Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 981: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1980

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

House Of Commons

Tuesday 18 March 1980

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Wesley's Chapel, City Road Bill

Read the Third time and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions

Employment

Advisory, Conciliation And Arbitration Service (Small Firms)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of time is spent by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service on small firms' trade union recognition cases.

I understand from the service that a precise percentage of the time it spends on small firms' trade union recognition cases is not readily available; but that it is very small.

Has my hon. and learned Friend any plans to change the membership of the ACAS council in order to represent more fairly some of the problems with which it deals? I am particularly interested in small businesses. Is he aware that much of the time of ACAS is taken up by the affairs of small businesses yet they do not have a direct representative on the ACAS council?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in the problems of small businesses, most recently evidenced in his excellent speech in the House on 10 March. My right hon. Friend does not propose to change the basis of appointment to the ACAS council but notes that the CBI comprises within it a small firms council. It is important that the problems of small firms should be borne well in mind by ACAS.

Will my hon. and learned Friend say whether the Government intend to introduce a code of practice on recognition issues? If that is their intention, will my hon. and learned Friend tell the House who will be responsible for introducing the code?

There is no proposal to introduce such a code of practice. But the Government are considering whether ACAS can give general guidance to firms on the whole question of recognition matters and disputes.

Working Population (Trade Union Membership)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of Great Britain's working population were members of trade unions at the latest date for which information is available.

The proportion at the end of 1978, the latest date for which information is available, was 49 per cent. The working population consists of employees in employment, employers and self-employed persons, Her Majesty's Forces and registered unemployed.

Does not that proportion show the great responsibility that rests particularly upon those in positions of leadership in trade unions, especially at local level, to secure cooperation in the work process? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to encourage that development in the interests of the economy as a whole?

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes, Sir." On the second part, I would say that, despite the fact that there are a lot of difficulties ahead and, probably, some strong disagreements, I think that the need for understanding and co-operation is absolutely essential, particularly at local level. Our nation works best when it is sharing its problems and working together.

Is it not misleading to include the Armed Forces in the total of the working population for the purpose of answering this question, since they are not really encouraged to become members of trade unions? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if they were, there might perhaps have been a more spirited attack on the Government's "bully boy" tactics towards members of the Armed Forces who are not to be allowed to attend the Olympics?

The question related to the proportion of Great Britain's working population. The Armed Forces are a very valuable part of the working population.

Is it not interesting that trade union membership is increasing despite the growth of unemployment? Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the trade union movement has an important role to play in industrial relations? Will he encourage those who are not in a trade union to join their appropriate trade union?

I recognise, of course, that trade unions have an important part to play in industrial relations. They have a vital part to play. I have always given encouragement to people to join trade unions. What is even more important is that they should not simply join trade unions but should play an active part in what goes on within them.

School Leavers (Employment Prospects)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the employment prospects for school leavers leaving school in the summer of 1980.

I recognise the serious employment problems confronting summer 1980 school leavers. That is why the Government have agreed to proposals from the Manpower Services Commission to expand the youth opportunities programme by 25 per cent. in 1980–81, and have renewed the undertakings to school leavers and the long-term young unemployed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his acceptance of the Manpower Services Commission's proposals is very welcome? Is he satisfied that those participating in the youth opportunities programme will learn worthwhile and relevant skills? Has he any evidence to show that the private sector of industry is now more attractive to school leavers than the public service sector?

Certainly the work experience programme, where the youth opportunities programme has been working within industry, has improved in recent years. It has helped to keep down the cost of the schemes. The schemes still vary in their quality, and we need to achieve as large an element of training in the schemes as is humanly possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Manpower Services Commission will have to vary the youth opportunities programme if it is to deal with the problem of youngsters leaving the programme in the spring of 1981 without any chance of finding work? Will he take action to ensure that apprentice recruitment is maintained this summer?

I am aware of the difficulties referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I am also aware of the need to maintain the number of apprentices, and we are doing all we can about that.

Does not the Secretary of State consider that the time has come for some new initiative to encourage employers to create jobs for school leavers? Has he considered the possibility of an all-party appeal to the CBI and the small firms, and of using the media, especially television, to try to create some new thinking and new initiative? Perhaps employers could be persuaded to take on one more school leaver than they would have otherwise done. May I suggest that sort of campaign?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. There are difficulties in making a specific appeal to small businesses at present. Having said that, we need to be more imaginative in the schemes that we are contemplating for youngsters. I hope that, before long, I shall be able to put more imaginative schemes before the House.

Have not the replies of the Secretary of State on this issue been quite bland and complacent? Has he not seen the forecast by the Manpower Services Commission that unemployment among young people is likely to double by early 1981? Surely he has seen the various economic forecasts, including the latest forecast by the Cambridge Policy Group, which shows the extent of probable unemployment. That will affect the job prospects for young people. Does not the youth opportunities programme require much greater expansion than is being planned? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what action the Government are taking to deal with the growing problem of the long-term unemployed, apart from cutting back fiercely on STEP?

Forecasts should be taken with a degree of scepticism, which is what happpened under the previous Administration. The youth opportunities programme will be expanded from 210,000 entrants this year to 250,000 or 260,000 in 1980–81. That will enable us to give the same commitment to school leavers as has been given in former years.

I am worried about both the growth in youth unemployment and the growth in the number of long-term unemployed. These are factors which, regrettably, have been with us for more than the 10 months that we have been in office.

Stockport (Redundancies)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what redundancies in the metropolitan borough of Stockport have been notified to him in the last month.

The number of proposed redundancies notified to my Department in the last month under the redundancy handling provisions of the Employment Protection Act 1975 for the metropolitan borough of Stockport involved 478 employees employed at five firms.

During the same period 19 redundancies at one firm were withdrawn.

Is the Minister aware that a recent survey by the Greater Manchester council showed that Stockport was losing more jobs than most boroughs in the Greater Manchester area? Is he aware, further, that a survey of small and medium-size firms shows that the managers of those firms were depressed about employment prospects? Stockport has a large number of medium and small high technology firms which listened to Conservative blandishments, yet they now face 20 per cent. inflation, 17 per cent. MLR, a doubling of VAT and constant interference from the Secretary of State—

Far from being complacent about the position in Stockport, we have visited the area to study the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman. I am pleased to see that the Manchester development corporation, in its traditional way, is setting up a good scheme in which it is buying 77 acres of land in Stockport to encourage the very businesses to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Will my hon. Friend say what proportion of notified possible redundancies actually turn out to be redundancies, and how many do not come to anything?

It is difficult to give the overall proportion. The figure for Stockport will require some research.

Does the Minister appreciate that many people in Stockport cannot understand why the firm that has announced most of the redundancies is doing so in order to produce investment in Northern Ireland? Does he not realise that we do not want a Government who simply move unemployment around the country, but rather a Government who create jobs?

This Government, through the changes in their regional policy, are trying very hard to ensure that jobs are created in the areas where unemployment is greatest. We cannot answer for the management decisions in specific companies.

Departmental Efficiency And Productivity

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will cause an investigation to be made into the efficiency and productivity of his Department; and if he will make a statement.

Investigations into the efficiency and productivity of my Department are undertaken regularly. I understand that similar programmes are undertaken in the Manpower Services Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. I welcome all steps which can improve our record, and I should be grateful for any suggestions that the hon. Member might wish to make, and to know about areas in which his experience has revealed the need for action.

I assure the Secretary of State that I meant no disrespect to him and his office when I mistakenly wrote to the Secretary of State for Industry on 1 August 1979 about Statutory Instrument 1979, No. 1024, on behalf of a constituent's small firm. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that Minister, when replying to my application for a certificate of exemption, did not answer the very point that I made in my letter? I thank the right hon. Gentleman, who, on 19 February, sent me not only a full reply but the necessary road transport industry training board levy exemption and training scheme document, which sets out the criteria for exemption.

Order. I remind the House that these questions finish at 3.15 pm when we turn to Prime Minister's questions? Unless hon. Members are brief, I shall not be able to call many to ask supplementary questions.

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) phrased his question. I apologise to him for what was an inadvertent mistake. The industrial training board procedure is being considered, and I hope that the matter will not arise again.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House by how many civil servants he expects to reduce his Department over the next three years, and what percentage that represents?

I cannot give the figure offhand, as much will depend on the level of employment. If my hon. Friend will help me to reduce the level of unemployment, we shall reduce the numbers even more quickly.

Will the Secretary of State accept that a reduction in manpower is not necessarily the same thing as an improvement in productivity and efficiency? Will he look particularly at the reductions of between 30 and 40 per cent. being made by the Manpower Services Commission in terms of the numbers of disablement rehabilitation officers and the severe effect that this will have on disabled people?

I am concerned about getting efficiency with the minimum number of people employed in the Department. I am certain that my Department can well afford to make contributions to reductions in manpower.

Textile And Footwear Industries

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what retraining opportunities there are for those made redundant in the textile and footwear industries.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that workers made redundant in the textile and footwear industries are eligible to apply for the full range of courses available under the training opportunities scheme. I should like to point out however, that potential redundant jobs in both the textile and footwear industries may be supported under the temporary short time working compensation scheme and that help or assistance under this scheme has been of particular benefit to the textile industry.

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that his departmental officials who are responsible for checking the applications under the temporary short-time working compensation scheme in the footwear industry are disallowing holiday pay benefits which are paid to those workers on short-time working in the textile industry? Is this not a grave anomaly which should be rectified?

I do not think it is so much a matter of principle. In the textile industry holiday pay is credited to employees on a weekly basis, and it stands to their credit. That does not apply to other industries. I agree, however, that it is an anomaly and I shall look at it carefully.

While the temporary short-time working compensation scheme is of some value to the textile and footwear industries, it is of no value when the firm faces not a lack of orders but an inability to sell at the right price because of high exchange and interest rates. Given the fact that we are now entering a more serious recession than that which existed even in 1976–77, will the Government agree to look carefully at the possibility of instituting a successor to the temporary employment subsidy which would be of great value both to the textile and footwear industries?

The policy of high interest rates, which is being pursued by the Government, is being pursued by the Western world as a whole, and at present our interest rates are particularly favourable compared with those of America and Germany.

The temporary employment subsidy fell foul of the Treaty of Rome and was regarded as an unsuitable system for subsidising industry. For that reason we have the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, which is working.

While paying full tribute to the Government for continuing the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees with me that preventing the redundancies—which lies within the Government's power—is a far better way of dealing with this problem? Will he not agree that the textile and footwear industries are suffering unfair competition? Will the Government now consider using selective import controls to give fair competition for these two strategically important industries?

I know that my hon. Friend is vigorous in the defence of the textile industry and his own constituency interests. The imposition of selective import controls is not a matter for my Department. I am assured by the Department of Trade that all measures are being taken to protect the textile industry from unfair competition. In fact since May 1979 all the measures that have been available have been used extensively—far more than ever before—to protect the industry from unfair competition and low cost imports.

Has the Minister had any discussions with his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Education and Science about the possibility of capital resources available in technical colleges in the textile areas being used for retraining textile workers who are made redundant?

I am delighted to inform the hon. Member that we have regular consultations with the Department of Education and Science on the best way of using further education policies and educational training within schools as well in the way that the hon. Member has suggested.

I am delighted to hear the praise and support that the Minister is now giving to the benefits of the short-time working compensation scheme. It strikes me as odd that the Government, on taking office, dropped proposals for a statutory permanent scheme. Will he now review the short-time working scheme and resuscitate and bring back to the House the propsals for a more permanent scheme?

The right thing for any Government to do is to look at these schemes annually and judge them against the unemployment situation and take whatever measure is necessary.

Job Vacancies (Recording)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the existing arrangements for recording job vacancies and whether he has any proposals to ensure that the registered numbers of vacancies more accurately reflects the actual numbers of vacancies.

I appreciate that the existing arrangements for recording job vacancies do not provide a measure of total vacancies. As a general guide, there are about three times as many vacancies in the economy as those notified to the Government employment services. However, changes in the numbers of registered vacancies provide a useful indication of trends.

If, as my right hon. Friend stated, only one-third of the vacancies in any area are recorded at the local jobcentre, does he not think there should be a more rigorous campaign directed towards employers or potential employers in order to draw to their attention the facilities available and the good reasons for recording their vacancies at the jobcentres?

Yes, this could be very helpful. In the case of the Post Office and British Rail, for example, certain discussions have been held so that they notify more of their vacancies through the job-centres.

Will my right hon. Friend inform the House about the rate of turnover in the number of vacancies notified? What effect does this have on the turnover in the long and short-term unemployed on the register?

The average inflow of vacancies in the three months ending January this year was 207,000 a month and the average outflow was 215,000 a month. The average number joining the unemployment register in the three months ending January was 382,000 a month and the average number leaving was 363,000 a month. Of course, 200,000 unemployed have been unemployed for four weeks or less and 1·1 million for 12 months or less. There is an enormous inflow and outflow.

Preston (Unemployment)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current rate of unemployment in the Preston travel-to-work area.

At 14 February, the unemployment rate in the Preston travel-to-work area was 5·6 per cent.

May I thank my hon. Friend for the interest and concern that he showed on his recent visit to Preston? Has he any advice for those trade unionists in Preston who will be ordered to go on strike on 14 May rather than to travel to work?

It would be a dangerous precedent for any Minister from my Department to give advice to people who operate within trade union circles. I doubt whether they would appreciate such advice. However, I take heart from what I have seen recently in ballots within trade unions which show that common sense and justice are the interests uppermost in the minds of most trade unionists.

Electrical Equipment (Certification)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the speed of certification work at the British Approval Service for Electrical Equipment in Flammable Atmospheres; and whether he will make a statement on the industry study group's report on BASEEFA's testing and certification procedures.

The need to complete certification work more quickly at BASEEFA is acknowledged, and steps have been and are being taken to achieve this. Yesterday I received an interim report from the industry study group which I set up on 23 November last year and I shall be meeting the group on 31 March to discuss this report and the progress of its work so far.

May I remind the Minister that three-quarters of the applications to BASEEFA have been taking between 18 months to two years to process, compared with the German test house where they take only nine to 12 months? Will he accept the view of the industry that, if procedures could be speeded up, British exports could be increased by about 40 per cent.? At a time of rising unemployment, will he move speedily with the study group, which has been sitting for some time, in order to see that British industry is not further disadvantaged by overseas competition?

I entirely agree that the delays at BASEEFA have had an adverse effect on exports and on production of new appliances and products generally. For that reason I set up the industry study group in November. It may wells be that the answer to this problem lies in further sub-contracting. That will be very urgently looked at.

Is the Minister aware that a firm in my constituency, Wolf Safety Lamp, has had to wait two years for the certification of a lamp of valuable and important design, and that it is worried about the failure of the Government to speed up the process and to provide sufficient qualified staff in this important establishment, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) said, has formidable implications for the export of these important commodities?

To a great extent, the problem has been caused by the shortage of the necessary technical staff. There has been an improvement in the backlog and in the speed with which certificates have been issued. We are anxious to improve the staffing ratio. There is now only a shortfall of two in technical officers under establishment. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the matter is being pursued with vigour.

Employment Bill

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on his consultations to date on his proposed changes to the Employment Bill.

I have received representations from a number of organisations on the consultation paper on trade union immunities that I published on 19 February. The period for consultation comes to an end on Friday. I shall be considering all the representations before drawing up an appropriate amendment to the Employment Bill.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the pitfall of creating martyrs in his attempts to redress the balance of power on the shop floor? Will he recognise the example of the tortoise rather than that of the hare as being more likely to succeed in the task with which we all wish him well in the months ahead?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's good wishes. At times I have been accused of being too much of a tortoise. I recognise the enormous pitfalls in the legislation, and I am determined to get it right so that it can stay on the statute book for many years.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all attempts to victimise and to discriminate against the trade union movement will be as strongly resisted as was the Industrial Relations Act 1971? Is he also aware that now, as at the time of the Industrial Relations Act and at the time of the dispute at Grunwick, the image of the Tory Party is one of deep hostility to the trade union movement? Is it not time that the Tory Party learnt to live with the trade union movement?

I am also aware that there are millions of trade unionists—the vast majority of trade unionists—who wish to see this measure on the statute book, protecting their individual and trade union rights.

Although my right hon. Friend has been compared with a sloth, a rhinoceros and now, today, a tortoise, will he accept the assurance of Conservative Members that we consider that the McShane judgment indicates that his opposition to the 1974 and 1976 Trade Union and Labour Relations Acts was right and that the balance must now be redressed?

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are seeking legislation that can stand the test of time. It will not be perfect, and it will not always operate in the way in which some people think it should operate. However, it will be a great improvement on legislation that has been passed by the House in the last 30 years.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the two new tests proposed regarding capability and motive in respect of industrial action will delight the lawyers but will do nothing to improve industrial relations?

That is precisely why I published a consultative document and why I am listening carefully to what people say about it.

Thatchers (Training)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement, pursuant to the correspondence between the hon. Member for West Lothian and the Under-Secretary of State, on the training of thatchers.

I am delighted to inform the hon. Gentleman that Conservative Members do everything they can to support thatchers.

I am informed by the Manpower Services Commission that 10 grants for training in thatching in England are awarded annually by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas.

The occupational demand is in England but CoSIRA's training facilities are available for trainees sponsored by the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. About another 10 people annually take up training in England under private arrangements. CoSIRA's experience is that the volume of training for the occupation is appropriate. Most apprentices remain in thatching after training.

What does the Minister mean by "everything"? What about residential courses?

That hon. Member has the next question. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the training available must involve residential courses, because if they did not people from other parts of the world could not come to England to participate in them.

Does the Minister think that Professor Milton Friedman is well suited to instruct a "Thatcher", or anyone else? Will the Secretary of State make arrangements to appoint a new tutor for the Prime Minister?

North-East Lancashire (Unemployment)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he proposes to take to help reduce unemployment in North-East Lancashire.

My right hon. Friend announced in the House on 14 February our programme of special employment measures for 1980–81.

By maintaining, for a further 12 months, the overall impact of the special employment measures, including the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, the programme will make an important contribution towards reducing unemployment in North-East Lancashire, as in other parts of the country.

Is the Minister aware that the crisis in the North-East Lancashire textile, clothing, footwear and engineering industries, and the thatching industry—which is now so bad that we have lost it altogether—is at its most serious since the war? Is he aware that the employers who write to me are in no doubt that the blame for that crisis rests with the Government? Can he say how much more serious the situation must become before he and his right hon. and hon. colleagues will consider reinstating the industrial aid to the region that it lost last July?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the unemployment rate in North-East Lancashire is, at 5 per cent., similar to the rate 12 months ago. We take seriously the question of the footwear and textile industries. The hon. Gentleman will know that delegations have recently visited the Under-Secretaries of State at the Department of Trade and the Department of Industry. We take seriously the problems affecting the industry, but they will not necessarily be solved by delegations visiting Ministers. They will be solved by the industry itself, facing the challenge of design and production. Many parts of the industry succeed and export successfully.

Iron And Steel Trades Confederation

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the general secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has now come to meet Mr. Sirs again and to advise him that after 12 weeks of a strike the work force in BSC has had no opportunity of expressing its view, except on a ballot about a ballot? Does he not agree that he should raise with Mr. Sirs the question whether he should instruct his executive to hold a ballot among his union members? Does he not further agree that, if Mr. Sirs disagrees, there is a case for the Government bringing forward legislation to compel unions to hold a secret ballot in these circumstances?

I am always prepared to meet Mr. Sirs if he wishes to come to see me. I understand that the chairman of the British Steel Corporation has said that BSC will hold a further ballot if the unions refuse to hold their own ballot and also refuse arbitration. With regard to making ballots compulsory, it would be better, and would be likely to lead to greater success, if we could hold more ballots by voluntary means. In that way, we would be more likely to get people voting on the issues than if the ballots were compulsory.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets Mr. Bill Sirs, will he ask him whether he has carried out any negotiations with the chairman of the British Steel Corporation, who up to now, according to the press, has not been present at any of the negotiations? Will he also tell Bill Sirs that the men in the various areas—particularly my area—are standing firm behind their union, and it would take very little to move them to get a satisfactory solution? Will the right hon. Gentleman, who obviously has some sympathy with the problem, try to do his utmost within the Government to get the matter speedily resolved?

The parties to the dispute will have noted the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I hope that the two sides will get together and settle this dispute quickly. They may use arbitration, accept a ballot or simply reach an agreement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that an official of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation made a statement last week to the effect that his members had been well behaved on the picket lines but that the time had come to exert more pressure? Will my right hon. Friend take the first opportunity to tell Mr. Sirs that he deplores such incitement to breaking the law?

I certainly deplore any incitement to break the law. However, on the two occasions that the courts have become involved in the dispute, the trade unions and Mr. Sirs have obeyed the law. Trade unionists are basically law-abiding. I hope that they will remain that way.

Open University

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment, following his recent visit to the Open University, what plans he has to promote training schemes through the medium of the Open University.

Although I have not visited the Open University since taking office, I was happy to speak at the graduation ceremony some weeks ago. I am glad that the MSC is already working with the Open University to develop updating programmes for managers and engineers and that it is considering the scope for greater use of distance learning techniques.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a tremendous amount of untapped potential that would benefit from some below degree level training at the Open University? Is it not time that the Government made some headway? Should they not introduce courses and provide the necessary cash to enable those who have been made unemployed in the textile industry, the thatching industry and so on to study at the Open University in the same way as others?

I do not wish to become involved in a question that may concern the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Open University can help the Manpower Services Commission in distance learning techniques, training-for-management courses, tutorial support and the development of technical training. However, there is much to be done before we can move towards an "Open Tech". Retraining in adult life will become one of the more pressing needs of the next 20 years.

Manpower Services Commission (Training Services)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further changes he is planning to make in the provision of training through the Manpower Services Commission; and if he will make a statement.

The Government's aim, shared by the Manpower Services Commission, is to increase the effectiveness and relevance of training services provided by the Commission and by employers themselves. The Manpower Services Commission plans to expand its direct training services, which can be tailored closely to the needs of individual firms and to increase, within overall programmes, training at technician level and for computer occupations.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that on 5 March the Government said that new skillcentres would be opened in certain areas where they would be put to better use? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the rules governing the age at which a young person may enter a skillcentre will be reviewed? Will the Government discuss once again with the TUC the acceptability of a skillcentre course for a young person who is looking, for a skilled job?

I shall look at those points. The proposed building programme comprises a new young persons' centre at Lambeth, an experimental training centre on Merseyside and extensions to the centres at Norwich and Castle Bromwich. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the intake of young people. I shall consider that point.

As the number of unemployed school leavers will double according to the Government's figures by this time next year, and as the number of long term unemployed will increase from about 300,000 to 500,000 during the next few months, does the right hon. Gentleman not regret that the Manpower Services Commission's budget has been reduced by about £300 million? If the Manpower Services Commission will come back within the next few weeks and says that it cannot do the job adequately will the Secretary of State argue with his colleagues that the budget should be increased?

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's forecast about the level of youth unemployment. The budget for the youth opportunities scheme has been extended by 25 per cent. this year. Although the amount of cash available for the training budget has been cut, those courses dealing with technical and advanced training have been increased. Skilled labour is needed in those areas.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the criteria that are used by the Manpower Services Commission, particularly in the case of married women when determining admission to TOPS courses? Does he not accept that admission seems to be biased in favour of those women who have yet to get married and produce a family and against those who have already completed their families?

We have made considerable cutbacks on the clerical courses and some of the managerial courses. There has been a low uptake in employment, of about 52 per cent., after those courses have been completed. We should reorient those courses that have a better uptake and those in which people make use of the training that they have been given.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 18 March.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had a meeting with my right hon. and noble Friend the Governor of Southern Rhodesia. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the anticipated net budgetary contribution to the EEC for this year will be about £1,100 million? Is she aware that if this is so, and unless the negotiations in Brussels reach a successful conclusion, there will be a growing demand to withhold part or the whole of our VAT contributions to the EEC?

I confirm what my hon. Friend has said. If there were no change, our contribution to the European budget for this year would be £1,100 million or more. The final budget for the Community as a whole has not yet been fixed. If we do not find an equitable solution, we shall have to consider withholding part of our contribution. I hope that it will not come to that.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government's discussions with Lord Soames centre in part on a future aid programme to the newly independent Zimbabwe? Will she give an undertaking that those discussions will be widened to include an aid programme for Zambia? Will she bear in mind that the Zambian economy has suffered as a result of the long dispute between this country and Rhodesia?

My right hon. and noble Friend and I discussed the question of aid this morning. It is important to give Rhodesia a good start. We did not extend the discussion to aid to other countries. It is important that we carry out our prime duty towards Rhodesia.

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the trade figures today show an encouraging trend in the level of manufacturing exports, despite the fact that the pound remains firm? Will she, therefore, ignore the wet economic forecast that has been made by the Cambridge economic group? Will she ignore also those who urge import controls on us?

I agree that some companies are doing extremely well. As my hon. Friend knows, I do not take much account of economic forecasts, because there is such a large number from which to choose. We must remember that we still export more manufactured goods than we import. Any import controls would run the risk of retaliation and that might hit our export trade very badly.

Will the Prime Minister study the statement that has been made today by Mr. Jacques Chirac? He said that Britain should pay a contribution to the Market, or get out. As those are the only two options available, will she accept the second one?

I do not accept that those are the oniy two options. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is a question not only of the contributions that go in, but the lack of receipts that come out. We are trying to increase those receipts to substitute the expenditure that we already make so that we can get a better distribution of receipts from the Common Market budget to this country.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements fo Tuseday 18 March.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a moment or two ago.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the campaign against waste in Government Departments, launched by the press? Will she commend that campaign to this House, to local authorities, and, above all, to her Ministers?

I was pleased to read of that campaign in the press. I hope that it will be taken seriously, and that people who have examples of waste will let us know of them. Some Departments are working well to reduce waste. For example, the Department of the Environment has managed to reduce its staff by about 6½ per cent. since the election. That compares very well indeed with local authorities, which have so far reduced their staff by only ½ per cent. Since the election the Department of Industry has sent out about 750,000 fewer forms.

As head of the Civil Service, will the Prime Minister inquire today into the removal of Mr. Matthew Cooper, a military historian and former Clerk to the Select Committee on defence? Was that because he criticised the Ministry of Defence for prohibiting senior civil servants, Service officers and Government scientists from giving evidence on the successor to the Polaris submarine missile?

I have no knowledge of the particular case. Although I am head of the Civil Service, I cannot be expected to know the details of about 500,000 people in the Civil Service. If the hon. Gentleman, in his usual courteous way, will let me have details, I shall make the customary inquiries.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Matthew Cooper is not a civil servant but an employee of the House? Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider whether the call for a strike by Mr. Sidney Weighell, the head of the NUR, on 14 May is likely to be good or bad for our economy and in the interests of workers?

I saw the report of a call for a strike by the NUR. If the TUC or the NUR wishes to lower its standing in the eyes of the general public, that is the way to go about it.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that by talking of withholding VAT payments she is threatening to act in breach of our legal obligations? Does she believe that our case in equity and justice is so weak that it will be strengthened by such threats?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, our case in equity is extremely strong. We believe that it should be met before we have to consider any such proposal.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the massive disruption to local government that would be caused by the contemplated NALGO action? Will she deplore action that would withhold rate income to local authorities and cause chaos to the elderly, sick and others who depend on local government services?

I deplore any such action. I hope that people will consider the hardship that such action would wilfully inflict on others and will desist.

Will the right hon. Lady say whether press leaks about the Government's decision to cut back or redeem the £12 paid to strikers' wives and families are true? If they are, will she draw to the attention of her right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the speech that the Secretary of State for Industry made at the Conservative Party conference, when he explained that that would cause great hardship to families and would be an intolerable action for any Government to take?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that matter was referred to in the Conservative Party manifesto on which we fought the election. I have twice explained in the House that plans are under way, and we hope to make an announcement within a few weeks. Fresh legislation will be required.

Will my right hon. Friend express her astonishment at the news that the National Union of Students, which is always complaining about the inadequacy of student grants, is proposing to spend money on financing a strike by the so-called National Union of School Students?

I believe that the National Union of School Students comprises only a small number of pupils in schools, and the number is being progressively reduced. I hope that we shall not hear a great deal more about that small splinter union of school pupils.

European Community (Unemployment)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister what discussions she has had with the European Economic Community Heads of Government regarding the increase in unemployment.

Unemployment in the Community has been discussed regularly at meetings of the European Council, including the last meeting in Dublin in November. I expect the subject to be raised again at the Council meeting in Brussels later this month.

Does the right hon. Lady recall that in the "Weekend World" television broadcast in January she stated that she hoped to get our net contribution to the EEC reduced before the Budget, which is next week? We therefore expect an announcement next week. Will she ensure that our £1 billion contribution is diverted to regenerating British industry in view of the Cambridge group's prediction of 2½ million people being unemployed by next year and even more she following year? Will she also consider diverting the excess from the vast profits made by the banks and oil companies to settle the steel dispute?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is our policy that the incentives given through tax should assist in increasing output by British industry, particularly in small companies, where the new employment comes from. We shall be discussing in Brussels the budget and probably the employment position. Even though under the previous Government unemployment more than doubled, there are still more people in work today than five years ago.

Did my right hon. Friend discuss with the West German Chancellor the problems of unemployment in our two countries? If so, did the Chancellor spell out the contribution made to his economy by the framework of industrial relations law, designed in part by British trade unions, and the realistic approach to collective bargaining adopted by West German unions? If the TUC is determined to take an extra day off in May, might it not be profitable for its members to give that time to studying the West German experience?

I have discussed that matter with the German Chancellor from time to time. He is the first to recognise that we set up the structure of unions in West Germany after the last war.—[HON. MEMBERS: "We?"]—Great Britain, or should I say the United Kingdom. The West German structure would in many ways be far more convenient, but we cannot go from where we are now to a totally different structure. We shall try to do everything that we can to improve industrial relations, and I believe that the Employment Bill will make a great contribution to that end.

Will the right hon. Lady also discuss with Chancellor Schmidt the system of industrial democracy that prevails in West Germany, an area in which so many British firms are still lagging far behind? In view of the rise in unemployment that will occur in this country this year, will the right hon. Lady assure us that the link between unemployment benefit and price rises will not be broken, resulting in the unemployed being worse off?

I have discussed many things with Chancellor Schmidt, including the vastly increased output per person in West Germany compared with this country. Increased productivity is one of West Germany's great achievements.

Regarding the other point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I shall not give any assurance on matters likely to be dealt with in the Budget. The right hon. Gentleman must await the Budget Statement. He will not have long to wait.

That answer will arouse great suspicion in the minds of many. Does the right hon. Lady accept that it will be a lasting disgrace to her Government if they attempt to save public expenditure at the expense of the unemployed and the sick?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that he must await the Budget. But I am hardly likely to take criticism from him when it was he who doubled unemployment during the lifetime of the previous Government.

Does not the right hon. Lady yet realise that the link between unemployment and the level of benefits is of paramount importance to those who are likely to be put out of work by this Government's financial policy? Will she at least give an undertaking that child benefit will be increased by the relevant amount? Otherwise, does she not realise that, even in accordance with the policy of the Conservative Party, if it is not substantially increased in line with the increase in prices, that will increase the disincentive to work, so-called, for the unemployed?

It is the right hon. Gentleman who has the worst unemployment record in the post-war years. [Interruption.] Of course the Opposition do not like my saying that, because it is the truth and they cannot ignore it.

With regard to the subject of child benefit, again the right hon. Gentleman knows that he must await the Budget. He goes on and on, knowing that he must await announcements in the Budget. He has been Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, and he knows that.

The right hon. Lady was very ready recently to give an assurance about payment of Health Service charges. Why cannot she give us a similar assurance now, unless she is proposing to run away—[Interruption.] If she is not, she should not be afraid to answer. It will be a lasting shame to this Government if they interfere with these benefits.

The right hon. Gentleman will have to contain his impatience for a few days longer until the Budget.

Order. I have received notice of three quite distinct points of order that hon. Members wish to raise. They will be called after we have heard the statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I remind the House that we are on timetabled business today and that there is a Ten-Minute Bill as well as the statement, all of which must be borne in mind.

School Transport

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on school transport provision in England, Scotland and Wales.

As the House will know, decisions were taken last week in another place to delete clauses 23 and 25 of the Education (No. 2) Bill. These clauses sought to empower local education authorities in England and Wales and education authorities in Scotland to charge for providing school transport. The Government have now had an opportunity to consider the situation and have decided that it would not be right to seek to reintroduce the clauses. Such consequential changes to the Bill as are necessary to give effect to this decision will be tabled as amendments for consideration on Report in another place.

As the House will also know, the Government decided last year that it was necessary for local authorities to reduce public expenditure, and the rate support grant settlements for 1980–81 were made accordingly. It was the request of the Association of County Councils that in making these reductions local education authorities in England and Wales should be free, if they wished, to introduce charges for providing school transport. In view of the decision in another place last week, and the Government's acceptance of that decision, the option to charge is no longer open to local authorities. But this in no way removes the obligation on local authorities to achieve the needed reductions in expenditure in some other way.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in bringing this statement to the House the Government show the strategic capacity of the Grand Old Duke of York and the judicial sensitivity of Pontius Pilate? Is he aware that, as a consequence of what he is now doing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I know that this is painful to Government Members, but they are going to get it just the same.

As a result of this decision, there will be a further increase of 6 per cent. in the cuts that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has already permitted in education; and there will possibly be—especially in those 20 LEA areas that sought to jump the gun—cuts in classroom pro- vision, sacking of teachers and reductions in capitation and book allowances as a consequence of including in the Bill a totally misconceived proposition for giving local education authorities the obligation to make charges for school transport.

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman heard the threat that has been made by his noble Friend the Minister of State in the other place, which means that the people most likely to be afflicted as a result of the Government's decision are handicapped children, children in need of nursery education and those undergoing adult education, and that there are other areas where there is jeopardy in addition to the difficulties already created as a result of the Government's programme of cuts?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that because he has now undertaken to endorse the will of the House of Lords he must also shoulder an obligation to make additional funds available by means of a supplementary rate support grant so that further harm will not be done to the structure and fabric of education because of the misbegotten ideas that he put forward in the Education (No. 2) Bill?

First, there will be no increase in the cuts as a result of the decision that we have made. The decision to reduce expenditure had been made and confirmed already in the rate support grant. Secondly, I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman means by those 20 local education authorities who "jumped the gun". Presumably he is referring to those authorities that were proposing to charge had they the freedom to do so. The answer is that they will have to make savings in other ways.

As for the threat by my noble Friend Baroness Young, to which he referred, the point that she was trying to make was that if local education authorities were rot able to make reductions in net expenditure by making modest charges for transport the money would have to come from some other part of the education budget, which might be more disadvantageous to the people concerned.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I share the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Bedwelty (Mr. Kinnock) for the decision in the other place? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman clarify the remark made by Baroness Young, who seemed to imply that the cuts would have to be found in the education budget, which is not what the Secretary of State said in his statement when he talked about reductions in expenditure in some other way? Will he clarify that and recognise that there is something wrong with the direction of Conservative policy when twice within weeks the Government have had to retreat, first from damaging sub-post offices in the rural areas and now from their decision about school transport?

I do not accept that. I made it clear in my statement that those savings would have to be found by local authorities in some other way. That is consistent with our overall approach. It is a matter for local authorities to decide how they make their own reductions. However, I cannot ignore the fact that since these reductions were coming out of the education budget, in many authorities it may mean that they will have to come out of some other part of their budget.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the inclusion of clause 23 and its consequential discretionary power was at the express wish of local education authorities? Will he further acknowledge that the removal of this descretionary power inevitably means that the savings that are to be expected from local authorities may have an effect on classroom provision?

Yes. The inclusion of the clause was at the express wish of the Association of County Councils, which is a body representing local education authorities. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, as I made clear in speeches in this House and as clear in another place, part of our desire to have this clause in the Bill was to ensure that reductions could be made in this way rather than in other ways.

As most local education authorities have already made their budget plans for next year, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that any further cuts in the rest of education expenditure will do serious damage to the education of our children, and that increased expenditure on education is necessary, just as much as on law and order or on defence, if we are thinking about Britain's future? Is he aware that the Government should take the opportunity offered to them by the sensible decision of another place to give education the priority that it deserves?

I repeat that I have announced no damaging cuts in education expenditure. All that I have said is that one option of achieving part of the necessary reduction has now been closed by the decision of another place, which is apparently supported by Labour Members. I am sure that we would all like to find many areas of expenditure on which more money could be spent. However, the Government are determined to ensure that Britain begins to live within its means.

My right lion. and learned Friend has explained with the logic and clarity to be expected of eminent Queen's Counsel that the primary reason for the imposition of transport charges was to save cuts in the more sensitive and important parts of the education system. What guidance does he now propose to give to local education authorities that were prepared to impose transport charges to assist them in the solution of the invidious and unwelcome problems that have been imposed upon them?

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the results are invidious for local authorities that were aiming to make modest charges.

Yes, modest charges in this area. I do not feel that I can go any further than the guidance that is set out in the White Paper that was published earlier this year, which contains our ideas on the ways in which these matters could be met. In a very short time the local authorities whose education authorities were looking for savings in transport costs will have to make their own decisions where best to make other savings.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman understand that the decision that he has announced today is disgraceful and disastrous? Does he further understand that if local education authorities have to make reductions in their education budgets that will mean fewer ancillaries in schools, fewer teachers and increased class sizes? Does he understand, despite the furore coming from the Benches behind him, that his decision, when taken with the previous decisions, means that he is undermining the basic education system that has developed over the past 30 years?

The answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that he talking nonsense. He knows full well—he was a member of the Committee that considered the Education (No. 2) Bill—that we are seeking savings of 3½ per cent. in expenditure on education at a time when pupil numbers will have dropped by nearly 5 per cent. during the same period. He describes my statement as disgraceful. May I remind him that I stated that the Government are accepting the decision of another place, which he supported and voted for in this place? If he asks me whether I realise that accepting the decision of another place may mean that reductions will have to be made elsewhere in more sensitive areas in the education budget, my answer is "Yes, I do." That is what I repeatedly said to the House and that is what Labour Members repeatedly ignored.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noticed how many of the arguments in another place in relation to church schools rest upon the immutable nature of the 1944 settlement? Does he recall that three times in the past 21 years it is the Churches that have been suppliants to the State on the basis of changed financial conditions and changes in financial arrangements? Is it not inconsistent that the same arguments should not apply to the State?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, as a leading member of the Synod, has consistently supported what the Government proposed to do in this area. I am fully aware of the changes that have been made since 1944 in the relationship between the Churches and the State. I do not accept that our proposals for school transport would have attacked in any way the concordat formed at that time.

Order. In view of the problems facing the House today, I pro- pose to call four more hon. Members from each side of the Chamber.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept, in retrospect, that it is a mistake for a Government of either complexion to persuade local authorities to prepare for making expenditure in their budgets that eventually turns out to be illegal only a few weeks before the end of the financial year? Is it not best to wait for Royal Assent? Does not the decision made in another place demonstrate, as did the example of the Secretary of State for Social Services, the scant regard that the Government have for law and order?

I can never understand why the hon. Gentleman always wishes to damage a good point, when he has one, by exaggeration at the end. I accept that it is unfortunate, and a pity that local education authorities that spent considerable time preparing to introduce charges from April onwards wasted their time and effort. Of course I regret that. The authorities asked to have that power and we agreed as a Government to put that into legislation. Those who wished to implement it when free to do so decided to go ahead in the hope that that legislation would come into force. I regret that that hope is no longer available to them.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend be rather more magnanimous in defeat? It is not merely what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said those who were led by Lord Butler in another place, and the House of Commons, have come to the conclusion—this has been admitted by the Government—that the burden should not fall upon rural areas. Surely it is up to the Government to find the £20 million or £30 million.

I find it difficult to know how much more magnanimous in defeat one can be than by announcing within three days that the Government accept the result of the defeat. At the request of my right hon. Friend I went to the county of which he represents a part and defended the proposals that the county council had for the imposition of charges. I hope that he will now support it, and the alternative savings that it has to make, with the same skill and venom that he used to attack me on the proposed transport charges.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be rather more magnanimous and assure the House that neither children who are handicapped and receiving special education nor children who are receiving nursery education will in any way be penalised by the decision that he has announced this afternoon?

Every one of us in the House is concerned about the problems of handicapped children. I have made that clear on many occasions. I cannot promise what the outcome of the decision will be. The 1980–81 rate support grant and the cash limits have already been fixed. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance about the other areas of expenditure in which local authorities may look for savings.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend follow up a couple of replies in which he very properly insisted upon a reduction in expenditure? Will he take whatever steps are open to him to ensure that the reductions fall on the ancillary and administrative arms of the service and that they do not affect the provision of education?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I hope that local education authorities will consider making cuts in the areas that he specified. I regret that those authorities that intended to charge for transport will not now be able to do so. That may make it more difficult for them to achieve savings.

How can the Secretary of State pretend that he is being generous in his acceptance of the decision of the other place when what he is doing is accepting that Parliament should impose a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide free school transport? Because the Secretary of State and the Cabinet do not like or agree with the decision of Parliament, they now intend to punish local authorities and schoolchildren while pretending to accept that decision.

With great respect, that is not so. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the Government's position. The Government and the Cabinet took a clear decision about the need to reduce public expenditure by local authorities. In the light of that decision local authorities asked whether they could have freedom to regard this area as one in which net savings could be made. The fact that the will of Parliament has decided that they shall not have that freedom does not, I am afraid, go against the orginal decision of the Cabinet that in the national interest savings had to be made.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that most of us who represent rural constituencies stood our ground, despite the protests, because the decision to enable local authorities to charge for school transport, however regrettable, was a better option than making cuts in the school room? Is he aware, further, that the Hampshire education authority has now to find almost £750,000 and that that is bound to affect the very educational standards that their lordships in their misguided wisdom were trying to protect?

I can only repeat what I have said on many occasions. Of course I regret the decision that has been taken, for the reasons set out by my hon. Friend.

We welcome the decision of the Lords and the announcement of the Government's acceptance of it. Does the Secretary of State realise the chaos that now faces many local authorities a couple of weeks before the beginning of the financial year, since a major element of their budget has now been put into confusion? In these circumstances will not the Secretary of State allow, for this year at least, additional resources from central Government or at least accept that local authorities will have to increase rate demands to meet this burden?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman—coming from a Welsh seat—should ask that question, since only one local education authority in Wales proposed to make a charge. I do not think that his question is relevant.

Are we to understand that there are to be no changes in the current law? Some of us feel that the present two and three-mile limits are arbitrary and make no reference to parental income.

The fact is probably often forgotten, for the reason given by my hon. Friend, that the Labour Government both in 1975 and in 1978 indicated their wish to bring in a flat rate charging system for school transport. At the moment the answer must be that we propose to bring in the necessary amendments to restore the law to its present position.

Motions And Bills (Amendments)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point flows from yesterday's debate. I think that you will agree that days on which there are free votes in the House are esssentially what might be described in parliamentary language as Back Benchers' days. I believe that yesterday's debate was intended to give a clear message to the country—particularly to our athletes—about what we, as their elected representatives in Parliament, felt about the proposal to boycott the Olympic Games.

Because the selection of amendments to motions and Bills is left entirely to your discretion, Mr. Speaker—you are not accountable to anyone, and I agree that that should be so—I seek your guidance on what is best when we have a free vote such as yesterday's. Because of the restriction on amendments—in particular yesterdays' amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins)—the consequence of the vote was that far from being free it became a party vote. Anyone who examines the record will come to that conclusion. I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether on future occasions you will consider not diluting—I say this with the greatest respect—the purpose and intent of a Back Benchers' free vote by restricting amendments unnecessarily?

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) was good enough to give me notice this morning that he would seek to raise this point of order. I say to him that when ever there has been an amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, every one of my predecessors has thought it right to select that amendment. That is a long-established custom. As for my choosing another amendment, the House did not give me the power to do that. There must be a motion on the Order Paper enabling me to call another amendment if it is for the purpose of a Division.

Of course I could have selected every amendment on the Order Paper since my discretion is absolute. But if I had done that only one could have been voted upon. All the amendments were discussed, but only one amendment could be voted upon according to the Standing Orders of the House under which I operate. Therefore, much as I should have liked to help the hon. Member—I understood his feelings and those of other right hon. and hon. Members—I was bound by Standing Orders.

Defence Sub-Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A report appeared in the newspapers today stating that the Clerk to a Select Committee had been transferred and demoted due—according to the report—to pressure from officials at the Ministry of Defence. If the report is accurate it is surely a matter of considerable concern to this House. Are senior Ministry officials able, because they dislike the attitude of a Clerk in carrying out his duties on behalf of a Committee and of the House, to say that they think that such a Clerk should be transferred to other work?

If there is any truth in the allegations in the press I hope that an investigation will take place. If the report is found to be true it is to be hoped that the Clerk concerned—a servant of this House—will be restored to his previous senior position and that his future will in no way be prejudiced when it comes to promotion. I believe that this is a very serious matter, which should be investigated.

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was good enough to give me notice this morning that he would seek to raise this matter. If there were any intereference by a Minister of the Crown with a Clerk doing his duty in this House it would, of course, be a serious business. The assigning of clerks to the various Select Committees does not fall within my remit. It falls within that of the Clerk of the House. Of course I shall look into this matter and I shall write to the hon. Member. I believe that we had better leave it there for the moment.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you make your statement to the House? Many of us who read the report wish your comments to be made to the House after you have deliberated.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It would be for the benefit of the House if you made it clear that the responsibility for the disposition of the Clerks has nothing to do with the Government but is to do with the management of the House.

That is true. I thought that I had made it clear that the disposition of Clerks is the responsibility of the Clerk of the House. I do not wish to go further, other than to say that I do not mind making to the House the statement that I should have made to the hon. Member for Walsall, North. However, I believe that many of his fears will prove to be unfounded. I did not intend to go as far as that, but I shall make the statement to the House.

Division No 230

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a serious mistake in the Division List published in yesterday's Official Report, which has caused me considerable embarrassment. There are widespread reports in the press that I supported the Government in last night's Division. I draw your attention to the fact that in col. 163 I am shown as voting in the Lobby with the Government and in col. 165 as voting with those hon. Members who disagreed with the Government. I voted in the Lobby with hon. Members who disagreed with the Government and I ask for a correction to be made in Hansard.

Of course I shall ensure that the necessary correction is made. The hon. Gentleman will be recorded as having voted with the Noes.

New Member

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath: Edward Macmillan Taylor Esq., for Southend, East.

Statutory Instruments

Ordered,

That the Value Added Tax (Gold) Order 1980 (S.I. 1980, No. 303), be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]

Development Land Tax (Amendment)

4.4 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Development Land Tax Act 1976 by repealing section 2 relating to the charge on deemed disposal; to make further amendments to enable advance assessments to be reached on the calculation of gains, and to introduce a system of relief for development losses against development gains; and to make provisions for matters consequential upon the foregoing.
I declare an interest. As a valuation surveyor, I have had the opportunity to see the way in which commercial decisions taken by people, particularly those connected with the building industry, are affected by the Development Land Tax Act, which received its Second Reading almost exactly four years ago to the day, on 15 March 1976.

The amendments that my Bill seeks to achieve are based not upon private prejudice or partial affections but upon practical experience born of commercial experience in the intervening years. I am concerned that not enough new homes are being built for sale, particularly for young married, first time buyers. Until the building industry starts to expand again, no new jobs will be created.

I accept that increases in land values resulting from planning decisions should bear a special tax. I accept that capital gains resulting from planning permission should be in a special category. I acknowledge that in his Budget last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer lightened the tax burden considerably across the board by reducing the element of tax from 80 per cent. to 60 per cent. However, I believe that certain anomolies and inequities still exist at the margin and that further trimming is necessary. If the Act remains unamended in the particular, it will continue to discourage the construction industry from making its vital contribution to housing the nation and thus discourage it from expanding and creating new jobs for those with skills upon whom the economy so desperately depends.

My Bill seeks to draw attention to three main points of principle. First, I believe that any system designed to tax development gains should recognise that there is a distinction between windfall or speculative gains and gains which are created by the combination of enterprise, endeavour, expertise and risk. The Development Land Tax Act treats both windfall gains—those that merely happen—and development gains—which are created and earned—in exactly the same manner. The effect is to discourage the stimulus of enterprise, hard work and the reward for effort.

The technical device in the Development Land Tax Act which gives effects to discrimination against effort is called "deemed disposal". In seeking leave to introduce legislation to repeal section 2 of the Development Land Tax Act 1976, I seek to strike out that provision which penalises gains made by those who are in the business of creating homes, factories, shops and offices and which, perhaps inadvertently, devalues the importance of their contribution to the fabric of society.

The fiction of "deemed disposal" works only if another fiction is invented—that there are only development gains and never development losses. The effect of taxing the development and construction industry particularly on "deemed disposal", that is, at the start of a development, is that over a period the base of the industry is severely eroded. That is because each time a builder starts a development—before a brick is laid—he is taxed on any gains that may arise on that development on the basis of the market value of the land on which he starts the development. At the same time, however, he must go back to the market and buy more land to replenish his land bank to build more houses for first time buyers and to keep his skilled men employed. He must do that unless over a period he is to run down the size of his enterprise with the consequent loss of jobs and new homes.

Having paid development land tax, the builder inevitably has less money to get back into the market to replenish his land bank. The result is that he reduces his output, cuts the number of new homes that he builds or increases his borrowing to maintain his output. In commercial terms, he runs faster to stand still or he goes backwards.

That form of taxation creates two anomalies. First, it stifles the output in the private house building industry—indeed it may even reduce that output particularly by the small and medium-size builders who cannot extend credit or obtain overdrafts. It inevitably leads to an expansion of demand for domestic credit and an increase in overdrafts as builders seek to extend their borrowings in order to maintain the same level of production.

It is the only form of tax which is levied upon a series of hypothetical assumptions. It is the only form of tax which becomes due for payment before a profit is made. Indeed, it becomes due for payment whether a profit is realised or a loss is made.

The second anomaly of the Act is that tax liabilities cannot be calculated until a development scheme has been started and until material development takes place. As a consequence, builders are unable prudently to plan in advance in a businesslike manner for their tax liabilities, simply because they do not know what they will be until they have made a material start.

There are no provisions in the Act to enable builders, as of right, to obtain a valuation on the land at the time of their acquisition of it, or at some other point prior to the start of that material development. They are therefore forced, as it were, to buy blind and to guess what might be the opinion of the district valuer as to its value at the start of that actual material development and to hazard the best guess as to what their tax liability might be. In effect, they are, metaphorically speaking, laying drains with one hand and signing a blank cheque with the other.

There can be no more unfavourable climate, no greater discouragement imaginable, within which any major industry has to operate. For that reason, I seek leave to amend the Development Land Tax Act to allow for advance valuations to permit tax liabilities to be planned prudently.

I draw the attention of the House to the structure of the Development Land Tax Act. Although it allows for development gains, it makes absolutely no allowance whatsoever for development losses, or for losses to be offset against development gains, as indeed happens in every other form of commercial activity.

I therefore seek the leave of the House to amend the Development Land Tax Act to permit development losses to be offset against development gains and to ensure that all relevant costs incurred in holding land ripe for development are also eligible to be offset against gains.

I believe that my Bill will have beneficial effects. It will encourage the building industry to bring forward land for development. This will bring about an expansion in the building industry and provide new jobs and new homes at stable prices.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Heddle, Sir Derek Walker-Smith, Sir Graham Page, Mr. Paul Hawkins, Mr. Tony Durant, Mr. Sydney Chapman, Mr. John Ward and Mr. Stephen Ross.

Development Land Tax (Amendment)

Mr. John Heddle accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Development Land Tax Act 1976 by repealing section 2 relating to the charge on deemed disposal; to make further amendments to enable advance assessments to be reached on the calculation of gains, and to introduce a system of relief for development losses against development gains; and to make provisions for matters consequential upon the foregoing; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 July and to be printed. [Bill 170.]

Social Security Bill (Allocation Of Time)

Ordered,

That the report [13 March] from the Business Committee be now considered—[Mr. Patrick Jeakin.]

Report considered accordingly.

That—

(1) the order in which proceedings on Consideration are taken shall be New Clauses. amendments to Clauses 1 and 2,, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 6, Schedule 2, Clauses 7 to 10. Schedule 3, Clauses 11 to 20, Schedule 4, Clause 21, Schedule 5 and New Schedules:
(2) the allotted days which under the Order [25th February] are given to the proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be allotted in the manner shown in the Table set out below subject to the provisions of that Order, each part of the proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the third column of that Table.

TABLE

Allotted day

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

First dayNew Clauses.9.00 p.m.
Amendments to Clause 1.Midnight
Second dayAmendments up to the end of Schedule 2.9.0 p.m.
Remaining proceedings on Consideration.11.00 p.m.
Third Reading.Midnight

Question, That this House doth agree with the Committee in thier resolution put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee), and agreed to.

Following is the Report of the Business Committee:

Orders Of The Day

Social Security Bill

[1ST ALLOTTED DAY]

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Death Grant

'For each of the amounts specified in paragraph 2 of Part II of Schedule 4 to the principal Act there shall be substituted the sum of £45 with effect from 17 November 1980.'.—[ Mr. Orme.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.15 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

First, I want to say how modest is the new clause, which I move on behalf of the Opposition. My hon. Friends and I feel that something should be done about the death grant. It should be uprated.

In the Labour Party manifesto of 1979 we were committed to raising
"the burial grant to a more realistic level."
This is why we are moving this modest clause. In view of the economic situation and rising inflation, something must be done this year about the death grant. A 50 per cent. increase—a modest increase from £30 to £45—will not resolve the problem, as I am the first to acknowledge, but at least it starts to raise the death grant. It has been at its present level since 1967.

The new clause also does one or two other important things. It makes the grant payable at full rate for children. At present the death grant for a child under 3 years of age is £9, £15 for a child between the ages of 3 and 6, and £22 for a child between the ages of 6 and 18. With this clause we propose to remove anomalies affecting those families who have the unfortunate experience of losing a young child. The proposal is a step in the right direction.

The clause proposes a further change. I am sure that there has been much pressure on hon. Members about the fact that half the normal rate is paid on the death of a man aged over 87 and a woman aged over 82. The clause removes that anomaly and enables the full rate to be paid at any age. Therefore, if it were accepted, the total death grant for a child or a person in his eighties or nineties would be paid at £45.

The modest clause goes no way towards meeting what many hon. Members on both sides feel is a more realistic figure. A more realistic figure would cost between £80 million and £140 million a year. We are testing the good faith of the Government with the clause. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether she has calculated what the cost of the clause would be in a full year. We estimate that the cost would be about £10 million in a full year. I see that she confirms that figure.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the death grant were confined to those genuinely in need—I have my right hon. Friend's reply to the written question on 30 January—the figure could be raised to £100 without any further expenditure from the public exchequer?

That means instituting a means test and a complicated system. I do not know how the figure can be assessed on death. It is a complicated issue. The facts often come out only when the relatives face the problems of deceased persons, especially lonely people, who leave no estate of any consequence. Therefore, this is not an issue that can be means tested, even if one is in favour of means-tested benefits.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is obviously a problem for the people who must bury the dead person? However, the Opposition are conscious that the problem must be faced by people before they die. They worry that they will not leave sufficient money for, in their view, a decent funeral. We seek to alleviate that anxiety by means of these proposals rather than deal with the problem left to the relatives.

I thank my hon. Friend. I want to come to that point. The clause deals with the genuine point raised by the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn). I do not denigrate his point. I am examining the issue. I shall come later to the point underlined by my hon. Friend.

First, I refer to what was said recently by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in Committee:
" … since 1967, when the death grant was £30, prices have increased by 280 per cent. But if we allowed for an illustrative 10 per cent. increase in prices between now and next November, the spirit of the amendment would require the grant to rise to over £125, which would add over £50 million to the current expenditure of £16 million on the death grant." [Official Report, Standing Committee E, 29 January 1980; c. 152.]
That is why we have put down the new clause, which will cost £10 million initially. I recognise that there is a lobby on at the same time as this debate. It was arranged a long time ago. I think it is that of the Dignity in Death Alliance, many organisations of which have come together and are meeting in a Committee Room of this House while we are discussing this matter. Most of those people would say that our new clause does not go far enough. We say to them, as we are saying to the Government, that the Government could come some way to meeting the position for a very modest sum by accepting this new clause.

With regard to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) said, we have before us the report of the Department of Health and Social Security, which the hon. Lady has rushed through. Many hon. Members will not have had the chance to see it yet. It is entitled "Families, funerals and finances: a study of funeral expenses and how they are paid".

I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but I must point out that he has an advance copy and there are errors in it. The full publication will not be available for a few weeks yet. I have done my best to get as much information as possible to hon. Members even at the eleventh hour.

I know that the hon. Lady has worked very hard to get out the report and I am not in any way saying that she has tried to delay it or keep it back. I happened to receive a copy of it by accident. We have all heard of things coming under plain cover, and I got the copy of this report in draft form under plain cover last week. I have read it, particularly the conclusions, and it contains a very interesting explanation of the death grant and how this situation developed in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century because of the poverty and pauperism at that time. The necessity for the death grant was pressed on the incoming Labour Government in 1945 and, as the House knows, later the death grant was introduced, and many of the millions of small subscriptions that were collected began to be phased out.

The report deals with the answer to this question as being back to Beveridge, which means linking it to the cost of living and meeting the cost, a selective grant or the abolition of the grant. Each of these ideas is canvassed in the report and no doubt hon. Members will he interested to read it when it is available.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would take into account in his argument the fact that many people in this country over the age of 60 or 65 are not able, because of their age, to increase their private insurance, and consequently for them the death grant has much greater relevance. The cost of burying a person has increased. Certainly a funeral cannot be obtained for £250 to-day and the odds are that the cost is now about £300 per funeral. The private insurance of these people was taken out at a time when the cost of a funeral was £50 of £60. That is why the death grant, whatever its origins, is an essential part of the social structure of this country today.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think, that the hon. Lady would quote the report, which says that in relation to incomes the position has not deteriorated. But the important point the hon. Gentleman has made is that particularly for the more elderly people, many of whom are not covered by the full grant and some of whom are completely excluded, great difficulty arises.

Coming back to the point my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North made, this survey of relatives who arrange funerals does not reflect the anxieties of old people approaching death, with their small savings eroded by inflation, and knowing that they will not leave enough money to pay for their funeral. The fact that their relatives may be able to pay without hardship is no comfort to them. A survey of elderly people's feelings about the death grant would have produced very different results. It would certainly show no support—I say this to the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead—for the idea of a means-tested grant. I think it is a question of dignity and a person knowing for certain that if he is in an unfortunate position financially and dies he is assured of a proper burial, with all the normal courtesies and provisions.

To many elderly people, this is a very serious matter. Therefore, the House ought to take serious note of this also. I shall be very interested to hear what the hon. Lady has to say, because I can see no reason why the Government should not accept it. Certainly they cannot oppose it on a cost basis.

Before my right hon. Friend leaves question of the survey, he has very carefully illustrated that the wrong group of people was questioned, but would he agree that the survey was carried out on deaths that occurred in the autumn of 1974? Would he not agree that since then the cost of funerals has almost doubled and that therefore the information about people's attitudes to the problem of paying for them is extremely out of date?

I accept my hon. Friend's point. What makes the position so serious is the inflation rate. I think all hon. Members would agree that the inflation rate hits people on fixed incomes, not least retired people, and I would expect this point to strike a note among hon. Members on the Government Benches, because they often pay great attention to this point. Perhaps some of them will be prepared to express an opinion on it this afternoon.

We therefore feel that the new clause, which is modest and to the point, because it deals with an uprating this year, removing the anomalies as between the young and the old and making a start on an uprating, with the obvious purpose that it should continue in future years, should be accepted. I certainly press the Government seriously to consider it.

The hon. Lady has given us figures on uprating the death grant to £135, £150 or £180. Some hon. Members may want to give that priority, but I think we could all unite on doing something now.

I would point out that, in accordance with Mr. Speaker's selection, we are taking amendment No. 15—clause 5, page 10, line 14, at end insert—
'(5) The sum specified in paragraph 1 of Part II of Schedule 4 to the principal Act shall be increased to £40 with effect from 17th November 1980.'.
It deals with the maternity grant, which is a separate issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), if she catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may move it later. I have spoken purely on the new clause.

4.30 pm

My interest in and involvement with the death grant are nothing new. Ever since I came to the House 10 years ago, I have spoken in debates when the matter has been raised under Conservative and Labour Governments. I stand today as convinced as I was on the first occasion when I addressed the House on the subject that there is a powerful demand from both sides of the House and from many people outside for the death grant to be put on a more rational basis.

There is no difference between the two sides of the House in the feeling which has manifested itself over the years that a major improvement is overdue. It is fair to say that any benefit that has stayed at the same value since 1967 is well overdue for review. As 1967 was the last occasion on which the death grant was raised, and as prices have increased by 280 per cent. since that time, the House may conclude that the case almost makes itself.

I hope that I shall be forgiven if in the course of my remarks I put a different emphasis on this matter of the death grant from that which was given to it by the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). I hope in the process that the concern which both of us feel for people who are particularly disadvantaged in this respect will be thought at least to be parallel.

The death grant is undoubtedly an emotive subject. It conjures up the vision, perhaps even the reality, of the inability of relations to bury their dead. Feelings about this go very deep. It is a provable fact that countless thousands of elderly people go without during the later years of their life because they feel it incumbent upon them to provide enough for what they no doubt would describe as a decent burial. This is an extension of that element of thrift which has been more apparent among our population in the past than it is today. Certainly those people believe that to run the risk of a pauper's funeral is almost the negation of all that they have lived for. To that extent, therefore, the House cannot deal with this matter purely on the basis of economics or politics. It must deal with it on the basis of the humanity that lies behind our discussion today.

Genuine anxiety exists. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that a death grant of £30 is a totally inadequate contribution. I wonder whether that word "contribution" does not lift the veil on why successive Governments have felt able to retain the death grant at this inadequate level. To most people the £30 is a contribution towards the cost of burial. There is no doubt that where it is of prime importance to receive a contribution from the State to assist in the burial expenses the £30 is inadequate. So, too, is the £45 proposed in the new clause. I wonder whether the Opposition, in putting forward the clause, have given it the right emphasis. I hope I shall be forgiven for questioning whether this is the right way to go about it. I certainly question whether £45 is the right amount.

The real argument revolves around the simple question: to whom is the death grant important? Is it important to everyone? I respectfully suggest that the answer to that is "No". It is comparatively unimportant to most of those who are entitled to receive it in 1980. That may be because their standard of living is comparatively high and so they have no special difficulty in finding the amount required for burial expenses. It may be because they have an adequate life assurance policy. Most people who are now aged 40 or over have been brought up in a period when it has been normal to make provision for death by taking out a life assurance policy. I pose the question again: to whom is the death grant important? Is it the majority? I respectfully suggest that it is not but to the minority of people it is crucial.

Whom do we find within this minority? I agree that it is difficult to specify the deserving minority. In looking for need, do we consider the person who has died or the relatives who are left and upon whom the responsibility to arrange the burial devolves? I am not this afternoon proposing any specific way of overcoming that problem, except to say that it would seem reasonable to assess need on the basis of the person who has died. If there is a respectable argument which still takes care of my point of paying the grant to those who particularly need it but which leads people to feel that it would be better to reverse my argument, I am prepared to be convinced. However, it would be almost impossible to convince me that there is a need among the majority of the population for a death grant to be paid, be it £30 or £45.

If I am challenged that that involves a means test, clearly I have to concede that it does. Those hon. Members who have listened to me over the years when I have spoken in social security debates—they are a dwindling band—will concede that I have never dodged the fact that if, as I profoundly contend that there must be, there is to be selectivity in the payment of social benefits, I have to accept the corollary of that policy, which is the necessity for an assessment of means before benefits are payable.

I am saying that the death benefit should be increased, that it should be increased to much more than £45, but that it should be increased to that much higher level only for those who, after a means test—if that emotive phrase is the best way we can find to describe it—are found to be in particular need.

We are also talking about the maternity grant. I take the view which I took on a recent Friday in the debate on a Bill dealing with the maternity grant which was proposed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). No doubt there are a small number of people who are in the greatest need and to whom I would give priority treatment without hesitation. To put the death grant at £45 and the maternity benefit at £40 as proposed would be of no value to those who are in need. The House would be ill-advised to go along the road proposed in the clause and in amendment number 15. Instead, I am persuaded that there is a powerful case to be made for a totally fresh approach to maternity grant and death grant. There is a powerful case for an inquiry to see whether the selectivity that I would prefer for the payment of death grant and maternity grant is a better way of looking after those in real need in 1980 than the course that has been followed since the introduction of the Welfare State in 1948.

There may be an argument for saying that selectivity should not take the form I have suggested and that it should pay no more at all or pay no more than £30 only to those aged over 65 at death. That is an alternative basis. I should be prepared to listen to arguments on those lines. But a conscious decision is involved to move away from the universality of the benefits which has proved of little value to those receiving benefits and on to a basis of selectivity that would perhaps lead to the elimination of payment of death grant or maternity grant to a sizeable number of people. Selectivity would turn attention on to those who are really in need and would enable the Government to increase benefits to amounts more in line with those required in 1980.

I am calling for nothing less than a fresh approach. The House would take a small step in the wrong direction if it decided on a move from £30 to £45 in death grant and from £25 to £40 in maternity grant. It would be far better to give those in need some real hope of amounts which will truly relieve the great burden and pressure of poverty that continues to rest upon their shoulders.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) went to the nub of the different philosophies that exist between the two sides of the House on social security and social security benefits. The hon. Gentleman argued for the discriminatory assessment and for the means test. We on the Opposition side argue in favour of universal benefits. The reason is not that we are more blatant, more spendthrift, or more rash with the public purse. We believe that, if equity is to be achieved in the payment of benefits and if too many people are not to fall through the holes in the safety net to which those who speak of discriminatory payments refer, there is a need for universal benefits.

The take-up level of benefits which are optional, discretionary, or have to be singly or separately applied for, falls far below what anyone would consider to be reasonable or acceptable. One needs only to examine family income supplement to know that this is the case. The nature of some of those benefits is as vicious a form of taxation as one is ever likely to see.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar. The Government have accepted in some small degree the question of universality of payment of benefit with regard to maternity grant. It would be churlish if I did not acknowledge the fact that the Government have on this occasion accepted the universal principle. I do not hand out compliments lightly. I introduced a Bill on maternity grant last November. It sought to deal with other matters as well. It would be wrong for me not to acknowledge that the hon. Lady, the Under-Secretary of State, has kept her undertaking she gave when she said:
"However, on this one specific issue I have every sympathy with the case put forward today. The implications of it need to be studied and I assure right hon. and hon. Members that we shall give careful consideration to the proposition that the grant be made non-contributory ".—[Official Report, 23 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 812.]
The hon. Lady has done that. I must acknowledge that fact.

As so often happens in the House, my hon. Friend is no doubt coming to the point that I wish to raise. While the Government have conceded what he has described in response to an amendment proposed by one of their own hon. Members, my hon. Friend will recognise that it is not to come into force until 1983. The cost of a new clause that the Government accepted is about £1 million or £1½ million. That is a small sum in relation to social security payments. The Government have put off the day of implementation. We are keen to see this year's date both in the maternity grant amendment and in the new clause on the death grant.

My right hon. Friend has forestalled what I intended to say. If one accepts the point about universality, one accepts that in the past the Labour Government—it was contained in the manifesto—and the present Government recognise the problem faced by those women who are not covered at present by the Act. I should like to deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar. It is no good talking about jam tomorrow for people who need benefit today. There is no means of which I am aware of prolonging a pregnancy for two or three years once it has started in order to get the rather mean benefit that the Government are giving.

There would have been a degree of sense and graciousness if the Government, having accepted the principle, had been prepared to put it into operation at once. This is the point of my right hon. Friend's proposal that it should come into operation this year. All these people, the girl under 16, the girl married to a student, the unmarried mother, the wife of an immigrant, and the wife of a long-term prisoner, will be faced with this problem for at least three years if the Govern-merit's position remains unchanged. I congratulate the Government on giving way on the principle. But they have ruined their position.

4.45, pm

Referring to my Bill, it is important to see how little the granting of universality has achieved. We were looking not only at the question of universality to help women when most in need but also at a positive and real upgrading of the benefit. Last November, we estimated a figure of £85. My colleagues, in their amendment, have stipulated the very modest sum of £40. I understand that the intention is to try to achieve parity with the death grant. I support the increase in the death grant, although I regard the sum suggested as far too modest.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar said that it would be better for people to wait longer. But people need the money now. The expense is incurred now. Expense occurs at the time of the confinement. There is no point in suggesting that a committee should examine the matter, all its possibilities and all its ramifications. There has been mention of the report on funeral costs, based on figures six years too late. The majority of children and their mothers need the benefit at the time of birth. We looked for a reasonable and decent uprating. Although a figure of £40 has been pro- posed, whereas I would have put forward a figure of £85 or £100, as representing a decent maternity grant, I believe that the Government should respond.

There is also a lack of acceptance by the Government of the need to index. All benefits should be indexed. That principle, above all others, is under attack, as we read in the press every day. The Prime Minister refused to come clean when she replied to a question about it from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We must wait until Budget day to know whether various benefits will be indexed or de-indexed. We know that this benefit, more than any other, needs to be indexed.

My hon. Friend referred to well-founded speculation about future Government policy. He said, rightly, that all would be revealed on Budget day. Is my hon. Friend aware that later tonight we shall be discussing and voting against the de-indexing of benefits? Pensioners' benefits will be de-indexed because the earnings factor is to be removed from their uprating.

I am aware of that. Because I have been ill I have been unable to take part in previous proceedings on the Bill. In deference to my colleagues I do not wish to steal their thunder, as many of my hon. Friends will have broadsides to level at the Government about de-indexing.

Indexing of maternity benefit is essential. The Government have missed a magnificent opportunity to link maternity grants with their attitude to and their philosophy on and awareness of perinatal deaths and ante-natal care. It is essential to ensure that women are examined once they become pregnant. We must encourage them to visit clinics early in their pregnancy. We must encourage them to take the necessary exercise and medicine to ensure that their children are born as safely as possible. That opportunity has gone by the board. We could have taken the example of France, where care is taken to ensure that expectant mothers receive proper treatment and that their new babies are well cared for. All that care is knitted together with the payment of maternity grants and benefits.

The Government may take credit for the fact that in times of hardship and economic stringency they are prepared to grant the principle, albeit not for three years. We should not lose sight of the importance of the argument which applied from the initiation of the maternity grant, namely, that it should be a means towards achieving healthy mothers and healthy children. The Government have missed that opportunity. The credit that they hoped to receive for accepting the principle will be lost and gone for ever.

Birth and death are the most important events in anybody's life. Nobody can judge, allow for, or gain from, birth or death. We do not know to whom we shall be born, and we do not know when we shall die. There is a duty upon society to ensure that people come into the world and depart from it decently. We could ensure that degree of decency by supporting the new clause and amendment No. 15.

We are debating a serious problem. Hon. Members who represent constituencies with large numbers of elderly people have daily experience of the distress and the fear of what death means to them, especally the cost of burying their loved ones.

Quite recently I opened an old people's home. One old couple said to me "This is Heaven. It is a wonderful home. Our only worry is that, having been married for 55 years, one of us will die first and the other will have to spend all our savings on burying the loved one." I was struck by the sincerity of that argument.

I shall not support the new clause because it does not deal with the matter in the proper manner. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) made clear, to raise the death grant by £10 will not do the job at all. It will raise false hopes. Those who are anxious now will not be any less anxious because they have been given an additional £10.

I hope to add my voice to the debate in a few minutes. I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that the first increase is a modest one, but does he not agree that even £15 will be of some help in the difficulties faced by pregnant women? If they are forced to wait, in the way that he and his hon. Friends suggest, the moment of their pregnancy will have passed and they will never receive the extra benefit.

I was dealing with the death grant, not with the maternity grant. With all respect to the hon. Lady, it is not the same matter. The case that I was developing was that elderly couples, married for more than 50 years, were not worried about dying—some of them welcomed the fact that they would die—but were more worried about what would happen to those whom they left behind and who would have to live in poverty because they had spent their savings on burying their loved ones.

I shall not support the new clause because it does not go far enough. I expect my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give the House a definite assurance that this matter will not be put aside year after year. Few people actually need the death grant to the extent that I have expressed. They need the assurance that it is available if it is necessary. I agree with the idea of a means test. The public would agree that death duties should be increased and that a means test should be applied. The cost of burying a loved one is about £150. Could the Chancellor be given a hint that many of the deceased's relatives would not miss £150 if it were taken off the amount that they were to receive as beneficiaries? Why not organise a system whereby those who died with a reasonable estate had the £150 deducted from it before it passed to the beneficiaries? That sum could be transferred to a fund and be used to help those who could not afford to bury their loved ones. The Government would not then be able to say that they could not afford to pay the benefits.

I hope that my hon. Friend will give the House an assurance that the Government will make a serious effort to deal with the matter.

5 pm

I rise to support new clause 1 and amendment No. 15. We are in major difficulties with the death grant and the maternity grants. No Governments have raised them since 1967 and 1969 respectively, and it is never the right time to raise them. We are in danger of that position continuing year after year.

I am certain that every hon. Member on the Labour Benches would like to see much bigger increases than the ones now proposed. In Committee we tried to get substantial increases in both these grants. We tried to see that both were at least restored to their values of 1967 and 1969 in real terms. At that stage we heard from the Government that they just could not afford it. Therefore, we have gone for very much more modest proposals in these amendments on the basis that, if we increase them by a little each time we have the opportunity, we can get round the major argument that the cost is too great.

Will not the hon. Member concede that in his suggesting that a litle should be put on each benefit history is not on his side? Would not successive Governments see that as a reason for doing nothing more? There is a perfect precedent in that nothing has been done since 1967.

Nothing has been done and both grants have lost their value. Had each Government since 1967 put a few pounds on the grants each year in the Budget, the present Government would not be faced with such a daunting task to restore the value. Having failed in Committee to convince the Government that they should restore the value in one go, we are trying the gradual approach.

Rather than adding a little on here and there, would it not be preferable for us to determine a proper and appropriate level for both of these benefits and then index-link them?

Of course that would be a much better approach. That is what we tried in Committee, but we got nowhere. The Government said that it was impossible because of the amount of money involved. If we cannot persuade them to go along with that approach, we must try to persuade them to go along with the gradual approach, which is to put a little bit on each time.

What are the consequences if we do not do this? Because these benefits have not been increased for 11 and 13 years, increasingly the cost is in administering them, rather than actually paying money to those who need it. One of the problems of means testing these benefits is that once again the cost of administration would take up almost as much money as the benefit. We are getting to the stage where administration of the death grant appears to be costing almost half of the amount of money paid out in grants. The maternity grant may not cost quite so much to administer