House Of Commons
Monday 1 April 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the extent of the resumption in normal working in National Coal Board mines and other installations.
I understand from the NCB that the return to normal working within the industry is well under way. Production and deliveries of coal have substantially increased.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he entirely satisfied that the way in which the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers misunderstood the short-term procedural adjustment last week has now been clarified by the NCB and that there is no ground for any industrial action?
If, following tomorrow's delegate conference, the NUM decides to resume its involvement in the normal consultative procedures between the NCB and the unions, the NCB would suggest that a meeting of the coal industry national consultative council should take place next week to discuss, among other matters, steps leading to the introduction of the modified colliery review procedure as soon as possible. Certainly the objective of the Government and of the NCB is that that modified procedure should come into effect as quickly as possible.
Has the right hon. Gentleman had his attention drawn to the headline in The Guardian today, which says:
Even if those reports are one tenth true, are they not appalling? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman do something about the chairman of the board? He is not fit to be in charge of industrial relations in the coal industry in Britain. We know that in his notorious interview he boasted that he had no conversations with the Secretary of State. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman stop this madness from going on?"Local management 'instructed to give union a hard time'. NCB 'launches closures drive against Nacods'"?
I had a meeting this morning on other matters with the chairman of the NCB. He has no knowledge of the items mentioned in The Guardian or the sources from which they came. It may be that there are those who are involved in stirring up mishief around this subject. The chairman of the NCB is anxious that the modified procedure that he agreed with NACODS should come into operation as swiftly as possible.
Will the Secretary of State reconsider the whole matter? I spoke to the general secretary of NACODS a little while ago, and the situation is grave. Will the Secretary of State not merely rely on the comments offered by the NCB, but have a further meeting with NACODS? He will recognise that I am not particularly interested in seeing strife in the coalfield. We have seen enough of that. A grave situation is developing, and it requires urgent attention.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have always been willing to see any trade union connected with my Department at any time and have always done so. That applies to NACODS, the NUM or any other union. With regard to the present dispute, the pronouncements coming out of NACODS and the pit closure in south Wales, I can only say that two weeks ago the south Wales area director met all the unions to discuss the prospects for that pit. The unions called for a technical inspection, which was made two days later. In the light of that inspection the board expressed the view that there were no prospects for the pit. The NUM's response was that the rundown should be dealt with quickly and that voluntary redundancies should be initiated immediately as that would benefit the miners concerned. A majority of NUM members at the pit voted in support of that. If the Coal Board had rejected that request and taken no notice of it, we should have been strongly criticised by the NUM.
Has my right hon. Friend noted reports in the Daily Mail at the end of last week which suggested that those miners who had applied for transfers to areas where they would not be victimised were having their applications processed slowly? Can he assure us that that matter will be looked at and that those who have applied to move to other areas to ensure that they will not be victimised will be dealt with speedily?
I assure my hon. Friend that the NCB is looking into all individual cases. It has set up a Freefone system and is looking into every possible case. If any form of intimidation is taking place, the important thing is to stop the intimidation. The NCB is taking a great deal of action — it has set up a special unit — and I hope that it will succeed.
Will the Secretary of State reconsider his previous answers? He referred to Bedwas colliery in my constituency and to the fact that an underground inspection took place a fortnight ago last Wednesday. Is he aware that while that inspection was taking place the pit manager was interviewing members of the NUM on the surface and that offers of transfer or redundancy were made before any firm decision had been taken or discussions had taken place on a review procedure? Is he further aware that the NCB's actions in south Wales are regarded as being deliberately precipitate and provocative? Will he tell us whether either the modified review procedure or the existing review procedure with NACODS will be used before there are further pit closures?
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) referred earlier to The Guardian, and I see from that paper today that the president of the NUM in south Wales has made it clear that the NUM was in favour of the closure taking place there. He said that he would not support any NACODS strike that stopped that taking place. In the case of Bedwas, a considerable majority of the miners recognise that prospects for that pit are poor. By agreement between the NUM and the board, transfers to other pits and voluntary redundancies are already being arranged. That seems much more acceptable than simply laying men off because there is no work for them to do. By its nature, this is an interim arrangement. If, as a result of its continuing assessment, the board judges that the pit must remain closed, the procedures and agreements that relate to closure will, of course, be fully operative.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is still great concern in the Scottish coalfields, where there has not been what could be called a normal resumption of work because of what appears to be the intransigence of the Coal Board management and, in particular, its unwillingness to discuss individual cases of dismissed men, many of whom seem to have been dismissed for trivial reasons? Will the right hon. Gentleman use his good offices to urge common sense on the management of the NCB in Scotland and, particularly, to urge the management to use the conciliation procedures to examine individual cases of sacked miners?
When normal working resumes, as I hope that it will later this week, all the procedures available within the Coal Board will be available to any person involved in dismissal.
Knowing the concern throughout the Conservative party about employment, does my right hon. Friend agree that reduced energy costs would have a direct benefit on employment costs, and does he also agree that a campaign of sabotage or non-cooperation underground would do great damage to the coal industry and to the nation generally?
I certainly agree that it is in the interests of every miner and everybody connected with the mining industry to see that it succeeds.
Does what the Secretary of State has said today about the NACODS agreement mean that there will be no more closures before the modified review procedure is in place? We want a categorical answer to that question. The answer is not clear from what has been said, certainly by the NCB. For example, will the 10 pits in south Wales for which closure is forecast go through the modified review procedure? The Secretary of State's views are before the House. He said that the agreement was sacrosanct. Is it still sacrosanct?
Yes, certainly. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that when the NCB put its proposals to the TUC it made it clear that, in the event of a failure to agree on those procedures by, I think, 1 June, the normal procedures, as exist at the moment, would have to go on. Obviously we will not agree to the NUM having a right to veto all future pit closures if it rejects the details of any NACODS procedures. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is a valid and fair point. The proposal put to the TUC is still the basis of the NCB's view. I said earlier that we wish to get down to discussing the details of that agreement next week.I have been asked about pit closures between then and now. The only two closures involved are at pits where there is no possibility of men working because the coal faces have been destroyed as a result of the strike. If the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with the south Wales NUM and is against those men being given voluntary redundancies, he should say so.
National Energy Policy
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will now initiate discussions on the formulation of a national energy policy.
I shall continue to discuss all aspects of national energy policy as appropriate.
As there is now the possibility of an expedited pit closure programme, will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the £10 million currently assigned for the economic and social consequences of such a programme will be almost immediately vastly increased? That money could be spent in Fife alone, let alone in coalfields throughout the United Kingdom.
I repeat that I am anxious for NCB (Enterprise) Limited to have considerable success. I realise that if it is successful it will need considerably more finance that has been made available so far. I have always made it clear that it is absurd to allocate to that organisation money that it has not yet spent. However, I am pleased to say that 10 allocations of funds have, I think, already been approved. There are many more applicants, and I certainly wish to see that body adequately financed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the last attempt to have a national energy policy was in 1978? Does he agree that flexibility is the most important thing, and that it would therefore be unwise to lay down clear objectives now?
I think that there is something more positive than that. This country is fortunate enough to have considerable offshore oil and gas industries. We also have a considerable ability in mining machinery, coal mining and nuclear power.All of those factors have a substantial international application. I am anxious to ensure that in all those areas the options are kept open and active, and that they are applied internationally to the maximum.
Cannot those options be kept open and the uncertainty faced while still publishing some objectives and priorities? Do not most well organised big businesses have corporate plans which run for, say, a five-year period and which can be revised every year or so, taking into account the differing circumstances?
I can only unfairly and unreasonably remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party, which he used to support, had such a corporate plan and that every one of its projections proved to be wrong.
Before we go for a new policy, we need to clarify the present situation. The Secretary of State did not answer my question. Mr. McNestry went to the High Court—
Order. I should be obliged if the right hon. Gentleman would stick to the subject of question No. 2 and not return to question No. 1.
But, Mr. Speaker, I—
Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the same rule must apply to both Front Benchers and Back Benchers. Will he please relate his question to question No. 2?
The point is that in order to obtain the sort of new energy policy that the question mentions, we must clarify the present position. The Secretary of State did not answer the question about the modified review procedure or about what Mr. McNestry told me concerning the present procedure not being carried out. When will the Government carry it out?
I repeat that the NCB wishes to get down to negotiating and talking about the modified procedure, if possible, next week. Earlier, there was a lot of shouting and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me. However, I repeat that, with regard to the Bedwas pit, an interim arrangement has been made at the request of the NUM. If, as a result of its continuing assessment, the board judges that the pit must remain closed, the procedures and agreements relating to closures will be fully operative.
Energy Audit Schemes
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what action is being taken by his Department to promote energy audit schemes.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how much grant-aid was provided by his Department to the home energy advice and treatment scheme.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many customers took up survey offers under the home energy advice and treatment pilot scheme in the east midlands.
There are 50 per cent. grants available for energy efficiency surveys of non-domestic premises. We have also supported the initial commercial development of the home energy audit, carried out by professionals — surveyors and valuers — a do-it-yourself audit and a semi-personalised audit relating to house type and fuel in conjunction with a commercial promotion. My Department provided a 49 per cent. grant for the home energy audit scheme to enable the company to prepare for and conduct a commercial pilot of the scheme in the east midlands.There have been 500 inquiries about the scheme, which have resulted in 56 audits and labels to date. The company is evaluating the market research on the pilot and I now await a report.
Are the operation and value for money of the home energy advice and treatment scheme being reviewed? Is the Secretary of State willing to learn from the successful experience of many local authorities, but especially from Newcastle upon Tyne, on this matter?
Yes, Sir. Home energy audit is a relatively new, but important, area for this country. The Government believe that these systems should be developed on a commercial basis, and have been prepared to provide grants towards testing the commercial viability of what are novel developments. The pilot scheme was important and we have much to learn from it.
Will the Minister be a little more definite about contact with the public sector? Has his Department been in touch with the Greater London council, which is advising local authorities on this matter, or with the Newcastle city council, which is advising tenants about audits on energy efficiency? What contact has his Department had with the public sector and what does he think should follow from that?
My right hon. Friend and I have had considerable contact with local authorities, which are developing a number of interesting systems, some of which I have been able to see for myself.
Is the Minister proud of what he has done under the scheme, bearing in mind that it was introduced last October? The Government continue to tell us that they must spend money wisely. As they spent £50,000 advertising the scheme, is the Minister proud of the fact that only a small number of people have taken up the offer? When will he get off his backside and really do something?
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that, looking back on what has happened, it appears that the pilot scheme was not successful in itself, but it has been a very valuable experiment from which we must learn as much as possible.
Is my hon. Friend aware that one reason why the pilot scheme was not successful in the east midlands was that the motivation did not appear to be only of cost benefit but of domestic convenience? Will he look at the experience in the United States, where the gas, electricity and coal undertakings handle those inquiries, rather than surveyors?
Yes, of course.
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that most complaints relate to high fuel bills and that energy audits lead directly to lower bills, lower fuel consumption and ultimately the need for fewer new power stations and capacity, all of which are eminently desirable?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Several thousand consumers have applied for the do-it-yourself home audit, which we have supported with the Open University and Channel 4. Several thousand more have applied for our semi-personalised audit on offer in a commercial promotion. Therefore, a major campaign of publicity and information does help the home owner to an awareness of what he can achieve.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment has cut home insulation grant expenditure by 15 per cent.? Is he further aware that the Secretary of State for Wales has cut home insulation expenditure by 25 per cent., therefore depriving almost 13,000 households in Wales of the possibility of home insulation? How does he square all the fine words, breakfasts, and audits with the action of other Ministers who are cutting back on the most effective and simple form of energy insulation and saving — home insulation grants?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been no cut. We have the same amount to spend this year as we had last year.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he has had any discussions with the chairman of the National Coal Board or others with regard to the possible privatisation or development of cooperatives of the coal industry or part or parts of the coal industry.
Is there any fundamental reason why the United Kingdom-based oil industry should not be nationalised, but the coal industry should be nationalised? Will my right hon. Friend tell us what changes he would like to see in ownership and organisation in this monolithic nationalised monopoly, vital as it is, in 10 years' time on 1 April 1995 in the sixteenth year of our right hon. Friend's premiership?
There were few things on which I agreed with Lord Wilson of Rievaulx when he was Prime Minister, but I cherish his statement about a week in politics being a long time. To give my views about happenings in 10 years from now would not be a sensible step for me to take.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that the report issued by the Conservative party, emanating from a committee under the chairmanship of the present Secretary of State for Transport in 1978, is now repudiated by the Government and that there will not be any suggestion of privatising the coal industry? Will he say clearly, therefore, that from now on the miners, NACODS and all others involved in the industry can rest assured that public ownership of the industry will continue and that that report is dead and buried?
I did not read that report because, during the period concerned, I was in that charming place, which the hon. Gentleman knows well, called the wilderness. I have always made it clear that I would be willing to consider ways in which there could be greater participation on the part of those employed in the industry.
Fast Breeder Reactors
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a further statement about progress on the European collaborative project for the development of fast breeder reactors.
We are continuing to make good progress.
In view of the expectation that both France and Germany will build commercial fast breeder reactors before this country does, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that we have a fair share of the research and development work on this collaborative programme and that we build on the expertise accumulated over the years at Dounreay? In particular, are the Government pressing for the location at Dounreay of a fuel reprocessing plant?
The participating organisations have already signed several of the agreements setting the detailed framework of the collaboration, and other agreements are being negotiated. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the United Kingdom is already in the forefront of fast reactor technology and has made a major contribution to the collaboration, in particular through the work at Dounreay. No decisions have yet been taken on the timing or siting of a commercial demonstration fast reactor for the collaboration. My right hon. Friend will make an announcement on reprocessing in due course.
Does the discussion with the Europeans include collaboration on the decommissioning of nuclear power stations, which is a most expensive business? It might be helpful to reduce costs if there were such collaboration with other countries.
Yes, Sir. All aspects of the project are being discussed.
Community Heating Programmes
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what resources his Department is devoting to studies of community heating programmes.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced his willingness to make grants towards studies of the prospects for combined heat and power and district heating schemes in Belfast, Edinburgh and Leicester. Grants are available under the energy efficiency survey scheme towards the cost of energy efficiency surveys of central boiler plants serving community heated dwellings.
Will the Minister confirm that, for technical and cost reasons, the most likely form of fuel for CHP schemes will be coal and that that is a further good reason why the future of the industry should be safeguarded? Will he also confirm that in planning future CHP schemes there will be a presumption in favour of the use of coal?
I readily agree that where coal is involved it is indeed an economic scheme, and the Government want combined heat and power schemes to go ahead where they are economically viable. We believe that that is best achieved by the involvement of the private sector. The Government are prepared to assist in the initial development of these schemes.
Where CHP feasibility studies show a higher rate of return than alternative supply investment by the nationalised industries, should they not be allowed to go ahead in the interests of providing cheaper energy to consumers?
I shall consider carefully what my hon. Friend has said. We are at an early stage in all these schemes, but I shall be monitoring the results carefully.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy what further initiatives he proposes to take to encourage energy efficiency.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has decided to make 1986 the year of energy efficiency.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he is considering designating 1986 as energy conservation year.
I am delighted at the progress that we have made during this past year. More than 14,000 senior executives have attended our early morning briefing meetings, there has been a 50 per cent. increase in extended survey scheme applications and a 300 per cent. increase in voluntary insulation projects for low-income households.There is however, very much more progress to be made. I have decided to make 1986 an energy efficiency year in which I hope the Government, major energy utilities and industry will combine together to make a further considerable impact towards obtaining far higher standards of energy efficiency in this country.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision, which will underline in the most effective way the need to improve energy use and conservation. Will he confirm that we are talking about the possibility of saving thousands of millions of pounds through the more effective use of energy? For example, in offices and shops it would be possible to save energy to the value of £500 million.
The energy bill is about £35 billion. If we operated to the best standards that are being implemented in other countries, there would be a saving of £7 billion a year. There is enormous potential for improving our economic efficiency and it is an area in which every effort should be made.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my congratulations on the progress that has been made in industrial sectors during the year. In the forthcoming year of energy saving, will he concentrate on an area in which probably the greatest potential for energy saving exists—the public sector? Will he make a special endeavour to co-ordinate the activities of local authorities and health authorities so as to make their officials more energy-conscious?
Yes. The local authorities' advisory organisation on efficiency, LAMSAC, has said that sensible energy efficient management services would reduce the rate bill by about £100 million a year. There is enormous potential within the NHS to improve energy saving. We shall do everything possible to co-ordinate the public sector to make the most progress that we can.
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that local authorities are given sufficient funds by the Department of the Environment to enable them to fund worthwhile local installations in energy-efficient schemes?
Yes. This is an area in which substantial progress has been made by the better local authorities. There is much to be done by the rest of the country and we shall be giving every possible encouragement to achieve further progress.
Is it not a fact that many organisations are confronted with an asbestos problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what research is being undertaken and what advice is being given so that alternatives can be found that offer a degree of efficiency that is equal to that of asbestos?
I cannot be specific, because I must confess that I have not examined this issue in any detail. However, I shall do so and thereafter I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.
Is the Secretary of State aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends will welcome the introduction of the year of energy efficiency in 1986? How much additional new money will be forthcoming from the Government to promote energy efficiency projects? Will the real value of home insulation grants be maintained in 1986?
The range covered by Government grants is quite considerable, including energy surveys, development programmes and research programmes. The majority of the savings to be made do not need Government support, in the sense that they are remunerative in themselves. About £300 million-worth of capital investment could be made by industry, which would bring a return of more than 100 per cent.
What about home insulation? Surely that is one of the most simple and understandable means of achieving greater energy efficiency. Britain lags behind most other Western countries on energy efficiency. Why does the Secretary of State not co-operate with other Departments on these issues?
We are collaborating with other Departments. As I said in my answer to the main question, there has been a 300 per cent. increase in one year in voluntary insulation projects for low-income households. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will rejoice in that.
Substitute Natural Gas Project
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of British Gas, he proposes to discuss the substitute natural gas project.
My right hon. Friend and I regularly discuss with the chairman a variety of matters concerning the gas industry.
Does the Minister accept that there is a great future for substitute natural gas made from coal? To make the best use of our energy resources, and to achieve our potential in export markets, should we not be giving the green light to British Gas, saying, "Go ahead with the home market," so that we can obtain advantages from exporting?
British Gas research into substitution is of an extremely high standard. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point. There is considerable export potential. In looking towards the end of the century, Britain is fortunate in having adequate supplies of natural gas and access to liquefied natural gas. That means that we shall not need substitute natural gas for some time, but I agree that the research that has been done so far has been well worth while.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that coal priced at £48 a tonne and rising would make it totally uneconomic to go ahead with this proposition? It will become economic at the beginning of the next century, rather than at the end of this century.
I, too, shall not look towards the end of this century. At the moment, substitute natural gas is uneconomic compared with other fuels. None the less, the work that is being done can benefit Britain, not least in terms of export potential.
Why is the right hon. Gentleman so shy about saying to the nation, "We do not have to invent the technology of synthetic North sea gas"? We already have the technology. Should not the right hon. Gentleman be telling the House that, since we have already invented that technology, at Westfield, the nation should be considering ways and means of using it—through coal?
Taking account of current NCB prices for substitute natural gas, present costs are running at about 45p a therm. If that is the price that the hon. Gentleman wants to charge industry and commerce, let him say so.
British Gas Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any plans to denationalise the British Gas Corporation.
During the past year the sale of the British Gas interest in Wytch Farm and the flotation of Enterprise Oil have been successfully carried through. The possibilities for further introduction of private capital into the gas industry will continue to be examined.
In view of the Government's clear commitment to continue examinations along these lines, how soon will my right hon. Friend be able to come forward with concrete proposals?
As soon as decisions are taken.
We hope that they are not taken during the lifetime of this Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government do not propose during this Parliament to go ahead with any sale of gas showrooms and do intend to introduce the safety legislation that is required? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us one piece of information about the existing privatisation Act? How many consents has the right hon. Gentleman approved under the Oil and Gas (Enterprise) Act, which was passed three years ago to provide for private transmission lines for gas?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that as soon as any decisions on inclusions are reached they will be announced to the House. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman regarding his second question. I understand that there are plans for an onshore field to supply gas to two industrial users.
Alternative Energy Sources
asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he proposes to have further discussions with the European Community Council of Ministers about alternative sources of energy.
Discussions are expected on alternative energy sources at a Council of Energy Ministers on 10 June.
Does my hon. Friend agree that research into alternative energy sources should increasingly be undertaken on a Community basis?
Yes. We are continuing to give positive and substantial support to those renewables that are the most promising for the United Kingdom. Our views broadly coincide with those of our Community partners. I had the opportunity to discuss these matters with Dr. H. Eliasmöller, the head of the division on alternative sources in the European Commission, when I met him at the opening of the wind turbine generator in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller).
asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he is next planning to discuss investment with the chairman of the National Coal Board.
I meet the chairman of the National Coal Board regularly to discuss many issues, including the very substantial investment that the Government are making in the coal industry.
Will my right hon. Friend consider with the NCB chairman the desirability of proceeding swiftly to investment in the south Warkwickshire coalfield, as this offers one prospect of providing the lowest cost coal in the United Kingdom, which would go a long way towards reducing the overall cost of coal and do a great deal to regenerate the industry?
I shall convey my hon. Friend's views to the NCB chairman. The NCB is looking on a regional basis to all the prospects and priorities for investment throughout the coalfields.
When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board to discuss investment, will he raise the topic of the National Coal Board's asinine policy of lack of investment in the north-east of England? In particular, will he point out to the chairman that two years ago the north-east director of the NCB invested £2 million for new pit props for Bates's colliery, Blyth in respect of a seam which he now proposes to close, creating 800 redundancies?
I know that the chairman of the National Coal Board is anxious to retain the capacity for production in the north-east, where there is a strong demand for coal. He has made the appropriate surveys to see how much new investment will be needed to achieve that objective.
House Of Commons
Honourable Members (Work Load)
asked the Lord Privy Seal how he assesses the present work load of hon. Members; and how this compares with his assessment in 1981.
There is no statistical basis upon which such a comparison could be made.
Despite the lack of such a statistical basis, does the Leader of the House agree that the work load of the average Member of the House has increased enormously in recent years and is now such that the resources that we have — one secretary and 0·2 of a research assistant — are woefully inadequate? We are thus the laughing stock of members of every other Parliament and democratically elected assembly the world over. Will he consider sympathetically the plea that we should be given the resources to do our jobs properly?
I do not believe that we are the laughing stock of every other elected assembly in western Europe and North America. I would sooner be that than be held in ridicule by those who voted us here and who think that we have perfectly reasonable facilities for undertaking our present work. The present position, which was voted by the House last year, was in respect of a secretarial, research assistant and office level of allowance, which is increased each year by an agreed formula. That is subject to fundamental review once every four years. I believe that that is a reasonable basis on which to proceed.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend has said. Is he aware that hon. Members' work loads were far less in the old days at the time of England's greatness? For instance, in those days there was no autumn Session, because of the bad state of the roads and partly because of the necessity for hon. Members to get in some shooting and hunting.
It may have related to the necessity for Members to do some shooting, but if my hon. Friend undertakes even closer researches he will find that Parliament rarely rose in time for the Twelfth.
Does the Leader of the House realise that the facilities available to Members of the House are completely inadequate to begin to control the Executive? It is not at all surprising to Opposition Members that members of the Government do not want those facilities increased, because they do not want the Executive to be probed.
The level of the secretarial, research assistant and office allowance was a level voted by the House, and the formula which governs its annual adjustment was also voted by the House last year. It is subject to a review every four years, and I believe that to be a reasonable balance in these matters.
If we are to have the opportunity for more hunting and shooting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) suggests, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we set up as our quarry some of the public relations men who orchestrate completely phoney lobbies and campaigns which unnecessarily add to hon. Members' work loads? Will he study this matter as a serious issue, as well as an amusing one this afternoon?
No words of mine should ever be interpreted as suggesting that more time should be made available for those hon. Members who enjoy hunting and shooting. I was only anxious to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) that he has a somewhat mistaken view of the position in the past. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) raises a serious point about the factors that make for our work here. Of course, it is something that we all keep under review.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the work load of hon. Members has increased by reason of the stupid and idiotic decisions made by the Prime Minister, particularly in transferring the international football match from Wembley to Hampden Park? Will the Leader of the House use his good influence in telling the Prime Minister to work harder on getting the unemployed back to work, and to keep her silly nose out of things that she has nothing to do with?
I will not say that it was an own goal, but I do not think it was a straight score.
Will the Leader of the House undertake to have installed, for the benefit of hon. Members, a telex on which we can both receive and send messages, as it is extremely unsatisfactory for them to have to receive their private messages from local authorities through the Cabinet Office before briefings with Ministers?
I think that the hon. Gentleman was trying to give me a message in the rather oblique way in which he concluded his question. The installing of a telex would have to be considered in the first instance by the Services Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is serious on the matter, doubtless he will be in touch with me.
It is common knowledge that no one works harder in this place for his constituents than yours truly, but, notwithstanding that, is it not a fact that there is no shortage of people wishing to be Members of Parliament and no shortage of people canvassing for votes at election time? How can the question be taken seriously? We ask people in industry to roll up their sleeves and work hard for the country, but Members of Parliament are rather workshy.
I have no desire to put the argument in the somewhat crude and bruising terms of my hon. Friend. We have allowances which we ourselves have voted, they are subject to annual adjustments by a formula which we ourselves have voted, and the Government have said that there may be a fundamental review once every four years. Again I say that I think that that is a very reasonable and balanced judgment.
The Lord Privy Seal is extraordinarily complacent in his remarks about the facilities and research assistance available to hon. Members. It is not worries about the work load that concern hon. Members on either side of the House but the desire to be able to perform their duties properly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) rightly said, hon. Members wish to exercise full control, as far as they can, over the Executive. That is what makes us wish to be able to perform our duties more effectively than we can at present. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal will bear that in mind. If the Lord Privy Seal cannot measure the work load as such, perhaps he can at least give us some answers as to how far that part of our work load which is taken up by Government legislation and by the sittings of the House has increased in the past few years.
On the right hon. Gentleman's last question, I refer him to the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on 11 March. It is clearly a matter for judgment within the House as to the extent to which we require facilities to enable us to do our job, but ultimately it is resolutions of the House that have determined what now appertains. On the last occasion on which there was a vote, the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) suggested a figure 40 per cent. higher than was then proposed, and he was defeated by a vote of this House.
By the payroll.
Research And Secretarial Allowances
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has any plans to propose improvements in the level of research and secretarial allowances for hon. Members.
The resolution of the House of 20 July 1984 provides for the secretarial, research assistance and office expenses allowance to be automatically adjusted on 1 April in line with the pay of senior personal secretaries in the Civil Service.
Is the Leader of the House aware that, when the vote was taken in this House last summer, those who voted in favour of the motion were almost entirely on the Government payroll, and that many Back Benchers on both sides voted for a substantial increase in the secretarial and research allowance? Will the Leader of the House tell us when the four-year review is to take place, and whether he will listen to the demands from Back Benches on both sides of the House for a major increase in the facilities available to hon. Members?
The hon. Gentleman is a tolerably fair controversialist in this matter. I hope that he will not disenfranchise the payroll vote merely because it is payroll. If he refreshes his memory from the voting list, he will find that many Back Benchers voted and by no means in only one Lobby. On his second point, of course I shall be happy to consult ahead of the time when a more fundamental review takes place.
House Of Lords (Allowances)
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in the light of the increasing work load on Members of the House of Lords, Her Majesty's Government will seek to improve their allowances.
The various allowances increase automatically as determined by the appropriate resolutions of the House of Lords.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that democracy is at great peril under the current dictatorship of the Prime Minister, particularly at local level, and the only way that that can be thwarted is along the Corridor in the House of Lords? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that democracy has a high price, and that it is will worth while paying that high price to safeguard democracy?
The fact that it is alleged that democracy is at risk, the fact that it is asserted that along the Corridor there is some effective watchdog, the fact that this is the last Parliament in which the hon. Gentleman will be serving, and the fact that, according to the Daily Mirror and what the Leader of the Opposition said on TV AM, the House of Lords will not be scrapped in Labour's first five years—all those facts lead me to think that where David Kirkwood trod in the past, the hon. Gentleman will be happy to follow.
Principals And Assistant Secretaries
asked the Minister for the Civil Service whether he intends to take any action in the light of the number of principals and assistant secretaries who have left the Civil Service in the past two years.
The number of assistant secretaries who have resigned has remained roughly constant over the past five years. The number of principals who have resigned has increased slightly. Those resigning represent a very small proportion of the overall numbers employed in those grades. Resignations at that level will continue to be carefully monitored, but no special action is considered necessary at present.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reassurance, because the trend could become worrying. However, will he now use that information as further ammunition to press forward with the introduction of merit pay within the service and also further delegation of decision-taking down the hierarchy in the service?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has recognised that the numbers resigning are very small. For principals under 40 the figure is about one in 50 and for those over 40 it is well under 1 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend that the experiment that we are conducting on merit pay may well be helpful. I also agree with his comments about extending merit pay if the experiment that we are now conducting proves its worth.
Is it not a fact that there has been a marked fall-off in the quality and quantity of graduates now applying for posts in the Civil Service? Is not that reduction in applications the consequence of the continuous public campaign of contempt to which the Prime Minister has subjected the Civil Service?
Neither the first nor the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is correct.
What has happened with regard to the amount of overtime worked by civil servants in those grades recently? Has it not increased substantially? Is that not wrong at a time when people are searching for jobs and when morale in the Civil Service is so low?
Overtime is not taken particularly into account for assistant secretaries and principals. They work the hours that are necessary to carry out their duties. In my experience of people of that grade, they are very dedicated indeed in the service that they give.
Is not the Minister's reply rather too complacent? Is he not aware that there now has to be competition for post at principal level, which is a key grade? Is he not further aware that, looking to the future for the fast-stream graduate entry, it is now much more difficult for the Civil Service to obtain the lawyers, accountants, economists and statisticians who are needed? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is due to the unprecedentedly low level of morale in the Civil Service brought about by low pay and the autocratic style of management, coupled with the attack on trade union rights of civil servants? Is it not time that the Minister was much less complacent?
I do not believe that the hon. Lady's exaggerated language is justified, but I agree that there are certain specialist recruits whom we have some difficulty in attracting. Equally, however, it is important that the Civil Service should not be seen to take more than its fair share of the bright young talent available to the country.
asked the Minister for the Civil Service on how many occasions he met representatives of the Civil Service unions in 1984.
Other than informally, on seven occasions.
As we have the most dedicated and efficient and the least corrupt Civil Service in the world, would it not be fair and reasonable for our Civil Service to have some pay procedure to guarantee civil servants a fair deal in pay and conditions so that they do not have to resort to the industrial action that they all thoroughly deplore?
I endorse the compliment paid to the Civil Service by my hon. Friend. On the question of an agreed system for examining Civil Service pay, my hon. Friend will recall that we had a report from the Megaw commission. The Government remain willing to discuss such matters—there have already been many discussions — to try to find some satisfactory system for determining Civil Service pay.
Whatever the unions said about the pernicious experiment with merit awards, is not the brutal truth of the matter that those who give honest and careful but unpalatable advice to Ministers are potentially at a disadvantage as compared to ministerial arse-lickers?
No, there is nothing to suggest that that is true.
Can my hon. Friend say whether there is a ban on secondments to the Civil Service? If so, will the ban be temporary?
I have seen reports to that effect in some of today's papers. So far as I am aware, they are pure speculation.
Has the Minister had a meeting with the unions about civil servants and the closing of the skillcentres? If so, would he care to tell us what he said at the meeting? We know that many of the skillcentres to be closed are profitable.
That matter was not raised at any of my meetings with the Civil Service unions. If the unions had wished to discuss the matter, it would have been appropriate for them to raise it with the Secretary of State for Employment.
As the Civil Service Minister, is the hon. Gentleman responsible for answering questions about Mr. Levene?
That would depend on the question. Broadly speaking, as Mr. Levene is working with the Ministry of Defence, I believe that most questions would properly be addressed to the Secretary of State for Defence. If the question is relevant to my responsibilities, I shall of course answer it, as I always do.
Combined Heat And Power Schemes
asked the Secretary of State for Energy, when he last met the Combined Heat and Power Association to discuss city combined heat and power schemes.
My right hon. Friend attended the launch of the association in November 1983, and the Department's Ministers and officials have had regular contact with the Combined Heat and Power Association.
As I know that my hon. Friend wishes to encourage city combined heat and power, will he talk to the Combined Heat and Power Association about the main obstacle — unfair competition from the taxpayer-subsidised nationalised industries? If my hon. Friend expects private consortia to develop combined heat and power by raising money in the market place, he cannot expect them to show their competitive advantage against other energy systems developed by the nationalised industries, which are able to invest at rates of return far lower than commercial rates.
Yes, I will. The Government have removed, through the Energy Act 1983, most of the legislative barriers to the development of CHP, but there will be uncertainty about economic returns in these early days. The Government have helped to reduce those uncertainties by making available some financial help to enable local consortia to carry forward a thorough investigation of market potential over the next year or so.
Will the Minister assure the House that, if there is any agreement about combined heat and power with any authority or other industry, he will make sure that the word "sacrosanct" is not used in it? If it is, the other parties will run away laughing, because they do not believe the Government.
I treat that comment with the contempt that it deserves.
asked the Secretary of State for Energy by what criteria he intends to measure improvements in energy efficiency in the United Kingdom in the current year.
The overall annual improvement in United Kingdom energy efficiency can be estimated by comparing the level of energy consumption with that of the preceding year, after making allowances for changes in the level of economic activity, temperature, structure of the economy and any other known factors affecting energy demand.
It was implicit in the answer by the Secretary of State a few moments ago that no new money was being made available in energy efficiency year. To dispel a rapidly growing impression that this might be a gimmick, using the criteria suggested by the Minister, what targets are being set for energy efficiency year 1986?
My right hon. Friend has made that clear already. We have 14,000 senior executives attending early morning briefings. We have a 50 per cent. increase in the extended survey schemes. We have greater energy efficiency in commercial and industrial buildings reaching more than 150,000 senior executives. This demonstrates that there is not only great potential but that this Government, through the pioneering and enthusiastic work of my right hon. Friend, are leading the way towards a more energy-efficient nation.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Does it arise out of Questions?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that the Secretary of State for Energy, quite properly and courteously, informed the House that when he answered Question No. 9 he was also answering Questions Nos. 23 and 25, which had been tabled by the hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). By 10 minutes past three, we had reached Question No. 13, and in the last few minutes of Question Time we dealt with another two Energy questions. It means that the hon. Members for Exeter and for Wells would not otherwise have had their questions answered, even if we had had a reasonable amount of time, and that they were thereby given an opportunity to ask supplementary questions, whereas hon. Members who had tabled Questions Nos. 15 to 22 were prevented from asking them. Will you look into this matter and offer the House a ruling?
It is not a matter for me if Ministers link questions. But I repeat that I, too, link questions in my own mind. I was able to call five hon. Members whose questions dealt with subjects which were broadly linked, if they were not on exactly the same subject. I think that the hon. Member was one of them.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was not it unprecedented for the Minister to link Question No. 9 with Nos. 23 and 25? Is it not significant that the two questions with which the original Question No. 9 was linked had been tabled by Conservative Members? In defending Back-Bench rights, may we accept what the Minister has done as a precedent whereby, in future, if Opposition Members have questions tabled up to No. 25 which could be linked and they are not called, they, too, should have the right to ask supplementary questions?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you examine this matter — as you undoubtedly will—will you bear in mind that sometimes when questions are linked, if there is a "wet" Minister there may be "wet" planted questions and, if vice versa, they may come from the other element? This is not just a matter of the Opposition versus the Government. A lot depends on which section of the Tory party is doing the planting. It may be in the interests of some Tory Ministers to get questions in advance from some of their friends, as opposed to some of their enemies, on the Tory Benches.
I shall not make any comment on that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Question No. 37, which asks about the implications of a European Commission decision for energy policy, was previously oral Question No. 4 to the Secretary of State for Energy. I accept that Ministers are entitled to transfer questions when they are clearly addressed to the wrong person, but I cannot see how the Chancellor can be responsible for making a statement about implications for energy policy. I apologise for not giving notice of my intention to raise this, but I came along expecting to ask my Question No. 4 and discovered that it had been transferred, although it is clearly about energy policy. Is there any protection that you, Mr. Speaker, can give?
The transfer of questions is a matter for the Ministers concerned, but as VAT is a matter for the Chancellor, that is no doubt why the hon. Gentleman's question was transferred. On the general matter, it is normal for Ministers to link questions up to No. 25, but I also do my best to ensure that hon. Members with similar questions are called, as happened today. [Interruption.] I cannot call everyone.
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
I understand that a question may arise in connection with the sub judice rule. I will deal with that aspect straight away as it is relevant and I can deal with it briefly. This morning, a High Court judge granted an injunction to the Post Office banning industrial action without a ballot—"the possible disruption of postal services following the collapse of talks on new working methods and the proposed recruitment of part-time postmen."
Order. I wish to save the hon. Gentleman time. I do not think that the sub judice question arises, so perhaps he will go on to make his application — bearing in mind that the House has a guillotine motion to discuss.
I entirely agree with you, Mr. Speaker. The sub judice does not apply, so I shall not put that argument.I fully appreciate the criteria for acceptance of an application of this kind. I understand that I have to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is so urgent and important that it should take priority over other business already arranged. That is indeed the situation. Sir Ronald Dearing, in an arrogant, high-handed and autocratic manner, has made it clear that he intends without consultation to introduce new machinery at Mount Pleasant post office today, well knowing the opposition of the trade union involved. The union has acted very reasonably and has agreed to discuss the matter, but it strongly opposes the principle of recruiting a huge number of part-time postmen with consequent redundancies among existing staff. Like Mr. MacGregor of the National Coal Board and other chairmen of nationalised and previously nationalised industries acting at the behest of the Prime Minister and the Government, Sir Ronald Dearing has said that he intends to take on the unions and to impose changes whether the workers like it or not. That is the provocative and partisan language used by the chairman of the Post Office. The result will be that within a few hours industrial action may take place at one of the most important post offices in this country, paralysing the postal services. I respectfully submit that that is a matter of great importance and should be discussed by the House very soon indeed as it has far-reaching consequences. As a result of the developments that I have described, there is a strong possibility that all postal services will be paralysed. This is the first application of this kind that I have made in 10 years as a Member of Parliament and it is not made frivolously, to fly a kite or to make party political points. This is a matter of public importance and I respectfully suggest that the House should discuss it today.
The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
As the hon. Gentleman said, the only decision that I have to take is whether the matter should take precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I listened carefully to what he said, but I do not consider that the matter is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House."the possible disruption of postal services following the collapse of talks on new working methods and the proposed recruitment of part-time postmen."
Common Market (Accession Of Portugal And Spain)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that on Thursday night there were important negotiations in Brussels over the accession of Spain and Portugal to the Common Market. If one believes what one reads in the press — I always do — those negotiations reached agreement on fishing, a subject of supreme importance, not least in the south-west of Cornwall, particularly in my constituency. I was surprised on arriving in the House to find that no arrangements had been made for a statement on the negotiations, apart from one on the summit. I believe that the Prime Minister may wish to make a statement on the latter tommorow. However—
Order. This has to be a point of order for me.
My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is how on earth I, as a Back Bencher whose constituency happens to be nearer to Spain than any other constituency, deal intelligently with the questions being put to me, not least by my fishermen who are worried stiff about this matter, when I have no reliable information on which to go? Has there been any application to make a statement to the House on the details of the negotiations and, if not, why not?
Order. It is nothing to do with me whether the Government are to make a statement today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. I cannot answer such questions, but I shall hear what the hon. Gentlemen wish to say.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I point out, so that there is no mistaking the matter, that hon. Members with constituencies in the west midlands, where there are extensive motor car interests, are as concerned as is my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) about fishing. I wish to illustrate the breadth of concern about this important matter.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that the two hon. Members who have spoken are relatively new and I know, too, that they have made a bit of bread and butter out of the Common Market in their time, but perhaps you would suggest to them that there are various ways in which they can bring further embarrassment on their Government. For example, they could have tabled a private notice Question for a Minister to answer. They could have done what my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman) did a few minutes ago and made a Standing Order No. 10 application. The truth is that they want to have their cake and eat it. They do not have the guts to take on their own Government.
The hon. Gentleman is extremely helpful, as he knows much about the procedures of the House.
Local Government Act 1972 (Amendment)
Mr. Tony Baldry presented a Bill to amend Part II of Schedule 1 of the Local Government Act 1972 to create the County of Banburyshire: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 19 April and to be printed. [Bill 117.]
Statutory Instruments, &C
That the draft Education (Assisted Places) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Transport Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the bill:—
1. The Standing Committee to which the Bill is allocated shall report the Bill to the House on or before 7th May 1985.
Report And Third Reading
2. — (1) The proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading of the Bill shall be completed in two allotted days and shall be brought to a conclusion at Ten o'clock on the second of those days; and for the purposes of Standing Order No. 45 (Business Committee) this Order shall be taken to allot to the proceedings on Consideration such part of those days as the Resolution of the Business Committee may determine.
(2) The Business Committee shall report to the House its Resolutions as to the proceedings on Consideration of the Bill, and as to the allocation of time between those proceedings and proceedings on Third Reading, not later than the fourth day on which the House sits after the day on which the Chairman of the Standing Committee reports the Bill to the House.
(3) The Resolutions in any Report made under Standing Order No. 45 may he varied by a further Report so made, whether or not within the time specified in sub-paragraph (2) above, and whether or not the Resolutions have been agreed to by the House.
(4) The Resolutions of the Business Committee may include alterations in the order in which proceedings on Consideration of the Bill are taken.
Procedure In Standing Committee
3. —(1) At a sitting of the Standing Committee at which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion under a Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee the Chairman shall not adjourn the Committee under any Order relating to the sittings of the Committee until the proceedings have been brought to a conclusion.
(2) No Motion shall be moved in the Standing Committee relating to the sitting of the Committee except by a member of the Government, and the Chairman shall permit a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves, and from a Member who opposes, the Motion, and shall then put the Question thereon.
4. No Motion shall be moved to alter the order in which Clauses, Schedules, new Clauses and new Schedules are taken in the Standing Committee but the Resolutions of the Business Sub-Committee may include alterations in that order.
Conclusion Of Proceedings In Committee
5. On the conclusion of the proceedings in any Committee on the Bill the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.
6. No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, proceedings on the Bill shall be moved in the Standing Committee or on art allotted day except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
Extra Time On First Allotted Day
7.—(1) On the first allotted day paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings on the Bill for two hours after Ten o'clock.
(2) Any period during which proceedings on the Bill may be proceeded with after Ten o'clock under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) shall be in addition to the said period of two hours.
(3) If the first allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 stands over from an earlier day, a period of time equal to the duration of the proceedings upon that Motion shall be added to the said period of two hours.
8. Any private business which has been set down for consideration at Seven o'clock on an allotted day shall, instead of being considered as provided by Standing Orders, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill on that day, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the private business for a period of three hours from the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or, if those proceedings are concluded before Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the conclusion of those proceedings.
Conclusion Of Proceedings
9. —(1) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or the Business Sub-Committee and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—
and on a Motion so moved for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
(3) If an allotted day is one on which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) would, apart from this Order, stand over to Seven o'clock—
(4) If an allotted day is one to which a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 stands over from an earlier day, the bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, under this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.
10. — (1) The proceedings on any Motion moved in the House by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (including anything which might have been the subject of a report of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee) shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced, and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(2) If on an allotted day on which any proceedings on the Bill are to be brought to a conclusion at a time appointed by this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before that time no notice shall be required of a Motion moved at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
11. Nothing in this Order or a Resolution of the Business Committee or Business Sub-Committee shall—
12. — (1) References in this Order to proceedings on
Consideration or proceedings on Third Reading include references to proceedings, at those stages respectively, for, on or in consequence of recommittal.
(2) On an allotted day no debate shall be permitted on any Motion to recommit the Bill (whether as a whole or otherwise), and Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to dispose of the Motion, including the Question on any amendment moved to the Question.
13. In this Order—
- "allotted day" means any day (other than a Friday) on which the Bill is put down as first Government Order of the Day provided that a Motion for allotting time to the proceedings on the Bill to be taken on that day either has been agreed on a previous day or is set down for consideration on that day;
- "the Bill" means the Transport Bill;
- "Resolution of the Business Sub-Committee" means a Resolution of the business Sub-Committee as agreed to by the Standing Committee;
- "Resolution of the Business Committee" means a Resolution of the Business Committee as agreed to by the House.
It falls to me on these occasions to introduce and explain the motion under discussion. I propose to do so briefly, thereby allowing as much time as possible for those with an abiding interest in the subject to contribute to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will, when winding up, respond to the points made and deal with the provisions of the Bill in greater detail than it would be appropriate for me to essay.
The Bill to which this motion seeks to apply a timetable gives effect to the proposals in the White Paper "Buses" which the Government published as a Command Paper in July last year. That White Paper was the subject of an extensive consultation exercise before the legislation was introduced on 31 January. The Bill received its Second Reading on 12 February.
The Transport Bill represents an attempt to break the cycle of rising costs and falling services which have plagued this sector of the transport market for the past 30 years. During that time the bus and coach share of the market has fallen from 43 per cent. to 8 per cent. Meanwhile, fares and subsidies have risen substantially in real terms.
I think that there will be general agreement that that is not a happy situation and that there is considerable room for improvement. The Government believe that that improvement can be achieved by lifting the burden of regulation and monopoly which weighs upon the industry.
Accordingly, the Bill will abolish road service licensing outside London, liberate the taxi and hire car market and provide for the transfer of the National Bus Company's operations to the private sector.
There is clear evidence that that is a prudent approach. The Transport Act 1980 took the first step in that direction by abolishing road service licensing for long distance coach services. The result has been better services, lower fares and more passengers. In this, it is giving effect to the fundamental objective of transport policy, to allow the travelling public to exercise their choice to move about as cheaply and efficiently as possible. The Bill will give an opportunity for those benefits to be extended.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have not received a single letter in support of the Bill and yet I have received literally hundreds of letters from people opposed to it? Is he also aware that tomorrow there will be perhaps one of the largest lobbies that Parliament will have seen in opposition to the Bill? Why does he not recognise those points instead of just reading out a ministerial brief? Perhaps he does not believe in this nonsense of a Bill that is going through Parliament at the moment.
What the hon. Gentleman says about his postbag merely gives testimony to the well-orchestrated activities of the vested interests that are challenged by this legislation.However, the Bill is not merely an exercise in deregulation. It recognises that bus services have a social as well as an economic role. It is worth bearing in mind that the existing system has signally failed to protect that role. Those who rely on rural services will be aware of the extent of their decline in recent years. Accordingly, the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make grants to the operators of rural services and introduces competitive tendering to ensure the best possible value for money on subsidised routes which are uneconomic but of social importance. In addition, many of the Bill's 114 clauses are devoted to ensuring the maintenance of high standards of safety and reliability. Thus the Transport Bill represents a comprehensive approach to easing the problems of an important sector of the transport market. It is a long and detailed piece of legislation and it is in the interests of all those involved in the industry that it should be carefully considered. The Government are anxious to facilitate that consideration. Indeed, at the request of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans), the then Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, the Bill's start in Committee was slightly delayed so that the Select Committee would have time to publish its evidence on the subject. However, careful consideration does not mean interminable argument. Some balance must be struck between a fascination with detail and a desire to make progress, and that balance is not being achieved. The Bill commenced its proceedings in Standing Committee on 21 February when two and a quarter hours were spent discussing the sittings motion. Since then the Committee has sat a further 18 times and has amassed a total of 94 hours of debate. As always on such occasions I am filled with admiration for the stamina of Committee members, if not for the conciseness of those on the Opposition Benches. Largely due to their efforts, clause 1 was dissected for 30½ hours. After that matters improved somewhat. The next three clauses and two schedules were completed in only 14¾ hours. One can only assume that the Committee was disturbed by the reckless pace at which it had been travelling. Whatever the reason, it then came to a shuddering halt. Clause 5 was discussed for 24 hours. I remind the House that the Bill has 114 clauses and seven schedules. After 94 hours of debate the Committee has completed its consideration of only 11 clauses and two schedules.
I shall be glad to have on the record the hon. Gentleman's comment "Too fast". Posterity will be able to judge with what moderation the Government have moved.At the current rate of progress, we would be well into 1986 before the Committee felt able to report the Bill to the House. Therefore, it is clear that without the imposition of a timetable there would be no prospect of the Bill reaching the statute book in this Session of Parliament. The period of uncertainty and the steady decline in the service offered to the travelling public would be needlessly prolongued. That uncertainty would inevitably mean that operators would put off investment decisions, and plans to develop new services would be delayed. Even after the legislation is passed, there will be a significant transitional period before the full benefits are realised. Clearly, therefore, it is in the interests of all concerned that sensible progress should be made. The timetable imposed by the motion is not ungenerous. The Committee will not be required to report the Bill to the House until 7 May. If it continues to sit as at present, that will permit no fewer than 16 further sittings. Given the Committee's evident enthusiasm, that should be ample time for the Bill's remaining provisions to receive the consideration that their importance deserves. After that, two full days will be made available for Report and Third Reading, on the first of which the 10 o'clock rule will be suspended for two hours. A much needed reform of an important sector of the transport industry is in danger of being delayed. Those seeking that delay maintain that they have the best interests of the industry and of the travelling public at heart. I do not question the sincerity of their beliefs.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his speech is remarkably similar to the one that he read during the debate on the guillotine on a previous Transport Bill in which, we were told, the Government had taken the power to do all the things about transport that the right hon. Gentleman is now referring to? What use did the Government make of the previous Bill?
That is a debate for another occasion. If there is a similarity about debates on timetable motions, it is because they deal with a broadly similar proposition — that the Opposition are using time to frustrate the prospects of the Bill, whereas the Government believe that, by mandate, and by other requirements, they have every reason to secure its ultimate passage, while ensuring the balance of as fair a discussion as possible.
In fixing the final day of 7 May, did the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that the House will not be sitting during the Easter recess?
Yes, indeed.I was referring to the sincere beliefs of Opposition Members. I have to say that they are misplaced. The system that they espouse has manifestly failed to maintain an efficient service to the large sections of the community who still rely heavily on buses and coaches to meet their transportation needs. The Bill is calculated to benefit the customer and the motion would facilitate its passage. Accordingly, I commend it to the House.
As the Leader of the House revealingly put it, it fell to him to propose the timetable motion. The right hon. Gentleman followed up that comment by reading at breakneck speed a script which was obviously prepared for him by the Secretary of State for Transport and which lacked all conviction and was a mere propaganda exercise.I could not make up my mind whether the Leader of the House's principal mood was governed primarily by innocence or boredom. I have a few things to say about the Bill, because it falls to me to reply, but I think that I will say them with more genuine feeling and conviction about the Bill than the right hon. Gentleman managed to mobilise. These timetable motions appear to recur at all too frequent intervals. Indeed, a very disturbing pattern is now emerging. First, we are presented with highly controversial, complex and ideologically motivated legislation. Secondly, no attempt is made to enlist independent and authoritative opinion on the subject matter. Indeed, consultation and discussion prior to the presentation of the Bill is either avoided or, where that is not possible, wantonly ignored. Thirdly, no concessions are made in Committee prior to the imposition of the guillotine. Fourthly, wherever possible, powers are taken to weaken or destroy local democratic control through local authorities. Finally, most of clauses and schedules have received not even the most perfunctory attention, because they have not been reached. That is the pattern—
Whose fault is that?
It is very much the fault of the Secretary of State for Transport and his colleagues.The features that I have just described were also the unacceptable features of the Local Government Bill, which was the last subject of the guillotine on 11 February. As I shall show in a moment, the Transport Bill has the same basically ugly features. First, I do not think that even the Leader of the House or the Secretary of State for Transport will dispute the fact that the measure is ideological, controversial and complex. Its central aims and provisions are designed to achieve two things: first, to deregulate passenger transport by abolishing, at a stroke, all the legislative provisions for road service licensing that have existed since the 1930s; secondly, to privatise bus services not merely by denationalising and breaking up the National Bus Corporation but by compelling the passenger transport executives and the municipal authorities to sell off their bus fleets.
The right hon. Gentleman obviously has not studied the Bill. First, it is the National Bus Company and not the National Bus Corporation. Secondly, local authorities are invited to make their bus operations into public limited companies, but there are no powers to compel them to sell the shares of those companies.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that information. Is he now assuring us that, having compelled the local authorities to turn their municipal bus enterprises into public limited companies, he will not require them to privatise them at the next stage of his transport policy?
I am delighted to respond to that point, as it concerns a matter that will be debated when—if we are ever allowed to — we reach the relevant clauses. Without the guillotine, we shall not get there. However, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that he wants. There are no plans whatever to force privatisation on local authority owned companies.
One thing at least has become clear, and it is welcome as far as it goes.On Second Reading, the Secretary of State informed the House:
His fundamental error is to assume that the increase of competition in passenger transport will lead to an increase in service to the travelling public. It will not do so. My next charge is that the Bill has no authority, derived from independent and objective opinion. Its main proposals were issued as a White Paper on 12 July 1984. As soon as the House reassembled in the autumn and the Select Committees had been reconvened, the Select Committee on Transport began its examination of the White Paper. Despite the usual Conservative majority on the Select Committee, the Secretary of State rushed ahead with the preparation of his Bill and presented it on 31 January. He arranged its Second Reading on 12 February and began the Committee Stage even before the Select Committee could report."The Bill is about competition."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 192.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
No. We have been over this ground several times and I remember the Second Reading debate and the tiny concession made by the Under-Secretary of State in his concluding speech.The House will well remember the speech made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who was a member of the Select Committee and, of course, is a member of the Conservative party. Hon Members will also remember the reasoned amendment that he moved, which said:
As the Select Committee observed when its report was finally published on 28 February,"this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Transport Bill until it has had the oportunity of studying the imminent report of the Transport Committee and what is the most fundamental upheaval in the bus industry for over 50 years."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 207.]
The Select Committee quoted the Humberside county council as pointing out:"Governments usually present their ideas for major changes in legislation in consultative Green Papers before setting out their proposals in a White Paper. This did not happen in the case of 'Buses'."
That is a very British understatement from the Humberside county council."There was no consultation on the basic ideas and only the detailed practicalities of implementation are open to comment. This is an unfortunate approach to the most fundamental change to public transport legislation for over half a century."
This appears to be a new departure. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that any future Labour Government will not legislate until they have gone through all the procedures that he has outlined? For example, will a future Labour Government undertake no legislation until extensive outside consultations have taken place and the appropriate Select Committee has reported?
The hon. Gentleman has not studied these matters as carefully as he should have done if he wishes to raise such points. As those who have been Members of the House rather longer than he has may recall, it was a Labour Government who introduced Green Papers in 1965 or 1966. They were very keen to extend the scope of consultation on legislation before Governments invested their pride and prestige in White Papers — in other words, before their follies could be pointed out and they could gracefully withdraw. That is the origin of Green Papers, and they are a very good idea.
I have been a Member of the House rather longer than the right hon. Gentleman. How many consultative documents and Green Papers did the right hon. Gentleman issue before each nationalisation measure by the Labour Government? For example, I do not remember a consultative document on the nationalisation of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.
I do not think that anyone could deny that that Bill was debated in the House far more thoroughly than any Bills have been debated before or since.As the hon. Member for Wellingborough reminded the House on 12 February, his reasoned amendment had the support not only of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but was supported by no fewer than 11 national organisations, which he recounted. They were the Association of District Councils, the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers, the Bus and Coach Council, the Chartered Institute of Transport, Friends of the Earth, the National Association of Local Councils, the Ramblers Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, Rural Voice, and Transport 2000, all operating under the aegis of Women in the Community — the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should plead guilty to the charge of peremptory and arbitrary legislation and the denial of the opportunity to make serious and informed comments not only to consumer bodies and those who operate the bus services, but even to a Select Committee. Thirdly, no concessions were made during the Committee stage — [Interruption.] Perhaps I should correct myself. The Government accepted that the traffic commissioners' maximum age should be reduced from 70 to 65 — [Interruption] Do I have that wrong? I do not think I have. That is the only concession. The Government may have inserted a "the" or an "a", but the only substantial concession was on the age of commissioners.
A major concession was granted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the benefit of concessionary fares for the elderly. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) may shake her head, but a major concession was granted by my right hon. Friend. He promised to bring forward on Report, a clause dealing with concessionary fares for the elderly. He also promised to bring forward a charter and guidance for the disabled. The right hon. Gentleman should know that full well.
I am aware that, owing to the ingenuity of my hon. Friends in Committee, there was some discussion about the important matter of concessionary fares. This was during discussion of the early clauses of the Bill. However, the relevant clauses dealing with concessionary fares arise later in the Bill. The Government have not yet made a statement about them—and nor could they until they are reached. I do not know how the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) can claim that major changes and concessions have been made when the relevant clauses have not been reached.
I should hate the right hon. Gentleman to be guilty of misleading concessionary fare travellers. I wish to make it absolutely clear that I undertook to introduce either new clauses or amendments on Report to make it clear that all operators will have to take part in local authority concessionary fare schemes, subject to a special appeal procedure which, I think, is technical. The guarantee is there, and the right hon. Gentleman must not traduce what I have said.
The right hon. Gentleman is not saying that he has yet accepted any amendments. All that he has said is that during the debates in Committee—because of the ingenuity of my hon. Friends—the matter was discussed ahead of the relevant clauses. He was driven to make certain statements. I shall comment later in my speech on my worries about concessionary fares. If the right hon. Gentleman will contain himself—
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Labour Members have repeatedly requested that the same concession be made in the London Regional Transport Bill. On the Second Reading of that Bill, the Secretary of State categorically refused the request of two of his hon. Friends to introduce a clause about concessionary fares. We want old-age pensioners throughout Great Britain to have the same concessions as old-age pensioners in the London area.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who helps to put the matter into its proper perspective.Whatever minuscule amendments were accepted in Committee, they hardly add up to the basic conclusion of the Select Committee on Transport, which stated,
— it was referring to responsible local authorities, the operators and consumer organisations—"Most of those organisations"
My fourth challenge is that the Bill makes yet one more attack upon local democracy and upon the powers and duties of elected local councils. The National Bus Company, the enterprises run by the PTEs and those directly provided by local authorities are henceforth to be turned into public limited companies. We know that the first two are to be privatised, and we heard what the Secretary of State said earlier when he assured us that the PLCs formed by local authorities would remain in public ownership. I hope that my hon. Friends will firmly press that point in future discussions. For more than half a century, and under successive Conservative and Labour Governments, municipal and other local authorities have been entrusted with the operation of passenger transport services. Indeed, the provision of good local bus services has been among the principal activities, and a source of justifiable pride, of local government as a whole. Much of that is now to cease. No attempt is being made even to distinguish the good from the not so good. This immensely controversial Bill remains substantially undiscussed. Of its 114 clauses, only 11 have been reached. Admittedly clause 1, which abolishes road service licensing, contains one of the two main principles of the Bill, and that was bound to take a long period for discussion, and indeed it did."believe that the Bill's proposals … are defective or totally unworkable. We believe that the Bill will require considerable amendment if it is to prove acceptable to the wide range of the political spectrum which is at present opposed to parts of it."
The principle of regulation has lasted for more than 50 years. Clause 1 provides for abolition of the system while the remainder of the Bill is basically about what provisions will be put in its place. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised that discussion of it took that amount of time. Clause 1 is the major clause of the Bill and if that had not been properly debated, the Opposition and Committee would not have done their duty.
No, I will not give way.The privatisation proposals have not been discussed at all. I am thinking of the privatisation of NCB and of the passenger transport executives. Nor has there been any discussion of subsidies and tenders, matters of great importance. The clauses relating to travel concessions, about which the Secretary of State and I have had exchanges, remain undiscussed; they have not yet been reached, although my hon. Friends tabled amendments on the subject to earlier clauses.
My right hon. Friend referred to passenger transport executives. Is he aware that important provisions, as it were, not in the Bill, to safeguard the pension rights of thousands of staff working for the PTEs have not been discussed and that, as matters stand, although their terms and conditions of employment would pass to the new bodies, the protection of pension rights is excluded from those provisions?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, it is a major omission because it concerns thousands of people who are, and have been, employed in the industry and whose legitimate interests have not been discussed and cannot adequately be discussed under the rigorous limitations of the timetable.Those are our principal charges against the Bill and the increasingly disturbing pattern of peremptory legislation to which I referred at the outset. We seem to be getting not only Government without consultation but Government by guillotine as well. While this reflects the predominant style of the present Government, no Minister has a poorer track record than the principal architect of the Bill, the Secretary of State for Transport. He cheerfully breaks the law and, when rebuked by Her Majesty's judges, arrogantly refuses to reconsider his conduct but relies on the Whips and the Government's majority to change the law to show that he was right in the first place. What makes the Bill so unacceptable, and the timetable ill judged, is the extraordinary breadth and depth of opposition to it. After all, the voices of the consumers — the passengers — of bus services should be heeded. Those in rural areas, women who do not have the use of their own motor cars, and pensioners who rely heavily on concessionary fares, are strongly opposed to the measure. They rightly fear that the main effect of the Bill will be to reduce the number of unprofitable services by eliminating the present practice of cross-subsidisation and by the relentless financial squeeze on local authorities, whose ability directly to subsidise unprofitable services is bound to be drastically curtailed. Highly relevant also are the considered comments of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. In its paper of 15 March, which other hon. Members will have received, the society said:
It pointed out"the 1985 Transport Bill seriously threatens the continued existence of a competitive bus manufacturing base in the United Kingdom."
The number of jobs in the United Kingdom bus industry has already fallen by about 44 per cent. since 1981, reflecting the abolition of new bus grants in 1980 and the massive squeeze on local authority expenditures since that date. The total number of annual registrations of new double deck and single deck buses has fallen from 3,148 in 1980 to 1,470 in 1984. On the SMMT's forecast, the number will be down to 800 in 1986. The future of the bus industry and of bus services as a whole is much at risk. For all those reasons, I invite the House to reject the motion."de-regulation and sub-contracting will lead to these authorities concentrating their operations on commercial networks only and other subsidised routes will be put out to tender. This is expected to lead to a reduction in the fleet size by 25 per cent. and, therefore, demand for heavy duty buses will decline."
We make no complaint that we do not see on the Opposition Benches today the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). Though a spokesman on transport, we understand that he is away getting married.
He is on his honeymoon.
As ever, I am out of date. In the past five weeks or so the hon. Member for Wigan will not have had much time to see his betrothed. I am glad that he was able to finalise arrangements. Those of us who remain unbetrothed have not had much time to pursue similar objectives. We have spent about 90 hours in Committee.I listented with interest to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) about the report of the Select Committee, of which I was a member, as was the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who I see in his place. I should remind the House that the major recommendations and conclusions of the Select Committee were argeed only by the casting vote of the Chairman.
Will the hon. gentleman make it clear that the Conservatives on the Select Committee had a majority and that the Chairman cast his vote, in the custom of all Chairmen of such Committees, for this status quo? Will he please not try to imply that by some means, the Chairman, who is a most respected man, misused his position?
I made no such imputation. The Chairman is a man of enormous honour and all members of the Committee respect him greatly. By casting his vote in favour of the status quo, he did no more than the Chairman of any Select Committee would have been expected to do. I was simply pointing out that four members of the Select Committee were for the conclusions, that four members were against and that the whole thing was decided, as is customary in such circumstances, by the casting vote of the Chairman.
Would it not be fairer to say that the hon. Gentleman and perhaps one other of his Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee seemed to support most of the provisions of the measure, whereas a number of his Conservative colleagues were opposed to many parts of the Bill? The way in which they voted appears on the record.
I agree that some members of the Select Committee had reservations about many parts of the Bill. However, when it came to expressing our overall view, as expressed in the summary and recommendations of the Select Committee's report, the voting was four in favour and four against, so the report was passed on the casting vote of the Chairman.
Will the hon. Gentleman also make it clear that there were 44 voting and that he is talking about three?
Yes, about three votes on the summary and recommendations, which represented the most important part of the report.My Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee, being honourable people, voted as they believed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), being the parliamentary adviser to the National Bus Company, scrupulously avoided voting on matters affecting the NBC. Nevertheless, it is true to say that many Committee members had interests in relation to the matters that the Select Committee was studying. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan), was the chairman of the west midlands passenger transport authority. Not unsurprisingly, he was disinclined to believe that things could be done better than they were being done by that transport authority.
Perhaps he was right.
I am inclined to believe that the west midlands passenger transport authority, even under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley, is capable of improvement. For all the reasons that I have given, I do not believe that the report and recommendations of the Select Committee can be taken in too simplistic a way.The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said that most of the interests consulted had been opposed to the Bill. That is true. I have been reading the Official Report of debates on all stages of the Transport Act 1952. The Minister of Transport, the then Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, led for the Government in Committee. That measure deregulated road haulage and denationalised the parts of the industry that were in public hands. There was enormous opposition from every shade of opinion. Safety organisations said that the Bill would make lorries more dangerous as it would enable operators to cut corners. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce was against the move, as was the The Times, The Guardian and many of the motoring organisations. The Labour party was passionately against the Bill. The stage was reached when a guillotine debate took place. The Bill, which became the subject of a timetable motion, eventually was enacted. As far as I am aware, no one has looked back since then. Indeed, no one has suggested that we should reregulate the road haulage industry or renationalise lorry operations.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, with a measure such as this, the vested interest groups, which are inevitably Conservative, are ready to defend the status quo and that it has been left to a Conservative Government and Conservative Members to represent the greatest interest of all—the travelling public?