House Of Commons
Wednesday 3 April 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
SOUTH YORKSHIRE PASSENGER TRANSPORT BILL
Read the Third time, and passed.
LONDON DOCKLANDS RAILWAY (No. 2) BILL
That in the case of the London Docklands Railway (No. 2) Bill, Standing Order 208 (Notice of Consideration of Lords Amendments) be suspended and that the Lords Amendments be now considered. — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Lords amendments agreed to.
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many and which county and non-metropolitan district councils have fixed their rate for the municipal year 1985–86 at (a) the rate for the year 1984–85 or below, (b) less than 5 per cent. above the rate for the year 1984–85, (c) between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent., (d) between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. (e) between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. and (f) over 20 per cent. above the rate for the year 1984–85.
I have today placed in the Library the information currently available. Although it is too early to give a firm estimate of the increase in rates for 1985–86, it seems likely that the average increase in general rates in England will be between 7 and 7·5 per cent., and the average increase in domestic rates between 8 and 8·5 per cent.
Is it not correct that in the shire counties the average rate rise will be more than 9 per cent., which is wildly far from the estimate given by the Secretary of State in December, when he said that he hoped that it would be in low single figures? Are not high rate rises entirely attributable to the Government's policies on rate support grant and rate capping? Does that not imply that authorities in Tory areas must cut substantially the services that they provide to stand any chance of holding the rate rises down, even to about 9 per cent?
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong, and unwittingly scored an own goal against the Liberal party. The average rate rise in the Conservative shire counties is 6·5 per cent., whereas in the one Liberal-controlled shire county it is 8 per cent. It is the old story that where the Liberals influence events spending and rates are high.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of a document issued in the name of the Haringey joint union committee against rate capping, which has been endorsed by the London boroughs shop stewards on a Londonwide basis, calling for complete disruption of local authority services by phased action, including shutting down street lighting and traffic lights, stopping Thames water maintenance — [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]—closing schools—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—taking over the financing of computer services of local authorities, and refusing to accept—
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not make a speech.
taking over power—
Order. Has the hon. Gentleman reached his question yet?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is close to criminal conspiracy and incitement to unlawful action? What action will he take?
I have not seen the document to which my hon. Friend refers and, therefore, I do not know its details—whether it is silly bravado or whether it amounts to something with a more sinister intent. I shall look at it, as he has drawn it to my attention today. Clearly, if it has a more sinister intent I shall draw it to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
What advice will the Minister give the authorities which have accepted the lower rating for this year and failed to meet their statutory obligations as a result?
I know of no local authority or any rate-capped authority which is in danger of not meeting its statutory obligations because of the rate support grant settlement this year. Regarding rate-capped authorities, there was a significant move forward this morning in that a High Court judge told Hackney that it must set a legal rate. He ruled that there were no reasonable grounds for the borough to defer making a rate. I hope that this period of illegality will end.
Would any rate increase have been necessary, and would not the average rate demand have been at least 20 per cent. lower, had the Government maintained the same share of local authority expenditure that was provided in 1979–80? Will the Minister give the total burden placed on businesses and industry as a result of the change?
As regards the proportion of the rate support grant since 1979, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the biggest cut was under his Government, when the former Chancellor reduced it from 66 to 61 per cent. in one year. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who did that. The reduction this year from 51·9 to 48·7 per cent. means that there is less grant available, but, even so, if all authorities in England had budgeted to spend at target the average rate increases would have been lower than the ones that I have just announced.
Has my right hon. Friend heard the news this very day of the stunning irresponsibility by which the city of Birmingham, under its Labour masters, is putting up the rates by 43 per cent.? Is it not time for such authorities to stop talking about helping industry when they are going to ruin it and their citizens?
My hon. Friend is correct. There could be no greater distinction between Conservative and Labour control of Birmingham. Last year, under the Conservatives, the rates fell; this year under Labour they have gone up by 43 per cent. That is bad news for the residents of Birmingham.
Does the Minister accept the figures of the Rating and Valuation Association, which show that average rates will increase by more than 9 per cent. in this financial year—twice the rate of inflation? Does he recognise, as everyone outside the House and the Opposition do, that the biggest single reason for that is the consistent reduction in rate support grant? Rather than listen to his right hon. Friend berating Labour councils which are desperately trying to defend jobs and services, why do not the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend meet representatives of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of London Authorities to negotiate a settlement of the outstanding difficulties?
My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear that negotiations with the rate-capped authorities are unacceptable because the House has approved the rate support grant order and has agreed and passed orders for the rate-capped authorities. We have said that they are therefore not negotiable. It is now up to the rate-capped authorities to do what is legal—to set the rate which has been approved by the House.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Liberal-controlled Isle of Wight county council has increased its rates by 38 per cent. since 1981, and that because of the Lib-Lab pact which now controls Cheshire county council, that council has increased its rate by 48 per cent. since 1981? Is that not disgraceful, and does it not show the hypocrisy of the question of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)?
The figures speak for themselves, in that those who live in Labour-controlled shire counties will have an average rate of 178p this year, those in coalition-controlled county councils 156p, and those in Conservative-controlled county councils 148p. Those who live under Conservative-controlled county councils will be 30p better off than those who live under Labour and coalition-controlled councils.
Will the Minister put the record straight and confirm that the Isle of Wight county council rate increase was 7·53 per cent.? The 1p rate added by the Liberal-controlled Medina borough council reduces it to 7·1 per cent. The average ratepayer in the Isle of Wight pays £30 per head less than the average ratepayer in Chichester and £600 or £700 less than the average ratepayer in Westminster. We have stuck by targets, but the Secretary of State for the Environment gave us the worst settlement of all counties. We lost 4p, and that is why the rates went up this time by 7·53 per cent.
I think that I said 8 per cent.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman not tell the truth?
If with the district included, it is slightly less, I accept that. Even if it is 7·53 per cent., it is still substantially higher than the average for Conservative-controlled county councils.
Local Authorities (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will abolish spending targets for all local authorities.
I have said that we would like to do so.
Does the Minister agree that we have an absurd system of local government finance — [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]. I shall come to that point in a moment. The Government's new so-called objective targets under the GREA are completely ignored by the Government in the vast majority of cases when they set spending targets. Are not those spending targets a sign, first, of the Government's desire to run local government and, secondly, of their complete failure to reform the rating system?
The purpose of the targets has been to rein back the growth of local authority current expenditure. They have succeeded in reining back that growth from over 3·5 per cent. a year above the rate of inflation to under 1 per cent. The targets have worked, and the great majority of local authorities have co-operated with them. That has been a solid gain for the country and the ratepayers.
When my right hon. Friend is carrying out the urgently necessary review of local authority finance, will he talk to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about alternative ways of funding education? That could lead to two advantages: first, the reduction of the rates burden; and, secondly, the removal of the discredited Burnham system for the negotiation of teachers' pay.
The second part of that question should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. On the first part, I have the impression from hon. Members on both sides of the House that people wish to see local decisions taken locally. That is one of the main purposes of the studies on which we have embarked. It is difficult to see how such a development could be consistent with centralising substantial areas of education spending at the Department of Education and Science.
Despite the operation of target, which was deliberately designed to hit Labour authorities more than Conservative ones, the average domestic rate bill in the shire county areas is over 40p a week higher in the Conservative-controlled shires than in the Labour-controlled shires. Does that not show that people get more for less in Labour areas?On the future of the target system, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the problem associated with target is the operation of penalties, and that it would be unacceptable to Conservative as well as Labour authorities if, instead of the target and penalty system, we had a penalty system based upon GREAs?
The hon. Gentleman makes a naive comparison. The system is intended to reflect differences in resources among authorities. It is clear that in the past four years the average increase in rates in Labour county councils has been 62 per cent. while in Tory county councils it has been 31 per cent.—exactly half. That is the true comparison that should be made between authorities under Conservative and Labour control.Secondly, I have made it clear that the extent to which we are able to move away from targets in the coming year will depend in part on what local authorities budget for this year, and in part on the mechanism that we may be able to put in place to exercise a restraining influence on budgets in 1986–87.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will arrange future meetings with the appropriate sports authorities to discuss the possibility of the Olympic Games being held in Britain.
I have no plans to do so. Bids for staging the games are the responsibility of the British Olympic Association and interested cities.
Will the Minister make it clear that the Government will give every encouragement, including adequate financial support, to the sports authorities to put in a bid to stage the Olympic Games in Britain? Bearing in mind the recent Government intervention leading to the switch in the venue of the England-Scotland football international from Wembley to Hampden Park, should there not be some Government intervention to ensure that some Olympic events are staged in Scotland? We should remember the recent exemplary behaviour of Scottish sports fans, compared with that of some of the hooligan elements down here.
There are many steps to be taken before anyone can plan for any eventualities in the next decade.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should welcome the Olympic Games, perhaps hosted partly in England, partly in Wales, partly in Scotland and partly in Northern Ireland? Will he continue to have discussions with the British Olympic Association, and does he have any information about whether a substantial fund of private money will be available to finance the games, as was the case in America?
The latter part of my hon. Friend's question is an important consideration. The most important attitudes are those of the British Olympic Association and individual cities. There is a long way to go before there can be any planning.
I trust that the Minister will press for Britain to host the Olympic Games. Will he bear in mind the interests of Merseyside, which has several extremely good stadiums, football teams that do not get involved in punch-ups and a good sporting record? Does the Minister agree that it would be a good area in which to stage part of the Olympic Games?
I am at one with the hon. Gentleman when he refers to the good behaviour of the football teams in his area. I pay tribute to them and their record. These are matters for consideration. I remain at the disposal of the British Olympic Association if it wishes to have further discussions. There is a long way to go and, as I understand it, the selection is not made by the International Olympic Committee until mid-way through next year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the sports promotion council in Glasgow has advanced claims to host the 1992 Olympics in that city? Given the diversity and quality of sporting facilities in Scotland, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that his Department will do everything possible to encourage the powers that be to consider Scotland as a place to host the Olympic Games?
I note what my hon. Friend said. I am sure that he will be well supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Scottish Office in any possible or potential bids.
As the British Olympic Association says that it is the Government who have encouraged it to make a bid, what estimate have the Government made of the cost of providing a games village for upwards of 20,000 people, a 100,000-seater stadium, an international pool and similar facilities for 20 other sports? As the Government are restricting all local authorities' spending on sport, where do they expect the money to come from?
I am delighted to welcome the right hon. Gentleman's new-found zest for the private sector. I assure him that the Government have just as much vision as did the post-war Labour Government in hosting the 1948 games. Many steps have to be taken before any decisions can be made.
Local Authorities (Expenditure)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received in response to the reduction in the prescribed proportion of capital receipts which local authorities may spend.
My right hon. Friend and I have received a number of representations from right hon. and hon. Members and from local authorities. In response to those representations, my right hon. Friend has announced that local authorities may continue to use in full capital receipts from low-cost home ownership schemes instead of only 30 per cent. as proposed originally. He has also agreed to consider applications from local authorities which may not be able to meet their obligations under the Housing Defects Act 1984.
Does the Minister agree that it is sheer economic madness and incompetence of the highest order that, when we have a crisis in local government with education, social services and housing, local authorities are unable to spend their own money, thereby saving by doing repairs this year rather than in future when the bill for such repairs will be greater?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that the House has debated this matter fully on two occasions. The first was 27 February, when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was given responsibility for deploying the Opposition's case. The Government had a modest majority of 108. When, a fortnight later, on 13 March, responsibility for deploying the Opposition's case was transferred to the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), the Government had a majority of 121.I hope that the hon. Member for Copeland will speak for the Opposition more frequently.
What urgency is my hon. Friend according to the departmental review that he announced in the latter debate? Has he instructed his officials that a new system should be in place by this time next year?
I have told the House, as I have told my hon. Friend, that the present system of control by central Government of local authority capital expenditure is the reverse of perfect. Because we recognise that truth, and because this Government are striving towards perfection, we are giving more urgency to the review to which my hon. Friend referred.
The House is seeing more and more that the Minister does not want seriously to answer important questions put to him by both sides of the House. May I put to the Minister one question relating to the concession made by the Secretary of State in our last debate in respect of the Housing Defects Act? How many applications have been made by local authorities under that concession and, more importantly, how much money does the Secretary of State have available to make a reality of that concession?
No applications have yet been received from local authorities in response to the announcement by my right hon. Friend in the debate last month. On 27 March the Department sent a circular to local authorities, a copy of which, if it is not already in the Library, will be placed there by me. The resources to be made available will depend upon the strength of the case that local authorities are able to make. In the debate my right hon. Friend made it clear that he would consider sympathetically applications by local authorities.
Since mobility of labour is one of the key factors in reducing unemployment, and since one consequence of the reduction in the proportion of capital expenditure that local authorities can incur will be to restrict the rate at which public sector housing is built, does my hon. Friend agree that the impelementation of this policy makes it even more urgent that we should take steps to abolish the Rent Acts so that the private housing market can be reactivated?
I hope that it will be possible before too long to make a statement about the Government's policy in this matter.
Conservation (Management Agreements)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many management agreements have now been concluded between farmers and local authorities since the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 came into operation.
The Countryside Commission has been informed of 64 management agreements that have been concluded by local authorities under the provisions of the 1981 Act. Of these, 38 involve no financial consideration.
Does that rather disappointing total not indicate that the Act still needs a few more teeth? Is my hon. Friend aware that in some cases habitats and landscapes can be destroyed before a local authority even knows about it, let alone has the chance to conclude a management agreement? Is not this an argument for some kind of notification procedure under which a local authority has to be given notice in advance of an owner's intention to carry out work on his land?
I do not think that these figures necessarily represent the whole story. The provisions of the 1981 Act are only a part of the battery of powers that are available. There was a recent case in my hon. Friend's constituency where a felling licence was ignored. The result was that large fines had to be paid by those involved, which should remind people that other powers are available to deal with these matters.
Will the Minister give further consideration to the point that his hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) has made, and at the same time commend those farmers who have taken part in management agreements and those who are involved in the farming and wildlife advisory group? Is it not clear that their increasing commitment to conservation is not matched in any sensible way by the present Administration?
The hon. Member will not expect me to agree with the last point that he made, which I rebut strongly. However, I am delighted to join him in paying tribute to the farmers who, in many cases, under the advisory group, are doing a very good job. The survey recently carried out by the National Farmers Union shows what is being done by those farmers who have a real care for the countryside.
Since management agreements should involve an element of positive management rather than dealing with the handing over of public money for nothing in return, does my hon. Friend have any information about how many of the management agreements include such a positive element?
I do not have the figures with me, but all the power is there for positive elements to be included in the management agreements. The fact that many Countryside Commission agreements do not involve the payment of money makes the point that there is much more voluntary co-operation than people often realise.
Is the Minister aware of the comments of the Prince of Wales this morning that far too often farmers are still exploiting the land for profit without respect for conservation? Would not an appropriate response be to reinstate, at the behest of the Government, a provision in the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Bill putting a duty on MAFF to consider conservation as well as agricultural interests?
As usual, the Liberal party is concentrating on form rather than reality. We want developments of the kind to which the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) has paid tribute and which are indeed taking place. It is not a matter of passing Acts of Parliament and feeling that we have done something clever. It is a matter of getting real voluntary co-operation, and that is what the Government are doing.
Washington, Peterlee And Aycliffe
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future of the Washington, Peterlee and Aycliffe new towns.
I announced on March 21 that the new town development corporations of Aycliffe, Peterlee and Washington would continue until 31 March 1988. That decision has been widely welcomed in the north-east.
Is the Secretary of State aware that that decision has been widely welcomed throughout the northeast, and especially by Labour Members? Will he confirm, however, that he is reducing the staffing and capital budgets of the Aycliffe and Peterlee development corporations from £12 million to £2 million at a time when unemployment in my constituency is 26·8 per cent.? In his reliance on private capital markets, is he aware that the development corporations were set up in the first place because of the failure of those markets?
The spending limits for all three authorities will be £11 million in 1986–87 and £8·5 million in 1987–88. We believe that that will give the development corporations ample opportunity to achieve the primary purpose of the extension — that is, to continue their promotional work and to complete the building work already in hand. In this context, I pay tribute to the way in which the development corporations have succeeded in attracting important investment to the north-east —notably the Nissan site, which I hope to visit in a few weeks' time.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision is generally applauded in the north-east and that at a time of industrial change it is absolutely right to retain the job-seeking functions of the corporations?
That is the primary purpose of extending the lives of the development corporations. I very much welcome the progress being made by Sir Ralph Carr-Ellison, who is seeking to establish a voluntary development body to perpetuate and, I hope, improve the work being done in attracting new firms to the north-east.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment informed me in a written answer yesterday that 6,000 people in the borough of Sunderland have been unemployed for more than three years? In those circumstances, is it not disgraceful and absurd that a respected job-promoting agency should be closed down?
Order. Does this have anything to do with the main question?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. With respect, I represent the new town of Washington, which is included in the question. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that, having created chaos in the north-east by not agreeing to an extension for the new town corporation—
Order. I thought that the Minister said that it was continuing. The hon. Gentleman talks as though it were closing down.
For your information, Mr. Speaker, the letter from the Department of the Environment about the future of the new town of Washington states that it has an extension of 2¼ years only and that it will then be closed down. Will the Minister pass a message to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that, chaos having been created in the north-east by obstacles being put in the way of the extension of the new town of Washington, by limiting it to 2¼ years and not to five years, for which we asked in reply to the consultative document, he is compounding the unemployment problem in that area?
' I am very fond of the hon. Gentleman, and we on the Conservative Benches respect him greatly, but I must say that he has got it wildly wrong. My decision to extend the life of these development corporations to 1988 has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by the entire community of north-east London — [Interruption.] — England. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not able to join in the chorus of welcome for my decision.
As a former member of the board of Washington development corporation, I welcome my right hon. Friend's remarks this afternoon. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the potential inward investment promotional rate of which he has been talking in respect of Washington, Peterlee and Aycliffe will apply also to other new town corporations, such as Telford, which adjoins my constituency, when they reach their winding-up dates?
No firm date has been set for the winding up of Telford development corporation, save that it will be towards the end of this decade. If there are promotional activities to be carried on after that, it will be for the business and local authority interests in the area to decide how best to carry that forward. It has always been recognised that the new town development corporations would have a limited life. It is to make sure that the essential functions of promotion are carried on that I have extended the life of these three in the north-east.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I am one person on the Labour Benches who gives only a cool welcome to the extension? Having regard to the National Coal Board's statements on pit closures since the end of the miners' strike, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, particularly in an area like mine, an extension of three years to Peterlee development corporation is simply inadequate? A minimum of five years is essential. Is he aware that he has cleverly put in blanket form the budgets for the three new towns? Is it not a fact—and will he come clean on this—that the budget for Peterlee development corporation is now less than half what it has been in the past? Will he say whether he is instructing Peterlee development corporation to reduce its staff?
It certainly would be appropriate that the staffing of the development corporations should match the resources that they have available. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I recognise that it is the concern of Aycliffe and Peterlee that they should have a fair share of the expenditure cake in comparison with Washington. This will be discussed with the corporations in the usual annual review of the finances.
Not representing any constituents in north-east London, I am not qualified to speak for them, but I am qualified to speak for the people in the non h-east. Perhaps the Minister would get it right. Will he accept that, after considerable pressure on him by my hon.Friends to make a decision, the decision that he has made is wrong and the period is not long enough? It would make more sense, if he believes in being converted to the real world, to say that what is required is that the budget should be made much bigger. Finally, I welcome the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) into the real world. He has now left market forces. Perhaps the Minister should leave them as well.
I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's question calls for a reply.
There were three questions.
The hon. Gentleman has recognised that the decision has been widely welcomed in the north-east, and that this now gives time for local authorities, the TUC and industrial organisations to work with Sir Ralph in order to bring into existence the new body, which I think will carry forward this promotional activity.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to meet the leaders of the Liverpool city council to discuss its budget proposals.
Is not that an unreasonable answer from the Secretary of State, bearing in mind the special problems that Liverpool faces above all other local authorities, which the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges? Will the right hon. Gentleman now state what instructions are to be given to the district auditor concerning Liverpool? Has he made any plans to send in commissioners if the council refuses to fix a rate?
I have made it clear many times in the House that the responsibility for administering services, whether in Liverpool or any other area of the country, rests with the elected councillors of that area. I have no powers to put in commissioners, and I have no desire to put in commissioners. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will use his influence to persuade the Liverpool city councillors that they must now make a rate to administer their city properly.
Will my right hon. Friend remember, in his exchanges with Liverpool city council, that were he to make any concessions at all to the irresponsibilities of that local authority, that would be viewed with great concern by economic and responsible authorities such as Norfolk county council, which act in a responsible and economical way?
Despite the boasts of some of the Liverpool city councillors last year, it is now widely recognised in Liverpool and elsewhere that no concessions were made to Liverpool last year, and it is not intended to make any concessions to Liverpool this year. The responsibility for making a rate rests firmly upon that city council.
Notwithstanding the answer from the Secretary of State, does he not recall his attitude following the visit which he and his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction made to Liverpool last year, when he saw the deplorable housing situation in the city? He promised that he would use his best endeavours to give more assistance to housing. Despite what the hon.Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) has just said about Liverpool city council, it is doing the responsible work of regenerating 17 priority areas. We welcome the new Tate in the north, but is it not a bit incongruous that the right hon. Gentleman offers largesse on the one hand for something that is hardly a priority in Liverpool, and on the other hand ignores the elected representatives of the people of Liverpool?
On my visit to see the housing of Liverpool the following question struck me: how did it ever get like that, and who carried the responsibility for it? Secondly, I was struck by the immense progress being made by the housing co-operatives in Liverpool. I deeply regret the fact that Liverpool city council has thought fit to strike them off its list of those who receive help from it. I hope that the council will have second thoughts and support the housing co-operatives, as they are doing extremely good work.
Not only is the Secretary of State's geography wrong today, but so is his history. Is he not aware that for 10 years his own party, in coalition with the Liberals, was responsible for the administration of the city of Liverpool? Does the right hon. Gentleman not recall that the Labour party has been in power for only just over a year? Is it not a fact that it has inherited an appalling mess from the right hon. Gentleman's friends? Why does he take such pleasure in being vindictive about that council's determination to help the people of Liverpool solve their problems?
If the word vindictive were to be used, it might be much more appropriately applied to some of the members of Liverpool city council with whom I have tried to work and by whom I have been kicked in the teeth. If the hon. Gentleman still has any shred of influence in that quarter, perhaps he will recognise that, generally, authorities which seek to co-operate with the Government on inner city policy make more progress than those which positively refuse to do so, and take pleasure in doing nothing but attack the Government at every possible opportunity.
Manchester (Rate Support Grant)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has received any representations from Manchester city council in connection with the rate support grant settlement for 1985–86; and if he will make a statement.
Manchester city council was one of the 26 authorities represented at a collective meeting on 4 February.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when Manchester set its rate on Sunday, against the advice of the hard-Left leadership, the leader of the council, Councillor Stringer, described it as something that would bring a smile to the face of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? If my hon. Friend is in touch with Councillor Stringer, will he ask him to bring a smile to the faces of some of my constituents who live on Councillor Stringer's overspill estates in my constituency, and to concentrate not on nuclear-free zones and police monitoring units, but on keeping those properties in a decent and proper state of repair?
I shall certainly do that. I noticed that Councillor Stringer also described the setting of the rate as a defeat for the Labour party. Since it was a victory for common sense, I suppose that he must be right.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that as well as the 112,000 signatures on a petition that was left on the Downing street doorstep, there were 10,000 people on the streets of Manchester calling for jobs, services and democracy? The Minister must recognise this, because he has given us a guarantee that he will visit Manchester. Will he give a commitment to the House today that when he comes to Manchester — unlike Ministers before him, who shed crocodile tears and then went away and did nothing—he will have an open mind?
I think that many of my hon. Friends will regard the fact that Manchester received a 3·8 per cent. increase in its target and a 10 per cent. increase in its GRE as a rather generous settlement.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received regarding the implications of the House of Lords decision in the Hartshead Quarry case for the control of development in the vicinity of quarries.
I was sent copies of the report issued by the County Planning Officers Society on 14 November 1984 and the report issued by the Peak park joint planning board on 22 February 1985, both of which consider the implications of the Hartshead judgment. I have also received representations from the local authority associations. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) tabled a parliamentary question on this subject, and I have received nine letters from right hon. and hon. Members since 22 February.
Does the Minister realise and recognise the very serious implications of this judgment for planning authorities? Has he been reminded of the fact that we now have a situation in which limestone and sand quarries, which have sometimes discontinued operations for 10 or 20 years, can decide to recommence operations and no longer require planning approval? There is often housing and other residential accommodation adjacent to those workings, creating very serious problems. Will the Minister seriously consider urgently introducing new legislation to control this?
I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest, because when the remaining provisions of part I of the Town and Country Planning (Minerals) Act 1981 are introduced there will be a range of powers available to authorities. It will then be for them to decide which of these is most appropriate to any individual case. Each case, of course, must be considered on its planning merits. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) on 11 March. That sets out our intentions in parliamentary terms over the next few months.
While I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the additional information that he has given to the House on this important matter, and while he will appreciate, as I do, that quarrying is a vital employer in the Peak park and other such areas—and farming, too, for that matter—does he agree that there is an anomaly in the present planning legislation relating to quarrying? This does not apply to anything else. Does he not think, therefore, that legislation is required to put this right?
I do not believe that any new legislation is required. I think that my answer to my hon. Friend earlier this month outlined the position. We have to accept that, following the House of Lords ruling, planning permission to extract minerals from the site remains available unless the Peak park joint planning board exercises its powers to make an order revoking that permission or that use of the land. I certainly take note of what my hon. Friend has said, but when these orders are laid later in this Session they will give the local authorities a range of powers. That was the intention of the 1981 Act. It was designed to introduce after-care and further provisos.
Gleneagles Agreement (Private Clubs)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he has discussed with the Association of District Councils the Gleneagles agreement and how it may affect the hiring of sports facilities to private clubs.
I am disappointed with that reply. Does my hon. Friend not think that he should discuss the matter with the Labour councils which are threatening to withdraw sports facilities from clubs just because some of their players have been to South Africa? Does he agree that the matter goes beyond the Gleneagles agreement and that if that policy were followed by Labour councils they would be at liberty to withdraw sports facilities from any team with members who are of a political colour different from their own?
The issue arouses deep passion on both sides of the House. It is for local authorities to decide how they will administer their sports facilities, and for the courts to decide whether their actions are unlawful. My locus in this respect is non-existent. The Court of Appeal has upheld the local authority's action as lawful within its duties under section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976.
In the various discussions, has the Minister's attention been drawn to the strong concern in Scotland about the rugby associations involving themselves in a world cup, despite South Africa being involved? Is the Minister not worried that the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh might be jeopardised? Will he do more than he appears to be doing to protect the spirit of the Gleneagles agreement?
The House will be aware of the action that I took last year in relation to the rugby tour of South Africa. The House understands the Government's policy. Naturally, I am anxious to do everything that I can to ensure that all sports' governing bodies recognise our external obligations under the Gleneagles agreement. The Commonwealth Games in 1986 are important, not only for Britain, but for Commonwealth sport.
Notwithstanding the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), do not the Government have an absolute duty to protect the freedom of individuals? If a local authority blatantly impinges upon the freedom of individuals because of their political beliefs, surely the Government must stand strongly behind those freedoms.
I endorse my hon. Friend's initial remarks, but it is not for the House of Commons to question a decision by the Court of Appeal.
Is it not time that the Rugby Union realised — as the judges have held in the case of the Leicester council and the Leicester rugby club —that public bodies are entitled to expect a more responsible attitude towards the Gleneagles agreement from people whom they finance? Since rugby received £175,000 last year from the Sports Council and public funds, what action will the Minister take to bring that home to the Rugby Union and to persuade it to act more responsibly in respect of South Africa?
We must ask ourselves the important question whether we want to stop coaching and rugby at junior level merely because the governing body decides to send a side to South Africa. I do not think that we should cut off the noses of some people to spite others. The money provided to develop and enhance rugby union at grass roots is a most important dimension. To cut that off would be a spiteful move for the future of rugby. We must try to educate the Rugby Union to have a wider concern for rugby throughout the world.
Local Authorities (Tender Lists)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will introduce legislation to prevent local authorities from excluding on political grounds individual companies from tender lists for contracts for council projects.
The consultation paper on competition in the provision of local authority services issued on 14 February proposes legislation to nullify the imposition of such irrelevant conditions in local authority contracts or invitations to tender. Subject to the consultation, it is proposed to legislate in the next Session of Parliament.
That is welcome news. Is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour and Liberal councillors on the Peterborough city council have combined to try to blackmail legal firms by threatening to prevent them contracting for city council business if they have done any work at RAF Molesworth—or even if they are willing to do such work? Is that not a disgraceful abuse of councillors' powers and counter to ratepayers' interests? Should that practice not be made illegal? How soon can we expect action?
I agree with my hon. Friend that such conduct is totally unacceptable. That is why we have put our proposals out for consultation. I look forward to receiving my hon. Friend's support for the legislation in the next Session.
Why do the Secretary of State and his Back-Bench colleagues always want to legislate when local politicians take a decision with which they disagree? Why do they not let local politicians defend such decisions at elections and let local electors make their choice of the policies that they support? Do the Secretary of State and his Back-Bench colleagues act in this way because local Conservatives have no confidence in their campaigning ability?
The hon. Gentleman's proposition is absolutely astonishing. Is the Liberal party defending what Peterborough council has done? If so, let us proclaim throughout the country that that is what we can expect if more Liberal councillors are elected next month.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has as to the costs incurred by local authorities in removing asbestos from their buildings.
The joint central and local government working party on asbestos, set up by my Department last year, is at present seeking and collating information from the local authority associations on the scale of use of asbestos materials in buildings. This includes some information relating to the costs of removal of asbestos, but no national picture or overall estimate of costs is available.
Will the hon. Gentleman condemn Wandsworth council for taking legal action against two of my constituents, resulting in their incurring costs plus damages of nearly £9,000, when all they did was use legal action to delay for six days the demolition of Latchmere baths in my constituency because they feared that asbestos in that building would be a danger to local residents? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such public-spirited action by my constituents — one of whom is now a local councillor—should be rewarded, rather than penalised by the threat of bankruptcy?
I would be very ill-advised to do what the hon. Gentleman invites me to do. The case was taken to court. The hon. Gentleman's constituents lost and Wandsworth won, and Wandsworth was awarded costs. It is not for Ministers to comment on that decision.
As a curtain-raiser to an important Adjournment debate tomorrow, will my hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage local authorities to adopt the recently invented process of the vitrification of asbestos waste which, apart from removing the toxicity of the waste completely and therefore preventing health hazards, has the financial merit of being able to be undertaken in some cases at half the conventional cost of bagging and dumping the waste?
I am sorry to say that I shall not be participating in the Adjournment debate tomorrow. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State — the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)—whose happy task that will be has heard my hon. Friend's remarks, and I know that his remarks will embrace the response to those proposals.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received from Basildon district council, following the setting by the council of a legal rate; and if he will make a statement.
I welcome Basildon's decision to fix a legal rate. No representations have been received consequent on that decision.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Basildon district council proposes to close Billericay swimming pool from 7 May and that rate capping is the reason that the council gives for its action? Is my right hon. Friend aware also that the documents leaked to me from the management team of Basildon district council—a copy of which I gave to my right hon. Friend last night—make it clear that rate capping is not involved in the decision and that the same saving of £100,000 a year would have been achieved by cancelling the contract with Union Communications to handle the public relations for the council against the Government?
I thank my hon. Friend for letting me see those documents, because they show that the council's policy—
—wait for it. They show that the council's policy is to favour the areas regarded by the present Administration as having the greatest social need. What has the council done to implement that policy? It has cut out a recreational service but has gone on paying £100,000 to an advertising firm to conduct a campaign against Government policies. I hope that Basildon residents and ratepayers will recognise the cynicism of that decision.
Royal Commission On Environmental Pollution (Recommendations)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recommendations of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution have been acted upon by the Government.
Since 1979 the Government have published positive responses to the recommendations contained in five Royal Commission reports, and set in hand follow-up action as appropriate.
Why do the Government not stop equivocating and sign the Ottawa declaration on acid rain?
In the answer to the tenth Royal Commission report, the Government have taken the trouble to set out the reasons why they did not want to do that, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is very familiar with the arguments in that response.
Will my hon. Friend confirm his opinion of the commission's findings on the efficacy of long sea outfall?
As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government have also responded to that matter in their answer to the tenth Royal Commission report. I refer him to that response, over which a great deal of trouble was taken.
As the Minister said in a television interview about Britain joining the 30 per cent. club:
may I ask what is stopping him?"If you want my opinion, I would have taken the risk of joining the 30 per cent. club",
The hon. Gentleman did not quote me fully. I said that that would have been an easy thing to do as a number of other countries have done it knowing perfectly well that they would do nothing about it. That is not how Britain approaches these matters, and I am proud of that.
On a point of order arising out of Question Time, Mr. Speaker. Do you accept that the people of Manchester will be very disappointed at the limited number of supplementary questions taken on a very important series of questions when compared with—
Order. The problem with Question Time is that although I do try to call as many hon. Members as possible, when an area has a number of Members representing it it is impossible to call all of them. Every time that Front Bench speakers rise—and they rose eight times today—it makes it more difficult for me to call Back Benchers.
Employment, Education And Training
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on employment and training.Last Thursday I published the White Paper "Employment: The Challenge for the Nation". Today, in conjunction with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister without Portfolio, I am publishing a further White Paper, entitled "Education and Training for Young People". The purpose of the first White Paper is to set out the facts and figures on the present employment situation and to describe the strategy that the Government believe offers the best prospects for employment, with the steps already taken and the further measures proposed. There are three key elements in the Government's strategy towards employment. First, the Government must create an economic, financial and industrial climate in which enterprise can flourish. The priority is to control inflation. Without that, there is no prospect that industry and commerce will compete successfully, raise output and create jobs. Secondly, the Government can help improve the labour market by encouraging more and better training and by removing obstacles which hamper employers taking on workers. Finally, the Government can provide direct help for those worst affected by unemployment through, for example, the community programme. The second White Paper, "Education and Training for Young People", deals with a key element in our strategy for employment — the reform of our education and training policies and programmes. It outlines our approach to work-related education and training for 14 to 18-year-olds and emphasises the need to develop more comprehensive and coherent provision for this age group. Improvements in education and training are crucial to strengthening the economy. Only then will industry and commerce be able to find the skills they need if they are to become more competitive. Efforts to get a better trained work force must be directed at everyone in it, irrespective of age or occupation. But, in particular, we must ensure that our young people are properly prepared for the world of work. We intend to build on the success of recent achievements by taking action in three particular fields: introducing new arrangements for in-service teacher training related to the technical and vocational education initiative, setting up a review of vocational qualifications and bringing in a new two-year youth training scheme. These actions flow from the review of provision for 14 to 18-year-olds carried out by the Minister without Portfolio. As regards the youth training scheme, the Government are providing substantial additional resources so that, from April 1986, we are able to offer a second year of training to 16-year-old school leavers and a one-year place to 17-year-old school leavers. Our aim is that all our young people leaving school will have the chance to get vocational qualifications. The Manpower Services Commission has warmly and unanimously welcomed these proposals and has now put in hand the necessary consultations, with a view to reporting back to me by the end of June. The new training scheme, together with the parallel changes in education and the review of vocational nal qualifications, will help to put vocational education and training for our young people on a par with that of our main competitors overseas, and will help create a more flexible labour force and more competitive economy. Taken together, these two White Papers set out clearly the Government's strategy for employment and give the details of the new proposals for improving vocational education and training in this country, which I hope will command the support of the whole House.
I noted with interest that the Secretary of State did not predict the increase in employment that might result from the two White Papers with which he dealt. These two documents are a reflection of the increasing public concern that exists about the growing mass unemployment in Britain and particularly about the plight of those who make up the unskilled labour force, who are suffering after six years of Conservative policies.There is a startling difference between the two White Papers. In describing the training requirements embodied in "Education and Training for Young People", the Government recognise that they have a responsibility to intervene to ensure that there is adequate training and proper planning for training. It is clear that the Government have a direct responsibility to achieve those goals, at a time when British industry has failed to make either a financial or physical contribution to improving the skill of the nation's labour force. That is particularly true when we compare this country with our international competitors. The concern in Britain seems to be more for training to be a business cost than an investment. The Government stand indicted for the way in which they have dealt with the problem—that is, by their philosophy of trying to justify the abolition of 16 of the 23 industrial training boards and, more recently, 29 skillcentres, on grounds of cost. We require planning adequate to meet the training requirements of the nation and the resources from industry. YTS schemes are to be extended to two years. We on the Labour Benches have campaigned for that for a long time, so it is a step that we welcome. Indeed, such an extension was part of our manifesto. I particularly welcome the announcement in the White Paper of the review that is to be conducted by the Secretary of State into many of the criticisms that Opposition Members have made of many existing YTS schemes. As the Secretary of State is now considering some of those criticisms, may I ask him to confirm that the new two-year scheme will not be compulsory? Is he considering giving a proper wage to trainees, which in real terms would now be equivalent to £38—£10 or £11 more than is currently paid? Many of those now on YTS schemes regard the present rates as slave labour pay. Is the right hon. Gentleman also reviewing the health and safety conditions and the monitoring of schemes by area boards? It would be appropriate if he reported back to the House on those matters, in time for the debate when he has received the report mentioned in the White Paper. Will the right hon. Gentleman elaborate on what is said in the White Paper about a preference for employer-based schemes in the second year? That seems to underrate the contribution that local authorities have made to some excellent YTS schemes, and I hope that he does not intend to reduce their role. Will the Secretary of State reconsider his decision to close 29 skillcentres? Will he postpone their closure in view of the fact that for second-year YTS schemes, which will come into effect in 1986, skillcentres would be ideal places to use for that second stage, offering good opportunities for quality training. The White Paper "Employment: The Challenge for the Nation" has failed miserably, as did the "Budget for jobs", in trying to convince people that the policy was designed to secure more jobs for the additional members of the skilled labour force that the Government hoped would be created. The Government reaffirm their belief in the free market and blame everybody for the problems of mass unemployment, which in fact has been caused directly by Government policies. The White Paper contains some statements which we readily accept and confirms the Labour party's record on producing jobs during its five year of office. For every one extra job it produced, the Tory Government have lost six during five years of their policies. It is a deplorable document because, as with training, it refuses to accept that employment is a responsibility of Government. It compares most unfavourably with the 1944 White Paper, which fully accepted that Government had a responsibility not only for employment, but to observe their international obligations, which were embodied in the wages councils, the abolition of which is proposed in the White Paper. This is a deplorable White Paper. It does little for employment, and the Government wash their hands of their responsibilities, and do little to reduce the mass unemployment that continues to increase. The White Paper confirms that the Government's policies are deliberately creating mass unemployment. If the Government believe that they can do nothing about it, they should resign and make way for a Labour Government who will reduce unemployment.
It is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to sustain the charge that the Government are washing their hands of the problem when during the past week we have introduced two White Papers, which deal specifically with some of those issues. I would have hoped for a more positive response from the Leader of the Opposition and his hon. Friends. [Interruption.] It contrasts noticeably —because of the noise from Opposition Members, the hon. Gentleman may not have heard this — with the warm and unanimous response from the Manpower Services Commission, which includes representatives of industrialists and the Trade Union Congress. They have confirmed their support for our expansion of the opportunities in youth training.I confirm that the scheme will continue to be voluntary, that we intend to maintain a trainee allowance, and that we do not intend to make the sort of substantial increase in costs that the hon. Gentleman suggested—for one good reason. It is genuinely important to ensure that the maximum resources go into training and that we get the highest possible quality of training. When I am faced with a choice of priorities, I am more anxious to maintain a reasonable level of trainee allowance and a high quality scheme, than to make a much higher level of trainee allowance, which might be at the expense of the quality of the training. The hon. Gentleman asked about skillcentres. He will know that part of the way in which we can ensure modernisation of our skill resources is to ensure that we put those resources to the most effective use, not into the maintenance of bricks and mortar for under-utilised assets in a facility which is not fully used.
The Leader of the Opposition happened to raise his head at that, but that is a quotation with which I agree. It also happens to be the policy that we have been putting forward. The hon. Gentleman asked about the forecast. I have looked hard through "Labour's Jobs and industry Campaign", but I cannot find many forecasts — and rightly so. [Interruption.] Well, I cannot find it in the document, which was shrewdly drafted. As we made clear in the statement, we seek to achieve the best possible prospects for employment. The measures that we have announced in the two White Papers will help significantly towards that."Britain will only be able to produce the goods and services of the future if those who work in industry are trained in the skills of the future."
I welcome whole-heartedly the statement of my right hon. Friend, and the great emphasis placed on training for young people. Does he agree that we have been well behind our European competitors in this area? Does he agree that the actions of the Government since 1979 stand in strong contrast to the complete lack of action by the Labour party when it was in Government? Does he further agree that the reaction by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to the statement is the only matter that could appropriately be called "deplorable"? Does he further agree that it is vital to retain close links between schools and industry, and that we should put great importance on the vocational training of those who choose to stay on in sixth forms but do not intend to take A-level courses?
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. With his great knowledge of the subject, he will understand the importance of these issues. It is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was so grudging in his comments. All that the Labour party could manage was the youth opportunities programme. There is not much argument in the House that the YTS is a vast improvement on that. I am proud that we launched it. I am even prouder that we can announce this extension to it. I am grateful for what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the link between education and training. The fact that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister without Portfolio have worked so closely on this makes it clear that we see the vital need to ensure the closest possible link so that we genuinely meet the different needs of youngsters by vocational as well as more formal academic education. I believe that the announcements are a major step in that direction.
The Minister, admittedly under the spur of desperation, is gradually putting together a package for education and training which at least has some potential. What will he do to persuade or perhaps coerce employers to face up to their social responsibilities by making the investment in their future employees that most European employers make? Furthermore, the White Paper boasts that 60 per cent. of those leaving YTS obtained a job. Some people dispute that figure, but I will accept it. What are the Government's plans for the other 40 per cent?
I thank the hon. Member, albeit for his somewhat half-hearted welcome for what we are doing. It would be wrong to criticise all employers. Many employers make a substantial contribution, but on average the contribution from British employers is less than that in Germany. That is one of the major challenges contained in both White Papers. I am encouraged by the president of the CBI, who has made clear his determination to see that the CBI plays a positive role in this. While I cannot give the hon. Member exact details of how we will achieve it, I am optimistic that we shall start to improve the take-up rate of permanent jobs which for many of the youth training schemes is in excess of 95 per cent.—although the average, as he rightly says, is something over 60 per cent. We are anxious to see that figure raised at the earliest possible opportunity.
In his first welcome White Paper, my right hon. Friend referred to the contribution to the greater flexibility of patterns of work that can be made by young workers. The private sector has been much more helpful than the public sector. Can my right hon. Friend promise any action to make the public sector more imaginative and flexible?
I am interested in the point that my hon. Friend makes. Events in the postal service have brought to the public notice overtime and flexibility and how additional jobs might be created. I do not say this critically, because it is one of the issues that we are considering, but at the moment, something over 11 million hours of overtime a week are being worked. A substantial amount of employment is contained within that overtime if it were possible to reorganise it. It behoves us all to try. I shall be studying the public sector to see whether it can make a contribution with experiments in more flexible working.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, for tens and tens of thousands of young people on YTS, 40 per cent. of whom will not obtain employment as the result of the scheme, the Government's motives are seen to be different from the ones that he put to the House? They are seen as being to take people off the register, to provide free labour for employers, to lower wages, to substitute for adult employees, and to by-pass trade unions and the health and safety regulations. Young people want real training and jobs. His statement means that the Government contemplate low wages in a permanently high mass unemployment society.
One reason why some young people may hold that view about YTS is that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and some of his hon. Friends choose to keep telling them so. I am glad to say that their views are those of a substantial minority in the country, and I am grateful for the fact that neither the Opposition Front Bench nor the responsible trade union leaders share them.
Does my right hon. Friend remember the prophecies of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) about the Falklands war and the miners' strike? The right hon. Gentleman is now making prophecies about employment.My right hon. Friend speaks about the contribution of the CBI. Does he have anything to tell us about the decline of apprenticeships in this country, and does he have anything in mind in that regard?
Part of the change in apprenticeship has resulted from changes in manufacturing industry. A number of employers regard the apprenticeship route as less relevant to the new technologies. One very important aspect of the review of qualifications is the question how we can arrive at a more comprehensible and appropriate system of qualifications that will perhaps incorporate apprenticeship as well. At the moment, many youth training schemes are running parallel with apprenticeship schemes. There is certainly a need for rationalisation.
In his statement, the Secretary of State told us that the Government intend to devote substantial new resources to the second year of the YTS. I do not believe that that is really true. The figure for the first year was just over £100 million and for the second year it is £300 million. Those figures are derisory. When the right hon. Gentleman first talked about year one of the YTS, he used to speak of providing £1 billion. Now that we have reached year two, instead of speaking of another billion pounds, the right hon. Gentleman wants to have two years of YTS for £1 billion. That is not sufficient. Last week the Select Committee took evidence from the CBI. The YTS is a voluntary scheme — voluntary for employers too. The employers were very worried about the very small sums of money being provided by the Government.The Government can spend billions of pounds on fighting the miners, and billions on the Falkland Islands. We want billions of pounds to be spent on educating Britain's younger generation. A realistic allowance must be made, to guard against charges of cheap labour. The right hon. Gentleman must do the job properly. He is not devoting sufficient resources to it.
The House will note that the hon. Gentleman describes as derisory the sum of £1·1 billion, the amount that we propose to devote to the youth training scheme when it is running. The hon. Gentleman says that he has received evidence that some employers may be concerned about the contribution that they have to make. That is exactly the point that was made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). Of course difficult decisions have to take place. We must ensure that people understand the importance of the matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will support us in ensuring that they do.
Will my right hon. friend consider the idea of including in the training some course in basic economics? If it was pointed out that jobs are produced by customers, markets and competitive service and not by Governments, young people would not grow up to share the tunnel vision from which the Opposition suffer.
Almost the most unpleasant aspect of the campaign being launched by the Labour party is a postcard bearing the slogan "Gissa job". To suggest that jobs are in the gift of Governments, without any contribution or effort on the part of the person concerned, is to encourage the worst possible attitude. The Government have a clear responsibility, but we will not succeed unless our contribution and responsibility are matched by the determination of the individual himself—for instance, to train in order to improve his qualifications—and by a contribution from the whole of industry.
In relation to basic economics, what does the right hon Gentleman have in mind—will he insist on Pigou Keynes, Adam Smith, Ricardo, Karl Marx or Marshall? How many real jobs will we get on Merseyside as a result of this scheme? How many people will be taken into training on decent incomes —or, as some people are suggesting, is the Secretary of State all bark and no bite?
That is the most extraordinary supplementary question to be asked the day after the Labour party produced a paper which carefully avoided saying how many jobs Labour's policies would provide on Merseyside. The expansion and development of YTS will enormously improve the chance of young people to equip themselves for work, including some who need it most. The expansion of the community programme will significantly help a number of the long-term unemployed. The growth in the economy is now at last creating more jobs. Those factors offer a better prospect than we have had for a long time for employment in Merseyside and elsewhere.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in regard to adult training, what matters is not whether the building is called a skillcentre, a technical college or a college of further education, but the quality, quantity and cost-effectiveness of the training? Does he further agree that, unless British employers start to take the lead in training, British industry will follow behind our competitors?
I know, as will the House, the close interest that my hon. Friend takes in these matters. He is correct. We must ensure that resources are used as effectively as possible. That is true whoever is responsible for these matters. Resources must be used effectively in a rapidly changing world of skills. We must also ensure that everyone understands the importance of investment in training for the future.
Will the Secretary of State now admit that, in areas such as the north-east, placement in work of youngsters after YTS is not the 60 per cent., 70 per cent or 95 per cent. that he mentioned, but only 33⅓ per cent? No wonder they grow cynical about his scheme. Will he also admit that, until employers contribute to the scheme as has been suggested, there is no chance of it succeeding? The careers service in County Durham is deeply sceptical that employers are capable of making the type of response that the right hon. Gentleman will need.
A couple of times in the past month I have been close to some of the places that the hon. Gentleman has described. I have seen the difficult problems in the north-east. There is no wand to be waved, and anyone who pretends that there is is committing a cruel deceit. I believe —and I hope the hon. Gentleman will ensure—that, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, young people realise that, in spite of the hostile and thoroughly unhelpful propaganda that some choose to put about, YTS offers a good opportunity to get a start. No, I cannot guarantee everybody a job at the end of the scheme, but I can guarantee, as is evidenced in the north-east, that young people have twice as good a prospect of a job if they have been on YTS.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that his excellent proposals for the extension of YTS could be more effective still if the scheme could build on a more broadly based framework of vocational training in schools?
Our exchanges have tended to concentrate on YTS, but the development of the imaginative technical and vocational education initiative is extremely important. Those who have had a chance to see these new courses in action realise that they are a major change and are here to stay.
On the second White Paper, the Secretary of State mentioned "this country". Can he confirm that that means Great Britain? He also mentioned consultation with the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Minister without Portfolio. How was the Secretary of State for Scotland consulted in the preparation of the White Paper? Is any separate statement being made on the implications for Scotland, especially the Scottish education system, which, as he knows, is different from that south of the border?
The hon. Member will find the references. The situation is different. In this case, the proposals are in an England and Wales context because of the differences in the Scottish educational system. The hon. Member knows better than I the differences in relation to integration and qualification. However, the first White Paper, on employment, to which I referred covers the whole of Great Britain.
In welcoming the proposals that my right hon. Friend has set out today, may I urge him to reject emphatically the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that the allowance paid to somebody who is undergoing training should be the same as the wage that is paid to a person who is doing a job of work? Will he agree with me that, whatever the situation may be today, the decline in traditional apprenticeships began precisely because the trade union movement insisted upon narrowing the gap between the wages paid to apprentices and those paid to working men, which meant that it was no longer worth while for employers to invest in that type of training?
My hon. Friend is quite correct. As we are quoting international comparisons, one of the very striking differences is the difference between what is expected by those under 18 in this country and what they expect in such countries as Germany, where there is a much greater acceptance of the training allowance approach. It is highly significant that there is a great deal more training in Germany.
Does the Secretary of State not yet know that those who are most hostile to youth training schemes are the young people who have been on them, as the Prime Minister found out last Tuesday? May I remind the Secretary of State that on the very day that those 25 unemployed young people from my constituency visited the Prime Minister, there were no more than 10 vacancies for young people in the entire town of Kirkby? As a result of this statement and two White Papers, how many new jobs will be created? Will the prospects for those young people continue to be blighted and destroyed? Never mind the 10,500 people who are unemployed in my constituency; when will the 25 who visited the Prime Minister last week get real, full-time jobs?
Many of the criticisms made of the youth training scheme by those who have been on it, and in a major article in a national newspaper, refer not to the youth training scheme at all but to the youth opportunities programme, which was started by the hon. Member and his hon. Friends. Overwhelmingly, however, the comments about YTS are favourable. They are not universally so, and it is a problem that the scheme does not always lead to full-time employment but instead to disillusion. All I know is that these measures, including those for youngsters who have been on YTS and who are now over 18, and the expansion of the community programme, including the training component, will help them at this difficult time. Of course they would prefer full-time jobs, but the whole House knows that this country, like the other countries in western Europe, is facing a serious problem of high unemployment.
It is important that both White Papers reflect the reality that in the end jobs depend upon supplying what the customer wants. In particular, will my right hon. Friend accept that it is very welcome that the youth training scheme is being developed into a second year, which will be particularly helpful to school leavers. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the youth training scheme is dovetailed into the present apprenticeship scheme?
The review of qualifications, which may have sounded to other hon. Members like a less interesting item, will, when they have read the White Paper and had a chance to see what is involved, be seen to be of fundamental significance. It is vital that we should put into operation the rationalisation of apprenticeships, together with the other training schemes. It is one of the objectives that we have in mind.
When will the Secretary of State realise that, without a policy of economic expansion, the two White Papers he has published constitute two legs of a three-legged stool? Secondly, will he give special help to those areas which have been the victims of industrial devastation over the last few years, where the skill base may have been diluted, in order to make sure that youngsters get the skills which are applicable to work?
Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the need for a strong and expanding economy. He will find that it is a central plank of the White Paper we have just published. This country is now embarking upon a fifth year of economic growth. It is likely to have the highest growth rate of any country in Europe. This country is likely to be the fastest creator of new jobs of any major country in western Europe. Of course that is the main platform upon which we have to build the expansion of employment opportunities in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that I fully recognise its importance.
Will my right hon. Friend examine after Easter, in the light of the forthcoming review of the wages councils, the overtime aspect? There has been the prospect this week of an industrial dispute in the Post Office. Is it not both immoral and uneconomic for people to work long-term overtime rather than cyclical overtime? Will my right hon. Friend examine this aspect in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that we may enter an area of real job creation?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think the whole House knows what a sensitive and difficult area this is. However, I gave the figures to the House earlier. It amounts to about 11·5 million hours a week, which is the equivalent of 600,000 full-time jobs. I know that it is not possible to make a straight conversion, but, in terms of part-time job release and the way in which we can work towards job-splitting schemes and the incorporation of regular overtime into those schemes, we may be able to find a way in which those who are in work contribute towards helping those who are without work.
Does the Secretary of State understand that many young people remain very suspicious of YTS? They believe that it is a cheap labour scheme, often with indifferent training being given, and that it is riddled with racial discrimination. Will the Secretary of State give a firm undertaking that he will never seek to make YTS compulsory? Will he also give a specific assurance that trainees in their second year will be given an increased allowance?
It is precisely that sort of comment, delivered in this House and then fed around the country, which has destroyed the opportunities for many young people. Last year, 20,000 young people who would have had the chance of training and work experience in good schemes which would have led to much better prospects of employment were put off by the comments of those who tried to score cheap political points. I have nothing but contempt for them.
I join those both inside and outside the House who will welcome this statement as evidence of the Government's increasing commitment to training as the one sure way to increase opportunities for our young people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are falling behind our competitors in information technology? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to persuade industry and commerce to make a greater commitment to information technology, through greater use and greater training?
One thing that strikes me about company reports of their financial affairs in their balance sheets and reports and accounts is that, although they depreciate their plant, machinery and buildings, it would be an excellent innovation if they depreciated the most important part of any business—the quality of the skills of their work force. I hope my hon. Friend understands that the work force is a vital investment. If it has been important in the past, it will become absolutely critical in the future because of the galloping pace of new technology.
The Minister is quite right. We have seen growth in Wales during the last six years—growth in long-term unemployment, from 27 per cent. in 1979 to 40 per cent. now. What does the Minister intend to do about it? Do the Government recognise the link between unemployment and health? According to medical research, thousands of people have died unnecessarily because of the Government's policy of creating unemployment. Does the Minister recognise that social factors are also linked to unemployment: that the rise in marital break-ups, in suicides and in child battering are the direct result of the policies of this Government? What does he propose to do about this?
In our assessment of the present position, the greatest areas of concern are clearly the prospects for young people and the long-term unemployed. For that reason, and because of the tragic human problems that accompany unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, the extension of training for young people and the doubling of adult training provision with more help for the long-term unemployed are the two central planks of the measures that I have announced.
I welcome both White Papers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they contrast strongly with "Labour's Jobs and Industry Campaign" which would restrict outward investment — although Japan, which has one of the lowest rates of unemployment and one of the most dynamic economies in the world, is now also the world's largest exporter of capital?
I do not wish at this stage to go into the fallacies and paradoxes of that document, which will no doubt engage us at a later date. In this country we live by our trade, which is a vital component in the success and strength of our economy. Our exports are expanding fast and if there is one thing we need like a hole in the head it is import controls.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the majority of young people leaving school or coming off the youth training scheme in my constituency still cannot find jobs and will regard with scepticism statements emanating from a Government whose only claim to fame is that for every week in office they have added 1,000 people to the dole queue?
I wonder how much that kind of effort really helps young people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency to find jobs. The hon. Gentleman might have used his breath to better effect in pointing out to them the opportunities that will come from expansion of the youth training scheme and in encouraging as many of them as possible to take those opportunities.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the voluntary sector is keen to play a full part in the drive against unemployment and that any steps that he can take to encourage the participation of voluntary organisations in the expanded community programme will be warmly welcomed?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I referred to that aspect in my speech in the Budget debate. I certainly hope that it will be possible to try some imaginative approaches to ways in which charities and the voluntary sector might be able to co-operate in the community programme in ways not so far possible. I believe that that could be a great help, especially for the long-term unemployed.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his belated statement on unemployment today, combined with the recent statement of the Minister without Portfolio, Lord UB40, and the Chancellor's Budget statement are clear evidence of the Government's Elastoplast approach to youth unemployment. The net cost of the £1,000 million allocated to these measures in the Budget is only £75 million when dole and supplementary benefit savings are deducted. Is that not clear evidence of the Tory policy of industrial conscription and reduced wages for young people through the YTS, when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has correctly pointed out that the allowance should be £38 per week to keep pace with the increase in the retail price index in the past seven years, or £40 per week to keep up with wages?Finally, in the document on employment issued last week the Secretary of State asserted that young people were pricing themselves out of jobs. Does he not recognise that since the Tories came to office school leavers' wages have fallen relative to adult wages by 8 per cent. for boys and 12 per cent. for girls while youth unemployment has trebled? Where is the connection between wages and allowances for young people and that rocketing rate of unemployment?
The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is no, Sir. The answer to his second question is also no, Sir.
That is absolutely pathetic.
Despite the sniping and carping of the Opposition spokesman on employment, may I say on behalf of my hon. Friends and the country that we welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement as providng real hope for the youth of today? Will he confirm that all careers teachers will be properly trained to encourage young people to go into the youth training scheme and not to regard it as a stigma as the scheme provides real hope for them, in contrast to the Labour party's "gissa job" policy which everyone is expected to pay for and from which no one will benefit in terms of lasting employment?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his positive approach. The trouble with Labour Members is that they get hung up between claiming that something is really their own policy and taking every opportunity to snipe at developments which in their more rational moments they should agree constitute a major step forward for which many people in the House have called for a long time and which could offer much better prospects for young people and the long-term unemployed.
Is it not lime that the Secretary of State went back to school and learnt something about the three Rs — rhetoric, reality and resources — and the difference between them? The rhetoric of the White Paper talks of investment in training and coherence in education and training provision but in reality the Government have dismantled the national training system and the industrial training boards, cut back the skillcentres and destroyed the apprenticeship system so that there is now less adult provision and less high quality training for young people than there was in 1979?Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that the emerging problem of skill shortages is of the Government's own making and that despite the rhetoric about skills and qualifications for young people the reality is that the Government are preparing young people for low-tech and no-tech jobs with low skills and a low-waged future? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware—
Order. It is for me to say things like that.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about coherent provision, but are not the 16 to 19-year-olds, the A-level and higher education students, also entitled to coherence, or is he intent on reintroducing the 11-plus by the back door so that the GCSE will be the new 11-plus, dividing quality education for some from low-tech, low-skill education for others?
In the kindest possible way, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that that was a most extraordinary collection of comments. As I still had some faith in the hon. Gentleman, I hoped that he might be able, albeit grudgingly, to express on behalf of the Opposition a warm welcome for this measure. I am sorry that he was not able to do so, but I hope that in the fulness of time the merits of my announcements will be recognised.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand the procedures of the House, it is usual to apply before lunch for an emergency debate. I seek your guidance on whether it is possible for me to apply now for an emergency debate on youth unemployment in view of the pathetic answers given by the Secretary of State for unemployment and the cavalier way in which he has treated serious criticisms of his statement. The support that the Secretary of State received from Conservative Members for the answers that he has given—people for whom one job and one income is insufficient—and his statement to youngsters on £26·25 a week that they are pricing themselves out of jobs, demand that the House today set aside all other business to discuss fully the statement and the documents which the Secretary of State for Employment has just introduced.
It is not possible for the hon. Gentleman to make a Standing Order No. 10 application today on this matter. The White Paper was published, I think, two or three days ago.
What has that to do with it?
The hon. Gentleman will have to find other opportunities to seek to debate the matter, which I am sure will occur.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order on an altogether more esoteric subject than that of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). You will have seen on the court page of The Times today, at the head of the list of birthdays being celebrated this day, the announcement of the 60th birthday of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).Last night I tried to table an early-day motion pointing out the significance of this event, and particularly highlighting the outstanding loyalty and unswerving devotion to the cause of his party and to his Leader that he has evidenced recently. The Clerk refused to accept the early-day motion on the grounds that it was tendered in a spirit of mockery. [Interruption.] It was not tendered in a spirit of mockery. I am not suggesting that the Officers of the House should in any way be making a judgment about the right hon. Gentleman's loyalty, but how would it be possible for the whole House to celebrate, as it would wish, this great moment and to express its satisfaction and gratification that this important milestone should have been reached?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Well, we have a very busy day.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not an abuse of procedures of the House that on a day on which a statement has been made purporting to deal with the question of youth unemployment in the country the matter should be so trivialised by that rubbish over there?
It is very nearly Easter.The reason why the early-day motion of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) was declined was that it was tendered in what was judged to be a spirit of mockery and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not part of our conventions. I am sure that he will find other methods of celebrating this great occasion.
I hope to bring the House back to some sort of sanity by making a Standing Order No. 10 application.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 appreciate that I have first to convince you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter raised is specific, important and urgent, and that you tend to assist Back Benchers with a problem. It is, therefore, with a great deal of optimism that I ask you to grant the application. You are only too well aware of the 13 months of arguments on the colliery closure issue during the miners' strike, and so will know that the matter is undoubtedly specific. On the issue of importance, again you have heard the multifarious arguments for and against, and so will know the importance of the matter. The fight was not for wages, holidays or any other advantages of that nature, but for jobs and communities, and the importance of the decision by the NCB to close collieries cannot be stressed too strongly. In my constituency of Ogmore, the colliery suggested for immediate closure is the St. John's colliery in Maesteg. It employs 869 colliers, and is the last pit in the Llynfi valley. If the pit is closed, the male unemployment rate in Maesteg will escalate to some 45 to 50 per cent. It is 24 per cent. already, with a community population of some 24,000. Another colliery in my constituency which is under close scrutiny and consideration for closure is the Garw colliery in the Garw valley, employing 650 miners. That colliery is the last one in the Garw valley. I stress the urgency because of my experience when I made an application under Standing Order No. 9, as it then was, regarding the closure of the Wyndham western colliery, which, incidentally, was the last pit in the Ogmore valley. My request was made prior to the Christmas recess and, before the House returned, the colliery was closed on 7 January. This was done without negotiated agreements, agreed procedures and consultations that we are informed should take place. That is similar to what has happened in recent days in the Bedwas colliery in Caerphilly. Therefore, it is without reservation that I stress the urgency of the need for the House to be afforded time to debate this issue. Knowing the attitude of the NCB chairman—the cuckoo in the nest for the Government—I would not feel safe eating my Easter egg in the short recess with MacGregor let loose with his chopper, and 1,500 jobs in my constituency at risk. There are a number of other reasons why the matter is urgent, but they have been outlined in previous debates, and the House knows only too well what they are. The most important matter that I ask you to consider, Mr. Speaker, is that, now the dispute is over, in the interests of the country, the communities and the people whom we here represent, Parliament should debate this to ensure that the NACODS agreement made in October last year, which avoided the escalation of the dispute, is now honoured by the Government. It is for Parliament to debate the issue of escalating unemployment caused by colliery closures. It is for Parliament to debate the plight of communities when the main source of economic survival is taken away. I make the application for all those reasons, including the closure of Bedwas, St. John's, Garw and 10 others in Wales and many others in Scotland and Yorkshire. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will explain their regional problems in detail if the application is granted. If one checks the number of jobs at risk, it could well exceed the 70,000 mentioned by MacGregor in March last year. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, in the interest of the thousands who endured 12 months without wages and who suffered in many other ways in fighting to retain their collieries, their jobs, their dignity and their communities, to grant the application under Standing Order No. 10 for a debate to take place before the House rises for the Easter recess."the announced decision of the National Coal Board to close certain collieries in south Wales and elsewhere."
The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
I well understand the concern of the hon. Gentleman. He knows that the only decision that I have to take is whether to give the matter precedence over the Orders set down for today or for tomorrow. I have listened to what he has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10 and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House."the announced decision of the National Coal Board to close certain collieries in south Wales and elsewhere."
I do not wish in any way to contradict the decision that you have made, Mr. Speaker. However, in view of the seriousness of the situation, which could deteriorate, there is widespread concern not only about pits in south Wales but about pits in Scotland and in parts of England. If, during the Easter recess, the situation deteriorated, would it be in order for the Opposition to communicate with you about the seriousness of the position?
That would be absolutely in order.
Trade Union Act 1984 (Amendment)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Trade Union Act 1984 to replace contracting out with contracting in to trade unions' political funds.
It has stood the test of time.
When the House considered the Trade Union Bill a year ago, it failed to deal adequately with one of the features of trade union law that has fallen most into disrepute—the system by which many trade unions are assumed to be willing to pay a political levy to the Labour party unless they take active steps to contract out of that levy. My Bill seeks to put right that omission by making subscription to political funds dependent upon contracting in — [Interruption] —so that every trade unionist who contributed to a political fund would be doing so with his own explicit consent. That basic principle seems so eminently reasonable — [Interruption]— that anyone unfamiliar with the background to the issue, or, indeed, unfamiliar with the Labour Members who seek to deny me a hearing, would expect it to be accepted in the House without question or dissent. I shall refer to that background in a moment.My Bill also includes another provision designed to improve the 1984 Act by ensuring that the ballots that are about to take place in the unions on the whole principle of having political funds are counted independently. Several unions already use independent counting facilities for internal elections and ballots, but some do not, and there have been some rare but appalling examples in previous years of interference with ballots. Fresh allegations of that sort have come to light recently in relation to the Transport and General Workers Union and have led my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) to call for a Trades Union Congress inquiry. It is clearly desirable that the political fund ballots, in which there is much money at stake, should be seen to be independently counted. The main provisions in my Bill, which concern contracting out of the political levy, are also relevant to the current round of ballots. If my Bill were passed and political funds became genuinely voluntary, the argument for voting no in the ballots would not be so strong. As long as the political levy is a way of exacting involuntary donations for a political party from people who do not support that party, any trade unionist who wants to preserve his right to decide what political use is made of his own money has no alternative but to vote against the political funds. That is what will happen in several unions, and that is why the Labour party is campaigning to save the political funds. The theory is that it will be a softly, softly campaign—unless the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) get in on the act—
I have done.
There will be no mention of the fact that the real destination of the political funds is the Labour party. If Labour Members supported my Bill, it would be a different story. Many trade unionists who will vote against the present Labour levy might be persuaded to accept that their union could have a political fund if that fund was genuinely voluntary.Some argue that since it is possible to contract out under the present law and should be easier to do so under the new TUC statement of guidance, the system is really voluntary. If it is, what are Labour Members worried about? The change to contracting in should not make any difference. The figures tell a different story. In two of the largest unions, the TGWU and the National Union of Public Employees, 98 per cent. of members pay the political levy. In the last election just over a quarter of the electorate voted for the Labour party. That makes it unlikely that even half of TGWU members voted for the party to which they are contributing on a supposedly voluntary basis. That 98 per cent. figure has all the ring of a Soviet Union election. What is more, the MORI — "Union World" poll showed that at least half the members of NUPE and TGWU were against having a political fund at all. It is obvious that the practical obstacles to opting out and the fear of being singled out in the branch or workplace lead to far more people paying the levy than would choose to do so. On the question of principle, as the Government's 1983 White Paper put it:
The Government have not followed through that logic. I believe that my proposal will be widely supported by members of trade unions because it is part of the process of getting the unions back under the members' control. It will help to focus the attention of trade union leaders on the need to put the case on behalf of their members to politicians of all parties instead of concentrating on affiliating Labour party conference votes by the million and writing the cheques for Labour's election campaign. However, there are also good reasons why a thoughtful Labour supporter should support my Bill. There have been a few within the Labour party who have questioned the desirability of the financial hold that the unions have over their party, and who have questioned the ability of trade union leaders to wield votes by the million at Labour party conferences. Labour Members might also reflect that with truly voluntary funds at least some union money might come their way, whereas under the present arrangements it is all or nothing. I think that many union members would vote not to have the funds at all. Perhaps most interesting of all will be the attitude of Conservative Members to my Bill. During the passage of the 1984 Bill, just over 40 of their number stood firm and voted for the voluntary principle of contracting in. However, Ministers trooped through the Lobby with the Labour party to hang on to the contracting out system that they had so long criticised. Why? There are two reasons, which are well summarised in The Guardian:"It is objectionable in principle that anyone should have to indicate his dissent from the political alignment of his union to avoid contributing to political activities or to a political party to which he is opposed."
The other reason that is advanced is that"The Conservatives … are playing a cool and surprisingly 'clever clever' game. Their aim is to weaken Labour but not to destroy it. For destroying Labour would turn the Alliance into the main party opposition."
On the second issue, that of company donations, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) could help us. I do not see why we could not work as a partnership. He has before the House a Bill designed to regulate company donations to political parties. I am happy to support his Bill and I believe that he should be happy to support mine. They would work together. It is a good pair of measures. The hon. Gentleman should do that instead of opposing my Bill. However, when it comes to the desire of some Conservatives to protect, feather-bed and prop up the Labour party, there can be no doubt that that was the motive that led Ministers to oppose their Conservative colleagues and join Labour in the Lobby. What they are thinking is: better the devil they know, and know cannot win, than the devil they really fear can beat them. [Interruption.] Labour Members can laugh, but the same feeling underlies today's announcement that six Conservative and five Labour peers and one alliance peer are to be appointed. It is the same thing. Conservatives are saying, "For heaven's sake, help poor Neil out and prop up the Labour party a little longer". I invite Conservatives to put aside those considerations and vote for what they believe — that union political contributions should be on a genuinely voluntary basis. Those who join us in the Lobby to support that principle will be supporting the best interests of trade unions and the health of British politics. Those who oppose us will be those who want to freeze British politics in the pattern of half a century ago, without regard to the wishes of the people."the Conservatives do not want to draw attention to their own, equally undemocratic source of finance —company cheques doled out at the whim of company chairmen and company boards, (No question of shareholders' ballots …)."
Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the Bill?
Yes.The speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) will rate high in terms of hypocrisy. When one looks at Social Democratic party members, one sees people who have accepted donations from political trade union funds. Now they seek to move in an alternative direction. Later I shall refer to the attempts of the Liberal party to seek funds from trade unions. I should like to hear their reaction to that. The hon. Gentleman's proposition depends on two arguments. First, the argument goes that trade unionists are not allowed to opt out of paying the political levy. The hon. Gentleman said that it was involuntary; he said that there is a compulsory political levy. I wonder how far one can stretch reality. The truth is that over 2 million trade unionists opt out of paying the political levy. Therefore, those who opt out of paying the political levy are no secret society. They are no exclusive group of people. They are widely advertised. Let us look at the evidence — [Interruption.] Alliance Members do not agree with democracy because they are not prepared to listen to the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the public saw this display, they would realise why certain people left the Labour party. We do not tolerate such tactics. The argument about people not having the right to opt out has been considered on several occasions. For example, the Donovan Commission in the 1960s, the most thorough piece of research into industrial relations, came up with the conclusion that there was no evidence that people were forced to pay the political levy if they did not want to. At that stage only 1 million were opting out; now the figure is more than 2 million. We have had many occasions such as this when people have come forward with this argument and one innuendo and one smear after another, but no concrete evidence. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to bring concrete evidence. In front of the Employment Select Committee two years ago, the director general of the Engineering Employers' Federation, Dr. James McFarlane — not, I suspect, a supporter of the Labour party — said that he would provide the Select Committee with evidence. When he was challenged on the point, he replied that he had
I think that what we have heard from the hon. Gentleman in his speech this afternoon is exactly the same — not anything that could be called evidence. It is typical of the Members of the alliance that they run a smear a day without providing any policy or any information. As the first proposition falls, so does the second. The hon. Gentleman says that more people pay the political levy than vote Labour. We recognise that fact. We also recognise the fact that according to the latest opinion polls more than half the trade unionists intend to vote Labour at the next election. But we recognise too—and it is about time that the alliance did so—that political funds are not used just for affiliation to the Labour party; they are also used for political campaigning by trade unionists. If the hon. Gentleman had quoted other figures from the MORI poll he would have seen that the overwhelming majority of trade unionists support the right of the trade union to organise political campaigns. The hon. Gentleman wants to stop that happening. The hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the £3 million a year that the Conservative party receives in company political donations — without a ballot and without the shareholders having the right to opt out. He then very kindly referred to my own Bill and said that we could form a partnership, and that he was prepared to support my Bill. May I let the House into a secret before we do the deal? When I introduced the Bill on a Friday in February I looked around and did not see one member of the alliance in the Chamber. That is the sort of support that I would get from them. When it comes to voting against company donations to the Tory party and some donations that members of the alliance may want to benefit from, they are not here. They were not here on that occasion. So the evidence suggests that we have a one-sided case from the Liberals. I want to refer again to the Liberals' attempts to get money from trade union organisations. I am lucky enough to have a letter in my possession addressed to the general secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union. It is dated 13 June 1969—[Interruption.] Members of the alliance might want to listen to this. It was written by the then Member of Parliament for Cornwall, North, Mr. John Pardoe, and it still has relevance, because the leader of the Liberal party was a member of the parliamentary Liberal party at that stage and presumably supported the sending of this letter, from which I shall quote one or two sections:"Not anything that I think you would recognise as evidence".
The letter then goes on to say—and this is certainly true if this afternoon's performance is anything to go by:"The time has come to resurrect those links which bound many of the early Trade Unionists to the Liberal party so that we can work more closely together."
It is interesting, is it not, that in 1969 the begging bowl was going round to trade unions? I suspect that if the Liberals could get a penny in the begging bowl now this Bill would not be here. The reality is that trade unions have rejected the Liberal party, although companies may support it as an alternative capitalist party. We have had from the alliance this afternoon a typical exhibition of an excess of hypocrisy and opportunism. By contrast, the letter shows a lack of consistent principle. A party that can beg the unions for money at one stage and then try to cut off contributions at another is not worth further consideration, and I hope that the House will reject the Bill."I have to admit that many Liberals are deplorably ignorant of the workings of the Trades Union Movement … This ignorance is largely a result of the lack of a full-time Industrial Relations Officer within the Party organisation. This in its turn has been due to lack of cash and I should like to suggest that your Union might contribute to the cost of a Trade Union Liaison Department at Liberal Party Headquarters."
The House divided: Ayes 68, Noes 139.
Division No. 181]
|Aspinwall, Jack||Kennedy, Charles|
|Batiste, Spencer||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Beith, A. J.||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Best, Keith||Lilley, Peter|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||McCusker, Harold|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Maclennan, Robert|
|Blackburn, John||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Body, Richard||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Neale, Gerrard|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Osborn, Sir John|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Penhaligon, David|
|Chapman, Sydney||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Conway, Derek||Spence, John|
|Cormack, Patrick||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Farr, Sir John||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Forth, Eric||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Fry, Peter||Wainwright, R.|
|Galley, Roy||Walden, George|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Wallace, James|
|Gorst, John||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Hancock, Mr. Michael||Wolfson, Mark|
|Harvey, Robert||Wood, Timothy|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Yeo, Tim|
|Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Johnston, Russell||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Mr. John Cartwright and|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Mr. Archy Kirkwood.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Barnett, Guy|
|Anderson, Donald||Barron, Kevin|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Benn, Tony|
|Ashton, Joe||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Boothroyd, Miss Betty|
|Boyes, Roland||Litherland, Robert|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Loyden, Edward|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Buchan, Norman||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Caborn, Richard||McKelvey, William|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||McTaggart, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||McWilliam, John|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Madden, Max|
|Clarke, Thomas||Marek, Dr John|
|Clay, Robert||Martin, Michael|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Maxton, John|
|Cohen, Harry||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Coleman, Donald||Meacher, Michael|
|Conlan, Bernard||Michie, William|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Miller, DrM. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Corbett, Robin||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe,|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Nellist, David|
|Cowans, Harry||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Craigen, J. M.||O'Brien, William|
|Crowther, Stan||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Park, George|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Parry, Robert|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Patchett, Terry|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Deakins, Eric||Pike, Peter|
|Dixon, Donald||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Dormand, Jack||Prescott, John|
|Dubs, Alfred||Radice, Giles|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Randall, Stuart|
|Eadie, Alex||Redmond, M.|
|Eastham, Ken||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Fatchett, Derek||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Robertson, George|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Rowlands, Ted|
|Flannery, Martin||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Forrester, John||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Foster, Derek||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Garrett, W. E.||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Soley, Clive|
|Hardy, Peter||Spearing, Nigel|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Strang, Gavin|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Straw, Jack|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth,)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Home Robertson, John||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Tinn, James|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Torney, Tom|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Hume, John||Wareing, Robert|
|John, Brynmor||Weetch, Ken|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Welsh, Michael|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Lamond, James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Leighton, Ronald||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Mr. David Winnick.|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
Question accordingly negatived.
Orders Of The Day
Interception Of Communications Bill
Considered in Committee [Progress 2 April].
[MR. ERNEST ARMSTRONG in the Chair]