Skip to main content

Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 19: debated on Tuesday 2 March 1982

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


"A New Training Initiative: A Programme For Action"


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what response he has received to his White Paper entitled "A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action"—Cmnd. 8455.

I have received an encouraging response to our proposals, which reflects the broad measure of support which the objectives of the new training initiative have received from employers, trade unions and others concerned. I am also encouraged by the extent of commitment to achieving essential long-term reforms in our training system.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his otherwise imaginative and constructive programme to improve the training of young persons is deficient in respect of the young disabled? Will he allow me to bring a deputation to see him on that point?

What does the Secretary of State mean by a "broad measure of support"? Does that include the trade unions? Is he aware that, under these proposals, the extent of trade union participation will now depend on the employers? Is he further aware that the employers' role will no longer be to train workers but to poach them from good employers? Will that not sour industrial relations?

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the position. The whole of the new training iniative, with minor exceptions round the edges, is common ground between the Government, the Manpower Services Commission and most of the trade union movement. Opposition Front Bench spokesmen may want to stir up trouble, but there will be no trouble unless it is stirred up.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in his former constituency around Waltham Abbey, young people are requesting more facilities? We cannot, of course, have centres everywhere, but is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there are adequate centres in Enfield and other areas serving that part of the country?

If there are difficulties, I should be happy to consider areas in my old constituency, to which my hon. Friend referred. However, in general, employers and others have been very good in coming forward with offers of places for the YOP. I hope that they will be similarly well disposed towards the youth training scheme which takes over in September next year.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman bungled the introduction of his scheme by including the wretched £15 a week and an element of compulsion? Will he confirm that his proposals have been humiliatingly and overwhelmingly rejected by the MSC's task group of union, education and commercial leaders? Has not the right hon. Gentleman failed the nation and missed a golden opportunity?

The short answer is "No, Sir". There has been no bungle and there will be no compulsion. The proposals have not been rejected by the MSC's high level working group, which is not due to report until April.

Minimum Wages


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will review the role of the wages councils and minimum wages legislation in the light of the serious problems of youth unemployment.

The workings of the Wages Councils Act are kept constantly under review. The councils, which are independent of the Government, set minimum rates. They comprise employers, trades unions and independent members. The Government have made plain to all negotiators their view that excessive wage awards can only damage the employment prospects of young people.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many industries wages councils have set minimum wage levels above the rates that enable people to qualify for the young workers' scheme? Is there not a danger that that scheme will be undermined by the activities of the wages councils? Does he further agree that the employment prospects for young people in general would be greatly improved if minimum wages legislation for young people were done away with?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the young workers scheme holds out real and positive prospects for job opportunities for youngsters. I am glad that he endorses and welcomes that scheme. I assure him that very few wages councils of which I am aware have set minimum rates for youngsters that have the effect of excluding them from the young workers scheme. However, there are one or two. The attention of all wages councils has been drawn to the young workers scheme

Is the Minister aware that the 3 million people now covered by wages councils represent some of the lowest paid workers in Britain? Does not his decision last year to reduce by one-third the number of his Department's inspectors mean that even those low wages may not properly be enforced?

Many of those whose wage rates are fixed and covered by wages councils are paid well above the wages councils' minimum rates.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many wages councils, such as the retail trade wages council, which covers the largest number of employees, decreed that a school leaver is automatically worth 60 per cent. of the weekly wages of a fully fledged experienced adult? Does he agree that that high starting percentage rate mitigates against youngsters?

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety and endorse the point that he made. It is one reason why all wages councils have had their attention drawn especially to the vulnerability of young people to statutory wage rates that effectively exclude them from any job opportunities.

Is the Minister aware that most wages councils award a minimum for youths of between only £30 and £40 a week, that during the past two years, when youth unemployment has increased, the differential between youth and adult wages has widened, and that in 1980 a working paper from his Department dismissed the importance of the role of wages in youth unemployment? Is there any hard evidence of the connection between youth wages and youth unemployment?

Common sense would decree that there is such a connection. The hon. Gentleman should consider the margin between rates for those under 18 and adult rates in the contract cleaning and laundry industries. The differential is only 10 per cent. Young people are paid about 90 per cent. of the adult rates. He should also realise that employers will not take on inexperienced school leavers aged 16 or 17 at wages close to the adult rate. We are convinced that the young workers scheme, which pays a premium to employers who take on young people at under £40 a week, will have a real and positive effect in giving job opportunities to youngsters.

Oecd Employment Levels


asked the Secretary of State for Employment when next he expects to discuss employment levels in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries with European Economic Community Ministers.

I shall be discussing current employment issues with my European Community colleagues and other OECD Labour and Social Affairs Ministers at a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Manpower and Social Affairs Committee on Thursday and Friday of this week.

At that meeting, will my right hon. Friend point out how the level and rate of increase of unemployment in the United Kingdom compare favourably with other countries?

Yes. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The rate of increase in many other countries, including Germany, the United States of America and Sweden, is now rising very much more quickly than here, as those countries hit the problems that we are already resolving.

Why does the Secretary of State not give the true facts about United Kingdom unemployment compared with other leading OECD countries? For example, during the two and a half years or more that the Government have been in office, has not unemployment in the United Kingdom risen much more quickly and sharply than in any other leading industrial country? Is that not because the Government, in every economic and industrial decision that they have taken during the past two and a half years, have attacked jobs and investment?

The right hon. Gentleman must not confuse shouting and being aggressive with making a sensible point. If he considers the figures for the last three months on the previous three months, he will find that the rate has increased more quickly in Germany, the United States of America, Sweden, Canada, Austria and Ireland, to name but a few. Those countries are now running into some of the problems with which we have been dealing for some time, some of which we inherited from the Labour Government.

Will the Secretary of State point out to those at the meeting on Thursday that the one person who kidded the British public that once we entered the Common Market everything would be lovely and the land would flow with milk and honey, and the only person who has benefited and done well from the Common Market, is the so-called leader in anticipation who will fight the Glasgow, Hillhead by-election—Mr. Roy Jenkins?

I shall not mention that in Brussels, because very few Hillhead electors will be there to listen to me. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman said has been heard in Hillhead. I do not share his view that no one except Mr. Jenkins benefited from our entry into the Common Market, but I certainly noticed that he did.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why the unemployment figures in Germany are changing is that, until now, the position was disguised by the fact that the Germans returned their guest workers? Therefore, only now is the true unemployment position beginning to emerge.

My hon. Friend has made a good point. Perhaps another reason is that our export performance is extremely good and we are taking back orders which formerly were won by the Germans.

Wages Councils


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he has received representations about the level of awards that may be decided by the wages councils.

Representations about wages councils proposals are usually made direct to the wages councils, which must consider them before confirming or amending proposals. I have recently received a number of letters from hon. Members and employers about proposals issued by the retail councils.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the problems that the wages councils are creating for the retail industry and the distributive trades generally? Does he agree that it is possible for people to price themselves out of work and that the wages councils are effectively doing that now?

I have received a deputation from the British Multiple Retailers Association, whose representatives forcefully made the same point as my hon. Friend has made. I take fully the point that wages councils are capable of pricing youngsters and adult workers out of jobs, and I have made the point to them in written submissions.

Does the Minister agree that there is some confusion both in his mind and in that of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey)? Surely the job of the wages councils is to evaluate what a job is worth in a certain area, not to assess whether the businesses in that area are being run properly.

The wages councils have a statutory and independent role and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, they incorporate representatives of both the trade unions and the employers. A neutral third party also acts as arbitrator. They consider all those factors, but it is fair and reasonable for many people who are affected by their decisions to make representations on the proposals. Representations and submissions are coming thicker and faster in protest at recent proposals than we have known for many years.

Will the Minister not fall into the trap of assuming that wages councils protect only employees? They can protect employers as well inasmuch as they ensure that employers are required to pay a fair wage for a job and thereby compete with each other on fair terms. The Minister should keep sight of that point when considering wages councils.

Employers have as much opportunity as employees in the wages councils for evaluating, in discussion under neutral chairmanship, where their real interests lie. I hope that I have not fallen into any trap in suggesting that invariably one side or the other is led astray or fails to get a fair deal out of the council's fund. Those concerned are human and fallible. For this reason, it is necessary for a council to circulate widely the proposals that it is thinking of incorporating and finally enacting. It is in the context of these proposals that we have recently received a large volume of protest.

Industrial Tribunals


asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the workings of the industrial tribunal system.

In general, yes.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the body of precedent and law building up around the industrial tribunal system is becoming so complicated and cumbersome that there is a real danger that the interests of the layman, for whom the whole system was started, are being threatened?

Obviously this is a danger, and we want to try to avoid legal complications. However, two-thirds of all the applications brought are settled or withdrawn. Only the complicated cases go to tribunals. It is inevitable, if there is a statute to be applied, that there will be legal refinements.

Would it be possible for these tribunals to cover employers who normally operate within the context of the wages councils, because last year in Scotland almost 1,000 such employers did not pay the statutory wages? In effect, they were breaking the law, but not one of them was prosecuted. Is that not a disgrace? Apparently one can frighten the Queen's horse and get five years in gaol, but it is all right to rob the working class.

Inspectors ensure that the Act is enforced. Industrial tribunals have more than enough to do already. We should not give them the additional job of enforcing wages councils orders.

Youth Opportunities Programme


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the skill content of the present youth opportunities programme.

I am satisfied that the training in basic skills in the youth opportunities programme is constantly improving. In 1982–83 the programme will contain around 100,000 new comprehensive training places as a bridge towards the youth training scheme that starts in 1983.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that one of the key elements in the health of an economy is the degree of training or skill that school leavers are able to acquire? In that connection will lie undertake to ensure that the highest degree of skill or training is available under the recently announced youth training scheme?

Is the Minister aware that there are some good employers who, at the end of the journey, give youth opportunities programme workers the chance to carry on? Is he also aware that there are many bad employers who must be monitored and given certain guidelines, because in many instances our young people are being exploited? That was not the intention of the scheme that was introduced by the Labour Government.

Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that the MSC monitors all the schemes and all the sponsors of those schemes. In some cases, they are rejected.

Is the Minister sattisfied that the monitoring is adequate? There is too much evidence for it to be anecdotal of young people going into jobs as skivvies and leaving feeling bitter and cynical. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the scheme is properly monitored? If employers are using the scheme for cheap labour, will he also ensure that they take no further part in it?

I am satisfied that the scheme is monitored properly and that, wherever there is a complaint, the MSC investigates.

In view of the attention frequently drawn by Labour Members to the proposed reduction in the weekly allowance from £23·50 to £15 per week, will my hon. Friend make clear whether, under the new scheme, the total sum available per young person, including the crucial training element, will be going up or down?

The amount spent on the average week's course is about £38, including the allowance. The amount that will be spent on the youth training scheme per trainee per week is £53 for 16-year-olds, going up to £63 for 17-year-olds. As my hon. Friend said, there is a substantial increase in the amount being spent per trainee.

Midland Region


asked the Secretary of ,State for Employment if he will make a statement on employment prospects in the Midland region as assessed by the Manpower Services Commission's paper "Labour Market Trends, Midland Region, 1982–84".

This paper concludes that there will be a very gradual climb out of the recession throughout 1982 and into 1983 and it confirms that in the Midlands region, as in the rest of the country, there are already some signs of improvement. If British industry continues to succeed in its efforts to improve competitiveness, which is the only way to create the new and secure jobs we all seek, I have no doubt that the Midlands region will share in future prosperity as fully as it has in the past.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. When reading the paper, did he notice that unemployment in Derbyshire, although still too high, was appreciably lower than in the rest of the region? Does he agree that that is because of good labour relations and diversification and, more particularly, because the number of small businesses is appreciably higher than in the rest of the country? If so, will he ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give further assistance to entrepreneurs of small businesses next week in his Budget?

The relatively happy position to which my hon. Friend refers is evident. I take careful note of the point that she made. Her assiduous attention to her duties in her constituency is an important example that should be emulated.

Is the Minister aware that in Derbyshire the latest figures show that, as a result of the Tory Government's policies, bankruptcies are on the increase, as is unemployment? Will he also bear in mind that, as a result of these policies, Richard O'Brien, the previous head of the MSC, recently referred in another paper to the fact that it now costs the Exchequer £12½ billion to finance the dole queue. I suppose that because he had the temerity to say that, he got the sack.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) exposes himself to the charge of drawing aside the veil of reality for the causes of unemployment. That lies squarely with the Labour Government, who, between 1975 and 1980, allowed unit labour costs in manufacturing industry to double in Britain while in Japan they did not go up, in Germany they went up by one-fifth, in the United States by only a third and by a half in Canada. That is the reason for our present high unemployment.



asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied that sufficient training schemes will be available under the new training initiative to guarantee a place for all applicants.

The new youth training scheme includes a guaranteed offer of a training place to all unemployed school leavers who leave school at the minimum age. We are working towards this goal now, and we will need the wholehearted co-operation of all concerned to reach it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the comments of Opposition Members—particularly the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), who called this scheme cheap and cosmetic, while doing nothing herself when she was able to get a scheme on to the statute book—will or could undermine the work of the Manpower Services Commission, which is desperately trying to get this worthwhile and positive scheme off the ground?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) had ample opportunity to bring in a scheme such as this, but apparently did not desire to do so. I also agree with my hon. Friend that it is neither constructive nor helpful for one or two hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to niggle about a scheme that is costing a fantastic amount of money and that will serve school leavers extremely well.

Is the Minister aware that one of the rules says that refusal of a reasonable offer disqualifies an applicant from benefit? Who decides what a reasonable offer is, and what is a reasonable offer?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the goal is to provide for every school leaver who does not have a job an opportunity of a place on a scheme. We want to make sure that round pegs fit into round holes and square pegs into square holes. I should have thought that

Will my hon. Friend ensure that, under the training initiative, local education authorities are used to the maximum, in co-operation with the Manpower Services Commission, because they often have facilities that could be made available within the new initiative, and it is important to maximise those facilities?

I agree with what my hon. Friend says, that local education authorities have facilities and resources that the new training initiative and the new training scheme can use. To the best of my knowledge, the co-operation and collaboration between the Manpower Services Commission and the education authorities is progressing well.

Is it not clear that the scrapping of most of the statutory industrial training boards has placed industrial training in many industries under threat of imminent and total collapse? Is it not obvious that the voluntary system that the Government propose is desperately short of volunteers and that Manpower Services Commission is near despair over the consequences of the Government's policies? Should not the Government think again about this lunatic idea?

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is "No", "No", "No". I am sure that he would agree that industrial training boards per se did not train anybody. They oversaw training that was done in the industries, and I have great confidence that the voluntary organisations will do that, too.


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the future of the scheme announced for apprentice training by the electical contractors.

I welcome the electrical contracting industry's proposals for a new training scheme. They are wholly consistent with the Government's new training initiative.

Bearing in mind that Germany has four times as many apprentices every year as we have in Britain, can my hon. Friend at this stage give us an idea of the increase in numbers, quality and standards of British apprentices if more industries follow the example of the electrical contractors? What is the reaction of the Construction Industry Training Board to the electrical contractors going it on their own?

In answer to my hon. Friend's second question, the Construction Industry Training Board has tbaken a flexible line, and the proposals by the electrical contracting industry will be put forward within the construction industry training board. As for my hon. Friend's first question concerning my estimate of the increase in the number of apprentices, at this stage it is rather difficult to give him that information.

Is the Minister aware of the failure of private building contractors, with a handful of honourable exceptions, to employ and train apprentices? Is he aware that throughout the country, including Manchester and Salford, the majority of places in technical colleges for these apprenticeships are going to direct labour organisations? Will he therefore encourage DLOs, rather than decimate them, as he is doing at present?

I am aware that there are some cutbacks in apprenticeship training, but I am also aware that the Manpower Services Commission, on behalf of the Government, is subsidising 35,000 first-year apprentices at a cost of £50 million, where it is necessary. That applies to the construction industry as well as to other industries.

Unfair Dismissals


asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will publish median figures for the compensation for unfair dismissals made by industrial tribunals for the last 12 months.

Figures for the median award of compensation for 1981 will be published as soon as they are available, which is expected to be in five or six months' time. The median award for 1980 was £590.

Does the Minister accept that people's lives revolve around their jobs, and that it is a traumatic experience to lose one's job, whatever the reason? We are told in the Minister's answer that the median award granted by tribunals for people unfairly dismissed was under £600. Can the Minister explain why, in legislation that he is seeking to railroad through the House, for a single cause—allegedly leaving a trade union—he proposes to award sums of £20,000 to £30,000? What is the motive for doing that?

The hon. Gentleman surely knows that, for unlawful dismissal for trade union activity, there is already a higher award of compensation than for other forms of unfair dismissal. It is absolutely right that there should be a higher award for unfair dismissal in a closed shop, because one of the evils of the closed shop is that a man could be banned from his trade for the rest of his natural life.

How can the Minister justify the difference between the median figure that he has just give n the House, of under £600, with a normal minimum, according to the Secretary of State, of £12,000 for the small number who are dismissed in closed shops? Is not that disparity grossly unfair and blatantly anti-union?

It is proper that people who lose their jobs in a closed shop should get generous compensation. It is also essential to have a deterrent to dissuade employers, such as Walsall and Sandwell councils, from behaving in the disgraceful way that they recently did.

Will my hon. and learned Friend explain to the House why Opposition Members have already spent 10 hours in Standing Committee arguing that compensation should not be paid to people who lost their jobs because of the closed shop in the 1970s, instead of getting on to the other clauses of the Employment Bill, which they say concern them so deeply?

It beats me. I keep reminding Opposition Members that there would not have been any need for clause 1 of the Bill if the Labour Government, between 1974 and 1979, had behaved in a civilised fashion.

Work Experience


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what percentage of entrants to work experience schemes under the youth opportunities programme found permanent employment after leaving the schemes, in each of the last three years.

Survey evidence suggests that of those young people leaving work experience schemes in 1981, about 30 per cent. found a job immediately, compared with 50 per cent. in 1980 and 66 per cent. in 1979.

Do not the figures confirm that the prospect of getting a permanent job, after whatever training scheme the Government seek to introduce, is getting worse and worse, so long as present economic policies continue? Does that not confirm also that it is more important for the Government to change their policies than to introduce schemes the effect of which is simply to cook unemployment statistics?

Do I understand from that that the hon Gentleman is against the youth opportunities programme? I hope not. As he knows very well, Governments per se do not create jobs. Jobs come from profitable and competitive industrial and commercial enterprises. That is what we are achieving, and a lot of new jobs are coming on stream in that respect.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the training content of the work experience schemes has considerably improved during the past two years? Will his Department monitor progress of the new 12-month pilot schemes that the Manpower Services Commission is introducing this year to help young people to obtain improved training?

I can confirm that the training content has gradually improved over a period of years. Yes, we shall monitor the one-year training schemes that he mentioned. Finally, as my hon. Friend is aware, the youth training scheme that comes on stream in September 1983 will have a significant increased training content.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the current percentage levels of unemployment in the United Kingdom, the European Economic Community, Norway, Sweden and Austria, respectively.

Exactly comparable figures are not available—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".]—they very seldom are—but in December 1981, the latest month for which information is available for all the countries, the United Kingdom rate, on a partly standardised basis, was 11·3 per cent. as compared with 9·0 per cent. for the European Community as a whole. In Norway the national rate was 1·9 per cent., for Sweden 2·9 per cent. and for Austria 4·1 per cent.

As the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s had rates of unemployment which were similar to those in Austria, Norway and Sweden, is my right hon. Friend prepared to mount a special study to find out why those smaller countries are apparently more successful in tackling unemployment, particularly when they have been deprived of the dramatic benefits of EEC membership?

My hon. Friend is, perhaps, on to an interesting point when he says that we should think about the causes of those matters. I am puzzled that the Swedes are so guilt-ridden about not being members of the Community that they commit suicide at twice the rate of the British—or perhaps it is because unemployment in Sweden rose by nearly a half in the second half of last year. I suggest to my hon. Friend that it is rash to draw such a conclusion from the statistics that he uses.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that young people in the North of England are so guilt-ridden at not having a job that they are committing suicide? Will he explain why Britain, which has one-fifth of the European Community's population, has one-third of European.unemployment? Does not that have something to do with the fact that the fiscal and monetary stance of the Government has been three times as restrictive as that of any other European Government?

No, Sir, not at all. The hon. Gentleman would do better to examine what happens in, for example, Germany, in relation to labour law, and what has been happening to the unit labour costs there. He should also reflect on the fact that the fiscal and monetary stance of this country during the period when the disaster was being prepared for British industry was the fiscal and monetary stance of the party of which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) is a member. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members cannot listen for a moment, they would be advised to learn to do so. I repeat that the damage that was done to the economy when money was being poured into it at an unparalleled rate until the IMF had to take over control is largely responsible for our difficulties today.

Textile And Clothing Workers


asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many textile and clothing workers have been made redundant in the last six months for which figures are available, nationally, in the North-West region, and in the Macclesfield and Congleton travel-to-work areas.

The provisional number of redundancies reported to the Manpower Services Commission as due to occur in the textile and clothing industry in Great Britain between August 1981 and January 1982 inclusive was 13,453. The figures for the North-West, Macclesfield and Congleton were 3,313, 37 and nil respectively. These figures are not comprehensive; they do not, for instance, include redundancies affecting fewer than 10 employees.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the textile and clothing industry is the second largest employer of labour in this country? If the Government had allocated even a tiny percentage of their advice and assistance—financial and otherwise—to that dynamic industry, the dramatic unemployment that it has experienced in the last three years would not have taken place. Will he advise us whether we shall take action along the lines of Belgium and other European countries to help that vital industry?

I fully appreciate the importance of the textile and clothing industry. Provided that we continue with a tough policy on imports, the textile industry, like others, will benefit from the revival in the economy for which we are working. The European Commission has sole competence in the application of the competition rules of the Treaty. We have argued strongly to the Commission that aids for textiles and clothing should be reduced and made more transparent, to ensure fair competition.

Is the Minister aware that many of the redundancies to which he referred in his answer were caused not by a slimming down in the industry but by the closure of textile mills? Is he further aware that it will be necessary to attract new industry to the areas where those closures have taken place? As many of those closures have been in my constituency, will the Minister explain why the Government are taking away its development area status this year?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I, too, come from a textile area. Throughout my life, I have been concerned with its fortunes. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the question of development area status is one for the Department of Industry. He would not expect me to reply to that question now, but what he has said will be noted.

Is the Minister aware that over the last 10 years textile and clothing areas have lost 350,000 jobs and that towns such as Batley in my constituency have an unemployment rate among men and youths of about 30 per cent.? Is it not time that the Government acted constructively in textile and clothing areas, in the same way as action was taken to deal with the steel and coal industries?

I fully appreciate the problems of the industry. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not as if the textile industry had recently encountered difficulties. It has encountered difficulties for years and years. Provided that we adopt a tough policy on imports, the textile industry will benefit, as will others, from our economic policies.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Saudi Arabian Minister of Planning. in addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to tell the people that all law-abiding citizens of our nation have the right to travel where they want and when they want and that that should apply whether they be holidaymakers, business men or sportsmen, including cricketers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right that we should seek to help a country that is friendly to the West, and to help the Prime Minister of that country, who is carrying through a progressive programme, rather than hand over Southern Africa to our enemies?

Citizens of this country are free to travel, as far as we are concerned. No restrictions are placed upon them.

Has the right hon. Lady had the chance to study carefully early-day motion 289, to which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) subscribed? Does she not think that that early-day motion is deeply humiliating to the House of Commons? The early-day motion deals with the cricketers who have gone to South Africa.

Will the Prime Minister take early steps to show how strongly she disapproves of all the views expressed in that early-day motion? Will she make it clear that the Government are determined to carry out the Gleneagles agreement and to uphold the Test and County Cricket Board in carrying out its proper functions? Will she make it clear that as a Government and as a country we entirely repudiate the sentiments expressed by about 30 of her followers in that early-day motion?

We are signatories to the Gleneagles agreement. We reaffirmed it and we try to uphold its terms. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, our powers are limited to persuasion. The Test and County Cricket Board did everything that it could with regard to the cricketers who have gone to play in South Africa. However, it did not know when the visit was going to take place. In so far as it did know, it attempted to persuade people not to go. We try to uphold the Gleneagles agreement. That has to be done by persuasion. In the end the decision is up to each of the persons concerned, because they are in a free country.

Will the right hon. Lady recognise that this is not only a question of persuasion, although that, of course, enters into it. It is also open to her—indeed, it is her duty to the House and to the country—to condemn early-day motion 289, which is deeply offensive to human rights? Have the right hon. Lady and her Government fully considered the threat to the Commonwealth Games? If the condemnation is not sufficiently strong, the games might be threatened. I am sure that the right hon. Lady does not wish to see that situation arise. Will she not use her authority to try to ensure that the Commonwealth Games are maintained and that this country plays its proper part in the games?

We believe in the Gleneagles agreement. We shall do our best to uphold it. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has seen the Test and County Cricket Board. We do not, however, have the power to prevent our sportsmen and women from visiting South Africa or anywhere else. If we did, we would no longer be a free country. The Gleneagles agreement recognises that we can act only by persuasion. We have tried to do just that.

In our free country, is it not the duty of the Head of the elected Government of what is also a Commonwealth country to make clear her own condemnation of what has happened?

My hon. Friend the Minister responsibile for sport, on my behalf, has made the views of the Government perfectly clear—

His remarks are already on the record. He has seen the Test and County Cricket Board. In the end, our capacity to act is limited to persuasion.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 2 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour-controlled Humberside county council is levying a rate 61 per cent. higher than that levied by the Conservative council last year? Will my right hon. Friend accept that, in an area of high unemployment, this will reduce job opportunities? Will the Government consider taking further action to protect hard-pressed industry and working people from the ravages of such Marxist councils?

I am well aware that Humberside has announced that it will increase its precept by 61 per cent. This is the highest increase of any of the shire counties. It comes, of course, from a Labour council. Many people who have been transferred to Humberside from Lincolnshire wish to goodness that they were still in Lincolnshire. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that local rates are the biggest tax paid by industry and that higher rates cost jobs. My hon. Friend knows that a Bill is before the House to prevent supplementary rates—that council also had a supplementary rate—and that there is a Green Paper on the restructuring and the future of the rating system. How far we can advance will depend upon the reaching of a conclusion on the best way to go about the matter.

Will the Prime Minister say why the Government are proposing to introduce a new version of the retail price index for the purposes of uprating the poorest beneficiaries on supplementary benefit, using a formula which, if applied this year, will deprive the unemployed and pensioners on supplementary benefit and supplementary pensions of £90 million?

The present Act is related to the retail prices index as it is now.

While agreeing with my right hon. Friend's first answer on the question relating to sport in South Africa, may I ask her to confirm that those cricketers who decided not to go were making a more significant gesture in terms of freedom for people in South Africa, who are unable in many cases to move around in their own country or to travel abroad?

I know that some cricketers were persuaded not to go by the action of the Test and County Cricket Board. I believe that they are probably making their stand on apartheid in South Africa.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's admission in the House last Thursday that had the shares of Amersham International been disposed of by tender a much higher price could have been realised, will she, as a matter of urgency, consult her right hon. Friend the Leader of the House with a view to tabling the necessary manuscript motion today, which would allow the notice of objection by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to be debated and voted upon separately today, to give the House the chance to express its view on this very sordid business?

What can be voted upon separately is a matter not for me but for the Chair, and possibly for the Leader of the House. It is certainly not a matter for me. With regard to Amersham International, I did not necessarily say that the tender would have produced a higher price in any way. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact that before the event occurred a number of commentaries appeared, one of which—I refer to the Investors Chronicle—stated that the share was "a shade ambitiously priced."

Bearinng in mind that the price of most industrial shares is 10·6 times historic earnings and for companies in the health and household sector 13·8 times historic earnings, a price of nearly 19 times forecast earnings would appear to have been about right.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of how eagerly many of my constituents in Southampton are looking forward to the privatisation of the British Transport Docks Board? We.have suffered almost 12 months of disputes. We hope that the privatisation will produce stronger management with better organisational ability and that this will mean more prosperity for the 19 ports under the British Transport Docks Board.

I am glad that my hon. Friend takes that view. I am sure that the result will be a better bargain and a more efficient operation and that it will also be better for the consumer.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the widows of coal miners have been issued with notices by the Inland Revenue informing them that the pensions of their late husbands are now to be taxed? What does she intend to do about it?

I rather think that we have a Budget in the offing. I ask the hon. Gentleman to contain his impatience.

Reverting to an earlier question, does my right hon. Friend agree that, regardless of the circumstances, no individual sport will flourish in this country unless there is loyalty and trust between the competitors and players and their governing bodies? Is it not a sad day when money is more important than the game?

The Test and County Cricket Board has done its best loyally to uphold the Gleneagles agreement and has given advice. In the end, of course, while many of us may agree with my hon. Friend, in a free country it is up to the persons concerned freely to make their decisions.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 2 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that when my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) raises the issue of widows of coal miners being taxed on miners' pensions of about £6 out of a net income of less than £37 a week, the reason is that, in last year's Budget, she and the rest of her gang marched into the Lobby to ensure that personal allowances were not raised in line with inflation? Does this not show that the Government are concerned with lining the pockets of their supporters, by the sale of Amersham shares, to the tune of £25 million, while making people receiving less than £37 pay taxation? Has she not a duty in the next Budget to repair that damage?

Taxation is levied not on a particular pension but on total income, in accordance with personal allowances rules, which are fixed by each Finance Act. It is usually the subject of the Budget each year. It would be much easier to reduce direct tax if people thought more of reducing direct public expenditure.

In the course of her busy day, has my right hon. Friend heard rumours that pension fund managers, acting on behalf of mineworkers and railwaymen, were substantial subscribers to Amersham International shares? If that rumour is correct, will she congratulate those pension fund managers on exercising their skill and expertise on behalf of hundreds of thousands of working people?

I do not know whether the rumour is true, but pension fund managers have a duty to make the best investment for their beneficiaries. If they did that, they presumably did it because they thought that it was a good investment in the long run.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it is rumoured that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell), who speaks on behalf of the Opposition for sport—

Order. Every instinct in me tells me that it is wiser to ask the hon. Gentleman to remain seated.