anxious to promote the position of community health councils, and I hope that the consultation can be channelled through them in order to bring about the best results.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he last met representatives of the pension funds.
In recent months I have had many meetings with those concerned with the provision of occupational pensions.
What has happened to the proposal to hand over half of the positions among occupational pension fund trustees only to employees nominated by the trade unions? Will it be a casualty of the new parliamentary situation, or will the right hon. Gentleman persist with this illiberal measure with the consent of the Liberal Party, despite the strong opposition in the industry and among many employees?
I have had widespread consultation—which has included the CBI, many pensions interests and many trustees—based on the White Paper. Those consultations are continuing.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many married women will undoubtedly find it very difficult to make decisions about their own pension arrangements next May until they know what their employers will do under these schemes? Is he satisfied with progress? Does he not think that the deadline for married women's decisions should be extended?
I am aware of some of the consternation that has been caused in this area. I shall certainly have another look at the matter. I believe that the time scale is satisfactory, but I give that undertaking.
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the social security arrangements for unemployed students.
I am satisfied that unemployed students will be able to claim supplementary benefit in the vacations, if their resources fall short of their requirements. As regards unemployment benefit, the Government have announced their intention of making regulations to remove the entitlement of students to unemployment benefit in the short vacations.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the difficulties that have been caused by the change in the supplementary benefit rules for students midway through the Easter vacation?
I am well aware that there have been some difficulties, but they were caused by a decision of the Court of Appeal, which reversed the long-standing operation of the Supplementary Benefits Scheme. This is a temporary difficulty, which will be overcome as a result of regulations which came into effect on 1st April.
When does the Minister intend to change the regulations affecting claims for unemployment pay in short vacations? How many mature students does he estimate have paid-up contribution records entitling them to claim? If he has not liaised with the Department of Education and Science, is there not a great risk that many mature students will now not go into higher education, as the money is an important topping-up of their living grant?
The regulations have to go to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, and then they will be made and laid before the House. We hope to bring them into operation from the start of the Christmas vacation this year. We are in close touch with the Department of Education and Science. The points that the hon. Gentleman has made will naturally emerge when the House debates the regulations in due course.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Greenwich.
I visited Greenwich on 14th January as part of my tour of docklands. I have at present no plans for a further visit.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he were to return to Greenwich he would meet widespread local concern about the threat to close a number of hospitals in the borough? Does he not think it ridiculous that, at a time when his Government are trying to direct more help to inner urban areas, regional health authorities should be seeking to switch National Health Service resources away from London to aid such unlikely deprived areas as Hastings, Eastbourne and Tunbridge Wells?
I am not aware of the details, but I understand that there is a proposal to close the Royal Herbert Hospital and the maternity hospital at Woolwich when the new Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital opens. I also understand that the majority of the existing staff are likely to be taken on by the new hospital and that little or no staff reductions are expected to be necessary.
When the Prime Minister next visits the dockers in Greenwich or elsewhere, will he explain to them that the Dock Work Regulation Act, although it is not yet in force, will be coming into force because the Liberals did not make it part of the pact that it would not come into force, despite the fact that they say that there is to be no more Socialism?
I am very ready to meet the dockers in Greenwich, Cardiff—my own constituency—or elsewhere. I find them very satisfied with what is happening.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is still a serious disparity between regions such as Trent and some of the London regions in the resources of the National Health Service? Will he encourage the Secretary of State for Social Services to continue the excellent policy of reinforcing those regions which most need help?
It is certainly a part of our programme and philosophy that needs should be met in the first place and that priority should be directed towards need, and I hope that we shall continue to follow that policy.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 5th April.
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 5th April.
In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.
Will my right hon. Friend have time during the day to have an extra meeting with the Leader of the Opposition to invite her publicly to dissociate herself from the disgracefully, filthily racial propaganda used by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Mackay) in the course of winning his seat in this House?
I well recall that after Smethwick there was a certain shame on the part of the Conservative Party at what had happened. This time there seems to be nothing but gloating. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] I have examined what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Mackay) said and have compared it with "The Right Approach" and the speech made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) at the last Conservative Party Conference. What the hon. Gentleman said is not in line—and Conservative Members know that it is not in line—with their declared policy, and some of them should have the courage to say so.
Will the Prime Minister find time today to have further conversations with the foolish virgins of the Liberal Party, in view of the total confusion caused in the country by its "Wouldn't say 'Yes' and wouldn't say 'No'" attitude to current affairs?
I certainly hope to have talks with any Liberal Party Member who wishes to talk with me, or, indeed, with anybody else who has something constructive to say, as Liberal Members have done recently and on so many occasions.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House is waiting to hear from the Leader of the Opposition on the question of racialism, which is important to Conservative Members and to us, and that we therefore wait with great avidity to listen to her?
Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is a pity that he could not join many of us at Mr. Speaker's service in St. Margaret's, Westminster this morning? We had hoped to see representatives of the Government, and I am sorry that he could not find time to join us at this service during Holy Week.
I recall, Mr. Speaker, that you invited me to read the lesson, but, alas, I was engaged on other matters. I do not think that who worships in what circumstances and on what occasions is an appropriate subject for questions in the House.
In what spirit could the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow spokesman on home affairs have attended this morning's service when they have already committed themselves, through the hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Mackay), to ending family unity for thousands of families in this country? Is it not sheer hypocrisy and the worst sort of political vote-catching to assert that they are going to end immigration when the commitments that we have to honour were all taken on by the Conservative Party?
I regret that this becomes a matter of party difference. Racial harmony and the treatment of ethnic minorities in this country is too important for that. However, if it is not to be a matter of party difference, the Opposition must disavow their candidates and representatives who go beyond official party policy. I think that the right hon. Lady has made clear—if she has not, I must do so—that she does not wish thousands of dependants to be deprived of the opportunity to join their families in this country. If she made that simple point, it would help a great deal.
May I make it quite clear that everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Mackay) said and did during that campaign was in the interests of racial harmony? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have made perfectly clear from this Dispatch Box that this was his avowed objective in his election address and in the leaflet, and he had a number of people from the immigrant community helping in his campaign. It is disgraceful that the Prime Minister should attempt to take the rise out of a new Member in the way that he has. [Interruption.] May I, on the anniversary of the right hon. Gentleman becoming Prime Minister, remind him of his broadcast to the nation—[Interruption].
Order. We must allow people to express their point of view and ask questions.
May I remind the Prime Minister of his broadcast a year ago today in which he said that there was a special responsibility upon him to consult the people and to trust the people? Now that he has consulted them in Walsall, Workington and Stechford, does he trust their verdict?
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady did not answer my simple question, which was posed in no spirit of hostility, either to her or to anything else, but merely as an endeavour to get the position clear. We should have it made clear, and I wish that she would restate Conservative policy as soon as possible at some opportunity convenient to herself. I do not instigate these Questions—[Interruption.] If the Opposition Chief Whip took note of these issues, he would realise that the right hon. Lady has specifically not replied to my invitation' that this matter should be settled quickly and simply.As regards my first year—[HON. MEMBERS: "Last year."] It could be. The year has been a stimulating and exciting ride, but I take a simple view of these matters. The Government believe that they are pursuing the right policy to overcome inflation and to reduce unemployment, and they should stick to their guns. The CBI is attacking us for having too much control on prices, and individual trade unionists say that they want more wages. I warn the country that if both have their way there will be no escape from further inflation in the short run and from further unemployment in the medium run. I can only tell people what the consequences will be. The country is entitled to turn us out when we have finished our term of office, but as long as we can sustain a majority in the House we shall pursue the policy that we believe to be right. At the end of the day democracy will have its say, and the electorate is entitled then to declare in whatever way it thinks right. In the meantime, I shall pursue the policy that I know to be the only policy that will get the country out of its difficulties.
If the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] My job is to ask questions. If the Prime Minister is so proud of his policy, how does he explain that our major industrial competitors in Europe have done far better than we have on prices, unemployment and output in the same world circumstances as we have had to endure?
Some countries have done better on prices, including, for example, Germany. Some have done worse. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which ones?"] A clear example is Italy, but I shall not go through the list. Some countries have certainly done worse on unemployment. I cannot over-emphasise that, in the end, the level of industrial productivity and efficiency will determine the levels of inflation and unemployment, and the Opposition had better start telling the people the truth about that.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Coventry.
I have at present no plans to do so.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are disappointed by that reply because we were hoping to compliment him on his first year as Prime Minister and to look forward to at least two more years? Will he make clear when he next comes to Coventry that the Government are fully committed to an expanding British Leyland, which includes the new Mini project, and will he and his colleagues, as a matter of urgency, get the release of the capital funds that we need, not only for the motor industry but for the industrial performance of the country generally?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I take it that when he referred to another two years in office he meant another two years in this Parliament and a further five years afterwards. I should not want there to be any misunderstanding about that among the Opposition.The Labour Government saved British Leyland against the votes of the Opposition and gave an opportunity for the workpeople there, at all levels, to prove that they could produce the goods. It is up to them. A review of projects is going on and I hope that, by their own efforts and work and by the absence of strikes, the workpeople will give the Government confidence to carry on with their additional subventions.
The Prime Minister talks about democracy, but what makes him think that the answer given by the people in his humiliating by-election defeats is wrong and that he is right and that he should stay in office? Had he better not go, and go now?
The people may well be right. They often are. But at the moment, so long as we command a majority in this House, it is our responsibility to conduct affairs as we think right in the interests of the country. We shall continue to do this, and in the end the people may come to see this. I hope this is so.
(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the dispute involving maintenance engineers at Heathrow.
About 4,000 maintenance engineers, members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, employed by British Airways at Heathrow, are taking industrial action in support of a claim—[Interruption.]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter is of considerable interest to a number of hon. Members. We would be pleased if there were some quiet so that we can hear the statement.
The hon. Gentleman is quite correct. This is an important issue and that is why I allowed the Question. I hope that the House will listen quietly.
Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, I should start again and give my reply in full.About 4,000 maintenance engineers, members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, employed by British Airways at Heathrow, are taking industrial action in support of a claim for separate negotiating arrangements and improvements in shift allowances. This action is unofficial and the engineers have been told by their union to work normally while their claim is considered within the usual negotiating machinery. I greatly regret the inconvenience which the travelling public is suffering because of this dispute, and urge the engineers to follow the advice of their union and return to normal working.
Does that answer amount to the wholehearted backing by the Government of the stand taken by British Airways? If that is so, will the Government consider a tripartite call to the men on strike to return to work? By tripartite I mean the Government, British Airways and the trade union leaders. Will the Minister further confirm that, under the policy of cash limits, this nationalised industry will not be in receipt of any further money and, therefore, lost revenue may well result in the need for economy in other areas? Lastly, is there any way in which the Minister can estimate the percentage of people expecting to go on holiday with British Airways this forthcoming Easter weekend—may I declare an interest?—who are likely to be carried by other airlines through the arrangements made by British Airways?
I have been asked a number of questions. I do not think that it is helpful for the Government to be appearing to take sides in industrial disputes of this kind. The hon. Gentleman asked about a tripartite appeal. I hope that the terms of my original reply indicate that we certainly share the hopes of both British Airways and the union that the men will speedily resume normal working. This is not a strike. It is limited industrial action short of a strike. We hope that normal working will be resumed as quickly as possible. With regard to lost revenue, I am sure that those engaged in this dispute will recognise the economic effects that their action may possibly have and the consequences of it on the employment of those engaged in British Airways.
It will be widely appreciated in the trade union movement that the union to which these men belong has asked them to return to work. But in view of the national importance of this dispute, however unofficial, and after we have set up important conciliatory machinery, may I ask whether it is not now necessary to start some conciliatory conversations with these men, however wrong their immediate action? We should not merely wait for a decision to ask them not to return to work at all, which seems to be the present course of the employing authority.
The Advisory, Concilation and Arbitration Service is in touch with both British Airways and the AUEW. My hon. Friend will recognise the difficulty because this is an unofficial dispute. Certainly ACAS is ready to make its services available if British Airways and the AUEW ask it to intervene. It might be interesting to my hon. Friend and the House if I tell them that the AUEW national executive discussed this dispute this morning at the executive council meeting and decided to instruct those engaged in the industrial action to resume normal working. I understand that a mass meeting is being arranged for tomorrow. It will be addressed by a member of the national executive of the union, who will put the union's instruction to the mass meeting. I hope that the men will respond to this call and that they will resume normal working. In the meantime, it would be rather unwise for me, and perhaps the House, to say anything which might put the outcome in jeopardy.
Does the Minister not think that this dispute, following the recent British Leyland toolmakers' dispute, indicates that the present make-up of these large unions, representing very diverse skills, may not be in the overall interests of good industrial relations and the British economy? Is it not now time to consider some form of inquiry with the unions themselves into plant bargaining or a trade union system more akin to the system which the British helped West Germany to institute after the war?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that on reflection he will realise that there is a contradiction in his point. We do see the advantages—I think it is common ground between both sides of the House—of reducing the number of unions. We do see the advantages of the relatively small number of unions in Western Germany. But to do as the hon. Gentleman has suggested and for the unions to go along the road to break-up would be counter to what he has suggested. There are common features between this dispute and the British Leyland situation. If the present bargaining arrangements are unsatisfactory to particular groups, it is for the parties to those arrangements to resolve this. I hope that any anxiety on the part of particular groups which feel that these bargaining arrangements are unsatisfactory will be pursued through the constitutional channels.
I shall call the three hon. Members who have been on their feet and no one else.
Will the Minister say whether the British Airways' ultimatum to the men—to resume normal working or be dismissed and suffer the consequence that if they are re-engaged it will be as new entrants—has his support?
The ultimatum was probably made before the news was available of the proposed mass meeting tomorrow. I hope that British Airways will now take into account the fact that the executive council of the union has made a firm, clear decision and has issued an instruction to the men. There will be a mass meeting tomorrow and I hope that there will not be any precipitate action which will inflame the position rather than help it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not the size or complexity of the trade union that matters but, very often, the way the Government handle a situation like this? Conservative Members should not exacerbate the situation. The miners' dispute was exacerbated most of all by Conservative Members, particularly the Leader of the party, in 1973.
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend has said, particularly his point about the importance of this House recognising the difficulties for those who have to handle this situation and those who may subsequently have to pick up the pieces. We in this House should not be responsible for imprudent and unwise statements.
Do the Government not recognise that the mood of the nation has changed and that it really has become essential that there should be active Government support against any unofficial action of this nature? Are not the Government ready in this case to ensure that the dispute shall be referrable to ACAS so that it can intervene and come forward with a report? Do the Government not also recognise that in this, and other disputes, it will be necessary to have some form of deterrent against people who cause grave industrial damage to the nation which they fully represent?
I repeat what I said earlier—that of course the services of ACAS are available if requested by British Airways and by the AUEW, the union involved. We urge the engineers to follow the union's advice and to return to normal working as quickly as possible.With regard to the final part of the question, the deterrent concept has been tried, and it failed, with disastrous consequences. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends will learn from their bitter experience and our bitter experience of the 1970s.
I was not referring to the Front Bench when I made my earlier statement. Mr. James Prior.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we fully support his statement that there should be an immediate return to work? Is he further aware that although in certain circumstances one might have a great deal of sympathy for the cause of the engineers, that sympathy is completely negatived by the action they have taken at this particular time and that we believe that the union is perfectly right to ask the men to return to work? The Government and the House would wish to see an early return to work. That is the only way in which a settlement of what otherwise could become a very costly and inconvenient dispute can come about.
I do not think I should want to challenge anything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I welcome his approach on this issue.
New Towns Programme (Reappraisal)
With permission, I should like to make a statement about the English new towns.The House will know that I have been much engaged with two important and in certain respects inter-related aspects of planning policy—the future of the new towns and the future of the inner cities. I hope to make a statement on inner cities tomorrow, and wish now to inform the House of the conclusions I have reached so far in my reappraisal of the new towns programme. This reappraisal—the first comprehensive reappraisal since the mid-1960s—has taken particular account of the substantial changes in national and regional population trends, of changes in our economic and industrial position, of changed conditions in our major cities and of changed attitudes of the conurbation authorities towards population movement, and of the new balance that we are seeking to achieve between development within the cities and development outside. I begin with the earlier new towns, most of which have now largely and successfully fulfilled the purposes for which they were established, and here I have no major changes to announce. I have decided against any extension of the designated areas of Bracknell and Skelmersdale and I find no grounds for initiatives to be taken for the expansion of Redditch. No change is proposed in the population targets of Basildon, Corby and Runcorn. In the cases of Harlow and Stevenage, public inquiries into proposals for extension of the designated areas were held last year. I have decided not to make extension orders for either town. The normal growth of the towns, especially for second generation families, will be matters for the local authorities concerned to deal with under other legislation. Decision letters giving my reasons have been sent to the interested parties today, and I have arranged for copies to be placed in the Library of the House. It is my intention that, subject to the necessary consultations, the development corporations in these eight new towns will be wound up within the next five years. Discussions will be started with the local authorities on the arrangements needed for the continued normal growth of these towns, for the housing needs of people who were born in them, and for the requirements of industry. The three new towns in the North-East—Ayciffe, Peterlee and Washington—have greatly helped to stimulate industrial growth in that region. I am not contemplating any fundamental changes in their programmes, but I am still considering the contribution which these towns can make to the economy of the North-East. I shall make a further statement after Easter. I now turn to the six third generation new towns which, as the House will recall, were launched in the mid-1960s. Here the factors I listed at the beginning of my statement have particular relevance. Population forecasts have changed radically. Whereas it was then expected that the population of England and Wales would rise to 60 million by 1990, recent trends strongly suggest that the population will reach only 51 million by that date. On the other hand, the number of potential households will continue to increase for some time ahead. I have also to consider how best to balance the industrial and employment needs of the inner areas with the need for new industrial growth points. Last but not least, I must also take account of the infrastructure already provided in these new towns and the extent and pattern of their development, and the need to allow them to develop into balanced and viable communities. The third generation new towns are, like their predecessors, one of the outstanding successes of post-war Britain, and nothing I am doing should reduce their ability to continue building on the foundations already laid. I have myself recently visited most of the third generation new towns. My broad conclusion is that there must be a substantial reduction in the target figures set 10 years ago for the growth of these new towns. Given the factors I have referred to, I believe it is necessary over the next seven or eight years substantially to maintain the momentum of their development—even in the changed circumstances of the conurbations. But we must do more to help the inner areas by taking a higher proportion of disadvantaged people, and we must also do more to meet the growing demand for owner-occupation. I now intend to enter into detailed consultations with the development corporations and the local authorities concerned, including the exporting authorities, about revisions of their population targets. I shall do so on the basis of the following preliminary conclusions. In the South-East, as the recent Review of the Strategy and the report of the Lambeth inner area study have both indicated, the still pressing housing needs of London require some help from outside the conurbation. Planned provision must therefore still be made for this. In Milton Keynes my proposal is that the development corporation should induce growth until the population reaches 150,000 in the mid-1980s. With natural growth, this should mean a population upwards of 180,000 by the late 1980s, with the possibility of continued growth thereafter to 200,000. The original target was 250,000. In Northampton I propose that the development corporation should provide induced growth up to 173,000 by 1982, which, with natural growth, should mean a population of around 180,000 by 1990. The original target was 230,000. At Peterborough my proposal is for further induced growth up to 150,000, which, with natural growth, should result in a population of around 160,000 by the mid-1980s. The original target was 180,000. In the West Midlands, the total overspill needs of the conurbation, though still substantial, are declining, and the conurbation local authorities are increasingly reluctant to lose employment opportunities in, or close to, their areas. Two years ago a reduced interim target for Telford was published in place of the original long-term target of 220,000. My proposal is that induced growth should continue until 1986, when the population may be expected to reach 130,000 to 135,000. Natural growth should result in a population of about 150,000 by about 1990. In the North-West my examination has been much influenced by the local authorities' latest views of their housing needs and by the importance of balancing the industrial requirements of other places in the region with the growth of these two new towns, Warrington and Central Lancashire. Because of these considerations it now seems unlikely that the new towns will provide homes for more than about 50,000 people. For Warrington, induced growth should continue until the population reaches 160,000, which, together with natural growth, should mean a population of about 170,000 by the late 1980s in place of the previous target of 205,000. In the case of Central Lancashire New Town I have today issued my decision approving the development corporation's outline plan in a modified form to provide for a population intake of 23,000, compared with the intake of well over 100,000 previously proposed. I shall consult the relevant local authorities and the development corporation about its future beyond that. Copies of the decision letter will be placed in the Library of the House. In total, I am proposing a reduction of some 380,000 in the programmes of the third generation new towns, but the revised programmes that I have suggested today should provide adequate scope for their future development. Our plans must be capable of being adapted to meet the as yet unforeseen circumstances of the next decade. The new towns have proved themselves to be adaptable in responding to changing requirements and I am sure that they will respond positively to this new situation. I hope that the consultations that will now follow will be conducted expeditiously so as to enable me to report to the House my final decisions by the summer, and thus establish a sound basis for the final stage of our new towns programme.
Is the Secretary of State aware that we welcome the fact that he has at long last produced a statement on the future of the new towns? Will he initiate a debate on the statement, which, in many respects, resembles a White Paper, both in length and in the wide range of issues that it covers? We agree that each new town requires separate consideration and treatment, and to that extent we welcome his general approach. However, will he accept that we have considerable reservations about much of the detail that he has announced?Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether the new towns that are to be required to take a higher proportion of disadvantaged people from inner cities are to be given additional resources, through social services, in order to meet the additional responsibilities that are to be thrust upon them? With his acknowledgement of the growing demand for owner-occupation, will he give complete freedom to the development corporations to sell their houses to their tenants? Will he give an estimate of the savings in resources earmarked for the new towns arising from the reduction in population targets for the third generation new towns? Will the right hon. Gentleman also say how much less agricultural land will be taken up as a result of these changes? Will he justify to the House his decision to retain the Central Lancashire New Town Development Corporation when he has reduced the population target from over 100,000 to 23,000? Will he not reconsider his decision to keep that corporation in existence? Will he also accept that we are disappointed that he has shown no receptiveness to the new thinking concerning disposal of commercial and industrial assets to pension and investment funds in order to release much-needed capital for investment in the older urban areas?
I shall be only too pleased if we can arrange a debate on this admittedly lengthy statement.The hon. Gentleman raised a number of detailed points. I believe that it will be helpful to the House if opportunity is taken to examine my decision in relation to Central Lancashire so that hon. Members can see the main arguments that I had presented to me and by which I have been persuaded that it is right to go ahead with the Central Lancashire New Town, although on a very much reduced scale. I can only give one firm answer to the hon. Gentleman on the question of the saving of money. We reckon that there will be a saving of about £20 million a year by 1979–80, and, of course, other savings will accrue. But I would rather not be more definite about that, or about the question of agricultural land, until I have had the consultations to which I have referred and upon which I am about to embark. I have nothing to add to the statement on owner-occupation made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he was Minister for Planning and Local Government, only a few months ago, when he discribed the position relating to the new regulations affecting the sale of houses in the new towns. Finally, I hope that the new towns concerned will be able to do more for disadvantaged people. I believe that it will be a matter for the social service authorities in the areas concerned to make the necesary dispositions in order to help the increased numbers of disadvantaged people. In so far as that factor has to be taken into account in the rate support grant, of course it will be.
The House can see how many right hon. and hon. Members wish to catch my eye. I shall do my best to see that those with constituency interests are called, so hon. Members may contain themselves in that knowledge. It will be of great help if right hon. and hon. Members, instead of asking a series of questions, will concentrate on the one issue that concerns them in their constituencies.
In his review of the resources to be devoted to the new towns will my right hon. Friend undertake to hold consultations with the Commission for the New Towns in respect of the second generation new towns to see what express provision they can make to meet the increasing demands by parents and often widows of newtowners who have been left stranded in inner city areas while their families are tucked away in the new towns?
I am sympathetic to the need for accommodating second generation people in new towns and, indeed, as far as possible making it possible for family units to be brought together. But once there is no longer a need for a town to have special new town status, it is for the council concerned to make the necessary provision, as all other councils have to do, to secure the housing and other developments necessary.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his decision not to make extension orders for Stevenage and Harlow will be widely welcomed by enlightened opinion both amongst the local authorities and the generality of the population in Hertfordshire? Does he agree that any necessary residual action can well be left to the efficient performance of the local authorities concerned?
I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, but it is not for me now to speculate on the reactions to my statement in different parts of the country affected by it. I believe that the initiative, as it were, for securing any necessary extensions that there may be in respect of these two new towns and of others must now be taken by the district councils concerned.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision not to expand Harlow and Stevenage fails to take into account that there is not sufficient building land available to meet the needs of the existing second generation? Is he aware that in the 1980s there will be 700 to 800 new applicants a year, but in the case of Harlow all building land resources will be exhausted in 1980? Is he further aware that, unless something is done to change this state of affairs, it will be regarded as a betrayal of the families who went out to the new towns of Stevenage and Harlow in the hope of getting a new life? What does he propose to do to give these people and those in the surrounding areas who need housing an opportunity to get it?
I understand very well the problems to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, particularly in the case of Harlow, where, it is true, the amount of land available—and therefore the possibility of new building—is now running out. A problem undoubtedly exists there. But it must not be inferred from my decision that I necessarily accept the financial and other factors set out in the inspector's report, or the conclusions that he draws from them. I feel that there may well be need for more houses to be built to meet the needs of Harlow, but I emphasise that application, and provision following such application, must now lie at the initiative of the district council.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we welcome his statement but that we shall want to see the inner cities getting some of the positive stimulus that the corporations gave to new towns? We welcome his caution in the case of the North-East, as the three new towns there have played an integral part in the industrial strategy of the area.
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about the North-East. I hope to make another announcement about my consideration of those three new towns shortly. I note what the hon. Gentleman has said about the inner cities, but I think it right for me to hold my fire about the inner cities until tomorrow.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in their decision on the Central Lancashire New Town the Government are deliberately breaking their promise to half a million people in North-East Lancashire? Three senior Cabinet Ministers—Tory as well as Labour—have repeated the promise made to these people. Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the Central Lancashire New Town goes forward without that promise being implemented for the people in North-East Lancashire, he will be striking a paralysing blow at that area? I serve warning on the Government that I shall stump through North-East Lancashire to see that this picture is drawn to the attention of the people there. The Government have sown some sour seeds.
I would not willingly or consciously have broken a promise made to the people in Central and North-East Lancashire, and I shall look carefully at the points made by my hon. Friend, who has very strong concern for the area.
The target for Peterborough, which falls partly within my constituency, is being only marginally reduced. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the defects caused by the lack of funds for education and hospital development and by the lack of rate support grant for Cambridgeshire, in which Peterborough lies? As Peterborough is to continue largely on the scale originally planned, will he ensure that these defects are overcome as soon as may be?
Ministers directly concerned with the particular services will clearly take account of the planned growth of each individual new town, including Peterborough. I need say no more than that, except to remind the right hon. and learned Member that I have had the opportunity of hearing him and representatives from Cambridge County Council on the matter of the rate support grant. I have noted and I shall study carefully what they have said.
Why is my right hon. Friend so certain that the planners are right in stopping the new towns when, having achieved the dereliction of the inner cities, they now seek to achieve the dereliction of the new towns? Will my right hon. Friend say why a few of the planners cannot be got rid of? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Northampton a binding agreement with the development corporation has been entered into by the borough council—which this decision will break and which will mean dereliction of our city shopping centre? What kind of compensation is the Secretary of State prepared to discuss with the borough council?
I can agree with at least the first part of what my hon. Friend said. I heartily endorse the view that planners are not always right, and that is something that we must bear in mind. To build in a certain element for the change in planning decisions is only sensible. I am not at all persuaded that such dire consequences as my hon. Friend predicts will follow from my announcement. In any event, we shall have an opportunity of consulting the local authority as well as the new town corporation during the period ahead.
As it appears that no change has been made for designated areas of third generation new towns, is it fair to assume that in a growth point such as Milton Keynes there is no reason why that town should not reach its target population of 250,000?
I do not wish to add to the figures that I have already announced. They represent a careful and considered preliminary judgment of the development of that new town.
Does the Secretary of State's approval of the Central Lancashire New Town outline plan also express acceptance of the road works contained in that plan? May we be assured that the decision letter is available in the Library so that we can check up on that?
It is indeed my belief and hope that that document is in the Library now.It would be wrong for me to go into too many details about individual internal arrangements and facilities for each of the new towns, but obviously road planning—given a change in the whole size of the proposals for the Central Lancashire New Town—is bound to be affected. I cannot go further than that.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his decision drastically to reduce the size of the Central Lancashire New Town provides the chance of an end to the long feud between those who want an enormous monstrosity and those who, like myself, do not want it at all?Will the right hon. Gentleman consider looking again at the size of the bureaucracy that will remain to govern this much reduced new town? It is expensive, and if it is to remain the same size many of the savings that the Secretary of State seeks will be frittered away.
I am not aware that new towns have been accused in the past of having swollen bureaucracies. The general feeling is that they have been extremely efficient, but certainly a new town organisation must reflect the task that it has been given, and no doubt that point will be noted. I am glad to hear that what I have said will bring greater contentment in that area, but a major factor—particularly in the North-West—is that the population growth there has been about the smallest of possibly all the regions in England. That is bound to affect a decision that was taken 10 years ago against a different background.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will give unlimited relief to the 2¼ million people who have moved into new towns? While the Minister has rightly resisted the idea that has recently been expressed by the Opposition that we should kill the new towns, will not my right hon. Friend's action in trimming new towns means that the delicate balance between houses and jobs could be affected? Is there nothing that the Secretary of State wants to say to the House about the transfer of assets?
I can assure my hon. Friend that it is no wish or intention of mine to kill the new towns. They have been highly successful and have given much happiness to the hundreds of thousands of people who are fortunate enough to live in them. As for the New Towns Commission, I was afraid that I might over-weary the House with the length of my statement so I have decided to make a further statement on that later.
Is the Secretary of State aware that most of my constituents will warmly welcome his decision to reduce substantially the target population figure for the Central Lancashire New Town? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the two villages of Grimsargh and Haighton and the rich agricultural land around them will be excluded from new town development? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Penwortham the new town is one of the most unpopular developments ever to be imposed on an unwilling community, and will he take steps to see that in reducing the target population he will halt the development of the Central Lancashire New Town in Penwortham?
I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to look at the decision later rather than to ask me to attempt to comment on details. I shall be consulting with the new town development corporation and with the local authorities concerned, and I am quite sure that I shall be able to take fully into account particular and local matters of importance of the kind that the hon. and learned Gentleman has just made clear.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just come back to the Chamber from the Library and the decision letter to which the Secretary of State referred is not available.
Order. I am quite sure that the Secretary of State will see to that, but it is not for me to do so.
My right hon. Friend is chary about basing his views on predictions of the future population because that is liable to be unpredictable. Will the Secretary of State for Scotland make a statement about the Scottish new towns, and particularly about the mature new towns such as East Kilbride?
I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said will be reported to the Secretary of State for Scotland.I take this opportunity of apologising to the House for the fact that we have not yet put in the Library the document that I wished to place there. We shall do our utmost to remedy that without delay. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) that I cannot wholly and emphatically prejudge the future population of this country.
In relation to Bracknell New Town the Minister has said, as I understand it, that he will open discussions with the local authority about "normal growth", but does he expect that any part of that normal growth might take place outside the designated areas? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall saying, in relation to inner cities, that he hoped to entice back some of the industry that has moved to the new towns? Can the Secretary of State assure us that he does not propose to take any action that would dismember living and lively new towns such as Bracknell?
I have no intention of injuring the town of Bracknell. As for its possibilities of expansion through the district council, I remind the hon. Gentleman that of course there is in the territory of Bracknell considerable land some of which, at any rate, might be available for development if the town wished to build more.
Will my right hon. Friend explain how the situation can arise in which his Department, having fixed a 1986 target for Telford only just over 18 months ago, can today announce a reduction of some two-fifths of the difference between the present population and that target? Will he comment on what that tells us about the efficacy of the planning procedures of his Department?
There are bound to be estimates about the pace at which towns expand and at which people leave other areas of the conurbations. We are not a command society in which we say that there will be a build-up of X per cent. or of X thousand people a year. We are not driving people from one part of the country to another. There are therefore bound to be differences between estimates and outturn. Frankly, I do not find the discrepancy to which my hon. Friend refers a very great one.
My constituency covers the designated areas of two new towns, and I have two questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. The first concerns Runcorn. I accept his decision that it should be allowed to complete its proposed development, but does he intend that new towns should do more to meet the growing demand for owner-occupation? Will he therefore now remove those fetters that prevent the development corporation from selling houses in Runcorn to tenants when it wishes to do so?My second question concerns Warrington, and here the right hon. Gentleman's statement is inadequate. If it is intended that the population should be reduced by 35,000, does that mean that the Secretary of State proposes to redefine the designated area, thus reducing it, and to remove from that area those parts of my constituency which at present are in it and which never should have been in it from the beginning?
It would be premature for me to speak about changes in the designated areas. I have explained that I am simply launching a consultation, and I must proceed with it before I make any firm announcements.As for owner-occupation, I believe that the announcement by my right hon. Friend some months ago, tailoring the different degrees of permissiveness to the actual situation in each new town to the number of people actually wanting rented accommodation, was a very sensible and wise decision. I shall look at the matter again, but I am pretty certain that that decision can stand for some time.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the growing demand for owner-occupation and to the changes in population movements. In the case of Redditch, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the development corporation will be allowed to cater for that demand? I think that he referred to third generation towns in that context. Will he say that there is now no longer any justification for Birmingham representation on the development corporation board? Is he now in a position to make the appointments which have been outstanding for so long.
I hope to make announcements about appointments in the very near future. My remarks on owner-occupation were addressed principally to the third generation new towns. Beyond that I need not add to the statement I made in reply to the two previous questions on the present regime in first and second generation new towns affecting sales to owner-occupiers.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be broadly welcomed by the citizens of Peterborough as being much less painful than they expected it to be? Will he say whether any individual township will be discontinued because of his proposals? When will he be able to give us a decision on the western sector outline plan?
I certainly would not propose to take any decision on the western sector until I had had my consultations with the Peterborough authorities. It would be wrong to assume that the development of particular districts or areas is either made necessary or ruled out by my statement.
Order. I shall call the four hon. Members who have risen to their feet. I say without offence to those who have already been called that I often keep the best until last.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a simple question? In his statement he said that the new towns were to take a higher proportion of disadvantaged persons. Will he give an assurance that the relevant area health authorities will be given sufficient funds to meet the health needs of these disadvantaged people?
If there were significant increases after my statement in such numbers I should take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his recognition of the contribution made by the new towns in the North-East to the provision of jobs and to the raising of environmental standards is widely welcomed? Will he accept, however, that an early statement on their future is necessary?
I recognise the desirability of an early statement on that matter. I am only sorry that I have been unable to bring matters forward in order to make it today.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong feeling and opinion that the problems of the new towns and inner cities are separate issues that should be treated separately? Is he aware that the Central Lancashire New Town is a focal point for growth in the North-West Region, a region which has been stricken by unemployment? Will he ensure that there are immediate consultations with the local authorities and the development corporation and that a time limit is set for these consultations so that the issue may be completely clarified?
Yes, I have in mind that these consultations should be thorough but, nevertheless, reasonably speedy. I hope that I shall be able to report to the House before the Summer Recess. I acknowledge that part of the case for the Central Lancashire New Town is that it is well placed geographically and that it is well placed for growth.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that even without the Central Lancashire New Town Development Corporation there would be considerable development of housing in the new town area but that it would be chiefly of a private nature and would be intended for owner-occupation? Is he aware that there is, nevertheless, an enormous demand for rented accommodation? Is it possible for my right hon. Friend to instruct the new town to use some of its resources, especially that part which will not be wasted on roads, in putting funds into the town centre so that houses may be built for rent?
I do not like the word "instruct", but I am certain that there is plenty of scope, particularly against the background of the individual needs of the people in the area concerned, for modifications of the housing tenures or of the kind of houses built by the development corporation.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be obvious to you that the statement by the Secretary of State for the Environment has raised as many questions as it has answered. Since my right hon. Friend the Lord President is present in the Chamber and since there is no chance of dealing with this matter on the Business Question this week, can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House take the opportunity of indicating when we might have a debate on this matter?
If the Leader of the House had the chance, maybe he would take that opportunity, but it does not seem as though he wants that chance.
Statutory Instruments, &C
Motion made, and Question put,
That Commission Document No. R/103/77 relating to Advisory Committees on Dentists and Senior Public Health Officials be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, etc.:—
The House proceeded to a Division—
Mr. GRAHAM and Mr. BATES were appointed Tellers for the Ayes but, no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That Commission Document No. R/103/77 relating to Advisory Committees on Dentists and Senior Public Health Officials be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, etc.
Business Of The House
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I inquire, while the Lord President is here, and since there seems to be some doubt about the matter, whether the proposed debate on Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball will take place tonight? Can you assist us, Mr. Speaker?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that notice of appeal to the House of Lords has been given today, and in that case I take it that there is unlikely to be any debate because the matter would be sub judice. Can it be confirmed whether that is the situation and whether it will apply equally to both Mr. Agee and Mr. Hosenball? While on that point of order, I also ask whether, when the debate eventually takes place, we can try to clear the situation because it is very confusing when people do not know what the situation is and when debates are continually cancelled at short notice.
In view of the appeal that has been made, the debate will not take place tonight. It would obviously be hopeless to proceed with the debate in this situation. We proposed the debate in response to requests from many of my hon. Friends, and if we had not done so we might have been laid open to the charge that we were not seeking an opportunity for debate.I give an assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) that of course we shall seek to arrange a debate, as we have promised, at a time that is convenient to the House. I shall do my best to notify hon. Members who have shown a special interest in the matter, to give them some indication beforehand.
New Towns Programme (Reappraisal)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
The matter is specific in that there are a number of designated new towns with a total population of more than 2 million people. The matter is important because this is the first major review that there has been for over 15 years, and the statement that we heard today puts the viability of a number of new towns into question. The matter is urgent because, for months on end, every hon. Member who represents a new town has had a cloud hanging over him while awaiting this statement. We were given to understand that the statement would be made after Easter, but it has been made before Easter. We have no opportunity to apply for a normal Adjournment debate and no opportunity to press the Lord President on this matter in business questions. It is for those reasons that I apply for this emergency debate."the future of new towns".
The hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 to discuss a matter that is specific and important, namely,
I have listened very carefully to the exchanges this afternoon and also to what the hon. Member for Northampton, South said in making his application. However, I fear that I cannot grant his application."the future of new towns".
National Insurance (Householders' Allowances)
I beg to move,
The special needs of householders should be and are of special concern to the House. Within the national insurance system there is, in fact, already provision for householders, but it is concealed in the way in which the figures are published and it does not seem to be calculated on any rational basis. We can deduce what it is only from the figures. I shall try to be as brief as I can, and I hope that the following figures will not be totally incomprehensible to the House. For pensioners, the published rates show that the current benefit for a single man is £15·30, but for a couple the figure is not twice as much as that. Having a dependant increases the single person's entitlement by only £9·20, making a total of £24·50. It would be perfectly possible to publish these figures of entitlement to show the personal allowances both for the pensioner and his wife as £9·20 each, and to put the householder's allowance of £6·10 as an additional benefit. That would make the figures come to the same total but would draw attention to the fact that there is this concealed householder's provision in the National Insurance Scheme. I believe that it is fruitful to make these examinations because we find that not all categories of beneficiary under the National Insurance Scheme are entitled to the same. The differences should attract attention. If for example we examine the entitlements of the long-term unemployed on exactly the same basis, we find that they are entitled to £8·00 for each individual person in the household, but their householder's allowance is only £4·90. Why is a pensioner's household allowance £6·10 under the National Insurance Scheme while that for long-term unemployed is only £4·90? There may be a good reason, but I have never heard it explained to the House. Were I to go through the whole list of benefits, I could draw attention to other seeming anomalies as well. The amounts of money involved in total are so large, and so many people are dependent on national insurance benefits that we should ask whether this household provision is appropriate. And is it enough? The Department of the Environment in recent weeks published a consultative document about housing problems which, it was generally felt, was preparing the public for rises in the general level of rents. The House is probably aware that rents have been left behind by inflation and that something needs to be done. But we are all equally aware that there are many people in this country who cannot, or who can barely, meet their rents already. So if we are moving into an area of generally higher rent levels, the House must pay special attention to the problem of householders who are in difficulties. This problem cannot be solved by a blanket benefit. We need to help householders differentially. The cost of living index is not an adequate guide to what is likely to happen to household costs. Blanket increases leave many social needs unsolved. We must also reflect on the regional differences in housing costs, which are acute. That this fact is already recognised by the authorities is shown in the way in which the Housing Finance Act has been interpreted. I understand that the maximum limit for a household allowance or a personal rent allowance under that Act is generally £8 but that in Inner London it has been more than doubled, to £17. The object of social policy should be to give help where it is needed to the best effect with the resources available. The help which we are giving householders is not achieving that object. For instance, pensioners who are not householders because they live with relatives are much less in need than pensioners on their own, particularly in the inner city areas. We need also to protect the self-respect of the recipients. If we are moving forward to generally higher rents, we shall wash hundreds of thousands more people into supplementary benefit, because that is the only way in which they will be able to meet the higher rents under the present system. I have often drawn attention to the fact that there are three roots of entitlement to welfare benefits—need, record of contributions and citizenship. Contributions and citizenship are satisfactory to the recipient, but need is the least acceptable root of entitlement and we should minimise the number of people who have to plead need as an excuse for obtaining public resources to help them to a minimum income. Need is an unsatisfactory criterion because of the continuous case work involved—and also because of the natural reluctance of those entitled to benefit to apply for it, which still shows up in the relatively low take-up of the need-based benefits, as against those based on citizenship or on record of contributions. There are also the endless disagreeable inquisitions, particularly in the area of cohabitation. My recomendation would largely solve the problems which arise over the determination of entitlement in cases of cohabitation. Because the household element would be separate and identifiable and couples living together would obviously be entitled to only one household allowance, whether they were married or were single people living together. The Chancellor lost a chance to introduce a special tax allowance for householders in this year's Budget—that is to say, in the negative Welfare State. But it is also appropriate to pay special attention to the needs of householders in the positive Welfare State, of which the National Insurance Scheme is the obvious example. My Bill would cost nothing in the first instance, but if it were enacted or put into effect by the Department, which would be possible without an Act, it would bring the whole problem of householders' costs to the attention of the public and of the House, which is the best hope of progress. I hope, therefore, that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the payment of an identifiable householders' allowance as a separate benefit under the National Insurance Scheme; to permit such an allowance to be varied to take account of housing costs; and for related purposes.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, Mr. Robert Boscawen and Mr. John Cope.
National Insurance (Householders' Allowances)
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams accordingly presented a Bill to require the payment of an identifiable householders' allowance as a separate benefit under the National Insurance Scheme; to permit such an allowance to be varied to take account of housing costs; and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 22nd April and to be printed. [Bill 102.]
Orders Of The Day
[11 TH ALLOTTED DAY]— considered
Teacher Training Colleges (Scotland)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bates.]
This will now unfortunately be a very short debate and will have to finish at 7 o'clock. If there were some facility for it, I would apply for injury time, but as many hon. Members want to speak, I shall try to be brief.The subject of this debate is Scottish teacher training colleges and the threat to four of them and to Scottish education as a whole presented by the Secretary of State's proposals in the consultative document entitled "Teacher Training from 1977 Onwards". The Secretary of State has said that the conclusions on that document will be announced shortly and the object of this debate is to give the House an opportunity to hear the arguments and to express a view. We hope that the House will make it clear that the proposals in the consultative document are utterly unacceptable and that the Secretary of State should produce new proposals. In 12 years in the House of Commons I have known no document so universally condemned and no proposals advanced in so ham-handed and insensitive a manner. The proposals are simply a cold, statistical exercise in economic butchery; the 25 pages contain no education or economic justification. The proposals have been condemned by every section of educational and public opinion. They have been clearly condemned by the colleges themselves, individually and collectively. They have been condemned clearly by the university lecturers through their association. Their chairman, Mr. John Maxton, has said that the document was based entirely on figures, and added:
In a pamphlet circulated to all Scottish Members today, the association says:"The Department has displayed an uncanny ability to produce inaccurate predictions, estimates and planning policies."
There is no doubt that the lecturers themselves are very angry not only at the proposals but at the way in which they have been treated by the Secretary of State. For example, I know that 200 lecturers were very bitter when they gathered on a very cold day outside St. Andrew's House for two hours to make their representations, only to discover that the Secretary of State had slipped out the back door. We also know that the General Teaching Council, the only statutory body trying to advise on teacher training, was not consulted before the proposals were brought forward and has made it clear that it also condemns them. It has said:"We believe that the Secretary of State has produced a very bad document—one which is based on questionable assumptions, simplistic economics and faulty logic."
Even the local authorities are united in condemning the proposals. COSLA considered them carefully and said:"There is no educational justification for the proposals."
So it has made its position clear. We also had a lengthy two-day debate in the Scottish Grand Committee. Anyone who was present would have seen that hon. Members as a whole were opposed to the proposals. The vote was 39 to 25 against the Government. The majority of Scottish Members, including two Labour Members who had the courage to vote against the proposals, some who abstained and others who simply stayed away, made it clear that the proposals were unacceptable to them. Once again, we had the full support of the Scottish National Party and, I am glad to say, on that occasion the support of the Scottish Liberals. In addition, the matter was further considered at the Scottish Labour Party Conference. I have never been to a Scottish Labour Party Conference, but I am told that they are tempestuous gatherings, because the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) plays a great part in them, that they are rather irresponsible, and that the delegates rarely agree. I understand that the only occa- sion in that long conference when there was complete unanimity was when delegates were condemning the Secretary of State's proposal. We are all aware that the Churches are opposed to the proposals. The Roman Catholic Church, in particular, is bitterly opposed to the proposals on Craiglockhart College, because it is concerned about the implications of the closure for the East of Scotland. We also know that the teacher's unions are opposed to the proposals. The EIS, the principal teachers' union, in a document published shortly after the consultative document was published, said:"No decision on closures should be taken until alternative strategies have been fully considered in depth."
The union has made it clear that it objects to the proposals and thinks that they are wrong. There is no doubt that these proposals have been universally condemned. There may be one or two people who support them but, if there are, they have remained strangely silent. One rather strange feature of the whole debate is the fact that there may be some doubt whether the Secretary of State is even supported by his own ministerial team. We know that one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), led a deputation to his right hon. Friend about Callendar Park College and he is quoted as saying that Callendar Park would not be used as a sacrificial lamb. We know that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) is not one whom we can accuse of lack of enthusiasm. He is always very enthusiastic and only a short while after he took on the job of Under-Secretary of State for Scotland he submitted a long document to explain what a good job he was doing. We know that on this matter the hon. Gentleman has not shown his usual enthusiasm. The speeches he has made on the subject have been a series of rather self-conscious and feeble filibusters. We find that even the Government's Scottish Whip, whom we all respect, has been reported in the Press this weekend as passing on a petition from his constituents against the policy document. That leaves only the other Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), who is adopting his usual low profile. He certainly has not been jumping to the defence of the proposals. I am sorry, I have missed out the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), who has been silent as usual. He has not been standing up in Rutherglen or storming the barricades to explain the merits of his right hon. Friend's proposals. In these circumstances it is quite clear that these proposals do not have a friend in Scottish education or in the House of Commons. For that reason, if for none other, I think that the Secretary of State should think again. We also object to the fact that the consultations have been rather inadequate. We do not say for one moment that there have been no consultations. There have been limited consultations in which the Under-Secretary has sometimes listened and often talked a great deal, but the fact is that these consultations have been based on totally inadequate information. If we are to consider whether the Government's proposals are good or bad, we want to know what the figures are, what the costings are, what will be saved, what are the alternative proposals, and what would happen if another formula were put forward. We have pressed repeatedly for figures and we do not have them. We do not have the cost of alternatives. We even had the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) pressing the Government for information which the English Education Department has given time and again about shortages of teachers in certain subjects. We do not have the information telling us how short we are of teachers of mathematics or science. Dunfermline College is one of the colleges which will be merged and effectively taken out of a separate existence as a result of this move. It has been asking for information which in the past it has readily received. In the document which it sent it said:"The Paper takes no account of educational or social considerations nor even recognises that such considerations exist."
This is one of the colleges which are threatened. It has been trying to get information which it has always been able to obtain in the past. We also wanted information about the Government's thoughts on residential accommodation. We have the astonishing proposal in the consultative paper that there is to be effectively the closure of Dunfermline and Craiglockhart, which together have over 586 residential places. They are apparently to be merged with Dundee, which has a total of 190 places. How will this work? We have not had this information. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to have consultations and meetings, but if the information on which we can consult and consider alternatives is not available, that consultation is a pretty hollow sham. I make it clear that we accept that there must be a reduction, probably quite a substantial reduction, in the student intake into colleges. The question is whether the figures are right and whether the Governments' proposal in the consultative document has any merit. As for the figures, we must make it clear that the Government are putting forward proposals based not on population estimates of children whom we know exist but on projections of children who may or may not be born. There have been wide variations in these estimates. Mr. Harry Reid of the Scotsman, who is a splendid education correspondent, pointed out in one of his recent articles that the Government had said in 1975 that the total school population envisaged in 1985 would be 1,042,000. In May 1976 that figure was down to 845,000 and in November 1976 it was 929,000. That is a difference of about 150,000, which is enormous. Taking the 1986 projections, in 1975 the Government said that they thought the figure would be 1,047,000. In 1976 they thought it would be 925,000—over 100,000 down. We are dealing with projections which no one can prove. This is a dangerous basis on which to go ahead and propose the closure of four great Scottish colleges. We are also concerned that the Government's calculations have not made provision for educational advance in some areas where we feel advance will be necessary and desirable. For example, we think that there is certainly a strong case for making provision for a lower pupil-teacher ratio in the deprived areas, which for a long time have been suffering from a shortage of teachers, which has given rise to part-time education. It is pretty certain, although we do not know, that the Pack Committee, which is looking into truancy and indiscipline, will recommend such a proposal. We want to ensure that there is some provision for this. In his appalling Budget the Chancellor made one positive and sensible suggestion, namely, that additional resources would be made available for a crash programme to provide teacher training for more teachers of science and mathematics. I was shocked when the immediate reaction from the Scottish Office was that this would not apply to Scotland. I tabled a Question, which the Secretary of State answered on Monday, asking him how much of a difference this proposal would make to the Scottish colleges. He said:"During this period officials of the Scottish Education Department had no difficulty in giving projections of the number of physical education teachers required and the Governing Body regret that this year all our efforts to require such precise information have failed and only global projections are available."
"I do not expect these measures to have any significant implications for my recent proposals."—[Official Report, 4th April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 333.]
Would the hon. Gentleman make it clear that in Scotland the Government will not allow non-graduate teachers to teach special subjects such as mathematics and science in the secondary schools? Is it not the policy of the Conservative Party in Scotland that non-graduate teachers will be allowed to teach graduate subjects in secondary schools?
It is the policy of the Conservative Party, and it has always been the policy of a Conservative Government, that if the Chancellor has the money available for England and Wales, the Secretary of State for Scotland should fight for at least a fair share of that money. That has not been happening. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but he is the responsible Minister who sat there when the Chancellor put forward proposals to increase petrol tax, a provision which discriminates against Scotland. He sat in the Cabinet and agreed to the ending of regional employment premium knowing that it would do great damage to Scotland. We expect our Secretary of State to stand up for Scotland.Our real objection is that the document does not provide any costings of alternatives. This is a major grumble. We tried to find out the facts. For example, the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), who has been helpful in this matter, asked on 14th February what was the net saving of the Government's proposals. That was a fair question. It is a question to which we all want to know the answer. How much do the Government think they will save as a result of these proposals? In reply he was referred to a reply given to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central on 31st January. I looked up that reply and found that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central was referred to a reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). When we look at the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West we are told that it is not possible to provide this information. Therefore, we have three hon. Members searching for information being referred back to an answer to one, and in that answer we were told that it could not be done. For that reason, some colleges have themselves been trying to make their own estimates. I pay particular tribute to Dunfermline College, because it has been trying to work out for itself how much has been lost or saved. In the Government's proposal we have a suggestion that Dunfermline College should be merged and moved to Dundee, which is surprising bearing in mind the annual cost of both colleges, on the latest figures, of £1,684 for Dunfermline and £2,701 for Dundee. But the Government's estimate of what it would cost simply to bring the colleges in Dundee up to the standard of Dunfermline on the PE side is £950,000, which is an awful lost of money, and that is simply to make sure that the PE facilities in Dundee would be the same—no better and no worse than they are in Dunfermline. This figure may be contested, but we have not got further figures.
That sounds a great deal of money, but it works out at about one-third of the cost of the house of the Managing Director of the Globtik Venus firm, to whom the hon. Gentleman is parliamentary adviser.
We are talking about something that is terribly important. I should be glad to have a personal wrangle with the hon. Gentleman, as he knows, but I suggest that he is aware that we are talking about something that is extremely serious and important, and I hope that he will take it rather more seriously than he has.There are many who believe that, far from saving money, the Government will end up by having to pay more under their proposals. However, cost is not the only consideration in education. There are, in addition, compelling arguments for the retention of all four colleges. I take, for example, Craigie. It is the only college in the South-West of Scotland. It serves 370 schools. When I read the argument that it should be closed because it has a limited life, I find it rather surprising, bearing in mind that the college itself understood in 1964 that it was given a 60-year life-span. We have Callendar Park, in Falkirk, which has a unique record of in-service training and which is located in an area of economic growth. We have Dunfermline College, which is a relatively new building and is the only physical education college for women. It was built at immense cost and is a relatively new building. Here there are special considerations, because all the indications are that, whereas there may not be a shortage of teachers for some considerable time to come, there is no doubt that PE women teachers have a higher wastage rate than normal, fewer return to work after marriage, there is increasing demand in primary schools, and certainly there will be a bigger demand for teachers in the recreation and leisure fields. Craighlock hart is an important college to the Catholic community for the maintenance of standards of denominational education. We note a statement by the governors:
Craiglockhart College of Education has become part of the whole life of the Catholic community. Frankly, in my view and in the view of most of those interested in these matters, it would be impossible to retain a separate identity if a merger took place. I do not believe that it will be in the interests of Scottish education for teacher training to be concentrated in the big, city colleges at the expense of successful small colleges. Therefore, for this reason we call upon the Government and the Secretary of State to abandon their plans to produce new proposals that will set out how the necessary reductions in the student intake can best be achieved within the framework of the continued existence of the 10 existing colleges. Such a solution would be better for Scottish education, better for the local communities, and certainly better for co-operation in education."The governors strongly believe that, on Catholic religious and educational grounds, there must be a distinct Catholic teacher training establishment in the East of Scotland. By distinct' they mean an establishment the function of which is acknowledged as unequivocally that of training Catholic teachers in Scotland in premises and circumstances which are acceptable to the Catholic community."
Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept very substantial cutbacks in the number of people in the provincial colleges?
Yes, indeed. Obviously, if we were to continue with the 10 colleges, it would mean a larger reduction in some of the big city colleges. Jordan-hill and Moray House are two clear examples.I have made clear that the Secretary of State has gone too far, but there is no way in which we can avoid the fact that a major reduction in student intake—not as large as the Secretary of State has proposed, but certainly a major reduction—is required. If we were to continue the 10 colleges, there would be fewer students at those proposed to be continued under these proposals. Whether this is the right answer or the wrong answer, we are at least entitled to know more of the facts about the considerations involved. What extra cash would be involved if we went to 10 colleges instead of six? What extra cash would be involved under the Government's proposals? The Government have put forward the wrong proposals. They have been rejected by Scotland as a whole. It is time for the Secretary of State not to be so intensely stubborn, as he has shown himself to be, but to show flexibility. Frankly, if he insists on inflicting these plans, which have been rejected by all of Scotland, he will be doing a great disservice to Scottish education. For that reason we call upon the House, as we called upon the Scottish Grand Committee, to reject the Government's proposals and to make it clear to the Secretary of State that he should go away, think again and produce more sensible and effective proposals.
In the concluding minutes of his speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) admitted and agreed that a very substantial reduction in the teacher training system in Scotland was required.
We have always said that.
One may have been forgiven for not having noticed that the hon. Gentleman or, indeed, other Opposition Members have always said that.
Read it in Hansard.
A good deal of the debate has suggested that in fact there is some simple way of dealing with what is an extremely difficult problem. However, whatever one does in the way of final conclusions, there will have to be a substantial reduction in the teacher training system in Scotland over the next few years, and that has, for example, considerable implications for the staff involved. I shall come to that matter shortly.First, dealing with the question of consultation, there has been an almost unprecedented amount of consultation on this particular document. I personally have had meetings with the Joint Committee of Colleges of Education—that is, all the colleges of education—the General Teaching Council, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church—last Friday—and, because I am well aware of the serious implications of my proposals for the staff of the colleges, I have had meetings on two separate occasions with ALCES, the Lecturers' Association. In addition, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has had meetings with representatives of various colleges, the teachers' organisations, the Education Committee of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the National Union of Students. In order that each college directly affected by the proposals for closure or merger should have the opportunity to discuss the detailed implications for them of these proposals, I arranged for my Department to have meetings with each of the boards individually. Therefore, there has been no lack of consultation.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?