House Of Commons
Wednesday 5 December 1984
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Lochmaddy And East Loch Tarbert (Improvement Of Piers Etc) Order Confirmation Bill
Read the Third time, and passed.
British Railways Order Confirmation Bill
Mr. Secretary Younger presented a Bill to confirm a Provisional Order under section 7 of the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936, relating to British Railways: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be considered upon Tuesday 11 December and to be printed. [Bill 18.]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has for increasing in-service training for Scottish teachers.
Prime responsibility in this area rests with education authorities. I have made resources available for training related to the standard grade and 16 to 18 action plan developments, and I am offering specific grant-aid towards in-service training in certain other priority areas. I have authorised staffing levels in colleges of education which will enable them to contribute fully to in-service training programmes.
Will the Government safeguard academic prospects for the pupils who have already started standard grade courses by substantially improving the conditions of service set down in the post-Houghton review of 1975? Will the Minister include those proposals in the terms of reference of the independent pay review for which he has been asked?
A specific question on the independent pay review has been tabled. I emphasise that we have set out a full strategy for in-service training with the education authorities to make the best use of the resources of the centrally funded development officers and of training organisations in relation to the 14 to 16 changes and the action plan. I deplore the fact that some teachers have deliberately not taken advantage of the in-service training.
Does my hon. Friend accept that some of the in-service training will be carried out in the schools? Does he agree that thought should be given in the management of the school programme to allowing one day a week or one day a month for training, because that would not be disruptive over a long period and would be manageable? Does he accept that such an arrangement could make a major contribution to solving the problem?
I note my hon. Friend's comment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that he was prepared to allow reductions in the school year of up to 10 days for the preparation of in-service training.
Do the Minister and the Secretary of State not understand that having to train in the evenings and at weekends is only one aspect of a host of factors, such as spending cuts and inadequate remuneration, which have driven teachers to strike today? When will the Government address themselves to the real problems in our schools, or is the strike the beginning of a period of disruption?
I certainly hope not. Such disruption does the teachers' general standing in the community no good. Expenditure per pupil in Scotland is now at its highest ever real level.
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said, in-service training is but one aspect of many justifiable grievances of Scottish teachers. Will the Minister guarantee that the standard grade examinations will go ahead as planned for 1986?
I hope so. We are committed to the standard grade changes. These changes have been widely welcomed in principle by the teaching profession as being in the interests of Scottish education.
Local Government Expenditure
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list the categories of local government expenditure in Scotland which require his prior approval.
Local authorities may not incur any liability to meet capital expenses without the consent of my right hon. Friend. As regards current expenditure, local authorities generally speaking do not require the prior approval of my right hon. Friend.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is deep resentment among my constituents at the extravagant way in which Fife regional council is throwing about ratepayers' money in support of Arthur Scargill's political strike, ranging from expenditure on Christmas parties to substantial payments and loans to striking miners and their families? Some of that provision is wasteful because, if it were not paid for by Fife regional council, it would be paid for by the DHSS. Is my hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents feel that if those payments are not illegal they should be made so? Is my hon. Friend aware that urgent action is needed to protect the interests of ratepayers?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Obviously, it is up to each authority to satisfy itself that it has the power to make those payments. It is extraordinary that authorities—not just my hon. Friend's authority—which are constantly claiming that they do not have sufficient resources to service the needs of their areas can make that extra expenditure. The ratepayers are being asked to subsidise the failure of responsibility by the NUM.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, as the Government directly control capital expenditure, they are responsible for the decay of the infrastructure in Scotland and the rotting away of services for housing, roads, hospitals and schools, which are greatly in need of repair?
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has seen last year's allocations. We take into account the bids made to us by authorities and try to meet them within the available resources.
The hon. Gentleman has confirmed that some categories of revenue require prior Government approval. Will he confirm also that the methods of assessing the needs of local authorities require prior Government approval? When will the Under-Secretary of State introduce the proper client-group approach of assessing local authorities' expenditure?
The hon. Gentleman should look at the system that exists at the moment, because need is assessed on the basis of the client-group approach. The guidelines are drawn up on the same basis. Increasingly, from year to year, we are making sure that the distribution of rate support grant occurs in accordance with that same system.
Teachers (Salaries And Conditions)
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many representations he has received advocating an independent review of teachers' salaries and conditions of service; and if he will make a statement.
I have been asked by the teachers side of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for Teaching Staff in School Education to set up an independent review of teachers salaries. By the end of last week, I had received some 770 representations generally advocating a review, many of which asked for a review of conditions of service as well as salaries. I hope to announce a decision shortly.
Is the Secretary of State aware that today throughout Scotland teachers are on strike? Is he aware also of the real grievances of teachers and their justifiable case for an independent inquiry? Will he make that decision as a matter of urgency?
However justifiable the teachers' case may be—I have undertaken to consider carefully all the points they have put to me—I honestly do not feel that industrial action does anything but the greatest harm to their case.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the joint negotiating committee first wrote to him on 14 August 1984 requesting this meeting and that he recently met the committee. I am sure my right hon. Friend accepts that, having gone through the trauma of claims and all the rest of it in the last Parliament, it is essential that he should come quickly to a decision on the question of an unrestricted independent pay review body for the teachers so that both the Government and the teachers are obliged to accept the decisions of that review body.
I note what my hon. Friend says. I have been asked by both sides to take careful account of all the facts that they put to me, and I am certainly doing that.
Does the Secretary of State recollect that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and I met him five and a half weeks ago to discuss this point he said that he hoped to reach a decision within two weeks? What is causing the delay? Is the right hon. Gentleman less effective in dealing with the dogmas of the Secretary of State for Education and Science than are his own Back Benchers?
There is no dogma involved. It is a purely practical question. It is a major request that requires very careful consideration, and I am giving it that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, since the last major independent review by Houghton in 1974, teachers' salaries have fallen behind those of many other categories of people, such as policemen, who can now earn as much as £138 per week more than a teacher? Bearing in mind that the teachers made their demand for an independent review as long ago as August, is it any wonder that they now feel that they have to resort to strike action in protest against this reactionary Philistine Government, who must bear full responsibility for the current crisis in Scottish education?
I do not think that there are any circumstances in which strike action by teachers can ever be justified. The teachers' position would be more credible today if it were not the fact that some teachers started disruptive action even before they had given me a chance to consider their request.
Does my right hon. Friend agree, in view of his statement that he will make an early decision on this very important subject, that it is unforgiveable to have strike action now and to prevent children from having education?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The sad thing is that teaching is or should be a highly respected profession, and action of this sort does nothing for the teachers' case.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the dog-in-the-manger attitude towards teachers' salaries and conditions has caused many moderate minded people, and even Tory supporters, to go on strike today? Why will he not invest in Scotland's future and help to restore Scotland to its place in the educational vanguard?
I appreciate that many teachers feel very strongly about the issues. It is for those reasons that I am taking great care in considering their request. Teachers would expect me to do that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the industrial action is arising from sheer frustration, as the teachers feel that their case is getting nowhere? Therefore, the setting up of an independent review is extremely urgent. As their position and salaries have recently been drastically eroded, does he not think that the teachers have a fair case which should be attended to urgently and sympathetically?
I appreciate that, and that is why I am considering their points very carefully. As I said, the regrettable fact is that the disruptive action started in the summer. If I were the most enthusiastic teacher in the world, I would not feel that such action could advance my case. It has the opposite effect.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he is in favour of granting an independent review to Scottish teachers, or will he at least make a substantial lump sum available to teachers for the extra work that has fallen on them? If the answer is that the Treasury will not sanction it, when will the right hon. Gentleman speak up for Scotland and tell the English Treasury to go to hell?
As there is no such body as the English Treasury, I cannot very well ask it to do anything.I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking me to preempt the conclusions of the review that I have been asked to consider. I am taking into account everything that the teachers and employers have said to me.
Does the Secretary of State recall that, exactly 10 years ago today, the House was debating teachers' pay and unrest in Scottish schools? Despite the fact that the then Labour Government had set up the Houghton committee, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends laid the responsibility for the unrest directly at the Government's door. Therefore, will he now accept his responsibilities, set up a review body and agree to meet its costs?
I accept my full responsibility. I thought I had made that clear. In the interests of each side of the House it might be better not to recall the events of 10 years ago.
In connection with conditions of service, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to teachers, who entered a pension scheme with good will many years ago, that when they receive their lump sum gratuity it will not be taxed, and that any such provision will not be retrospective?
Matters of taxation are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.Further to the question of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay), we have already made provisions to help teachers with an extra work load. We have given them no fewer that 10 extra free days in the year on which to do further preparation for their teaching. We have also allowed for some extra staffing levels this year to help the minority of teachers who will have extra work to do in regard to the new standard grade courses.
As there is independent review machinery for police salaries, does the right hon. Gentleman think that a teacher is less, or more, important than a policeman?
They are equally important, but I have not had a request from the teachers to set up an independent pay review body.
Does the Secretary of State not accept that the lack of an independent pay review and the fact that teachers' salaries have already fallen far behind have meant that there has already been a loss of dedicated teachers from the profession, especially science and mathematics teachers? If he does not set up a review, we shall fail to recruit the dedicated teachers whom we need. Does he not recognise that an independent review is long overdue and that he should make an early announcement to that effect?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comment. I would have hoped that most teachers, irrespective of these issues, would have felt that at present teaching is more exciting, innovative and creative than for many years. The finest people in the teaching profession must respond clearly to this extremely challenging job, including the introduction for the first time of an all-graduate profession.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when teachers behave like industrial trade unionists they should not be surprised if at a future date the Government decide to introduce legislation to ensure that, like industrial trade unionists, they are subject to the Employment Protection Act 1975 and anything else?
I confine myself to saying that teachers are a highly respected professional body, but such bodies do not have their causes advanced by anything like the sort of industrial action that we now appear to be seeing.
Does not the Secretary of State not recognise that there has been an almost complete absence of support from Conservative Members because there is a widespread realisation that teachers have fallen behind comparable groups in society? Would the right hon. Gentleman think himself a member of a respected profession if he were earning between £8,000 and £9,000 a year as an experienced secondary school teacher doing a stressful and difficult job and coping with new curricula developments? If he wants to avoid industrial action and discontent boiling over in our schools during the coming months, does not he accept that he must make a prompt and sensible decision in favour of an independent pay review?
There is not much in what the hon. Gentleman says with which I can disagree. I have made it clear all afternoon that I am carefully considering all the points put to me, and I shall try my best to make a response to the teachers. However, the hon. Gentleman must have been half asleep, because many of my hon. Friends have warmly supported me.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how much money he expects to save by the cut in the level of student grant; and how many Scottish students will be affected.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be making a further statement today.
Does the Secretary of State not recognise that there has been a public outcry about recent announcements because they have come on top of a steady erosion in the value of student grants since the Government took office? Does he appreciate that a 14 per cent. increase will be necessary this year to restore the grant to its level at the time when the right hon. Gentleman took office? If there is further damage to the parental contribution, will that not militate against recruitment in the Scottish universities, because of the four-year honours degree compared with the three-year standard in England?
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's latter point. However, as he has noticed, in the past year I have made alterations to the Scottish system of student grants to recognise the fact that the travel pattern of Scottish students is different from that south of the border. That was widely welcomed.
Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that Scotland is additionally affected because first-year intake is often at the age of 17 and covenanting schemes are not available, thereby putting us in a very different position from our English equivalents?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I appreciate his point, but he will no doubt take that question up with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Does the Secretary of State accept that these problems are taken as seriously by Scottish students and their parents as they are by English Conservative Members of Parliament? How does he relate education to industry, and are not Government policies giving students a signal that for most of them jobs will simply not be available?
I do not think that this issue, important though it is, is directly related to industry or to jobs for students. This is a question of how to finance university education. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be making a statement later today.
I look forward to the recantation from the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but will the Secretary of State explain why he made a statement on grant cuts several days after the statement made by his right hon. Friend, and why on major aspects of grants he appears to be a copycat Minister and rarely to give the lead?
On the contrary, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, who is supposed to be a specialist in Scottish affairs, would know that public expenditure calculations for Scotland take place at different times from those for England because we must work in line with the formula on which our block grant is worked out. The system is highly favourable to us, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know about it.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the fact that the majority of Scottish students at universities take a four-year degree course will be fully borne in mind and taken into account?
Yes, I can confirm that.
Is it not a spineless approach for the Secretary of State to hide behind the Secretary of State for Education and Science? As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, the Secretary of state issued a statement after he caught the night sleeper north, which meant that he was not subject to questions in the House. Why does he not tell his Scottish colleagues what arrangements he has made, and answer the question of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel)? What arrangements has the Secretary of State made to tell us what will happen to student grants in Scotland after the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made his statement this afternoon?
The hon. Gentleman has been reading too many whodunnits. It would generally be for the convenience of the House if one of the Ministers involved made a clear statement about what the position will be. When my right hon. Friend makes his statement, he will make it on behalf of all Education Ministers.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the salmon fishing industry in Scotland.
There was a modest improvement in catches in 1983 in comparison with 1982, but I share the concern of the salmon interests in Scotland that catches in the 1980s have been poor in comparison with the previous three decades and that spring running fish have been particularly scarce.
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the immense contribution made to the Scottish economy by anglers on the salmon leaps, including English anglers? Will he confirm that this contribution is being put under increasing strain by overfishing on the spawning grounds of Greenland, commercial netting at the mouths of rivers and poaching? What urgent steps will the Government take to deal with those problems by way of increased pressure on our Community partners, pressure on the local authorities involved and by introducing tagging?
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House's attention to the important part that salmon angling plays in the rural economy of many parts of Scotland. The Government are well aware of that and are worried about the decline in stocks. As my hon. Friend knows, we are considering seriously proposals put to us about tagging. We have come to agreements with Greenland about reducing the tonnage which it takes. Indeed, I noticed a recent press report that Greenland has not found the salmon to make up this year's tonnage for its fishing industry.
Will the Minister inform the House what progress is being made on the legislation, which we expect, on the salmon-tagging scheme, which is designed to cut salmon poaching? It has been under review for nearly two years. Has not consultation gone on for too long? Is he aware that the House is growing impatient with the lackadaisical approach of the Scottish Office, as distinct from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which wants to get on with the matter?
I do not accept that the Scottish Office has been lackadaisical in this matter. My noble Friend the Minister of State and officials in his Department have had discussions with various interested organisations. It is clear that although there is considerable support for tagging, there is also considerable hostility to it. I hope that it will be possible to reach conclusions on this matter in the near future.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is tremendous opposition to tagging of any sort among Scottish fish farmers? Does he accept that this will simply lead to legalised poaching? Might not it be far better to have a scheme of licensing game dealers to sell salmon, so that all the fish passes through them, just as game does now?
My hon. Friend has made a valid point about licensed salmon dealers. My right hon. and noble Friend and I are well aware of the objections to tagging felt by the Scottish National Fanners Union and by the very important salmon farming industry in Scotland. Of course, their objections have to be taken into account.
Is the Minister aware that the sale of salmon fisheries, such as those in the river Conon, by the North of Scotland Hydroelectric Board, means that the opportunities for local people to fish are being drastically reduced? Does he not feel that their opportunity to fish for salmon in Scotland is something in which he should be interested?
There are very adequate facilities for local people to fish in Scotland. Many of them would find the situation much better if only there were more salmon. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the river Conon, but that is a matter for the hydroelectric board and I suggest that he takes up the matter with the board's chairman.
Will my hon. Friend introduce legislation at an early date to help the district fishery boards? What steps is he taking to put pressure on Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prevent drift netting off the English coast?
I cannot predict the timing or precise content of any Bill, but, apart from the possibility of salmon sales control, we are considering how to strengthen the local administrative structure of the salmon fishery boards in Scotland. My hon. Friend will know that the drift netting to which he referred is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Does my hon. Friend really accept the great importance of this asset to Scotland? If so, does he agree that the Government's prevarication on this issue, and on many others affecting the salmon, does them no credit?
I know my hon. Friend's deep interest in this subject, and we have all heard about his success in recent weeks. The Government are not prevaricating. We are well aware of the serious position and of the importance of the salmon fishing industry to rural Scotland. We are concerned to ensure that any proposals we bring to the House are correct.
European Regional Development Fund
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total value of grants made towards projects in Scotland by the European regional development fund since its inception in 1975.
Total commitments and allocations for Scotland are £385 million.
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the people of Scotland are aware of the scale of those grants and of their significance to the progress of the Scottish economy?
I certainly hope that the people of Scotland are aware of the considerable importance of European regional development fund assistance. There was a recent and important announcement with regard to non-quota funds. The types of Scottish projects that benefit are roads, bridges, sewerage systems and industrial site services. Some Scottish Members may be interested to know that, following our discussions with the European Commission, we expect it to announce soon that it is prepared to add ferry vessels to that list.
I wish to raise a more parochial matter. Given the substantial sum that the Minister has mentioned, will he use the little ability that he obviously has to make sure that some of the money is used in our area to ensure that Renfrew district council can proceed with the building of its leisure centre, which it has been talking about for 10 or 15 years? I am sure he will agree that it might go to his credit if he could at least build public baths.
I am aware of the importance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to the Paisley leisure centre, which is near my constituency. In my constituency we already have those facilities at Barrhead. The matter is in the hands of the European Commission. Our application was made seven months ago and we presented what the Scottish Office believed to be a good case for European regional development fund assistance. The Commission is not yet convinced of the contribution that the project will make to tourism, but we are pressing it to give the project favourable treatment next year.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the anticipated effect of the Government's regional assistance policy on the Scottish economy.
The measures announced on 28 November maintain a strong regional policy in Scotland and extended regional development grants to service industries for the first time.
I should like to ask the Secretary of State about the economy of the central region. Does he realise that three of the areas in Scotland granted special development area status have unemployment rates below that of Falkirk, and that five of them have unemployment rates below that of Alloa? Why has the Secretary of State totally ignored the representations both of Central regional council and Falkirk district council about the need for development area status for the Falkirk area? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider meeting the local authorities, or at any rate the Labour Member of Parliament, to discuss the seriously deteriorating situation in the Central region?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. I shall be glad to see any hon. Member who wishes to see me about any such matter. It is not a straight matter of slotting an area into a category on the ground of the unemployment level. We also take into account other factors such as the industrial structure in the area. I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about the central area—a considerable part of which is still an assisted area—but I still believe that the best way to look at the matter is in the broadest sense, taking into account other factors as well as unemployment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that 200 steel workers in my constituency are under threat of redundancy? Will he assure us that the area will be given any aid that can be given under the scheme, to try to alleviate unemployment?
I was glad to see the deputation from the area that my hon. Friend brought to see me, and I am considering very carefully everything that the members of the deputation said to me. The decision is one for the general management of the British Steel Corporation, and rightly so, but I am glad that, under the regional changes, the area will be in the top tier for regional policy assistance.
Some areas of very high unemployment in Scotland are located in places that are no longer assisted areas, and which—as in the case of my own constituency—may not have been assisted areas for some time. What hope is there for development and job creation in such areas?
Any properly planned regional policy is bound to concentrate on the very worst areas. Under all Governments, small pockets of high unemployment can occur in areas where the general level of unemployment is not very high. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are still powers available to the Scottish Development Agency, and other powers, that can be used even for areas that are not assisted. No doubt those powers could be used in appropriate cases.
Coal Industry Dispute
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he estimates has been the cost to date to the Scottish economy of the mining dispute.
The loss of coal output directly reduced industrial production by some 2·5 per cent. in the second quarter of this year. The recovery in manufacturing output is continuing. The main effect of the strike has been the hardship suffered by the families of striking miners.
Will the Minister face facts? The Government are responsible for the crisis. It is obvious that the miners are standing firm and will not be defeated, and so something must be done to resolve the crisis by bringing both sides together. What, if anything, do the Government intend to do?
The people who should be facing facts are Mr. Arthur Scargill and his colleagues in the National Union of Mineworkers, and the fact that they should face is that there is a perfectly reasonable basis for setlement in the terms put to, and agreed by, NACODS.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most unnecessary costs of the mining dispute has been incurred by local authorities which insist on dishing out ratepayers' money to support the operation? That has affected not only ratepayers in the domestic sector, but businesses as well, and there is bound to be a knock-on effect on jobs.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I know of the anger that that action has caused among ratepayers, especially in my hon. Friend's area. It is indeed surprising that councils which constantly claim that they are tight on resources should apparently be so flush with funds for such purposes.
If the hon. Gentleman will return to the original question about the effect of the strike on the Scottish economy and its cost, he must concede that the cost has been enormous. Will he note that the way to resolve the problem is to get back to the negotiating table to achieve a negotiated settlement? Is he aware that, since the Conservatives have been in Government, there has been less investment in the mining industry in Scotland? Is he further aware that there was less investment in the industry in Scotland in 1983–84 than there was in 1979, when Labour was in power?
The Government have an outstanding record on investment in the coal industry. We have invested £2 million a day in it.
Not in Scotland.
As to the adverse industrial consequences of the strike, there have been reduced purchases of mining machinery, and loss of income has hit suppliers of goods and services to the mining community. However, the recovery in manufacturing output in Scotland is continuing—it was up 5 per cent. in the first half of 1984. Scotland is in favourable circumstances with regard to electricity supply because, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the electricity boards have alternative sources of supply.
As the Minister is so anxious to bring the strike to an end, why does he not advise the Cabinet to instruct the National Coal Board to go back to the negotiating table and start negotiating on the true facts about the viability of pits instead of the nonsense that it has talked so far? Is he aware of the report that I have in my hand, and which is marked "Confidential"? In it, five leading accountants, including two professors of accountancy, show quite clearly that the facts and figures that the NCB has used so far are utter nonsense? Will he go back to the negotiating table on that basis? [Interruption.]
It is Mr. Scargill who has said that he has not budged an inch. The NCB has proposed a basis for settlement, which has been accepted by NACODS. Perhaps I might tell the hon. Gentleman and others who are cheering what he said that 2,267 miners are working in Scotland today. My right hon. and hon. Friends commend them for going back to work and their bravery in the face of intimidation. I know that Opposition Members regard them as scabs. That is the difference between us. We are the party of the workers, they are the party of the strikers.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I shall take the point of order afterwards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish economy would have been worse affected if the Nottinghamshire miners had not continued to work?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a pity that miners in Scotland did not get the opportunity to ballot, as did Nottinghamshire miners, as they would have been at work as well if they had had the chance.
Will the Minister restrain his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and concur with the convenor of Fife regional council in that, first, nothing that the regional council has done in support of the miners has broken the law and, secondly, that he is perfectly right to say that, "nae wain in my region will have a hungry belly."? Do Conservative Members intend to win the strike on the basis of hungry bairns' bellies? As we are approaching the season of good will, will the Government show good will and get the Secretary of State for Energy to call the parties to the negotiating table to achieve an honourable settlement to the dispute, or do they intend to win by attrition?
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) did not say that the action of the regional council was illegal. He said that he deplored it, as I do. As for the emotive language used by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), I believe that the striking miners have a responsibility to take into account the interests of their families and to go back to work. Their jobs are there for them.
I am glad that the Leader of the House is in his place as I wish him to repeat what I believe he said yesterday, although it is not in Hansard, when he urged the NUM to return to the negotiating table. If that is indeed the Government's position, will the hon. Gentleman instruct the NCB to be a bit more conciliatory?
What I said, and am happy to repeat, is that in my view there is a perfectly reasonable basis for a settlement on the terms already accepted by NACODS. I am sure that if a ballot were put to members of the NUM as a whole on that proposition it would be accepted.
If my hon. Friend reads the report to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) referred, will he bear in mind that it was prepared by academics with little experience of the mining industry and that it was immediately ripped apart on breakfast television by a leading practical expert?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a former academic myself, I often take with a pinch of salt documents produced by academics.
Does the Minister accept that his synthetic rage in the past few minutes had made hint a somewhat ludicrous figure, like some demented Paddington Bear dancing at the Dispatch Box? Will he accept that the Opposition give the strongest possible support to local authorities in Scotland, which have shown concern and compassion for the real hardship being endured in their areas, and that we would welcome a gleam of humanity on this issue from Ministers of the Crown in Scotland?Whatever the record for the United Kingdom, will the hon. Gentleman admit that investment in the Scottish coalfields has declined since 1979 and that that is one of the major problems? Will he give a categorical assurance that, to the best of his and the Government's knowledge, there is no plan to close pits and reduce the work force on the lines forecast on fairly compelling evidence by the STUC and other bodies in Scotland?
I am not prepared to comment on the status of documents which the NUM or STUC claims to possess. That is a matter for the National Coal Board. We all saw the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) on television, giving support to Mr. Arthur Scargill in the Usher hall. He is now clutching at straws to hide the extreme embarrassment felt by him and some of his colleagues at the conduct of the National Union of Mineworkers.
Aid To Industry
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his Department's aid to industry.
As announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 28 November, responsibility for the administration of regional development grant in Scotland is being transferred from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Scottish Office. My Department's funding of both the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board is being maintained at very high levels.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, even with the present disgracefully high levels of unemployment in Scotland, there are still shortages of skilled labour? That being so, does he agree that it is scandalous that there should be proposals to close skillcentres, including one in my constituency? As he is one of the Ministers directly responsible for the Manpower Services Commission, will he ensure that those proposals—the case for them is argued on the flimsiest grounds, as I have seen from the paper that is to go to the MSC on 13 December—are withdrawn and the skillcentres allowed to get on with the job which they are so well equipped to do?
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says about the centre in his constituency, and I agree that those who work in these skillcentres are dedicated people, who have done good work for a long time. However, if the right hon. Gentleman carefully studies the papers that he has been given he will find that the amount and the quality of the training that is to be done is not being reduced, but increased. All that we are trying to do is to get the premises and buildings put into line with modern training conditions, and this is long overdue.
Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the Government's policies on trade and industry are doing nothing for the people in Lanarkshire? Is he aware that in my constituency there were 32 liquidations last week? Is he also aware that in my constituency a skillcentre is closing in Bellshill? Bearing in mind that over 20 per cent. of our people are unemployed, is it not time that the Government took their finger out and did something about the unemployed and about helping to train unskilled people?
I think that it is an annexe of the skillcentre that is due for closure in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The amount and the quality of training have increased. We are merely trying to get the type of premises brought up to date. As to regional support in general, the hon. Gentleman will know that Lanarkshire has had many important new developments, and he has warmly welcomed some of them in the House.
Solicitor-General For Scotland
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many people have been prosecuted in Scotland for not wearing seat belts.
The number of persons proceeded against in 1983 when the seat belt charge was the main offence was 275. The provisional figure for the first half of 1984 is 93.
In view of the very encouraging results in terms of prevention of injury following the seat belt legislation — I myself escaped minor injury in a car accident last week by wearing a seat belt—may I ask the Minister to consult his colleagues in the Department of Transport and urge them to support legislation to make it compulsory for car manufacturers to fit rear seat belts as a first step towards making the wearing of them compulsory in back seats as well?
It is clear that the use of seat belts since the introduction of the legislation has been successful. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport has already said that she will announce the Government's intentions about making rear seat belts compulsory in the light of the Select Committee on Transport report on road safety.
Were a substantial number of the people stopped for not wearing seat belts not prosecuted? In view of the success of the policy of wearing seat belts, will my hon. and learned Friends undertake a policy of prosecuting as often as is necessary?
The figures that I gave do not show the number of offences that were recorded by the police. In the first half of this year, over 1,100 were recorded by the police. However, I make it clear that the figure I have given is of those cases where there was a main offence and prosecution for the offence. My hon. Friend will appreciate that, it is also within the power of fiscals to issue warning letters and to take advantage of the fiscal fine system. A number of people have been dealt with in that manner.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will institute proceedings against Homelocators Ltd. of Glasgow for offences under the Accommodation Agencies Act 1953; and if he will make a statement.
No report has been received by me or the procurator fiscal at Glasgow in respect of any contravention by Homelocators Ltd. of Glasgow under the Accommodation Agencies Act 1953, but, following the tabling of this question, I have now instructed the procurator fiscal at Glasgow to make inquiries.
I am grateful to the Solicitor-General for that answer, and I recognise that he is trying to be helpful in this matter. Does he agree that even if this firm is found not to have been breaking laws, it is certainly guilty of circumventing them, and in the process has caused hardship to many students who are already under tremendous pressure? Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give the House an assurance that, if necessary, he will bring forward changes to the relevant Act to make sure that these practices cease as soon as possible?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. It would be premature now to say whether there has been a breach of the Act to which the hon. Gentleman has referred or whether there is a loophole in the law that is being exploited. If inquiries reveal that an offence has been committed, we shall give careful consideration to prosecution. Alternatively, if there appears to be a loophole, that will be made clear.
Coal Industry Dispute
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many people charged with offences arising out of the dispute in the mining industry have been refused bail.
As at 3 December 1984, 18 persons had been remanded in custody after appearing in court charged with offences arising out of the mining dispute. Of the 18 persons, two were subsequently released on appeal and one immediately changed his plea to that of guilty.
Will the Solicitor-General for Scotland recognise that these are honest men who have never been in trouble with the law in their lives, including the chairman of the Lothian central strike committee, Mr. David Hamilton, who is one of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie)? Mr. Hamilton has languished in Saughton prison for six weeks. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not understand the damage that is being done by using the apparatus of the state to defeat the National Union of Mineworkers? When will he understand that it is outrageous that these men are being penalised? When will the Government face the fact that long-term damage has been done to the police force in Scotland in many communities because of the use to which it has been put in the miners' dispute?
I have already said that 18 persons have been remanded in custody. There is a clear bail procedure and a clear opportunity to take advantage of an appeal if those concerned feel that bail should have been granted to them. Such appeals have been successful in a number of cases. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a particular case and he knows that as it is to come before the courts in the next fortnight I cannot comment on it in any detail. However, he will be aware that the man to whom he has referred is charged with a serious assault. He took the matter of his bail to the appeal court and his application was refused.
Order. I should have said before that the House must be careful about mentioning individual cases, especially those which are before the courts, and should bear in mind the sub judice rule.
Will the Solicitor-General for Scotland at least agree to minimise hardship among mining families, although his colleagues seem determined to maximise it? Will he explain to the House why at least 100 miners have been refused legal aid by the Dunfermline sheriff court?
The granting of legal aid in Scotland is a matter for individual sheriffs. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the test that is required to be applied by the courts in those circumstances is that of the interests of justice. It is on that basis only that legal aid is granted or refused. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the prosecutor in Scotland is independent. Nevertheless, he makes no intervention when an individual makes an application before the courts, whether it arises from the miners' strike or otherwise, for legal aid.
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that in a letter to me of 13 November from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State it was conceded that there were significant variations in the approach of individual sheriff courts to the granting of legal aid? These variations have been highlighted in a discreditable fashion by experience with picket-line offences. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that a review of legal aid is being conducted. Will he give a guarantee or undertaking that the granting of legal aid will be considered in that review and that the results of it will be made known to the House?
The hon. Gentleman appreciates that the administration of the legal aid system is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and not for me. However, it is a fact that there have been discrepancies in the way in which legal aid has been applied by the courts in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman will readily appreciate from his professional experience that discrepancies existed long before the miners' strike first emerged. I understand that my right hon. Friend is considering the matter as one of the issues to be included in an overall review of legal aid in Scotland.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many prosecutions have taken place in the latest available year for salmon poaching in the sea and fresh water, respectively.
In the period from 1 December 1983 to 1 December 1984 there were 38 and 321 prosecutions for salmon poaching in the sea and fresh water respectively.
Will my hon. Friend take every opportunity, now that we have an aircraft to add to the fishery protection vessels, to ensure that as many poachers as possible on the high seas are brought to book?
Yes. I understand that "Younger's tartan air force" has already had considerable success in using aerial photography to catch those who have been engaged in illegal poaching for salmon at sea. Given that success, it is anticipated that we can look forward to further prosecutions in the Scottish courts.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he is satisfied with the progress of the diversion scheme.
Yes, Sir. The scheme is still in its early days but continues to make steady and satisfactory progress.
Is the Minister aware that I support the scheme? Does he not share my concern that in Ayrshire recently there were a couple of diversions involving cases of husbands of battered wives. Does the Minister agree that cases of serious assault are not proper to be used in a diversion scheme?
Clearly, we want to expand the diversion scheme. I believe that the hon. Gentleman supports what is being done. Obviously there are also cases where it is not appropriate to take advantage of that alternative to prosecution. I do not know of the particular cases to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. If he feels that there have been cases of serious assault, I shall be grateful if he will let me know. It is certainly not intended that the diversion scheme should be used to deal with serious assaults, which should very much more properly come before the ordinary courts.
Points Of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising out of questions. My point of order relates to the rights of hon. Members and to the confidentiality of the document referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) in his supplementary to question No. 8. I have a copy of a document entitled "NCB Accounts—a Mine of Misinformation". The document is available in two forms. One is marked "Confidential" in red. The other is not marked at all. The document marked "Confidential" in red was given to me by a member of the Select Committee on Energy. Discretion as to whether that document is designated as a confidential document is in the hands of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. It is within his discretion. In the event of his attaching the designation "Confidential", it means that the document becomes privileged. If the document is privileged, it is subject to the rules as set out in "Erskine May" on pages 153 and 154 where it says that until a Committee has reported to the House it is a breach of privilege for disclosure to be made of anything that took place during the Committee's private meetings, or for any of its papers to be made public.My point of order is in two parts. Has the Chairman of the Committee abused his position by seeking to designate a document as confidential when it has already been made available to Members of this House and has already been made the subject of a BBC "Newsnight" programme in the middle of last week? This document has already been made public. Could it possibly be said that in designating the document as confidential the Chairman was intending to shackle the members of that Committee and prevent them from commenting publicly upon the contents of the document? Furthermore, in order to finalise my point of order, was my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) placed inadvertently in contempt of this House? Was the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone), who rose today to refer specifically to that document and who is a member of that Select Committee, inadvertently or deliberately placed in contempt of this House?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) did not give me notice that he intended to raise this matter. However, I have to inform the House that, as far as I am aware, no member of my Committee has with my knowledge made this document available. When it was received by the Committee it was marked "Confidential". The Committee was requested to treat it as such. As far as I am aware, we are under an obligation so to do.
Order. We have a heavy day and I can dispose of the matter simply, because the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) kindly gave me notice that he was going to raise the matter and I have had an opportunity to look into it. I have made inquiries about the document and I am satisfied that it may be referred to. Indeed, it has been referred to in the House before by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 29 November. An hon. Member must not refer to unreported evidence of a Select Committee, but if a paper has already been circulated to other persons before the Committee sends for it, clearly reference can be made to it in the House or anywhere else.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very concerned about the position. I had hold of that document as a Member of the House last Thursday and I used it on three occasions at public meetings over the weekend. I came to the House on Monday evening to open correspondence from the Clerk to the Select Committee and in it was a copy of the document that I had used on public platforms marked "Confidential". It was I who handed it to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).I have written to you today, Mr. Speaker to ask whether my actions over the past six days have indeed been a contempt of the House and I look forward to receiving your reply.
Order. I have already referred in a kindly fashion to the hon. Member for Bolsover. I do not think that any point of order can arise.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. Let me dispose of the point of order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has done anything wrong. I have nothing further to add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Workington. As I understand it from the Chairman of the Select Committee, and as the House heard, when he received the document it was marked "Confidential".
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you, Mr. Speaker, will look seriously into what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) had to say, and taking into account the admission of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), it is important that you understand that for many years the Coal Board has been twisting the accounts when it presented reports—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not on a point of order. He is abusing his point of order to make a political point which is not a matter for me.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill, I was fortunate enough to catch your eye at 25 seconds to 10 o'clock. I intended to point out to the House how the Bill would deny millions of citizens the democratic right of electing their local representatives. I have no doubt but that the House would have welcomed that after listening to 30 minutes of boring diatribe from the Minister. However, at 15 seconds to 10 o'clock the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household moved that the Question be put, and, rightly, you put the Question. I rushed to the House this morning to read my 20-second speech and I found that it was not in Hansard. Can you put this right, please?
Hansard heard it, I am sure.
Order. I will not take a further point of order from the hon. Member for Bolsover.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that I asked a supplementary question to question No. 8. May I apologise to you and to the Leader of the House for misleading the House. The right hon. Gentleman replied to three questions on the mining dispute yesterday, and, unfortunately, I had read only two of them.
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I will take the point of order if it is entirely different and legitimate, but in fairness to his colleagues in the House, the hon. Gentleman should not take up time with spurious points of order on a day when we have a heavy programme before us.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the difficulties that hon. Members experience in relation to nationalised industries and documents of this kind is that we are allowed to ask questions only of a general nature. We are not allowed to ask questions about the day-to-day administration of any nationalised industry. That has been laid down. In your capacity as Speaker, you will know that there is a severe limit upon the areas about which we can ask questions.Because of that I raise this legitimate point of order. Lots of information has been given to the Coal Board upon which Ministers have commented at the Dispatch Box, throughout the dispute and before. An important Select Committee was given figures by the Coal Board that have been proved to be false. They were also given to the House. If we are to be allowed only to raise matters of a general nature in relation to the National Coal Board as a nationalised industry and not about the day-to-day administrative figures we should have more reliable evidence. It is pretty clear from the confidential document that the Chairman of the Select Committee has that, if we are not careful—this is what I ask you to rule upon—we shall be given Coal Board accounts in a twisted form delivered by people from the NCB who are bent and the House will be misinformed. We want to make sure that—
Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here during Scottish questions.
Then the hon. Gentleman was not listening. This matter was extensively discussed during Scottish questions and it was suggested that there were two views on the report.
European Council (Dublin)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the results of the European Council held in Dublin on 3–4 December. I was accompanied at this meeting by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The conclusions of the Council have been placed in the Library of the House.The Council covered four main subjects. First, we examined the economic situation in the Community on which the Commission had submitted a detailed report. In particular, we discussed the creation of more jobs by opening up the internal Community market for all goods, services and professions; by defining European standards for products; and by improving the Community's performance in advanced industrial technology. This has to be achieved in the context of—
and"moderation in the evolution of real wages"
The Council agreed to set up a review of manpower policy with the aim of directing training to sectors where labour will be needed, of encouraging job mobility and of fostering enterprise, especially among young people. Secondly, the European Council reached agreement on the Community's position in the enlargement negotiations with Spain and Portugal. Two major issues had been outstanding — wine and fisheries. Both were satisfactorily settled. Unfortunately, Greece reserved her position on enlargement, linking it with a bid for more money for Mediterranean programmes. However, the enlargement negotiations will now go ahead on the outstanding issues and, we hope, be brought to an early conclusion, with a view to accession on 1 January 1986. The outcome will have to be referred back to the Council of Ministers, especially in view of the position adopted by Greece. Thirdly, we gave particular attention to further measures to relieve famine in African countries, particularly in Ethiopia. We agreed that the Community and its member states should provide 1·2 million tonnes of grain in 1985. This is a really major effort which the United Kingdom strongly supports. We appealed to other donor countries to match this effort. Fourthly, we had a preliminary exchange on reports from two groups established after the Fontainebleau meeting. These groups are dealing with Community institutions and with practical measures such as easier movement of goods and frontier formalities. The final reports will be substantively discussed at the European Council in the first half of next year. The European Council also urged the Environment Ministers to reach agreement at their meeting tomorrow on guidelines for the reduction of lead in petrol—a British initiative within the Community — and on vehicle emissions. Within the context of political co-operation, the Council endorsed the principles for dealing with terrorism and the abuse of diplomatic immunity. which were adopted in September and are now being put into practice. We discussed East-West relations, stressing the importance of reaching satisfactory arms control agreements, and the middle east. In the discussion on central America we reaffirmed our support for the Contadora process. Finally, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted the text on bydgetary discipline, including the strict financial guideline for agricultural expenditure. It is the result of considerable efforts over a period of years by Britain to ensure the better control of Community expenditure and a better balance in the Community budget."a pause in the growth of current public expenditure and a decline for several years in its share of gross domestic product".
The most welcome news that comes out of the Dublin summit is the agreement to release 1·2 million tonnes of grain for Ethiopia and other African countries in the coming year. Will the Prime Minister give us an undertaking that, as the grain surplus of the Common Market continues to increase, she will prevail upon the other Heads of Government to increase that allocation as the opportunity arises.Unfortunately, other consequences of the Dublin summit are much less satisfactory than the decisions on famine relief. First, the Prime Minsiter has failed to get the discipline over the Common Market budget that she promised. When reporting to the House after the last summit in June, the right hon. Lady said:
Will she now confirm that the document on budgetary discipline approved by the Dublin summit has no legal status, that it will operate on the basis of majority voting with no British veto, and that it falls lamentably short even of the objectives which the right hon. Lady set herself and promised us back in June? Secondly, the Prime Minister may talk in her statement of the strict financial guidelines for agricultural expenditure, but is it not a fact that the 1985 Common Market draft budget, which will provide the basis for our 1986 arrangements, provides for a further and significant increase in the proportion of the budget going to agriculture and provides also for cuts in science, technology, investment in research and expenditure on transport and energy? Did the Prime Minister challenge that budget, because it will mean heavy disadvantages for Britain? In the light of that, is the right hon. Lady now prepared to reconsider her rash commitment six months ago to increase British VAT own resource payments to the Common Market by 40 per cent. in the coming year? Tomorrow, the House debates the Chancellor's autumn statement, which provides for reduced expenditure on housing, education and other vital provisions such as regional aid and training. Against the background of financial stringency at home, how can the Prime Minister possibly justify the increased largesse to the Common Market to which she again committed herself in Dublin?"we should like the principles to be embodied formally and legally in the budgetary procedure, but it must be done in such a way as to guarantee them."—[Official Report, 27 June 1984; Vol. 62, c. 1001.]
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments about Ethiopia. The Community has pledged itself to provide 1·2 million tonnes of grain between now and the next harvest. All of that grain is not for Ethiopia — other places in Africa also need a considerable amount. It is thought that overall 2 million tonnes are needed of which the Community says it will provide 1·2 million tonnes. The Community is saying to other donors, "Will you please at least match that?" There is a considerable number of other donors who, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are being very generous.Considerable amounts of grain are due to land in Ethiopia, with 112,000 tonnes of wheat due to arrive in Ethiopian ports in December and another 94,000 tonnes in January, so that the distribution is kept up. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the distribution is going well. It is vital that we have both flow and distribution. I do not think that we can commit ourselves at the moment to increased amounts. The total amount of cereal allocation in the budget is about 1·1 million tonnes. Not all of it goes to emergency aid; some of it is committed elsewhere. It is a combined effort between the Community and its member states. The right hon. Member will be aware that member states have been very active on their own behalf in helping Ethiopia, as well as within the Community. The text on financial budgetary discipline is binding on the Council itself, but it is not being embodied into a treaty or technically — legally — into the budgetary process. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because one simply cannot get agreement from all 10 countries. All of them have, however, agreed that the Council, which is the deciding unit in the whole Community, shall be bound by the clause on financial budgetary discipline. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the autumn statement and public expenditure, he will have noted that I quoted from one of the documents submitted by the Commission to the Council in the discussion on employment, urging a reduction in public expenditure as a proportion of GDP.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, while the aid that we are, quite rightly, sending to Ethiopia is reaching the Ethiopian army and much of the civil population under Government control, the larger part of the country is not under Government control, and that none of the aid that we are sending is reaching the areas under the control of the National Liberation Fronts of Eritrea and Tigre? As a result, there is a tremendous influx of refugees—nearly 1 million — into the Sudan, and it is becoming an intolerable burden on the Sudan.Will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to sending aid through the Sudan to the areas controlled by the National Liberation Fronts of Eritrea and Tigre? There is some justification for doing so, in that those two organisations have offered a truce to the Ethiopian Government and the Ethiopian Government have not responded to it.
I am aware that not every area in Ethiopia has managed to get food, but the distribution is very much better than it was. My right hon. Friend is the first to be aware of the difficulties of getting supplies of food and water to the areas concerned. We are very much aware that Sudan is another area in need of help, and I shall take up what my right hon. Friend said about it.
How far are the new budgetary arrangements, as they affect Britain, capable of being overturned or deferred by action on the part of the European Assembly?
I do not believe that those new arrangements can be overturned by the Assembly. The Assembly has to act within the treaty. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the treaty refers to 1 per cent. VAT, and his question is pertinent to some of the things being considered at the moment. The Assembly cannot go beyond 1 per cent. VAT. It has certain margins within that provision but cannot go above it.
What case is there for any increase whatever in EC agricultural expenditure?
My right hon. Friend may take that view, and some of us may go quite a long way towards meeting him on it, but it is not a view taken by everyone.My right hon. Friend will also be aware that when we took the first steps to limit the guarantees on certain agricultural produce, it caused problems in Britain. We have to be aware that whatever is done is done gradually.
What is the Government's view on the fact that the majority of Community countries wish to have an intergovernmental conference now on the treaties? In the light of the Greek attitude and the impending enlargement of the Community, are there not advantages for Britain in streamlining the Commission from 17 to 12, in safeguarding budgetary disciplines, and in ensuring that, provided we retain the safeguard of the Luxembourg compromise, there is more majority voting?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, those matters are being discussed in the Dooge committee.With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's point about reducing the number of Commissioners from 17 to 12, even at Fontainebleau I said that we were prepared to accept that. We think that it is absurd to have 17 Commissioners. There is not the work for 17 Commissioners to do. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I was not necessarily followed in my conclusions by other countries which have two Commissioners. I hope that ultimately they will see the wisdom of what I said. With regard to majority voting, I have no wish to extend it beyond what is at present provided for in the treaty. Majority voting can operate in many areas, but we must stick to the Luxembourg compromise. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, I understand that he agrees.
What about the fishing aspects of the Dublin summit? In particular, can my right hon. Friend assure our fishermen that the negotiating position agreed there will not be to the detriment of our fishermen, particularly in the south-west of England where Spain clearly hopes to gain increased fishing rights?
The Community adopted an agreed negotiating position on fishing. For obvious reasons, that has not been published, but I do not think that my hon. Friend would be unduly concerned about its provisions. I am sure he would feel that they reasonably protected Britain's interests.
The Prime Minister has said that the Council has bound itself in respect of budgetary discipline. If that were to be so, would not that need financial regulations? Has not the Council reached conclusions only?
No, the conclusions bind the Council, but the hon. Gentleman is right in that this matter has not been transferred into regulations. Other members of the Community did not think that that was necessary. We would have preferred it, but the conclusions are now binding on the Council.
Will my right hon. Friend give more details about the satisfactory settlement on wine? Am I right in thinking that this settlement requires a much greater distillation of wine, and what effect will that have on the production and use of industrial alcohol in this country?
My hon. Friend will he aware that when wine production exceeds a certain amount—and it is triggered by three different criteria—the wine then goes for distillation into alcohol at a very much lower price. That is meant to be a disincentive to growing so much wine in the following year. I refer to table wine, not vintage wine. We are very much aware of the effect that this could have on industrial alcohol in this country. It is therefore important that the triggers are effective to reduce the amount of wine grown in successive years. That will thereby reduce the amounts that go to distillation because the price of that wine would be so low as to make it not worth producing.
Was there any discussion on the easier movement of professions in the internal Community market? Did the Prime Minister take the opportunity to raise the Football League's opposition to the free movement of footballers, which could have a devastating and damaging effect on the finances and standards of English football?
No, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we are talking about equivalence of qualifications, which can take a long time to negotiate. It is important to complete that part of our work so that our young people are able to practise more easily in other Common Market countries.
What provision has the EEC made for food and medical supplies to the 3 million Afghanistan refugees in Pakistan?
That is not dealt with through the EEC. We give refugee aid to Pakistan. We have tried to be as generous as possible, because we understand and applaud the excellent provision which Pakistan has made for those refugees from Afghanistan. I shall give my hon. Friend the precise figure. It was up to £3 million, burit may now have gone over that.
During the conversations on the middle east, did the right hon. Lady pursue the suggestion put by the Greek Prime Minister that there should be a European initiative towards a settlement in the middle east, or is she simply prepared to wait until the American President bothers to notice the problem?
The hon. Gentleman will have seen the communiqué on political co-operation. The discussion on the middle east was not extensive. A new initiative could emerge only after very extensive consideration of the kind which specifically occurred at the Venice summit. The discussion was brief. Therefore, the communiqué summarises our present position and says that each of us has kept our contacts with the several parties involved in the middle east dispute. We intend to continue to keep those contacts separately and as a Community.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the provisions made in the context of enlargement both for migrant workers and the access of British industry to Spanish markets? Does she share my unease that the Greek bargaining position that is now being taken up is a foretaste of what is yet to come regarding Mediterranean countries' pressure on northern European countries on agricultural matters?
We have a particular interest in the negotiation of industrial tariffs of the Community with Spain in the negotiations for enlargement. We are not yet satisfied with the conditions, but they are still under negotiation. We are aware of the matter both regarding the quota on cars which are imported into Spain and on the high tariff imposed on them. Therefore, we want increased quotas and reductions in tariffs to take place especially steeply during the early years.The Greek Government are demanding considerable sums for Mediterranean programmes. The sums were of such an order that my colleagues and I did not think that we could possibly agree to them, bearing in mind that Greece already derives substantial net benefit from joining the Community, which has increased steeply during the past two years.
Does the Prime Minister recognise that Mr. Papandreou has become her most apt pupil in unilateral intransigence? Nevertheless, does she agree that it would be singularly inappropriate for Greece, which was eager to speed its entry into the Communityto block the entry of two at least equally qualified Mediterranean countries? Does she agree that that is an example neither of Socialist internationalism — a rare commodity these days — nor of democratic responsibility?
I recognise no similarity. The right hon. Gentleman has reason to know that the United Kingdom is still a substantial net contributor to the Community—[Interruption.]I note that the right hon. Gentleman says that that is very good. He should be the first to understand that Greece is a substantial—I am sorry—a substantial taker-out from the Community and wants substantially to increase the sum which it takes out. There is, therefore, absolutely no parallel between the two cases. However, I agree that it would be disgraceful if Greece were to use that particular demand to block the entry of both Spain and Portugal. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for expressing that sentiment in the House.
My right hon. Friend announced the intention to proceed to the free exchange of services within the Community. Will she say when we may expect a genuine Common Market to replace the protection that exists at present?
My hon. Friend is right in saying that the article of the treaty on the completion of the Common Market for internal services has been pursued least, although in order of priority it comes above that for agriculture. It is a matter to which the Dooge committee is giving special attention. We have a special interest in it. The committee will report in March, when we shall consider how to take forward its proposals, and we shall have a substantive discussion on it by June 1985. The sooner we get a complete internal market in services the better.
At the meeting did the Prime Minister raise the urgent and serious problem of massive unemployment in Europe? What cures and solutions did she suggest at the meeting?
As I said in my statement this was the first part of our discussions and the first matter to which we addressed our attention. I pointed out that there was a substantial report from the Commission — the annual economic report—which was geared especially to
It set out four particular groupings and 16 guidelines on matters to be followed. There is a full copy of the report in the Library."the dominant problem of unemployment."
Order. There is to be a further statement of great importance, an application under Standing Order No. 10 and an important debate lies ahead of us. I shall take two more questions from each side.
I am glad to hear of the initiatives taken to try to solve the problem of unemployment in the EEC. Is my hon. Friend aware of the success of the United States in its work fare schemes in place of welfare? Will she institute a serious inquiry to see whether their methods can be useful in solving our unemployment problems?
We did not discuss those schemes in detail at this meeting, but they were discussed in detail at the London economic summit, at which many European Community countries were present, when President Reagan described them. Some of my hon. Friends in the Department of Employment have been studying those schemes.
When the Council considered the provision of grain and food aid to Ethiopia and to other countries, did it take into account the role of the United Nations and its various agencies? If so, what conclusions were reached?
Yes, we took into account the role both of other countries and, as many of our colleagues pointed out, of the extremely generous gifts from individual citizens and groups in other countries. We took the measure of what we could do both as a Community and as individual countries, and decided that we could provide 1·2 million tonnes of grain, out of a required amount of, we calculated, 2 million tonnes. That is not only for Ethiopia. There are other countries in need in Africa. Many of us also contribute to the world food programme which has been active in securing greater supplies of food to Ethiopia.
Considering the attitude of Greece, is it expected that enlargement will cause particular difficulties, and when may we hear the outcome? Is it generally accepted that Greece has an absolute veto in all circumstances about enlargement?
Negotiations will go ahead on the remaining matters, which were wine, fish and industrial tariffs, for Spain and Portugal. We hope they will be completed by March so that the March Council can consider them. I think that it is technically true that Greece or any member state would have a veto on enlargement because if one insists on having a Luxembourg compromise on the veto, that inevitably follows. I hope that we shall be able to point out, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have, that it would be completely unjust if Greece, which is doing extremely well from its membership of the Community and is a democracy which has known non-democratic days, blocked the entry of other newly established democracies into the Community, when a purpose of their entry is to help and strengthen their democracy.
Is the Prime Minister suggesting that Greece is getting enough from the Community already? If so, does she still believe that economic convergence is a central objective of the EC? If the sums that Greece is receiving are sufficient, what hope can there be for a poor country such as Portugal? How and when does she expect the standard of living and economic opportunity of the poorer countries to be significantly improved?
In 1982, Greece's net receipts were £404 million, and in 1983 they amounted to £555 million. That represented the sharpest rise in any member state's net receipts, and made Greece the second largest net recipient of European Community funds after Italy. Greece has also benefited from certain special measures such as postponement of the introduction of VAT, which means a benefit of some £140 million. On top of those benefits, other sums were offered to Greece in pursuance of the agreement that we had, that such funds should be provided for integrated Mediterranean programmes as a consequence of enlargement. Therefore, extra on top of that has been offered to Greece. Greece said that it thought that that was not enough, but we said that it was all that the Community could afford for the time being. The hon. Gentleman mentioned convergent economic policies, but the Community is not meant to be a mechanical redistributive mechanism.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.On 12 November I announced changes to the student awards system involving the abolition of the minimum award, increased contributions from parents in the middle and upper reaches of the income scale and the extension of contributions, for those most able to pay, up to the maximum of the designated tuition fee of £520 a year. The resources released by these measures were intended in part to meet increases in the already substantial bill for student awards—about £700 million in 1984–85—and in part to provide additional money for science. Our system of student support—amongst the most generous in the world—has long been based on the sharing of responsibility by the Government, the student's family and where appropriate the student himself. When resources are limited, it is, I believe, right for those parents who can afford to do so to carry a larger share of the costs of their children's higher education, in order to release money for urgent needs elsewhere, particularly at the moment for science. I recognise the concern expressed in the House and elsewhere that the increase in parental contribution that was proposed was too sharp and the notice given too short to enable parents to make such a substantial adjustment in their financial affairs. I believe also that parents will want to know where they stand in relation to the next academic year. I should therefore tell the House that it remains the Government's intention, subject to the decision of Parliament, to abolish the minimum award and to increase the level of parental contributions to maintenance for those in the middle and upper reaches of the income scale. I have, however, decided to withdraw the proposal that parents should make a contribution to tuition fees. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has decided similarly. The cost of this concession in England and Wales in 1985–86 is £21 million. In order to find this extra sum, I have been through my recently announced expenditure programme again and I have been able to find £11 million savings towards it. I have three savings to announce. First, there will be a reduction of £6 million in the addition to the equipment grant for universities in 1985–86. This means that universities will get £4 million for this purpose in that year instead of the £10 million that I announced earlier. I intend, however, that the selective scheme, with the agreement of the University Grants Committee, should now be extended to cover the three years to 1987–88: £7 million a year will be available in each of the two later years. Secondly, there will be a reduction of £3 million—from £14 million to £11 million—in the amount which I had told the chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils was a planned addition for science in 1985–86. Thirdly, there will be a number of smaller economies amounting to £2 million. This will mean among other examples a smaller increase than already announced for the PICKUP programme; and less for educational research, adult education and the microelectronics programme. The remaining £10 million needed in 1985–86 will, exceptionally, be found by an addition of that amount to the public expenditure planning total. The Government propose to consider—and consult widely about—whether a radical change in the student support system, which might include loans, should be made so as better to meet the needs of students and their families whilst safeguarding the interests of the taxpayer. I believe that these proposals meet the two main concerns of the House: first, that the increase in parental contribution was too sharp and too sudden; and, secondly, that the system of student support in the longer term should be reviewed.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Order. I shall take points of order afterwards.
It is very important—
Order. All points of order are very important.
No; I said that I would take the hon. Gentleman's point of order afterwards.
Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I will take his point of order afterwards, and I will.
I will take it afterwards. I will not take it now!
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not hear me. I will take the point of order afterwards. I will not take it now.
Is the Secretary of State aware that by withdrawing the proposal to charge for tuition fees he has been forced into a humiliating climb-down? Is he further aware that since the Government came to power they have reduced the real value of student grants by 14 per cent.? The right hon. Gentleman still proposes to abolish the minimum grant and is still not prepared to set up a wide-ranging and independent — I stress "independent"—review of financial support for all those in higher and further education.Is it not also the case that the right hon. Gentleman is now cutting over £9 million from the increase in the science budget, which he told the world was so important that parents and students must pay for it? Terrified by their own Back Benchers, the Government have climbed down. How can the House have confidence in a Secretary of State who has displayed such incompetence and insensitivity? How can the Secretary of State have any confidence in himself? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we would feel more respect for Conservative Back Benchers if they also used their muscle on issues affecting far greater numbers? Where is the Tory rebellion on the reduction in the pensioners' heating allowance? Where is the Tory rebellion on the cuts in regional aid? Where is the Tory rebellion on unemployment? We will take the Tory Back Benchers seriously when they force the Government to climb down on those other issues of fundamental importance to many millions throughout the country.
The Government's purpose of strengthening the science budget — though admittedly less than we would have liked—is still being achieved.
While obviously regretting the need for any increase in the parental contribution, I nevertheless say to my right hon. Friend that I and many of my hon. Friends will be glad that he has thought again about the question of tuition fees. We welcome the change and thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done in that regard, thereby preserving the principle of free higher education in this country.
I very much respect the desire of my right hon. and learned Friend to find the best answer to the problem of student support, and I am grateful for what he has said.
It will not be lost on the House that a rebellion by Tory Back Benchers has for the first time been half successful when it involves the interests of their better-off constituents.The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands the position if he thinks that the public outcry is about the suddenness of the announcement. The outcry has arisen because the announcement comes on top of a steady erosion of the value of the student grant during the right hon. Gentleman's period of office. That is why it is unacceptable. Why is the right hon. Gentleman messing around trying to find £11 million by damaging cuts in other areas of education when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that he is keeping £1,500 million in reserve for tax cuts in the spring? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us about the effects of the cuts on the Scottish budget, about which he said nothing in his statements? Finally, why should there not be a review before any changes are made rather than after the right hon. Gentleman has aready made some damaging decisions?
All the better-off will still pay more in parental contributions, despite today's announcement. The question of arriving at the optimum balance between students and families on the one hand and taxpayers on the other will be at the heart of the review that has been announced. The cuts of £11 million are reductions in increases and leave substantial increases for the science budget.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I have already told the hon. Gentleman that I will take his point of order afterwards, and I will do so.