House Of Commons
Friday 24th June 1977
The House met at Eleven o'clock
Mr Speaker's Absence
The House being met, the Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence from this day's sitting of Mr. SPEAKER, in attendance on Her Majesty at Cardiff on the occasion of Her Jubilee visit to that city.
Whereupon, Mr. OSCAR MURTON, The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair as DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Disabled Persons (Mobility)
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to present a petition which is headed "The National Mobility Petition", which is signed by more than 1,000 residents of my constituency, Watford, where, as hon. Members may know, there is an area populated solely by disabled people.The petition is as follows: To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. Whereby the statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services on 23rd July 1976 on mobility policy for the disabled causes your humble petitioners great concern in that it removes the assurance of continued independent mobility from those severely disabled persons now driving invalid tricycles and condemns many new applicants for mobility assistance to be housebound as a result of the inadequate level of the mobility allowance, your humble petitioners pray that your honourable House call upon the Secretary of State for Social Services to promote policies and propose such necessary legislation as will:
To lie upon the Table.
EUROPEAN ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS
Mr. Secretary Rees, supported by The Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Owen, Mr. Secretary Mason, Mr. Secretary Millan, Mr. Secretary Morris, and Mr. Brynmor John, presented a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities: And the same was read the First time: and ordered to be read a Second time upon Monday next and to be printed. [Bill 142.]
Orders Of The Day
Coal Industry Bill
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
GRANTS IN CONNECTION WITH STOCKS OF COAL OR COKE
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 3, line 12, after "Board" insert "(a)".
With this we may take Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 15, at end insert—
"(b) in building up and maintaining stocks of coal and coke for the benefit of industrial consumers, and
(c) in building up and maintaining stocks of coal and coke to meet the requirements of the domestic market in coal and coke".
It is significant that we are debating the Report stage of this very important measure on a Friday. I think we all feel that it is a great pity that the Government found it necessary to put on this sort of programme on a Friday. There is no doubt that a great many hon. Members would have liked to take part in this debate.
There are more hon. Members here this morning than on a normal Friday.
I accept that there are more hon. Members here than on a normal Friday, but a great many hon. Members who would have liked to be here are not here. This is the second occasion on which the Government have made a mistake with this Bill. Hon. Members will remember that the first time they tried to bring the Bill forward on Report not all the documentation was available and the Government had to change the date. One would have thought that the Government would change it to a time that was for the convenience of the House and not for the inconvenience of so many hon. Members. I do not wish to make a great issue of it, merely to get this point on the record.
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeet) has gone to a funeral.
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should make an intervention of that sort, because it would not have been my hon. Friend's wish to make such a journey but he has done so nevertheless. He was going to move the first amendment.
We could have had the Bill last week.
We should have had it last week if the Government had included it in the business. It is your Government, not ours. In my opinion, if we are to make progress—
It is not Mr. Deputy Speaker's Government.
I note, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you very soon let the House know that it was certainly not your Government, and I am sorry if by a slip of the tongue I made any suggestion that it might have been.
I am quite impartial.
It is very important that we do not rush through these matters merely because we all want to get away on a Friday. The business is being taken today and we must consider the amendments very carefully.The Bill provides for grants to be made available for stocking within the Board's wholly-owned distributive companies. Unfortunately, it appears that it does not provide for similar treatment for private sector distributors. General industrial users ordinarily carry stocks on their own premises and at their own cost. These amount to between 1·5 million tons and 2 million tons. They average overall between five weeks' and six weeks' supply at peak winter consumption levels and run down to about two weeks' supply by the end of the winter. Over the past two years, because of the low level of industrial activity and higher fuel prices, the trend has been to reduce these stocks. This is particularly applicable to smaller concerns, but even now many of the larger concerns are reviewing their policy. We believe that there could be very serious results if the outcome of this policy review were to he a cut-back on stocks. Coal sales to general industry in 1076-77 amounted to just under 11 million tons and supporting coal stocks reached only approximately 1·3 million tons. Most of this is carried by large to medium processing steam raising industries, notably cement, which carries approximately nine to 10 weeks' stock, aluminium smelting, which carries approximately 10 weeks' stock, and paper textiles and chemical industries, which carry about seven to eight weeks' stock. With the present cash flow pressures, however, these larger concerns are much more aware of the amount of their capital that is tied up in these stocks and, with the attendant interest charges and land charges, great temptation is put upon them to allow these financial implications and the problems they create to override the traditional view of what is needed to ensure security of supply throughout the winter. These trends could impose a real burden on pits and on the transportation system during peak winter demand periods. In addition to the stocks held by industry itself, the Board traditionally carries strategic industrial quality coal stocks at the pithead amounting by end summer to about 1 million tons. These are specifically to meet the space heating demand for those categories of user who are unable to hold sufficient buffer stocks themselves. These include mainly hospitals, schools and smaller industrial and commercial premises. If the Board had to meet an extra demand from larger and medium coal users during the crucial winter months it would mean adding substantially to the strategic stock levels. This, in turn, would overload the transport system even more, which would certainly, in practice, act particularly to the detriment of smaller users who cannot stock. We believe that it would be in the national interest to include larger general industry coal users in the provisions in the Bill for assistance with coal stocking. A number of approaches have been made to the Government on this subject. Indeed, the Minister met representatives of the Chamber of Coal Traders. As a result of that meeting, the Minister wrote to the secretary of the chamber and tried to clarify a number of points raised by the chamber. 11.15 a.m. I regret that the chamber still feels apprehensive about the situation and would have liked something like this amendment written into the Bill. If the Minister is not able to accept the amendment, I hope that he will reiterate some of the things that he said in his letter to the secretary of the chamber. The suggestion in the ministerial letter to the secretary of the chamber was that the Bill would extend the period in which assistance could be given. The suggestion is that the position under the 1973 Act is not fundamentally changed by this clause and that under both the previous Act and the present Bill aid would be forthcoming in respect of all qualifying stocks of coal—including domestic—owned by the National Coal Board or other producers wherever located. On the face of it, this might appear to have removed the chamber's anxiety, but the wording of subsection (3), which specifically mentions only stocks of coal or coke built up by the two generating boards and the British Steel Corporation, might well enable the Treasury to withhold sanction for grants for stocks of coal for general industrial consumers and the domestic market on the ground that they are not Board customers of the same kind as those named in the subsection and are not, therefore, covered by the clause. This was not clearly stated during our debates in Committee and we merely have the letter written by the Minister as confirmation. It would be very helpful if the Minister could give us some assurances on the matter, because some of the utterances in Committee do not altogether bear out the sentiment expressed in the ministerial letter. For example, the Minister stated in Committee on 5th April that:
These two views seem to conflict, and they cause the Chamber of Coal Traders considerable apprehension. The Minister said later that the trade accepts that it would be impracticable to bring 8,000 merchants within a stocking scheme and also that this might offend European Coal and Steel Community regulations. That is really irrelevant, because this is not what the Chamber of Coal Traders is asking the Minister to do. We are left in a state of flux. We are not sure of the Government's intention. I hope that the Minister will be able to put on record some of the implications that he expressed in the letter that he wrote to the chamber."10 million tons of stock are anyway financed by the board's customers. The purpose is to help not with any stocks but with exceptional stocks … There is no need for distributors to build up exceptional stocks."— [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 5th April 1977; c. 174].
I support the amendment. It is important for us to have a clear explanation from the Minister why the proposed subsidy for coal stocking is to be limited to the electricity supply industry and the British Steel Corporation. My main point is that in my assessment this is a selective application of the subsidy which is contrary to the best interests of energy conservation and a more rational use of energy.If we are to have subsidies—and we are not arguing today whether we are in favour of subsidies—surely it would be contrary to the current tide of events and political intervention by Governments in energy strategy if such subsidies were to operate contrary to the more rational use of energy. It would be contrary to the type of proposals that President Carter is advocating in the United States and to the policy which this Government claim to be following. I say that because presumably subsidies for coal stocking are intended to encourage coal-burn. If subsidies are to be given exclusively for the supply of electricity rather than to other large consumers in industry an artificial subsidy will be given to electricity consumption, which will be a disincentive for coal-burn in industries which use more efficient systems such as the fluidised combustion bed system. The provision in the Bill is contrary to what we are led to believe is the Government's policy—not just to encourage more coal-burn but to encourage the more efficient use of energy. Even the most efficient power station converts only one-third of the fuel into useful electricity. The rest is rejected as heat and waste. On the other hand, in industry where there is coal-burn using the more efficient plant that is available, including the fluidised combustion bed system, where one can operate the combined heat and power cycle, the thermal efficiency of the fuel is 60 to 70 per cent. compared with 30 to 35 per cent. using electricity. The Minister should therefore seriously consider the amendment. At least he should explain why, in proposing this subsidy in such a selective way, he has discriminated against the more efficient use of energy by the efficient use of coal-burn. This is at a time when the Government and all those who have anything constructive to say about energy strategy are advocating coal-burn and the recovery of markets which were lost in the past in industries which could use coal-burn more efficiently. If a subsidy is needed at all, surely it is needed more where private industry has to undertake substantial capital investment to install modern plant in order to burn coal more efficiently. That is where the subsidy is really needed and where coal should be burnt more extensively, to the benefit of the coal and mining industries which we are here to promote. If we were not we would be opposing this legislation. The Minister should seriously reconsider his line if thinking. If the Government are really concerned about energy conservation and genuinely interested in a more rational use of our energy they should take a proper view of the market. They should help to extend the market in coal in the most efficient and constructive way. That demands the extension of this subsidy to those in industry who wish to burn coal and to stock it. That would be in the best interests of the coal industry.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for raising a matter that is not related to the Bill. The first item of public business, the European Assembly Elections Bill, was presented on behalf of Mr. Secretary Rees, whose name is on the Order Paper. However, the Bill shows that it is presented by Mr. Secretary Ross.I am not aware that there is a Minister of that name at present. There used to be a Mr. Secretary Ross, but he is no longer a Minister. This discrepancy has been noticed not only in the House but outside. Could you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, tell us if this in any way changes the status of the First Reading of the Bill?
I have no doubt that the hon. Member's information will have been noticed elsewhere and that any steps necessary to correct the error will be taken in due course. I am advised that it in no way invalidates the Bill itself.
The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for New-ham, South (Mr. Spearing). Whether we agree or disagree with him, we have to admit that he never misses a trick, even on a Friday.I should declare an interest in the amendment, because I have solid fuel central heating in my "castle". No one will catch me on that. If the amendment were pased I might have some financial advantage. I doubt it, but just to be on the safe side I tell the House that that is the situation. Opposition Members might like to say what form of heating they use in their domestic establishments. The amendment, as explained by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), is different from what I thought when I first looked at it. It is not a proposal for paying direct subsidies to individual householders or companies, large or small, for their coal stocks; it is a subsidy to the National Coal Board. The complaint has been made that the three organisations that are mentioned— the South of Scotland Electricity Board, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the British Steel Corporation—have an advantage. I hope that my hon. Friend can explain whether the advantage of the subsidy for stocking is limited to those three organisations or is spread wider. I think that it is spread wider than the three organisations that are mentioned. I should support the amendment if its intention was that the National Coal Board should receive some financial support from central Government for taking on to its own books the extra cost of stocking coal. Stocks are insurance, whether they are in a personal bunker or in industry. Perhaps I may insert a plug for coal. Prices are down at the moment because summer prices are available. It is a good time to stock up. One of the objections to an extension of the subsidy is the limit on the amount of money available to either the NCB or the Government. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty did not spell out how much this proposal would cost. Is it a matter of sharing the amount of money available in a wider range, so that the Board would not have any more money available at the end? Perhaps the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty will give us a better indication of what he means. It is an attractive amendment, but it is limited by the amount of money that will be available and by the sheer organisation that it might require.
I support the amendment, which stands in my name as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), who so ably moved it. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) was perhaps guilty of some slight inaccuracies here and there in his observations and interpretation. Perhaps he was also guilty of a little wishful thinking in certain parts. I imagine that the Minister will be able to highlight some of his arguments when he sums up.I hope that the Minister will not dismiss the amendment as he dismissed those that we put before him in Committee. I do not want to be too churlish at the outset of my brief remarks, but the Minister will note that the Bill provides for grants to be made available for stocking only in the NCB's wholly owned distributive companies, whereas the amendment seeks to enable similar benefits for private sector distributors. A look at the stocks held by the industrial users in the United Kingdom shows that there are between 1½ million and 2 million tons of coal lying fallow for several weeks at the users' own cost. I draw the cost to the Minister's attention and ask him to reflect upon the pressure on cash flow and capital. He will realise that it has had a massive effect upon many of the larger users. I draw the attention of the House to some of the annual offtakes of some of the large private organisations and the traditional end of summer stock holding tonnages. For example, Alcan Aluminium's annual offtake is 1 million tons. At the end of the summer it has about 200,000 tons of coal stock held for several months. The annual offtake of Bowater Limited is 600,000 tons. It is left with 100,000 tons at the end of the summer. Courtaulds has an annual offtake of 500,000 tons and is left with 60,000 tons. ICI buys 400,000 tons of coal and coke a year and has 50,000 tons left over. That represents a spectrum of between six and 10 weeks of winter stock for that spread of organisations. The cumulative offtake of the 20 largest private industrial users in the United Kingdom is about 8 million tons and over 1½ million tons are left at the summer end. That is the tonnage that is spread between the largest 20 or 25 industrial users at the end of the summer. If the large or medium buyers decide, for economic reasons, that they can no longer continue to carry that level of stock holding, a very real burden will be added to the ability of the pits and the transportation system in coping during the peak demand of the winter months. This is an important amendment. Many important points have been made from both sides of the House and I hope that the Minister will not dismiss the amendment. Many serious difficulties could arise if it is not taken on board. There are massive amounts of coal and coke outstanding at the end of the summer. It could become a serious issue and a major problem affecting the coal industry and the National Coal Board. I can see no reason for the Minister not being able to accept the amendment.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I have been to the Public Bill Office to see the Table copy of the Bill to ascertain whose name is engrossed on the European Assembly Elections Bill as presenting it. I have to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is no Table copy. There is no such copy anywhere in the precincts of the House. It has not been delivered to the Table Office.By precedent we have to rely on the Bill as presented and available in the Vote Office and not on the Table copy. If there is an error in a printed Bill made available at the Vote Office and there is a Table copy on the Table of the House, I understand that it is the Table copy that is regarded as correct. As there is no Table copy on the Table of the House we must regard as the authentic Bill the one that has been made available to hon. Members at the Vote Office. As there is no Mr. Secretary Ross in existence, will you confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Bill has not been presented to the House?
I understand that the copy to which the hon. Gentleman alludes is in the Journal Office. I can inform the hon. Gentleman that it does not effect today's business.
I raise a specific matter involving the stocking of coal at collieries that are dependent on the Carmarthen Bay Power Station. This is a matter that the Minister knows well. He will recall meeting a deputation from the area concerned some months ago. The deputation represented the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Action Committee of the Carmarthen Bay Power Station, as well as the Dyfed County Council. There was a large public meeting. I believe that the deputation impressed the Minister by being articulate and sincere in the way in which it put its case. The Minister impressed the deputation by his sincerity and the sympathy with which he listened to its case.Although the deputation's case was put to him some months ago, nothing has since been heard. There is still a great deal of anxiety about the future of an important power station that is the only industry of any size in the area. It is an industry that burns low volatile coal, which is not done at any other power station of this type except, perhaps, at Aberthaw Power Station, where they have to use gas and electricity in order to do so. The men in the industry and the people in the district wish to know whether the industry has a future. The Minister said at the meeting that he could say that it had a future for a year at least but he could not go much further than that. The people want to know whether they can look forward to a future extending to 1985 or 1990. I shall be grateful to the Minister, for whom we all have the greatest respect, if he will refer to this matter when he replies.
I do not wish to be in any way controversial in a friendly debate of this sort, but it seems that the Opposition must make up their minds somewhere along the line whether they are for or against subsidies. There is no indication in the amendment whether they are talking about additional moneys being made available for this purpose or merely a redistribution of the existing subsidy cake.I feel that the real reason for there being an apparent limitation in the clause is that we are dealing, unfortunately, with somewhat limited resources. My concern throughout the Bill is the limited amount of money that is made available to the Board. We are aware of the increasing financial pressures that operate even over a short period, although I can see no real reason for us having to deal with somewhat limited resources. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will probably indicate, as he did in Committee, that it would be complex and difficult to bring into the ambit of any scheme the 8,000 dealers in the domestic sector. In any case, in talking about coal we are not talking about a depreciating asset in the normal sense of the term, so the problems may not be as great as they appear. I think that my hon. Friend the Mem-for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) is somewhat optimistic in hoping to be able to take advantage of any offer by the Government if the amendment is carried. I say that from my own sad experiences and those of my constituents with one or two of the private dealers. My constituents have made bitter complaints to me about the situation. On the commercial side, too much is being made of the cash flow problem. I appreciate that these are very large stocks and that there is a problem, but we are dealing generally with very large firms here. They have very long throughputs and work not on a four-monthly basis but on a 10-year basis. This is an expected liability that they have to meet. Their calculations will have taken these factors into account at least months before the holding of the stock is involved. This is a predictable holding at every point, so I do not think that it adds particularly to their cash flow problem.
The hon. Gentleman cannot really talk in terms of a 10-year projection of the cost cycle. Furthermore, the whole question of the funding of the annual coal stocks is an annual revenue item not a capital item. The hon. Gentleman talks about four months, but Alcan or Courtaulds have hundreds of thousands of pounds tied up in stocks, which could present serious problems.
I was not talking of 10-year predictions in this situation, but in general it is known months ahead what the level will be. It is predictable in that sense, so I do not think that the problem is very great.There is an overwhelming argument for an encouragement to industry to invest in very high technology equipment which uses coal, but if we are to subsidise or support industry in that direction it should be directed towards investment in the complicated plant concern rather than given indirectly in support measures of this kind.
I support the amendment for three main reasons. First, we must recognise that within the coal industry there has been a quite serious fall-off in morale as a result of the undistributed stocks being visible to the miners, who are at the same time being asked to dig more and more coal. Therefore, it has been the policy of the Government, which I support entirely, to ensure that as much of this coal is distributed as possible. The Government have chosen to make this distribution very largely to two major customers of the industry, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the iron and steel industry. I believe that to be unfair and unreasonable.11.45 a.m. I recognise the importance of those two customers to the NCB, but if, as Minister after Minister really means what he has told us, the intention is to broaden the sales base of the industry, we must have fairness in the distribution of the subsidies and not merely have them directed towards these two giants. Many people in it believe that the domestic market is being deliberately strangled by the National Coal Board. The Minister says that that is not so, but he knows the rumours. Secondly, we are told that the Government are instituting an inquiry into the question whether there should be more chimneys on the top of council houses. I would like to see that happen, but there will not be much point in doing it if we do not have a domestic coal market left. It behoves the Government to support their brave words by action to support that market by ensuring that our constituents are not deprived of solid smokeless or other fuel during the winter months. I have never known a winter in this House without hon. Members pointing to shortages that exist. One way of getting over shortages is to ensure adequate stocks in the hands of the domestic market. Thirdly, industrial customers are reducing their stocks. The Minister knows it as well as I do. I have here a letter from the industrial sales manager of the National Coal Board, and I have no doubt that it has been quoted already. These stocks are reducing to a period of three to four weeks. We must recognise that if we do not build up stocks for the domestic market, and we allow the industrial market, apart from the electricity and iron and steel industries, to reduce stocks, and if we get the cold winter that must come in both North and South, we could have a desperately serious situation, in which the coal industry would not be able to meet the demand. It is a shortsighted policy merely to pander to the demands of the two giant customers and to forget the rest. The Minister knows as much as I do what Hobart House wants. It wants to see this stocking-up provided on a much wider basis. The final sentence in the letter I have referred to reads:
That is straight from the NCB, and it speaks for itself."We believe, therefore, that it is in the national interest that larger General Industry coal users should be included in the provisions of the Bill for assisted coal stocking."
I have listened with great interest to the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) commented on the timing of these proceedings. He will remember the story of the parishioner in Scotland who was congratulated by his kirk minister on the fact that he had a new house with a bath for the first time. He told the Minister "I am looking forward to the weekend coming, when I shall be able to have a bath." He did not realise the time was now, that he could have a bath whenever he liked. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the time is now when the House should get ahead with putting this progressive measure on the statute book.The meeting that I had with the Chamber of Coal Traders, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, was a good and harmonious one. The representatives expressed their appreciation of what the Government had done to sustain the domestic market. The hon. Gentleman will recall that coal was imported to sustain the domestic market. I tried to explain the position. In the letter which the hon. Gentleman quoted I even undertook to try to deal with some of the other problems which the chamber raised with me. The chamber made it clear that its relationship with the NCB was of a high order and that it was grateful for the assistance which it received. I hope to be able to give the hon. Gentleman some of the clarification he seeks. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) said that we had to restore the markets. I hope that he agrees that the sooner the Bill is passed the sooner confidence in the industry will be restored and the sooner we shall get the markets. That is what the Bill is about.
But does the Minister accept that that applies only if he accepts the amendment?
I certainly do not accept that. What I am saying is that the Bill is such a tremendous vote of confidence in the industry that the industry will respond and we shall get the markets.I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that the clause is not of direct benefit to the electricity boards or the British Steel Corporation. In so far as assistance to the NCB enables it to hold down price increases, electricity and coal consumers will benefit as a consequence. The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) talked about morale. This Bill will do more for the morale of the industry than anything else, and the sooner we enact it the better. The same applies for the difficulty of meeting demand—the sooner we implement the Bill, the sooner the industry can carry out the policy laid down by the House, a policy the industry itself wants, and the sooner we shall be able to meet demand each winter. In Committee, we were talking particularly about smokeless fuel. I am sure that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) knows that when Bettws Colliery comes into production we shall be able to assist in the anthracite market. I appreciated the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen and his kind remarks to me. We had a productive meeting about Carmarthen Bay Power Station, in which he has a constituency interest. But without the Bill we cannot deal with these problems, because the money necessary is provided under the Bill. I hope soon to make recommendations arising from the work of the working party which was set up to deal with these matters. However, I can make all the recommendations I like—the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) can make all the recommendations that he likes about Scottish coal-burn—but without the Bill we cannot solve the problems. These clauses are probably the most important legislation for the industry since the nationalisation Acts. Section 3 of the National Coal Board (Finance) Act 1976 amended the stocking aid power in the 1973 Act to enable stocking aid to be provided to the NCB not only in respect of coal in the Board's ownership but also in respect of coal which might have passed into the ownership of the Central Electricity Generating Board, the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the British Steel Corporation but which was still financed by the NCB under deferred payments arrangements. I explained in Committee that it was sensible for the NCB to make use of such deferred payments schemes to avoid the cost of double handling and to keep coal moving from the pithead. As the 1973 Act stood, the Board was discouraged from making the best use of such schemes. The reason why Section 3 of the 1976 Act refers only to stocks held by the electricity boards and the British Steel Corporation is that they are major users of coal, with large facilities for stocking. Those facilities are large enough to take substantial quantities of coal, over and above the amounts which organisations judge necessary for their own commercial or operational reasons. At the end of May, the NCB was financing over 5 million tons of stocks held by the electricity boards. That is a substantion amount, and is included in the total stocks on which the NCB claims stocking aid. It is thus of substantial benefit to the Board. No similar substantial benefit would arise from extending the scope of stocking aid to include stocks financed by the NCB but held by other industrial consumers, merchants and distributors. These consumers must maintain a certain level of stocks in their own interests. It may be mutually convenient for them and the Board to reach an agreement whereby the customer takes delivery of stocks on deferred payment terms. It is also true that the Board's practice is to allow a summer discount on domestic solid fuel. At the peak period of the year, about 300,000 tons of coal is financed by the NCB on deferred payment terms with industrial consumers and merchants. This should be contrasted with the 5 million tons financed by the Board with the electricity boards at the end of May. The scale is quite different. 12 noon. If the quantity of stocks for industrial or domestic consumption is insufficient to guard against a temporary interruption of supply, this is a matter for discussion and mutual arrangement between industrial consumers, the coal trade and the National Coal Board. In any event, as I said in Committee when we discussed a similar amendment, the purpose of stocking aid is to help with exceptional stocks and not normal stocks which are built up to cope with seasonal variations in demand or to provide a contingency against local shortages or distribution difficulties. If aid was given other than for exceptional stocks, it would run counter to ECSC rules on aids to coal industries by member States.
I think, generally speaking, that this amendment would be received sympathetically by hon. Members on both sides of the House, were it possible. But what would be the impact on coal-burning centres under this clause if the amendment were carried extending the scheme but without any increase in the amount of subsidy available? Would not that have a deleterious effect on any agreement which was reached, for instance, with the South of Scotland Electricity Board?
It could alter the sums. I should not like to say off the cuff how serious the effect would be, but obviously more money would be involved. I am not in a position to give a direct reply to the hon. Gentleman. I always try to be accurate. My instinct is probably to agree with the hon. Gentleman. But, in the interests of accuracy, I should prefer to write to him about it because it is a matter deserving some clarification.
The Minister is justifying his opposition to our amendment on the ground that if the subsidy were available to industrial consumers in addition to the limited availability to the electricity industry it might contravene ECSC regulations. Can he explain why, apparently, the British Steel Corporation is included? It is, after all, part of industry. Why is that to be allowable when it is not allowable to industry at large, such as ICI, for example?
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East has long experience of these matters. He should know that different rules apply to the steel industry, where one is talking primarily about coke. The hon. Member raised the same matter in Committee, and I gave my reply to him on that occasion.I was saying that the National Coal Board may wish, in the interests of efficient distribution and security of supply, to maintain stocks of industrial or domestic coal throughout the country, whether it is in merchants' premises or elsewhere. Provided that the title to this coal remains with the Board, the stocks can be included in the overall calculation of the Board's exceptional stocks for the purposes of stocking aid. This is the case under the existing powers of the 1973 Coal Industry Act and under the clause. To the extent that such stocks are more enduring than mere seasonal increases, they will count towards the total amount of stocking aid. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) raised a matter related to some extent to the last point that I made. Arising out of his remarks, it is not the case that the clause applies only to the National Coal Board and its subsidiary, National Smokeless Fuels; it applies to any producer who meets the definition in subsection (2). I hope that these explanations and the assurance that I have given that any stocks owned by the Board which are not merely seasonal in character would count towards stocking aid will satisfy hon. Members. I hope also that the House will bear in mind that when I begun my reply to the debate I commented on the good relationship which exists between the Board and the coal traders and the very helpful meeting which took place between us, when the traders expressed their appreciation of the help that we were trying to give. However, in fairness to what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said, it must be pointed out that they wanted us to go further.
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman for the past four or five minutes, and I imagine that he is bringing his remarks to a conclusion. I have been baffled by what he said so far. Many of our arguments have not been discussed in any detail. May I ask him especially to reply to one matter which I raised? There are some 20 or 25 large industrial private users who have the better part of 10 million tons of coal outstanding at the end of the summer period. If, for economic reasons, those organisation? decided to run down their stocks seriously and drastically in order to improve their cash flow positions, what action would the Government and the National Coal Board take to try to offset a potentially serious problem?
It is not the job of a Minister to answer hypothetical questions. The hon. Member is implying that this could not be done, for whatever reason it might be. To an extent, this Bill is a vote of confidence in the industry. I think that the hon. Gentleman exaggerates. It may be my inadequacy in not being able to explain the position. But I am replying to the debate on the amendment and to matters arising from the amendment. The hon. Gentleman may be unable to comprehend what I have said, or it may be due to my inability to communicate with him. But I felt that I had answered the debate. The hon. Gentleman may be dissatisfied with what I am saying. In that case, we shall have to disagree.The hon. Gentleman is right on one matter. I am coming to the end of my remarks. I have tried to explain as best I can. I am sorry if I have not been able to explain the position to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam. I thought that it was perfectly clear. I have explained the implications of the clause. I have explained the relationship between industry and the National Coal Board. I am afraid that I cannot go any further.
I comprehend what the Minister has said. My only dissatisfaction is that he has not applied his argument to our amendment.
Of course, we could have this kind of exchange all the time. I thought that I had replied to all the arguments put forward in the debate, though possibly to the dissatisfaction of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam. But, as he anticipated, my remarks are really coming to an end.I explained to the House that I had met the coal traders. It was a line and friendly meeting. They appreciated the help that I had given as a Minister. They appreciated the help that the National Coal Board had given. They made it clear that relations between us were of the best. I also explained the terms of the proposed legislation, and I touched on the question of the ECSC rules. Their existence is a fact which the House cannot ignore. Having given that explanation, I hope that the Opposition will see fit to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
There is no question of our withdrawing the amendment. It was interesting to hear the Minister describe the meeting that he had with the Chamber of Coal Traders. He told us that it was friendly, each side thought that the other was very nice, everyone thought the world of the National Coal Board, everyone thought the world of the help being given—but still there is a demand for our amendment. It is as simple as that.Although the Minister has been very charming, as he always is, and he gave us a variety of reasons which, in his view, justified refusal of the amendment, he completely missed the main point. For example, he did not refer to the important matter of conservation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) referred. The amendment is important in that connection. He did not mention the important fact that the National Coal Board itself approves of what the amendment is designed to do. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) made that clear at the end of his speech, quoting from a letter from the Board. The Minister did not answer the points and questions that we have raised. He did not shoot down our arguments. He said that he did not agree with them, but at the end of it all we remain convinced that the present system is not working to the best advantage of consumers or of the country, and that our amendment would provide a much fairer basis. For example, why should the British Steel Corporation be subsidised for the investment it has made in coal stocks, while ICI cannot be? It is as simple as that. In our view, where these moneys are available they should be made available on an equal basis. If the Minister is sincere in what he says, there is no reason why he cannot accept the amendment. It could be written into the Bill, it would make an improvement, and at the same time it would confirm the good will which the Minister told us was evinced at the highly successful meeting to which he referred. However, we are anxious to move on and we wish to bring the debate to a conclusion. We cannot accept the Minister's answer, and we shall press the matter to a Division.
Question put, That the amendment be made: —
Division No. 182]
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Bell, Ronald||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gray, Hamish||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Biffen, John||Hannam, John||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hayhoe, Barney||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hordern, Peter||Sims, Roger|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Brooke, Peter||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Buck, Antony||Le Marchant, Spencer||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Macfarlane, Neil||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||MacGregor, John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Cope, John||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Dykes Hugh||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|English, Michael||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Moate, Roger||Mr. Jim Lester and|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Pink, R. Bonner||Mr. Peter Morrison.|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C 'f 'd)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Horam, John||lodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Ashton, Joe||Hunter, Adam||Rooker, J. W.|
|Atkinson, Norman||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Bates, Alf||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Judd, Frank||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Kelley, Richard||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Lamond, James||Sillars, James|
|Canavan, Dennis||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Silverman, Julius|
|Cartwright, John||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Lipton, Marcus||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Snape, Peter|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Spearing, Nigel|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Maclennan, Robert||Stallard, A. W.|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Marks, Kenneth||Stoddart, David|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Meacher, Michael||Strang, Gavin|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Molloy, William||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Tinn, James|
|Eadle, Alex||Newens, Stanley||Tomlinson, John|
|English, Michael||Ogden, Eric||Ward, Michael|
|Ennals, David||O'Halloran, Michael||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Ovenden, John||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Padley, Walter||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Park, George||Woodall Alec|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Graham, Ted||Richardson, Miss Jo|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Robinson, Geoffrey||Mr. Joseph Harper.|
Question accordingly negatived.
I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 6, line 28, at end insert:
'and opencast workings of coal'.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect to the Chair, may J say that this amendment rather puzzles me because I understand that the definition of "coal activities" under the Bill includes opencast workings of coal. Since that is so, I can see no validity in the amendment.
The House divided: Ayes, 45, Noes, 90.
In the circumstances, I think that it would be convenient if the Minister were to explain the amendment.
It is precisely because the wording in the Bill does not make that clear that I am moving the amendment. The Bill refers to "colliery activities". Does that include opencast activities? That is my point.This is a matter of considerable concern in my constituency and neighbouring areas, where there is perhaps more opencast activity than in any other part of Britain. It has been going on for a great deal of time. One of my mining villages has seen opencast activity since 1947, and in some areas it is on the increase rather than on the decrease. One can see whole villages surrounded by opencast sites, and that is a cause of great distress to the inhabitants. Housewives, for instance, find that they cannot hang their clothes on the line because of the dust which comes from these activities. White paint becomes black quite quickly and therefore, if one lives near a site where there is so much dust, it is no good painting one's house. When the weather is bad, the mud on the roads is almost intolerable. It is absolutely filthy. There are complaints, even a few miles from my own home, about heavy shot-firing and about cracks in the walls. These complaints come mainly from house owners, and not only from tenants, although many of them are involved in the mining industry. They say that their homes are suffering in this way and that the National Coal Board is unwilling to admit that it is in any way responsible for the cracks which appear in floors and in walls. Something must be done quickly. That is why I should like to see the words "opencast workings of coal" included in the Bill.
I shall be brief. My constituency contains five deep mines which produce most of the coal that goes to the great Port Talbot steelworks. In addition, because we are in the coastal belt, opencast mining, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows from the inquiries that have taken place, is a very important issue. It is a very important issue in areas where there were previously deep mines. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure the House that the wording in the Bill includes opencast mining. I rest my case there.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) for moving the amendment and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley). Mr. Deputy Speaker has more or less clearly defined how I should reply. The hon. Member for Carmarthen expressed doubts about definition. I wish to clarify that the amendment would not achieve anything. The definition of "colliery activities" under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act includes
This clearly includes opencast mining. Since the hon. Gentleman's amendment is already covered by existing legislation, I ask him to withdraw it."winning, working or getting coal".
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Activities Relating To Petroleum
I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 7, line 16, leave out 'refining' and insert 'treatment'.I shall be introducing a later amendment—No. 5—which deals with the revision of the definition of "petroleum" which appears in Clause 9 (5). The definition as it stands includes natural gas and will continue to do so if the amendment to Clause 9 (5) is agreed. The use of the word "refining" in Clause 9 (1) (a) does not correctly desscribe the processes which apply to natural gas—for example, the separation of different gases which occur together in natural gas. The substitution of "treatment" for "refining" will cover the processes, and "treatment" is also wide enough to cover the refining of oil. I hope that the House will accept this minor but necessary change.
It is encouraging that the Minister and I can see eye to eye in view of the fact that I moved this amendment in Committee. One is entitled to pose a rhetorical question about the drafting procedures throughout the Bill being a little questionable because the earlier Act adequately defines "petroleum" and the Bill does not seem to do it for the first time. However, I do not want to be grudging and churlish to the Minister because at least he has granted us a minor and modest concession.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 7, line 25, at end insert—
'and that the revenues of the Board from those activities shall not be less than sufficient for meeting all their outgoings properly chargeable to revenue account in connection with those activities on an average of good and bad years'.
With this we may take Amendment No. 6, in Clause 10, page 8, line 12, at end insert—
'Provided that the revenues of the Board from the activities under paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection shall not be less than sufficient for meeting all their outgoings properly chargeable to revenue account in connection with those activities on an average of good and bad years'.
In considering the provisions of the Coal Industry Bill we have taken a realistic view of the probable future of the industry. We accept, for example, that oil and gas are finite resources and must be treated as such. Nuclear energy must be considered carefully before positive decisions are taken, although we have expressed reservations about the delays that appear inevitable in reaching these decisions. Solar, wind and wave energy all require much research and development, and the lead-in time with all these sources is long.12.30 p.m. We accept that it is likely that within the next few decades it may be desirable that the United Kingdom should establish a method of processing at least some of its coal into liquid fuels and synthetic gas and will wish to use some of its coal instead of oil as chemical feedstock. It is, therefore, essential to consider more closely the implications of the Bill and, particularly, of this amendment. It is difficult to forecast exactly when it will be necessary for the United Kingdom to utilise coal in these ways, but there is no dispute that it will be necessary. Oil must be reserved for transportation— petrol, diesel and aviation fuel—and petrochemicals. This will result in the availability of oil for these uses diminishing, but, even then, the economic case for making oil from coal may not arise until the end of the century. If so, it is premature for the NCB to diversify now into such activities as oil refining simply to gain experience. The prime task for the coal industry in the next decade must be to establish adequate mining capacity and to produce sufficient coal in the 1980s and 1990s. This must be its first priority. The object of the amendment is to ensure the commercial worthiness of any NCB project If the Board is to enter into something that is outside its normal role, the commercial viability of any project in which it engages should be substantially proved before the venture is undertaken. The amendment does not stop the development of coal outlets but merely asks for strict discipline to be placed upon this public body to proceed on a wholly commercial and non-subsidised basis. Some of the debates in Committee and some of the Minister's pronouncements at that time lead us to believe that the amendment should be acceptable to the Government. For example, the Minister, referring to the NCB and its operations, said:
He also said:"In all these operations the National Coal Board will act, and will be expected by the Government to act, on a commercial basis, as it does in its existing chemical activities".
Those are worthy Conservative principles with which we do not disagree. It would be quite wrong for a body such as the NCB to enter into a venture in which it did not have a great deal of experience unless it were part of a consortium including people who were highly experienced and successful in this field. The Government already possess powers through the British National Oil Corporation to get into oil refining and petrochemicals. It is a little strange that, at this stage, they should find it necessary to include such provisions in a coal Bill. It is not our desire to restrict the activities of the NCB. Our purpose is to try to ensure that its future projects will be commercially viable. I referred in Committee to what the Under-Secretary had said on 19th June 1975. Those remarks were relevant at that time, but the Minister referred during the Standing Committee considering this Bill to assurances that had been given about the BNOC and commerciality. We simply seek to include in the Bill the same sort of restrictions as have been placed upon the BNOC. They are voluntary restrictions. It was spelt out clearly by the Minister what would be expected of the BNOC. Assurances are no substitute for having words written into legislation. I hope that the Minister will be able to convince us and those outside the House that the NCB will not be allowed to compete in an unfair way, that all its projects will be subject to the strictest commercial scrutiny and that those who are involved in the mineral extraction business in this country need have no fear. Many of these people have been in touch with us. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) spelt out in detail their fears about the Bill. Since then we have had further representations from British Gypsum which has expressed great fears about the implications of Clause 10. It is because of those fears and the fears of others in the industry, including ARC, which has also been in touch with many of my hon. Friends to express doubts and reservations, that we have tabled our amendments. I know that several of my hon. Friends will wish to speak to them. The assurances given by the Minister in Committee are not sufficient to remove the fears of people in the mineral extraction industry. Considering the number of people working in the industry and the number of jobs involved, it is little wonder that they have expressed doubts. We all sympathise with the NCB in wanting to spread into other fields, but we must not allow unfair competition to be created for those who are already working in this highly successful industry which provides many jobs in the private sector throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances and will show some good will by accepting the amendment, which would strengthen the Bill and make the position of the NCB very much better, because it would ensure that, if there were a chairman of the Board who had some ambitious schemes that were perhaps not always as viable as they might be, this legislation could control his ambitious projects and they could not be started—with taxpayers' money—without the strictest scrutiny, as would be the case if a private company started on a new venture. Such a company would have to go to its merchant bank. It would have to arrange finance, and unless the project were commercially sound there would be little chance of the finance being made available. Similar criteria should be applied to the Coal Board. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment."All these activities would be undertaken jointly by the NCB and BSC partnership, seeking co-operation with established companies". —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 26th April 1977; c. 253.]
It always amazes me that on Report we cover so much of what we have already worked our way through in Committee. In contrast with what was said by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), I believe that these amendments are very restrictive. They are contrary to the whole philosophy of the Bill, which is to provide expanded opportunities for development by the National Coal Board.Many of us are interested to hear about the Coal Board's proposed developments. There is, for example, the Park Colliery project in Cannock. I hope that, perhaps on Third Reading, the Minister will tell us about some of these important developments. The Bill's philosophy is expansionist, but I fear that the amendments could make it very restrictive. It has always been the practice of the Coal Board to extract certain materials in the course of its activities. Basically, there is nothing new in the Bill on that aspect. I cannot say that Labour Members have the numbers of representations which Opposition Members seem to have had from extractors. I am sure that the dangers that they portray to commercial firms are in reality—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is more natural for those who have reservations to make them to Opposition Members rather than to Government supporters, who would be expected to agree with the legislation in any case?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not always agree with Government legislation. I am sure that extractors know that Labour Members would look with an open mind at anything that was put to them. However, it has not been our experience to have the large numbers of representations which apparently Opposition Members have had. I do not believe that there is any real threat to the commercial viability of any private undertakings. We are as interested as the Opposition in maintaining jobs.As regards diversification, the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty acknowledged that in possibly 10 or 20 years there may be need for oil refining to be included within the National Coal Board's activities. We cannot at the moment judge the rate of technological change and the need or otherwise for the Board to move into areas such as oil refining. I should have thought that the Opposition, in the same way as the Government, would encourage important diversification of this type by the Coal Board. 12.45 p.m. The real threat is that these amendments could restrict necessary activity. By laying down hard, economic parameters, they could stop the Board engaging in the much-needed extraction of certain minerals. Perhaps the best example is the extraction of coal from under the North Sea. In the course of that work the Board might come across many other materials which have to be extracted but in which, with the present level of knowledge, it would be uneconomic for any commercial enterprise to become engaged. Indeed, it might be uneconomic for the Coal Board in the short term to extract some of these minerals from under the North Sea. The amendments would have the effect of stopping the Board extracting these vital minerals during North Sea exploitation over the next few years. This may be important in future. As we have already seen with North Sea oil, what is uneconomic today might become the height of sanity and economy tomorrow. The argument applies to mineral resources, not only in the North Sea but in other difficult areas in which the Coal Board could be debarred from working by reason of the harsh restrictions sought to be applied by the amendments. I trust that my hon. Friend the Under-secretary will stubbornly resist accepting these amendments, because they are damning to the whole philosophy of the Bill. I believe that the Opposition are considering merely short-term profit. They are considering merely what is economic today, not what might be economic salvation tomorrow, which is far more important.
The hon. Member for Can-nock (Mr. Roberts) may know a great deal about the coal industry, but he has displayed an abysmal ignorance of the problems involved in the quarrying, road-stone, sand and gravel industries. That may be because there is less of the quarrying and road material extraction industry in Cannock than there is in South-East Derbyshire.I have certainly had anxious representations by firms which feel that they are in grave danger of being severely undermined, not because they are afraid of competition from the National Coal Board—private industry thrives and has learned to survive on competition— but because they are afraid of unfair competition. The industry is justifiably anxious because no assurances have been received from the Government—naturally, we hope that we shall get those assurances now—that there will be safeguards for fair competition. All the representations that I have had tell the same sorry tale. The road-building, quarrying, sand and gravel industries in the East Midlands—certainly in Derbyshire—are in a sorry plight already, thanks to the Government's mishandling of the economy and the rundown in the building and construction industry. There have already been large numbers of redundancies in many of the firms concerned in this vital area. It is not easy to turn these industries on and off like a tap. Once they have been run down, it is difficult to rebuild them when demand revives, as it will do when we get another Conservative Government. Many companies are now down to bedrock, if I may use that expression in this context. There have already been many redundancies. There is a recession in the building and construction industry, as Labour Members have admitted from time to time. The firms involved in the extraction of sand and gravel and road materials are seriously concerned about their low profitability. While they are struggling for survival, this proposed legislation will allow the Coal Board, on finding these types of building materials, to extract and market them itself. As I said in my opening remarks, these companies have no objection to com- petition, provided that it is fair. The danger is that it will be unfair, because the Coal Board will have certain advantages enabling it to conceal the true cost of these mining operations. There will be no guarantee that the operations, if there is diversification into these fields, cannot be financed through hidden subsidies, which would further seriously erode the ability of the existing private sector industry to survive. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) has stated the general arguments. I wish to refer to one large group of companies in particular, the Tarmac Group, which operates extensively in the Deryshire area as well as elsewhere. It says in a desperate plea to me—no doubt the Minister has had similar representations through the trade associations, if not directly from individual companies—that the present recession in the construction and aggregates industry has already resulted in a 30 to 40 per cent. reduction in its output. There have been considerable redundancies and plant closures in that group, as in others, over the last two or three years. It is now down to little more than its skilled personnel. The essential structure of such companies is in serious danger of being eroded further if the Coal Board is allowed to embark on subsidies or unfair competition. In a letter to me, Tarmac says:
This is the point to which the Minister has not addressed himself, the problem of an existing industry with the investment already incurred and the personnel and facilities already provided. If on top of that, in a time of recession and serious over-capacity, a nationalised industry is given freedom to diversify in this field, it can do so only at the expense of further over-capacity and further recession among those already operating. Competition, provided that it is fair, is not objected to. But, as I have said, the only way in which the Coal Board could enter this industry profitably at a time when the industry is not profitable is through entering it in a subsidised form. Otherwise, how can it possibly be profitable for the Board when it is barely profitable for the existing companies with capital and resources already underemployed? The Minister should address himself to that argument before he rejects out of hand our amendments, which provide certain safeguards to see that the competition for diversification in this field should be fair and to provide protection for existing interests."It is our strong contention that such minerals should be worked and marketed by companies already established in the aggregates business, so that the capital already invested and skilled personnel employed are not wasted."
I am not sure that, even if one assumes that what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) has just said is correct, the amendment would give all that much safeguard. As I read it, it puts a minor restriction on the activities of the Coal Board.If the Coal Board is allowed, as it would be under the Bill, to exploit minerals which it finds in the course of its general exploratory activities, it would require a special investment decision by the Board to permit it to go into non-coal mining activities. If the aggregates industry is in difficulty, if it is in recession, I would not think that the Board would wish to go into quarrying and mining at a time when there is virtually no way for a profit to be obtained. I was rather impressed by the accounts of the Coal Board, when I saw from the returns of the subsidiary companies just how many of them seemed to make profits. Far from criticising the Coal Board for loss-making or subsidising activities, I think that it appears to prefer to exploit the market and to make profits out of ancillary activities. If the Conservative Party is complaining that there is a danger of subsidised competition by the Board, it would seem that that unfair competition would come, if it is to come, when the Coal Board was itself exploiting coal, because then, having got the coal from its opencast or deep-mining activities, it would be free to dispose of the other materials at a rundown price. Therefore, there is a greater danger of the Board's hitting at the aggregates industry in the private sector through coal mining activities than by going into the aggregates industry as a separate and commercial venture. If there is a danger of unfair competition, this is perhaps not the best way in which the amendment might have been worded. It might have been a bit more inhibitory on the Board's going in for activities outside its natural realm of operation and indulging in unfair competition. I am not criticising the Opposition too much, because I realise that sometimes it is extremely difficult to pin down the activities of large corporations by means of amendments to Bills. We have all tried it at different times, and we do not always succeed. I do not think that there is much danger to the aggregates industry from the Bill. Even so, I do not think that the Opposition's amendment would do much to remedy the situation that they envisage.
The Opposition said in Committee that they would return to some of these subjects, and they are keeping their promise. I believe that I understand their motives in putting down their amendments, particularly this one. They stressed in Committee their reluctance to see the National Coal Board have access to public funds for commercial purposes under the clause and said that all the operations should be commercially viable. I admit that the hon. Member for Ross and Cro-marty (Mr. Gray) had no complaints today about the general philosophy.We fully discussed these matters in Committee, where we had long debates. The Board considers, and the Government agree, that it is necessary for the good of the coal industry and the economy for it to engage in the oil and petrochemical activities for which Clause 9 gives powers. I repeat what I said in Committee, that
It must have sufficient freedom to exercise its own judgment, and it would be wrong specifically to fetter future ventures in the petrochemical industry which may be of value. It would be wrong to single out this particular set of activities for a special set of conditions as proposed in the amendment. I remind the House that under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946 the Board has a general duty to break even. 1.0 p.m. Like many of the amendments put down by the Opposition, Amendment No. 6 is neither particularly good nor particularly bad. I do not want to spend a lot of time on it and we will discuss some aspects of it later. We discussed this clause fully in Committee, and I have answered the points of concern expressed by certain industrial interests. Of course, the Board did not wish to have the powers in Clause 10 so that it could make a loss when it used them. Of course it will act on the basis of revenues from any activities under the clause being more than sufficient to meet the outgoings. To this extent, therefore, the amendment is superfluous. Another point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts). When he talked about other activities in relation to Clause 6, he referred to the Park Colliery. He has been a persistent advocate for this colliery. We expect that there will be meetings next month to discuss this matter. My hon. Friend will be delighted to hear this and he will probably wish to discuss it with people in the locality. It is a good project, although it has some difficulties. The matter is being discussed. In the case of the similar amendment to Clause 9, it is anomalous to single out any particular activities on which qualifications for breaking even should be imposed. Having given this very quick summary in reply, I hope that the Opposition will seek leave to withdraw the amendment."This is not to say that the Board will squander money and resources on anything that seems to offer a possibility of securing outlets for coal and its products".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28th April 1977; c. 304–5.]
I am surprised at that reply. I refer back to the Committee stage proceedings on 26th April, when the Minister said, in reference to the Board:
I mentioned this earlier and I refer to it again. In these circumstances I would have thought that the Minister, far from rejecting the amendment, would welcome it. It is exactly in line with the thoughts that he has expressed himself. I cannot think why he has suddenly become so much against including these words in the legislation. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) made a perfectly fair point and from it I almost gathered that he thought our amendment was not strong enough. If we put an amendment down, he appears to think that it should be in much stronger terms. I hope that the fact that it does not go as far as he would have wished will not deter him from supporting us in this less than satisfactory way of dealing with the situation. In the points that I tried to make I highlighted our great fear that there would be unfair competition for the private sector, particularly in the mineral extraction industry. The industry is not worried about fair competition at all; it has had to live with competition and has flourished on it, and as a result has produced thousands of jobs throughout the United Kingdom. However, it fears unfair competition from a body in which it sees a potential for undercutting its prices, knowing that the subsidy is there as a support. If one gets competition of this sort from the nationalised industries, it can create havoc. It does not happen at present, but if we do not write this into the legislation there is no reason why it cannot happen in future."In all these operations (under Clause 9) the National Coal Board will act, and will be expected by the Government to act on a commercial basis, as it does in its existing chemical activities."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 26th April 1977; c. 253.]
Division No. 183]
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Bell, Ronald||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Gardiner, George (Relgate)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Biffen, John||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gray, Hamish||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hannam, John||Sims, Roger|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Hayhoe, Barney||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Hordern, Peter||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Brooke, Peter||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Buck, Antony||Le Marchant, Spencer||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Macfarlane, Neil||Weatherill Bernard|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||MacGregor, John|
|Cope, John||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Dykes, Hugh||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Mr. Jim Lester and|
|Emery, Peter||Moate, Roger||Sir George Young.|
|Fell, Anthony||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Atkinson, Norman||Gilbert, Dr John||Maclennan, Robert|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Grant, John (Islington C)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Bates, Alf||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Meacher, Michael|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Harper, Joseph||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Mendelson, John|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Horam, John||Molloy, William|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Cartwright, John||Hunter, Adam||Moyle, Roland|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Newens, Stanley|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Ogden, Eric|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Davidson, Arthur||Judd, Frank||Ovenden, John|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Kelley, Richard||Padley, Walter|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lamond, James||Park, George|
|Dormand, J. D.||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Lipton, Marcus||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|English, Michael||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
The fact that the Minister says that these things have not happened and that the National Coal Board is operating in a satisfactory manner in many areas, is all very well, but all it requires is for someone in in a position of responsibility not to have the keen business sense necessary, for some of these projects to develop in a way which might create unfair competition for the private sector.
We are not trying to sabotage the Bill. Throughout Committee we had extremely harmonious and constructive debates from both sides, and there is no question of our putting down wrecking amendments. We want to strengthen the Bill and improve the position, not only in relation to the private sector and the safeguards for it but also in relation to the National Coal Board.
I am sorry that the Minister cannot accept our arguments and I am afraid that I must press the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 43, Noes 90.
|Rooker, J. W.||Snape, Peter||Ward, Michael|
|Rose, Paul B.||Spearing, Nigel||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Sandelson, Neville||Stallard, A. W.||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Shaw, Arnold (llford South)||Stoddart, David||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Strang, Gavin||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Woodall Alec|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Sillars, James||Tinn, James|
TELLERS FOR THE NOES
|Silverman, Julius||Tomlinson, John||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Skinner, Dennis||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.||Mr. Joseph Ashton.|
|Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
Question accordingly negatived.
I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 7, line 40, leave out from '"petroleum "' to end of line 44 and insert—
I assured the Standing Committee that I would reconsider the definition of "petroleum" following the contributions of Tory Members in that Committee. My conclusion is that the adoption of the definition of "petroleum" used in the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-Lines Act 1975 would indeed be preferable to that originally incorporated in the Bill. Accordingly, the amendment is put forward for the approval of the House. I am advised that there is no need for the Bill to define petroleum products or natural gas. The meaning of the term is sufficiently understood.'means any of the following (other than coal) namely—
(a) mineral oil, natural gas and bituminous shales; (b)deposits not mentioned in the preceding paragraph from which oil can be extracted by destructive distillation; and (c)hydrocarbons which are related to mineral oil and are not mentioned in the pre ceding paragraphs.'.
We thank the Government for responding to the representations that we made in Committee. The Minister acknowledged again today that Opposition raised these matters in Committee. The amendment clarifies considerably the import of the Bill.
Amendment agreed to.
Activities Relating To Minerals Other Than Coal Or Petroleum
I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 8, line 12, at end insert—
'Provided that the power to work and get minerals under this subsection shall not be exercised by means of opencast operations otherwise than in association with working and getting coal.'
With this we are taking Amendment No. 9, in page 8, line 21, at end insert:
'and the Opencast Coal Act 1958'.
These amendments seek to make a very small but important adjustment to Clause 10. It is intended to ensure that the bulk mineral extractive industry-which, as we pointed out in Committee, facing severe over-capacity difficulties-will not be further threatened by an extension of the powers of a State monopoly coal industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) illustrated these difficulties in the previous debate.Despite strong and overwhelming evidence presented by the trade associations, it is very disappointing that the proposed power has been given to the National Coal Board by the clause. This will seriously damage job prospects and investment in about 250 companies which supply minerals, aggregates and materials for our building construction industry. Despite the case advanced in Committee, the Government refused to make the smallest concession and we had to vote against the whole clause. I am pleased to say that since then the Under-Secretary has initiated meetings at Hobart House between the trade associations, the National Coal Board and the Department of Energy. The fact of the industry representatives having been given this opportunity shows that the Under-Secretary has at least recognised the validities of the fears they expressed. Unfortunately, however, as is usually the case, he has yet to do something about it. These amendments result from the meetings between the trade associations, the Coal Board and the Department of Energy. They are not intended to curtail the opportunities of the Coal Board for the exploitation of minerals discovered during the working for coal. The letter to the Under-Secretary of State of 10th June from the British Quarrying and Slag Federation and the Sand and Gravel Association proves the readiness of the industry to meet the requirements of the National Coal Board on minerals related to coal extraction. In that letter Mr. Cleal, the assistant secretary general, said
"Within the private sector, capacity is more than adequate to deal with all foreseeable demand and no question of the national interest can arise. However, we accept that there may be a case for powers to exploit rarer and more valuable minerals accessible by mining, as was mentioned by you, in Committee. We also believe it is reasonable that the Board should be able to exploit any minerals which can be worked in association with the winning of coal.
We have argued and lost the debate over commerciality for Clauses 9 and 10. Now we are asking for a small concession on opencast mineral mining. The bulk minerals industry is not convinced that it will be protected by the intentions of the National Coal Board to make no substantial venture into any competitive and possibly unprofitable field. The words in Clause 10 contain no protection, although the quarrying industry maintains that this can be done without denying the Board its main objective. Powers are being given in the clause for a wide breadth of new activities totally dissociated from the actual mining of coal. Ready-mixed concrete and coated road surfacings are two examples. Clause 9 does not go as far in its petroleum powers. In Committee I explained in detail the worries and fears of the mineral extractive industry. Over the years a good and successful working relationship has been built up between these firms and the Board. Now, the failure to write into the clause some essential safeguards for an industry which has suffered a 30 per cent. drop in capacity and a 20 per cent. drop in employment because of the recession in building and construction represents a grave threat to existing jobs and investment. It threatens the relationship which has existed between the Board and the private extractive firms. The Chairman of the Amey Roadstone Corporation Limited said on 15th April:We are aware of the Board's existing powers to exploit other minerals in certain land already vested in the Board and also of the wish to develop resources that might otherwise not be worked. In this regard we understand from our conversations that the Board's concern arose not in connection with the bulk minerals but with anhydride and copper. Set against this background we were surprised and disappointed to find a general unwillingness to consider any compromise."
Our amendments then sought to limit NCB mineral extraction activities to minerals discovered in the process of winning coal, not during searches for coal. The Committee did not vote on those amendments, which were of a probing nature. I hope that the small alteration proposed in these amendments, which would prevent wholesale opencast mineral mining, will be accepted by the Government."The entry of the NCB into this industry, adding product into an already over-supplied situation, could cause commercial chaos, particularly as the NCB would be operating without the financial constraints and requirements of private enterprise and the efficiency and skills that have been created over the post-war years in surface extraction as opposed to underground extraction."
The amendment is prompted by the fears which have been expressed by the bulk mineral industry. At its request I met representatives of the Sand and Gravel Association and the British Quarrying and Slag Federation. That meeting gave me at first hand the reasons for their concern.I can understand that because of the decline of business in the construction industry they are apprehensive about the possible entry of the NCB into the bulk surface mineral industry. I understand that the Board has no plans at present to use the powers in Clause 10 in that way. I therefore advised the two organisations to discuss their worries with the NCB. They had not had a formal contact with the NCB, so I arranged a meeting between the two sides. I understand that the Board confirmed that it had no present plans to expand into the aggregates business and that it was extremely unlikely that the powers in Clause 10 would be used in this way to any significant extent. However, the Board said that it does not wish to be precluded from using the powers if circumstances were right. The Sand and Gravel Association has written to me to say that, despite the assurances given by the Board, its members remain concerned. They suggest that the uncertainty about the scope of future NCB activities would seriously affect confidence in the industry and affect investment and employment in it. It is strange that the Sand and Gravel Association and the British Quarrying and Slag Federation should continue to have misgivings after they have been assured that the Board has no present plans for expanding into the bulk mineral business and that it is extremely unlikely that the powers under Clause 10 would be used to a significant extent. It would be better to take these assurances at face value. The NCB is a responsible body and would not lightly give such assurances. I do not believe that confidence in the industry will be diminished merely because the NCB may wish to use the powers to work surface minerals in individual cases. I fail to understand the worries of the industry. Just as the Nationalisation Act legislated for the long term, so also does this measure. We are legislating for an indefinite period ahead to a time when demand for bulk minerals will perhaps be revived and when it might be commercially justifiable and in the national interest for the NCB to engage in such extraction on a bigger scale. It is sensible that power to work other minerals found in the course of searching or working for coal should not be hedged around with restrictions. I do not believe that the bulk minerals industry is justified in continuing to have misgivings about Clause 10. However, since receiving the letter which the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) quoted, I have had further consultation with the NCB. I hope that the House will consider it helpful if I say that the Board has agreed that if, during the five years following the enactment of the Bill, it plans, using the powers under Clause 10, to embark on a project for extraction of bulk minerals by opencast operations other than in association with the working and getting of coal, it will notify the association and the federation of its intentions so that discussions can take place. I hope that hon. Members will be reassured by this and that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I am grateful to the Minister for taking the initiative and arranging the meeting. It is a step towards satisfying the fears of the extractive mineral industries. In view of his statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 8, line 44, at end insert—
The purpose of the amendment is to give Parliament some control over the powers being given to the National Coal Board to extend its activities overseas before they are exercised. As we argued at length in Committee, this clause gives the Board powers to extend overseas all the activities that it is being given under Clauses 9 and 10 to extract not only coal but sand, gravel, all minerals, and oil. Although we object in principle to that wide extension of powers without any limitation overseas, the amendment does not attempt to prevent that power from being exercised. We ask that before the Secretary of State gives his consent to the Board to do whatever it wishes to do overseas. Parliament should have the opportunity to approve it, by Statutory Instrument. We regard the amendment as seeking a reasonable measure of control that is quite within the context of the Government's declaration of open government, especially bearing in mind the strongly voiced opinions on both sides of the Committee about the desirability or otherwise of the Board's being allowed to extend its activities overseas. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who has just entered the Chamber, was one who expressed opposition to the Board's being given powers without control to extend its activities overseas. Therefore, we submit the amendment, which in no way restricts the power of the Board to go ahead to do something that it wishes overseas provided that the Secretary of State approves. However, it insists that Parliament should have the opportunity to express its view by Statutory Instrument before that activity is allowed to go ahead. If the amendment is not accepted by the Government, we could have an undesirable situation in which the Board will be given virtually unlimited powers, by statute, to do what it likes abroad in all spheres of activity, without any parliamentary scrutiny. Certain Labour Members have agreed that that would be undesirable. We regard it as unsatisfactory and outside the spirit of parliamentary accountability. We contend that the amendment is perfectly reasonable, bearing in mind the anxieties that were expressed on both sides of the Committee about these powers requiring some sort of parliamentary scrutiny. The Labour Members who expressed anxiety about these powers being extended abroad voiced, as we did, the argument that the Board has enough problems at home without indulging in widespread activities abroad. Moreover, there are the disadvantages that might accrue to the British coal industry to the detriment of miners in this country if the Board were able to exploit abroad without parliamentary scrutiny-for example, to seek and import relatively less expensive coal from abroad. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who would be extremely anxious if these powers were granted without the amendment being accepted. Without parliamentary scrutiny we face the prospect that at some time in future, perhaps the not-too-distant future, the Board will take the opportunity of mining coal in Australia, South Africa or somewhere else, importing it at cut price and putting at risk the standard of living of miners in this country. It will be no use Labour Members complaining, because it will be too late. Indeed, it will be much too late. This is the time when hon. Members should seriously consider the reasonableness of the amendment, which insists that any extension overseas should be after a statutory instrument has been approved by the House. We must bear in mind that the powers granted under the clause do not relate only to coal activities; they give the Board the power, without parliamentary approval, to acquire petroleum, to work minerals of all descriptions, to go upstream and downstream, and to operate, if they so wish, petrol stations in Timbuktu. All that can be done without parliamentary scrutiny. This is nonsense, and something that I do not find acceptable. My right hon. and hon. Friends feel that the Board should be subjected to some modest control. We take the view that the amendment is constructive and in no way limits the board's power. It in no way inhibits the Minister from giving his approval to an application from the Board to engage in activities overseas. The amendment merely asks that Parliament should have some say in the normal way by means of a Statutory Instrument. We regard that as a healthy discipline, to which nobody should object. It is a safeguard that we believe to be in the interests of the coal industry and the mners as well as in the interests of the Coal Board. We believe that it will be in the national interest that Parliament, the supreme body, should have the final say in the usual way before the wide extension under the clause is granted.'(5) The Secretary of State's authority to give consents under subsection (4) above shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be laid before Parliament after being made'.
I rise briefly to explain my remarks in Committee, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) has suggested that their implications are that I am in favour of the amendment. I must make it clear that my views on the subject are somewhat different, as well he knows.I should not want to think that anything in the Bill will create difficulties for the British miner at home. After a lengthy discussion in Committee we came to the sensible conclusion that the National Coal Board was well aware of the need to avoid creating such difficulties and the need to ensure that anything that it does under the clause will not endanger the security of those who work in British pits. I well understand the reasons for the Opposition raising the matter. They have every right to do so. If there were Australian coal or any other coal that could be exploited by a private undertaking, the chances are that it would exploit it even more effectively, even more ruthlessly, than the Board. It would probably pay wages that would not be the equivalent of those paid to miners in British pits. The result would be that for a relatively short time the coal would be cheaper. That would be the position if it were mined by a private firm. If the Board indulged in such exploitation-I must enter the caveat that I can see no likelihood of it taking place on a grand scale-I cannot conceive that it would do so, bearing in mind all the difficulties that it will have set against it in the next few years, in such a way that its activities would not be of benefit to the British miner.
If the hon. Gentleman is correct in his assumption that the NCB will not do anything adverse to the United Kingdom miner, surely there is no objection to accepting the amendment, because any Statutory Instrument under it would be simply a formality and be approved automatically.
There is a safeguard which I think is more attractive than a Statutory Instrument. If the Board tried to engage in activities of a kind that would result in the benefits or security of our miners being put at stake, the appropriate action would be taken without the long process of a Statutory Instrument. I have already made my position clear to the National Union of Mine workers today- one of the reasons for my absence earlier was that I was in touch with the people concerned in the union. There is no doubt that if the Board, in exploiting coal overseas, put at risk the jobs of our miners, the unions would take the appropriate action.However, if there is to be exploitation of coal abroad by British operators, it is far better done by the public sector. But if that exploitation were to result in jobs of British miners being put at risk, the situation could safely be left in the hands of the NUM and the other unions concerned. I do not think that there is need for the amendment, therefore. I understand the concern, and share it to some extent, but I am happy in the knowledge that any problem arising out of it could be resolved by ourselves, in the industry.
It seems that the hon. Gentleman is arguing that Parliament does not need any control, because the miners can, in their own interests, take the situation into their own hands and decide what the NCB should be granted and what it should not be granted. Is he suggesting that there is now no purpose or functions for Parliament?
I was making the rather conservative point that we should not be over-burdened with legislation. I mean that seriously. I take the same view about the direct elections Bill. That represents another way in which we are going to become overburdened. There are large areas of life which should be dealt with by those in the middle of the argument. Too often we bring matters before Parliament which have no need to be brought before it. There are further amendments for discussion which are really matters for negotiation between the unions and the NCB. I do not think that we should enter into this aspect. I am certain that most conservative voters -whether with a small "c" or a large "C"-would take the view that we should not immediately move into legislation when it can be avoided.What is wrong with the negotiating procedure between the NCB and the NUM and the other unions over this activity, and in the miners saying to the Board "We understand that activities are taking place in coalfields in the old British Empire which we think could have an adverse effect on our jobs, and we are concerned about it because we have a vested interest in the problem"? What is wrong with that? They have every right to negotiate about the matter. I see nothing wrong in that. Nor do I see anything wrong in suggesting that Parliament should not stick its snout into every trough laid before it. If Parliament can keep out, let us keep out.
This has been a strange week in Parliament. Some useful things have been placed on record. Earlier in the week we considered the Price Commission Bill, and after a long discussion of Amendment No. 1 it seemed likely that the Government would give a concession to the Conservatives. But then we heard that Mr. Len Murray did not like the idea of a concession, so we did not get it.Now, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that this amendment is unnecessary because, if there were any danger of the NCB investing money overseas to the detriment of the British miners, the British miners and not the Government would decide what was to happen. Who is running the country? Is it the Government, Mr. Len Murray or the miners and the hon. Gentleman?
Give me a fortnight. That is all I want.
Was the hon. Gentleman consulted about the proposals for the Lib-Lab pact? Is the pact between the Government, the Liberals, the hon. Gentleman and the Tribune Group? Or is the Tribune Group excluded from the pact? It seems strange that the hon. Gentleman is prepared, despite his strong convictions, to accept the ruling of the Liberal Party rather than the ruling of the Tribune Group. It is an amazing situation. It is highlighted on this Bill by the fact that the hon. Gentleman believes that there are sources outside this House which are more able to take care of any situation that may arise.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to me in the context of the so-called Lib-Lab pact and of the Liberals generally. The Liberals are absent from the House today, as on so many occasions. They never turn up to do a job of work. Today is just another example of their indolence and of the way in which they operate successfully the absentee system in the House. The hon. Gentleman asked about my relationship with them. They have about as much backbone as a box of jellied eels.
Order. The House has listened to a very interesting exchange of views on varied subjects, but I recommend that it should now come back to the amendment.
I shall not be tempted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow the hon. Member for Bolsover along the line.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I point out that in fact the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) was not following my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) but that, in leading for the Opposition today, he started the argument which digresses from the Bill?
I was not castigating any particular hon. Member. That was not my intention. I simply wish the House to come to order on the amendment.
In any event, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that we have some very interesting reading on the record.I support the amendment. I agree that in the interests of open government the Minister might well be prepared to accept it. What could be more realistic than to have accountability to Parliament when considerable investment is to be made overseas by a nationalised body? My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) made the point extremely ably, and there is little that I could add. It is worth pointing out, however, that Clauses 9 and 10 give the NCB considerable extensions of power, and when we take Clause 11 into account as well the extension of powers of the NCB is compounded. I am not trying to rouse the hon. Member for Bolsover. I agree entirely with what he said in Committee and what he has suggested today-that the miners at home might well be concerned if they felt that their future was in any way to be at jeopardy because of investment overseas by the NCB. I revert to what I said earlier. Surely the first priority for the Board at this time-and at all times -should be to ensure the availability of the supply of coal in the 1980s, the 1990s and through to the next century. Anything likely to distract it from that objective should be considered very carefully. I cannot think of a better way of considering it than placing the matter before Parliament. Parliamentary accountability has often been recommended by the present Secretary of State for Energy. This is an opportunity for him to implement his own ideas in a major way, and I hope that the Minister will accept this helpful amendment.
I sympathise with the motive of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). I should say that the National Union of Mine-workers is perfectly happy with the clause, so we can remove immediately the fiction about any threat to the miners.Parliament should know what is going on, and it would be our intention that the House should be fully informed, but we have to appreciate that we are treading new ground here. In the main, it would be possible to cover the activities which the Board will be authorised to undertake in a general way, as is done in the current order concerning overseas activities. However, we do not wish to provide too wide a blanket of cover, which might mean that specific projects that the Board wished to undertake were not included. The Board may be operating in a fiercely competitive context. The competition for exploration and exploitation contracts in the world's new and developing coalfields is severe, and commercial confidence, at least initially, may be essential. If the Board is to compete on equal terms, it is not customary to announce publicly the submission of tenders. If an activity were one for which a specific consent had to be given, to do it publicly would give the whole game away. There is also the question of speed. The consent may have to be given quickly. The existing statutory procedure simply is not flexible enough, nor is it geared to cope with the commercial activities in this detailed way. That is why the Bill provides for the Secretary of State's consent to be given in writing, as is provided for the British National Oil Corporation under the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Act 1975. We would certainly intend to cover the general run of Coal Board activities in a similar way to the present arrangements, and when that consent is given it will be published. Beyond that, if more specific consents are necessary to meet certain cases, and the circumstances are such that immediate publication would be unwise, they would be made public as soon as the need for confidentiality was over-for example, as and when a contract was won. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East indulged in some flights of fancy in Committee. This provision is not a device for secretly authorising the
Division No. 184]
|Atkins, Rt Han H. (Spelthorne)||Buck, Antony||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)|
|Bell, Ronald||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Gray, Hamish|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Clark, William (Croydon S)||Hannam, John|
|Biffen, John||Cope, John||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Body, Richard||Dykes, Hugh||Hordern, Peter|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Emery, Peter||Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Le Marchant, Spencer|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Fisher, Sir Nigel||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gardiner, George (Relgate)||MacGregor, John|
|Brooke, Peter||Gorst, John||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
building of cigar factories in Havana. Hon. Members will appreciate the commercial nature of the Board's potential overseas activities and the need to ensure that it is not unduly handicapped by misplaced enthusiasm for transparency. I hope that this explanation will be regarded as satisfactory and that the amendment will be withdrawn.
The Minister's only argument for resisting the amendment appeared to be commercial confidence- that it would be dangerous for the NCB to disclose to Parliament any proposals for extending its operations or investments overseas. I regard that as an inadequate and unsatisfactory excuse. It is another example of the Government's double standards. They quote commercial confidentiality when it suits them, yet in other legislation they force oil companies and other firms, through the planning agreements of the National Enterprise Board, to contravene what they regard as their safeguards of commercial confidentiality. There seems to be one law for what the Government want and another for what they do not want. It is unsatisfactory to reject a simple parliamentary safeguard on this false pretext.If the NCB does not intend to do anything overseas that would hurt the mining industry or the miners, why is it afraid of the normal parliamentary scrutiny by means of Statutory Instruments? The present procedures of an annual report by the NCB are unsatisfactory, because the details of its overseas activities are scantily reported. The Minister's response shows a shameful and arrogant disdain for Parliament and its democratic rights and procedures. I urge my hon. Friends to support the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The House divided: Ayes 44, Noes 93.
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Moate, Roger||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Sims, Roger|
TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
|Peyton, Rt Hon John||Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)||Mr. Jim Lester and|
|Pink, R. Bonner||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)||Sir George Young.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hunter, Adam||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)|
|Ashton, Joe||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Rooker, J. W.|
|Atkinson, Norman||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Judd, Frank||Sandelson, Neville|
|Bates, Alf||Kelley, Richard||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Lamond, James||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lipton, Marcus||Sillars, James|
|Cartwright, John||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Silverman, Julius|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson||Skinner, Dennis|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Snape, Peter|
|Crowther, Slan (Rotherham)||Maclennan, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Davidson, Arthur||Marks, Kenneth||Stallard, A. W.|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Meacher, Michael||Strang, Gavin|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Dormand, J. D.||Mendelson, John||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Dufly, A. E. P.||Molloy, William||Tinn, James|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Tomlinson, John|
|Eadle, Alex||Moyle, Roland||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ennals, David||Newens, Stanley||Ward, Michael|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||Ogden, Eric||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||O'Halloran, Michael||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Ovenden, John||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Padley, Walter||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Park. George||Woodall, Alec|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Harper, Joseph||Richardson, Miss Jo|
TELLERS POR THE NOES
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Horam, John||Robinson, Geoffrey||Mr. David Stoddart.|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)|
Amendment accordingly negatived.
I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 9, line 16, leave out 'subsection' and insert 'subsections'.
With this we may take the following amendments:
No. 11, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—
'(IB) Regulations shall be made for providing pensions in favour of persons aged between 55 and 65 years employed by the Board who wish to retire, and who have—
(a) worked not less than twenty years underground in the coal industry, or (b) worked less than twenty years under ground in the coal industry, but who have been compelled to work above ground owing to an injury or disability contracted whilst working undergroundand the level of pension shall be equivalent to the wage earned (excluding overtime) by a Board employee of identical grade, skill or job, but aged under 55.'
No. 12, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—
'(1B) Regulations shall be made for adequate concessionary coal to be provided for life in favour of miners permanently incapacitated for work as a result of an industrial accident or an industrial disease and in favour of any dependents, and for those whom illness has prevented their continuing to work as a miner after a period of at least twenty years in the industry.'
No. 13, in page 9, line 22, at end insert—
'(1B) Regulations shall be made for providing a pension in favour of—
(a) pneumoconiosis sufferers employed in the coal industry before 5th July 1948 or their dependents who are not now entitled to benefits under the National Insurance Acts, Workmen's Compensation Acts, or the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscel laneous Disease Benefit Scheme because workmen's compensation payments have commuted; (b) pneumoconiosis sufferers employed in the coal industry before 5th July 1948 or their dependents who are not entitled to benefits in the Scheme specified in paragraph (a) above because they elected to sue an employer for negligence in the civil court and subsequently received damages;
Amendment No. 10 is designed to trigger off the other three amendments which we are considering with it. As the House will realise, all these matters are under discussion elsewhere, but I thought that it would be a good idea to take advantage of the Bill to have a discussion of them on the Floor of the House.All the amendments are concerned with creating an industry that is more attractive, especially for young people. We have a number of right hon. and hon. Members in the House today who have considerably more experience of the industry and of course of working underground than I have. But everyone with any experience at all of the industry knows how often parents advise their sons never to go underground. That need not be so. One of the reasons why that advice is so often given is that the industry has not a very good record from what might be termed the humanitarian point of view. Miners today are becoming more aware that they are having a raw deal, and merely increasing their wages does not alleviate the situation sufficiently. The wage of a miner could be increased to £200 a week, but I would never go underground in the conditions that exist at present. The unattractive nature of the industry is a matter that is quite separate from the question of wages. Therefore one must be concerned with the welfare of miners and their dependants. As those hon. Members who have been miners know, conditions often abuse the body and the health of the miner, quite apart from the accidents and disasters that occur underground from time to time. There is no proper light and no fresh air, sometimes conditions are very wet, and so on. The NCB, which runs a nationalised industry, and the Government must prove themselves to be the most humane of masters. Amendment No. 11 deals with pensions. On looking into the matter one finds to one's surprise that other countries do much better than Britain in this regard. In West Germany miners normally retire at 60 on full pension if they have paid contributions continuously for 25 years, and for every year worked underground after the fifth year they receive a supplement to their pension. In France miners may retire at 55 after 30 years' service, or at 50 if 20 years have been spent underground. In Belgium surface workers may retire at 60, and underground workers at 55, or at any age on normal pension provided that they worked underground for 20 years. Even under the old Franco regime in Spain, coalface workers could retire on pension at 55. Moreover, every Eastern European country, I believe, has a better record than we have on miners' pensions. This is very sad. It is good that miners are very much alive to the matter now, it has been discussed, and the situation has been improved. I believe that a retirement age of 62 will be introduced very shortly. I turn now to what happens when mines close. We in Wales have had great experience of mine closures. In the six years from 1964 to 1970, one mine closed every seven weeks, on average. There will be more closures in future. Whenever mines close, the NCB tries, when possible, to persuade miners to go to another pit, because there is a shortage of labour at many of the big pits. They may have to travel many miles. It is not unusual for them to have to travel as much as 20 miles to work at another pit when a mine closes. It would be very good if mine could be told at the age of 55 that instead of having to go to another pit and having to start out at 4 or 4.30 a.m., or some other ridiculous hour when some of us are only just going to bed, they had the opportunity to retire on full pension. It is a terribly long and impossibly wearing day. At 55 one cannot do that sort of thing very well and can become more accident-prone. There must be a much swifter movement towards early retirement in such circumstances, and the Government must face their financial responsibility. I turn next to the question of concessionary coal, which also is under discussion at present. I wish to draw particular attention to a matter which, I suspect, is not being discussed very much, if at all, namely, the situation of miners who may have been working underground for 20 or 30 years and who then experience bad health, perhaps suffering a heart attack and being unable to go back underground or perhaps to do any work at all. It is bad that men who have given such service should not be given even a ton of coal a year as an acknowledgement of their service. They are a special class of people, and this should be looked at. A general scheme should be organised by the Government, who should accept the financial responsibility. 2.15 p.m. I turn lastly to the question of pneumoconiosis. I have spoken about this subject before, and many hon. Members know the situation better than I do. But I know very well the situation in the anthracite coalfield, where it is possibly worse than it is anywhere else in Britain. The average incidence of industrial disease and accidents in the Welsh coalfield is twice that for the whole of Britain. The pneumoconiosis situation is still scandalous. There are still gaping holes to be filled in the scheme. It is extraordinary that this should still be so after 30 years of nationalisation. What has happened to the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injuries, set up in 1972? I do not know when the Commission was due to report. I assume that it is discussing this matter. I am not sure. I hope that the Minister will tell us. In any case, it is time we had that report, and time that justice was done to these few groups covered by the amendment. The numbers in the pre-1948 class are rapidly diminishing. Surely they can be helped now, when there are not many of them left. The same is true of the dependants of victims of pneumoconiosis who died before 1970, who were given such a disgracefully small pittance. It is a disgrace that they were given only £300, which is one week's pay for many people. This must be looked at again. I appeal to the Government for more rapid action to end this scandal.
While I welcome the amendments, I sincerely hope that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) will withdraw them. I welcome the nationalist parties' help for Wales and, I hope, also for Scotland, although I do not see any evidence of Scottish National Members here today. I welcome—and no doubt every mine worker will welcome—the belated assistance that the Scottish and Welsh national parties are prepared to give to the miners of this country. However, I would be churlish if I did not agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's submissions.In Amendment No. 11 the hon. Gentleman has merely copied submissions that have been made by miners from several areas of the British coalfields to the National Union of Mineworkers' headquarters. These have been under active consideration, with the co-operation of this Labour Government, and are almost on the point of fruition. There has been a belated recognition of the fact that British miners have been treated shabbily on the question of retirement when compared with miners in European countries. I would have had some sympathy with the amendment if it had said that there should be compulsory and not voluntary retirement at 50, with a good or a more than good living wage. Since I am somewhat opposed to British membership of the EEC, it is with some reluctance that I say that I now want our miners to have parity with EEC miners. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will take cognisance of my argument and do everything in his power to assist the mine-workers in achieving early compulsory retirement with a good living wage, commensurate with the service that they have given to the economy and to the people of this country. I shall be deliberately brief and not prolong the argument. I do not think that there is much of an argument in Amendment No. 12, which deals with concesionary coal. I suggest that that amendment be withdrawn. It is a very touchy subject at the moment, on which a national ballot is taking place. It is an argument on which I would not presume an MP would take sides about whether the agreement should be accepted. It is not so long since the mines were nationalised. We have had many Labour Governments during that time, with big enough majorities to carry through the Socialist measures that we would wish to be carried through, some of which are contained in the amendments. But the amendment dealing with concessionary coal makes no mention of delivery charges, geographical conditions and distances. Who will pay for the delivery? I suggest that the national ballot now being conducted should be entirely left alone by the House. Amendment No. 12 also makes no reference to cash in lieu. It mentions only concessionary coal. We live in a country which is increasingly aware of environmental conditions, where more smoke controlled areas spring up week by week and day by day, where coal is being misused to the extent that it is being burned raw and where people will in future use coal in a different form. It is therefore important that any agreement on concesionary coal should include a section dealing with cash in lieu for mineworkers and their dependants. While I know that my hon. Friend will look sympathetically at this amendment, I hope that he will ask for it to be withdrawn in order to allow the proper people to look into the situation. Those people can only be the members of the NUM, associated unions and the NCB. I hope that when their submissions come to the House for agreement it will be a Labour Government who will consider them and that we shall have belated help from the nationalist parties, particularly the Scottish National Party, which until this moment has shown no interest in the coal industry. The whole case of the SNP hinges on 15 to 20 years of a small dribble of oil from the North Sea. I turn to Amendment No. 13. This was a sore point with miners' groups even before I came to the House. It deals with the principle of commuted cases. I do not need to remind the hon. Member for Carmarthen that the principal villains of the piece were the ex-coal-owners. They were the people who starved the miners and persuaded them to sign their pittance away with miserly sums of one, two or three bob a week. They forced the miners into submission to sign away their rights so that in the future they could not renew their claim for damages at common law. That is what we are fighting. Do not let us blame anyone other than the ex-coalowners, aided and abetted by their political allies, the Tory Party. No one in this House, not even the four Conservative Members present, can refute the misery that was caused to all those people and their children. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is fully aware of all these things, will talk to the Government in the hope that legis- lation can be passed to allow commuted cases a fair share of the recently negotiated pneumoconiosis scheme. With those few words, I plead with my hon. Friend, that in particular he looks more closely at the question of commuted cases so that when economic conditions improve the necessary law and regulations are altered in order to enable the people concerned to benefit.
I shall not detain the House very long, but it is important to make several other points in relation to the amendments. First, it ill becomes the Welsh nationalists—who tell me that they have a proud political record—to start engaging in activities very much akin to the way in which the Liberals operate. I refer to the operation of what is loosely known as "community politics". The idea is to discover something which is about to happen, and which will reach fruition at an early date, and introduce the theme either in the House of Commons or outside. That roughly applies to Amendments Nos. 11 and 12.As is well known, the early retirement scheme is being balloted upon. There has been some degree of success. Presumably its operation will begin this year. I hope that miners on the surface will be included. If they are not, there is likely to be trouble. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) is fully aware of all these matters, and, therefore, to a great extent what he has said is a little superfluous. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general sentiments. He has probably held them for a long time. The unions, which have also been arguing these issues for a long time, are pleased to note that there has at last been some movement. I also make the point that we cannot accept amendments that are defective. In any case they are not relevant to the schedule in question, which deals only with pit closures. As it happens, we are concerned with the wider generalities of this question. I remind the House that the NUM conference starts in the first week in July. All these matters are on the conference agenda. I believe that that conference would regard it as a liberty if we started introducing into the Bill measures that would not be applicable in all the circumstances. This is another area where, in my view, we should leave the negotiations to those who are more closely involved. The hon. Member for Carmarthen referred to miners being given a ton of coal. I do not know whether he is au fait with what has happened with the concessionary coal agreement. It will be applicable nationally—internationally with regard to Wales—with eight tons for the people who produce the coal and five tons for all those who have left the industry and for widows and so on. It also includes the widows of those who have been killed in an industrial accident. I think that that agreement is more comprehensive than the references made in the amendment dealing with concessionary coal. 2.30 p.m. It would be folly for us to pass the first two amendments. We agree with their general sentiments, but we should be making fools of ourselves if we passed them. They are not as comprehensive as the current negotiations, and their provisions on concessionary coal fall well short of what the union is likely to achieve if the ballot goes the way that most people expect. In Wales, it is likely that the concessionary coal agreement will have a more beneficial effect for the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and will mean more coal for them and for the people of Scotland than the hon. Gentleman recommended in his speech. We should not get too involved in these areas or we shall end up doing someone a bad turn when the amendments are seeking to do people good turns. The hon. Member for Carmarthen was right to use the question of pneumoconiosis. It needs raising and we have raised it on every coal Bill. I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that we are raising it not for the good of our health but because of the health of those in the industry and on behalf of the widows whose husbands used to work in the industry. We know that there will have to be a massive contribution by the State to top up the pneumoconiosis scheme, but there is unanimity on this issue among hon. Members closely connected with the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and a few other hon. Members badgered, cajoled and finally persuaded my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to introduce special measures for children who have suffered as a result of certain vaccines. We accept the Secretary of State's rationale in accepting that idea and we say to him that a similar argument should apply to these widows. That sentiment should extent beyond the Secretary of State for Social Services and his civil servants to those involved in energy. We forced the bridge-head for pneumoconiosis sufferers. The parents of thalidomide children followed us through, and the parents of children who suffer from these vaccines will be next. We need to widen that bridge-head to include the widows of miners. I trust that this appeal will not fall on deaf ears. The representations by hon. Members are important and should be heeded. I hope that the Minister will divert attention towards them. I know that there are problems. When I say that I do not accept the reasons that are given for our economy being in difficulties, everyone will know why I make that point. However, even if there are restraints— which I do not accept—priorities must be established and the pneumoconiosis scheme must be one of those priorities.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) said that he felt there was a humanitarian need for the amendments. No one would argue that they do not have humanitarian objectives, but, as my hon. Friends have said, steps have been taken on early retirement and action is on the way. Concessionary coal is a matter for the NUM conference and negotiations between the NUM, associated unions and the NCB. There could be dangers if the House were to intervene unnecessarily in some of these areas.Many of us have discussed the problems of widows and commuted cases. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised them again, because the more often the issue is debated in the House the better. There can be no political division on these matters, and no one suggests that the hon. Member for Carmarthen is seeking to make political capital out of them. Any chance that his party had of making political capital was destroyed when it joined the Tories in the vote of confidence against the Government. The miners and the people of Wales know that if we are to have any of the objectives to which the hon. Gentleman referred me must maintain a Labour Government in office. Action is needed on the matters included in the amendments, but I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Carmarthen will agree with our view that work on them rightly lies outside the House. I hope that he will seek to withdraw the amendment.
At the risk of upsetting the Minister and the Assistant Whip, I wish to say to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) that if any other hon. Member opposite had introduced these amendments we might have doubted his motives. It is because of the respect that the House has for the hon. Gentleman that we have been kinder to him.The debate has shown that the hon. Gentleman was right to compare how little British miners ask in comparison with miners in Europe, right across the Continent from East Europe and the Communist countries through to Franco's Spain and the democracies in the centre. We are often told how much our miners are asking for, but compared with those in Europe and throughout the world they ask for very little. The hon. Member for Carmarthen should be in no doubt that the aims behind the amendments have support in all parts of the House, but things are on the move, quite apart from the negotiations that my hon. Friends have mentioned. On Tuesday, a social security order dealing with pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and miscellaneous diseases comes up for review by a Commons Committee. It is proposed that the term of 10 years in the principal scheme should be replaced by a term of five years. Therefore, even here progress is being made. We all support the intention of the amendments, but support should be given to the negotiations between the union, the NCB, the Government and Back Benchers.
The matters mentioned in the amendments, namely, voluntary early retirement, concessionary coal and com- pensation for men suffering from pneumoconiosis, are traditionally subjects for negotiation between the National Coal Board and the unions in the industry, and it is right and proper that they should remain so rather than be the subject of statutory regulation. The Board already has all the powers necessary to make appropriate provisions in all these fields, as may be agreed with the unions. These arrangements have been working very well and I doubt very much whether the unions would welcome the sort of changes that the hon. Gentleman proposes. I endorse what my hon. Friends said and I see no reason why these arrangements should be changed.The Board already has sufficient powers to make early retirement schemes. After prolonged negotiation with the NUM, a scheme has been drafted which will be implemented as soon as pay policy permits. This will allow men who have reached 62 years of age and who have 20 years underground service to volunteer for early retirement. The age of retirement will be reduced by one year at a time to 60. Men who volunteer will receive a lump sum of £500 and a weekly payment of two-thirds of their previous pay until they reach 65 years of age. Thereafter, they will receive their miners' pension plus the ordinary State pension. This is a most generous scheme in many respects, and it fully recognises the arduous nature of mining. It is estimated that it will cost about £12 million in the financial year to March 1978 and £45 million a year once it has been settled. It is also estimated that to allow men to retire on full pay at 60 would cost £720 million over the first five years and £235 million a year thereafter. The Board already has the necessary powers to make schemes for the provision of concessionary coal. The proposed national agreement, which has been negotiated with the NUM, has been recommended for acceptance by the national executive committee of the union and is now the subject of a ballot, to which reference has been made. The scheme provides that if a man has to cease work due to industrial injury or disease he will receive concessionary coal as a beneficiary for life, with a continuing entitlement for his widow.
Is the Minister saying that the scheme includes not only those who get concessionary coal because they were injured underground, but those whose health compelled them to leave after, say, 20 or 30 years' service?
The hon. Gentleman knows, because he is knowledgeable, that if they qualify under the scheme the answer is "Yes". The Board already has the necessary powers to make pneumoconiosis compensation schemes. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that, after long negotiations with the unions, such a scheme was established in September 1974.The up-to-date information is that 63,000 claims have been met under the scheme to date at a cost of £124 million, and the Government have contributed £100 million to the cost of the scheme. Men who commuted their benefits indemnified their employers against further claims for damages, and men who sued and obtained damages have recovered satisfaction. The disease is slow to develop and the 10-year service rule was adopted in the scheme on medical advice and with the agreement of the unions. Because both the DHSS and the NCB destroy their records of pneumoconiosis five years after death, the necessary information no longer exists to allow compensation paid to the widows of men who died before January 1970 to be calculated in the same way as that paid to widows whose husbands died after that date. It is for this reason that the widows of men who died before January 1970 receive a fixed lump sum. It is estimated that to admit these extra categories, despite the legal and administrative difficulties, would cost an extra £50 million. As I told the House in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) on 15th January 1976, by any standards the Government's contribution of £100 million must be regarded as extremely generous and, candidly, there is no possibility in the current climate of increasing it. Some of my hon. Friends have expressed their gratitude to the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) for raising these matters. He has given us the opportunity to think about them. At one stage I found myself beginning to think about them. Those who have experience in the industry will always welcome those who come to the House and make speeches with the understanding and compassion displayed by the hon. Gentleman. I welcome the opportunity that he has given to air these matters, about which some of us feel very strongly. I hope that, having been given the opportunity to air these matters, he will accept in good faith what my hon. Friends and I have said about the consequences of the amendment being pressed to a Division. I hope, therefore, that he will seek leave to withdraw it.
The Minister has replied with his characteristic kindness and sympathy. However, I am a little disappointed about one point. One Government supporter said that these matters were not relevant to the Bill, but can that be said of any measure which is concerned with the expenditure of thousands of millions of pounds? I have pleaded that more of the enormous sums involved should be devoted to humanitarian ends. I wish that more could be done more quickly to remove the anomalies which everyone has admitted exist with regard to pneumoconiosis.I am glad to have had the Minister's answer on concessionary coal for people who suffer from ill health, not just those who suffer some accident underground or whose ill health has been caused by that service. The reason for moving the amendment has been justified by the answers that have been given. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.We can, I think, claim—and claim with some justice—that we have given very thorough consideration to the Coal Industry Bill. For myself, I have done my best to answer every major point made either in debate or in individual letters to Members. It is, of course, a Bill to which the Opposition gave a general welcome on Second Reading and for which they indicated a general support in Committee. But that agreement on the value and importance of the Bill has in no way meant that it has received only a halfhearted scrutiny. Twenty-seven Members spoke on Second Reading and, since then, there have been 11 sittings of the Committee. That underlines the fact that this is an important Bill, and one that the whole House realises will have a profound effect on the future of our coal industry. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have said that they are not opposed in principle to Clauses 9 and 10. The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), during the Committee's eighth sitting, said:
At the end of our discussion in Committee on Clause 10, he said:"One does not need to have more than a superficial understanding of the energy situation to know the importance that coal is likely to play in the future energy scene and its importance as a feedstock in petroleum and chemical derivatives."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28th April 1977; c. 315–16.]
On Clauses 9 and 10 it has been more a matter of differences of opinion on the scope and drafting of the clauses. Most of these differences have been due, I think, to misunderstandings on the part of Opposition Members, and I have done my best to dispel these misunderstandings. Clause 11 has been the subject of a more fundamental opposition by hon. Members opposite. But I think that they should be able to take some comfort from the controls specified in subsection (4) of the clause. We believe that our great nationalised industries should not be too heavily circumscribed in what they can do. We believe that they should certainly concentrate chiefly on their main statutory duties, but that they should also be able to diversify where such diversification makes commercial sense and where it flows naturally from their basic functions. In proposing the new powers for the National Coal Board we are affirming our belief that it has a legitimate interest in petrochemicals, because of the vital importance of coal as a chemical feedstock in the future; that it has a legitimate claim to the opportunity of developing other minerals which come to light through its own efforts; and that it is not only to its commercial advantage, but to that of our vital mining machinery industry that the Board should have powers to operate overseas. In framing these powers widely we have recognised that it is not wise to put a straitjacket on the coal industry's development. It is better, we think, to rely on the Board's technical and commercial judgment, together with the overall control exercised by the Government on its capital expenditure, and, in the case of Clause 11, the specific authorisation by the Secretary of State required in that clause. But it is important to remember that while much of our debate in Committee has concerned these wider powers they are only one aspect of this vital Bill. The Bill also, with the borrowing powers proposed, provides the necessary framework for the development of the coal industry during the crucial period of its build-up under "Plan for Coal". It also re-enacts powers for essential operating and social grants. It is, in other words, a comprehensive Bill—one that underwrites our commitment to a strong coal industry. I hope that it is one that the House will continue to support."It is reasonable that the Board should be able to exploit anything in which it becomes involved in the course of its mining."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10th May 1977; c. 392.]
The Minister has given a fair outline of the proceedings on the Bill so far. I wish to correct him on only one point. The Opposition voted against Clauses 9 and 10 standing part of the Bill, but the reason was that the hon. Gentleman did not find it possible to accept our amendments aimed at improving those clauses. We felt that we must register our dissent in that way.However, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the Bill in principle. Basically it is a good Bill. It received widespread support on Second Reading and in Committee. I do not think that I have served on a more pleasant Committee since I have been a Member. All the debates were constructive. Our only regret was that the Minister was unable to accept more of our proposals to improve the Bill. The clauses relating to the borrowing powers were fully discussed, and the amendments that we moved then—all of a probing nature—enabled the Minister to tell us in great detail just how he saw them working. The clauses relating to social grants were generally welcomed by Conservative Members on the Committee. The Bill in general is now considerably improved compared with the Bill that was originally introduced. Great concern has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the future of jobs in the mining industry. As we mentioned during the discussions on Clause 11, that was one of our main reservations about allowing the Board to operate to such an extent overseas. We feel that its principal object should be the continued supply of coal at home, and we thought that that might be put at risk if too much attention was diverted to overseas activities. Clauses 9 and 10 considerably extend the Board's powers. We had reservations about that, but some of them were removed by statements by the Minister. There is a great deal on the record now which will help to reassure people outside who also had great reservations about their own industries. I do not wish to prolong the debate. We have had a long session this week. I welcome the Bill. I hope that it will be considered in detail again in another place. It may be that we shall later be asked to consider amendments made there. In the meantime, I am glad that we have managed to conclude our proceedings on a reasonable basis. I think that the Bill is to the benefit of the coal industry in general and of the British public in particular.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), I broadly welcome the Bill. But I think that on its Third Reading it is reasonable to ask whether it passes the two esential tests of a Bill of this sort—namely, will it really be of benefit to the industry and, perhaps more important, will it play a real part in the wider aspects of the energy debate which is going on all around us?In order to be able to decide whether those two tests have been met one must look at the background against which the Bill will leave us today. We have seen the breakdown of the North-South dialogue between the rich and poor countries, the oil producers making up a substantial number of those poor countries. We have also seen the Carter Administration in the United States taking the whole question of energy much more seriously than it has been taken in that country in the past. But we also find that here in Britain a dangerous com-placancy is once again growing, with the belief that there is no shortage of energy and that the coal industry can go back to where it was in the past, as an industry that can once again easily become the poor relation. That is a matter on which the Bill can help us. As the Minister pointed out, one of its purposes is to provide more money for investment. That we welcome. At the same time, we must recognise that it will not alone solve the problems that the coal industry faces. This is where the Bill clearly has missed out. For a successful industry, we must look to the production of coal at commercial prices and in the right quantities. It is in this area of productivity that the Bill has done nothing for the industry. We look forward, therefore, to the Minister and his colleagues, with those involved in the Board and in the National Union of Mineworkers, urgently finding an answer to this productivity problem and producing a scheme which creates real incentives. In the Bill we have tried to look at the opportunities of new markets for coal. Again, I fear that the test has not been fully met. We find only today in our attempt to bolster up markets for the industry, not only in electricity or steel, that there is an unwillingness to take the necessary action. If we are to make the coal industry as important as we are constantly told it should be, we must leave no stone unturned, whether in the export markets, which are now regrettably almost lost to us, or in persuading industry in this country to use coal on a much wider scale. It was for that reason that I was depressed by the kind letter the Minister sent me about the plans for the new fluidised-bed project at Grimethorpe, where only part of the project is to be properly used and the secondary effects of using the exhaust gases are to be left on one side for the time being. The Bill marks an important milestone for the industry, and to that extent we welcome it. Certainly we shall never return to the world which so many Labour Members seem to live in—that of the bad old days. I do not think that we need worry about "Not a penny off the pay, not a minute off the day". It will not be that sort of coal industry, but it will be judged on its ability to produce the right fuel at the right moment. The oil producers are already talking confidently of raising prices again. I can see the $25-$30 barrel of oil being well within sight. We shall not satisfy the oil producers by merely doing as Mr. Carter and others are doing—saying that we shall conserve oil by putting more tax on it. The producers will want to see the money in their own pockets. This will necessarily mean that prices will rise, and it gives an unequalled opportunity to the coal industry to take advantage of a host of opportunities that it never had before. The liquefaction of coal becomes a real possibility. At a time when North Sea oil is averaging a premium price of $14 a barrel it is obvious that if that price rises to $25 or $30 liquefaction of coal will become more than a dream. This Bill leaves the House with a broad welcome, but recognising that we have still not solved the major problems of this extraction industry—to extract with speed and security this valuable raw material from the land without drifting back into the sort of unhappy situation that we have heard so much of in our debates. We must give the industry the opportunity to stand on all fours with the oil and gas industries and ensure that it is not just a Cinderella to be propped up by taxpayers' money year after year after year. There is no need for that situation. We now have an opportunity. Everything is working in our favour and we must not let it pass.
The closing remarks of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) would have seemed absolutely impossible coming from a Conservative 13 years ago, when I first came to this House. I would never have expected that amount of agreement. There is still a problem to be solved, but it will not be solved in any legislation. While the Conservatives vary in their enthusiasm for this Bill, the hon Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) was right to congratulate the Minister on his caring Committee. We had a most constructive Committee stage on this Bill and in the proceedings, both before and after Committee, there was also considerable good will. A great deal of knowledge has been displayed on the detailed points, even though there has been some disagreement on some of them.I make some claims for the Bill, though not as many as some people outside. It will help to create a framework for the National Coal Board and the British coal industry to equip, produce, expand and compete in the international coal industry, and in all the other fuel and power industries. The industry will be viable and expanding, not only for the last 20 years of this century but well into the year 2000. We have helped to create a new Coal Board and a new British coal industry. How much people use that machinery and the opportunities depends to a large degree on those outside the House. I hope that the two hon. Members representing the Scottish and Welsh national parties will recognise that this is a Bill for the British coal industry. Just as the coal industry of Lancashire and the North-West would be hard pressed to survive another day without Government aid, that applies almost equally to the coal industries of Scotland and Wales. The fact is that this is a unifying Bill, even though that may be anathema to the hon. Gentlemen. It is a British Bill for a British industry, and is all the better for that. I hope that this will be noted in Tynemouth from 4th July onwards, when the National Union of Mineworkers holds its national conference. I hope that it will not go unnoticed, and that in that conference someone will stand up and say that in this Bill, if in nothing else, the Labour Government have delivered their share of the bargain with their supporters. The Bill alone is our part of that deal between the Government and the trade unions. This is our commitment and we are delivering it. Now it is for the British miners—whether it be the National Executive, the local branch committee or the lad at the coal face or the pit top—to deliver their share of the bargain, because this is a two-way thing. That means producing—and it is not wrong just because a Conservative Member said it—the right amounts of coal of the right quality and delivering them at the right time in the right place. While wage negotiations are important, it should not be beyond the wit of man to produce a scheme to make it possible for people who want to work and produce coal to do so to their own advantage and that of the country without affecting the price of coal to any major degree so that demand falls and we are worse off. This is a good Bill, which will help to create a good industry, and people outside must use the opportunity that we have helped to provide.
Unlike the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I regard the Bill as being applicable to the Scottish coal industry as well as to the energy resources of the world. The hon. Member was unnecessarily narrow in his consideration of the Bill.
Did the hon. Gentleman say that he, unlike me, regarded this as a Bill applicable to the Scottish coal industry? Either he was not listening or he has cloth ears. I made the very opposite point.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me—
If the hon. Gentleman does not listen to what I say or misquotes me—
Order. If we are to have apologies for misunderstandings, we shall be spending much time on those apologies for misunderstandings.
I am surprised at the hon. Member for West Derby. His temper seems to have been affected by the late nights that we have had this week. I was saying that I regard the Bill as affecting world energy resources as well as Scottish energy resources. The hon. Member would have found, if he had given me time to complete my remarks, that I place the same amount of emphasis on the United Kingdom aspect as he seemed to place, for what I suspect were purely narrow political reasons—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who has, I suspect, come in for a debate on other European matters, will refrain from making interventions from a seated position, perhaps I can continue.
All that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) needed to say in response was that he believed, as all of us believe, that the coal industry cannot be run on a narrow nationalistic basis. The fact that the hon. Gentleman could not find it in his heart to say that graciously is a condemnation of the Scottish National Party and not of an hon. Member who made a seated interjection in his speech.
I cannot understand the hon. Lady's attitude. I had intended, before being caught up in this contretemps, to make some remarks about the Bill. I follow the remarks of the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and say that at present the coal industry is cast over with a cloud in relation to productivity. These problems will not be easily resolved at a time of wage restraint and difficulties about the introduction of bonus schemes and productivity agreements. I believe that these are intermediate problems, because the coal industry—regardless of whether it is in England, in Wales, in Scotland or in Europe—is bound to have a good future ahead of it. This is the fact that arises from the approaching energy crisis.What we have tried to do—I use the word "we" collectively in this Chamber —is, as the hon. Member for West Derby said—I give him some credit for this— to adopt a financial framework in which some investment work can be done to secure the better development of the industry. If we were not prepared to do that at this stage, the ability of the coal industry to grow and to change its character would be limited. As we all agree that the world price of oil is likely to double within the next 10 years or so, we must be ready for that time. It is then that King Coal will begin to come into his own once more. I will not go into the whole energy setup now, because we are to have a debate on that next week. I still have some reservations about Clause 11. I have been thinking about this carefully since the Committee proceedings. Although the National Union of Mineworkers has not taken exception to the overseas activities of the Board, which may be expanded by the Bill, I am not sure that we have not left a Trojan horse here and that commercial pressures may not cause the Board to take a stand in relation to certain types of coal that are not being produced in great quantity at present and prevent from being developed resources that otherwise might be developed in future. This is a nagging worry that I have. I will not go into it further now. I shall want to have a closer look at the Board's overseas activities. One of the great advantages that the coal industry gives to Britain, quite apart from its contribution to our energy resources, is the employment that it provides, which is so vitally important in many parts of the country. The Bill is concerned not only with coal but with men and with the social problems of areas that in the past have relied on coal. I give it my blessing.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
Illegal Immigration And Employment
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/2655/76 on illegal immigration and employment.
Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the names of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and his hon. Friends.
I welcome the debate, which gives hon. Members an opportunity to express their opinions on this extremely important subject. I am sorry that I shall not be able to stay to the end of the debate, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will reply. I assure the House that all the points that are made in the debate will be carefully examined. Everything will be taken into consideration.Although the Government have taken no final position on the draft directive, the subject to which it refers has been of great concern to the Home Office for some time. In his statement about the Franks Report, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that he was determined to deal with unauthorised employment. He told the House that
I know that this subject is a matter of particular concern to the TUC, especially at a time of high unemployment. Any abuse of immigration control must be dealt with firmly. The issue before us is not whether the problem needs a cure or, indeed, whether the Government are committed to searching for one. These matters have already been established. The issue is whether the specific proposals put forward by the Commission are acceptable in principle and likely to prove effective in practice. The proposals originated in the EEC's Migrant Workers Action Programme of February 1976. Following this, in November last year the Commission put forward its draft directive aimed at the harmonisation of laws in member States to combat illegal immigration and illegal employment. The Commission called on the Council to take action on the proposals during the second half of 1977. It also sought the views of the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee on the proposal. In accordance with normal practice, in December the Government circulated for the information of hon. Members an explanatory memorandum about the proposal. It was considered by the Scrutiny Committee of the House, which, in its Fifteenth Report dated 30th March expressed the opinion that the draft instrument raised questions of legal and political importance. The Committee recommended that it be further considered by the House. That is what we are doing today. The present position is that since the Commission's proposals were tabled in Brussels they have been considered by officials of member States in the Social Questions Working Group of the Council. It has become plain from discussions in Brussels that the draft presents problems of one kind or another for most of the member States and that it will not be easy to reach agreement on the type of instrument to be adopted or on the details of its text. The Council Secretariat will make a progress report to the Social Affairs Ministerial Council, which is to meet next week, but there will be no attempt to reach any decisions then. The Economic and Social Committee has already expressed itself broadly in favour of the proposals. But the European Parliament —the opinion of which is a prerequisite to any final decisions, as I am sure my hon. Friends will agree—still has the matter under consideration. I understand that it is not expected to make its views known until the autumn."Methods of ensuring that all applicants for employment are entitled to take it will be discussed with both sides of industry."—[Official Report, 9th February 1977; Vol. 925, c. 1434.]
Members' views will therefore be received at an early and influential stage.A preliminary but major point which has been raised in the discussions concerns the type of instrument. Doubts have been expressed about whether it should be a directive. A directive would be binding on the member States as to the objectives to be achieved in it. If it were to be adopted member States would be obliged to comply, albeit within a fairly generous time limit. As a result of these doubts, it may be that the outcome will be a different type of instrument such as a resolution. A resolution, unlike a directive, would not bind member States legally but would impose obligations upon them. A number of points have been raised about the details of the Commission's proposals. It seems probable that the wording of any instrument that eventually emerges will differ markedly from the original draft. The Government accept and support the broad aims of the Commission's proposals. In our view, there can be no doubt that it is desirable to reduce the incidence of illegal immigration and illegal employment. It is a serious prob- lem in almost all the member States of the EEC.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so early. However, she has just said firmly that the Government accept the directive's aims on illegal employment. Is she saying that they accept the definition in the directive as it stands concerning what constitutes illegal employment?
The Government accept and support the broad aims of the Commission's proposals. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is determined to deal with abuse of immigration control. Illegally-employed nationals of third countries can have the effect of reducing the scope for free movement of nationals of member States, one of the main pillars of the whole Community idea. In the preamble to the draft directive the Commission states that illegal employment can occur under conditions involving exploitation and be accompanied by discrimination in remuneration and the misuse of social security laws.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for intervening again. I must bring her right back to the question I asked. The directive has supposedly created a new criminal offence called illegal employment. Leaving aside all the other issues that my hon. Friend has raised, I ask her once again whether it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to accept the concept of a new criminal offence called illegal employment.
The Government have not come to a view on what my hon. Friend is asking. They have taken no final position on the draft directive. That was what I said at the beginning of my remarks. That is why the debate is extremely important. It is at a preliminary stage when the views of hon. Members are being sought.
What is it that my hon. Friend accepts?
I have said that my right hon. Friend is determined to deal with abuse, as he said in his statement on the Franks Report. That is as far as we have gone. If my hon. Friend wants me to commit myself and the Government on the draft directive, I can assure her that I shall not be doing that this afternoon. The whole purpose of the debate is to discuss the draft directive.
Perhaps I can help to clarify the issue. The prevention and detection of illegal immigration anywhere is something on which there can be universal agreement, but is it not a fact that the proposals before the House in the draft directive are radically different from the system that is at present applied in this country? Perhaps my hon. Friend will say whether that is so. If she continues in the present vein, some of my hon. Friends will accuse her of Home Office newspeak.
I have five more pages and I ask my hon. Friends to hear me out. I was coming to all the issues that have been raised.In the preamble to the draft directive the Commission says that illegal employment can occur under conditions involving exploitation and be accompanied by discrimination in remuneration and the misuse of social security laws. By its very nature that is not a matter on which reliable statistics are likely to exist, but we accept that there is evidence that some nationals of third countries who are prohibited from taking employment are doing so. The TUC has expressed great concern about such illegal employment, especially its extent in the hotel and catering industry. I have received a deputation from the TUC and I know that my hon. Friends are aware of its views. I am sure that it is right, especially at a time of high unemployment, to do all we can to deal with those from outside the Community who either come here illegally and take employment or break the conditions upon which we granted them entry by taking jobs. We therefore support the broad aims behind the Commission's proposals. That is as far as I am committing the Government today. However, the proposals create for us a number of practical and legal problems. Article 2 would require member States to disseminate information among immigrants both at home and abroad. The main idea of making information available abroad is to try to dissuade people from coming to member States on an illegal basis, and to brief those who are entitled to come here as to national conditions and their rights so that they shall not be exploited. This is obviously very desirable, but it is expressed in general terms. In our experience there are, for example, several practical problems in many countries in making information available to people, and we do not want to be obliged, in times of economic difficulty, to spend money where there will not be a return or where there will be only a minimal return. We feel that member States should be left to use their own discretion in this area as to where and how they provide information. Article 2 would also require member States to ensure that there were effective controls for the purpose of preventing and identifying illegal migration and illegal employment at places of entry or at places of employment. We consider that we already have a reasonably effective control at the ports of entry, but control at the place of employment does not exist in this country. This requirement links up with another in Article 3, which would require the imposition of sanctions on employers who employed people who did not have permission to work. This would need legislation, and before introducing it we should need to be satisfied that it was workable, that it would be fair to all concerned and that there would be no question of its becoming an excuse for discrimination. We regard that last point as extremely important, and I know that there is great concern, among both hon. Members and others, about the possible misuse of these provisions if they were introduced. I fully understand those feelings, and I assure the House that they will be taken fully into account before any decision is reached. We will do our utmost to ensure that any powers that we might take in this area could not be misused to the detriment of any minority body. It is worth noting, however, as a piece of information for the House, that within the Community we appear to be the only State in which such fears have been voiced. Most, if not all, of our fellow member States already have powers which enable them to apply controls at the place of employment and to impose sanctions on employers.
That is an extraordinary suggestion. Is my hon. Friend saying that, because ours is the only Parliament which democratically looks at the rubbish coming out of Brussels at great speed, we are therefore the only people who should be censured? Many other States in the Community have political police with the right to stop people and demand identity cards in the street. That is not an idea that is generally acceptable to the British people, who are rather fond of their freedom. May I ask my hon. Friend to consider the tone in which her speech is being made?
First, my hon. Friend is putting words into my mouth. Second, she is anticipating what I was going to say anyway. In the first place, I have not implied what she suggests. I am not criticising our system as compared with the systems of most other countries. On the contrary, I am constantly defending our system of controlling immigration at the port of entry and not controlling it once people have come into this country; other countries pursue immigration control when someone has already entered. None of us would wish to see that here. That is why our system is different from that of the other member States.Article 3 also calls for sanctions to be available against traffickers in and organisers of illegal immigration and against employers. We already have strong sanctions against traffickers and organisers, but some member States have objected to the requirement in the draft directive that the sanctions to be applied against traffickers, organisers and employers must include the possibility of imprisonment, on the ground that that intervenes in the penal practice and policy of member States. There is a point of substance here in that criminal law and penal arrangements within each State need to be internally coherent, although they may differ as among States. That integrity should not, as a point of principle, be impaired significantly by penalties imposed under Community regulations and legislation, except for essential Community purposes. Article 3 also includes the requirement that there must be a possibility of imposing on the employer the cost of removal of an illegal worker. Some member States already have such powers, but they do not exist in the United Kingdom and, again, legislation would be needed. We do not, for the purposes of our immigration control, consider such provisions to be essential, although they might be useful and justified in individual cases. At present in this country, when someone is deported the cost almost always falls entirely on the State, although there is a provision under which a deportee himself may be required to contribute to the cost of removal. Our present feeling on this proposal is that, if there is to be such a provision, it should not be automatic but should be confined to employers who are plainly culpable. It could, for instance, be limited to a case in which a court made an order following a conviction. It has been suggested that the subject of reserved rights for workers should be included in the directive. The intention behind that proposal is that member States should protect the benefits and similar rights of workers relating to work in which they have engaged, even if they are not entitled to take that work. The suggestion has been made in an attempt to comply with another part of the text of the Migrant Workers Action Programme. It is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Social Services and for Employment, and it seems clear that clarification of the scope of the proposal and further discussion will be needed before any conclusions can be reached on it.
Surely the proposal in this draft directive is only part of the total Migrant Workers Action Programme. If it is to be introduced at all, surely it should be introduced as a package, so that a migrant worker has the rights as well as the penalties which will follow from the directive. It is not good enough simply to say that the matter comes under another Department and that it will have to be considered. If the Government are thinking of complying with the directive in this respect, surely they should also say that they will comply in the other respects in the action programme.
I know that that point is being studied by the other two Departments in their consideration of this matter. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment will be able to speak for his Department on this point when he replies.Finally, the Commission's proposals include provisions relating to rights of appeal for illegal workers. The rights of appeal under the Immigration Act 1971 already existing in this country are very wide-ranging and may be enough to comply with anything which finally emerges from this exercise. But I should say now that we have no wish to be obliged to extend these appeal rights further than they already go to include, for example, people who have actually entered the country illegally. I think I have shown that the issues raised by these proposals are far from straightforward. I appreciate the great concern and anxiety in the House. A great deal remains to be discussed, and there is, as I have said, no certainty that a directive will be the eventual result. We must see whether we can comply with any provisions that the draft directive or any other type of instrument is likely to contain. We shall, therefore, press ahead with the investigations that I have mentioned. Meanwhile, I look forward with great interest to hearing the views of hon. Members, which we shall take very carefully into account in considering our attitude to the Commission's proposals and in the implementation of the Government's firm undertaking to tackle the problems caused by illegal employment and illegal immigration in this country.
I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add:
The amendment seeks to obtain from the Government a guarantee that before any decision is taken on this matter the issue comes back to this House, via the Scrutiny Committee, as it normally would do and, assuming that the Scrutiny Com- mittee recommends, as I am sure it would on an issue of this importance, on a substantive motion which is amendable so that this House can give its view to the Government. Unless we can get an assurance in those terms, I am sure that my hon. Friends and I will wish to divide the House on this question. I found very great difficulty in following what my hon. Friend the Undersecretary said. I find similar difficulty in following all Home Office briefs. This one seemed to be written by at least three people, and probably more. At one point, my hon. Friend seemed broadly in favour of the aims of the directive. At another point, clearly when some other fonction-naire—membership of the European Assembly causes one to adopt a different nomenclature for these people—had contributed a bit to the brief, my hon. Friend appeared to be totally against the method proposed in the directive. At other points, she appeared to be her well-known, good old neutral self on the matter. I am afraid that I formed no clear view of the Government's position from what she said. However, I thank her for all five of the pages that she read, because they gave us a little meat to get our teeth into, although not very much. One of our eminent judges—I forget exactly which of them it was—'but since implementation of its proposals would mean major changes in the present systems and create new offences for employers, calls on Her Majesty's Government to re-submit this Regulation to the House prior to any decision being made in the Council of Ministers'.
There are not many.
Are there any?
He spoke of EEC legislation entering all the nooks and crannies of our society like a river sweeping back up from the sea. This directive is one of the first times that EEC legislation has entered this nook and cranny of our society, and it is one which many of us believe to be a wholly inappropriate area for a directive of this kind from Brussels to be imposed upon our legislation, forcing us to amend Britain's criminal law.Some doubt was expressed before the House of Lords Select Committee whether it is in the Treaty of Rome at all. It is worth reminding ourselves that on this occasion the Commission has not gone to the European Court of Justice to get a decision that it is within the treaty, as it could have done. I wish to make another point, which may seem trivial but which I think is very serious. Copies of the directive are available in the Vote Office in Xerox form. It is not difficult to read most of it, but the crucial clause, paragraph 2 of Article 1 on page 2 of the directive, is wholly illegible on every copy in the Vote Office. One cannot read a single word of the paragraph. This means that no hon. Member has had the opportunity of reading the paragraph that is the crucial thread on which this legislation depends. If it were not for one or two of the pleasanter fonctionnaires in the Home Office I would not know what the paragraph said. However, I went behind the Chair and got another copy from a Home Office source. When I inquired at the Vote Office I was told that it was the fault of the Ministry, because copies were made on the Ministry's Xerox machine and not on the Vote Office machine. There are two things different about the copy that I obtained from the Home Office. The first is that the copy is legible and the second is that it has "Restricted" stamped all over it, as the Home Office does with all its papers.
Yes, on principle. I should not be surprised if the Home Office did not also do it with its toilet paper.This is just a reminder of the narrow gossamer thread of the capricious vagaries of Rank Xerox machines on which our legislation on Europe hangs. We are now discussing a crucial directive in which the term "illegal employment" is mentioned in the House for the first time, and in a document that is wholly illegible. That is typical, and worth remembering. We ought to accord great thanks to the House of Lords Select Committee, which examined this directive with great care and went through the paragraphs one by one. I wish to draw attention to one or two points in the Committee's report. I turn first to the point made in paragraph 5, that illegal immigration, although it is a serious problem and has the effects mentioned by my hon. Friend, is less of a problem in Britain than in other countries in the Community. Therefore, why we should adopt their method of control rather than our own is beyond the wit of anyone to understand. It is a massive problem in Europe, but the European system of control through employment does not solve it and does not make it any better. We in this country have a very good system. The point that the Committee makes in paragraph 6, with which I very much agree, is that we have had a good deal of discussion recently about illegal immigration in this country. It is right that we should do so, but to have constant discussions on this subject year after year does not do race relations any good. We have had our debates and come to our conclusions about how we should deal with it, and there is a good case for not continuing the debate endlessly. The next point that the Committee makes, and in this it is backed by the opinion of the CBI, is that this is a completely new area. It creates a wholly new criminal offence for employers. It nominates sanctions, including imprisonment, against those employers. But there are no methods known in this country whereby those sanctions could be applied in order to make this work. If we accept this directive it means identity cards in Britain. There is no doubt about it. It will perhaps need a police computer of illegal or legal immigrants. It means a massive step into those areas of State control which some of us who believe in civil liberties have been fighting against day in and day out for a very long time. I believe that the directive is wholly and completely redundant and unnecessary, because we have a workable system of immigration control in Britain. The legal principle is particularly important and the Lords laid great stress on that. The principle that Europe will be able to pass directives which compel us to add a whole new area to our criminal law, which then affects other new areas of our criminal law and which changes the whole delicate balance of the relationship between employee and employer, is something that I think we should fight against. I hope that this House will fight against that. The amendment which I and my hon. Friends have tabled is designed to fight against it, so that next time this issue comes to the House we have a chance to express Parliament's view on it. The final point that I should like to make relates to the actual illegality of this process within the Treaty of Rome. The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities—Sub-Committee C—examined this with very great care. Once again, it had the benefit of the advice of the Home Office civil servants and it asked them about this point. On page 18 of the Committee's report a Mr. Taylor says:
That was an extraordinary thing to say in public evidence taken before a Select Committee, but that is what he said. He went on to say that there were some areas where there was a proper relationship between EEC law and our law but other areas where there was very great doubt, and added:"If I can speak perfectly frankly and privately".
—I do not know whose those Brussels lawyers are—"I think one would find colleagues … who would argue that a directive for general immigration matters was outwith the provisions of Article 100, but the Brussels lawyers"
That was a continuation of a joke which had been running through the proceedings but which I shall not pursue."have argued that the particular proposals they have put forward do fall within it, because the button is not sufficiently removed from the trousers at this stage".
Order. It may lead to an unfortunate situation if we start removing buttons from trousers.
I think it is a phrase to which lawyers are accustomed but which I do not understand. The general point is that there is grave doubt not only whether this is a sensible directive to apply to English law but whether it is even a legal directive within the Treaty of Rome. In spite of the fairly conciliatory speech of my hon. Friend, unless we get an absolute guarantee that we shall have another debate on a motion which is amendable before a decision is leached, I am sure that my hon. Friends will wish to press this matter to a Division.
The House will be grateful to the Minister for leading us through the intricacies of this document. It is a draft directive. They are not firm proposals and they are open to discussion, hence our debate. The Minister was in the unenviable position that if she had announced a firm Government policy, she would have been criticised for not giving us the chance to debate it but even when speaking in general terms and not committing herself she was open to an equal amount of criticism.It is right that this important matter should be discussed and that the Government should have the opportunity of hearing views from all sides. This is a difficult and delicate area and, to some extent, a technical subject. If we are to work towards complete freedom of movement in the Community, it is important to consider all the implications of doing so, on employment as much as on social services, and the general social fabric, and on how these can be integrated into our immigration policies. We have to take into account not least the social considerations and the fact that illegal workers in the Community are open to blackmail and having imposed on them unreasonable pay and conditions. In considering the draft directive, we have to bear in mind that this problem, by its very nature, is virtually impossible to measure. The Home Office has talked in terms of about 200 illegal immigrants a year, but it is referring to people such as those who wade ashore at Dover. We do not know how many people enter as visitors or students and overstay, or the extent to which they are employed here. Our present system of control differs from that on the Continent and is much more effective, for the very good reason that we do not have the constant crossborder traffic of countries in mainland Europe. We have advantages, because we are an island. Our problems are also different from those on mainland Europe, where there is much more immigration of large groups of organised workers. Immigration of workers here is almost entirely on an individual basis. Article 2 of the draft directive suggests that there must be adequate control of workers entering the country either at the place of entry or at the place of employment. We operate the first system and I hope that we shall continue to do so because it has the further refinement that there is also a degree of control in the country of origin. It is one thing to crack down on those, including some agencies, who traffic in illegal immigrants, but quite another to make the employment of illegal workers a criminal offence, as would be required if we followed the second alternative in the draft directive. There are certain attractions in being able to deal with illegal immigrant workers at that end of the spectrum, but Parliament should consider carefully before embarking upon such a step.
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the suggestion by the Commission that the wages council machinery and factory inspectors should be used as a method of checking whether immigrants working in a particular firm are there legally or illegally? What is his view on that suggestion?
It does not appeal to me as the way in which this matter should be pursued. There are ways in which it could be pursued, but that is not one.I query whether an offence consisting of employing an illegal immigrant would be enforceable. How could we obtain adequate evidence to convict an employer of knowingly—I emphasise "knowingly" —employing an illegal immigrant? As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) implied, that could mean some kind of identification for everybody in order to identify the illegal immigrant. Incidentally, the Immigration Act 1971 contains a provision for sanctions against a person
That offence can be dealt with by a fine of up to £400 and six months' imprisonment if dealt with summarily and seven years on indictment. That provision is normally used against the so-called traffickers in illegal immigration. But I wonder whether the wording would be adequate, if necessary, to cover employers. The wording suggests that it could be. To the best of my knowledge, it has not yet been done. Perhaps the Minister will refer to that aspect when replying to the debate. In any event, if we were to create a new offence along the lines that have been indicated—I have expressed my doubts about it—I should object to the suggestion that we should be told by Brussels exactly how to punish the offenders. As I read the directive, it could involve imprisonment. I suggest that it would be for the British Government, or, indeed, for each of the national Governments affected, to decide the appropriate sanction for dealing with offenders. That, to the best of my knowledge, is the general practice in most Community matters. That is particularly true if imprisonment is likely to be involved, because, without going into the details, we all know that the nature and régime of prisons in different EEC countries differ considerably. Having said that there is a problem of illegal immigration, particularly in the sense of students and visitors who overstay and get jobs, I wonder whether, although the Home Office assures us from time to time that it has this matter in hand and there are adequate controls, these controls are adequate and to what extent the Home Office has found it possible to ensure that the cases of those who stay over their time are followed up. One of a number of my constituency cases, which the Minister has dealt with on my behalf, concerned a person who, on what seemed reasonable grounds, asked for an extension of stay, and the Home Office, in giving consideration to that person's application, had to ask for my co-operation in getting correspondence to the lady concerned because the officials did not know where she was. I understand that there may have been good reasons for that. However, I wonder whether there is an adequate degree of control in respect of this overstaying problem. In some EEC countries there is provision for visitors and students who are admitted for a short time to report from time to time, not necessarily at a police station but at an appropriate office. Something along those lines would certainly appeal to me far more than anything more rigorous, such as has been suggested. It would be one way of dealing with the problem. I am not at all happy about the suggestion that the employer should be made responsible for the cost of returning to his base the illegal immigrant worker. That could be unjust as between employers, depending on the country of origin of the immigrant worker, whether it be Spain or somewhere in the Far East. It would also have the undesirable effect of making employers reluctant to take on anybody who was, or appeared to be, an immigrant for fear that he might turn out to be an illegal immigrant worker. As to the question of the distribution of information to would-be immigrants, the wholesale distribution of information is simply not practicable. It would mean that the British Government would have to send out details of employment circumstances in this country on a worldwide basis. I cannot see that that is on, but there is a strong case for ensuring that individual applicants seeking to enter this country for employment should be supplied with as much information as possible. Finally, on the right of appeal, there are, as the Under-Secretary indicated, certain categories for which there is an appeals procedure. But the straightforward illegal immigrant can be deported forthwith without any right of appeal. Such a man may have a genuine case in claiming his belief that he was a legal immigrant. Whilst I would not want to commit the Opposition on this point, I hope that the Home Office will look further at the practicability of extending the appeals to cover some of the sort of cases that I have indicated. To sum up, there are several aspects of the directive which, to put it no higher, are cause for concern, certainly in their efforts to alter our present system, which we on the Opposition Benches believe works reasonably well. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the Commission is fully informed of the views expressed in the debate today. I equally hope that she will keep us all well informed of developments."knowingly concerned in making or carrying out arrangements for securing or facilitating the entry into the United Kingdom of anyone whom he knows or has reasonable cause for believing to be an illegal immigrant".
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), I have had great difficulty in reading this document, not because my eyesight is fading or because I need to enroll in one of the adult literacy classes for which he has campaigned for so long.The whole question of immigration controls, permits to work and the rest of it is an extremely important one and one that affects many of my own constituents very closely and intimately. Of course, we are opposed to illegal immigration. Of course, we are opposed to those who cruelly exploit their fellow human beings. Of course, we want to see promoted and maintained the highest possible standards of employment, in terms of both pay and conditions and the rights of workers, individually and collectively. But, as the explanatory memorandum more or less says, the effect of this piece of Common Market harmonisation would be much greater on this country and on the Republic of Ireland than on the other EEC countries. We can argue whether one system is better than another. But our problems are not necessarily the same problems, and are not necessarily in the same context, as those of the other EEC countries, and they are therefore not necessarily amenable to the same type of solutions. To make an obvious point, we have the whole question of our relationship with the Commonwealth, which puts us in a totally different context from that of, for example, West Germany. Our treatment of people who have come to this country to work has been markedly different from the treatment meted out to migrant workers in, for example, West Germany and France. In my view, with all our faults we are much more humane than West Germany, for instance, in the treatment of its immigrant workers. We are told in the document that it is estimated that there are 600,000 illegal immigrant workers in the Community—10 per cent. of the immigrant work force. But there is no breakdown of those figures at all. Are we dealing with a problem which is more prevalent on the mainland of Europe than it is here? Could it be that the directive is primarily designed to deal with the particular problems of countries like France or Germany and is being foisted upon us? The reason for this is perhaps much more doctrinal than we think. On page 3, the document states:
The document clearly envisages a Euro-passport area within which movement will be unrestricted and around which there will be created high barriers, not only of tariffs but of immigration control as well. The context is not only one of dealing with particular problems; it is also a question of imposing a certain doctrinal view. That is what seems to be behind these proposals. In other words, the whole question of immigration control, however it is handled, will be taken out of our hands. Clearly, we are dealing with extremely important issues and we should not proceed with them or accept them lightly. Clearly, all kinds of bodies and people have an interest and an expertise in this field, and they must be fully consulted before any changes are even contemplated, let alone legislated for. Have such consultations taken place, and, if so, what has been the reaction?"As regards the organisation of such controls, the Commission is of the opinion that effective control at the internal frontiers of the Community is becoming more and more unreliable. This will become increasingly the case when the Community achieves a passport union, with the subsequent easing or removal of all internal control on Community territory."
A few minutes ago my hon. Friend mentioned registered immigrant workers and he went on to describe how the document envisaged free movement by Euro-passport throughout the Community. Does he infer that such a person as a registered immigrant worker may be introduced in this country? If so, this would be the biggest innovation and the biggest implication of the document.
That is a question for the Government Front Bench. Clearly, it raises important issues about the holding of a Euro-passport. The point may be taken up by the Front Bench spokesman in reply.The proposal to make it a criminal offence for an employer knowingly to employ a worker who has no permission to work involves very difficult complex and sensitive problems of race relations, community relations and industrial relations. It raises all kinds of questions about whether this might open the door to all kinds of probes and investigations which could disadvantage all kinds of bona fide people, immigrants included, and whether or not this might make employers more reluctant to employ immigrant workers. All such questions must be asked. We are in a delicate area of community and industrial relations and we need all the advice and expertise we can get. The area covered by the document is important and complex and intimately affects many people, including many of my constituents. It would be wrong to proceed with these proposals without the most rigorous consultation and debate.
I, too, think that the position of the European Economic Community on this subject is a very interesting one. This is the first time that we have had a draft directive on such a subject in the realm of home affairs. It raises many questions as to just how far the House is prepared to accept directives from the Common Market in an area of activity which, one would have thought, was almost by definition inherently within the sovereignty of this Parliament.I do not share the views of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I am a supporter of the concept of a united Europe. I therefore believe that what is proposed in the draft directive should at least be considered on its merits. If one does not have the fanatical hatred of everything emanating from Brussels that Opposition Members have, it is possible to look at these subjects more objectively and ask, as I always ask about Common Market matters—is it in the interests of the United Kingdom? There is much to be said in favour of this draft directive. At first sight the language of the directive—I am sorry that other hon. Members have not been able easily to read their copy; the copy which I obtained from the Vote Office and which was supplied by the Home Office is perfectly legible—gives the impression that we will vote upon ourselves a whole new apparatus of bureaucratic control and regulation of a type which it is difficult for even pro-Europeans to stomach. Therefore, one starts with an adverse opinion of the likely effects of the draft directive. It is necessary to consider the probable changes that will be required if the draft becomes a substantive directive and the Government of the United Kingdom are obliged to make these changes in our law. They are, first, the extension of control over employers and the place of employment and, secondly, the proposal that there should be a new and extended form of appeal procedure. These are important questions as they raise the whole question of the status of the Commission as an inspiration for changes in United Kingdom law. It is possible to argue that some of the changes in these proposals will, or may, be beneficial. Let us consider, first, the question of the extension of the immigration control apparatus to the place of employment. I had the good fortune when I was visiting the United States in 1973 to be invited to see over, purely as a temporary visitor, the immigration control department in New York. It has come to New York from the famed Ellis Island. It is a very large organisation. American experience and practice in immigration control are vastly different from ours. America is a country of tremendous size. It has no effective border controls between it and Canada or Mexico. The main means of illegal entry is to walk over the border anywhere between the towns where one has to submit oneself to examination. I was told that the immigration department dealt with 500,000 illegal immigrants each year. That is half a million found and half a million deported. That takes the issue outside our experience. It is big business. In New York there is an integrated system of immigration control which incorporates the detection of offences and the judicial disposal of offenders. Both are dealt with under the same roof. At the top of the building is what is called a "facility" where people who are arrested are kept in detention pending deportation. One hopes that we shall never come to that. The Americans have mobile patrols, which are allied to the police system. They operate in the poorer areas of the cities, because that is where illegal immigrants are to be found. In the poorer areas there is also less State and local authority control over conditions of employment. I was told by the deputy-director that when one goes into the kitchen of a large establishment one can recognise illegal immigrants from the expressions on the faces of the staff. Of course, the American experience should not be compared with ours. The scale of our problems is not as great. However, we should not reject out of hand the extension of control to employers. That could be helpful in preventing exploitation of workers. At present, any employer who knowingly employs an illegal immigrant may pay him low or no wages. He may subject his worker to intolerable conditions because no complaint can be made. If a complaint were made, the illegal status of the worker would be revealed to the police. Only a few employers would be involved in an extension of the system because only a few are in the racket. It would not be possible to extend immigration control to include offences of this kind without certain difficulties, one of which would be how to protect the innocent employer of an illegal immigrant. It would be difficult to define what reasonable steps an employer should take to ensure that an employee was entitled to be in the country. Turning to the second question, a new appeal procedure is suggested in the draft directive. We have a large apparatus for appeals under the present immigration control system. Overstayers have a right of appeal, but there is a clear distinction in principle between those who have that right and those who do not. Those who have stayed on after the condition imposed upon their entry has expired or has been contravened have been lawfully admitted to the country. They have been granted the right to live and work here and they have rights. They have worked here, paid taxes and subjected themselves to the normal duties and obligations of all residents, including British citizens. As to those who might be described as the criminal type of illegal immigrant, which is not a very happy phrase, we are-dealing with those who usually have been smuggled here, who have obtained clandestine entry and who are usually participants in a criminal conspiracy. Very often they have used forged documents. They are practising a fraud upon Britain. I do not believe that they are entitled to the same rights. They have done nothing for Britain. They know the consequence of their act. The unceremonious packing-off of such persons back to where they came from is entirely justified. In that respect I do not agree with the suggestion in the directive that the appeal procedure should be applied. When we consider the time and expense occasioned by appeals—one or two notorious cases will come to mind—it is intolerable that Britain and the British taxpayer should have to put up with them.
Is that not a good reason for getting rid of the criminal courts, the lawyers and all that paraphernalia? After all, if a man is charged he must be guilty and, therefore, we should not pay the hon. Gentleman high fees to represent him and defend him.
The hon. Gentleman can speak for himself. He does not pay me any high fees. He is talking about British citizens—people in this country who are entitled to be here, who have nowhere else to go and who by law are entitled to all the laws, rights and obligations of those lawfully in this country. I am talking not of those people but of those others who have come from outside, who have not come lawfully. British subjects are entitled to a privileged position in their own country.
No, I shall not give way.I have already spoken of the American experience, and I must say at once, because I want to be fair, specially to the hon. Gentleman, who I think has been very unfair on many occasions in dealing with this subject, that it provides an almost universal system of appeal. It is all under one roof. Administratively they have achieved a system that provides for appeal at all stages at the minimum cost, considering the huge numbers with which they have to deal. Their courts sit for 24 hours a day. There are shift-working judges and court staff. Lawyers are available on a sort of legal aid system for every person who appears before a judge. In that respect, perhaps, the Americans are operating the best appeal procedure if one has to be operated for those who, in my opinion, are not entitled to appeal but to whom the hon. Gentleman would like to give that right. Perhaps the American system would be the best way of providing it. Will the new rules, as suggested in the directive, assist us in our illegal immigration problem in future? Once we have adopted the directive, if we ever do, how will it help our problem? First, we must consider how great is our problem. No meaningful figures are available. That is perhaps one reason for there being no justification in saying that it is a big problem. In so far as we have a problem at all, it would appear to be comparatively small. Certainly the numbers detected and removed are laughable. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department told me on 24th June 1976 that in 1972 59 illegal immigrants were removed. She told me that in 1973 176 were removed, 139 in 1974 and 154 in 1975. Clearly the figures of those who are found to be illegal immigrants are very small. On the other hand, those who travel around the country know that the problem, at least in the public's mind, is far greater than officials and the Government would have us believe. One need only go to the report of Mr. Hawley for confirmation. He said— and I think that this is a fair summary —that there was a widespread industry in the Indian sub-continent devoted to the evasion of British immigration control. We also have the advice and opinion, if we care to obtain them, of individual police officers who have to deal with the problem. Their view, in my experience, is that the proportion of illegal entrants among the immigrant community is substantial. Indeed, that opinion has been cheerfully confirmed by many representatives of the communities concerned, especially when discussing the question of amnesty. Nor is public suspicion allayed by official protestations when the public can see for itself that the figures for immigration produced by immigration control are not reliable. We had for some time what was called the "net balance" figures—the difference between the total number of those coming into the country and the total number of those going out. The net balance should, of course, be roughly equivalent to the number of those allowed to stay. But the figures never coincided. Indeed, the 1973 figures were obviously untrustworthy. They were subsequently found to be inaccurate to the extent of 70,000. That was bad enough, but the figures themselves were even more revealing. For example, the correct figure for 1973 for the balance between those who came in and those who went out was 83,000-odd; the figure for those allowed to stay here was 32,000. So in that year, 54,000 immigrants were unaccounted for. The figures for 1974 were 97,000-odd net balance, and for those allowed to remain, 42,000-odd. Thus, 55,000 immigrants in that year were not accounted for. The figures for 1975 were 67,000-odd net balance, and for those allowed to remain permanently 53,000-odd. In that year, therefore, 14,000 immigrants were not accounted for. Perhaps it is not surprising that the Government decided thereafter to stop publishing the figures, because of the public anxiety that they aroused.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way now? He is making false allegations.
No. No doubt the hon. Gentleman intends to make a speech. He can deal with these points then.The Home Secretary at the time said that he was abandoning the practice of publishing embarkation figures—those leaving the country—in the returns of immigration control, on the ground that the method of collection made the figures unreliable. That may be so, but it clearly reveals a defect in our immigration control, which the public is bound to view with a great deal of worry and concern. Will the adoption of the directive correct the situation? It deals with future immigration, by and large, so one can say that, broadly speaking, it is too late. Most of the people I have been talking about are already here, and the directive therefore would not make a great deal of difference. But when we are dealing with employment, we must consider those other authorities that have the power to issue passports affecting the status of immigrants. I refer particularly to the Pakistan Embassy and their Consulate-General in Bradford. There was an interesting case in the Court of Apeal on 26th May this year which the House might like to know about—
The hon. Lady does not like the truth, I know, but she will have to listen to it.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No, I will not.The case was reported in The Times on 27th May. One must appreciate that between Britain and Pakistan there is something that does not exist between Britain and India—dual citizenship. A man may legally hold a passport issued by Pakistan, claiming him as a citizen of Pakistan able to come and go as he pleases, and also a passport issued by Britain with the same endorsement. Therefore, what is endorsed upon the one may not be endorsed upon the other. The case to which I refer is Regina v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Ex parte Hussain. The immigrant concerned had come into this country in 1970 subject to a condition, which presumably was endorsed upon his passport. I say "presumably" because the court has not seen that passport. What we do know is that in 1972 he obtained from the Pakistan Consulate in Bradford a fresh passport. It made no mention of the condition under which he had entered Britain two years before, although there was evidence of the fact that he had been continuously resident in Britain—by the very fact of its issue from Bradford. Thus, when he visited Germany in 1974 and returned to Britain, he presented immigration control with a passport appearing to suggest that he was entitled to remain in this country indefinitely—as a perfectly legal resident. In fact, he was an illegal immigrant. In that case, I am glad to say, the court was satisfied that as an illegal immigrant he should not have been here at all. This case raises an important question with regard to the issue of passports in this country by the offices of foreign Governments. In 15th June this year I asked the Home Secretary:
The answer was:"what safeguards exist to ensure that passports issued to Pakistanis resident in Great Britain by the Pakistan Consulate in the United Kingdom correctly record the terms on which the holder is in Great Britain ".
It seems that the co-operation did not extend properly to at least that one case, and one wonders how many more there are beneath the surface. I refer finally to the information that we have. In this connection, I think that all recent Governments are guilty of misleading and confusing the people of Britain about the true position on immigration. I refer to the amnesty granted to illegal immigrants who arrived here before 1st January 1973. That was granted in 1974, and it is still open. The interesting feature is that the numbers concerned are very small. Out of 1,990 applications submitted by 24th June 1976, when the Question about them was asked, 1,376 had been granted, 216 were still under consideration and the others had been rejected. One wonders whether that amnesty should not now be ended. I believe that it has to be ended in the light of the draft directive if we are sincere in our desire to be strict, as we should be, about all future immigration."The issue of Pakistani passports to Pakistani nationals resident in Great Britain is solely the responsibility of the Pakistani representatives here. Officials have from time to time discussed with the Pakistani representatives the need to prevent abuse of the United Kingdom immigration regulations and they have co-operated in various ways to achieve this."—[Official Report, 15th June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 211–12.]
If I do not follow the parade of bigotry which has just been displayed, it is not because I do no think that there are very strong and straightforward arguments to refute most of the nonsense talked by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). It is mainly because his speech was an abuse of the short period of time in which we are supposed to be discussing a directive which has a great many implications for this House.I am Vice-President of the Social Affairs Committee of the European Assembly, which has been considering the terms of this directive. Because I was deeply concerned about some of the suggestions not only on the part of the Commission but also, it seemed to me, implicit in the wording of the directive. I approached the Home Office at a very early stage to ask for its view on the wording of the directive. My reasons for doing so were simple. I believe that we in this country have more than adequate immigration controls. Although I was perfectly content to see the definition of "illegal immigration" which was written into the directive, what I found extremely disturbing was a number of suggestions not the least of which was that we were actually creating a new criminal offence of illegal employment. I pointed out not only to the Commission but also to the Home Office here that I believed that the wording of the directive was so deficient that in no way would it be acceptable to the House of Commons as the basis for what will, in effect, be a piece of legislation which would carry with it very considerable difficulties for those of us who wish to see race relations in the country improve and not deteriorate. If we are to have a directive which suggests, in effect, that anyone who knowingly employs an illegal immigrant is himself guilty of a crime and which goes on to suggest sanctions against that employer, we shall very soon get ourselves into extraordinarily deep water. When I approached the Home Office this seemed to be accepted fully, but I was told that the Department of Employment also had a specific interest and was taking part in the discussions which were being held. I have been endeavouring since then to obtain from both Government Departments a clear statement of the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the directive. During discussions in the European Assembly, the Commission suggested that, if we felt that it was difficult to apply checks at the place of work, we should seek to use our existing machinery. The Commission's representative implied that the wages machinery was very suitable for this kind of control and that the factory inspectors should also be used to check whether immigrants had entered the country illegally. I pointed out to the Commission in the European Assembly, and I repeat it now, that the first factory inspector who was even suspected by management or trade unions of abusing the right by which he enters commercial premises in that manner would find it exceedingly difficult to continue his job in the future. I should be totally opposed to what I should regard as the misuse of powers given by Parliament to the Factory Inspectorate for a very specific purpose. Nor do I know what the attitude of the factory inspectors themselves would be if they were asked to extend their present work. They are already carrying out a good deal of useful work and they might be very much opposed to doing something very much outside their normal functions. I have still not obtained from the Government any indication of how they view the directive. I have in my hand a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Central (Mr. Grant), who is Under-Secretary of State for Employment, dated 21st June. The letter states:
The letter goes on:"It would in my view be misleading to describe any checks which could be introduced as a result of the proposed instrument as political, as they would be designed only to prevent abuses of legislation concerning entry to the country and concerning the right to take employment"
I welcome that assurance, but I would have preferred the Government to come to the House today and say that the directive is ill-conceived and ill-written and that in order to apply it we should have to change many of the basic assumptions that we make in this democratic country. If one applies immigration controls at the point of entry, as we do, it would caused considerable exacerbation of existing race relations if one then attempted not only to extend those controls to the place of work but actually to involve the employer and say that if the employer was in any way employing anyone who had entered the country illegally he would be guilty of an offence. I believe that that extension should be wholly unacceptable to the House, and I hope that after the Government have listened to the debate they will take the matter away and come back with some definite decisions. For example, the directive suggests that we should undertake to ensure that immigrants in the country of origin are given full information about the country to which they are going to work. I pointed out to the Commission at the time that in India alone, as far as I am aware, there are about 19 official languages and 149 other subsidiary languages in use. Is it seriously suggested that we should be bound by this directive to issue detailed instructions in about 160 Indian languages at the point of origin? If so, I suspect that the Commission is not only being unrealistic but being so superficial as to be guilty of the crime of absurdity. The directive wavers between the two. On the one hand it seems to suggest measures which can only exacerbate race relations, and on the other hand it brings in all sorts of subsidiary points which can at best be described as unimportant and at worst as positively misleading. The directive is still in the Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, and it will remain there for some months because it has to be discussed line by line—"we certainly have no intention of doing anything which would undermine the new race relations legislation, would damage the employment prospects of workers from racial minority groups …".
Word by word.
Indeed, word by word. When we see the copies of the proposed directive which have been issued by the Vote Office, we can see why it is important that it should be discussed in the European Parliament, because no one will be able to read the definition contained in the piece of paper which has been handed out today.I would finish on this note. Anyone who seriously believes that the House of Commons should accept wording which says
is guilty of a misunderstanding of the democratic principles on which this Parliament is founded. If people are to live and work in decency in this country, they must certainly enter it legally. Of that I have no doubt. But if we are to attempt to deal with some specific problems on the Continent of Europe by creating wholly dangerous and quite misconceived legislation, far from convincing the people of this country that the EEC is considering their best interests we shall frighten them with the suggestion that the Commission is actually spreading its net into areas in which it has neither direct nor real responsibility. I oppose the wording of the proposed directive because I believe that it is not in the interests either of the British people or of the immigrants who are working here. I believe that Parliament has a responsibility to make sure that all the rights of workers are properly protected. There is no suggestion that this proposed directive will do anything of the sort. I therefore hope that the Government will not accept it without coming back to the House of Commons and taking note of what is said here. If that is not to be so, we shall have another of the sort of farce where the House of Commons expresses a point of view but nevertheless the Commission pushes through the directive as originally worded. That is not in the interests of any of us, either the migrants or the natural-born members of the British nation."For the purpose of this Directive the migration as defined … shall be termed 'illegal migration' and any employment arising as a result shall be termed 'illegal employment'"
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State—the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill)—has now departed, because it was my intention to begin by taking the buttons off her trousers. However, that might have been an embarrassing situation for her. I say that because I subscribe to the charming sentiments of Mr. Taylor, in his evidence before the Select Committee of the other place, for being perfectly frank and speaking privately to the world that this recommendation for a directive "is outwith Article 100".Indeed, that was the view of the Select Committee. It thought that it might be able to bring it within Article 235, but having looked at Article 235 I do not think that it advances the situation any further. It shows that if it is a view of the Council of Ministers that some remedy is required to subscribe to the aims of the treaty the Council ought to declare whatever remedy it is. The same issue arises under Articles 100 and 235. Just what are the aims of the Community and how far are they relevant to the proposed directive? The argument that Mr. Taylor was advancing before the Select Committee was absolutely right. There is no way in which one can argue that the control of immigration is, in fact, related to the creation of a common economic policy and to the elimination of artificial incentives to unfair competition within the Community. The argument is put on the basis that if we allow unrestricted legal immigration we provide a source of cheap labour which gives us a competitive edge over the other members of the Community. Therefore, it is in the interests of the whole Community that we should have a clear and harmonious policy for dealing with illegal immigration. The argument falls down when we consider that the major source of new labour entering the Community, over and above the indigenous population, is legal immigration. If that argument is used in relation to illegal immigration, it has to be used in relation to legal immigration. This country could introduce increased powers for dealing with illegal immigration and then increase dramatically the number of quota vouchers issued to foreign labour each year in order to improve our labour position vis-à-vis the other countries of the EEC. If that happened, the other Community countries would say that we were competing unfairly and that a common harmonisation policy was needed in relation to legal migration and the number of vouchers issued. Clearly, we should be getting so far away from the major objectives of the Community that if this directive were tested before the European Court there would be a strongly arguable case— which would probably be successful— that Article 100 was being abused in the directive. The Government should veto, on the basis of principle, any proposal that this should become a directive of the Community. I say that also in relation to the merits of the proposal. Article 2(b) indicates that powers should be introduced at the place of entry or at the place of employment. The use of the disjunctive suggests that we could comply with the provisions if we used our perimeter controls as at present and did not introduce new controls over the place of employment. However, there is some doubt about that, particularly in the minds of Home Office officials who have discussed it in Europe. That was reflected in the evidence to the Select Committee of another place and the Committee itself was in some doubt whether this was the case. This opens up the possibility that we shall move beyond perimeter controls to controls at the place of employment. In my two years at the Home Office I thought that some employers should be prosecuted because they were clearly encouraging illegal immigration, and although a case, which was the basis of the wild hysteria reflected by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), came to public notice and came to be known as the London Eating Houses case, I sweated for three months to try to settle that case before it became a major confrontation. It was almost entirely due to the proclivities of a. Turkish employer who wanted to bring in Turkish help illegally in order to undercut the rate of his employees. When we cracked down on him and made him pay the proper rates, he went out of business. I suggested that he should have been prosecuted under the existing powers. That is how we should deal with these matters. There are one or two such employers, and it is right that they should be prosecuted. The occasional prosecution would have a salutary effect, but I fear that if we introduced a general overall requirement for employers to vet carefully who they were employing among the immigrant community it is likely that they would tend not to employ them and they would have a cast iron reason for being in breach of the Race Relations Act by refusing to employ coloured people. I am opposed to controls at the place of employment, on grounds that might appeal even to the hon. Member for Orpington. The reason that we do not have these controls is that, apart from the fact that we are an island, our traditions are different from those that have arisen with the internal security on the Continent. Other European countries have a different sort of policing and a different attitude to the way in which people move about and are free to move within those countries. We do not register people at hotels as they do on the Continent and we have no identity cards and internal checks. The reason why it is easy to get into countries on the Continent is that their controls on the perimeter do not operate in the same way as ours. It is more difficult for people to get into this country, but once they are here they are fre to do as they like. I am anxious to protect that characteristic of the British way of life. From the Opposition Benches we hear a lot about law and order and the British way of life. One of the most valuable parts of the British way of life is that, within the context of our society, basically people are free to do anything within the law and to move about as they please, whether they are visitors, immigrants or indigenous. I should be loth to give that up. I am a little sceptical about the tentative idea put forward by the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), namely, that people who are here for short stays should report. That also would go against the fundamental principle that, once we allow people in, up to the time when their time runs out they should be free to do more or less as they wish. We should change British society fundamentally if we went along that road. I do not want to put the matter too strongly, but that would open up the whole apparatus for a police State. One reason why it is easier to establish a police State in Europe than in this country is that we have never gone along that road. Therefore, a fundamental principle is involved in the directive, and for that reason I should be opposed to it. On grounds of legality, morality and practicability—because it is difficult to see how the directive could be enforced—I think that the Commission has produced a non-starter, and we should strongly oppose it. This proposal comes out of a carefully considered package that was put into the migrants' charter by people who were anxious to alleviate the deplorable plight of migrant workers in the Community. Here, again, there is a fundamental difference of philosophy between our immigration control and that in Europe. By and large, European countries do not allow people in to work and to settle. They allow them in for a temporary period and then send them out. Permission to enter does not carry with it any implied right to stay or, indeed, to bring in a family. There is no implied right to vote, and no citizen's rights. These matters have seriously concerned other members of the EEC, because some of the abuses in Holland and Germany have been quite frightening. Therefore, a policy grew up to create a charter that would give protection to people in that situation. People in this country do not need such protection. By and large, our workers came from the Commonwealth. But, even if they came from foreign sources, they were treated not as migrant workers but as people who came for settlement. The 1971 Act has created a situation in which people who come here for work can be treated like migrant workers. It is a question of policy, still to be decided, whether they are to be treated as migrant workers. We said that they could come for 12 months, extendable, and that at the end of four years they might be allowed to remain. But since the Act came into force in 1973—we are now in 1977—it is not entirely clear whether we shall automatically remove the conditions at the end of the four years or retain the old system of allowing workers who come here and give what they can in their initial probationary period the right to settle. If we do that, we shall proceed along a different path from that of the Continental countries and not have the problems that the migrants' charter was designed to settle. If we do not, we may need the migrants' charter in order to give the migrant worker the same kind of rights as the existing settler. I would prefer to have the settler rather than the migrant worker. Therefore, I would prefer to go along an entirely different path. For that reason, I do not think that one can harmonise the immigration policies of the Community. The concept of the Community is to have one unit in which there is free travel, and not to have passport control. That is one of the marks of the Community. It is perfectly all right for nationals. We know what a national is, or we shall know when we have the citizenship law tidied up. But when we have done that there will still be people who are not nationals but who are settlers in our country and have not yet taken naturalisation. That will go on for ever, as far as I can see. There is no reason why, for people who are not nationals but who have settled in a country, there should be one uniform law for the whole of the EEC. It is perfectly possible to have separate laws, because they will not have free right of movement, and therefore they cannot undermine the migration policies of the other members of the EEC. I think that this whole thing is misconceived, and that the Government should veto it in the Council of Ministers, if it ever gets that far. Meanwhile, they should put up unstinted opposition, which so far they have not done.
Before I add to what has been an excellent debate, with the exception of one contribution, I want to say how glad I am, in spite of my opposition to the European Economic Community, that we have someone with as sharp an eye as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), on her European Assembly Committee, to watch out for the interests of those who could very well be affected by this draft directive. I hope that she will be as good as what was almost her word, in keeping the directive in her Committee for as long as possible.I am not as familiar as are some others with the initimate workings of directive-making or drafting in the EEC, but it is a great pity that the first directive to emerge from the Council's resolution of 9th February 1976 on an action programme for migrant workers and their families should be the most restrictive part of it, and that we should not first have had some consideration. There may be some suggestions— although I have seen no directive about them—on how to settle people and help them to work within their host communities, wherever they may be. It seems to me a great pity that we should come out with what could turn out to be, if they were ever put into effect, Draconian difficulties and an entire change in the emphasis of our law on immigrants. What will happen, in effect, if we carry out this directive is that because of the difficulty of trying to decide on a method of ascertaining whether a prospective employee is an illegal immigrant, employers may set their face against anyone with a black or brown skin. That will be a sort of immediate yardstick. They may come a cropper in another direction, but they will at least feel safer if they have rejected the black or the brown worker on the list of applicants for the job that they are advertising. We hear a great deal about unemployment these days and about the difficulties, particularly in the inner cities, resulting from coloured unemployment. The directive, if it ever became law here, could do nothing but add to it. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) made a curious speech, in which he tried to build up a sort of anti-immigrant, racialist case. He does not seem to have read the submissions of the Confederation of British Industry to the Select Committee in the House of Lords. The CBI statement was full of criticisms of the draft directive from a number of points of view—from points of view of principle in some areas, and practicality in others. It said:
We have already referred to the fact that we cannot read the directive because of the bad Xeroxing—it is lacking in clarity there as well. The CBI submission went on:"The draft is much lacking in the clarity of expression which may even lead to differences of view about some of the underlying concepts."
From the point of view of practicality and morality and in terms of sheer common sense this thing is nonsense. I hope that the House will think very seriously before it allows this draft to go through. All hon. Members who read the report of the Select Committee on the European Communities of the House of Lords will realise that it makes really good sense. The report spells out the adequacies of our present immigration controls and points out the dangers and difficulties which the adoption of the draft directive would bring to immigrant workers in this country. It also points out the dangers which any implementation of a change in the law might bring. The report says that our highly effective immigration control at the point of entry is such as to render unnecessary further control at the place of employment. The whole report is studded with such phrases in specific terms. I am very glad that we have had this debate this afternoon. It has enabled us to register our objections to having very important debates like this at the fagend of the night or on Friday afternoon. I hope that when the Scrutiny Committee look again at this directive in its final form—if it ever gets there—and reports back to the House, we shall debate it at the proper time and more hon. Members will take part."In Article 2(a), how can 'workers subject to the provisions of the present directive be duly and accurately informed of employment, living and working conditions …' when their intended entry is clandestine and illegal and for obvious reasons such persons cannot be identified?"
I, too, welcome the fact that we have had this debate this afternoon. Contrary to what some hon. Members sometimes think, Ministers do go away from the debates having taken account of what has been said. They go back to Brussels to negotiate on directives bearing in mind the opinions expressed in the House. Frequently this strengthens a Minister's hand in the debate that he has with his European colleagues.This debate has clearly highlighted the immense difficulties in reaching any form of agreement at all on any kind of instrument, let alone a directive. The debate has given us an opportunity of hearing hon. Members' views at first hand, particularly the views of my hon. Friends who have been responsible for most of the speeches. I repeat that we are nowhere near any kind of decision-taking situation. There is a great deal of dissension within the Community on all the major proposals in this draft directive. Next week at the Council of Social Affairs Ministers this matter will be on the agenda in a purely take-note form. There will be a progress report to Ministers attending, and that report will show very clearly that on all the major questions there is no agreement. There is no agreement on the form of the instrument or its legal basis—whether it should be under Article 100 or Article 235. There is the whole question of sanctions and curbs on illegal immigrants and their employment, including penal sanctions, and the liability for the cost involved in removing illegal immigrant workers from a member State. There is also a question about the protection of the rights of workers and the rights of appeal against measures taken against them. There is no agreement on any of these matters. It will thus be seen that finalisation will take a very long time. I repeat that I have on previous occasions made it clear in the Council of Ministers that this draft directive poses the United Kingdom Government with very special problems and, above all, that there is no question of our taking any action which could undermine our race relations legislation and give rise to the charge that we were engaging in a witch hunt. It is important that that be on the record not only of the House but in the Community. The Commission will be reporting on progress to the Council next Tuesday. It might be better described as lack of progress. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said earlier, the opinion of the Assembly will not be received on this question before the autumn, and only at that stage can the matter be considered by the Committee of Permanent Representatives before that body in turn decides whether it should be returned to the Council of Ministers. So we have a long way to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said that there was no clear view of the Government's position. I confirm that he is right. A great deal of discussion remains to be undertaken. My hon. Friend described the directive as a river sweeping up from the sea. I do not think that it is a tidal river, because it is coming along very slowly and will take much longer. Incidentally, I apologise to my hon. Friend for the poor results from the Home Office Xerox machine. Before she left, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department assured me that she will investigate the performance of the machine. I do not apologise for the poor quality of production of the Tory paper mentioned by my hon. Friend. Several of my hon. Friends mentioned the report of the Scrutiny Committee which points out that it is not clandestine immigration but the overstayers who are the serious problem. It is right to comment that, if the Scrutiny Committee regards that as a problem—and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has said that it is a problem—it does not deal with it in its concluding remarks. The Committee, having raised the issue as a major one, then seems to have ignored it. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also raised the whole question of sanctions and such things as identity cards and a police computer. We have no intention of treading that path. There have been no discussions about the use of identity cards as a practical proposition. I, like my hon. Friend, believe that identity cards would be totally unacceptable in Britain. My hon. Friend said that he thought we had a workable system. There must be doubts about that, and I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has himself raised doubts about it. My hon. Friend then argued that we should not allow Europe to compel us to accept the directive. The short answer is that Europe cannot so compel us. If at the end of the day we are not satisfied, we are entitled to refuse to implement the directive. The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and several of my hon. Friends raised the question of criminal sanctions and referred to that proposal as being a radical departure. It certainly is a radical departure. This is one of the matters which is concerning us. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) asked the hon. Member for Chislehurst about factories and wages inspectorates. I was glad that the hon. Member dismissed the idea. He said that he objected to Brussels telling us how to punish offenders. That is a valid objection. It is among the obstacles that we shall encounter when we discuss this issue at ministerial level. I turn now to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson), who was particularly concerned about consultations. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that he wants to have considerable consultation throughout industry, particularly with the TUC and the CBI. The CBI has been mentioned freely this afternoon, although the TUC has not. There will be widespread consultation. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary has said this before, but I have no doubt that he will want to consult not only the CBI and the TUC but other bodies such as the Commission for Racial Equality. Organisations such as that will have legitimate views to express about these issues. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said—and I agree with him— that we should consider the directive on its merits. Some people might say that today we have discussed it on its demerits. I am sorry that the hon. Member then turned his contribution into a general discussion on immigration. That was not desirable. It is better to avoid doing that in a debate on a draft directive. The Select Committee said that this was one reason for avoiding discussion on the directive. I agree, but it is not something that we can avoid. The document has been tabled for consideration within the Community. We cannot pretend that it is not there. We must debate it, and it is sensible to debate it in the way we have done. The hon. Member for Orpington suggested that the directive involved only future immigration. That is not so. One of the major problems in applying a directive of this kind is that it would affect immigrants who are here on illegal terms now. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe is particularly familiar with the situation because of her Assembly rôle. She has written to me and to other Ministers on more than one occasion. She referred to a letter that I wrote to her and she mentioned the suggestion that there should be "political checks"—those are her words. It depends on what one means by "political". I thought that political checks meant checks on people's politics. I do not think that that follows from the directive. I took my hon. Friend's point that there are political police in many countries, but that does not follow from the directive. My hon. Friend also suggested that somebody at the Commission had said that we should use our existing machinery and employ our Wages and Factories Inspectorate machinery. I am not sure whether that suggestion came from a Commission official or was made in the Assembly. I agree that to use the Factories Inspectorate would be totally irrelevant. It is inconceivable that it could be used in that way, even if it had the capacity. The Wages Inspectorate is different. One could argue—although I do not—that, because the Wages Inspectorate is involved in low-pay industries and because there are many immigrants working in those industries, it would be possible for wages inspectors to be used in that way. In practice, I do not believe that it is a practical proposition. First, the Wages Inspectorate is limited in its work to industries that are covered by wages councils. That would cover about 3 million workers but would leave millions of others entirely uncovered. We could not make that sort of discrimination. An even greater practical point is that at its present strength the inspectorate is grossly over-stretched. We need more inspectors, for example, to tackle cases of low pay. We could not conceivably use them in the way that has been suggested. I must tell my hon. Friend that when the matter comes for final decision, the decision will not be taken by me. It will be a collective decision. There are a number of Departments involved. Should it go to the Cabinet, it may be that in its infinite wisdom it will decide that what I am saying is wrong. However, I put my views on the record. I do not think it is conceivable that the Wages Inspectorate or the Factories Inspectorate could be used in such a way. If some Commission functionary has suggested that to my hon. Friend, I suggest that she tells him where to go if he should repeat the suggestion.
If a directive is brought before a committee of the European Assembly, that committee examines the directive in the presence of the Commission officials, who are responsible both for the initiation and the discussion. These remarks concerning Wages Inspectorate and the Factories Inspectorate have been repeated inside the European Assembly committees not by one official but by two on two separate occasions. I hope that my hon. Friend will be clear that I am not referring to a private conversation between myself and some unnamed functionary. This is a specific policy of Commission officials in relation to British machinery. I hope my hon. Friend will be aware that on that basis, if there should be any suggestion of Her Majesty's Government accepting such an idea, considerable offence would be felt by many hon. Members and the idea would be strongly opposed.
Whatever may be said by Commission officials within the Assembly, those officials do not make policy for the United Kingdom Government. I have responsibility within the Department of Employment for both Wages Inspectorate and Factories Inspectorate inspectors. I agree with what my hon. Friend has said about the use of the inspectorates. I suggest that next time she goes to Brussels she takes with her the report of our proceedings this afternoon which appears in the Official Report. As two Commission functionaries are concerned, perhaps she should take two copies so that she may give one to each of them. I hope that that dispenses with that argument.My hon. Friend referred to the problem of ensuring that full information is available in the countries of origin. I agree with her remarks. Without going into detail, I merely say that immense practical difficulties are raised. My hon. Friend mentioned some but there are others. Again, this is a matter that we should find extraordinarily difficult to swallow. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) had a great deal to say about which of the articles was appropriate. As I said earlier, there is great dissension within the Community. There is no agreement between the Governments as to which of the articles might be appropriate. I think I am right in saying that my hon. Friend suggested we should oppose the whole thing in principle on that ground. I do not think I can go that far with him. He said in the end that if there was something to be tested it would be for the European Court to do that as the final arbiter. There is no question of any early agreement on that point either. My hon. Friend also referred to prosecutions. As in the area of low pay, I should like to see more prosecutions take place where there are offences. However, I am not at all sure that that would be much of an answer to the problem, if we consider that it is a problem. It is true that last year in wages council industries—that is the sector my hon. Friend was talking about when referring to London Eating Houses—there were no prosecutions. This year, because of a fairly stringent review of policy, that situation has been changed. Already there have been a number of prosecutions and there will be more. I do not think that that would be an answer to the problem, not least because, although it is true that if there were a problem many of the workers would be in industries such as hotels and catering— industries covered by wages councils— there would still be many other workers outside those industries in which there was no statutory minimum wage and no possbility of prosecution. There would be a large gap. Although it has an increased rôle to play, I do not think that that prosecution policy is an adequate answer.
The problem I had in mind was the extent to which employers of illegal immigrant labour might be prosecuted under the Immigration Act itself as being parties to illegal immigration.
I take the point. I understand, however, that the harbouring provision has not been used, or, at least, has been only sparsely used. However, it is not a matter for me to answer. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department could have done so. I think that there are difficulties in applying such a provision and making it stick. No doubt the point will be looked at.My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) referred to the CBI's view. No one has referred to the TUC's view, but it has expressed one. It is very concerned about people who have in the main been overstayers and are employed, particularly in the hotel and catering industry, and are ripe for exploitation, in many cases being exploited. It is on record, as is the European TUC, as wanting some action. It is right that the House should take that into account also. The TUC has also made it clear that it would not wish for any action to be taken which might be bad for race relations. Again, therefore, we come back to the situation that the Government face. If any action on this front is to take place, we have to ensure that it does not undermine our race relations machinery and that it is not bad for race relations. It is a difficult task to find even a potential solution to the problem. The directive is, we believe, important, and the amendment recognises that. We are debating it at an early stage in the negotiations so that hon. Members can express their views and the Government can take those views fully into account. I remind the House of the procedures that the Government have set up to cater for amendments to proposals during negotiations in the Council of Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced last August, confirming arrangements made by his predecessor the previous November, an arrangement whereby the House would be informed of changes of substance in proposals involving major policy developments so that the Scrutiny Committee could report further on them to the House. This second-stage scrutiny is in operation and has been welcomed by the Scrutiny Committee, most recently in its First Special Report of the Session. The illegal immigration directive would obviously represent a major policy development. I have mentioned some of the ways it may change in future negotiations. The Government regard this proposal as an obvious candidate for the second-stage scrutiny procedure and will play their part by providing a second explanatory memorandum to the House on the proposal in the light of future discussions, and it will be for the Scrutiny Committee to decide whether the proposal, in view of the further information, should be recommended for consideration by the House. If that recommendation were that it should be so considered, it would be on the basis suggested by the amendment. I can therefore give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks.
In view of the assurance that it wil be debated, and be debated in this House, on a substantive motion, which is amendable, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of Commission Document No. R/2655/76 on illegal immigration and employment.
Statutory Instruments, &C
Rating And Valuation
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 73A (Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the Valuation and Rating (Exempted Classes) (Scotland) Order 1977, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th May, be approved.— [Mr. Graham]
Question agreed to.
Administration Of Justice Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 66 (Second Reading Committees), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
Administration Of Justice Money
Queen's Recommendation having been signified—
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision with respect to the administration of justice and matters connected therewith, to alter the method of protecting mortgages of registered land and to amend the law relating to oaths and affirmations and to the interest of a surviving spouse in an intestate's estate, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of all expenses incurred by any Minister of the Crown in consequence of the provisions of the said Act.—[Mr. Graham.]
Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill
That in respect of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time.—[Mr. Graham.}
House Of Commons (Services)
That any Sub-Committee on Computers that may be appointed by the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) shall have power to join with any Sub-Committee thereon that may be appointed by the Select Committee of the House of Lords on House of Lords Offices:
That any such Sub-Committee shall have power to appoint persons with technical knowledge either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity relating to the matter referred to them:
That any such Sub-Committee shall have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom:
That these Orders be Standing Orders of the House until the end of this Parliament.— [Mr. Graham.]
National Health Service (Chiropody)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Graham.]
I want to raise the subject of the National Health Service chiropody service, and in particular to point out the great anxiety that exists in many parts of the country —indeed, probably throughout the country—about the shortage of properlytrained chiropodists and the effects that it is having on all sorts of people, particularly the aged, and those folk who were born with feet difficulties and sometimes do not receive the services that ought to be given.There is also great anxiety amongst many people, not to mention the chiropodists themselves, that the burden of work is increasing and that the number of properly-trained chiropodists is not rising fast enough to meet the challenge. There is also the danger of people practising who are not properly qualified, thereby creating a menace to people who suffer from some form of foot ailment. I acknowledge readily that there are many people both inside and outside the House who wish to see a considerable improvement in the chiropody service but I hope that there will be no cases of that venomous and reprehensible behaviour by those who, when exercising their double standards, will support this call for an improved chiropody service and later join in the screams for cuts in public expenditure. I find such an attitude reprehensible in style, hypocritical in standard and abominable in practice. I am continually being made aware by my constituents of the shortage of chiropodists available to treat the elderly. There are long delays in their obtaining treatment under the National Health Service. Many are suffering from painful foot conditions, which adversely affect their mobility and, in consequence, their enjoyment of life. I place high value on the chiropody service. I have raised this subject on a number of occasions over the past few years and I hope that I have made some contribution to the small improvements that have occurred from time to time. I raised this matter in January 1975, when my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) had responsibility within the Department. Later, there were a number of improvements. So I hope that as a result of this debate there will be a brand-new look at the chiropody service and that some of the recommendations that I intend to make will be taken very seriously. The total expenditure on the service is about £9 million. It is a very small item in the overall budget of the National Health Service. Here is a cost-effective service in terms of patient care, and I strongly recommend to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that a substantial increase in the allocation to the chiropody service would not come amiss. If I may, I shall quote from the original NHS Reorganisation Circular on the Operation and Development of the Chiropody Services. It says that authorities.
The key phrase is "effective chiropody." I am aware that in a more recent circular the Department of Health and Social Security has given advice to area authorities on the employment of foot care assistants to undertake, as it says,"will no doubt have regard to the potential reductions in pressures on other treatment services, especially for the elderly, that effective chiropody can bring about."
The Society of Chiropodists has already given notice to its members that foot care assistants should be used only to cut the normal nails of patients who are unable to do it for themselves because of blindness or some other disability. In other cases it is questionable whether normal toe nail cutting, which can be carried out by relatives or other nursing auxiliaries, is in fact the responsibility of the chiropody service at all. In practice, the great majority of patients requiring NHS chiropody will be suffering also from some other underlying dermatological, medical, pathological or surgical conditions. I know that my hon. Friend will take special note of that, because it applies particularly in the case of the elderly. It is essential that such patients should receive treatment from a properly qualified chiropodist. I am, therefore, equally concerned with the supply of chiropodists. Quite rightly, the State insists by regulation that only State-registered chiropodists should be employed in the National Health Service. This ensures that the chiropodist will have at least a minimum standard of competence and/or training before being allowed to treat a patient. However, there is no protection for the public generally. Any person, however trained or not trained, may call himself a chiropodist and treat patients privately. This is not only wrong and absurd; it becomes even more absurd when it is appreciated that only recently the House passed legislation to make sure that only qualified blacksmiths could shoe horses. Anyone can pose as a chiropodist and treat the feet of human beings. This is particularly hard on people who suffer, as many thousands do, from some form of foot ailment. They should be treated only by qualified chiropodists. As I say, I am equally concerned about the supply of chiropodists and that although the State rightly insists by regulation that only State-registered chiropodists should be employed in the NHS, because they are so few in number it permits non-qualified chiropodists to masquerade as chiropodists. This means that the great majority of working people, since the NHS chiropody service is at present, by and large, restricted to the priority classes—the elderly, the physically handicapped and expectant mothers— could be easy prey for the fake chiropodist. Indeed, I suppose that those who are within the categories to which I have referred could similarly be easy prey. A "chiropodist"—I put the word in inverted commas—may set up in practice after a correspondence course consisting of 15 lessons, with, possibly, a month's practical tuition at the end. In contrast, to become State-registered and to acquire a recognised professional qualification today, a person must complete a three-year full-time course at a school recognised by the Chiropodists Board and the Society of Chiropodists. At present, 694 students are training in the United Kingdom. Perhaps, as a long-term policy, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Social Services will consider financing more training places for chiropodists. In the meantime, I shall be glad to know what proposals the Secretary of State for Social Services has in mind to close the profession of chiropody in order to protect the public and, by an amendment to the present Act, that is, the Professions Supplementary to Medicine Act 1960, to bring in a State roll for those chiropodists currently earning their livelihood by chiropody but not able to become State-registered because of lack of training or practical experience at the relevant date for the initial State register, which was as long ago as 30th June 1963. I am advised that if such a roll were introduced it would be possible, by regulation, to allow for employment of enrolled chiropodists in the NHS working under the supervision of State-registered chiropodists, and that this would go far to alleviate the current shortage of chiropodists for the treatment of the elderly and other priority cases, which is my immediate concern. I have already said that the problem is nation-wide. It is affecting a wide range of our community. The solution is effective chiropody, which involves principles of both curative and preventive medicine —to relieve pain and to prevent pain. In my judgment, it is essential that Britain's chiropodists be qualified professionals entitled to their distinction, as is, for example, a State-registered nurse. It is essential also that more training establishments be created. The achievement of these desiderata which I have outlined will, I believe, bring to the service of the community qualified practitioners whose skill and ability will not only relieve and prevent pain but will also increase the mobility of thousands of our fellow citizens and, what is more, enrich the quality of their lives."simple foot care and hygiene, such as the cutting of toenails."
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) has taken the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to raise again the subject of chiropody services within the National Health Service. He has raised the matter on many occasions in the past and his contribution in this respect has been noteworthy.Chiropody is an important preventive service which, as my hon. Friend says, greatly enhances the enjoyment of life by promoting mobility, especially among the elderly and the housebound. Moreover, as he said, it is a service upon which the spotlight rarely falls. I welcome this opportunity to discuss its rôle within the National Health Service generally and to comment on the points that my hon. Friend made. I am well aware of the deficiencies of the existing chiropody provision and of the tremendous leeway that must be made good before we have a good chiropody service within the NHS. Under the reorganisation of the National Health Service in 1974, responsibility for the provision of chiropody services was concentrated in the hands of the new area health authorities. They inherited a disparate gathering of chiropody services, which had previously been administered, with varying degrees of effectiveness, by a range of bodies, including local health authorities, education authorities, personal social services departments, hospitals and voluntary organisations. They were faced with a situation involving a wide variation in the resources then being devoted to chiropody. There was a patchwork of arrangements for charging for the service as well. In some areas no charge was made, in others a means test was applied, and in others there was a general restriction of treatment to a small priority group including the elderly, the handicapped and expectant mothers. The immediate task facing area health authorities, when they took over responsibility for the service, was to merge this mixed bag of separate services into a single co-ordinated service within each locality. This has been no easy undertaking. Given the fragmented and under-developed nature of the local services at the time of reorganisation I do not think it would have been reasonable to demand, at the same time as this rationalisation and amalgamation was taking place, that there should have been a general expansion and improvement of the service. Indeed, all that could be expected of area health authorities at that time was to concentrate on maintaining existing standards and on ensuring that a continuing service was provided for the priority groups, the elderly and so on. It should not be overlooked that when the National Health Service was reorganised chiropody for the first time was made available free of charge at the time of use. That, in itself, was a great step forward.
Of course, if the great principles of Aneurin Bevan and the miracle that he performed in 18 months in establishing our free NHS had been maintained the probability is that my hon. Friend and I would not be having this exchange this afternoon. Will he take on board the question of the range of charges and the reprehensible means tests? If my hon. Friend can eliminate those I believe that we shall get a nod of approval from Nye Bevan.
I would very much appreciate such a nod. As I understand it, these have, of course, now gone and one can obtain a free chiropody service if one is fortunate enough to be able to get in contact with the service in one's own locality.My hon. Friend made an important point about manpower and resources. Manpower is certainly a complicating factor in the provision of the NHS chiropody service. The major part of the working time of the profession in this country is devoted to the provision of services outside the NHS. There are currently about 5,000 State-registered chiropodists in the country. The majority work in private practice, but about two-thirds undertake work for the NHS although this is usually on a part-time basis. In 1975, the latest year for which we have figures, there were 1,253 whole-time equivalent chiropodists working in the NHS. About 809 of these were working full-time for the NHS. On top of that, there was an unknown number of chiropodists providing services through voluntary organisations on an agency basis. We must conclude that the service is seriously undermanned on any reasonable estimate of demand. It is better in some areas than in others, but the overall national shortage is difficult to quantify. However, one estimate is that if the present work force in the NHS was increased by half, or even doubled, the needs of the priority groups would be met. Of course, there are people lying outside those priority groups who have the right to the chiropody service. We therefore have a long way to go, although there have been considerable improvements over recent years. A much better chiropody service is now being provided than a few years ago. We are now faced with the question of finding additional personnel to fill this gap, but it is difficult for area health authorities easily to find the necessary funds in the present period of severe financial restraints. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a nauseating type of politican who calls for more chiropody services and, at the same time, for public expenditure cuts. I do not know how he manages to reconcile these attitudes. It is impossible to quantify with any degree of precision the extent of untreated foot disability, but a study carried out some years ago suggested that at least half and possibly as many as nine-tenths of adults had foot defects. Just over one-third of the adult population was estimated to be in need of chiropody treatment. The role of health education is important. Many of the foot conditions treated by chiropodists are a result of self-neglect and a general unawareness of the importance of wearing correctlyfitted shoes. Fashion plays a part here. The Health Education Council is conscious of the problem and is taking action to combat it. Effective chiropody can achieve a significant reduction in the demand for other treatment services, especially for the elderly. The Department's aim has been to encourage area health authorities to expand and improve the local services to acceptable standards as soon as manpower and resources permit. We have to think in terms of how to organise and deploy existing resources to the best effect and to plan for a gradual rate of growth, consistent with the current economic situation. The consultative document on Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services in England, published last year, recommended a national annual growth rate of 3 per cent. per annum for chiropody services. We are looking forward to a gradual improvement in this area. Within the overall national target, the actual rate of development is a matter for decision by individual health authorities in the light of local assessment of needs and resources. In April last year we introduced a national planning system for the NHS that will enable my right hon. Friend and I to monitor, for the first time, the levels of service provision across the board. We have consulted health authorities and professional bodies and issued a circular on the organisation and management of NHS chiropody services. My hon. Friend referred to the circular in his speech. One of the suggestions in the circular was that a valuable contribution could be made to the NHS by chiropodists in private practice and that the NHS would continue to need their services for the foreseeable future. There is general agreement that a significant part of a trained chiropodists' time is spent on minor work that does not require his skills and expertise, but which cannot be undertaken by the patients themselves. My hon. Friend mentioned, in this regard, blind people and arthritics. The circular foresaw a need for the introduction of a new grade of foot care assistant to undertake minor footcare work, especially for the elderly arthritic and other handicapped persons including the blind and the partially sighted. The tasks which they might carry out, under the supervision of a qualified chiropodist, could include simple foot care and hygiene, such as the cutting of toenails. Patients with underlying dematological medical, pathological and surgical conditions must be treated by properly qualified chiropodists. The substantial increase in pay and significant improvements in career structure which followed the recommendations of the Halsbury Committee of Inquiry into the pay and related conditions of service of the professions supplementary to medicine and speech therapists, published in January 1975 will, I hope, encourage more chiropodists to seek both full-time and part-time employment in the NHS. Indeed, we have some en-encouraging evidence that that is taking place. At the same time, area health authorities have been given advice on the employment of foot care assistants, including a salary scale and terms and conditions of service. My hon. Friend said that he was keen to look into the training and supply of chiropodists. We are anxious to see that the supply is increased. If the anticipated demands for these professionals are to be met, we shall need to see some expansion in the number of training places in chiropody schools. In fact, a new school, opened in Durham in 1975, now provides 22 additional training places each year. Proposals to establish other schools in colleges and polytechnics are under consideration, but I confess that economic difficulties are an inhibiting factor. While student intake fluctuate from year to year, about 150 to 200 students qualify each year from the eight recognised schools in Great Britain. There are encouraging signs that a higher proportion of those qualifying each year are taking up National Health Service appointments. My hon. Friend made an important point—with some suggestions, too—about the protection of the public. The NHS protects the public by ensuring that only properly qualified chiropodists are employed. Outside the NHS it is a matter for the profession to regulate and to make provisions. The Government would certainly encourage any proposals which it was able to bring forward. My hon. Friend made the useful suggestion that perhaps persons practising chiropody who had many years' experience but who were not qualified and could not therefore be employed as chiropodists by the National Health Service could possibly be enrolled on an official roll and that if that were done they could become acceptable for employment by the NHS provided that they were supervised by properly qualified chiropodists. If a roll of such people could be compiled by and was acceptable to the profession, my right hon. Friend and I would certainly be prepared to discuss with the profession what use we could make of it. My right hon. Friend and I are concerned that the present level of chiropody service falls very short of what we would like to see. The numbers of elderly people in the population, who are the prime users in a priority sense of these services, are continuing to rise year by year at a rate of 1 per cent. Because of improved diet, housing and medical care, we are on average living much longer. I hope that health authorities, in planning their policies and in the allocation of resources, will take account of the priority attached to chiropody services by the consultative document and that the suggestions on organisation and management contained in the recent circular will enable them to effect improvements in local services.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Six o'clock.