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Commons Chamber

Volume 20: debated on Tuesday 16 March 1982

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 16 March 1982

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

London Transport Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Science

Overseas Students


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what saving of public money has resulted from the increase in overseas students fees; and what proportion of the saving relates to Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth students respectively.

About £40 million of the previous £100 million total subsidy has so far been withdrawn. Under the old system, just over half the beneficiaries came from the Commonwealth.

Is proper priority now being given to Commonwealth students? Have Her Majesty's Government in mind the special position of Cyprus, which has no institutions of higher learning?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made available from his budget an increased number of bursuaries for Cypriots under the Commonwealth plan and the Government's plan for 1981–82. Indeed, the scheme administered on behalf of my Department by the committee of vice-chancellors has also made available support for outstanding postgraduate students. When the Overseas Students Trust report is concluded in the spring we shall be in a better position to see the overall picture on Cyprus.

How does the Minister justify the extra subsidy that the Government have now decided to give EEC students as a result of halving the home student fee, while giving no help to Third world students who need the money a great deal more? Will he make any further exceptions along the lines of the EEC subsidy?

Britain is a great beneficiary of the trade in students between the European Community and itself. On the latest figures available, about 4, 000 students from Britain go to Europe, whereas under 3, 000 students come here from the whole of the Community. Therefore, the balance of advantages is still very firmly with us.

Will my hon. Friend give great: weight to the report of the Overseas Students Trust, when it is released, on the options open to the Government'? When doing so, will he bear in mind the special position of dependent territories such as Hong Kong?

Does the Minister realise that this Draconian action against students from overseas is diminishing all the richness and diversity that they bring with them? Worse, it means that the wealthiest students come here instead of our disseminating education to those who need it most. Is this not a wretched approach?

The approach by means of funds earmarked by the Overseas Development Administration for the poorest students is aimed at meeting that problem in part. The hon. Gentleman's Government recognised that the old open-ended system could not continue and, of course, were the first significantly to increase overseas students' fees.

Would not my hon. Friend be well advised to carry out a comprehensive review of these increases and give a little more attention to long-term trends in the Commonwealth and to the need to improve political and commercial relationships between Britain and the Commonwealth, rather than concentrating so much on next year's departmental budget?

It is exactly for that reason that my Department, with other Departments, has given full co-operation to the Overseas Students Trust, which is producing a major report in the spring.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that it is impossible to visit any Commonwealth country or to speak in Britain to people visiting us from the Commonwealth without being made aware of the dismay and upset that they feel at Britain having turned its back on students from those countries?

That is a considerable exaggeration. We still take a large number of overseas students from Third world countries, especially from Third world Commonwealth countries. The numbers entering universities last year fell less dramatically than was predicted by some Labour Members.

Maintained Schools


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his latest estimate of the number of surplus school places, primary and secondary, in the maintained schools in England by 1984; and what is his target for the numbers which should be taken out of use.

The 1977 study of school building estimated that by 1986 there would be 2·8 million surplus school places in maintained primary and secondary schools in England. Our target for the numbers to be taken out of use by March 1984 is 630, 000.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he has given appropriate advice to the local authorities about whether they should reduce the number of children on a site or close some schools altogether?

Two circulars about falling rolls went out from the Department last year. The first said that secondary schools should have four streams and mentioned the necessity for a variety of teachers in middle schools. The second circular used the now well-known phrase "schools of proven worth", and said that good sixth forms should not be affected and that single sex schools should be maintained where there is demand for them.

In view of the undertaking that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and others, will the Undersecretary tell us when he intends to publish the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, which was promised some weeks ago?

I have not asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about that today, but I shall do so later. If we have any last minute information on the matter I shall communicate it to the hon. Gentleman.

After the big drop in the birth rate between the middle 1960s and the later 1970s, and the relatively small upturn since then, can my hon. Friend predict for primary and secondary schools respectively in which year school rolls are expected to fall to their lowest level and how far those levels will be below the present ones?

The pick-up in the birth rate is nothing like the previous fall. It is a pick-up, but it will certainly not fill the schools again. We suggested reducing places by only four out of every 10 surplus. Obviously, we now have peak numbers at secondary school level. Primary schools are different. The first pick-up will be in 1986–87 and there will be a second in 1992–93.

School Closures


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what criteria he has in mind when considering an application by a local authority for a school closure.

I consider all proposals on their individual merits, taking careful account of the educational and financial issues involved, including any representations made by parents, teachers and governors.

Is it not true that local authorities would prefer not to close schools and that Labour-controlled authorities especially wish to improve the pupil-teacher ratio, but that the Government give emphatic strength to the financial considerations and that Government cutbacks are forcing local authorities to consider the closure of nursery, primary and secondary schools? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider improving the educational component of the grant so that local authorities are not forced to make such invidious choices?

No Minister can make any mistake here. Of course closing schools is unpopular, but we must keep a balance between educational progress and public spending.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be pleased that he said that he will always consider school closures on their merits? Can he take on board the closure of primary schools, especially in small villages, where sometimes it is not just a question of numbers but of educational opportunities? Even in a school with a small number of pupils, and perhaps only one teacher, that village is providing good education for the child and the child need not make a long or difficult journey on dangerous roads to another school.

What my hon. Friend said is a factor that Ministers bear very strongly in mind. There are educational advantages and disadvantages in small rural schools and we must try to take both into account.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his circular on small schools was not intended to be a signal to local authorities to close village primary schools that could reasonably be kept open? Will he reiterate the sound advice given in the circular about the special problems of village primary schools?

I repeat that we try to take all the arguments for and against into account in each case and thus come to a decision on the merits in each case, including small rural and village schools.

In view of the enormous social, financial and educational problems encountered by families, children and communities as a consequence of school closures, will the Secretary of State consider changing the law and the financial arrangements so that bus services for school children who must travel longer distances can be fully restored to their 1979 position?

The balance of argument in each case is for the local education authority to decide. However, if the hon. Gentleman has a particular point to make, perhaps he will either write or speak to me.

Teachers (Pay)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any plans to reorganise the pay structure of the teaching profession so that pay reflects to a greater degree than at present the supply of, and demand in, particular teaching skills.

The power to change teachers' salary structures lies not with me but with the Burnham committee. A working party of that committee is studying the whole area of salary structure, but there is no indication at present of general support for the concept of differential pay for teachers of certain subjects.

Despite that disappointing answer, does my right hon. Friend agree that in almost every activity in Britain pay tends to reflect the supply of the skill demanded? Therefore, would it not be right to move to a system whereby mathematics and physics teachers, who are in short supply, would be paid more than teachers in other subjects who are in over-supply? Is it not necessary to do that to secure the right teachers' skills, which are essential to our national future?

I am sympathetic to the general propositions postulated by my hon. Friend. The Cockcroft committee on mathematics teachers recommended a differential in their favour, while recognising that the Government already operate one. I am studying those recommendations at the moment.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern and anger that he has already caused in the teaching profession, let alone the concern that might be caused by anything new? Why will he not allow the present teachers' pay dispute to go to arbitration?

In considering the future pay structure, should not the Burnham committee consider whether teachers have had in-service training or attended a retraining course and act accordingly?

That is another good idea that I am sure should be taken into account. My representative on the Burnham committee is already associated with the proposals for revised salary structures put forward by the management side of the working party, but there are important questions still to be settled such as, for example, how the competence of teachers can best be assessed.

Will the Secretary of State tell us whether, when his representatives on the Burnham committee meet on Thursday as a management panel, they will be free to support a reference to arbitration of the teachers' pay dispute?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman really expects me to answer that question.

Sixth Forms


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his policy towards the retention of school sixth forms; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend's views are set out in the draft circular issued far consultation on 24 November last.

Does my hon. Friend agree that sixth forms do a great deal for schools, that the pupils in those sixth forms acquire responsibility, and that if we move towards tertiary or sixth form colleges there is a risk that some of the better teachers might leave schools to go to those colleges, to the detriment of the school that they have left?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that sixth forms in schools provide a tried and tested way of educating youngsters at sixth form level.

How can the Minister know better than a local education authority how to organise its sixth form provision?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State has a duty by statute to consider the proposals put to him by the local education authorities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that education is a matter of principle, and one needs to be guided by principles? Is it not a long-standing, accepted and widely valued principle that sixth forms in schools have given leadership and other benefits to schools that cannot come to them in any other way?

Is not the pressure for tertiary colleges now developing in the educational orbit and are not sixth forms, although they have played a valuable role, now at a stage where, if they become smaller and smaller, they will become separated from life around them, while tertiary colleges will mean a greater expansion of education and a rubbing of shoulders with many people beyond the school age in the same educational set-up?

The Government are not opposed to sixth form colleges and tertiary colleges. However, when a sixth form has proven its worth it would be wrong to destroy it. I accept that there may be specific, special and compelling reasons to examine the matter, and each case must be judged on its merits.

Aston University


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has had further representations from Aston university regarding the reduction in its grant by the University Grants Committee.

As well as other representations received, my right hon. Friend and I have both visited Aston university recently and have been able to hear the views of staff and students at first hand.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the University Grants Committee has recommended the closure of the biological sciences department at Aston university? Does my hon. Friend agree that the kind of research carried on in this faculty, which involves close co-operation with industry on projects of great commercial potential, make it precisely the wrong place to close? Will my hon. Friend therefore urge the UGC to change its recommendations in this respect?

The UGC has recently written to the vice chancellor of Aston discussing his proposal to make larger cuts in engineering than proposed in order to keep open the biological sciences department. These matters are still under discussion between the university and the UGC.

Does the Under-Secretary agree with the statement made by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a debate on television with the vice chancellor of Aston university that of the technological universities, only two have suffered cuts, while three have expanded, and eight have remained stable? Does the hon. Gentleman think, on reflection, that that statement can be justified, particularly with reference to Aston university?

Secondary Education (Croydon)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science why, in announcing his decision on the reorganisation of secondary education in Croydon, his Department described the sixth form college system as novel and untried.

Croydon's proposals would have established a tertiary, not a sixth form, college. What was novel and untried was that the college would have been organised in five separate, semi-autonomous centres.

In view of that reply, will the Secretary of State make it clear that he is not trying to signal to local education authorities that they should avoid proposals involving either sixth form or tertiary colleges, because that is the impression that he has given so far in no less than three decisions? Will he make it clear that he is not trying so to change the role of the Secretary of State that he wholly excludes from consideration a system that has been tried and proved successful in a number of education areas?

I am not trying to exclude any particular solution. I am trying to put down the balance of arguments as I see them, following the draft circular that has been out for consultation in the last few months.

17-Plus Examination


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what linkage there will be between his plans for a course of education leading to an examination at 17-plus and the new training initiative.

These are complementary intiatives, and the youth training scheme is likely to have some elements in common with the new 17-plus courses. The forthcoming statement on the new qualification at 17-plus will describe arrangements for collaboration between the body which will be responsible for that qualification and the body responsible for the content of the youth training scheme.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation between his Department and the Manpower Services Commission to ensure that when the new examination course is established there is a fairly clear and obvious choice for people who are being advised, whether to take that route or to go on to one of the schemes under the new training initiative? Can he also tell us whether there is a possibility of a person moving from the 17-plus to another exam?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in this matter and I assure him that there has been constant and steady consultation. The only way that one could move from the 17-plus to the youth training scheme would be through unemployment, which we hope will not happen.

In view of the cuts in the grants for colleges of further education, how does the Minister intend to ensure that young people have the off-job training that has been guaranteed under the new training programme?

The hon. Lady is wrong. There have been increased grants for colleges of further education. There have been two increases: part of the £50 million allocated will go to colleges of further education. In addition, there is the further £35 million announced by my right hon. Friend in December.

While my hon. Friend is considering initiatives on the 17-plus, may I ask whether he agrees that some confusion would be caused if we were also to introduce a new 16-plus? Will he resist any pressures that may be brought to bear on him to merge GCE O-levels and CSE examinations?

That is a separate question, but I can tell my hon. Friend that the matter is under consideration.

How can the Minister guarantee that the extra money that he has just quoted will actually go to further education? How does he know that it will not be diverted to other parts of the education service that are desperately short of money or, for that matter, spent on mending holes in the roads under the block grant system?

Universities And Polytechnics


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further representations he has received about the cuts in university and polytechnic allocations.

My right hon. Friend continues to receive a variety of representations about the financing of higher education.

Is the Minister aware that a few days ago a group of students from the Derby Lonsdale college of higher education and the Matlock college marched the 150 miles from Derbyshire to London to protest against the massive reduction imposed by the Government's cuts? Is it not true that the reductions in the number of places in colleges, universities and polytechnics will ensure that those who get special schooling pass the exams to get to Oxford and Cambridge, where the present intake from public schools is 47 per cent.? Therefore, will not that percentage rise because of the UGC cuts?

I shall reply to the hon. Member's point about the Derby colleges. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) has been in regular consultation with me about Matlock, which is in his constituency. I have met a top level delegation of local authority and college leaders from Derby Lonsdale, and neither college faces insuperable problems.

With regard to universities, is there not evidence that after the initial shock the broad strategy set out by the UGC is gaining considerable acceptance? Is it my hon. Friend's experience, as it has been mine, that in a number of universities two speeches have been made, one for public consumption and one for private discussion?

The House will regard it as only natural that each institution makes as strong a case as it can. Needless to say, there are many within the university system—for example, Professor Bernard Crick and Professor Randolph Quirk—who have accepted that the university system has some weaknesses that are being put right.

Does the Under-Secretary agree, following my hon. Friend's question, that the broad strategy, as it has been described by one of his hon. Friends, is one that will reduce the age participation ratio and probably the qualified participation ratio as well, which has traditionally been high in this country, throughout the lifetime of this Parliament and far beyond? Is that an achievement that the Government can call a strategy?

The hon. Member knows that the Government have never disguised the fact that the age participation ratio for universities is bound to fall. It is necessary, in view of the savings that have to be made in public expenditure, that this is so.

Does my hon. Friend agree that since the economies in education have been advanced much nonsense has been talked on the subject, that expansion in the universities since 1960 has been over-rapid, and that some decrease in activities would be both desirable and reasonable?

I have heard many people inside the university system saying exactly the same thing.

Will the Minister help those hon. Members who have been approached by constituents who say "Last year my children would have gained a place at a university or polytechnic, but this year and in succeeding years under this Government they will not receive a higher education, although they have the same abilities"? What advice does the Minister suggest that we give those parents?

I advise the hon. Gentleman to tell those parents that the £200 million that the university system will be saving during the next few years will make a significant contribution, for example, to the expansion of training for 16 to 19-year-olds, which arguably is an even higher priority.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will arrange to meet the University Grants Committee to discuss the financing of universities.

My right hon. Friend has frequent meetings with the chairman of the University Grants Committee, but has at present no plans to meet the committee formally.

Is the Minister aware that there are 8, 000 applicants for only 600 places at the University of Stirling next year, yet the UGC is still hell-bent on imposing a 27 per cent. cut in student numbers and a 23 per cent. cut in recurrent grant? Will the Minister intervene now and give more money to the UGC to enable universities such as Stirling to take in more, not fewer, students? Or is it now official Government policy to throw more and more well-qualified young people on to the dole queue, instead of giving them a place in higher education?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the policy of Her Majesty's Government remains that of their predecessor, which is that they will not intervene in specific recommendations of the UGC. That remains our policy.

Is the Minister aware of the fine relationship that exists between Lancaster university and the Edge Hill training college? Is he aware of the danger of the closure of the Edge Hill training college by the Lancashire county council? Has he any comment to make? If not, will he look into the matter, with a view to safeguarding the future of that fine training college?

I visited Lancaster university and had an interesting discussion with staff there. I am not aware of the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and I shall write to him about it.

As my hon. Friend visited Aberdeen university recently, does he accept that, in view of the devastating effect that the UGC cuts will have on that university, it might be a good idea if he and his right hon. Friend met the chancellor again to see what can be done about that important university, where oil and gas technology is being acquired by people who are bringing cash into the country?

My hon. Friend exaggerates when he refers to the "devastating" of Aberdeen university. Aberdeen university is a fine university with a long tradition. It will complete its 500th anniversary, and I have no doubt that in due course it will complete its millennium. Any help that my hon. Friend can give in increasing the contribution made by local industry to that university, which undoubtedly is doing much for the oil industry and which in my view does not receive the support that it should from the oil industry, would, I am sure, be welcomed by the university.

Does the Under-Secretary recall from his visit the other day that the principal made it clear that the effect on Aberdeen will be serious, damaging to the career structure, and damaging to the university? Is he aware that there is great resentment in the university in that on 23 February it received a curt one-paragraph letter saying that nothing had changed, despite all the representations made to him and to the UGC? Does it not show that his visits to universities are a fatuous public relations exercise, costing a great deal of money, and to no purpose? Would it not be a service to universities if he resigned, instead of being the Secretary of State's poodle?

I shall not take up the suggestion in the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. No one underestimates the problems that are being faced by Aberdeen university, but it has resources available to it that will enable it to solve those problems satisfactorily.

When my hon. Friend next meets the University Grants Committee, will he discuss with it the reduction in the number of degree courses for the clothing and textile industry, which is the second largest employer in the United Kingdom? With the closure of the courses at Bradford and the possible reduction in the courses at UMIST and Leeds, this industry is suffering. Bearing in mind that we need high technology courses in this industry, will he discuss this matter with the University Grants Committee?

This subject is a classic example of one that is taught across the binary line, both in polytechnics and colleges, and in universities. We are now in a position to plan to concentrate resources on the necessary but relatively small subjects that he mentions, and I have no doubt that the national advisory board and the UGC will discuss textile and other clothing subjects.

Does the Under-Secretary accept that the contributions of the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) are only the latest in a series of plaintive cries from his right hon. and hon. Friends, and that it would be more honest for him to answer the question "Cannot something be done?" with the answer "No, Sir, there is nothing we will do, because we in the Conservative Party believe that there are too many degree-giving institutions open to too many people spending too much money, and we believe that they should be cut to a point where we restore the elitism of a previous generation"?

The hon. Gentleman should remember that at the end of these cuts there will probably be more students in the system than there were during the last year of his Government.

Primary Schools (Pupil Costs)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much was spent per pupil in primary schools in England in real terms in the most recent year for which figures are available.

Net institutional recurrent expenditure per primary pupil in England in 1980–81 was £547, the highest level ever recorded, both in cash and real terms.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show that the Opposition talk a great deal of nonsense when they talk about cuts in primary education expenditure?

My hon. Friend is quite right, but we should remember that there are difficulties in schools, because falling rolls involve diseconomies of scale, and there is mismatch. We should not be euphoric, although we should always remember that in real terms there was a record level of expenditure per child in that year.

As the Secretary of State has not communicated the information to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), will he tell the House when he intends to publish the report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate on education standards in schools in England and Wales?

Although that is a different question, I am glad to repeat that I shall publish the report as soon as I receive it.

Sex Education


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied that there are sufficient legal safeguards to enable a parent to withdraw his child from sex education in schools if such education is contrary to that parent's philosophy.

We have made it clear that there should be the fullest consultation and co-operation between schools and parents about the way in which sex education is provided.

I thank my hon. Friend for that sensible reply. Is he aware that the sexual propaganda of organisations such as the Family Planning Association and the Brook Advisory Centres is considered by many people to be immoral and dangerous? Can parents be protected from it by having the right to take their children away from lessons if necessary?

I accept that some of the material that has gone into schools would be repulsive to everyone in the House. Indeed, we asked for some to be taken away last year, and we are asking for more to be taken away now. The right of withdrawal from the class when sex education is taking place was considered. In the 1980 Act we said that every school would have to provide information on the way that sex education was taught. This must also be discussed with parents before being put into operation.

Will the Minister reject the Neanderthal attitude of his hon. Friend? Of course it is a matter for parents. No one denies that. However, if they are not willing or able to take on that duty, does not the Minister think that there should be properly structured help from teachers, who are trained to provide this help at school? Will the Minister consider the matter carefully, because it is an urgent problem?

I do not believe that we increase parents' responsibility by taking responsibility from them. Such education is the responsibility of parents. The problem in schools is how to teach sex education as a subject that teaches the children about personal responsibility for all relationships. Also, in schools, if the discovery method is taught the children will go out and use it.

Further And Higher Education


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to ensure the continuation of part-time courses in further and higher education.

The Government recognise the importance of part-time provision in further and higher education in meeting the needs of individuals and of industry and commerce; and we would encourage the local education authorities and their institutions, whose responsibility this is, to continue to give prominence to such provision.

Does the Minister agree that part-time courses for mature students in further and higher education are among the most cost-effective of education services, particularly when students, such as those at Birkbeck college, are paying the fees themselves? As such courses provide an efficient form of education and self-help, do not they go along with Government philosophy in both these respects? Therefore, why are those courses having to be cut?

As I have already told the House, the provision for further education has been substantially increased. It is true that the number of part-time courses in non-advanced further education has reduced in contrast to full-time and sandwich courses. This is partly due to unemployment. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that by 1984–85 there will be about 50, 000 places in UVP.

I think that we shall need a translation of those last remarks in the Official Report. Will the Minister undertake an inquiry into the full-time equivalent conversion factors involved in both sides of higher education, because there is a great deal of evidence that they militate against the way in which part-time and mature student courses are carried on in those institutions?

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. As he knows, the conversion factor is based on an annual survey carried out by the Department. However, perhaps I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that the newly established National Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education is setting up a working group to examine the data base for its work. The issue that the hon. Gentleman mentioned will be one of those studied.

Secondary Education (Manchester)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to complete consultations on the Manchester local education authorities' revised proposals for secondary education; and if he will announce his decision in time for implementation in 1982.

I wrote to the hon. Member on 10 March advising him that, immediately following the completion of consultations, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had approved Manchester's proposals.

I welcome the early announcement, which will enable changes to take place this year, although it is 14 months since Manchester submitted its application. Does the Minister agree that Manchester acted urgently and correctly in recognising the problem of falling school rolls? The Government have since told all local education authorities to do the same. What has been the response?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's kind remarks about the early announcement. I should tell him that we had the new proposals for only about two weeks before we approved them. That is productivity of which the country can be proud. With regard to the rest of the country, the number of places taken out of use last year with Government approval was twice that of the previous year.

What undertakings have been given by the Manchester city council to ensure that there is no bad effect arising from the city council's policies on the recruitment to the three excluded schools or on the careers structure of their staff?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's concern about that matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the Manchester education committee to discuss that matter and to ensure that there was no movement away of child population that would deprive the three retained sixth forms of their natural catchment. An assurance was given by the authority that that would not happen.

National Advisory Body For Local Authority Higher Education


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what arrangements are being made for representation of, and consultation with, non-teaching staffs and colleges and polytechnics by the new National Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education.

The National Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education is in the process of constructing effective liaison machinery for those interest groups without direct representation on its board.

Does the Minister appreciate that the composition of the board does not include the National and Local Government Officers Association, which has 10, 000 members in polytechnics and a large number of members in colleges? Will he take steps to ensure that non-teaching unions are represented?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the president of the union that he mentioned, by which I believe the hon. Member is sponsored, has been invited to join one of the, working groups on the national advisory board.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the President of the Council of Ministers and the President of the Commission of the European Community. Later I was present at the arrival in London of His Majesty the Sultan of Oman. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a State banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen in honour of the Sultan of Oman.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to read again the promise that was made to the House by the Secretary of State for Social Services two years ago to the effect the 5 per cent. abatement of unemployment benefit would end when that benefit was brought into tax? Is it not a gross breach of faith with the House and the unemployed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposes not to give back that 5 per cent? Why should the unemployed, of all people, be subject to double taxation?

Final decisions on that matter have yet to be taken. If extra is to be found, it will probably come once again from the national insurance contributions.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the key issue in the North-West of England at the moment is one of law and order? Will she be willing to break with tradition and allow another debate on capital punishment in the lifetime of this Parliament?

I accept that the question of law and order is one of those foremost in the public mind, and for good reasons. We have already had one debate on capital punishment. I would have considerable doubts about whether another one would produce a different result, but this is a question for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Does the right hon. Lady think that there is any connection between the record rates of crime and of unemployment that have come about under her Government?

No, Sir. There is not a direct relationship in any way. The right hon. Gentleman has only to look at the way in which the crime figures rose through periods of increasing prosperity and decreasing unemployment. They rose steadily. For obvious reasons, street crimes take place very much in the centres of our cities. Idle hands get to mischief. However, in my view that is not the reason for the sharp increase in crime.

Will the right hon. Lady apply her mind to what is likely to happen to crime and unemployment figures if the community enterprise programme of the Manpower Services Commission is cut by the Secretary of State for Employment? Does she not think that that could also contribute to crime and unemployment?

The community enterprise programme is being expanded by a further 5, 000 to 30, 000.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that her Government's policy of giving high priority to law and order has provided the police with the resources that they need to meet the present crime wave? Does she think that it would be timely if the police were to let it be known that they intend to make the fullest use of their new strength and that they will not be intimidated or deflected from their duties by any attempts to defame them as racist?

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. The Government have increased the number of police by 8, 000 in England and Wales and ensured that they are properly paid and properly equipped. Those who undermine the police are those who attempt to brand them as racist or attempt to undermine them in other ways.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 16 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that last August, in explaining away his claim that the recession was ending, the Chancellor of the Exchequer defined the recession as a situation in which industrial output and production were falling? As industrial output and production have fallen for each of the past three months, is not the conclusion inescapable that the country is now in the grips of a renewed recession?

No, it is not. It is up over the low point of last year. The hon. Gentleman must wait for some more figures. The hon. Gentleman knows full well, and probably has read, some of the reasons that the Statistical Office gave in the press release for the figures. Yes, the figures were bad. Yes, there was an unprecedented period of bad weather at that time. Yes, there were many strikes. It is not those on the Government Benches who help to support strikes. I hope that we shall soon get some better figures. When we have them I shall be pleased, and doubtless Labour Members will be displeased.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the statement made by President Brezhnev about the deployment of SS20 missiles west of the Urals? Does she agree that the statement falls far short of what might be needed, in that it leaves available deployment east of the Urals that is just as dangerous and does not reduce the number of missiles to the west? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the statement is a nasty reminder to us all of the extent to which the Soviet Union has been increasing its deployment of nuclear missiles over the past three years?

Yes, I agree very much with my hon. Friend. President Brezhnev's statement ignores two facts. First, it freezes the total superiority of the Soviet Union in these weapons—

It freezes the total superiority of the Soviet Union in these theatre nuclear weapons. Secondly, it ignores the fact that the SS20s can just as well be deployed and targeted on the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe from beyond the Urals as they can from this side of them.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to bear in mind that pensioners and others have lost two or three weeks' pension or benefit because of her Government's new calculation of benefits and their miscalculation of inflation? Will she compensate them for this amount by introducing an Easter bonus?

No. The hon. Gentleman talks of an Easter bonus. Under this Government the pensioners have had a bonus each Christmas, which they did not have under the Labour Government.

Will my right hon. Friend take time in the course of today to note that since the Budget of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer both interest rates and building society rates have fallen and are likely to do so again soon?

Is it in the remotest degree conceivable that that would have happened if, instead of my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget, we had had the £9, 000 million inflationary programme presented by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) a few days before?

Of course, in that case neither interest rates nor building society rates would have come down. What would have happened to the exchange rate I tremble to think. The inflation rate would have increased precisely as it did when the Labour Government inflated the economy. It went up to 26·9 per cent. under that Government. It would do so again and would go even higher if the right hon. Gentleman's programme were implemented.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Imperial Tobacco Ltd. has announced 2, 500 redundancies throughout the United Kingdom? As the Exchequer has received so much finance from the tobacco industry, will the right hon. Lady ask her Ministers to consider the social consequences of the redundancies and make representations to Imperial Tobacco.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for those in his constituency who will be without work. I am sorry, but one cannot urge people to purchase more of the products associated with smoking tobacco. It is a matter of personal choice for the public. We shall have to see whether we can get alternative work for those who will be without work.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 16 March.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is widespread support in Scotland for the decision that the United Kingdom should continue to maintain its own nuclear deterrent? Will she further accept that disarmament negotiations are better conducted from a position of military strength rather than military weakness?

I genuinely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. The Government, like their predecessor, of which the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) were members, believe in keeping a nuclear deterrent as a safeguard for our strength. We also believe that it is far better to negotiate for disarmament from a position of strength. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to negotiate a position on disarmament. I hope to go to the opening part of the second UN special session in New York to make a contribution on behalf of the United Kingdom.

Will the Prime Minister try to find a little time today to read and analyse the press reports of yesterday and today on the issue raised by the French on the development of a European independent defence policy? Is she prepared to subscribe to the belief expressed by President Mitterrand that the Western European Union provides a ready-made forum for the development of such a policy?

We should be very wary before we have in Europe a scheme that applies only to Europe, while at the same time we have the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It seems to me that that would not in the end unite the Western world in defending its own interests. It would have the possibility of dividing it, especially from its friends across the Atlantic, who are the ultimate guarantors of Europe's freedom.

Confederation Of British Industry


asked the Prime Minister when she next intends to meet the Confederation of British Industry.

When the Prime Minister meets the CBI, will she confirm that built into the Budget strategy is an increase in unemployment, especially youth unemployment, in the coming year?

That is not part of the Budget strategy. If the hon. Gentleman studies the forecast for the whole of Europe and for the OECD countries, he will find that there are forecasts of increasing unemployment across Europe and the OECD countries. Some of the forecasts were made before the recent fall in the price of oil, which one hopes will help to give a boost to international trade. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the CBI was warm in its praise of my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget.

As rates are a major problem for British industry these days, will my right hon. Friend encourage the CBI to co-operate with local authorities in expanding privatisation, which in Southend has resulted in the borough reducing its rate last year and having no increase this year?

Yes, I shall certainly do so. I know that Southend enjoys most effective facilities, which are operated privately, at a considerably lower cost than was the case when they were operated by the local authority. Similar steps are now being taken in Eastbourne, which also expects to save a great deal of money, and in Wandsworth. They are all delighted with the results that they are seeing and I hope that more and more local authorities will do this for the benefit of their ratepayers and local industries.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that in areas in which community policing has been tried it has proved to be a far more effective way of bringing down the crime rate? [Interruption.] In those circumstances—

Order. This is not an open question. This question relates to the CBI. I shall call one more hon. Member.

When the Prime Minister next meets the CBI, will she discuss the possibility that companies that suffer economic difficulties because their products are harmful to health could show greater responsibility by following the example of Imperial Tobacco, which is diversifying by putting the majority of its capital into products other than cigarettes?

Yes. There was a time when diversification was all the fashion. A number of companies then found that they were not expert in the acquisitions that they made and so it ceased to be so much the fashion. I accept the underlying point that companies with a loyal work force should try to find work for that loyal work force by producing other goods for which there is a good market.

European Community Documents


That European Community document No. 10852/81, concerning a proposal for the introduction of a tendering procedure for the granting of export refunds on certain milk products, be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.—[Mr. Pym.]

Business Of The House


That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the various stages of Bills of aids and supplies, more than one stage of the Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting.—[Mr. Thompson.]

British Railways (Divestment Of Assets)

3.31 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the sale of the ancillary assets of British Railways.
My proposed Bill has a fivefold effect on Britsh Railways. I have been encouraged to promote it by my constituents. They have been exasperated, as have I, by the recent ASLEF strike which cost the British Railways Board about £100 million, comprising about £75 million from lost revenue and about £25 million in paying non-ASLEF employees. Either the taxpayer or the British Railways Board must foot the bill.

My constituents and I strongly object to paying one penny of the cost of that strike, especially as its sole purpose was to preserve an archaic rostering system. It has been estimated that if the flexible rostering is introduced British Rail's productivity will be boosted by 6 per cent.

The House may be interested to hear that in the past six years British Rail's productivity has increased by only 1½ per cent., or about 0·25 per cent. per annum. That compares with a lift of no less than 35 per cent. in productivity resulting from the Beeching axe.

My Bill requires the British Railways Board to divest itself of some of the assets with which I shall deal in a moment. The Bill requires it to get out of property, catering, hotels and shipping businesses and to concentrate on the single purpose of an efficiently run rail network. I am well aware that the provisions of the 1962, 1968 and 1981 Transport Acts enable the board to exercise its powers of disposal. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is urgently examining that aspect now.

Since the Transport Act 1981, the economic position of the railways has dramatically worsened. Once again, the long-suffering taxpayer must pick up the bill. My proposals reflect what I believe is a widespread view both in the House and in the country today. They require, first, the disposal of British Rail's 26 railway hotels, secondly the disposal of its 30 Sealink ships as soon as possible to the highest bidders, and, thirdly, the selling of the 13 railway workshops, which employ about 39, 500 people.

The workshops are grouped together under British Rail Engineering and enjoy a monopoly of British Rail business while private wagon builders such as the Standard Railway Wagon Company of Stockport are not allowed to compete. British Rail Engineering has existed for 12 years and, despite having the monopoly of British Rail supply, its export efforts have been meagre. According to the latest available figures, it has succeeded in supplying less than 1·3 per cent. of the world rail equipment market. Fourthly, the Bill would enable private caterers to operate the restaurant car service and cafeterias on British Rail stations.

I turn now to what I believe will be a new lease of life for the branch lines. British Rail currently operates about 20, 000 miles of track, and I understand from recent reports that it is threatening to close 3, 000 miles of it unless the Government inject more than £700 million. That is an outrageous view. Every mile of permanent way left after Beeching is a national asset.

The Bill would set up a holding authority which would take over one-third, or about 7, 000 miles, of track at once, with the duty to dispose of those lines to local consortia of business men, local industrialists, and hotel and tourist interests. For example, a consortium could be formed to take over its own branch line, often with local authority or tourist boared participation, or, in Scotland, with the participation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board.

The lines would not necessarily be profitable as a result of such consortia, but at least they would serve local needs. With local knowledge, business acumen and enthusiasm, I believe that they would gain a new lease of life. That would be of local benefit. It would also benefit British Rail, to which those lines are now a financial burden.

The House may be interested to know that that system has been tried successfully abroad, notably in Switzerland where State-owned and independent operators exist and work in harmony. Too often rural railways are operated as sleepy backwaters and no attempt is made to win and develop new business, especially freight traffic. In some cases, there is little effort to make worthwhile and possible economies.

If the House accepts my Bill, British Rail will be left with a much slimmed down operation and will be able to concentrate its efforts on providing the nation with an efficient inter-city network into the 1990s and beyond.

I understand that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) wishes to oppose the Bill.

3.39 pm

As a member of the National Union of Railwaymen, I urge the House to oppose this in my view unnecessary but in some ways fascinating proposed Bill.

The most fascinating idea that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has put forward is the proposal for private management of British Rail rural services. That prescription for British Rail's ills involves one minor fly in the ointment. Who will buy them? Among the famous 40 branch lines so often cited by Government supporters as ripe for closure, the ratio of costs to earnings is approximately 2·5 to 1. What private company—if there are any left after the Government's ravages—would want to take on that prospect?

The hon. Gentleman suggested the formation of little consortia involving local authorities. In 1982–83, the shire counties of England—the hon. Gentleman's constituency is smack in the middle of one—will contribute less than £500, 000 of the countrywide total towards British rail support out of a total current expenditure of £575 million on transport provision. That is less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. There is not a shred of evidence that councils in the sort of area represented by the hon. Gentleman will be willing to spend more—or indeed anything in the case of his own area—on local rail services. They will certainly not be encouraged to do so by the Secretary of State for the Environment who, had he been here, would no doubt have been very cross to hear the hon. Gentleman's proposing even greater local government expenditure. That is why it is necessary now, as always, for the Government to support these services through the public service obligation grant.

If the Bill were accepted, there would be no future at all for stations such as Melton Mowbray, Narborough or Oakham, in the hon. Gentleman's own county. On the other side of the country, on the branch line between Stourbridge junction and Stourbridge town, the total costs recovered by British Rail from the travelling public is less than one-sixth of the overall cost of running the line. Despite the rush of tourists every year to see the birthplace of the immortal bard, the line between Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington recovers less than half its total cost through passenger use. Returning to the hon. Gentleman's part of the world, the local service between Leicester and Derby, which includes Market Harborough station in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, covers less than half its total cost. Is the hon. Gentleman therefore proposing that his own local railway station should be closed? That would certainly be the effect of his bill.

The hon. Gentleman cited the precedent of Switzerland. He has a point, as, in addition to making excellent clocks and watches and banking everybody else's money, the Swiss are extremely good at subsidising their railway services. Their financial contribution to the running of the federal railways is currently four times greater than that of any Government in this country in the past 20 years. That is perhaps the only precedent that the Government would be wise to follow.

If the hon. Gentleman were proposing the doubling of investment in the railways, I should not hesitate to urge my hon. Friends to vote for the Bill. On the contrary, however, the underlying purpose of the Bill is to add to the pressure on British Rail to dispose of its saleable assets as quickly as possible. The more the price can be knocked down, the better for the Government's paymasters in the City of London. The British Railways Board has been increasingly starved of adequate investment by successive Governments, and the pressure for quick sales since the Conservatives took office has steadily mounted.

In the past 10 years, land sales by British Rail have totalled well over £200 million. In 1980 alone, land sales by the British Rail Property Board amounted to £40 million. The property board's total contribution to the main British Rail business was £67 million, and it will be much the same in 1981. The properties owned by British Rail constitute an asset which, if carefully developed and disposed of at the right time and in the right conditions, can make a long-term contribution to railway finances, but if the Government maintain their present posture of blackmail on the British Railways Board there will be continued distress selling of the assets on a massive scale. What a way to run a railway!

Sheer financial necessity is only one barrel of the shotgun that the Government are now holding to British Rail's head. The board is already under statutory notice to sell off its hotel and shipping interests. No doubt the hon. Member for Harborough was suitably upset when the Monopolies and Mergers Commission turned down the fairly recent attempt by his hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) to take over Sealink. No doubt he would have been only too happy to see that national asset carved up by European Ferries, which in the past decade has not bought one British ship or paid one penny in United Kingdom tax.

The enforced sale of British Rail ships, hotels, land and—if we are to believe what we have heard—even branch lines is still not enough for the hon. Gentleman. He wishes railway workshops and catering also to come under the auctioneer's hammer. His comments about the workshops' export record are an insult to hard-working men in towns such as Swindon, York and Doncaster which for more than 100 years have set an example to the world in railway craftsmanship and exports. For the hon. Gentleman, from the exile of his farms in this country and overseas, to attack working men in railway factories in this country is nothing short of an insult.

A valued amenity for rail passengers which is unique in Europe in its range of services but not very profitable, as Pullman discovered a long time ago, is British Rail catering—Travellers' Fare. We can all imagine the type of company that would wish to take over Travellers' Fare at a knockdown price. They would be companies such as Trust Houses Forte and Granada which now ply their wares, if that is the right expression, on Britain's motorways. I can only suggest that any hon. Member wishing to avail himself of their facilities should take a full wallet and plenty of indigestion tablets, as in terms of price and quality those companies have a great deal to learn from the likes of Travellers' Fare.

The hon. Member for Harborough provided us with an entertaining few minutes, but if the Bill were accepted, who would be responsible for the sale of those national assets? It could scarcely be the Secretary of State for Transport, whose lugubrious face looks at us across the Dispatch Box about once a month. No matter how desperate we were, we should be hard put to consider buying a clapped-out diesel multiple unit from him. Perhaps it would be the Secretary of State for Energy, who represents the nearby constituency of Blaby—the man who gave us, or perhaps the City, Amersham International.

The Bill is nonsense. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, and indeed Conservative Members who take the time and trouble actually to read it, will join me in voting against it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 166.

Division No. 92]

[3.50 pm


Alexander, RichardClarke, Kenneth(Rushcliffe)
Atkins, Robert(PrestonN)Cockeram, Eric
Baker, Kenneth(St. M'bone)Colvin, Michael
Baker, Nicholas(N Dorset)Cope, John
Banks, RobertCorrie, John
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDickens, Geoffrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic(T'bay)Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.
Berry, Hon AnthonyDover, Denshore
Best, KeithDunn, Robert(Dartford)
Bevan, DavidGilroyElliott, SirWilliam
Biggs-Davison, SirJohnEyre, Reginald
Blackburn, JohnFairgrieve, SirRussell
Boscawen, HonRobertFaith, MrsSheila
Bottomley, Peter(W'wich W)Farr, John
Bright, GrahamFenner, Mrs Peggy
Brinton, TimFinsberg, Geoffrey
Brooke, Hon PeterFookes, Miss Janet
Browne, John(Winchester)Forman, Nigel
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnFox, Marcus
Bryan, Sir PaulFraser, Peter (South Angus)
Buck, AntonyGardiner, George(Reigate)
Budgen.NickGarel-Jones, Tristan
Butcher, JohnGlyn, Dr Alan
Cadbury, JocelynGoodhew.SirVictor
Carlisle, John(Luton West)Goodlad.Alastair
Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)Gorst.John
Carlisle, Rt Hon M.(R'c'n)Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaGray, Hamish
Chapman, SydneyGreenway, Harry
Clark, Hon A.(Plym'th, S'n)Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S)Grist, Ian

Gummer, JohnSelwynPrice, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Hamilton, Hon A, Proctor, K, Harvey
Hamilton, Michael(Salisbury)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hawkins, PaulRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Heddle, JohnRathbone, Tim
Henderson, BarryRhodes James, Robert
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence LRifkind, Malcolm
Holland, Philip (Carlton)Ross, Wm, (Londonderry)
Hooson, TomRossi, Hugh
Hordern, PeterRost, Peter
Hunt, David (Wirral)Shaw, Michael(Scarborough)
Hunt, John(Ravensbourne)Shepherd, Colin(Hereford)
JohnsonSmith, GeoffreyShepherd, Richard
Jopling, RtHonMichaelSilvester, Fred
Kaberry, SirDonaldSmith, Dudley
Kilfedder, JamesA, Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)
Kimball, SirMarcusSpence, John
Knight, MrsJillSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Langford-Holt, SirJohnStainton, Keith
Lawrence, IvanStanbrook, Ivor
Lee, JohnStanley, John
Lennox-Boyd, HonMarkStevens, Martin
Lewis, Kenneth(Rutland)Stewart, Ian(Hitchin)
Lloyd, Peter(Fareham)Stradling Thomas, J.
McCrindle, RobertTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Macfarlane, NeilTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
MacGregor, JohnTemple-Morris, Peter
Marlow, AntonyThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Marshall, Michael(Arundel)Thompson, Donald
Marten, Rt Hon NeilThornton, Malcolm
Mather, CarolTownend, John (Bridlington)
Mawby, RayTrotter, Neville
Mills, Iain(Meriden)Viggers, Peter
Moate, RogerWaddington, David
Molyneaux, JamesWalker, B. (Perth)
Morris, M. (N'hamptonS)Wall, SirPatrick
Mudd, DavidWalters, Dennis
Murphy, ChristopherWard, John
Neale, GerrardWarren, Kenneth
Nelson, AnthonyWheeler, John
Neubert, MichaelWilkinson, John
Onslow, CranleyWinterton, Nicholas
Page, John (Harrow, West)Wolfson, Mark
Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Parris, MatthewTellers for the Ayes:
Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)Mr. David Myles and
Prentice, Rt Hon RegMr. James Pawsey.


Adams, AllenCampbell-Savours, Dale
Allaun, FrankCanavan, Dennis
Alton, DavidCarter-Jones, Lewis
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCartwright, John
Ashton, JoeClark, Dr David (S Shields)
Atkinson, N. (H'gey, )Cocks, Rt Hon M.(B'stol S)
Bagier, Gordon A.T.Coleman, Donald
Barnett, Guy(Greenwich)Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)Conlan, Bernard
Beith, A.J.Cook, Robin F.
Bennett, Andrew(St'Kp'tN)Cowans, Harry
Bidwell, SydneyCox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Boothroyd, MissBettyCraigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)
Bradley, TomCrowther, Stan
Bray, Dr JeremyCryer, Bob
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Cunliffe, Lawrence
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)Dalyell, Tam
Buchan, NormanDavis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Callaghan, Jim(Midd't'n&P)Deakins, Eric

Question accordingly negatived.

Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dixon, DonaldMorton, George
Dobson, FrankMulley, RtHonFrederick
Douglas, DickOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dubs, AlfredO'Halloran, Michael
Duffy, A. E. P.O'Neill, Martin
Eadie, AlexOrme, RtHon Stanley
Eastham, KenPalmer, Arthur
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)Park, George
Ellis, R.(NE D'bysh're)Parry, Robert
English, MichaelPavitt, Laurie
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Pitt, WilliamHenry
Evans, John (Newton)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Flannery, MartinPrice, C. (Lewisham W)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Radice, Giles
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelRees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Ford, BenRoberts, Gwilym(Cannock)
Forrester, JohnRobinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Foulkes, GeorgeRooker, J. W.
Freeson, RtHon ReginaldRoper, John
George, BruceRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Golding, JohnSandelson, Neville
Graham, TedSheerman, Barry
Hamilton, James(Bothwell)Sheldon, RtHon R.
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterShort, Mrs Renée
Haynes, FrankSilkin, RtHon J. (Deptford)
Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)Silverman, Julius
Homewood, WilliamSkinner, Dennis
Hooley, FrankSmith, Cyril(Rochdale)
Howells, GeraintSmith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Huckfield, LesSnape, Peter
Hughes, Mark(Durham)Soley, Clive
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Spearing, Nigel
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Spriggs, Leslie
Jay, Rt Hon DouglasSteel, Rt Hon David
John, BrynmorStewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Johnson, James (Hull West)Stoddart, David
Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Stott, Roger
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Strang, Gavin
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldStraw, Jack
Kerr, RussellTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Kilroy-Silk, RobertThomas, DrR.(Carmarthen)
Lambie, DavidThorne, Stan(PrestonSouth)
Lamond, JamesTilley, John
Leighton, RonaldTorney, Tom
Lestor, MissJoanUrwin, RtHon Tom
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Litherland, RobertWainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
McCartney, HughWalker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
McElhone, FrankWatkins, David
McGuire, Michael(Ince)Welsh, Michael
McKay, Allen(Penistone)White, Frank R.
McNally, ThomasWhitehead, Phillip
McNamara, KevinWhitlock, William
McTaggart, RobertWilliams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Marshall, D(G'gowS'ton)Wilson, Gordon (DundeeE)
Marshall, DrEdmund (Goole)Winnick, David
Martin, M(G'gowS'burn)Woodall, Alec
Maxton, JohnWoolmer, Kenneth
Meacher, MichaelYoung, David (Bolton E)
Mikardo, Ian
Millan, RtHon BruceTellers for the Noes:
Miller, Dr M.S. (E Kilbride)Mr. John Home Robertson and
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)Mr. A. W. Stallard.

Orders Of The Day

Consolidated Fund (No 2) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Overseas Aid

4 pm

I am remarkably fortunate to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, so early in the afternoon and I am most grateful to you. I am delighted to see the Minister in his place, as I spent my first overseas visit in his company many years ago, soon after becoming a Member of Parliament. Therefore, we have had a common interest for many years.

The lines of the debate are fairly narrowly drawn, but I shall attempt to remain in order and to be relatively brief. We are talking about the technical assistance contained in overseas aid and about the provision of a small increase in the Supply Estimates for 1981–82, Class II, Vote 10. I wish that the increase had been greater. Perhaps it is time that we told the Government that such work is much more important for the peace and future harmony of the world than grandiose defence schemes.

By the same token, we should tell those whom we represent that it may well be necessary to make some further sacrifices in the name of humanity to succour some of the starving millions in the world. Poverty is comparative and from my experience I know that, despite all Britain's difficulties and misfortunes, the worst off person here lives in luxury compared with many millions of our fellow human beings. Increases in technical assistance will enable us to give more employment to our technicians, graduates and skilled men.

I visited Indonesia and travelled across the island of Java to the east, to the town of Surubaya. Java is vastly over-populated and that is an enormous problem. In Surubaya, I met a young British traffic engineer, who had devised a system to enable the maintenance of traffic flows in that over-crowded city. Hon Members may say that there is nothing remarkable about that, but in devising his scheme he took account of the bicycle rickshaws which, it had been discovered, were a major contributor to the town's economy. He had devised a remarkable scheme to enable buses, cars, mopeds and rickshaws to circulate in Surubaya without any traffic jams. I heard that engineer being congratulated by technicians of all nationalities.

During the same visit I saw teams of British technicians drilling wells to provide water supplies for the teeming millions on Java and other populated islands. I also remember when, following a visit to the West Indies, the Minister was responsible for technical aid being given towards the provision of an airfield and towards breeding stock to improve the cattle herds. I have perused House of Commons paper No. 183, the fourth report of the Public Accounts Committee. It is concerned with the Overseas Development Administration. It contains some excellent examples of bilateral technical co-operation, such as the Falkland islands airfield, hospital equipment for Colombia, the Indian farmers' fertiliser project and the Wadi Dhuleil settlement project in Jordon. I should like many more projects to be set in train.

In addition to providing employment for more of our skilled and technically trained personnel, some of the increases in the provision for technical assistance should be used to purchase British equipment. For example, in my constituency there is an International Harvesters tractor factory. For several years it has suffered redundancies and short-time working. Is that not scandalous when much of the world cries out for increased food production? Would it not be only common sense to put men to work in Britain, manufacturing British equipment for the use of those overseas, so that they can be provided with food and decent standards of living? If we did that, we would derive economic benefits and at the same time a fund of good will towards us would be built up throughout the world.

In a memorandum to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1981, the Overseas Development Administration states that technical assistance and co-operation represent about one third of our bilateral programmme. I should like to see that percentage increased to 50 or 60 per cent. There is some evidence 'that direct cash aid does not always benefit those for whom it is intended. Apart from the fact that it might go astray, it is sometimes used to purchase guns instead of butter. Aid in kind sometimes runs into difficulties of all kinds, particularly when it comes to distribution to the right points.

I am pleased to note that in the ODA memorandum, the Government state that they intend to restore the number of new awards to the 1978 and 1979 levels. That is still not good enough. Much more should be done for overseas students. When educated here, they become accustomed to using British equipment and they almost invariably—on return to their own countries—order British equipment. Overseas students are a great investment.

Therefore, subject to my earlier remarks, I welcome the increase in the provision of technical assistance and. I hope that I shall be in a position to laud the Government more lavishly on this matter in a year's time. Whatever our problems may be, we as an industrialised country still have a duty to help suffering humanity.

4.8 pm

I shall speak briefly in support of the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford). I do not know whether I shall do him a service by saying so, but I hope that if the hon. Gentleman's part of Bradford is to be represented by a Labour Member, it will be represented by him and not by the alternative about whom we have read.

I am glad that we have another debate on the aid programme. It was discussed several weeks ago on a Supply day and at that time I ventured to criticise the Government because their cuts were disproportionate. I cannot advance my argument without straying out of order, but I remind the House that although most Conservative Members were prepared to see reductions in some aspects of public expenditure, the reductions in the aid programme were disproportionate; they should be restored.

Within that programme we are discussing the technical assistance element. When the hon. Member says that this is probably the most valuable part of the programme he is correct. That is not in any way under-estimating the value of the whole programme. He suggested that sometimes money provided in the form of capital aid programmes may go astray. This was not my experience when I was at the Ministry of Overseas Development, and I do not think that it is the current experience either. It may have been so some years ago, but the aid administrators of this and other donor countries have learnt the lessons of the past; they have learnt to avoid those sectors which are inefficient or corrupt, and they generally ensure that public money used in all aid programmes is used wisely.

I agree that the technical assistance programme is of particular value because we are generally dealing with a person-to-person relationship in one form or another. On the one hand we are talking about people who are brought to this country for training, which can vary from a higher degree course to a police officer being on a six-week attachment to a police force. There are courses of all shapes and sizes which dovetail with the development needs of the recipient countries.

On the other hand, technical assistance can mean British people going into developing countries both to do a job of work and to train someone local to carry on afterwards. In other words, it is part of the job to work oneself out of it and to pass on the skills. Therefore the nature of the programme has changed over the years. In many countries in Africa this is true. I have not seen any recent figures but I would have thought that we were providing fewer teachers for schools than we were, say, 15 years ago. In the intervening period many of these countries have trained large numbers of teachers, but they may still need from Britain teachers in certain subjects, and they may still need us to provide various kinds of teacher training for them.

I agree also with what the hon. Member said about a trade spin-off, particularly from technical assistance. That is something that one can never measure. The case cannot be proved by figures. Again, there are two aspects. If someone comes from Africa or from Southern Asia into Britain to do a course relating to a trade or profession and goes back home in a management position, he is more likely to buy British if he is responsible for ordering goods because of what he learnt when in this country.

Equally, if someone from Britain has gone to a developing country and passed on skills, there will be a spin-off in terms of future trade and orders. It illustrates the general point that the aid programme as a whole and technical assistance in particular is right both on moral grounds and in terms of long-term self interest. That is why many hon. Members on both sides of the House will watch the future size of the aid programme closely. We hope it will not be further cut and that it can be increased.

Members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs recently visited the Caribbean. When they returned one of the things they said was that there was a need for a greater aid effort both from Britain and from other Western countries in the Caribbean region, again both to try to help the poor and hungry, and also for political and foreign policy reasons.

The right hon. Member may be aware that I was one of the people on that visit. May I assure him that he is right? What we saw was that much of the vacuum that has been left by the United Kingdom's withdrawal, particularly in training overseas students, is being taken up by Cuba, which is providing free scholarships to Commonwealth students from all over the Caribbean. It seems strange that Conservative Government policy is resulting in this.

Incidentally, may I mention to the Minister that I am the Member for South Ayrshire? When he goes to Jersey again he may recall that I have made this intervention.

I am grateful for that intervention. I was about to come to the end of my remarks. It often happens in this House that hon. Members on both sides become familar with the situation in a certain place, in this case the Caribbean. Another instance that comes to my mind is that when Zimbabwe became independent there were many demands from both sides of the House for a considerable aid programme for that country. I merely remind hon. Members that it is no good asking for aid in particular and then cutting the aid budget in general. The budget must be able to cope with specific situations which may well grow around the world. There may be strong foreign policy reasons why the West should want to help its friends in many parts of the world. That reinforces the other more general arguments that are always advanced on this matter.

4.15 pm

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to a special and small item in this totality of aid. It is item B11 at the bottom of page 15 of the Supply Estimates, and is headed "Action Aid Somalia", where we make provision for £125, 000. I hope that the first instalment will be paid immediately, or in the very near future, because, if there is any place that needs aid, it is Somalia. I am delighted that we are for the first time providing this aid.

Many hon. Members, including the Minister and myself, have visited the refugee camps, and we think that we know the situation. Statistics are often misleading, but when one divides £125, 000 by 1 million, which is the number of refugees in the camps, that means little more than 10p for each poor devil, male, female or child. I make this appeal personally, because the Somalis are a noble and dignified people.

We administered the northern sector, the old protectorate, until quite recently. I can think of no other part of the former so-called Empire that has had a worse deal. We have left these people almost alone. They are being ravaged by the Ethiopians, who have pushed them out of places like Jijiga and the Ogaden. The Ethiopians have used Soviet and Cuban aid, helicopter gunships and any other weapons to pin down these men, women and youngsters and evict them from their homeland, the Ogaden, where so many ancestors of today's leaders lived.

There may be 1 million or 1½ million people in these camps. In some of the camps that I have visited, the provision is 2 litres of water per person per day, when the ration is 6 litres. In my constituency, West Hull, or the Minister's constituency, Banbury, the people have at least 16 litres per head per day. This is a measure of the distress of the refugees.

I do not wish to make a long speech, because, after being in the House for some years, I believe that shorter appeals, if they are sincere and factual, are much more valuable to a Minister than long-winded speeches with enormous quotations from texts of North American or other origin.

I am grateful for the small mercies that the Somali people have received. Although I have said that statistics are unreliable, there is no doubt that the numbers of displaced people on the brink of starvation are, if not more than the figure I have given, rising significantly. It is possible that in Somalia one person in four is a refugee. That statistic sums up the distress and horror of the position.

No one appreciates more than I the work being done in the United Kingdom by, among others, the Red Cross, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam and the Save the Children Fund. One could go on with a long catalogue of fine men and women who are devoting not only their spare time but sometimes their full time to getting help, succour and sustenance to the poor refugees not only in Somalia but next door in Ethiopia.

Politically, it would be helpful if the Government took a little more interest. I am speaking not about the Minister for Overseas Development, but about those Ministers who go to EEC meetings. Less than a fortnight ago I told the Lord Privy Seal that with EEC money given for aid in Ethiopia the Ethiopian Government—Mengistu and his allies—were moving Ethiopian peasants into lands which the poor refugees had left. They are settling them there with the aid of money which is partly our contribution to EEC funds. Once Ethiopian peasants have been settled on the land for five, eight, 10 years or more they will be dug in, and it will be heaven's own task to shift them.

In view of the latitude given to the Ethiopians, I cannot see that the Somali people will have a fair deal and return to their ancient homelands, where the poets and historians were. People living in Hargeisa and Mogadishu, men in the Cabinet and the Army, have gone all the way down there.

The refugees, whose ancestors lived in those parts, are not receiving sufficient help. It is the fault not of the Minister—I know how hard he works—but of his Cabinet colleagues who are making decisions. More money should be voted for aid to the people in question. We owe it to them. We administered the territory, and there is a legacy of our administration. We were there in the days of Churchill and Bevin after the war. The people in question expected a better deal. God knows how we are to get them back into the Ogaden. At least one in four is a refugee in his own territory in a political sense.

Our Government have given £125, 000. I wish that they would give £1 million. Nowhere in Africa have I seen more destitution, misery, distress and starvation than in the camps in Somalia.

4.24 pm

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for initiating this debate. I wish to take the opportunity to point to a difficulty facing universities in their attempts to provide overseas aid and especially technical co-operation through our overseas aid programme. I do so using the illustration of a college of the university of London which I attended immediately after the war before I joined the Colonial Service, the School of Oriental and African Studies, where I was taught the lingua franca of West Africa—Hausa. They taught me so well that 22 years after 1 last saw Nigeria I still speak that language fairly fluently.

I speak English most of the time. Such expertise as I have described is of great value.

The criteria of "development" for the purposes of our overseas aid policy have caused many difficulties for such institutions as the School of Oriental and African Studies in striving to provide the sort of technical assistance for which the extra money that we are speaking of is required. The main discouragement to the work done by the school, in maintaining British contacts with the Third world, arises from successive impediments to the free flow of postgraduate research students in the arts, law and the social sciences.

First, the Overseas Development Administration cuts off help to British teachers of those subjects in overseas universities. Then it excludes those subjects from the scope of most of the scholarship awards which it administers directly or through the British Council. Simultaneously, the Department of Education and Science, through the University Grants Committee, forces universities to raise all fees to a level about five times the average of those paid in other European countries, and those for overseas students to a level 10 to 15 times higher than those paid in the rest of Europe. The £5 million a year offered for competitive research scholarships for overseas students, given to offset this, is of little use to Third world students, since the amount covers only the difference between full-cost and home fees, and they cannot begin to afford the home fees.

We can see the result in the experience of the School of Oriental and African Studies, where the department of history, which 10 years ago had 160 research students, two thirds of them from overseas, today has only 47, less than half of them from overseas. That department's international contribution has been reduced by about two thirds.

As previous speakers have emphasised, the result of all this is that British influence has been dwindling in Africa for want of a proper appreciation of the role that could be played by the universities, and especially those bodies, such as the school, which are in direct contact with overseas students and overseas institutions.

France, among other countries, makes no such error. It is fully aware of the value of training overseas students in the metropolitan country and sending them back to their own homes, where they pay great dividends on the investment that the French Government have made in them.

It is important to emphasise the stultifying effect of the doctrine of providing more help for the poorest. The result of this doctrine is that aid is given for subjects and projects defined as "developmental" such as agriculture, rather than for languages, law and the history of the Third world.

Professor Roland Oliver of the school wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph on 19 May 1979 in which he made that point particularly clear. In the latter part he said:
"As the head of a university department concerned specifically with Asian and African history, I am approached almost weekly for help in finding British teachers urgently needed to fill key positions in Third World universities—often in cases where a national of the country has been seconded for important services in government—and I have had to reply that, although good candidates often exist in Britain their salaries will not be supplemented by the Ministry of Overseas Development, and therefore the replacement will probably have to be sought from another country with a different educational tradition.
As I know from regular experience in another context, the same narrow and materialistic criterion is even applied to political refugees from the Third World who are granted asylum in this country. Either they must study an approved 'developmental' subject or they must rot on Social Security.
It is this kind of pedantry that we might now with advantage get rid of. The sums of public money involved are large—in scholarships alone, they are running up to towards £200 million a year.
One wonders how many taxpayers wish their contributions to be limited to subjects deemed by a Whitehall adviser to be 'developmental', and how many of them regard the promotion of the English language and the traditional subjects of a liberal education as undesirable manifestations of 'cultural imperialism'.
As many of us think, we have a not altogether discreditable educational record in the Third World. Why should we not help these countries to build on the educational foundations already laid there, as the French do with such obvious success?
The 'developmental lobby' has made many useful contributions to our aid programme, but its increasingly monopolistic grip over Whitehall should now be loosened."
I believe that hon. Members will agree that Professor Oliver makes a powerful point, especially when one considers the value of the school. It has a staff of about 200 specialists in Oriental and African languages, history, law, geography, anthropology, politics and economics. It does not deal with agriculture, the obvious "development" subject in terms of the current definition of development.

The school has about 450 postgraduate students, 300 of them from overseas mainly from Third world countries. Its staff play a unique part in training the future staff of the Civil Services, universities and development organisations in Africa, the Middle East, South and South-East Asia. Many of its former postgraduate students now hold Government and university posts in those countries, where university and other educational programmes are still expanding and where there is still a large contribution to be made. The flow of postgraduate students from Third world countries will be endangered by the higher fees sought from the individual students and the sponsoring authories in Third world countries.

It is important that we should view as overseas aid bursaries to offset higher postgraduate fees. They should be made available to postgraduate students from Third world countries in a wider range of subjects than those hitherto associated with technical assistance. I believe that a fundamental reappraisal of the existing criteria of development aid is needed, and that there should be a return to standards which are in Britain's long-term national interest and in consonance with what development countries expect from Britain.

4.34 pm

May I explain the rather cryptic exchange between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes), because the Official Reporters and yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might have found it difficult to understand? Apparently, when the Minister was in Jersey recently, he was asked who my hon. Friend was and he said that he had never heard of him nor seen him around the House. That was a remarkable statement, as anyone who knows my hon. Friend realises that he is often here and often loud in what he says. He tabled a Ten-Minute Bill on the question of Jersey and gained some success in the Budget. If the Minister reads the Budget carefully, he will see that there are now some curbs on people moving their ill-gotten gains to Jersey, and that is a result of my hon. Friend's work.

There are three major ways in which technical aid to developing countries can be provided. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) emphasised the first, the training of people in technical skills—in other words, providing university or college education so that they can return with technical education for other people as well as continuing the technology. The second is to train and educate our own people in technology, as some of them will go abroad and work for British companies, foreign companies or even Third world companies in the technical field, and give advice or teach in universities and colleges in Third world countries. The third is to provide through aid or loans the technology that those countries require in order to build their economies.

The city of Glasgow has a proud record in all three respects. First, our two major universities, the technical colleges and many of our engineering companies in the past have provided large amounts of skilled and technical training for overseas students and those from the Third world. A result of the increase in the fees is that fewer overseas students are coming into our universities. The university of Strathclyde is basically a technical university and one which should provide those overseas students with that sort of training. The numbers are being drastically reduced as a result of the Government's policies and the city of Glasgow is therefore failing to produce the technical aid that it should be providing.

Secondly, fewer of our own students and youngsters in Glasgow receive the sort of training that we should provide. I want to link that with the third point, which is the provision of direct aid. I have in my constituency a company called the Weir Group. Two of its individual companies are Weir Pumps and Weir Westgarth. One of them manufactures pumps and 75 per cent. of its production goes overseas and a large part of it to the Third world. Weir Westgarth designs and contracts desalination units. Desalination is the production of fresh water from salt water. The units will be essential if Third world countries are to raise their standard of living. Many countries, particularly arid countries, lack a basic supply of water which will have to be provided through the units.

Twenty years ago, the company took on about 300 apprentices almost every year. Last year, it took on eight apprentices, three of them engineers and the remainder in general technical spheres, not directly in engineering. The drop in the level of apprenticeships and skills training means that the company is less able to provide the technical aid to Third world countries that it should be providing. In the past, when setting up a desalination unit, the company has taken people from the country itself and brought them to Glasgow for training in the running of the units. Its capacity to fulfil this role is being reduced. This is only one instance of people both from overseas and from Britain who are not receiving the training that should be available to them. Across the whole field, there are large numbers of people who should be taking their technical skills abroad. That is not happening, and the Third world suffers.

At lunchtime today my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) and myself attended an exhibition in London where Glasgow is trying to sell itself and to attract investment back to Glasgow. I hear my hon. Friend say that he told me to say that. I always take my hon. Friend's advice. He is sometimes a very wise man. At the same time that Glasgow is trying to rebuild its great tradition of providing technology to the Third world and overseas countries, one of the two companies I have mentioned, Weir Westgarth, where the multi-flash desalination process was developed by a Glasgow man, intends to move its whole operation down to London. This will mean a large number of redundancies in my constituency. From a Glasgow point of view, the move is very damaging. It is also damaging in the long run to the countries where Weir Westgarth desalination units operate. If the link is lost with traditional customers in Glasgow, who have provided supplies, the company's ability to continue in this field will be lessened. It is already in danger of losing business.

The Prime Minister, when she returned from a visit to the Middle East some time ago, made great play of the fact that a big order was coming to Glasgow from Dubai. That order has never come. Unless it comes soon, it will not come to Scotland at all, but will go to London. That will be regrettable, to say the least, for Scottish people. This company, together with Weir Pumps, should be providing massive technical aid to the Third world. This is the decade of fresh water. It is the hope of the United Nations that every person in the world in this decade will have access to fresh water. Such an achievement, would go a long way towards eliminating disease.

The two companies, Weir Pumps and Weir Westgarth, in my constituency should be in the forefront of providing the technology. Weir Pumps provides equipment for pumping fresh water in reservoirs and other forms of water production. Weir Westgarth, in terms of the multi-flash process and reverse osmosis, is a world leader in desalination. It is, however, not receiving the orders that it should be getting. The Government are not providing the back-up and the aid to the companies to ensure that they receive the orders and that they can fulfil them. They need to be assured of the bonding and the back-up that is required.

It would be helpful if the Government would take an initiative in helping the Third world and our own industries by providing some form of corporation or unified body, established among different companies in the sphere of desalination, to enable them to contract with Government support and so assist the Third world in terms of water supply. This is a mutual process. Too often the Government—I do not blame the present Minister—give the impression that aid is a charity. It is not. It is mutual. We help the Third world. By giving aid, we help ourselves. That is particularly true in respect of the companies in my constituency to which I have referred.

4.46 pm

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on the relationship of aid and technical assistance in terms of hardware and the wider question of tied aids and technical assistance.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for raising this matter. The hon. Gentleman's work in the Inter-Parliamentary Union and elsewhere is well regarded. The debate provides a valuable opportunity to examine the provision of technical assistance.

I should like to strike a personal note. The hon. Member for Bradford, North rightly stressed the importance of providing experience of British industry and technical matters for people from the Third world. They become the customers of the future. There are also opportunities to gain experience for those who provide the technical assistance. I had the experience at the age of 22 of going to India for eight years, largely because of the building of the Durgapur steelworks. Many hon. Members will recall this classic example of substantial British aid directed to hardware and pulling through substantial technical assistance. The experience gained by all those involved was considerable. It gave young people the opportunity to gain much wider experience than would have been available to them working in their own country. This feature might be extended right across the argument for giving technical assistance.

I should like to probe the Government's thinking. I detect a change of emphasis in the attitude towards tied aid. The Indian coastal steel plant has seen an important contribution by a number of Government Departments, in partnership with industry, to achieve a major contract against tough competition, especially from the Germans. This raises the wider question of the degree of technical assistance that will be required. The provision of ground stations in Nepal was another tied aid programme linked with high technology.

Those two examples show how hardware, technical assistance and the aid programme come together in what I suspect is a changed emphasis to the traditional argument that untied aid was not only virtuous but that it produced more for Britain than for other countries. I am not sure how the figures will stand up currently, but I suspect that as the Third world begins to develop its technology there will be a change in that balance. The change in emphasis is appropriate to the way in which the world's industrial bases are continually altering.

An area of immense importance to the Third world, in which Britain is beginning to make substantial strides, is the provision of space technology. With the recent announcements by the Government of the defence satellite and the opening of direct broadcasting by satellite, Britain has, for the first time, a national space programme. We also have, through our partnership in the European Space Agency and the way in which that interrelates to the Third world, a much wider range of interests in developing the new range of the so-called "L-sats"—the large satellites—and European communication satellites. Britain is pre-eminent in communication by satellite, and when that process extends to cover remote sensing, the ability to chart the movement of floodwater, rivers, forestry and agriculture, the importance to the Third world is self-evident.

I draw the attention of the House to that aspect particularly because there is now an opportunity, through our provision of technical assistance, to put together the sort of package that many countries in the Third world now seek. I cite, for example, the Indonesian satellite and the way in which the Arab countries, through "Arabsat", have come to regard this form of communication as a way, in one bound, of becoming totally free in communications. As we all know, the problems of using terrestrial networks in these large land masses are enormous and capital expenditure is very high. Therefore, satellite communication has an obvious attraction to the Third world.

My right hon. Friend the Minister will recall that the Prime Minister signed an agreement in India last year on space co-operation and assistance. I hope that that can be built on, because ever since the agreement little has been said on that subject. However, it raises the question of opportunities in countries such as India where, as is well known, it is now possible by satellite broadcasting to bring educational and informative programmes into the most remote villages of that vast sub-continent. In such areas, British technology, technicians and hardware can be brought together, through the linking of the aid programme and the provision of technicians, in a much more effective way than in the past. I have been encouraged by the recent shift in emphasis, as I read it.

We must consider what can be done to expand that principle, not just for satellites, of course, but into the important area of ground station provision. I say "ground station provision", because I mean going beyond the provision of just the "dishes", as with Nepal. Britain's highly sophisticated system of processing information and computer expertise—Britain is a world leader in software equipment—can be of the greatest possible assistence.

I relate it also to our military expertise. If one considers the value of defence satellites, not just in communications, but in surveillance, one realises that in many critical parts of the world—in the Third world where there is danger of conflagration—the ability to have such surveillance activity would help to decrease the chances of local wars that might escalate in a way that we would all wish to avoid.

Britain has a great deal to offer in that range of new and exciting technology. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider ways in which his Department can play a part. I ask for Information Technology Year to spread its influence to my right hon. Friend's Department in a way that I suspect has not been traditional. Many of us consider that this new technology and its impact on the Third world means that we are breaking new ground. I have tried to suggest some practical and direct ways in which such projects would assist the Third world and help British technology skills to gain wider experience as individuals. That would benefit both Britain and those countries for which so many hon. Members have shown considerable care and concern this afternoon.

4.55 pm

I shall speak on items B6 and B11 of the Supply Estimates 1981–82 which relate to the financial help to be given by the Government to countries such as Cambodia, Nicaragua, Thailand and Somalia for help in refugee camps. Many of us welcome the help that is to be given. However, the sum involved—about £325, 000—while obviously very welcome, is a pitifully small amount for the crucial work that must be done as a result of what has happened in those countries.

I shall concentrate on item B11—the help given to Somalia. That is part of the allocated sum of £250, 000 which it is to be given. The House should consider the enormous problems that countries such as Somalia must face because of refugees. Whenever a country has refugees, it is presented with problems. Those refugees are often from within the country, but people cross the border into Somalia for safety. Therefore, they place enormous problems on that country. What can be said about Somalia can also be said about the Sudan. Great credit must be given to such countries for the unstinting help that they give to refugees who cross their borders.

I know that the Minister has visited many refugee camps during his period in office. He will have witnessed the enormous hardships suffered in those camps. He will also have seen the work that the people who administer those camps must tackle—often with antiquated equipment and very limited facilities. They are trying to bring some comfort and help to thousands of people.

Despite our economic problems—one must accept that we have such problems—I am sure that many Third world countries would prefer our problems to their own. Their problems are far greater than any of ours.

I welcome the money that the Government have provided, but it is pitifully small. What will the Government's position be when the second instalment of the £250, 000 that has been allocated has finally been paid to Somalia? Will further moneys be made available?

I am sure that the Minister will agree that countries such as Somalia—an extremely poor country—have the added problems of looking after the refugees. It is a matter of providing food and facilities for these people. The camps are often sited in remote areas where there are no existing services that can be built up. It all costs money. I am sure that the Minister must have been told on many occasions that such countries are concerned—one can understand this—by the attitudes of their people who, when they see refugees entering their country, are obviously worried about the sort of help that will be given to them and how much they will suffer as a result of them being in their country. That is why it is important to find out from the Government, after the £250, 000 has been paid, whether they will consider sympathetically any possible approaches by Somalia on this crucial issue for further aid.

What encouragement is the Minister giving to young people in Britain, who are often dedicated and talented but, sadly, out of work? Given the right encouragement and incentives, I am sure that those young men and women would willingly go to help in refugee camps. What sort of help are the Government giving? Surely, it would be of far greater help to pay those young people a salary in return for going and helping people in the Third world than to pay them unemployment benefit and have them remain in idleness in Britain. I should like to hear from the Minister about what will happen.

Another point that has already been discussed this afternoon—I make no apology for referring to it again—is student fees. The loss of talent that many countries must be starting to experience because of increased student fees is often mentioned to hon. Members on both sides of the House when people holding ministerial positions in other countries come here. They say that their talented young people can no longer come here because of increased fees. I am sure that the Minister is not unsympathetic to this key issue. I believe that the Government have been the best recruiting agent for the Communist world because of the increase in student fees. There is no doubt that some countries in Eastern Europe will willingly accept talented people from many parts of the world—people who would have come to Britain had there not been an increase in student fees.

We have debated the issue many times—some Conservative Members are equally as concerned about this issue as Labour Members—but I hope that it will not be long before we hear from someone in the Government that there has been a change of policy. We know that poor countries with limited resources must decide how they will spend their money. Often the demands in those countries for improvements are greater than the need, in their eyes, to send their talented youngsters to countries, such as Britain, to be trained for the future development of their countries. We cannot feel happy about the matter, and I hope that we shall examine it as soon as possible.

We discuss many controversial issues in the House, on many of which we are deeply divided, but I hope that especially on this aspect of the Estimates—help to the Third world and to refugee camps—there will be general agreement that we should try to increase aid. A few people will criticise whatever help is given, but, to judge from the correspondence that I have received, there is an enormous fund of good will for help from the Government to be given to the Third world. Those who write to me ask that the moneys allocated should be properly and wisely spent. I can well understand that point of view. If we were to read tomorrow in the national press that a British youngster had been found dead from hunger, there would be a national outcry. The social services in whatever part of Britain it had occurred would prepare reports and there would be statements in the House. Sadly, we know that in many underdeveloped countries young children are dying every day, not through lack of concern but through the lack of resources. Britain should face up to such a challenge.

The attitude of developing countries towards Britain will not be measured by whether we possess the Trident missile. That is not of great concern to them. What will condition their attitude to us, not only now but in the future, is the sort of response that we, as a major industrial power, make to their problems. I welcome the help that has been given, but it is still not enough. I welcome the concern of the Minister for Overseas Development, but I hope that he and hon. Members on both sides of the House will do everything possible to see that some of our money—do not let anyone say that we do not have the money—is allocated in greater amounts to help people living in the sort of conditions that we in Britain have never experienced.

5.6 pm

I shall limit my remarks to one part of the Commonwealth—Sri Lanka. It is an island of 15 million inhabitants, 250 miles long by 100 miles wide. The geography of the island is such that the centre rises to peaks of between 6, 000 and 8, 000 ft. The island is world famous for tea and in the Nureilia area there are some of the finest tea plantations in the world. Now it is also attempting to build up a tourist industry. Sri Lankans are extremely good supporters of the United Kingdom. Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip made an official visit there at the end of last year. They were received with tumultuous admiration. The occasion made one realise that the former British Empire has left a legacy of good will and lasting overwhelming loyalty to the British Crown.

The island's second visit by Royalty was only a few weeks ago when Prince Philip, wearing his hat as president of the World Wildlife Fund, made an official visit. He was presented with a baby elephant, which is coming to one of the London zoos. He was fortunate enough, as I was told by letter this morning, to see a drive of about 200 elephants from bare pastures to fresh pastures—the drive once again contributing to the preservation of a dwindling stock of wild elephants in Sri Lanka.

We as a Government—I speak perhaps for the previous two Governments—have supported Sri Lanka by allowing funds to go forward to build the Victoria dam, which is now nearly complete. I understand that its costs have overrun, as with many other projects, by about £20 million, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will tell us, when he replies, whether he has been able to help with that project.

The most serious aspect of my speech today is that there is a vicious drought in Sri Lanka which is putting at risk the whole rice harvest this year. From the information that I have received, Sri Lanka will need more and more aid. It will need finances certainly to make more reservoirs of fresh water and especially in an area in the north—Jaffna—to complete the fresh water barriers there. Two have been built and another two are needed to complete the scheme. Then there will be 50 square miles of reservoir of fresh water for that particularly badly hit area.

The idea behind the fresh water reservoirs is that the people can then go in for fish farming. There is rich soil and if it gets a plentiful fresh water supply the Tamils, who are an extremely hard working, agrarian society, will be able to feed almost the whole of the island. It is envisaged that with sufficient fresh water not only could they feed the island but they could export to the Indian mainland. The opportunities are available.

Poverty in the sun is not quite as bad as poverty in Manchester or Birmingham, but in Sri Lanka the national wage is approximately £10 sterling a month. One realises the degree of poverty, especially in the circumstances of drought, when the rice harvest is disappearing. That national wage is a pitiful amount on which to keep a fancily of three or four, and there is a great need for us to support them.

The Sri Lankans are doing their best to help themselves. They are expanding the tourist industry. I was there in January and new hotels are being built. The tourist trade is attracting foreign currency, but even if it is built up, as they hope next year, to about half a million tourists, it will have only a small effect on the economy of the island. The economy is agrarian—mainly the production of rubber, copra, hessian and tea—and the emphasis all the time is on fresh water, not high technology.

In the streets of Colombo there are still Morris Minors being driven. They have probably done several thousands of miles, and are over 30 years old. The Sri Lankans greatly need to replenish not only the whole of their taxi fleet but their buses. I found when I talked to the Sri Lankan politicians that they are grateful for overseas aid money. There is a reciprocity clause. We provide British money and wherever possible they must buy British goods. I was told a sad story about how, when British Leyland was approached for Land Rovers for the Victoria Dam project, it said that there were no Land Rovers available. It is becoming only too obvious to those who visit the island regularly that Japan is beginning to move in, not on high technology but with small factories, vans, cars, lorries, diggers and road making equipment. The Japanese are there already and yet there is a terrific loyalty in the island to the British. We have not taken advantage of the good will that is there.

I must deprecate what has happened with British Leyland which seems to be able to let practically any other car manufacturer in the world run rings around it. All of what I call "the Whitehall administration cars" in Sri Lanka are Peugeots. That is because the French Government gave an undertaking that the currency and the credits would be available if the Sri Lankan Government bought from the French company. I should have thought that we could do something similar to replace not only the buses but perhaps the whole of the taxi fleet in Sri Lanka.

The chairman of the Mahewali project, Mr. Panditdirantna, is fully conscious of the reciprocity arrangement and would like to continue to buy British wherever possible. However, things are such that these good friends of ours are sometimes being neglected.

There is a feeling that, at the end of the Victoria dam project, when a great deal of extra agricultural land will become available because of fresh water supplies one side of the island will become very prosperous and the north, the Jaffna area, will become the poor relation. I am saying this, because only six or eight months ago one of the prospective parliamentary candidates for the United National Party was assassinated in Jaffna. Terrorism could easily break out there by a feeling of Sri Lanka being two nations.

It is possible for us not only to help the living standards of everyone in Sri Lanka but to stop any division that may be created in the islands between, say, the Muslims and the Buddhists, although it is not quite that simple. The barrier is not as religious as it is in Northern Ireland, but there is a feeling that those in the north, the Tamils in particular, are being neglected, and that when the Victoria dam is completed they will be even more neglected.

We can help. I hope that it will be possible for my hon. Friend, when he is on one of his tours of the world, to go not only to Colombo but to Jaffna—perhaps he has already been there—to examine some of the imaginative schemes. Some of them may be far-fetched, but some of them are workable. For example, I went to a factory where all sorts of sea food, such as prawns and lobsters, were being deep-frozen and exported to France.

The Sri Lankans have the imagination. What they need is an initial push to provide them with fresh water to survive. The drought is serious and the standard of living is extremely bad. Thank goodness, they are a happy people; otherwise perhaps no one would have survived. We have many friends in the island. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something about Sri Lanka and some of the problems facing it.

5.17 pm

We are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for initiating the debate. His continuous and sustained efforts in the interests of the Third world are well known, and I know from my own experience how keen his interest is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and I were today at an exhibition in London promoting the industrial and commercial potential of the city of Glasgow. If any city has possessed the technical skills and the ability to transport those skills to Third world countries, I think, without being too parochial, it is Glasgow. I hope that the Minister, if he does not get the opportunity of visiting the exhibition himself, will at least encourage his officials to contact Lord Provost Kelly or Mr. Verico, who is acting as the organiser and coordinator of the exhibition.

Several times today the question of fees for overseas students has been raised. I make no apology for raising it again and the Minister will be aware that I have raised it several times over the past few months in speeches and questions. The mood on both sides of the House is one of deep and serious concern about overseas students. As they are paying full cost fees, there will be a 34 per cent. drop next year in their numbers. That has a substantial effect both on university life and on the quality of universities.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) has just returned from Cuba and he has informed us that President Castro is aware of the potential of these students and is encouraging Commonwealth students from the Caribbean to be trained in Cuba. The Minister and I know that France and Russia are snapping up students from the Commonwealth. When these young people go back to their countries, they will hold substantial positions in commerce, the Government and the armed forces. As several told me when I met them recently here in London, they will not buy British goods. They will purchase goods from the countries where they have trained. We are destroying the seed corn of the next generation of British orders.

If the Government needed any lesson in this regard, the recent visit of Lord Carrington to Malaysia showed him that, although Malaysia gives us substantial orders for industrial equipment, amounting to over £100 million, it wants British education for its students. That was made abundantly clear to the Foreign Secretary. We have a potential and a richness to impart to such countries. For the miserly cost of £100 million over three years, we are losing thousands of millions of pounds of orders in the coming years. I hope that the Government will take account of what I say. I know that the Minister will tell me that he had made some effort in this regard through his own Department—in this case, of course, most of the students of whom I am talking come through the DES. So perhaps he will acquit himself of any responsibility in this connection.

I want to raise the question of our contribution to the European development fund. I reiterate my concern and criticism of that fund. According to 19 of the Supply estimates, we are expected
"to contribute 18·7 per cent. of the Fourth European Development Fund and 18 per cent. of the Fifth European Development fund."
The Minister knows, as I know, that we get a poor exchange for that mandatory contribution. Despite paying more than 18 per cent. to the European development fund, we are lucky to get 10 per cent. in industrial orders. This country possesses many skills—educational, industrial, and scientific— yet the French, in particular, have used the European development fund to their own advantage.

On 11 April, and in previous debates, I asked that the Foreign Secretary or anyone else visiting Brussels should raise the matter of France holding the Development Commissioner's role for nearly 20 years, which is a scandal. It is unfair both to us and to our European partners. France has used that role to her advantage, and we have been the loser. An early opportunity must be taken to discuss the matter. Although India and Bangladesh may not come within the Lomé convention, because of our responsibility for the poverty that now exists in Bangladesh, we should draw attention to the fact that the European development fund is grossly underspent and that money is available.

The hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) raised the interesting subject of satellites. He has a friend in me. It is passing strange that we use satellites to beam the Miss World competition or a football competition, but not to educate people about how money is used in the Third world or how it should be used. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) will agree that it is extremely difficult to get aid to the poorest people in the poorest countries. No one has solved the problem. There are many reasons for it—corruption, maladministration, perhaps lack of proper surveillance, and lack of proper monitoring. The Prime Minister has said several times that we are now spending £1, 000 million, but we know that only a minute fraction of that money reaches the poorest people in the poor countries. We do not want satellites as a "Big Brother", but they could encourage countries to spend our money, and to spend it where the need is greatest. Satellites are a good way of educating people, but they are a good way of transferring technology and skills, and save a great deal of time and expense.

I am pleased to hear what the hon. Member says. Will he allow me to say that I should have declared a commercial interest in helping British Aerospace? However, there is a united British industry interest here. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, while television may be thought of as a luxury, in relation to the community use that television can have for educational purposes in villages, for example in India, it is cost-effective aid?

I entirely agree. Poverty in the poorest countries tends to be in rural areas, and there is not a teacher for each village. Without jumping too fast into technology, I think there is a limited role for television in small townships and rural areas. The question of priority arises, and when it is a question of 1, 000 water pumps, or providing irrigation or health, as against satellites or television, the choices are agonising. Of course, the problem is not uniform in every country. Developing countries might need the assistance of which the hon. Gentleman speaks. There is a role for satellites. They should he developed to a much greater extent. It is technological assistance, just as much as providing water pumps, and I hope that the Minister will take account of what I and the hon. Member for Arundel have said.

Nicaragua has featured largely in the newspapers, television and radio over the past few months. As the Minister knows, I visited that country about 15 months ago. I refer the Minister to an answer that I was given on 1 February this year, when he said that the Government there
"follow a doctrinaire Marxist-Leninist line."
That is grossly unfair to the Government of Nicaragua. When I say that their Foreign Secretary is a Jesuit Catholic priest, and that four members of the Catholic Church are in the Government, they can hardly be accused of following a "Marxist-Leninist line". The Nicaraguan Foreign Secretary came here recently. The Minister said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara):
"We have had no specific requests … for mining machinery".—[Official Report, 1 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 17–18.]
I raised the matter with the Minister because, after 40 years of dictatorship under Somoza, all the mining equipment was smashed and most of the equipment in factories was destroyed. Indeed, Somoza took most of the treasury, such as it was, with him abroad into exile. Nicaragua was looking for grants and loans at reasonable rates of interest, and they were hoping to buy British machinery. In this country we have experts in mining machinery, and although Nicaragua is a small country, the potential was enormous. I hope that the Minister will think again. It is disgraceful that Britain is the only member of the EEC not to have an aid programme for Nicaragua, apart from the £30, 000 which the Minister announced recently for Red Cross ambulances, and so on. That is an insignificant amount.

It is derisory, as the hon. Gentleman says. I used that word when intervening in the Minister's speech on 11 February.

The Nicaraguan Foreign Secretary bluntly and plainly told me, when I met him in the House, that his country does not want to ask Russia for assistance. He said that Nicaragua is a small country which is bankrupt and fighting for economic and political survival. He told me that he came to Britain hoping for assistance, in the form not of grants, but of loans. He said that if he did not receive that assistance he would have to approach Russia as well as our European partners. If Germany, France, Belgium and Holland think that Nicaragua is worth helping, surely Britain, with its long record of compassion and idealism in assisting countries that are in trouble, should think again. I hope that the Minister reconsiders the position before it is too late.

It is traditional for speeches on the Consolidated Fund Bill to be short because many Back Bench Members wish to raise other matters, but I must make the point, as I have done on previous occasions, that the world is far too small for anything but interdependence. The Government are operating the economics of lunacy. There are 10 million unemployed people in the EEC. It is tragic that there is $87 billion lying unused in the Eurodollar market and the banks belonging to OPEC. Britain has a target of providing 0·34 per cent. of our GNP in aid. I hope that it is rising. However, there are 800 million poor people in areas of the world which are virgin markets. Those markets could be expanded for our industrial and commercial interests by giving technical assistance.

I do not expect the Government to accept the moral argument for feeding the hungry, or to understand the philosophy of helping the Third world. However. should have thought that a so-called entrepreneurial business Government would have seen the economic arguments for assisting the underdeveloped countries. Once a start is made in such areas the opportunity follows for expanding our industrial base, which is rapidly shrinking year by year because of the Government's policies and many other factors.

A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation is here to look at our Parliament—the Mother of Parliaments. It is ironic that we shall receive a reply which, despite the Minister's sympathy, we know will be far from encouraging because we have such an attitude from the Prime Minister day after day. While millions are dying of hunger and suffering poverty and disease, the House not only fails the Third world, but fails democracy itself.

5.34 pm

I am sure the whole House is grateful to the hon.

Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for giving yet another airing to this subject. There has been a high rate of debate on the general subject of aid, not only in the Chamber but in the other place. I am glad that he drew No. 1 in the Consolidated Fund debate, because if he had drawn No. 13 we might be debating the subject at 3.30 in the morning.

I well remember the visit which the hon. Gentleman and I made to the Caribbean, to which he referred. I think that it was in 1965. I thank him for his kind reference to my part in the first aid project for the British Virgin Islands. The hon. Gentleman and I were shown around the agricultural centre there. The people there said that what they wanted was a good bull so that they could breed cattle.

When I got home to my constituency it so happened that I was speaking at the annual Christmas fat stock show at Chipping Norton. I said to my farmers: "Here is a colony that has been loyal for hundreds of years. I would like you to subscribe to send out a good young red poll bull so that the fanners in the colony can sell their produce as a result of the breeding."

We identified one of the best pedigree red poll bulls in the country at the cost of £500 plus shipping. I received quite a lot of money, but we still had not reached the target. Therefore, I contacted the local press and asked it to help me to reach that final target. We discussed what was wanted and in the next week's edition of the Banbury Guardian, the headlines were: "Bull for the Virgins". That story attracted the people's interest and the money came in. We achieved our objective. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman remembered that.

The hon. Gentleman wants more aid. Most people would like to spend more on aid, but as I have said repeatedly in the House, we must get our economy right so that growth starts. The best form of aid that we can give the developing world is to increase trade by our country's growth demanding that we should import more from developing countries.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned tractors at a constituency level. In 1980 £2·1 million was spent on the provision of tractors to the developing world. However, that figure relates only to purchases under bilateral aid and it excludes purchases through multilateral programmes, voluntary aid and so on, where we have done well. However, I do not have the details of the numbers of tractors supplied.

I was in Sierra Leone looking at agricultural development there and more recently I was in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. There is a move to return to the ox-drawn plough. At the agricultural college at Sierra Leone an ox was going round and round testing out different ploughs. The people there are beginning to believe that the tractor is not necessarily the right form of power for ploughing in many areas of developing countries. There is a return, of which some people are glad, to ox-drawn ploughs.

Many hon. Members have mentioned overseas students. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science but the Overseas Students Trust is considering it. I understand that its report should be available reasonably shortly, when that matter will be considered by the Government. The report should include an attempt to assess the extent to which we get a technical spin-off from education. It is easy to say that and one imagines that it happens, but what we want is an assessment of the validity of that argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) raised the same point.

I should like to say a word about the hon. Gentleman's constituency university. I do not know whether it is in his constituency or in another area of Bradford. The project planning centre at Bradford has an enviable reputation in project planning and development. The centre has become self-supporting, if not profit-making, which is a good example to other universities.

The centre's income is derived from student fees and from the provision of overseas consultancy services. My Department contributes to it through the fees of overseas students whom we sent to the centre under the aid programme. Within the limits of a constricted aid programme and the Government's priorities the Overseas Development Administration can continue wherever possible to support overseas students on courses such as those of the Bradford centre, and to consider on a competitive basis the use of people from Bradford and elsewhere as consultants. My advisers are well aware of the claims of the Bradford centre. I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, North will draw that passage of my speech to its attention.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) tended to agree that not much aid goes astray now compared with what happened in the past. I dealt with that matter in a previous debate. I stress once again that we assess the projects before, during and after. We monitor them most carefully and we have a strict accounting system. The money that is spent is very much under control, and the old days of aid moneys being used to purchase Mercedes cars for Ministers are over. But I touch wood, because one can never know everything that happens. There are mistakes but we do everything possible to control the expenditure.

I wish to refer to the misuse of aid funds. We are a mandatory contributor to the European development fund. We have had disturbing reports about the way that the money is used, and that the auditors are being brought in. Has the Minister made any representations on the European development fund, and if so what answers has he had?

This morning I spent about one and a half hours with Mr. Pisani, and time was spent on that subject. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) raised the subject in a previous debate and has tabled three questions on it. I shall be writing to the hon. Member for Greenwich about the result of our discussions and I shall send a copy to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry referred to teachers. In the developing world, stress must be placed on management and marketing. Often in a developing country such as Fiji there is a wonderful product such as crystallised ginger which cannot be bought easily in the shops in Britain. One suspects that if the Fijians had the necessary marketing skills they would do far better. The same is true of Tanzania which has some of the best instant coffee in the world. It cannot be bought in the shops in Britain. Therefore, marketing is an important aspect of what we teach people from the developing world.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson) spoke eloquently about Somalia. He and I share the tragedy of those people. His interest in that country is well known in the House. There was a general feeling in the debate that we should spend more on helping the refugees in Somalia. I have the figures for what we shall spend on refugees generally in 1981–82. We shall spend £16 million on refugees. That figure has to be split up between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees programme, relief workers in the near East, special appeals, Africa, Afghan refugees, El Salvadoran refugees, the Far East problems and the British voluntary agencies. It is an enormous sum. We should like to spend more on aid. It is a tragedy that we have to spend money on refugees but is seems that there have to be refugees. One is forced to the conclusion that certain countries and certain Governments with certain philosophies cause people to seek freedom. We are supporting people who have chosen freedom. That is certainly so in Pakistan with the refugees from Afghanistan.

The Minister may not be able to answer my question or he may not want to answer it, but will he give me an answer in the near future when he has worked on it? The EEC gives aid to the Horn of Africa—Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and elsewhere. Will the right hon. Gentleman ascertain whether any of the money is seeping into Addis Ababa and being used for the settlement of Ethiopian peasants in the Ogaden? This is a tender point with African politicians. They feel that it is a form of genocide that people are being settled on land which has been gained only by fighting and evicting those who have lived in the area for centuries.

I take and recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I shall put through a specific inquiry on that specific issue. Ethiopia is a member of the ACP and has a perfect right to European Community assistance under the Lomé convention. However, the use to which it is put is the point that the hon. Gentleman is on.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) also talked about Somalia. When I visit refugee camps, be they in Pakistan, the Sudan or wherever, I am struck by the refugees' utter sense of despair about their future. It is terrible to experience it. One of our aid programmes in the Sudan is devoted to resettling Ethiopian refugees so that they can have some hope for the future. The despair of the Afghanistan refugees in Pakistan must be terrible as they do not know whether they will ever get back to their homeland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington talked about education. Under the aid programme, there were 14, 000 students from overseas in Britain in 1980 and the number will be of the same magnitude for 1981. Many of the issues that my hon. Friend raised are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

I noted what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said about the technical training that can be provided. He mentioned especially Weir Pumps. When I was in Cairo I offered aid of about £50 million for the new Cairo waste water works. I gather that tenders have not yet been sent out but there is a great opportunity there for Weir Pumps. I hope that the company is successful in the bid when the tenders go out. I cannot comment on what the hon. Gentleman had to say about desalination but I shall write to him about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) has no need to worry about the subject that he raised because I was a junior aviation Minister from 1962 to 1964. I am hooked on that subject. We give industry considerable assistance with aid trade provision and our tied aid, which bring many jobs to the country. It may interest the House to know that we have helped with aid trade provision of some £174 million. That has helped win export orders of £760 million. Of course, four fifths of our bilateral aid is tied to United 'Kingdom-produced goods.

I recognise the point about television and so on in the developing world. I have seen it operating in the university of the South Pacific in Fiji where courses are run through the television network to people in the outer islands who cannot afford to go to the university in Suva. I must strike a note of caution, however, about not trying to get too much sophisticated equipment into the developing world where the equipment cannot be worked. It is an unfair use of aid money to sell such countries extremely complicated equipment which, as has happened in the past, may break down. They then cannot run it.

The hon. Member for Tooting mentioned the possibility of the young unemployed going out to help in the Third world. I should like to be able to do that, but whenever we have sent people to the Third world countries they have said that they want technically skilled people. We cannot just say to 50 unemployed people, "Off you go. we will pay". The countries to which they are going specifically ask for highly trained people.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) mentioned Sri Lanka and asked if I had been there. I have indeed been there. On the Victoria dam, I understand that there is a cost overrun for which we are not responsible. No doubt that will be discussed, but so far, we have said that any cost overrun is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan Government. My hon. Friend also mentioned other water projects there. They must be carried out by other countries as well. I understand that Germany and the World Bank are interested in that type of project. The Victoria dam is an enormous project on which we shall spend £100 million over five years. It will bring great benefit to the people of Sri Lanka, in terms of electricity and the irrigation of the Mahaweli project, where tens of thousands of farmers will be settled and it is hoped that enough rice will be produced to satisfy home consumption and produce a surplus for export. We are doing our bit there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test said, the Sri Lankans recognise what we are doing and are grateful for it.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Queens Park asked if I would visit the exhibition in Glasgow. Perhaps I can consider that. If I do, I shall of course let him know.

I discussed the European development fund this morning with Mr. Pisani. We contribute 18 per cent. to that fund and receive 12 per cent., but we have investigated this and have strengthened our mission out there to help businessmen. I hope that the business men get cracking and can pull in the contracts.

I am going to Bangladesh next week and shall examine the situation there. As for getting aid down to the poorest, the Victoria dam is a superb example in which, although aid goes to the Goernment and not direct to the poorest, the results go to the very poorest people such as the small farmers in Sri Lanka.

I thank the hon. Member for Bradford, North for having raised this question. The House always enjoys a debate on aid, as I certainly always do. I am grateful that the hon. Member suggested it and that—thank goodness—he drew first place in the ballot.

Tenants (Right To Buy)

5.54 pm

Buried in the Supplementary Estimates is a new sub-heading which is interesting in itself—sub-heading C7 of Class VIII, 5 relating to expenditure incurred by the Department of the Environment under section 23 of the Housing Act 1980. That money has been incurred by the Department because it has been necessary for it to intervene, in the case of one authority, to enforce the right of council tenants to buy their own houses. It is worth marking its first appearance. It is also an occasion on which we can take stock of the existing situation. The £30, 000 in the estimate is the tip of the iceberg. It has important social ramifications for the country.

The sale of council houses represents extremely good value both to the purchaser and to the council concerned. In the case of the purchaser, evidence is accumulating that, as the number of people buying their own houses increases, what was expected is happening. There is a great deal of personal satisfaction among families, and the improvement of the housing is marked. It is possible now to walk along a street and detect those houses that have been sold. They are different from the unsold houses not simply because their upkeep is improved but also because they display greater individuality. That is good not only for the person who owns the house but for the estate.

I do not doubt that, as the number of examples of private ownership in an estate grows, the effect will gather momentum, the advantage will be seen, and the number of properties for sale will increase. I understand that the number of houses being sold currently, nationally, is about 250, 000.

The value of council house sales to the council causes apoplexy in some quarters. Many council houses have static populations. The turnover in tenants is small. The fact of the sale is valuable to the council. In Manchester, for example, about 1, 000 houses have been sold. I am told that the average discounted value, nationally, is about £4, 000 per house. That produces more than £4 million in Manchester from the houses that have been sold.

The cost of external repairs to council houses is about the same. The cost of the modernisation programme for council estates is between £11 and £12 million. Substantial sums of money therefore become available to councils for carrying out much-needed activity in the remainder of their estates. The importance of the money from sales should not be under-estimated.

We have carried out many surveys. One of them revealed an interesting point. If people are asked what concerns them most, poor maintenance of council houses almost always comes fourth on the list—after rates, crime and, now, unemployment, the third varying between unemployment and the cost of living. The poor maintenance of council houses is always fourth on the list and accounts for an eighth or a tenth of replies.

One has only to hear some of the endless stories that come from council estates to know why that is. House maintenance, delays and bureaucracy are poor. I do not necessarily blame the people involved. Where there are over 100, 000 houses, as in Manchester, a particular kind of management structure is required. Special skills are needed to manage the complexities of such an estate efficiently.

It is of value to councils if the houses are sold. I was glad that the Secretary of State recently drew attention to the fact that capital sums from the sale of council houses are available for other local authority capital expenditure. It is important that we press on with this.

It is sad that the Secretary of State should have such an estimate. In a sense, it is an estimate of the local council's failure to undertake the duties that have been laid upon it in the interests of its ratepayers. It has nothing to do with lack of money or staff; it is a matter of attitude.

I have a leaflet which the Manchester city council sent to its council tenants to try to put them off the idea of buying their houses. It is full of gloom concerning interest rates and the fact that many home owners find it difficult to afford to keep their property in good repair. It says:
"Sooner or later, you will probably want to sell the council home which you bought … are you sure that your home … will be attractive to buyers?"
What it does not say is that those who undertake to buy their homes almost certainly find that it is the most important financial transaction in their life, and their only chance to obtain an asset that will appreciate during their working lives.

The Supply Estimate is for a defaulting council. As I say, it is all a matter of attitude. Can the Minister confirm that the £30, 000 in this estimate can be claimed back by the Government? It is important for ratepayers to understand that if a council defaults on this obligation, and the Government have to act for them, the cost should be borne by the council. It raises the question whether a council which deliberately evades responsibilities that have been upheld by the Court of Appeal, will be subject to surcharge. It would be interesting to pursue that. If that situation was multiplied across the country the charges would be considerable. I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify whether or not the Government can recoup such costs.

The Secretary of State gave the following reason for his decision to act in the case of Norwich. He said that its
"projected future performance, on which it has declined to give any assurance of further improvement, appears to me worse than that of any other authority".—[Official Report, 3 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 399.]
I take his word for that, but there must be a number of other authorities which run Norwich pretty close. Although within the rules of order I do not think that I am allowed to ask for it, perhaps a larger Supply should be sought in order that we should move into other areas.

In February, a solicitor in my constituency wrote to the Secretary of State about the situation in Tameside with information that he had received from the deputy director of administration for that borough. In Tameside, there were 1, 300 applications, but the council employed only seven staff to deal with them. Each person had five cases on his desk. That meant that at any one time 35 cases were being dealt with. Those dealing with them were not permitted to take on another case until the cases that they were dealing with had been concluded. As one case fell off the list, another came on. Cases were being completed at the rate of 96 per year. On that basis, those seeking to buy their houses in Tameside would have to wait 13½ years to complete the list. That is clearly preposterous, and the situation cannot be allowed to continue.

I understand from the figures deposited in the Library that the city of Manchester had, at 31 December 1981, received 6, 841 claims—the figure is no doubt higher now—and has admitted 6, 451. At that date, it had processed 1, 028—about one-sixth of the total. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he has chivvied councils into better performances. As we all know, that is a tricky operation. However, it is noteworthy that my hon. Friend has had several successes, including the city of Manchester. As I have said before, Manchester is not averse to spending money and its staffing ratios are unequalled by any other part of the country. Yet, so far, it has refused to divert sufficient people to deal with this matter.

Yesterday, I received a letter telling me that the town clerk has appointed four people, with greater experience, to the right-to-buy section. That increases the comparatively inexperienced force from seven to 11. Matters may be speeded up; and I am grateful for that. That step was taken after a considerable number of complaints had been forwarded to the Minister. Nevertheless, we must go on, because the four new staff have a tremendous way to go.

I return to the case of Norwich and to the subject of the Supplementary Estimate. The Secretary of State has set up his own operation. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) on 23 February, my right hon. Friend said that he hoped that all the cases would be dealt with by 30 June 1982. That was his objective. In the city of Manchester, we are nowhere near that standard. I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister about several cases; and I shall refer to two such cases now. On 11 January, a Mr. Burrows was informed that the town clerk would be able to reply to him in 21 weeks' time. On a similar date, a Mrs. Pluples was told that he would be in a position to reply in 31 weeks' time. A glance at my diary tells me that Mr. Burrows will not receive his reply before 1 June and that Mrs. Pluples will not receive hers before 1 August.

I am particularly concerned about the nature of the response. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind the apparent compliance with the desire for greater speed which masks something rather slower. For example, there are six people on a list of eight which I have—Mr. Cegla, Mr. Garvey, Mr. Carey, Mr. Myers, Mr. King and Mr. Callaghan—who all applied to buy their houses and who had an acceptance between July and October; in most cases-, they received the acceptance in July but in one case it was as late as October. In two cases there has been a response from the town clerk but neither of them has been accompanied by plans. So it is impossible for the conveyance to proceed because it is not clear what is being conveyed.

It is important that we should not get into the position where there is an apparent response to the Minister's desire to speed things up in the sense that something is sent out, but since not sufficient is sent out for the conveyance to continue, the whole thing is still snarled up. The solicitor to whom I was speaking has said that on numerous occasions recently—he had 25 sets of papers yesterday—the bundle of documents is incomplete and the city estates and valuation officer is not providing the necessary material. That is the kind of delay that is not acceptable. Going beyond that, in two other cases, those of Mr. Small and Mr. Power, the acceptances of the offer were sent in, one in August and the other in October, but no response at all has yet been received.

I have indicated by referring to two authorities, but mainly my own, that there are still authorities where there is a less than enthusiastic response to the right-to-buy procedure. It may be that the Supplementary Estimate which we are discussing will be insufficient and that other Supplementary Estimates may be brought before us. This is one Supplementary Estimate that the Minister should not fear to bring before us because it is likely that he will be able to recoup the amount from the council concerned. He has played a major part in producing the slow, steady spread of home ownership, a social revolution of great importance, and he must not under any account let the momentum flag.

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I, of course, would prefer that there was nothing in the Supply Estimates under this heading, since I believe, and have said a number of times in the House, that it is an imposition on local authorities that a Government should tell them that they must sell their houses, whether they like it or not and whether there is a real need in the area or not, and furthermore that they must sell them at a discount fixed by the Government and Parliament. I have never thought that to be a reasonable way to conduct our housing business.

I am perfectly well aware that it is the law. I had some part in opposing the passage of the 1980 Housing Act through the House. I am still entitled to disagree with a law that has been passed by Parliament, and I shall continue to disagree with the Housing Act until it is repealed by the next Labour Government.

It is not my purpose today to attack the general provisions of the 1980 Housing Act. I wish to refer to an anomaly in the Act which has relevance within the Supply Estimates. The Minister has given notice to my local authority, Thamesdown borough council, that he intends to make an order under Section 23 of the Act to enforce the sale of part of Swindon's heritage, the Swindon railway village, which was built by the Great Western Railway Company between 1830 and 1840, having been designed by the architect of Paddington railway station, Matthew Digby Wyatt. The railway village represents the beginning of modern Swindon.

Undoubtedly, part of the money in the Estimates will be used to enforce the sale of these delightful restored houses to the sitting tenants. Many people in my constituency who would support the 1980 Housing Act and the right of tenants to buy are opposed to the enforced sale of individual houses in the railway village. My correspondence tells me so, as do my meetings with people from all walks of life in Swindon and the surrounding area, who are not in favour of selling off part of Swindon's heritage.

This was a unique development by the Great Western Railway Company, which not only built these houses to house its workers but also had the sort of arrangements for its work people that we did not achieve countrywide until the Beveridge Act. The Great Western Railway Company built all sorts of cottages for the lowliest of its workers and for the highest of its management. They all lived together in this community. The railway company also provided a theatre, a health centre, a mechanics institute where people could be educated and a church. In other words, the Great Western Railway Company provided a model village.

The village got into a state of disrepair. Because the Swindon people and the council realised its unique architectural and historic value, they decided to buy it lock, stock and barrel and restore it. That has been done magnificently. Everyone who goes there, even Ministers of the Crown, agrees that it is unique and that the local authority has restored it with loving care. The council has been enlightened enough to spend some £3 million on the restoration of the village. Therefore, there was a unanimous decision by all councillors and not just the Labour members that the unity of the village should be preserved and that individual houses should not be sold off. It therefore opposes the Government on that aspect, although it has agreed to sell houses under the provisions of the 1980 Act, and is doing so.

My colleagues—colleagues not in a political sense but in a parliamentary sense—the Members for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) and Chippenham (Mr. Needham) have joined me, the council and the people in opposing the sale of the houses. They have written to the Secretary of State and the Minister, as I have. I promoted a Bill, which was sponsored by the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, there was an objection to it, so it did not obtain a Second Reading.

We still believe, in spite of the Government's intransigence, that it would be an act of environmental vandalism to allow individual houses in the railway village to be sold off. I cannot believe that Ministers are so philistine that they would allow the selling off of individual houses in the village and so risk its future as a beautiful entity which is Swindon's heritage. I had thought that the present Government believed in the nation's heritage and wanted to preserve it, but risks are being taken with a delightful development which was saved by the people of Swindon. The village has won a number of awards, includng a Civic Trust award. I do not believe that the Government, and the Minister for Housing and Construction in particular, can use their powers to risk the destruction of the development as an entity. We have shown, by photographs and by reference to other areas, what can happen to such a development if it is allowed to go into individual ownership.

We are not asking for a great breach in the Act. We are asking for a simple amendment which would preserve our great railway village in Swindon and other such developments—there are not many of them—throughout the country. I believe that even at this late stage, after his threatened use of section 23, the Minister should have second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, even tenth thoughts, if necessary, so that he can satisfy the people of Swindon, preserve our heritage and save the railway village as a unique historical entity.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) on initiating this debate.

I support the Estimate, for I support the Housing Act 1980 and therefore necessarily I support the concept of the tenant's right to buy the dwelling in which he lives. I am delighted that the Estimate empowers my right hon. Friend Secretary of State
"to intervene to enable secure tenants of certain dwellings to exercise their right to buy under that Act".
The point that I wish to raise concerns a very local matter. In my view it is a matter of natural justice, a concept which is perhaps not easy to define but which for the purposes of my speech I shall define as the concept of fairness between one tenant and another. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister will know the point that I wish to elaborate on. I hope that he will forgive me for raising it on the Floor of the House. I do so because I cannot satisfy myself that those of my constituents who are suffering as a result of the anomaly to which I shall refer deserve to continue to suffer without their complaint being voiced to my hon. Friend in this most public way.

There are in my constituency many houses that at one time or another have belonged to the Ministry of Defence, because in west Berkshire we have a large number of defence establishments. Many of the tenants of those houses have lived in them for up to 20 years, and some for even longer. In 1950 the Ministry gave the tenants the opportunity to buy their houses, but at that time most of them did not have sufficient funds, so they continued to live in them as tenants.

In 1977–78 the tenants were informed that their houses had been transferred to the Property Services Agency. They were also told that the agency's task was to offer the houses to the Newbury district council, not to the tenants. The agency duly did so, and the houses were bought by the district council.

When the Housing Act 1980 was implemented, the tenants, some of whom had lived in Ministry of Defence property for more than 20 years, who had seen it become Property Services Agency property and then Newbury district council property, were told that as council tenants they could buy the houses as if they had newly entered into them. In other words, they were to be given a discount of 30 per cent. which is available to any council tenant who has lived in a council house for three years or more.

Not unnaturally, the tenants felt that that was a hard decision, and some of them came to see me. I have seen between 12 and 20, each of whom has said "Surely after all the years that we were tenants of the Ministry of Defence we should have been allowed an increased discount for that period."

I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister, and he has replied most courteously, but he has made it quite clear that there can be no change in the tenants' position. However, perhaps my words or my letters had a slight effect on him, as last year my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment wrote to me to say that a variation would he introduced—that those who had not entered into the purchase of their houses from the district council and who had been tenants of the Ministry of Defence could claim from the council a discount in line with their total period of tenancy. I was overjoyed to receive that letter, but on first reading I missed the bit saying that the decision applied only to those who had not completed the purchase of their house from the district council.

That is anomalous. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister are pressing councils to sell their houses to tenants, it seems to me unfair that they should then, having put on that pressure, tell a group of tenants who seize the opportunity to buy from a willing council, "Although you are on all fours with this other group of tenants, the fact that they have been slow in coming forward to buy their houses means that they will receive a considerable financial advantage." Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider that decision.

I do not know how many houses are affected. Between 12 and 20 tenants have been to see me and many more have written, but I doubt whether more than 100 tenants are affected overall. There is a strong sense of grievance among those who have bought their council houses and a feeling that they are being treated less than equally with those who have been much slower in coming forward.

Council tenants bought their houses with a controlled freehold and if they choose to sell in under five years from the original purchase date they must, in the first instance, offer the house back to the district council. Am I right in thinking that perhaps their purchase is not entirely complete and that there is a loophole which would allow them to claim a discount compatible with the period in which they lived, first, in Ministry of Defence houses, secondly, in PSA houses and now in district council houses? Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for your tolerance in letting me raise a point which has caused a great sense of grievance.

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The last words spoken by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) puzzled me. I am not sure whether he was talking about the conditions applying generally under the Housing Act 1980 or to the particular operation in his area. He seemed to suggest that there is a limitation on the purchaser during the first five years who has to offer the house back to the local authority. Perhaps I missed something, but I believe that the only repercussion upon the purchaser who sold within five years was that he lost the discount—one fifth per year for five years—and that the arrangement whereby a local authority had a right to pre-emption during a certain period did not apply. Perhaps I misunderstood the provisions of the Housing Act 1980.

I quoted facts given to me by the tenants, and perhaps those particular houses come within the five-year rule which does not apply generally. There is a controlled element in the freehold of those houses.

I am sure that the Minister will be able to confirm the point. At the close of his speech the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) congratulated the Government on making giant strides towards home ownership. May I get across to him, and hopefully other members of the Government, that whatever they may or may not have done towards spreading home ownership they are about—without knowing it, and I doubt whether many Ministers are aware of it—to impose in the Finance Bill a considerable disadvantage on initial home purchasers by the alteration in the administrative arrangements for giving tax relief on mortgage interest. I will not go into detail because it is not the main subject of the debate, but it bears upon it because anyone who buys his house from the local authority under the terms of the Housing Act 1980 will normally buy it under a mortgage. He will be as affected by that particular arrangement as anyone else.

During the past week or two home purchasers have been the beneficiaries of a 1½ per cent. drop in the rate of interest. When the change which the Government propose to make in the Finance Bill becomes law and the building societies implement it in the manner in which at the moment they are minded, the effect will be as if the interest rate rose again by about 1½ per cent. The Government have their heads stuck in the sand about that. They say that they are only changing the law and that the manner of implementing it will be entirely up to the building societies. They are absolutely right.

I am glad to see a Treasury Minister, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) walking in. He will be familiar with the consequences of changing the arrangements for mortgage relief in the Finance Bill. If things go ahead as planned, a disadvantage, equivalent to 1½ per cent. on the mortgage rate, will happen in April 1983. That is a significant year if one wants to clobber the home-owner. It will clobber the new purchaser particularly seriously, but it will also hit every other home-owner who has a mortgage loan except those within 12 months of repaying it. It will increase the net monthly payment and burden by something which will vary considerably but which on average will be about 5 or 6 per cent. I see the Economic Secretary to the Treasury shaking his head. That is why I say that the Ministers have not looked into that point. They have their heads stuck in the sand, but they will wake up when they realise that the political consequences are indeed serious.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that I believe he is slightly misleading the House. The point, which has been discussed before in an Adjournment debate, is that what happens to the mortgagee depends entirely on the form of mortgage. If it is a fixed price mortgage, the position will be unchanged. What happens will depend entirely on competition between building societies and other lenders. We cannot predict what the market will dictate. We shall have to see.

I believe that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. George Cunningham) is straying on to the Finance Bill rather than the Estimate that is before us.

I will not pursue the matter further except to say that when the Economic Secretary to the Treasury refers to a fixed-price mortgage I take it that he is referring to an endowment mortgage. I accept that an endowment mortgage will not be affected but that a repayment mortgage will. Three-quarters of mortgages are repayment mortgages and I invite members of the Government to look at that point and read the Adjournment debate because he has it wrong. Whether he is right or wrong, the political consequences will be significant.

The hon. Members for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) and for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) drew attention to consequences of the legislation which have a bad effect in their particular localities. It is one of the consequences of imposing obligations on local authorities and entirely removing their discretion. They cannot reflect local circumstances, and the example quoted by the hon. Member for Swindon is particularly poignant. Only the local authority knows the local situation and can take it into account when deciding whether to sell. It is that consideration which makes it wrong to remove the discretion of local authorities. When one says something like that, the Government normally fling back the subject of education and say that people who want to remove local authority discretion in regard to education should not ask for local authority discretion with regard to housing. There is a difference. People have different policy attitudes to issues such as comprehensive education. But the desirability or not of it does not depend particularly upon local circumstances. The desirability of selling, or not selling, council houses depends very much on local circumstances, whether involving a local feature such as that to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon has referred or the local considerations that apply in my area.

In the foothills of the Barbican, there is a large estate that belongs to the City of London corporation. The corporation likes to build banks within the territory of the City and also new Barbican centres and the like that raise large rate revenue. It does not want to have its own housing within its own boundaries. It therefore has about half its extra territorial housing within the Islington borough council boundaries. While the City gets the rates from the banks, we in Islington get only the much lower rate revenue from housing. We do not even have the right to nominate to the City for a single one of the places there. I worked out, at one time, that the City should pay Islington £14 million a year to compensate for this loss, but the idea did not find favour even with the previous Labour Government.

The consequences of this legislation for such an estate as I have mentioned in the foothills of the Barbican—I refer to the Golden Lane estate—is that, as it is gradually sold, it will become a sort of mini-Barbican. People who cannot afford the very high prices of a place in the Barbican will be able to afford a place in Golden Lane from one of the tenants who has managed to buy it as a sitting tenant. It is a rather desirable housing estate within Islington.

Gradually, the Islington borough council—the same goes for the City corporation—will be left with the bad accommodation and none of the good accommodation. This means that housing in an inner city area such as that which I represent will become welfare housing and not council housing of the quality and nature that has existed up to now. It was for that kind of reason that the City corporation was against being obliged to sell off its accommodation. The corporation, as I think most people will agree, is not dominated by Socialist members.

I wish particularly to intervene in the debate to raise with the Minister a matter that has been brought to his attention in correspondence by Islington borough council. It points out the folly of the unbending nature of the legislation. A council tenant in Islington, who has the right to buy the place where she is living with a considerable discount, gave notice that she wanted to buy. Without any further stage having taken place, she put the place, which still belonged to Islington borough council, on the market. She advertised it for sale at a price that was not only well above what that person was going to have to pay for it after receiving the benefit of the disount but also considerably above the undiscounted price.

The asking price for the place would, no doubt, not be achieved. It is, however, normal for the market to produce a price that is higher than the estimated market value put upon the place. Here, we have a person who is buying a place in order to sell it and who advertises it for sale before she actually owns it. Islington borough council has suggested to the Minister that this is not an arrangement that should be tolerated or allowed to continue. But the Minister does not agree.

I suggest that the matter brings out the disadvantages of legislation that removes entirely discretion from local authorities. Even if the Minister does not accept what I say, I put it to him that the representations made by Islington borough council are valid and that some amendment of the law should be made in order to prevent that kind of thing from happening. A reversion to the practice whereby, for a period of years, the seller was obliged to offer first to the local authority would be one means by which the abuse—it must surely be called an "abuse"—could be terminated.

6.45 pm