House Of Commons
Wednesday 2 April 1980
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
British Railways (Castlefield) Bill
Read the Third time and passed.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take further action to reduce unemployment in Scotland.
Our first priority is to reduce inflation and establish a sound economy in which industry will be encouraged to expand and to create secure jobs. The measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 26 March will make a further contribution to this objetcive.
In the light of the deterioration since the Government's first Budget, with the dramatic drop in the rise in the number of people in employment, the increase in the long-term unemployed and the decrease in the number of vacancies, is there anything in the Budget to which the Minister can specifically allude that will benefit Scotland?
I understand that the hon. Gentleman taught economics before coming to the House. He will therefore know that the difficulties experienced in Scotland at the moment in employment are a direct result of the policies of the previous Labour Government 18 months or 2 years ago.On the particular points that the hon. Gentleman makes, there are many items in the Budget that will be helpful towards creating new jobs in Scotland. Tax changes and incentives to invest and the way that these have been accepted by industry mean that the Budget is a good omen for the future.
Will the Minister accept that his reply to the hon. Gentleman was one of the best pieces of party political codswallop for a long time? In view of the fact that unemployment is increasing in Scotland startlingly and that Scotland will not receive any share of oil resources lying off the coast in terms of budgetary revenue, will the Minister say how the Government intend to reduce unemployment in Scotland? Will he give a simple answer—how?
Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is enjoying the benefits of North Sea oil. About 60,000 to 70,000 jobs in Scotland are a direct result of North Sea oil. Jobs are still being lost in Scotland as a result of the previous Government's indiscriminate support for industry without regard to viability. The hon. Gentleman should know that in his area of Dundee and elsewhere new jobs are being created as industry expands with the incentives provided in the Budget.
Since the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) asked my hon. Friend to point to one thing in the Budget that would help cut unemployment in Scotland, will my hon. Friend remind him that there were no fewer than 15 proposals to help small businesses in Scotland? These could make a massive contribution to cutting unemployment in Scotland. If he wanted another, what about the enterprise zone in Clydeside?
My hon. Friend is correct. The Budget is the most remarkable and the best in many years for small businesses and investment.
Order. I shall call one further hon. Member from either side before the Front Bench, but we shall have to move quicker afterwards.
Did the Minister check, before answering that question, the speech made yesterday by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, one of the most gloom-laden speeches this House has ever experienced? Is the hon. Gentleman saying to the people of Scotland, as a result of the Budget, that there will be almost ¼ million unemployed in Scotland as a consequence of his Government's policy? Is that what he is telling the people of Scotland?
We are telling the people of Scotland that our first priority is to reduce the rate of inflation without which there can be no prospect for jobs in Scotland or anywhere else.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that few things could be more damaging to the prospects for employment in Scotland than the serious threat of a Scottish Assembly with economic interventionist powers as proposed at the last Scottish Labour Party conference? Is it not just as well that wild-eyed, bearded fanatics who dominated that conference have no influence with either the Shadow Cabinet or the Parliamentary Labour Party?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Gentleman to whom he referred is equally lacking in influence in this place.
Why is the right hon. Gentleman so complacent about unemployment? Why does he not answer the question about the projected rise in unemployment for next year? Is it not now inevitable, given the current rate of inflation and the Government's disastrous economic policies, that by this time next year we shall have no fewer than 250,000 unemployed in Scotland? That will take us back to the conditions which obtained in the 1930s.
We have never shirked the fact that unemployment in Scotland is at present on a rising trend. None of us knows what figures might be reached before economic circumstances improve. But the right hon. Gentleman will know that when his party took office unemployment stood at half the level it had reached when his party left office. We are starting with the high level we inherited and we intend to reduce that level over the next few years.
Order. I hesitate to say it, but Scots questions are getting as long as Welsh questions.
Civil Servants (Location)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many civil servants employed by the Scottish Office are based in Edinburgh.
The number of civil servants employed by the Scottish Office, including the prison service, who are based in Edinburgh was 5,784 at 1 March 1980.
Does the Secretary of State accept that that figure combined with the figure for other Departments highlights the importance of the Civil Service as an employer in Edinburgh? Does the right hon. Gentleman further accept that the Government's cutbacks mean that there will be precious few jobs in the Civil Service for Edinburgh school leavers this year? Does he accept that that fact, combined with the fact that unemployment in Edinburgh is above the national average, is ample justification for a reconsideration of the Government's decision to downgrade Edinburgh's development area status?
The hon. Gentleman is right in pointing to the importance of the Civil Service as an employer in Edinburgh. I might add that the Scottish Office and those employed there do an extremely good job and deserve credit for that.It is, happily, the case that of the 9,500 unemployed school leavers in Scotland only 360 are in Edinburgh. However, there is no denying the fact that if Civil Service staff has to be reduced there will be fewer opportunities for new jobs. We hope to see those young people getting new jobs in other industries, particularly in the new small businesses which will be created as a result of the Budget.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether those figures represent a decrease on the figure for the corresponding period last year?
These figures represent a decrease on the figure for the same period last year. It has been difficult to achieve that, but it is necessary because the country cannot afford to carry the number of civil servants that we would like.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement about the effects of the Budget on Scotland.
The Budget strategy, notably the specific measures to stimulate investment such as those relating to small firms, will be particularly useful in solving the problems of Scotland's economy.
How many thousands of jobs will be lost in Scotland as a result of the £400 million cut in public expenditure in Scotland? In view of the fact that these cuts will mean a decrease in essential services such as housing and education, a decrease in the number of jobs in both the public and private sector and a massive increase in rents and rates, does not the Secretary of State realise that the Budget spells absolute disaster for Scotland?
The greatest disaster for Scotland would be for inflation to get completely out of control as it was well on the way to being under the previous Government. There is no doubt that when public spending has to be reduced there is, in the short term, a reduction in employment. The hon. Gentleman should have thought of that when he was supporting the previous Government and allowing public expenditure to get right out of control.
What proposals has my right hon. Friend, and what action is he taking, to ensure that Scotland will benefit from the proposals for enterprise zones announced in the Budget?
As my hon. Friend may have noticed, two of the suggested sites are in Scotland. I am speedily consulting the local authorities concerned so that we may come to a decision as to which site will be the preferred one for Scotland. I am certain that it will be of great benefit.
How can the Secretary of State talk about encouraging investment in Scotland when high interest rates are having a savage effect on private investment and when the public expenditure White Paper, in relation to housing, envisages that at the end of the period covered by the White Paper housing investment in Scotland will be less than 50 per cent. of the target projected by the Labour Government? That will have serious consequences not only for those looking for homes in Scotland but also for the construction industry.
The right hon. Gentleman must take his own responsibility for that. The high interest rates, as he well knows, are not the desired policy of the Government. They are the result of inflation and public expenditure being allowed to get out of control. If the right hon. Gentleman had thought of these matters two years ago when he was making disastrous public expenditure decisions we would not be in this state now.
General Teaching Council
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairman of the General Teaching Council.
My right hon. Friend and I have at present no plans for a meeting with the chairman of the General Teaching Council.
I wonder if the Secretary of State, or the Under-Secretary, would consider having a meeting with the chairman of the General Teaching Council to explain to him that the future of the colleges of education is not just a matter of the numbers of teachers in training but also of the other courses the colleges now offer and the valuable service that they give to the communities in which they are situated? May I have a categorical assurance from the Secretary of State that because Craigie college is fulfilling these criteria there is no intention to close it?
My right hon. Friend and I do not require to meet the chairman of the GTC to learn of the services that are provided by the colleges in Scotland. Craigie college, in line with other colleges, has been serving Scotland well over the years. However, we must bear in mind that the drastic reduction in the number of pupils will have some effect on the future of the colleges.
Does my hon. Friend agree that his right hon. Friend's record in saving educational colleges in Scotland is second to none and that he does not require a lesson from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) on this matter?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct and most helpful.
If the record of the Secretary of State has been so good in the past, may we have an assurance that he will do everything possible to maintain that record and that none of the 10 colleges of education will be closed? Can we also have an assurance that the Under-Secretary will keep his word that if there are proposals for changes in the colleges of education he will publish a discussion document in advance of those changes?
There were half a dozen points in that question. In response I can only say that the Government Front Bench will be united on the future of the colleges unlike the Labour Party.
When the right hon. Gentleman does meet the chairman of the General Teaching Council will he remind him that the GTC has no right under statute to recommend closure of any college of education in Scotland? Will the right hon. Gentleman also remember that, in addition to the number of children entering schools, he should consider geographical and community needs before deciding to close any college in Scotland?
We will certainly consider the geographical location of the colleges as the hon. Gentleman would expect us to do. The GTC has every right to give advice when one considers that advice has been accepted on this matter by both parties, when in government, during the past few years.
National Farmers Union
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he will next meet the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he will meet the President of the National Farmers Union of Scotland.
I have met the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland on a number of occasions since taking office and I shall be arranging another meeting with him shortly.
When my right hon. Friend next meets the president of the NFU will he discuss with him the disturbing fall in the size of the national dairy herd particularly in the north of Scotland Milk Marketing Board area? Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government, who still retain control over the retail price of liquid milk, will accept their obligations to producers as well as to consumers? Will he take whatever political decisions are necessary to protect the incomes of our dairy farmers?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have increased the retail price of milk by 22 per cent. since last summer but we must be careful that such increases do not reduce the uptake of the product. As my hon. Friend also knows, we have received a report on the position of producers and consumers and we are examining it carefully.
Is it the intention of the Secretary of State to react to the NFU proposals for the Highlands? If so, will he say when he might do so?
We are evaluating the points made by the NFU on this matter. It will be one of the subjects raised the next time I meet the president of the Scottish National Farmers Union.
When next the Secretary of State meets the president of the NFU will he discuss the structural problems of agriculture in Scotland where the larger farms are continuing to expand? Is he aware that they are squeezing out the smaller farms and thereby doing away with the bottom rung of the farming ladder? Is he aware that that means that young people and farm workers find it difficult to make a start on their own account?
The problem of openings for young people in farming is a cause of anxiety in the NFU. I have discussed that problem with the NFU and shall be doing so again. This is a difficult period for everyone involved in farming, but in the past year we have managed to make no less than three devaluations in the green pound, two increases in the milk price and a substantial addition to hill subsidies. That is not at all bad at a time of great economic difficulty.
If the Secretary of State is interested in increasing the consumption of liquid milk in Scotland should he not announce an initiative which will enable all regional education authorities in Scotland to take advantage of the Common Market scheme under which four-fifths of the cost of providing free school milk can be funded out of European funds?
That suggestion is made from time to time. I am not aware that there is any inhibition which prevents local education authorities from taking part in the scheme if they want to.
When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of the National Farmers Union will he discuss the serious situation which is arising in the agriculture industry, particularly in the smaller farms, where labour is being laid off because of the sharp fall in the price of their products?
I am well aware of the position. The annual discussions on the price-fixing arrangements as part of the common agriculture policy are in train. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of State, Scottish Office are aware of the problems and are bearing them in mind in the discussions.
North Of Scotland Hydro Electric Board
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he intends to meet the chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board.
My right hon. Friend and I have no immediate plans for a further meeting with the chairman of the board.
Has my hon. Friend had a meeting with the board in order to discuss the proposed surcharge on consumers using electricity on those islands where electricity is generated by diesel? Will he consider asking for a consultation with the chairman of the board in order to tell him that the board's decision is unfair to the small islands which are being hit in that way? Will he ask the chairman to revert to his previous policy of uniform charging for all consumers in the Highlands and Islands?
We have not had a meeting with the chairman of the board on that subject. However, representations have been made from the electricity con- sultative council for the North of Scotland District among others. My right hon. Friend is considering the representations before deciding whether action should be taken.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the surcharge on diesel generation was rightly regarded as iniquitous and was abolished in 1965? Is he aware that the policy contradicts the social remit written into the board's constitution? May we have an assurance that the Scottish Office will fight the board's suggestion?
My right hon. Friend is considering the representations. We are aware of the strength of feeling and we shall try to reach an early conclusion on the issue.
Will the Minister be more categorical? Will he respond to his hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) and say directly that he believes that the hydroboard has made a wrong decision and that the Government will take action to reverse it.
It would not be helpful to any statutory action that my right hon. Friend might decide to take if I were to reply in the terms suggested.
Educational Institute Of Scotland
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans to meet the Educational Institute of Scotland.
I had a useful meeting with representatives of the institute on 26 February. There are at present no plans for a further meeting.
When my hon. Friend meets the Educational Institute of Scotland again will he discuss the mediumterm requirements for teachers in Scotland? I accept that school rolls are falling, but does my hon. Friend accept that the birth rate in Scotland is rising? Will he assure the House that he will make provision for that?
Yes, we shall certainly make provision for the rise in the birth rate in our calculations about pupil numbers. Teacher staffing is constantly referred to by the EIS which realises that the present level of staffing, whether or not it accepts it, is in excess of the Red Book standards.
When the Minister next meets the institute will he discuss the possibility of increasing the block grant for education to the Strathclyde regional council? Will he bear in mind that many of the schools in that area are being axed because of Government policy? Is he aware of two such schools in my area which are urgently required?
Schools are closing because of the decline in pupil numbers. It is not true to suggest that schools are being closed because of the Government's financial decisions.
I congratulate the Minister on the bold initiative that he took this week on Munn and Dunning. Can he tell the EIS when he anticipates that the proposals that he has made will be fully implemented?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We announced a three-year development programme this week. It is expected that the first assessments will be made in 1984 and the syllabuses will be prepared on the basis of Munn and Dunning. Thereafter, the full programme should be available to all schools in Scotland.
In view of the EIS's opposition to the Government's proposals to spend public money on private fee-paying schools, what response has the Minister had to his discusssion document on the assisted places scheme? Is it not fair to tell parents now that even if that half-baked scheme gets off the ground, there is no chance at all of it continuing after the next general election because the incoming Labour Government will abolish it right away?
The half-baked scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers has been operated in various forms in Scotland for many years under both parties. I expect it to continue for many years to come, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Will the Minister undertake not to apply the staffing standards in schools too rigidly at a time of falling school levels? Is he aware that in a secondary school in my constituency the slight expected drop in intake in August could lead to a reduction in staff of three? Is he aware that that makes the organisation of a school extremely difficult? Will he be generous in his approach to the financing of local authorities?
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. The diseconomies of scale apply when pupil numbers are declining. My right hon. Friend made allowance for that in the recent rate support grant figures.
Is the Minister aware that his lack of knowledge of the brief for which he is responsible is causing serious concern among educationists in Scotland? Is he aware that the meeting with the EIS to which he referred was regarded by the EIS as unsatisfactory? When does the Minister propose to meet the EIS to explain how he proposes to reduce the number of teachers in Scotland by the 7,600 referred to by the Secretary of State?
The hon. Gentleman always spoils his case by gross exaggeration. He should know, as I do, that if the EIS is dissatisfied with any meeting that it has with me it will tell me and not ask the hon. Gentleman to do it.
Lord Provost Of Edinburgh
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he proposes to meet the Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.
In view of Edinburgh district council's abysmal house building record, will the Minister give a special award to the Lord Provost for his consistent approach to Tory Party policy? What advice has the Minister to give to the many thousands of people on the housing waiting lists who have no opportunity of a house in the near future?
I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's allegation. Edinburgh has a fine record under successive Conservative housing chairmen in providing for the housing needs of the community, as I know as a constituency Member from that city. The Secretary of State has in- creased the resources available to Edinburgh on the non-housing revenue account to allow young couples to have greater access to loans to purchase or improve their homes.
When my hon. Friend meets the Lord Provost will he discuss the possibility of protecting the hard hit ratepayers of the city of Edinburgh by restoring it to an all-purpose authority?
It is significant that Edinburgh's proposed rate increase is only 18 per cent. compared with the over 42 per cent. proposed by the Lothian region. The Stodart committee is examining the future of local government and it is able to make any recommendations that are consistent with the viability of existing local authorities.
With his knowledge of planning law will the Minister tell the chairman of any district or regional councils how the Government's half-baked proposals for enterprise zones will affect existing industry, particularly small businesses in the Dunfermline district?
It is unlikely that there will be an enterprise zone in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, it has been widely accepted that the sort of areas likely to be chosen for enterprise zones will have little prospect of encouraging industry without the kind of incentives the enterprise zone concept will provide.
Human Tissue Transplants
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if, pursuant to his statement, Official Report, 5 March 1980, column 464, he will make a statement outlining what specific action he has taken to encourage the possibility of a wide debate on recent court decisions involving the admissibility of evidence in relation to computers and opting-out schemes for kidney transplants.
I shall be glad to welcome any debate on these matters whether in this House or elsewhere; but I am not convinced that recent surveys show much support for the hon. Gentleman's proposal that individuals wishing to "opt out" of having organs removed from their bodies after death should have their wishes recorded on a central computer.
Is that a parliamentary way of saying that the hon. Gentleman has done nothing?
No, it is not. It is the normal way of pointing out to an hon. Member that hardly a day goes by without this whole subject of transplants and organ removals being in the national newspapers. The Leader of the House is well aware of the number of subjects for which debates are requested and takes them all into consideration.
Is there not genuine concern about the fact that many organs that could be used are lost because of that critical margin of time for decision, which concerns the deceased and the relatives?In view of what he said, is it not proper for the Under-Secretary of State to want to do all that he can to try to promote further discussion?
I am trying to promote further discussion, and the hon. Gentleman knows that we are fortunate in Scotland in that we have a higher realisation of the kidney donor scheme than in other parts of the United Kingdom as a result of the work done by my Department.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the co-ordination of the promotion of tourism in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.
In my view, there is need to improve the co-ordination of tourism promotion and tourist information services in Scotland. This must be achieved primarily by co-operation between the Scottish Tourist Board, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the local authorities. These agencies and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities are considering now what measures they should take to work more closely together in this field, and I expect to hear shortly the views of the Tourist Board and the Convention about action which might be taken by the Government to assist them in this objective.
Will my right hon. Friend discuss with regional councils the important role that they should be playing in these matters which they do not always do? Will he further ensure that there is more co-ordination at local level between all the interested parties, not least the trade itself?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I expect that the views of COSLA will show that it considers that regional councils need to do more. I hope that more co-operation at local level can be achieved. I am sure that the chairman of the Tourist Board is well aware of that.
Will the Secretary of State not be too diverted, because of this tinkering with the institutions that is being suggested to him, and recognise the value of tourism in generating jobs? Will he ensure that those institutions are given the resources to maximise the benefits of tourism for Scotland?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we do not want a prolonged period of uncertainty during which all the institutions are under the microscope, but it is timely to look at the co-ordination between the various bodies, and that is what is happening under the new chairman.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is a considerable architectural heritage in the West of Scotland that is now being increasingly appreciated by tourists? Will he ensure that this is fully taken on board in any discussions he has?
I agree with my hon. Friend's view and I will make sure that the chairman of the Tourist Board bears that in mind.
British Broadcasting Corporation Education Service
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he intends to meet the Broadcasting Council for Scotland to discuss the British Broadcasting Corporation Education Service.
I have no plans at present to discuss this matter with the Council.
When the Minister meets the Broadcasting Council, will he discuss the serious effect on Scottish education that the proposal to eliminate the broadcasting service will have, particularly in rural areas? We welcome his statement today that he has asked the BBC to reconsider, but that is not good enough. The service is used by the education authorities in Scotland. Therefore will the Minister now announce a grant to the BBC from the Scottish Education Department so that the services can be continued?
My right hon. Friend has already tabled a reply to a parliamentary question regarding the granting of funds to the BBC. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware that this is very much a matter for the BBC and I regret that its assessment of its priorities should have this result.
When he next meets the council, will my hon. Friend give some attention to the growing concern in Scotland about the way in which the BBC spends the finances it has? Radio Scotland leaves much to be desired and some of these funds would be better channelled towards the education service.
I can only repeat that I hope these views are being expressed strongly to the BBC.
Cannot the Minister for Education give an explanation to the House as to why he has not sought a meeting with the BBC on educational programmes? Is it that he has no interest in the subject of education? Would it not be disastrous for Scottish school children if they receive their learning partly through programmes which are brought from England and have no respect for Scotland's traditional interests, language and literature?
Both my right hon. Friend and I have had separate meetings with the BBC on these matters.
Are we to take it from the Minister's first reply that in his view the BBC's priorities are wrong and that he would like the Scottish Schools Broadcasting Service to be saved at the expense of something else? If so, would he say what that something else is? Does he not agree that it is useless to say that the BBC will reconsider unless one is prepared to give the Corporation the wherewithal to do it?
I am saying that this is essentially a matter for the BBC and my right hon. Friend has no basis on which he can intervene. As regards the BBC's priorities I am making it as clear as I can that I should have thought that there are other areas where savings might have been made before educational broadcasting and the orchestra became involved.
When my hon. Friend meets the Council will he draw to its attention not only the miserably low figures for Radio Scotland but also the fact that the staff levels of BBC Scotland have been increased by 35 per cent. in the past seven years? Would not both these areas be better suited to cuts than the education service or the Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Judging by the correspondence columns of the Scotsman over the past year many suggestions were made as to where the BBC in Scotland might make savings before this item was talked about. Now that these matters are under consideration as proposed cuts, it is obvious that the majority opinion in Scotland would like educational broadcasting and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra to be saved.
Is not the Minister aware that these cuts in school broadcasting will be an absolute disgrace? The Secretary of State is the custodian of Scottish education and he cannot simply wring his hands and say how unfortunate all this is. We want some practical help from the Government. They have the power to give some financial assistance and the sums involved as regards school broadcasting are small. We want some initiative from the Government and so far we have had nothing from them.
It is essentially a matter for the BBC, but the crisis would not have arisen if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had raised the BBC licence fee earlier, when he was in office.
Children In Care (Injuries)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many children who were under the care and supervision of social work departments suffered non-accidental injuries in 1979.
This information is not available centrally.
I am disappointed with that answer. Does not my hon. Friend acknowledge that there is growing public concern at the number of cases of children who have suffered abuse whilst under the care and supervision of social work departments? Further, will he discuss with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the requests that have been made for an inquiry into the circumstances leading up to the deaths of Tracy O'Day, Angela Burns and Mandy McGibbon?
There are a number of questions involved here. However, my right hon. Friend is at present considering the three cases referred to by my hon. Friend and will come to a decision in due course. As regards the general question of the worries that my right hon. Friend and I have about such cases, I remind my hon. Friend that the Leader of the House has also indicated that the Government are considering the training of social workers in this area and will be reporting when we hope to take some action.
Will not the hon. Gentleman slap down more vigorously the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) for seeking cheap publicity over circumstances that cause enormous distress to the innocent parties involved, such as friends, relatives, and indeed, social workers? Will he make it quite clear that he supports the idea that no social department can solve all the individual problems of society?
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) is doing what he is doing in the best interests of social work in Scotland. I shall certainly consider what the hon. Gentleman said and take the necessary action.
Does the Minister recognise that, despite all the concern that has been expressed, the meagre additional provision for this area of activity in the public expenditure White Paper, and with inflation at its present rate, means that there will inevitably be a cutback in the level of services which are provided at present? Therefore, the concern which is now being expressed is likely to increase in the future.
I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. He knows perfectly well that in the figures for next year we have allowed for a growth in social work.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on question No. 14, and in particular on the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). You will recall that during his supplementary question, he referred to the Tracy O'Day case. Unfortunately she was murdered. Her family live in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman gave me no notification that he intended to raise one of my constituency cases. Is it still a custom of the House that when an hon. Member intends to refer to another hon. Member's constituency—particularly on such a sensitive subject—he adopts the normal courtesy of advising the other hon. Member concerned?
I remind the House that we survive by observing our courtesies, one to another. If an hon. Member wishes to refer to another hon. Member's constituency, it is courteous to let him know. I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to know that. I remind the House that I am caused difficulty from time to time because hon. Members have asked questions which appear on the Order Paper about other hon. Members' constituencies. Obviously, I am unaware that they concern other hon. Members' constituencies. I hope that courtesies will be observed.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I have no intention of abusing the conventions of the House. Indeed, I always hope to emulate your splendid example, Mr. Speaker. I only wish that many other hon. Members would do so.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, not for the kind words about me, but because some hon. Members are unaware of some of our unwritten courtesies and conventions. They mean as much as our Standing Orders.
Scottish Cbi And Scottish Tuc
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he intends to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
My right hon. Friend and I have met representatives of the STUC several times since taking office and have made it clear that we are prepared to meet them at any time they wish.
When the Secretary of State next meets the STUC, will he explain why the Government, committed as they are to massive reductions in public expenditure, can under the Tenant's Rights Etc. (Scotland) Bill allocate an additional £1 million for rent allowances? Is he not aware that that money, plus the estimated £1·5 million in extra social security payments, will go straight into the pockets of private landlords at a time when the Government are cutting essential services in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman could have made his question a little more specific. If he has a particular example in mind of something in the Bill which he thinks will not work properly, he should address a more specific question to me.
Will my hon. Friend ask the STUC to explain how on earth the proposed day of inaction on 14 May will do anything to help promote productivity or prosperity of the sort which Scotland needs?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. It is a senseless action in which to participate, particularly at a time when hon. Members of both sides of the House are concerned about the future prospects of the Scottish economy. It is also very damaging to schoolchildren, whose history examinations are being brought forward by three weeks just to meet this ridiculous protest by the unions in Scotland.
When the Minister next meets the STUC, will he discuss the unemployment situation and at the same time give an assurance that there will be no selling of public assets in the new towns in Scotland?
One invariably discusses unemployment when one meets the STUC. The selling of public assets in the new towns is obviously in the best interests of the growth and development of those new towns, and we are actively encouraging the new towns to go on doing that.
In the light of recent experience, does my hon. Friend agree that the working membership of unions seem to have a better appreciation of the economic facts of life than their leaderships? In that context, will he commend to the leaders of the STUC the provisions for secret ballots which are contained in the Employment Bill?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is obvious that, had there been a secret ballot in the steel industry a couple of months ago, that strike would have been resolved within a matter of weeks rather than months.
Is the Minister seriously pretending that a secret ballot in the steel industry two or three months ago would have voted in favour of a 2 per cent. increase? Surely even he appreciates that that would not have happened. As to the day of action, how on earth can the Minister pretend that a Government who steal two weeks pension increase from old-age pensioners, cut educational provision and cause the loss of 200 to 300 jobs each day, can expect trade unionists to stand back and do nothing about it?
Yet again, the hon. Gentleman exaggerates his point. It is difficult to know what particular point he was addressing to me. Therefore, there is nothing that I can say to him.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now raise the level of grant and loan for crofter housing.
I have nothing to add to my reply to the right hon. Member on 8 November.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that is a disappointing reply in view of the increase in costs since the sum was previously raised? Is he also aware that his noble Friend the Minister of State has turned down two applications from constituents of mine on the grounds that they are unmarried? Will he inform his noble Friend that it is no part of his business to act as a marriage guidance counsellor for the Western Isles, and will he ensure that those applications are approved forthwith?
I am always anxious to be as helpful as I can to crofters. I would have thought that the present scheme is very helpful, as the interest rate on any loans is 31½ per cent. That will open the eyes of house buyers in other places. A crofter who is building a new house can get a grant of £4,000 and a loan of up to £5,500 at the lower rate of interest. I should have thought that that was pretty generous help.
Strathclyde Region (Job Loss)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has to deal with the continuing job loss in the Strathclyde region.
Our policies aim to create the soundly based economy in which industry can expand in Strathclyde as elsewhere. The changes we have made in regional policy are designed to concentrate support upon areas of most need, including West Central Scotland whose problems are recognised by our decision to extend the special development area. We have announced our intention of creating an enterprise zone on Clydeside and we will continue to encourage by all possible means the development of viable enterprises providing secure employment within the region.
I understand from the Minister that there is a degree of urgency with regard to his talks on the enterprise zone. When will he be able to make an announcement about the location? Can he also say when we shall have further details about the relaxation of normal planning regulations and other changes, and also whether any discussion document or Green Paper will be issued? Does he further accept that, whatever may be the potential in the enterprise zone, the job creation prospects are very small—a drop in the bucket—compared with the loss that will result from the Government's fiercely inflationary policies?
I hope that no one will be tempted to talk down a good, new idea just because it is new. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his constituency interests, will do everything he possibly can to encourage an enterprise zone and to make it successful. The purpose of consulting the local authorities is to get their views. However, we have given the main outline of the scheme and we hope to complete discussions within a few weeks.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that certain job losses in Strathclyde are both inevitable and desirable? In particular, does he not agree that as a result of the success of the Government's economic policy and of electoral redistribution there will be considerable job losses in Strathclyde among Labour Members of Parliament in due course, and that that will be a jolly good thing?
I am always sad to see anyone losing his job, particularly a Labour Member of Parliament, but I am sadder for some than for others.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the only job loss which is desirable is his own? Will he stop talking the economic rubbish that we have heard from him, such as growth coming to Scotland through small businesses? He knows that that is a nonsense. He knows that the Budget Papers have predicted a 1 per cent. growth over the next three years. As that is mainly in oil, does it not mean a lack of growth in every aspect of Scottish industry and a consequent job loss? Will he cut out the nonsense?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman's last point is the very problem which we, and the previous Government, have wrestled with for years. I am sorry and surprised that the hon. Gentleman has cast aspersions on the role of small businesses, especially as they provide more than one-third of the jobs in Scotland. We are in no position to turn our noses up at that, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do all that he can to encourage small businesses.
Will my right hon. Friend arrange a seminar within the Strathclyde region at the earliest possible date of leaders of industry, the trade unions and Scottish Labour Members of Parliament in order that they can understand the great prospects which could flow from grasping the opportunities presented by enterprise zones?
I am grateful to my lion. Friend. I have many responsibilities, but I am glad to say that one of them is not running seminars for Scottish Labour Members of Parliament.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the statement made on Budget day about enterprise zones is largely incomprehensible? So far as one can understand it, the advantages seem to be marginal. However, I understand that the Scottish Office has been unable to give any more details. Will the Secretary of State consider making a further and more detailed statement about what is involved in the enterprise zone and what the typical advantages, perhaps in money terms, would be for a company which establishes itself in that zone? There is real concern that at present there is apparently so little detail about the concept.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is a lack of detail. I shall do all I possibly can to give him the maximum information. I thought that my right hon. and learned Friend had given quite a lot of detail in his announcement. For example, incoming firms will be exempted from development land tax; they will receive relief from rates and the local authorities will be compensated for that also there will be a reduction in bureaucracy and form filling for these firms. If the right hon. Gentleman wants more information I shall do my utmost to give him as much as possible.
Will my right hon Friend take steps to encourage employment in the Grampian region so that we can take some—
Order. We have enough to do in dealing with Strathclyde now. In view of the length of questions this afternoon, I think I owe an apology to the Welsh for what I said earlier.
In view of the fact that the Secretary of State is in favour of good ideas, will he not agree that the truck produced by Stonefield Vehicles is a good idea? Will he give an assurance that he will not put any ultimatum to the Scottish Development Agency about private investment in Stonefield Vehicles in Cumnock? Will he also give an assurance that if this company requires additional finance from the SDA, and it has enough money to provide the cash—the Secretary of State has said that the SDA has more money than it knows what to do with—he will not veto the money from that source?
I am very glad that the vehicle produced by Stonefields' has had good reports from those who have tried it. I have been doing my utmost through my Department and the SDA to help to provide a viable future for the company which depends essentially on the entry of private enterprise into it. I thought that at one time the hon. Member sounded a bit doubtful about the wisdom of that, but I hope that he is now wholly converted.
Human Tissue Transplants
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if, pursuant to his answer in the Official Report, column 473, 5 March, he will remind procurators fiscal by circular that they must ensure in advance that human organs for transplant can be released if human lives are to be saved, and if permission is granted.
Circulars giving information and advice on the subject of human organs for transplant purposes were issued to procurators fiscal by the Crown Office in 1970, 1975 and 1977. In addition, the subject has been discussed informally at seminars and meetings of procurators fiscal. I am satisfied that procurators fiscal are already perfectly aware of the need to have available human organs for transplant purposes while ensuring that all due safeguards are complied with.
Even though the Solicitor-General is satisfied, does he agree that perhaps doctors have certain inhibitions because no doctor wants to become entangled with the procurator fiscal? Why not have a circular?
With great respect, I know of no case in which a doctor has been inhibited. Nor do I know any reason why any doctor should have any apprehension about the co-operation and the help of the procurator fiscal. If the hon. Member knows of any case, I hope that he will let me know about it and I will write to him.
Law Society Of Scotland
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he plans to meet the Law Society of Scotland.
I have no plans at present to meet the Law Society of Scotland.
When my hon. and learned Friend meets the Law Society of Scotland will he discuss with it whether it thinks that under the present procedure there is enough time for counsel and solicitors to prepare cases on indictment which appear before the Glasgow High Court?
The Crown Office gives as much notice as possible. Regrettably this is not always very long. I intend to prosecute Mr. Speaker next week in the Glasgow High Court and I shall see the position for myself—[Interruption.]
Order. I think that we will all treat the Solicitor-General for Scotland with greater respect now.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling the accused to order. The timing will be improved if the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill is enacted, as it provides that a trial diet in an indictment should be not less than 29 clear days after service of the indictment, and that should be ample time for preparation.
When the Minister next meets the Law Society will he discuss the allegations of Mr. David Anderson about the cover-up by the Tory establishment in Edinburgh regarding his own position as a former Member of Parliament and indeed, as Solicitor-General for Scotland?
No, I shall not discuss that matter. Any question of an inquiry is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. His predecessor the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) put certain documents in the Library. I suggest that the hon. Member consults them.
When the Solicitor-General meets the Law Society, will he discuss its announcement that a junior counsel appearing alone at the High Court in Glasgow will now get a daily fee of £140, or a fee of £90 for a waiting day during which he just drinks coffee? Will my hon. and learned Friend do what he can to introduce a system of fixed diets for High Court trials in Scotland?
I am extremely sympathetic to my hon. Friend's views. I greatly regret the waste of public money which goes on either waiting days or on late pleas by all parts of the profession. The question is which will save more money—fixed diets or fluid diets? I am anxious to do everything I can to ensure the saving of public money on these matters.
Will the Solicitor-General make definite arrangements to meet the Law Society and ask it to consider Lord Grieve's comments yesterday in the Court of Session, where he made a fairly strong critical attack on firms of lawyers who have represented both clients in a divorce case? He pointed out that although lawyers from the same company handled both clients, separate accounts were rendered. In Lord Grieve's opinion, had a joint account been rendered, it would have been much smaller. As the Law Society is responsible for fees will the Solicitor General take that report from today's edition of The Scotsman and ask the Law Society to consider the matter?
I am obliged to the hon. Member for raising that very important matter. I shall look into the particular circumstances, and raise the matter with the Law Society. I will then write to the hon. Member.
When the hon. and learned Member next meets the Law Society will he remind it that most people in Scotland now think of that society as a mutual admiration and protection society for lawyers? When will he abolish it?
I do not think that that is either a very well-informed or helpful remark. It is important that, wherever any profession falls short of its principles and standards, there should be a society to ensure that high standards are kept.
Lord Justice General
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when next he intends to meet the Lord Justice General.
I have no plans at present to meet the Lord Justice General.
Will the hon. and learned Member consider discussing with the Lord Justice General the effect of the report which is associated with that gentleman's name, and is concerned with minimum life sentences in cases of murder? Is the Solicitor-General aware that in another place this provision, which was a specific Tory Party manifesto pledge, was rudely thrown out of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill? Is it the Government's intention to seek to reinstate that provision in the Commons, and will he note that if any such retrograde step is made it will be firmly opposed?
Yes, I will be very happy to discuss this matter with the Lord Justice General. But I take the view that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) needs a rest over Easter, and if he comes back refreshed after the recess he will discover what we intend to do.
Dean Of The Faculty Of Advocates
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when next he will meet the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.
I have no plans at present to meet the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.
If my hon. and learned Friend were to make plans for such a meeting, will he confirm the Government's determination to keep the Queen's justice available to all subjects and at all times, irrespective of any sabre-rattling, militant Civil Service elements who are threatening disruptive actions in the courts?
Yes. I am glad to see from the Financial Times and other reports today that the unions concerned will not, apparently, persist in either the threat or the action. I believe that those who serve the cause of justice have a duty to that which is paramount and far above any other duty. I have said so in this House before and I say it again.
Sheriff Principal For Perth
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when next he plans to meet the Sheriff Principal for Perth.
I have no plans at present to meet the Sheriff Principal of the Sheriffdom of Tayside, Central and Fife, in which Perth lies.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. When he next meets the sheriff principal, will he consider discussing the need for a suitable uniform or apparel to be worn by sheriffs in Scotland, thus enhancing their status and, more important, the administration of the law in Scotland?
Yes. I have already discussed that question with the sheriff principal and with the sheriff of Perth. It is important that Scots sheriffs who—for an historical reason that has now disappeared—have not worn a uniform should have robes appropriate to the dignity of their office. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is essentially the "couturier" of the sheriff. When he finds sufficient funds he will, no doubt, make such dignity available.
We are one minute late in beginning questions to the Solicitor-General. I shall allow for that minute.
Scottish Law Commission
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he next expects to meet the Scottish Law Commission.
Neither I nor my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Advocate at present have any plans to meet the Scottish Law Commission, but meetings are held when and as necessary.
As we have been waiting almost a decade for the Commission's report on the law of diligence, including warrant sales, will the Solicitor- General tell the Law Commission to stop dragging its feet? Will he also tell his Government to stop instructing one of their stooges from the Whips' Office to come here Friday after Friday in order to block my Private Member's Bill to abolish warrant sales?
If it has taken as worthy, as wise and as diligent a Commission as this one 10 years to look into the law of diligence in Scotland, it is unlikely that a failed mad monk can do it on a Friday afternoon.
Council Of Europe And Western European Union (Delegations)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that I was unable to give notice of this point of order. It has arisen as a result of our inability to conclude agreements in other ways. On 3 April 1979 the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) raised a point of order about the procedure used to nominate the British parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe and to the North Atlantic Assembly. In rather graphic words he said that Front Bench Members had acted illegally for the past 28 years by using the device of a written parliamentary question in order to appear to have conveyed the will of the House to those Assemblies on the composition of any British delegation. He made that point in some detail. He said that article 25 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, quoted in full in our manual of procedure, provides that:
In every case, with the exception of this Parliament, the confirmation of that fact is given by the Speaker's signature, or that of an equivalent person, on the names and credentials of the delegates concerned. That does not apply to the delegation from this country. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will confirm my next point in a later ruling. However, I do not think that you have ever been asked to sign the credentials of the delegates. I suspect that a written parliamentary question will be tabled, if the precedent of the past 28 years is anything to go by, and that an answer will be given to that question with a speed that is normally denied to Back Bench Members. I suspect that a question will be tabled tonight and that an answer will appear tomorrow. I also suggest that that answer will not reflect any agreement between hon. Members of different parties about the composition of that delegation. The rights of Back-Bench Members in particular are very much affected by this matter. In any other matter, where the composition of a body is at stake, it appears on the Order Paper in a form to which Members can object and to which they can submit amendments. In that way hon. Members can attempt to secure that the will of the House is given effect to. At times, Back-Bench Members will find that their will is defeated in the end by the size of the Government's majority. However, at least procedures exist by which their will can be expressed. As you, Mr. Speaker, protect our rights, you can ensure that they have been protected. It appears that an attempt will be made to reduce the size of the Opposition's delegation in the Council of Europe by means of a written parliamentary question. When it appears it will be too late to do anything about it. As a result, the credentials of the delegation can be challenged in the respective assemblies. The attempt to have your name as a signatory on the list of speakers, Mr. Speaker, was an attempt to get round that difficulty. Unless the bodies to which such delegations are sent are sure that the delegation has the full authority of the British Parliament, at the first meeting—whether of the Council of Europe or of the Western European Union—questions can be raised about the credentials of the delegation. The whole delegation—no doubt sent at the taxpayers' expense—can be sent back home. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give the issue further consideration. When the issue was raised by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury you said that you felt that it could be resolved by agreement between the Whips. However, no progress has been made over the past year and no satisfactory alternative has been proposed. It is therefore time for you to give further consideration to this question and, perhaps, to rule on it tomorrow. Perhaps you will also indicate to those Front-Bench Members concerned, particularly the Government Front Bench. that it would be wrong to try to slip in a parliamentary answer before you have given that ruling."the Consultative Assembly is to consist of representatives of member states elected by the several national Parliaments or appointed in such manner as those Parliaments direct."
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the clarity with which he submitted his point of order. I will look into the matter and make a statement tomorrow. I am sure that the hon. Member's latter remarks will have been observed by members of the Government. The interests of the House are involved. I am sure that that will be borne in mind.
Mr. Secretary Howell, supported by Mr. Secretary Joseph, Mr. Secretary Nott, Mr. John Biffen, Mr. Hamish Gray, Mr. Norman Lamont and Mr. John Moore, presented a Bill to provide that the supply of gas to any premises at an annual rate in excess of 25,000 therms shall be subject to the special agreement of the British Gas Corporation: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Thursday 3 April and to be printed. [Bill 184.]
Licensing (Amendment) (No 2)
Mr. Neville Trotter, supported by Sir Bernard Braine, Mrs. Sheila Faith, Mr. Ivan Lawrence, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. W. E. Garrett, Mr. Ron Lewis, and Mr. David Watkins, presented a Bill to amend the Licensing Act 1964 in relation to grant of special hours certificates and the extension of existing on-licences to additional types of liquor: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 18 April and to be printed. [Bill 189.]
Sittings Of The House
That this House do meet tomorrow at half-past Nine o'clock, that no Questions be taken after half-past Ten o'clock, and that at half-past Three o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question provided that this House, shall not adjourn until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]
Adjournment (Easter And May Day)
Motion made and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising tomorrow do adjourn till Monday 14 April and at its rising on Friday 2 May to adjourn till Tuesday 6 May.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]
I have not selected the amendments on the Order Paper in connection with the Adjournment motion.
I rarely detain the House on the Adjournment motion, as I believe that unless one raises a matter of extreme importance it is a bit of a charade when a very tired House pleads not to have its recess. Hon. Members would perhaps be shocked if the Government conceded the motion and we did not have our Easter Recess.However, the difficulty of travelling at night is of extreme concern to my constituents and the country at large. All last weekend it was impossible to travel on the Underground into my constituency, because the stations were closed as a result of the serious attacks that have taken place over the past six months on the line that goes through Neasden and serves my constituents. The problem is serious, especially if it continues. I support the railwaymen in my constituency, who have said that enough is enough. They are being injured. The last train driver who was attacked may well lose the sight of one eye. It is wrong that my NUR members, who have served the country and my constituency so well year in and year out, should be liable, on Friday and Saturday nights, to find themselves in the situation that occurred at Neasden, when a sledgehammer smashed every window in the train. The entire travelling public was at risk. I do not criticise the police force in my area. By and large, it does a good job. I wish to bring to the attention of the House the need for decisions much higher up. Under this Government especially there is a shortage of cash, and there is generally a shortage of personnel. It is incredible that when 100 members of the National Front are likely to go on a march, 3,000 policemen are used to protect them, yet when people travel through my constituency, having visited relatives, friends, the theatre or the cinema on Saturday night, they risk not completing their journey without being seriously harmed and ending up at the Central Middlesex hospital. When one is dealing with two or three different Departments it is surprising how often papers go backwards and forwards between the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office and other Departments concerned. We should have a speedy resolution of this problem, and I am anxious that the House should discuss the matter and have a statement from the Home Secretary on the progress of negotiations. I raise the matter on this occasion as it is urgent. Over the Easter weekend my constituents are unlikely to be able to travel on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, because of such action. When the national newspapers reported the terrible incident at Neasden, they said that they hoped that the London Underground service would not become like the service in New York—a no-go area after dark—which worried me intensely. We should not wait until the problem develops so that all that people can do to avoid danger after dark is to stay indoors and watch television. Action should be taken now. There are many Bills in Committee. I believe that two Standing Committees finished yesterday. There is much business to be completed this Session. There is not much likelihood of finding time to debate the matter, other than on a brief Adjournment, before July. The Leader of the House is probably growing more grey hairs through worry about the parliamentary timetable than any previous Leader of the House for many years. There is a backlog of material to be dealt with before the end of the Session. I again apologise to the House, because I rarely use the Adjournment motion to raise a matter of this kind. However, it is the only opportunity that I can see to bring the problem to the attention of the Government and the country at large. It is time that action was taken. Negotiations should be expedited. I pay tribute to such people as Bob Kettle, the leader of the metropolitan NUR in my area, who has done much over the past two years to try to solve the problem for his men. I ask the Leader of the House to take the problem seriously and to try to find time for the Home Secretary to make a statement immediately after the recess.
I wish to raise briefly two or three important matters.I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). My research assistant was gravely inconvenienced last weekend by not being able to use the Underground. Security on the Underground must be fully investigated. The concern expressed by those who work on it deserves serious consideration by the Government. I wish to raise a matter relating to my constituency that has received attention in the national press. It relates to a long-established Act of Parliament—the Local Government Superannuation Act 1922, under which it is possible for long serving local government officers to retire and receive their superannuation pension, yet be taken on again 24 hours later in the job from which they have just retired. In the Congleton borough council two senior and well-respected local government officers, by a council resolution last year, retired for 24 hours and were taken back again. For two, three or four years they are likely to be in receipt not only of their superannuation pension, which is 50 per cent. of their last year's salary, but their full salary, which will continue to increase. In the eyes of many hard-pressed ratepayers that gives those officers a salary increase of about 50 per cent. I believe that the Act affords officers or other employees in local government service the opportunity of opting for a pension and then being taken back on again only if they have worked in local government for more than 40 years. I am pleased to learn from the chief executive of the Congleton borough council, Mr. Arthur Molyneaux, that there are no other officers in the employ of the borough council who can use the system, as the two officers have, by the resolution of the council, been held to have abused the system. When the Government are appealing to the country for cuts in public expenditure it is important that such an abuse of the system should not be allowed to con- tinue. I ask the Leader of the House whether there are other councils in which senior officers or senior council employees have retired, have started to draw their superannuation pension, and have been taken back again on full salary. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell me that that abuse is limited. I believe that it is quite legal for those officers to do that, but it is immoral, wrong and undesirable. It sets a bad precedent for the rest of the country and for the manual workers in NUPE and NALGO within local government.
Will the hon. Gentleman look at Hansard for today? I asked a similar question with regard to the top-paid civil servants, who do the same thing, only better. They get a full indexed pension and take a job as chairman of a bank at £20,000 or £30,000 a year. Their combined pension and salary is then greater than the salary of the person who succeeds them, yet the Government refuse to stop that practice.
I am not necessarily opposed to that practice. If a person leaves his job and finds another job outside his previous activity, it is a different matter. I have cited an example of two persons retiring from a job for 24 hours, drawing their superannuation, and then being re-employed in the same job.It is right that the House should appreciate that the officers concerned sacrifice a small increase in their superannuation pension when they finally retire. Their pension would be based on their final year's salary, that is the salary for 1979–80, rather than on the final year of their employment, which will cease when they are 65. I am not levelling criticism at the two officers concerned, with whom I have an extremely good and close working relationship. They are well-respected officers of the borough council. I level the criticism that the arrangement is an abuse of the system. It is as much of an abuse as the abuse of the social security system, of which Conservative Members—and I hope many Labour Members—are highly critical.
I am not condoning the position, but I must ask my hon. Friend whether he realises that, under the normal redundancy schemes that apply to workers throughout the country, there have been many cases in which redundancy payment has been taken and the workers concerned have then been re-employed in the same firm.
My hon. Friend appears to have misunderstood my criticism, which is that the two officers are voluntarily opting for retirement to draw their superannuation pension early. That is wrong. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to quote some statistics to indicate that the abuse of the system is very limited. If some form of parliamentary legislation is required to close the loophole—it might be more widespread than we believe—I hope that the Government will take the necessary action.
The hon. Gentleman may have carried the majority of hon. Members with his persuasive argument. However, does he not agree that in the case of senior civil servants who opt for a similar arrangement there could be a serious breach of confidentiality? They are abusing their position of high trust, and, as a result, are being made attractive offers that can carry them comfortably into their retirement.
If my memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman has made that point before. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will be allowed to develop that argument. I do not wish to go down that path this afternoon.The hon. Gentleman has reminded me of one point. The local government officers to whom I referred have contributed to their pensions. It is not a noncontributory scheme. It is only fair to present both sides of the case. However, an abuse has been committed and that is an unfortunate example. The Government should provide statistics to indicate that it is not a widespread abuse. I wish to refer briefly to the lobby of the House that took place last week by physiotherapists, radiographers and speech therapists, following the anomalous and unjust recommendation of the Clegg Commission. The findings relating to these important paramedical groups within the Health Service show how unfortunate it was to appoint a commission under Professor Clegg to do the work that it has done in recent times. In short, the Clegg Commission has recommended that these vital groups—who are highly skilled and need to undertake considerable training—are expected either to work much longer hours to qualify for an increase, or, if they continue on their present hours, to take a reduction in salary. That is utterly wrong. The well-disciplined and impressive demonstration and march that took place last week will have had considerable impact upon the House. I believe that it has had considerable impact upon my hon. Friend the Minister for Health.
Last year the lion. Gentleman asked for a police escort for a demonstration by Health Service workers. I supported both that demonstration and the one that took place last week.
We are used to dealing with the hon. Gentleman in many of his guises, not least in the House. I hope that he is prepared, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to stand up and support the case that I am advancing on behalf of the valuable groups who operate within our Health Service. They bring tremendous benefits to so many people who need to use the Health Service.May I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to say what action the Government are taking? I understand that these groups feel so aggrieved that they may be forced to take some form of industrial action while the House is in recess. It would be unfortunate if they were to do so. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health is aware that an anomaly and an injustice has been done. May I have some form of assurance from my right hon. Friend that the Government are using their very best endeavours to ensure that industrial action does not take place, and that the injustice that is being suffered by these important people will be rectified quickly? Perhaps I am speaking somewhat light-heartedly—I hope that I speak for all hon. Members—when I say that the lobby that we saw last week is one that all male hon. Members are delighted to receive. The lobby was extremely well disciplined. The groups produced their case in a concise manner. They left no one in any doubt that they had a good case. They were not seeking in any way to rock the economic boat in Britain.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Clegg Commission, I must ask him whether he appreciates an important point. If there is a comparability commission—the whole concept was a nonsense dreamed up by the Opposition Party—and it says that comparability requires an increase in working hours or a corresponding reduction in wages, surely either the concept of comparability with its consequences must be accepted, or the whole idea should be scrapped.
I am rather inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that the Clegg Commission should be disbanded immediately and that no further reference should be made to Professor Clegg. The recommendations of his commission have been damaging in many areas. I have given an example of how inadequate investigation into what is involved with a vital group within the Health Service has led to an undesirable recommendation.If my hon. Friend wants more evidence, let us deal with middle management within the Health Service. Middle managements in hospitals in my constituency have written to me pointing out that a sister on night duty in a geriatric or psychiatric unit earns £8,252 maximum annual salary. That is far more than a senior nursing officer, two grades senior to that sister, can ever earn under the present salary system. The sister earns £1,568 more than the senior nursing officer's maximum basic salary. Even if the senior nursing officer works in a geriatric or psychiatric unit on night duty, with more than 1,000 patients to look after, the most that she can earn would be £7,649. That is £603 less than is received by the sister to whom I referred. Many anomalies and injustices have resulted from the Clegg recommendations. Another matter that is of continuing concern is the position of the textile industry. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware that I have pestered him—I use that word purposely —during business questions for week after week. I have been asking my Government—a Conservative Government—to find time to debate the continuing problems of a vital and a strategic industry. The hon. Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) may receive representations from the various trade unions that work within the textile industry. I receive representations from employers and the professional and commmercial associations that represent the industry—for example, the British Textile Employers Association, the British Textile Confederation and the British Clothing Industry's Council for Europe Limited. I also receive representations from the trade unions. The British Clothing Industry's Council for Europe Limited is a body of considerable importance, which operates within Europe and looks beyond the shores of the United Kingdom. The industry's position is grave. It is true to say that it has probably been in no more serious a state for 40 years. The Government owe something to the industry, the employers, the many people who have placed considerable investment in the industry over the years, and the skilled and responsible work force. They owe it to the industry to take action to bring about fair competition. I shall quote from the annual report of Berisfords, which is a large company in my constituency. It is the biggest single employer in Congleton, the town and the borough in which I live. Under "Future prospects" the chairman stated:
Later, the chairman said:"We are worried by the continued increase in imports of clothing from the Far East and the low-cost Mediterranean countries under the terms of the multi-fibre arrangement made with the EEC. Successive Governments do little to save textiles from this erosion of the British clothing industry. As manufacturers of accessories like ribbon, trimmings and labels, we suffer because clothing is imported complete with such items."
Again, the hon. Member for Keighley and I are as one. The textile industry is being driven into a corner. We are eroding Britain's manufacturing base. We are forcing those higher up the textile-producing cycle to purchase commodities from abroad which they would like to purchase in Britain. If we allow that situation to continue, the textile industry, which is the third largest employer in Britain, will be driven to the wall. If that happens, not tens of thousands but 200,000 or 300,000 employees over the next five years will find themselves out of work. That will be unacceptable. I must press my right hon. Friend to produce some answers. I hope that he will be closely in touch with the Department of Trade during the next couple of hours. What is the point of having a multi-fibre arrangement if we grant not only new quotas but increase existing quotas? Under category 8, the original quota for Romania was 665,000. Why has a revised quota of 765,000 been granted by the EEC? Romania is a Comecon country. Surely at this time we owe nothing to Comecon countries or to the Soviet Union. Under category 7, Hungary's original quota was 42,000. It has been increased to 62,000. Why was that increase granted? Under category 8, Hungary's original quota was 153,000. Why was it increased to 183,000? I could continue giving examples. The list is almost without end. The situation is serious. The mills that have closed this year total almost one a week. Whatever party is in power in Whitehall has a responsibility to an important industry. It is an industry that has always modernised and rationalised in accordance with Government guidance. It has a history of industrial relations that is second to none in any industry in Britain. If my right hon. Friend cannot obtain answers from the Department of Trade, and if he cannot obtain an assurance from the Department that action will be taken to prevent Britain losing its industrial base, I hope that he will say that early after the Easter Recess he will find time for the House to debate the problems facing the textile industry. I am sick and tired of having to reply every day to letters from sensible, good employers and from those who work within the industry in my constituency and elsewhere. They write to me as they know that I am involved as chairman of the all-party group on cotton and allied textiles. They put great pressure on me and my limited secretarial staff. They ask what the Government intend to do and when they will take action. I am not prepared to tolerate the textile industry being sold down the river. My right hon. Friend is always courteous to me, and I hope that I can be courteous to him. I hope that he will be forthcoming with some answers to the questions that I have raised. I do not seek to ensure that the House sits through Easter. We all have families, and we do not wish that. However, these short debates enable us to raise matters of considerable importance to us, as individual Members, and to our constituents, which is even more important. I beg my right hon. Friend to respond positively to my remarks."The closure of Courtaulds, the United Kingdom's last viscose yarn-producing factory, which has been one of our traditional sources of supply for raw materials, constitutes a serious problem for us and we shall now have to import yarn at higher prices and maintain larger stock holdings."
I am in a somewhat equivocal position in seeking to address the House on this motion, as I was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure which recommended that it should no longer be the opportunity for precisely the type of debate in which I am seeking to intervene. However, the House having in its wisdom decided that we should continue to have the opportunity, I should feel uneasy in going on Easter Recess, albeit in my constituency, if I were aware, as I am, that considerable numbers of my constituents and others in the Province were not receiving, owing to administrative failure benefits to which they were entitled.I shall state briefly to the Leader of the House and to the House the circumstances to which I refer. At the beginning of January I became aware that a family in my constituency that was entitled to FIS had not been receiving it since the expiry of its book on 7 January. Apparently, the family had made proper application for a renewal before the middle of December. I naturally wrote to the Minister of State, assuming there had been some administrative mishap—perhaps a loss in the post—and that the matter could easily be put right. I was astonished to receive from the Minister of State in the middle of February a reply to the effect that the facts were as I had alleged but that payment had not been resumed until the beginning of February. I did not find that in itself to be a sufficient explanation. Therefore, I pursued my inquiry with the Minister, who in the middle of March replied that
The Minister gave me an assurance that every effort was being made to clear and to process the claims as quickly as possible; but it was only at that stage that he offered any expression of regret that my constituents had been deprived for over three weeks of income to which they were fully entitled. Nevertheless, I still assumed that there could be only a few cases to which that applied; but thinking it a matter which ought to be established, I tabled a question to ascertain the nature and condition of the backlog. On 26 March I was astonished—I think the House will be astonished—to learn in reply that on 18 March the total number of claims outstanding was still 1,037. Thus, after an increase in amounts that had taken place in the middle of November, there were over 1,000 families who were not receiving their addition four months later; and in some cases they were not receiving any of the payment to which they were entitled, let alone the additional amount. In 472 cases—nearly half—requests had been made for additional information before a decision could be given. The Minister of State—who I am glad to see on the Treasury Bench, and whom I thank for his courtesy in attending to hear these points—further said that it was"the Prescribed Amounts for Family Income Supplement were increased from 13 November 1979. This resulted in an influx of claims which became more pronounced when the Government introduced a further measure to offset heating costs for Low Income Families and the Prescribed Amounts were further increased. The significant increase in the number of claims made caused a backlog in the Branch."
Any hon. Member who went down for the recess without bringing to public attention a failure of administration of this character—apparantly so lightly taken —which results in people entitled to benefits not receiving them over many weeks, would be open to censure. There are priorities within departmental administration. In some circumstances, time has to elapse before a backlog can be removed. But surely this was a type of case where emergency measures and the drafting of additional staff from less urgent work should take place. It should not be possible that at the end of March 1,000 families are still not receiving the benefits to which they became entitled long before. I hope that when on the advice of the Minister of State, the Leader of the House replies to the debate, he will be able to tell me and the House that emergency measures are being taken, and that what constitutes a scandal on a considerable scale will be brought to an end."not possible to state at this stage when the backlog of claims will be cleared, but extra staff have recently been trained and the situation is being kept under review."
I wish to raise three matters, in respect of two of which I gave notice to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on Monday. The first concerns a subject which, to my mind, should have been debated already because the regulations to which I shall refer took effect yesterday—the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations 1980, statutory instrument No. 286. They introduced for the first time fees for the submission of building regulations, on which many hon. Members have received representations. A prayer has been tabled against them by a Member of the Liberal Party.I wrote to my right hon. Friend about the matter a couple of weeks ago suggesting that it was of sufficient importance to be debated. The powers to introduce those fees were included in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act introduced by the Labour Government in 1974. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) was responsible for the Act, and I am pleased to see that he is present in the Chamber. There is no political question about whether the fees should be introduced. The question is whether they are being introduced in the right way. It would have been of considerable advantage to the House if we had been able to debate the matter, as a number of hon. Members would have been able to give reasons why they felt that the fees were not being introduced in the right way. There is no attempt to make a reduction for repetitive work, such as house building. As the House knows, I am a house builder. I favour fees in principle, but the method by which they have been introduced is incorrect. I am concerned to receive reports from the House-Builders' Federation and others that local authorities are taking on more staff for the purpose of collecting the fees. The Federation has produced a list of local authorities—which it submitted to the Secretary of State for the Environment —which indicates that they are likely to take on more staff for the purpose. I regard that as unsatisfactory. The matter should be debated in the House. There has been no indication that, in performing their duties and collecting a fee for them, local authorities will perform their duties in a speedy and efficient manner. There should have been adequate debate on that. Hon. Members from all parties are receiving representations on these matters. It is regrettable that they were not debated before the regulations took effect yesterday. The second matter which I wish to raise—which I also drew to the attention of my right hon. Friend in advance—arises out of a constituency case, which I hope has been sorted out by private negotiations. However, the principle remains. It concerns passports for people who have ceased to be citizens of the United Kingdom through no fault of their own. One of my constituents, a Mr. A—I have given my right hon. Friend's office his correct name—has been living in Britain since 1938, having been born in a Caribbean country. He had a British passport, which recently came up for renewal. When he tried to renew it, he was told that he could no longer have a British passport because the country in which he had been born became independent in 1973, and that a passport should be issued by that country. Having lived in Britain since 1938, having served in our Army for five years, and having subsequently worked for the Government in various capacities, he was not pleased about that. Nevertheless, he accepted the advice and went to the high commission of the country concerned. He was told that it would take a considerable amount of time for him to obtain a passport. He will not have any travel documents before May, when he is due to go abroad on a family holiday. That problem has, I hope, been sorted out through negotiations with the Home Office. However, I trust that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the Government will shortly make a statement on its review of the law of nationality, because difficulties of that sort arise quite frequently, and it is not the first such case that I have experienced. My third point is also a constituency matter. It relates to the urgent need for the Government to make a decision on a planning appeal—an appeal by British Gypsum Ltd., to mine gypsum at Barrow-on-Soar. This has been subject to an unusual procedure. On 25 February the Department of the Environment issued a semi-decision letter in which it said that the inspector had heard the appeal but that he felt that it should be dismissed —the plasterboard plant should not be built, and the gypsum should be carried away by rail. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that he was not prepared to decide upon the matter until people had been able to comment on the rail proposal, and he gave 28 days for comments to be received. That is an unusual procedure, but not necessarily objectionable. Comments have now been received, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to say that the Government will make an early decision on the matter. It is wrong tht the objectors and the applicants should be left in doubt when the inspector's report has been published and the Minister has left the decision in the air. Those are three matters, two of which are of constituency importance, on which I hope my right hon. Friend will comment.
The House should not adjourn for Easter without considering matters that arise from the publication this morning of the latest defence White Paper, and in particular the proposal to deploy 160 cruise missiles on British soil.It has been said that we all live a telephone call away from disaster. That can apply to us personally, in that, for example, someone whom we love may be in a road accident, but it can also apply to the whole of humanity. By design, or more likely by accident, a nuclear bomb could be dropped on Moscow or Leningrad tonight. I do not think that the Russians would wait to set up the Russian equivalent of a Royal Commission. They would wipe out the possible sources of the bomb. As Aneurin Bevan once said, there is no label on a nuclear bomb. We are a priority target, and we shall become far more of a priority target if we go ahead with the proposal. We are extremely vulnerable in our overcrowded island. The White Paper says that the Government warmly endorse the proposal. It is easy for them. They will be safe underground, about five levels down. But I do not think that the rest of the population would warmly endorse the inevitable retaliation. The position is not hopeless. We have three years to negotiate before the weapons are deployed on our territory. Mr. Brezhnev has offered to reduce the number of his nuclear missiles if we do not install these weapons. Today's newspapers report that four out of 10 tests of the weapon, production of which has been given to Boeing, have been failures, and it has gone astray. I do not fancy that happening on our territory. People say "Ah, but look at civil defence." It is odd that there is not a word about civil defence in the White Paper. I am not very worried about that, because I think that it is futile. There is no civil defence against nuclear weapons. The only defence is to try to stop their being used. If nuclear bombs land on our country—and it would need only a dozen—
I shall be generous, and say that a dozen megaton bombs would make life unliveable in this country.I hope that if nuclear bombs fall my wife, my children and I will be underneath the first bomb, because we should die immediately. If we were 50 miles or 100 miles away, we should still die, but days later and in agony, because the atmosphere would be radioactive and the water, the soil and the food would all be poisoned by radioactivity. Part of the revised proposal, for civil defence, which does not appear in the White Paper, is a question of morale building. A good deal of brain-washing is going on. If one can involve people in some kind of activity, in the belief that they are defending themselves, one is in a way indoctrinating them, preparing them for a third world war. There are hon. Members who are not prepared to play that game.
The Government are also kidding people along.
That is right. I repeat that there is no defence against nuclear weapons except to prevent war breaking out.There is another and more terrible weapon, Chevaline, the updated Polaris missile system, on which £1 billion has been spent by both Governments, after deceiving the House and the people. A number of us asked questions and we were not told that Chevaline was the updating of the Polaris missile system. Another terrible weapon is the Trident missile. The cost is £5 billion for five submarines and the missiles to go with them. The money spent on one of those submarines—£1 billion—would build homes for 74,000 families and I know which those families would prefer. I do not know whether others have noticed it, but I find it noteworthy that in the White Paper, which consists of two beautifully illustrated volumes, the word "detente" does not appear. Perhaps relaxation of tension is now an out-of-date idea. Although the word does not appear, there are misleading illustrations, beautiful illustrations in colour. There is no need to buy The Sunday Times Magazine. The illustrations are misleading in two ways. First, in comparing the military strength of the two sides they omit China. China on the eastern flanks of Russia is no joke. Secondly, there is no mention of Polaris in dealing with medium-range missiles. The White Paper says that the Government are demanding an improvement in the military machine. I think that the country needs an improvement in the nonmilitary machine, which the Government are dismantling day by day. There is a huge increase in arms spending, to nearly £11 billion, and further increases are to come in the years ahead. At the same time, the Government are smashing our housing. I believe that in three years no more council houses will be built and nothing more will be spent on improvement. Total housing expenditure is planned to be cut by £2½ billion compared with last year and by £3½ billion compared with what a Labour Government would have done. Whatever Labour Party leaders say in the House, the party is opposed to nearly every measure for increased expenditure on arms and the expansion of the arms programme mentioned in the White Paper. It is particularly opposed to the acceleration of the arms race, and most particularly to the deployment of 160 cruise missiles. Unless we prevent it, they will be deployed on British soil and probably lead to the deaths of all of us.
I wish briefly to raise two points. First, before adjourning for Easter we should have an opportunity to discuss the inequities and iniquities of the rating system. In the next few days people will receive their rate demands. In some parts of the country the increase that ratepayers will have to bear can be described only as horrendous. The overall rate increase imposed by my own local authority of Trafford is 19 per cent. That is high enough, but it was kept down to that amount only after the most stringent economies.Some people believe that high spending is compatible with low rates. The authority has recently come in for a good deal of criticism because of the economies that it has made. I received a letter from an irate constituent who complained bitterly about the economies, but underneath her signature she wrote that she was a teacher and a parent and that her rates were excessively high. I wrote back saying that I should be grateful if she could explain how we could have high expenditure and at the same time have low rates. Unfortunately, she did not have an answer. Whatever the cause of high rate bills, we must try to find a fairer system of collecting local government finance. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have constantly raised the problem of the person who lives alone, who has a small fixed income and who is paying exactly the same in rates as a family living next door, in an identical house and perhaps with four wage-earners. In the general election campaign of October 1974 the Conservative Party promised to reform the rating system. In the election campaign last May rating reform took a back seat in the party manifesto. We were told that it had to have a lower priority because after four and a half years of Socialism the burden of personal taxation had risen tremendously and, therefore, the lowering of direct taxation had to be the top priority. But I hope that the Government have not forgotten the need to do something about a system that is so patently unfair. What is even worse is the system of assessing water rates. Last summer the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) introduced a Ten-Minute Bill to try to deal with the problem, which concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. At least with domestic rates the poor can apply for a rates rebate. That is of some help to them. But no such system operates for water rates. Like domestic rates, water rates are unfair. Whereas domestic rates take no account of a person's ability to pay, water rates take no account of the water used or the amount of sewage that must be disposed of from each house. Water rates are assessed on the rateable value of a property. Again, a person living alone will pay the same amount in water rates as a family with four or five in the house next door.
The situation is even worse than the hon. Gentleman has described. A hereditament does not need to have a water supply to be charged a water rate.
The hon. Gentleman may make that point in his speech, but I do not disagree with him. I should like the whole system to be looked at, because we must find something fairer. I am sure that he agrees that the system is unfair, because it takes no account of a person's ability to pay or of the amount of water consumed. For example, a family with four or five children will undoubtedly use a great deal of water, but the amount that family pays can be exactly the same as the amount paid by a single person living in the house next door. I see no equity at all in that system.If domestic rates have jumped substantially in recent years, they are as nothing compared with the increases in water rates. I have just had the demand for the water rate for the small flat in which I live in London. My water rate will amount to £70 a year. A bill for £70 a year could be a disaster for families on low incomes or for the elderly living alone. I cannot see why rebates are allowed on domestic rate bills but nothing is allowed for water rates. It is essential that the Government pay urgent attention to this vexed question. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an undertaking that the Government will deal with this problem in an effort to achieve a fairer system. The second point concerns the way in which certain oil companies are dominating and taking over the retailing of petrol in this country. As the oil companies take over more of the petrol sales, so we shall see the disappearance of more small garage businesses. By the end of 1977, more than half of Britain's petrol was sold by company-owned sites. In the last two years, I understand that the percentage has increased. The point that I particularly want to make concerns the tactics being employed by Esso, because it is seeking to replace many of its tenants' leases with licences —a move which will deprive those tenants of their legal rights under the Landlord and Tenant Act and give Esso control over pump prices. This has caused great bitterness amongst Esso tenants. It is a worrying situation. In 1979, 1,815 filling stations closed down. Of these, the majority—1,349—were independently owned filling stations often providing other services. So worried were the Esso dealers that on 18 March they had a protest meeting in London. From all accounts, it was a bitter meeting with retailers complaining of the way in which they had been treated by Esso. Many of these tenants have been kept waiting for months after the expiry of their leases without knowing whether the leases would be renewed, whether they would be forced to accept licences in place of their tenancies or whether they would be in business at all. Apparently, more than 13 per cent. have been kept in the dark about their future since their leases expired in 1978 or earlier. But there are also serious consequences for the consumer. If the major oil companies are allowed to control the retail price of petrol, it will result in the closure of the smaller independent businesses. We must remember that the most important difference between a leased site and a licensed and directly managed site is the ability of the petrol company concerned to fix retail prices. The general view is that about 26 per cent. of petrol sold in the United Kingdom today is at prices dictated by the petrol companies, or, put in another way, one in every four gallons. Shell has approximately 1,450 licensed sites. Esso is anxious to increase its number. If it manages to do that, it will be only a question of time before BP and National follow suit, and that could result in one in every two gallons of petrol in the United Kingdom being sold at prices firmly controlled by the supplying company. That is at total variance with the report of the Monopolies Commission in 1965. That report declared:
The report went on:"The power and resources of the petrol companies are such that, if left entirely free to pursue their own chosen policies, they will be likely to gain an increasing degree of control over the retail trade."
The limit proposed was 15 per cent. The undertakings given by the oil companies 15 years ago not to take more than 15 per cent. of the market were abandoned in 1968, and the percentage is getting greater each month. If it continues to increase at the same rate, it will mean the end of many small businesses. As the Government believe in trying to create conditions for greater and fairer competition as well as the encouragement and protection of small businesses, which give employment to many people, I think that they must listen to what the people from these small businesses are saying at this time. I was alerted to this problem by a constituent of mine who operates the Altrincham service station. A few years ago his lease was due to expire and Esso decided that it wanted to redevelop the site. It wanted to turn the garage into a self-service station. It submitted plans to Trafford council. Those plans were turned down and Esso, as was its right, appealed to the Minister. On appeal, Esso was represented by members of the legal profession. My constituent, who was fighting for his livelihood, decided that he must also employ legal advice. The appeal was rejected, so my constituent could breathe again; but he was faced with legal costs which amounted to £5,000. That in itself would be bad enough, but Esso has now made modifications to its original plan and is again applying to Trafford council for planning permission. If Trafford council should decide to reject that application, Esso could again appeal to the Minister. No doubt Esso would again employ lawyers to represent it and again my constituent, fighting to protect his livelihood, would also require legal representation. As I said, on the last occasion it cost him £5,000, and he had to pay that money out of his own pocket. If he has to go through this process again, I believe that he could be broken financially and Esso would have defeated him by what I can only describe as dubious tactics. It is unfair that the law as it stands means that people, such as my constituent, can be put to such enormous expense and have no power to claim one penny back from the organisation which lodged the appeal and was unsuccessful. I find it very strange that Esso can do in this country what it would be prevented from doing in the United States of America. At the moment it seems to be price fixing at the pumps, refusing to renew tenancies, taking over successful independent sites and arbitrarily ending contracts to supply petrol to filling stations which, in Esso's opinion, do not sell in large enough volume. I believe that this whole business demands urgent investigation by the Government to try to ensure that there is no further enforced reduction in the number of independent filling stations in this country. At the same time, the planning laws should be looked at so that small businesses cannot be driven into bankruptcy by repeatedly having to spend large sums of money in successfully warding off planning appeals. I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to give me some message that the Government will look closely at this situation with a view to ensuring that small businesses will be allowed to prosper and trade fairly."The practice on the part of petrol suppliers of acquiring retail petrol premises may be expected to operate against the public interest unless some limit is imposed."
I have no wish to detain the House for any great length of time or to deny parliamentarians the approaching recess. But I am surprised and concerned that so far we have not had a ministerial statement from the Secretary of State for Industry about the location of the NEB-Inmos production unit at Bristol.This important point was highlighted in a letter to The Times by three of my right hon. Friends on 29 February last. They were my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley)— the former Secretary of State for Industry —for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman). In their letter they suggested that NEB-Inmos was guilty of a breach of faith in suggesting that its production unit should be located alongside the technology centre at Bristol. For the House to appreciate the significance of the letter it is necessary for me to recall the establishment of NEB-Inmos itself. It was set up with £50 million of public money. The handful of computer technologists who were attracted to return from the United States to establish a microprocessor industry were given a financial stake in that business. Additionally, when their view that they preferred to establish their technology centre at Bristol was made known, that was agreed to. Former Labour Ministers claim, however—and this was indicated in the letter to The Times—that in return for those undertakings NEB-Inmos was to locate the production units—there will be four providing a total of 4,000 jobs— in the assisted areas. There has been no statement from the Secretary of State for Industry in reaction to the proposal to locate the unit in Bristol. He has a locus in the matter because he is now considering the payment of a further tranche of £25 million to NEB-Inmos. If the production unit is to go to Bristol, he will have to authorise an industrial development certificate. In considering these two suggestions from the organisation, the right hon. Gentleman should re-endorse the approach of Labour Ministers and seek the undertaking which those Ministers sought and were given. The right hon. Gentleman should be getting a commitment from NEB-Inmos that the production units will be located in the assisted areas. The North-West has an unanswerable case in this respect, and I say that not from any sense of mere parochialism. The last Government located the National Computer Centre in Manchester and the North-West because Manchester university is where the first computer was invented, and Manchester university, UMIST, and Salford university produce 12,500 graduates every year with a facility in computer technology. Before Inmos went to Bristol, the university there did not even have a chair in microelectronics. I advance the claims not only of the North-West but of Wales, Scotland and the North-East. These are the areas which in recent years have lost tremendous numbers of manufacturing jobs. In the North-West the textile industry has been decimated, and there has been the contraction in coal mining, engineering and steel. If we are not to be considered for the new mobile industries upon which the future of Britain will depend—and I wish NEB-Inmos the greatest of success in establishing a microprocessor industry—the outlook is very bleak. I have sufficient confidence in the Leader of the House that he will convey our concern on this matter to the Secretary of State for Industry. I hope that he will convey one other thought to his right hon. Friend—the hope that any Government statement on this crucially important issue will not be shuffled out by way of a written answer. We do not want an announcement of that significance to be dealt with in that manner.
I do not think that we should adjourn for Easter until we have debated the influence which the BBC has on public opinion. We debated fairly recently the question of an additional television channel, but that debate touched only the periphery of this subject. Every hon. Member will agree that the BBC is the most powerful medium of news and propaganda in the country. It still enjoys immense prestige and reaches almost every household. It probably has far greater influence even than Parliament.I was for many years an admirer of the BBC. In many ways I still am. I greatly respected Lord Reith, its first director-general, and I admired the tone and the high standard that he set from the earliest days. During the last war the BBC distinguished itself by the respect in which it was held, not only in this country but in enemy-occupied Europe and throughout the world. Since the war there has been an enormous growth of television. In some senses it now dwarfs sound broadcasting. On the whole I prefer the latter. It is more responsible and has higher standards. Certainly the radio news bulletins are first-class, giving factual statements of the news which in my view are clearer and more succinct than those to be found, for instance, in the popular newspapers. The BBC television news falls short of its sound broadcast counterpart. The temptation for television is to concentrate on those items which will show up well through the camera. That is one of the grave faults of all television. The broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament is improving slowly. I was an outright opponent of the scheme, but having heard the transmissions from the other place I have to admit that their Lordships come across extremely well—so much better than we do. In broadcasting the proceedings in this Chamber, there is still too much emphasis on rows, scenes, angry confrontation and sensationalism which have little or nothing to do with the issues of significance here. The BBC has much to be proud of. Its coverage of State events is magnificent. Its reporting of sporting items is, rightly, highly regarded. Above all, it still recognises the place of religion in this country, following in the traditions set by Lord Reith. However, I regret that the BBC falls down seriously in two other vital aspects—in morality and in the impartiality of its views. That is why I believe we should debate the subject before we adjourn. The lapse in morality and taste started in the day of Sir Hugh Greene, the director-general who was proud to personify the permissive society, a phrase that fortunately is seldom heard today. It was under his leadership that the BBC began a whole series of reviews, sketches, skits and plays which fell far below its earlier high standards of morality. The BBC might have plumbed even lower depths had it not been for the valiant efforts of one woman—and I refer to Mrs. Whitehouse, whom I greatly admire and who is greatly admired throughout the country. She at least partly stopped this moral rot. Most hon. Members will agree that the inclination of the BBC is still far too much towards sex and violence in much of what it shows, inflicting, I fear, appalling damage on the moral fibre of the nation, particularly our young people. In some of the variety shows, the smutty jokes, the innuendoes and the sheer crudity and vulgarity jar in many households. We must never forget that, unlike the cinema, where entry can to some extent be regulated by age, BBC programmes can enter any sitting room. If no adult is present, the set may not be turned off. At the same time as there has been a fall in moral standards, there has been an attack, I regret to say, by some BBC producers on the integrity, cohesion and patriotism of the nation. In the myriad of talks, commentaries, discussion groups, surveys and all the paraphernalia of the modern news media in dissecting and debating absolutely everything, whether or not a suitable subject, I find, to my distress, that there often creeps in bias that is inimical to the best interests of the nation. The producers themselves may not even realise this. Being men of ideas with little practical experience of life, they are naturally bound to be more criticial than constructive. We may have found this here from some of those who, at one time, followed that profession. These producers seem to have a very free rein from their controllers. Some of them, I suspect, are the sort of people who, in private life, read The Guardian newspaper and who mistakenly believe that those are the views of the ordinary Englishman, not realising, of course, that the ordinary Englishman never reads The Guardian. Some of them have never even heard of it. In spite of all the brainwashing by the BBC, the ordinary Englishman still loves his country and its institutions and reveres its heritage. Often, in BBC discussion programmes, it is painful to see how the point of view of the ordinary man in the street is belittled or ignored and various so-called trendy or progressive views are purveyed as if they were opinions generally widely held. More serious Is the bias and the occasional appalling blunder of which there have been several examples recently —for instance, the interview with the IRA, giving it a status and publicity it dearly seeks. Can one imagine any foreign broadcasting organisation committing such a crime against the security of the State? More recently, there was a scandalous programme about the Army called "Gone for a Soldier" which gave great and universal offence. Even after showing those programmes, the BBC was actually considering selling this damaging indictment of our Army to foreign organisations before public opinion forced it to shelve the plan. This attack on the Army was particularly inappropriate at the time of its outstanding success in Rhodesia—a success, I venture to suggest, that no other army could equal. These are highly disturbing matters. They cause great resentment, not amusement, as I know from representations by my constituents and from more general protests. If the BBC, the State institution, cannot stand by its own country and people, who, after all, pay for it and wish to look up to it, where can people look to in public affairs? Surely this is "treason by the clerks" writ large. That is why I believe we should debate this matter before we rise for Easter.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks. It is interesting that Conservative Members frequently berate the British Broadcasting Corporation—I have, from time to time, criticised it myself—but rarely devote any time or energy to criticising newspapers such as The Sun when they would not allow that newspaper to enter their homes. I would not like it to enter my home. I have no intention of allowing it to do so. It seems to me that if Conservative Members are concerned about morality and responsibility they should devote more attention to the cheaper newspapers.
I have frequently criticised The Sun and other newspapers for their photographs. I do so now.
I am delighted to hear that. I only hope that more Conservative Members will emulate the hon. Gentleman's attitude towards such newspapers. There is a noticeable quiescence among Conservative Members about the appalling way in which Britain is served by the cheaper newspapers, both during the week and on Sundays.My purpose in speaking, I hope briefly, is to suggest, for the first time in the 10 years I have been a Member, that the House should not rise until it has examined some urgent and serious problems. I shall reduce the number of items to which I refer, although the list is very long. I am concerned, for example, about the rate of unemployment in Yorkshire and Humberside, especially the impending enormous increase in the unemployed in the building and civil engineering industry. The needs and the lengthening dole queues in Yorkshire and Humberside show an insanity in our society. The air, the water and the environment of the area could be improved. The quality of the local rivers—the open sewers of the Don, the Dearne and the Rother—recalls to my mind the hopes of a few years ago that those rivers would be upgraded in their classification by the mid-1980s. It is no wonder that my constituents are angry about the water rates now coming through their letterboxes. Although the people of South Yorkshire are prepared to contribute from their pockets to secure the improved cleanliness of the rivers, it is not acceptable that they should now be paying more while the rivers remain dirty for a great deal longer. The water rates, to some extent, are a consequence of the Water Act 1973, about which I have spoken in the House before. It was a muddled piece of legislation. I was delighted when the previous Labour Government prepared a Bill to put right the inadequacies of the 1973 Act. Among those inadequacies—one that is felt sorely in at least 235 homes in my constituency—are the problems of people whose homes are not connected to the main sewers. This is the fourth time I have mentioned this issue in a debate in the House. As I said in 1979, there was a prospect of the Labour Government getting a Bill through the House to put the matter right, but there has been no sign whatever that the present Government will put right the appalling injustice to the 1 million or more people in Britain who depend on services not connected to main sewers. It is not fair for a Government to pretend to be the guardian of rural England when those affected, who are largely the dwellers of rural England, face increasing disadvantage. Water rates are increasing. People are getting less of a bargain. I do not deplore or condemn those who serve on the water authorities. The root of the problem is the inadequacy of the Government's economic policy. Just as water rates are rising, so are local government rates rising enormously. It is a far cry from the time, two or three years ago, when the Conservative Party was pledging to abolish the domestic rate. No doubt it will return to that demand in the autumn of 1982 as the election approaches. Local government is placed in appalling difficulty. In my area the Government would like the borough council savagely to cut education and social services. The council is seeking to stand fast, but during the next year or two the pressure to reduce expenditure will grow. It may be that if pressure is maintained and the rate support grant shrinks in value the local authority will be hard put to it to maintain services. In my constituency, as in many others, the number of elderly people is rising rapidly. Far from reducing social services expenditure by 6¾ per cent. as the Government wish, we should be increasing it in order to match the need. Rotherham borough council has a first-class record in the provision of social services for the elderly. If the Government had their way, the facilities which we offer would be pruned drastically and problems would ensue. Unless the council increases provision over the next two years, services for the elderly will be in danger. That is bad enough, but at the same time my area health authority is plunged into serious difficulties. It has not enough money to meet local needs. I have tried recently to secure an opportunity to raise this question in the House, and I am glad to have that chance to do so before Easter. Rotherham area health authority is proposing to close Rosehill hospital, at Rawmarsh, and the Listerdale maternity hospital, at Wickersley. These hospitals will remain empty while need is severe. It is ridiculous that hospitals will be empty when the need is reaching appalling levels. For many years until recently, psychiatric patients from my constituency were automatically sent to Middlewood hospital, in Sheffield. We are now told that such patients can no longer be sent to Sheffield. If there was adequate provision in Rotherham, that would be desirable perhaps, but we do not have that capacity. I became involved in a case not long ago in which a very old and senile lady offered violence to the baby granddaughter of the family with whom she lived. She had to be rushed immediately to Middlewood. From now on we shall not be able to send such cases to Middle-wood. I do not know whether we have the facilities to cater for such a case in Rotherham, and that worries me. If the area health authority is expected to meet local needs, it should have extra finance. When the Government deny that area health authority even the money needed to keep up with the increase in VAT, imposed last year by the Government, we are in a serious situation. Another matter of immense local importance in my constituency—and I believe of national importance—is the future of British Steel Corporation (Chemicals) Ltd. I believe that yesterday it was intended that the two large coking plants which form the bulk of the coking capacity of BSC (Chemicals) were to be transfered to the Yorkshire and Humberside division of the British Steel Corporation. Whether that occurred I do not know. Perhaps I should know as the Member of Parliament concerned. However, I was relieved to hear that the coking capacity currently owned by BSC (Chemicals) would be transferred to another division of the BSC and not hived off. Unfortunately, however, I believe that it is the intention of the BSC and its masters in the Department of Industry that the chemicals content of BSC (Chemicals) is to be disposed of, or at least that a majority interest is to be sold. I am anxious about that for a number of reasons. I considered the matter carefully over the weekend and I discovered that BSC (Chemicals) Ltd. is a highly successful enterprise. Even in the face of the serious and avoidable steel strike —.it would have been avoided had the Government not embarked upon a lunatic course—BSC (Chemicals) will be profitable in the current financial year as it has been profitable for a good many years. The company is a developing organisation. It has invested in various parts of the country and in one or two outlets abroad to develop its electro-coating process. The firm would be a profitable source of investment and I understand that it needs capital of about £8 million or £9 million for current development. However, the BSC main board, partly because of the interfering attitude of the Department of Industry, is unable to provide that capital. It seems likely that the main board has suggested to BSC Chemicals that it disposes of a majority interest —for perhaps a grossly inadequate sum —in order to develop capacity at Port Clarence and to develop overseas outlets for the electro-coating process. Many hundreds of my constituents are employed by the BSC yet they do not know, and I do not know, what the position is. As a representative of those constituents, and of the taxpayers of Britain who are possibly being denied the opportunity to benefit from future and perhaps imminent profitability, I think I should have detailed information about the present position. It is regrettable that the BSC in London —I do not complain about the Sheffield headquarters or at this stage about the Chesterfield headquarters of BSC (Chemicals) Ltd.—has not informed those employed in the industry, or hon. Members who represent them, of deals which are, perhaps, currently being negotiated. People should have adequate information about their future, and their parliamentary representatives should be informed about deals which are now clearly being done behind closed doors. I hope that those doors will soon be open. Parliament is entitled to a short holiday. If the Government were taking a holiday as well, we would probably be overjoyed at the prospect of a break. However, we are going away but the Government will continue to govern. Tribute has been paid to Mrs. Whitehouse. I find some things to criticise in her utterances, but if we are to go away and leave the Government in charge I would rather Mrs. Whitehouse were at No. 10 Downing Street over Easter than the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister.
I wish to refer on this motion to an institution in my constituency which serves a national function. But before turning to that I would like to say how much I agreed with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stour-bridge (Mr. Stokes). Anyone who speaks as he did about what needs to be done about the BBC exposes himself to the charge of naivety in the eyes of some. This is a serious national problem. We either have confidence in ourselves as a community and a nation or we face a doubtful future.The problem which the BBC faces—I have always recognised this—is not bias among top management. I differ with my hon. Friend on this. The BBC has a problem of recruitment which it does not know how to solve. The difficulty underlying the complaints of my hon. Friend is that those who are, shall we say, on the Right in politics or in the middle, or who are not politically minded when they come down from the universities, go into useful and productive occupations. On the other hand, those primarily concerned with Left-wing politics make a straight line for the media.
And the law.
Not the law. They go into newspapers and broadcasting. I often criticise the results of that. I believe that such people think that they are being impartial, but they do not know where the middle of the road is.