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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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

I appeal to hon. Members who are called for a supplementary question to limit themselves to one question. That will enable us to reach more questions on the Order Paper.

Wales

Trunk Roads

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he is satisfied with the rate of progress in constructing trunk roads in Wales.

I am satisfied that work in hand on trunk road schemes is being carried out as quickly as possible.

Although my right hon. Friend has rightly attached the highest spending priority to trunk roads as the basis for a stronger Welsh economy, will he promote plans for further extensions of that network to ensure that plans are ready for future implementation?

Details of the future trunk road programme will be announced following the publication of the Government's public expenditure plans for the next five-year period. There is no shortage of proposals for roads, but they are often delayed because of statutory procedures and the process of preparation. I shall do all that I can to ensure that there are sufficient proposals to match the speed of those procedures and the resources available.

I agree that there is no shortage of proposals, but is there likely to be a shortage of public money to carryout such proposals, since there is to be a cut in public expenditure on roads and transport of about £11 million?

We will stick to our programme for road development in Wales, though with great difficulty, and it is our policy to give that development the highest priority. I expect reductions to fall mainly on smaller schemes, selected according to progress on statutory procedures and contractual arrangements.

Welsh Language Education

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will arrange to discuss with each of the eight local education authorities in Wales the impact that Government policies are having on Welsh language education.

No. My right hon. Friend and I have already discussed the educational implications of our policy, including the question of specific grant for bilingual education, with representatives of the Welsh Joint Education Committee.

Will the Under-Secretary accept that the Government's policy on bussing children to school could have a serious adverse effect on those areas with centralised bilingual, or Welsh language, primary and secondary schools, which attract children from large catchment areas? In his negotiations, will the Under-Secretary ensure that no local authority cuts back on transport to those schools, because that could kill them off?

We are aware of the special transport problems for both denominational and bilingual schools. However, the transport subsidy on school buses will remain very substantial. I note, with a modicum of satisfaction, that Gwynedd county council has informed the Welsh Office that it considers the latest rate support grant settlement to be fair.

Factory Units

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many new factory units have been built by the Welsh Development Agency since its inception.

Two hundred and twenty-seven, with a total floor area of 1·6 million sq ft.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the great majority of those factory units have been occupied or allocated? Will he also confirm that those that have not yet been allocated will shortly be so? Does he agree that this makes a real contribution to industrial expansion in Wales?

I agree with my hon. Friend. A high proportion of those units have been taken up by small companies and newly established companies. The Welsh Development Agency will continue to give that sort of priority.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the need for the Welsh Development Agency will become greater in the future? Has anyone told him about the proposal to make over 6,000 people redundant at the Llanwern steelworks? Does he appreciate that that will put Newport and the surrounding areas back to the 1930s in terms of unemployment? Has he any contingency plans in his locker to turn that area into a special development area?

I do not doubt that the WDA will have a great deal of work to do, but it is absurd to talk about specific proposals for a particular area before the British Steel Corporation has made any final plans for that area.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the shortage of advance factory space could prove a bottleneck in dealing with the problems arising out of unemployment in the Deeside area? Will he give urgent attention to that matter?

I am visiting Deeside on Wednesday to discuss with the local authorities and those involved the plans for advance factory building and other measures around the Shotton area. I assure my hon. Friend that I am well aware of the need for a major programme, and I am already discussing with the WDA the details of that programme.

Is it not sheer industrial and economic madness, given the thousands of job losses that are at least pending, possibly in steel and coal, as well as the general level of unemployment, which will rise in 1980, for the Secretary of State to cut investment grants to the WDA and to remove grants from special development areas in South Wales? Will he consider suspending those cuts in light of the terrible dangers facing the Welsh economy and the serious prospects for unemployment in Wales?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is once again advocating higher public expenditure without telling the House how he proposes to finance it. No doubt he will also criticise the Government for high interest rates. He must recognise that the two go together.

I have already told the House that I attach great importance to the work of the WDA, and I believe that there is great potential for using its substantial existing assets far more widely than hitherto.

Interest Rates

4.

the Secretary of State for Wales what assistance can be given to farmers and others in Wales in times of the present high interest rates.

Sources of assistance to farmers include capital grants under the farm and horticulture development scheme and the farm and horticulture capital grants schemes, together with loan facilities available through the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and the Agricultural Credit Corporation.

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's explanation and accepting that the present high interest rates are an integral part of the Government's strategy for economic recovery, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that French farmers are heavily subsidised by their Government and that they are put in a position of unfair competition with our farmers?

I agree that French farmers are heavily subsidised, but Governments and the farming industry in this country have long preferred our method of assistance, namely, the substantial contributions towards the cost of capital investment which we provide under the schemes that I have described. My hon. Friend should be aware of the scale of support that we give our farmers in that way.

Will the Secretary of State explain to his hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) that the Tory Party fought the last election on cuts in public expenditure and that the hon. Gentleman cannot now call for more public money to protect certain groups from the disastrous consequences of the Government's economic policy?

My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) was pointing to the problems of high interest rates which arise from the excessive public expenditure unleashed by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) when he had responsibility in the Treasury. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman takes responsibility for the consequences that we are suffering.

Is it not a fact that by delaying regional grant payments in one Budget the Government forced business men to borrow money, and by action in a subsequent Budget made it cripplingly expensive for them to do so? Where in the Conservative manifesto could any business man or householder who voted Tory last time have anticipated that the Government would force interest rates above the rates that Conservatives described as "usury" when they were in opposition? Finally, what comfort can this Shylock Government offer to business men whose businesses are bleeding to death as cuts reduce orders, real profits fall to the lowest level ever and interest rates soar to the highest level ever?

No doubt that, Mr. Speaker, is the one question that you suggested should be asked. The language used by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) could be covered by the phrase of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. When faced with similar criticisms of high interest rates, the right hon. Gentleman said that the criticisms grossly exaggerated the effect of changes in interest rates on the real economy. That is absolutely right. The criticisms come ill from a former Minister who was involved in the overnight abolition of the regional employment premium, without any compensation for the economy. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the CBI is pressing us to go on with the policies that we are following.

Contraception (Depo Provera)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received about the use of the Depo Provera contraceptive injection amongst Welsh women; and whether this form of contraception is being used in Wales.

I have not received any representations about the use of Depo Provera. This drug is in use in Wales as a contraceptive.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the anxiety among women's organisations in Wales over the side effects, including acute depression, that are reported to be experienced by those for whom the drug has been prescribed? Will he issue instructions that the drug should not be used on women in Wales unless the fullest explanation has been given, and that it should certainly not be used on unmarried women?

I am not aware of the deep concern to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Depo Provera is currently licensed for use only as a short-term contraceptive in special circumstances; for example, where a husband has undergone a vasectomy or where a woman has been injected against rubella and the virus is still active. I am advised that the drug is well tolerated and that no significant untoward effects have been reported.

Would it not be better for the time being, as we do not know the long-term effects of the injection, if Depo Provera were used only under the strict supervision of obstetric and gynaecological departments of our district hospitals?

We have always taken the view, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that in the National Health Service doctors should be free to exercise their clinical judgment. The drug may therefore be prescribed where individual circumstances so indicate. I should not like to limit clinical judgment in any way.

Interest Rates

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what special attention he will give to the problems of the small companies and firms in Wales during the continuance of high interest rates; and if he will make a statement.

My Department and the agencies for which I am responsible recognise the important role of small firms in the economy and will do all we can to help them. High interest rates for a period are unavoidable if we are to succeed in controlling inflation, which is essential to a successful future for our small businesses.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that among the companies that have approached me recently there are many that recognise the paramount importance of containing inflation? However, will he bear in mind that many small firms have had a decade or more of difficult conditions and have not been able to acquire great reserves and are therefore peculiarly dependent upon overdrafts and other forms of borrowing?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, but it is a prime requirement that we defeat inflation. No one will suffer more disastrously from continuing inflation than the small business sector. We have taken, and are taking, a number of measures to help that sector. The Budget was an important first step in that programme, which will include many important measures to revitalise the small firms sector and to remove the unnecessary obstacles to their success.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the increase in MLR from 12 per cent. to 17 per cent. was partially due to the Budget, which gave tremendous concessions to the wealthy? Will he consider restoring the regional development grants to Wales, because their absence is hitting small businesses? Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the provision of small factories in the advance factory programme that we expect him to announce shortly?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is again advocating higher public expenditure. The high level of that expenditure is the reason for present high interest rates. I have already told the hon. Gentleman that more than 90 per cent. of the advance factories being built by the WDA are being constructed for the small business sector.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that high interest rates have an adverse effect on the liquidity of small companies? Will he consider not lengthening the waiting period for payment of industrial development grants to companies that have already been given approval of grants and have gone ahead with investment programmes on the assumption of lower interest rates, but are now being caught in a trap because of the liquidity problem?

If any individual company is faced with a particular problem we shall look at the circumstances to see whether we can help, and the Welsh Development Agency will do likewise.

Since the Conservatives, in their election manifesto, posed as the friends of small business men, and since they rely on the notion of mandate, can the Secretary of State say where in the Conservative manifesto there is a mandate for the current high interest rates?

The policy for which we sought a mandate was to restore the economy and to defeat inflation. We always said that the defeat of inflation was our first and most immediate priority. The previous Government inreased expenditure in an effort to win the general election, and they left us with a rapidly rising rate of inflation. We are now suffering the consequences, and we shall take determined action to defeat inflation.

A55

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the present target date for the completion of a dual track road from the English border to Bangor along the line of the A55.

Subject to the satisfactory completion of statutory procedures, I hope that the dualling of the A55 will be completed by about 1987–88.

Can my hon. Friend assure us that, despite economic difficulties, this programme will not be allowed to slip? Will he agree that proposals to simplify the statutory procedures might make it easier to keep the programme up to date?

The planned level of expenditure for 1980–81 will enable work to go ahead on those schemes of the A55 which are expected to be ready in that year—the Hawarden bypass and phase I of the Colcon scheme. Expenditure levels for subsequent years will be announced in due course, but we have made it clear that priority will be given to the dualling of the A55.

Expenditure

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representation he has received from local authorities in Wales regarding cuts in governmental grants for development areas, cuts in local authority expenditure during the current financial year and proposed further cut for the next financial year.

Four local authorities, Cardiff city council, Clwyd county council, Cynon Valley borough council and Dwyfor district council, have made general representations about reduction in local authority expenditure, and others have written about the possible effect on specific services in individual areas. Five counties and 13 districts have commented on the changes in regional policy.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is deep concern in local government circles about the Govment's policy? What effect does he think these cuts will have on local authority rates? Will he tell the people of Wales that they should not blame their borough councillors and their county councillors, but that they must look to the Government who are primarily responsible for the cuts that will come about in social services?

I hope that the hon. Member will not exaggerate the effect on local government of a cut of 2½ per cent. over two years, or argue that that is a justifiable reason for substantial rate increases. I do not believe that that is so.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the representations that he listed to the House show the real concern of these local authorities, not only for their services, but for the prospects of industrial development in Wales? Will he now come clean and give his estimate of the number of people likely to be unemployed as a consequence of the cuts? When I gave a figure of 110,000 in the Welsh Grand Committee was I too high, too low, or just about right?

I amsure that the right hon. Member will agree that the difficulties we now face make it absolutely right for us to concentrate industrial help on those areas with the greatest problems. I have no intention of giving unemployment forecasts because I do not believe in forecasts of that kind. I well recall that when the previous Government put up their interest rates to a then record level, unemployment fell. These things are difficult to foresee. I told the House of Commons in my first speech from this Dispatch Box that we had inherited a rising trend of unemployment. I do not disguise the fact that I expect unemployment in Wales to rise.

Does not my right hon. Friend find it rather strange that there is so much furore over modest reductions which leave overall public expenditure, in real terms, more or less what it was last year? Is it not a fact that the cuts that were introduced by the previous Government were effectively far more stringent, yet we heard no criticism then?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The previous Government cut local government expenditure by 2½ per cent. in a single year. Now they are complaining because we propose a similar level of reduction over a two-year period.

If the Chief Secretary to the Treasury can indicate in the Government's White Paper that he expects unemployment to rise by 300,000 next year, why cannot the Secretary of State for Wales tell us how many people will be unemployed in Wales?

The Chief Secretary has done nothing of the kind. He has done what his predecessors have done—he has made an assumption for the purposes of calculating social security benefits. The right hon. Gentleman presumably has the mathematical skills to make some kind of calculation based on that, but it would not be a forecast.

Teddington Bellows Limited, Pontardulais

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales, what progress is being made with the application of Teddington Bellows Ltd., Pontardulais, for a large extension in the form of an advanced factory to its existing factory; and if he will make a statement.

The factory extension is a matter for the Welsh Development Agency, but I understand that good progress is being made. I welcome the expansion plans and am pleased that my industry department's offer of financial support under section 7 of the Industry Act has been accepted by the company.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, in the light of the situation at Port Talbot, the Lliw Valley and the Swansea Valley are in urgent need of industrial development? Having regard to the wider repercussions of the British Steel Corporation's position at Port Talbot on the whole of West Glamorgan, will the Secretary of State immediately support redesignation of West Glamorgan as a special development district?

The BSC indicated the present extent of its crisis to the Government only last Wednesday and it is much too early for us to come to any conclusion on what we have now been told. I have said repeatedly in this House that one of the advantages of the structure of regional assistance is that we have a consistent pattern on which development areas are based and if the situation changes we have the flexibility to respond to the new facts that arise.

Is it not absurd that, at a time when we are all desperate to obtain new jobs and new industry in Wales, the Welsh Development Agency has deliberately delayed the expansion programme of a different company on the Fforest Fach estate in Swansea and has also refused a third extra unit to that company in its Llandovery operation where it would have created 13 much-needed jobs?

If the right hon. Gentleman will table a question on that point about the Welsh Development Agency, I shall see that he gets an answer.

Employment

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has received from the Alyn-Deeside district council concerning measures to aid employment subsequent to the closure of the steelmaking plant at Shotton.

I have received written representations on four occasions from the council. I met representatives on 1 August 1979 and will be meeting them again when I visit Deeside later this week.

Is it not a fact that it has been estimated that £1½ million in rate income will be lost next year when steelmaking closes at Shotton? Is it not also a fact that the Alyn-Deeside council will lose £250,000and this is generating widespread resentment because there is no guarantee of a compensatory grant? Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he will, as requested, set up a task force led by a Government Minister to supervise the steel rescue measures? Will he agree that a £15 million river road in the area of the Deeside constituency would help to bring new jobs to the area and stave off further unemployment?

I told the hon. Member when he last raised this point that I felt that the first priority of Government expenditure was to provide infrastructure and new factories. I am aware of the representations that have been made about the rate loss, which is recovered after a year or so. I shall listen most carefully to the points put to me by the local authorities on Wednesday about whatever form of monitoring and supervision seems most suitable for the area. I do not believe that a formal task force is the best answer but I have an open mind to those representations and I shall listen carefully. I note what the hon. Member says about the road. I hope that he will accept that the road schemes already announced for the area, including the scheme announced by the Ministry of Transport only last week, represent a substantial improvement in communications to Deeside.

Interest Rates

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what calculations he has made of the effect of the recent increase in the minimum lending rate on employment prospects in Wales.

I do not believe that meaningful estimates of this kind can be made.

The right hon. Gentleman is understandably coy about giving unemployment forecasts for Wales. Is he not aware that the Government's policy of high inflation and high interest rates will put thousands of people in Wales on the dole and that it makes a mockery of the Conservative Party's claim to be the party of small business? Will he now assure the House that he will not be party to any further increase in interest rates?

It is remarkable that a former Treasury Minister who repeatedly refused to give forecasts of that kind should ask me to do so. It is equally remarkable that charges about high inflation should come from the Treasury Ministers who created the present situation We shall continue the fight against the high inflation that we inherited from the previous Government, even if in the short term it means high interest rates.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that whenever the previous Labour Government made elaborate forecasts about an improvement in the economy they were invariably followed by a marked deterioration?

I have always had a good deal of scepticism about forecasts of that kind. We always remember the unending succession of forecasts from my predecessor, who week after week and month after month told us that the economy in Wales was being transformed, yet week after week and month after month under the previous Administration unemployment in Wales went up.

With regard to unemployment and the apparent further uncertainties in the steel industry, can the right hon. Gentleman give a guarantee that the remaining jobs at BSC Shotton—about 4,500–will be saved? Will he guard these remaining steel jobs like a tigress guards her cubs?

Eventually, and in the long term, jobs in any industry depend upon the ability to market goods. I know of no proposals that affect the jobs to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any suggestion from the Opposition on how to combat inflation, or of any advice from any Labour Member to the unions not to press inflationary wage claims?

School Transport

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many representations he has received concerning the decision to cut back on free school transport; what reply he has sent; and if he will make a statement.

Threepetitions and 31 letters. In reply I have explained our view that savings in expenditure should, as far as possible, be secured in areas not directly related to teaching in the classroom.

Are not the basic points to be appreciated that the catchment area for Roman Catholic schools is far larger than that for the normal local education authority school and that it is the less well off parents who will feel the pinch of these increased costs? Will the hon. Gentleman prevail upon his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to delete this provision from the Education (No. 2) Bill, because such action would win the warmhearted approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House?

We are not singling out denominational schools. There is, of course, no statutory requirement in the Education Act 1944 for authorities to provide free transport for children attending denominational or bilingual schools, unless there is no nearer suitable school. What the local authorities now do for these schools they do at their discretion, and that discretion will remain. As I pointed out earlier, the amount of subsidy for school transport will remain substantial. As to less well off parents, under the proposed legislation authorities will still be obliged to provide free transport for children from families in receipt of supplementary benefit and family income supplement.

Does not the hon. Gentleman recall that one of the slogans under which the Conservative Party fought the election was that of increasing freedom of choice? This reduction in free school transport severely restricts the freedom of choice for many parents whose children attend Welsh language, Catholic and Church in Wales schools. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that the discretion will remain, but he knows that it is a meaningless discretion in that local authorities will not have the money to exercise that discretion.

It is not a meaningless discretion. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make representations to local authorities if he feels that they are not exercising their discretion in a reasonable way. Of course we still stand by choice for parents and their children, but this must be with due regard to the public purse.

While accepting a good deal of what my hon. Friend has said, will he note the valid point made on this occasion by the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes), namely, that the catchment areas, particularly of the Roman Catholic community, are extraordinarily large? To that extent, would it be helpful if local authorities were asked, either in the form of a circular or something of that nature, to bear in mind the size of the necessary catchment area in any particular case?

I always notice any valid point made by the hon. Member from Newport (Mr. Hughes). I accept that the catchment areas for Roman Catholic schools are indeed extensive. The local authorities have recognised that by the discretion that they have shown in the past. I am certain that during further discussion on the Education (No. 2) Bill this matter will be given further consideration.

School Building (Dyfed)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what effect his proposed reduction in the schools' capital building programme in Dyfed will have on the replacement of Victorian primary schools.

That will depend on what schemes the authority undertakes within its allocation.

I speak as a member of an education committee that covers one-quarter of the surface area of Wales. Does the Minister realise the chaos into which he puts the plans of any education committee, particularly an education committee in South-West Wales that has a huge burden facing it with regard to a particular school in the South-West of the county?

There are 123 pre-1903 primary schools in Dyfed. The previous Administration recognised that this was not a matter that they could tackle immediately but only over a very long period. The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the fact that the Dyfed county council education authority, on which he serves, has in the past, and with the approval of the previous Administration, allocated most of its money to comprehensive schools rather than to the improvement of primary schools.

Teachers

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many teachers were employed in Wales in 1978–79 and how many are assumed to be employed in 1980–81, based on the assumptions underlying Cmnd. 7746, "The Government's Expenditure Plans 1980–81"?

I refer the right hon. Member to the answer given on 9 November by my right hon. Friend.

I do not have the advantage of having that answer with me. Since the White Paper clearly indicates that there will be 21,000 fewer teachers in post next year as opposed to last, can the hon. Gentleman say how many of those 21,000 will be found from among teachers in Wales?

The White Paper does not refer only to England and Wales. The figure for England and Wales is 18,000.In determining the rate support grant we have assumed that the teacher force in England and Wales will fall by 3·7 per cent. between 1978–79 and 1980–81. Over the same period pupil numbers will fall by 4·7 per cent. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman separate figures for Wales. I can only give the figures for England and Wales. However, I can add that the pupil-teacher ratio next year should remain at its present best ever level of 18·7 to 1. Therefore, when we talk about the number of teachers employed we must take into consideration the falling rolls in our schools.

Steel Industry

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many steel jobs will have been lost in the public and private sectors in West Glamorgan between November 1978 and March 1980 on the basis of current plans.

About 2,000. Approximately 900 have already taken effect and the remainder would take place before March 1980 on the basis of firm current plans.

Since there have been previous failures of communication between the Secretary of State and the British Steel Corporation—I accept through no fault of his own—may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there is a BSC document in existence, a copy of which I have seen, which envisages a further reduction in capacity at Port Talbot which will have the consequential effect of 3,000 further redundancies in West Glamorgan, on top of those that the right hon. Gentleman has already announced? Do not the redundancies that he has announced and those in prospect together make the West Glamorgan problem one on the scale of Shotton and Corby? How does he reconcile that with the downgrading of West Glamorgan for RDG purposes?

I am aware that the British Steel Corporation is considering possible substantial additional redundancies in the area. I agree that that would have a serious effect on the area. However, the BSC board has taken no final decision on the matter. I have already indicated to the House in an earlier answer our flexible approach to regional development and special development areas, and we shall always examine new circumstances when they develop.

Unemployment

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of unemployment levels in Wales in 1980 based on the Treasury forecasts of minus 2 per cent. rate of growth in 1980.

It is not possible to forecast the effect on unemployment generally or in individual regions, but the underlying trend would be for increasing unemployment in Wales, as elsewhere.

Is the Minister aware that, in addition to the underlying trend, there are BSC proposals suggesting 3,500 redundancies at Port Talbot and 6,500 at Llanwern, and a subsequent loss of 6,000 jobs in the pits associated with the steel industry? Will the Minister say whether he has seen those suggestions, and does he plan to stand idly by and wash his hands of the affair, as he has previously said, or will he intervene this time on behalf of the Welsh people?

As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, the Government were informed only last Wednesday of the latest scale of the marketing problem confronting BSC. The board has made no firm plans but is considering the situation that it faces. In those circumstances, it would be wrong for me to make specific commitments about remedial measures or other action.

The Secretary of State knows of the 2,000 redundancies planned at the pump storage scheme at Dinorwic, Gwynedd. Will he ensure that there is a public investment programme to provide jobs to avoid the Government having to support these people when they are out of work?

As I have indicated, we are prepared to look at the situation as it develops. The hon. Gentleman should not always make the assumption that the people working at Dinorwic will fail to find jobs. In my constituency in West Wales over the years we faced similar problems with far bigger construction projects. The hon. Gentleman should not exaggerate the scale of the problem in his constituency.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it should not lie in the mouths of Labour Members to ask questions about unemployment, when seemingly amnesia enables them to forget that under every Labour Government since the war unemployment has risen?

My hon. Friend is right. The Labour Government came into power when unemployment in Wales stood at 38,000, and they took it up to well over 100,000.

Wales is due to lose 15,000 jobs as a result of its share of unemployment generated by the Treasury, it stands to lose the same number again through closures at Shotton, Llanwern and Margam, and half as many again in the coal industry, so how does the Minister justify cutting back regional aid and assistance to Wales?

I have never accepted the right hon. Gentleman's forecasts, and I do not accept the figures that he has given to the House now. Previous experience suggests that his forecasts are unreliable. I remember what he said about the regional employment premium before the Labour Government abolished it. If we are faced with new and grave difficulties, as indeed we are, we shall concentrate assistance where it is most needed, and that is precisely what the Government are doing.

If the right hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the forecasts from this side of the House, will he give his forecast of how he sees unemployment developing in Wales? If the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) are true and the Government believe that unemployment might reach that figure, the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to make a statement to the House on the steel industry in Wales.

As I told the House in my first speech from this Dispatch Box after the election, we face an underlying rise in unemployment trends. Quite clearly if we face a world recession, unemployment is also likely to rise, for that reason. But I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's confidence, faith or belief in firm forecasts of this kind. They tend to be extremely unreliable.

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

Arts

21.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how support for the arts in the United Kingdom compares with that given in other member countries of the EEC.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Following the hon. Lady's question of 25 July—[Vol. 971, c. 255–56]—I have made extensive inquiries into this matter. I regret to say that it has not been possible to obtain the statistics on which to make a reliable comparison. I can, however, say that central and local government support for the arts, museums and galleries and libraries in the United Kingdom is broadly of the order of £7 a head.

I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy for his reply, which I suppose I would not have received if I had not put down the question again, having waited since 25 July. However, is he aware that every country in the EEC provides much more support for the arts as a whole and that many cities put our contribution to shame? If the right hon. Gentleman does not have the correct information, I should be glad to let him have it.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this important question. I have a number of figures in front of me which indicate that we are not bottom of the EEC league. I shall gladly send her those figures, because I know that she is in a position to make them widely known.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether there is any hope of the arts in this country and in other member countries of the EEC obtaining a grant from the EEC budget?

That is an interesting suggestion. There is a certain amount of trouble going on at the moment and perhaps this might not be the best moment to raise the matter. However, when that little local difficulty is out of the way I shall pursue my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that I revealed to him during the VAT debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill comparative figures of EEC expenditure on the arts? If he does not remember that, perhaps he will get one of his civil servants to look up those figures and inform him of them.

I remember all the hon. Gentleman's revelations. If his hon. Friend the Member for Wolver Hampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) agrees, I shall send him a copy of the letter that I am sending to her. He will then find that the position is not quite as bad as he thinks.

With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, most EEC countries support their provincial theatres far better than Britain does. There is a clear indication that, far from receiving support, provincial theatres, like the one in my constituency, will have their allocations cut.

I am afraid that the standards of living and work in most EEC countries are higher than they are here. That is inevitably reflected in the level of support that can be given to the arts.

National Collections (Curators)

22.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for what appointments of curators of national collections he is responsible.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in view of recent events, it is desirable that the Minister responsible for the arts should have some responsibility for the appointment of a curator of the Royal pictures in Buckingham Palace?

It is a private collection which has nothing to do with the Government. With regard to this matter, I offer to the hon. Gentleman the advice of Lord Melbourne—"Why cannot you leave it alone?".

Arts Council

23.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Arts Council.

Is my righthon. Friend aware of the serious threat that is posed to small orchestral budgets by the decision of the DHSS to exact national insurance contributions from employers of casual musicians? Will he persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to withdraw his predecessor's ruling and take the case out of the courts forthwith?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. I shall certainly raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the most successful opera companies still require outside subsidy? Will he assure the chairman of the Arts Council when he meets him that the Government will guarantee the survival of full-time opera companies in this country, including the remarkably successful English National Opera North, which has been the most successful artistic innovation in the North for a decade?

I shall do my best to secure anoverall grant for the Arts Council that will enable it to discharge its responsibilities. However, under our constitution, how that grant is spent is a matter for the council. Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I appreciate the excellent work done by the English National Opera as well as by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I wish that the Royal Opera House directors would wait to see the outcome of the Arts Council decisions before claiming that it is about to be closed down.

Since it is a good Conservative principle to invest in success, will my right hon. Friend advise his Cabinet colleagues that the one thing that we are good at in this country is the arts and that money is much better spent on that than on propping up industries that are about to collapse?

We are extremely good at the arts. However, I would not go as far as my hon. Friend and say that that was the only thing we are good at. We are good at that, among a whole range of things.

I should like to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman because, as the House knows, there is considerable personal affection between us. [Interruption.] Why not? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in a public speech a few days ago he compared the State subvention of the arts—he gave a figure of £120 million or £140 million—to private and industrial patronage, which is running at about £5 million? Will he make a personal declaration of faith in the public subvention of the arts?

I am delighted to make a declaration—more than a declaration of faith, a declaration of fact, of the Government's support for the public sector. Of course that is and will be the major component in the support of the arts. I have made clear that we hope that the general level in the coming year will be the same as last year. However, I am looking for extra money from the private sector.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his declaration of affection. I remember that he raised the question of my wedding before. I shall certainly ask him to be a bridesmaid at it, when it occurs.

Arts

24.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he is satisfied that enough is being done to decentralise the availability of the publicly funded arts.

A great deal has already been done, but the Arts Council and Welsh Arts Council are alive to the need to keep the position constantly under review, given the resources and facilities available.

Does the Minister accept that many of the arts are still over centralised in London, particularly live theatre and some of the visual arts? Will he give an assurance that if there is any restriction on finance for the arts it will not in any way stop a move towards greater decentralisation?

Certain things have to be centralised in London. However, the Arts Council, with my full support, is concentrating more and more of its finances on the regions. The proportion of the Arts Council budget for England and Wales that is invested in the regions has grown from one-third 20 years ago to two-thirds at the present time. That is a development which I welcome.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, apart from the arts decentralising, the touring of nationally based opera, as well as orchestral work and theatre, faces the threat of cuts? Does he further agree that private patronage can hardly replace that, since the only notable recent example was his snaffling of the portrait of Cardinal Newman into his private office?

The private sector has made a notable contribution towards helping the Welsh National Opera to come to London. That has shown people here the high standards of that opera company, and it has been an important contribution. Certainly I support touring by the various opera companies but, in the ultimate event, it is a decision for the Arts Council and not for me.

Has my right hon. Friend made any estimate of the number of paintings and other works of art in the capital that are kept permanently out of public sight? Could some of these he lent to the provinces?

It is the policy of the various national museums to lend their pictures to the provinces, and that again is something that I welcome.

Reviewing Committee On The Export Of Works Of Art

25.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when next he expects to meet the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.

I have no plans to meet the reviewing committee in the near future.

Why did the Minister and the committee allow a millionaire chancer like Axel Springer to bend the rules by exporting a valuable work of art under the pretext of gifting it to a British museum on condition that he be allowed to borrow it back for the remainder of his life? Is it not absolutely irresponsible to deprive the British public of that valuable work when enough money was raised by public subscription to keep it in the country and there is no guarantee that it will ever be returned?

I believe that the position is the opposite of that outlined by the hon. Gentleman. The purpose of export control regulations is to ensure that, in the long run, the work of art concerned remains permanently in this country. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman's impression, the arrangement has secured that after a period of years the work will return to this country. It will be obtained for nothing and enrich our art collection in the future.

Royal Academy

26.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he has any plans to make an annual grant to the Royal Academy.

No. But I understand that the Royal Academy has been in touch with the Arts Council.

Will my right hon. Friend have another think about the matter? I am sure that he will agree that the Royal Academy has contributed greatly to our cultural and artistic life, and it would be a tragedy if it went to the wall. Will he at least encourage the Arts Council to consider most sympathetically any request, and will he consider increasing the Arts Council grant to meet it?

I am afraid that I cannot give the undertaking that my hon. Friend requires, because there has been no tradition of Government support for the Royal Academy. However, I recently read in the Sunday Telegraph—so it is likely to be true—that the postimpressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy is so successful that it is not likely to be facing an immediate financial crisis. Perhaps it is along those lines that the Royal Academy's financial problems can be solved.

Just to make this a bipartisan occasion, will the right hon. Gentleman listen to the request of his colleague, who knows a great deal about these matters, and reconsider? Within the next few years public subvention for the Royal Academy will be necessary if it is to survive at all.

If it were true that the Royal Academy could not survive without public subvention, no doubt a case could be made, but it should be made to the Arts Council and not to me. I am at present searching for money for existing institutions that are supported, and I do not believe that this is a good moment to add to the list.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Royal Academy has been a tenacious repository of recidivist artistic taste for the past century?

I do not have the connections of my hon. Friend, and I defer to his expert opinion in these matters, but I should not like to commit myself one way or the other.

When the right hon. Gentleman is seriously considering which institutions will receive aid will he bear in mind that the majority of previous Ministers with responsibilities for the arts lost their seats at the following general election?

Works Of Art (Export)

27.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he is reviewing his policy on the potential export or loan of major works of art, in the light of both the case of the 1740 Dresden cabinet, loaned by Mr. Axel Springer, and the Michaelangelo Ton do, which he did not allow to be loaned to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The reviewing committee on the Export of Works of Art is currently considering whether a procedure specifically designed for tem- porary exports could be incorporated into the export control regulations. However, neither of the two cases referred to by the hon. Member bears directly on the reviewing committee's consideration. In the case of the Dresden cabinet, the owner is the Victoria and Albert museum which, as a Crown body, is not bound by the export control regulations. In the case of the Ton do, the reason for refusing an export licence lay in its unique quality.

In this admittedly complex field, is there not a danger that if one country introduces export control regulations and assumes that they will be adhered to other countries will, tit for tat, play the same game? Although I do not suggest that the Federal Republic will put an embargo on the Dresden cabinet, as a matter of principle are there not great dangers for the future?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's fears are well founded. The Federal Government have given us a specific guarantee that they will facilitate the return of the cabinet. As to the Tondo, the advice that it should not be given a licence came to me from the reviewing committee within a few weeks of my assumption of office. Unless there had been clear indications to the contrary, it would have been imprudent for me to overrule that advice.