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Commons Chamber

Volume 81: debated on Monday 24 June 1985

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House Of Commons

Monday 24 June 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Nuclear Power Stations


asked the Secretary of State for Energy how many additional nuclear power stations he expects to be commissioned between 1985 and 2000.

The ordering of nuclear power stations by the CEGB beyond those currently under construction cannot be considered until after the outcome of the Sizewell inquiry.

Is that all the Minister can say, when yesterday's newspapers reported that the CEGB had dusted off its plans to build another 12 nuclear power stations before the end of the century, including, of course, one at Druridge bay, Northumberland'? Is the Secretary of State planning to halve the country's dependence upon coal for energy purposes, and if so, why; or is he making the same exaggerated assumptions about energy demand as were fashionable when the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was Secretary of State for Energy?

The number of stations will depend upon a range of factors, including the future level of electricity demand. The CEGB has stated that it does not intend to make applications for new power stations, nuclear or otherwise, before the outcome of the Sizewell inquiry is known. I understand that the CEGB has said that should it receive consent to construct Sizewell B, it would, subject to obtaining consent, wish to complete several PWRs before the end of the century. My right hon. Friend will consider any such applications on their merits at the time.

If more PWR stations are to be built, does my hon. Friend imagine that the inquiries that will have to be held before each of those reactors is built will be as long as the Sizewell inquiry, or will some abbreviated form of inquiry be possible?

The terms of reference for any future inquiry will be set in the light of circumstances prevailing at the time.

What is the Government's view about a safe or acceptable level of radiation exposure for the public, and how will that level be affected by the type of building programme for nuclear power stations that the Minister has discussed?

The Government attach the highest possible importance to nuclear safety, and any planning applications will be subject to the necessary consents.

Is my hon. Friend aware that electricity is considerably cheaper in France, which is substantially dependent on nuclear energy? Does he therefore agree that anyone interested in cheaper energy prices for pensioners and other low-income groups should welcome an expansion of Great Britain's nuclear energy programme?

Colliery Closures, Yorkshire


asked the Secretary' of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, he will discuss the proposed colliery' closures in Yorkshire.

Individual closures are a matter for the National Coal Board in consultation with the mining unions.

I am pleased that the NCB is considering having consultations with the mining unions on closures. More than 95,000 people are unemployed in South Yorkshire at present, and the NCB proposes to get rid of job opportunities for another 10,000 people. How many jobs does the Minister think that NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. will create in South Yorkshire to try to stem that ever-increasing tide of unemployment?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the role of NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. is vital. The number of jobs created will depend upon the circumstances at the time and the number of applications, but I know that there is good will on both sides of the House for the vital work of that strategic organisation.

Is the Minister aware that of the 10,000 job losses that have been announced in Yorkshire since the strike ended, 3,000 are in Barnsley and district? With the knock-on effects, that will bring the unemployment rate in my area to 21·5 per cent. That is a ruthless pace of change and the local authorities cannot create sufficient jobs to neutralise such job losses. Is the hon. Gentleman further aware of the existence of the coalfield communities campaign, in which 54 local authorities, representing 16 million people, have banded together to try to create jobs in coal mining communities? What are the Government and the National Coal Board prepared to do to help?

As I said in reply to the previous question, it is vital that NCB (Enterprise) Ltd. should have good will on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend and I look forward to discussing these important issues with the coalfield communities campaign.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition would have done better to address themselves to the question of where the blame lies for all the unemployment and trouble? It lies with the president of the NUM?

It is vital that the House should appreciate the significance of that comment. I believe that the coal industry in Yorkshire has a very good future. It has a marvellous showcase in the Selby coalfield, which, thanks to record investment by this Government, illustrates how one can harness new technology to create low-cost high outputs. That is the great future in Yorkshire.

Of course it is, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Under-Secretary of State satisfied with the machinery for operating the colliery review procedure in the case of the threatened closure of a pit? Is the hon. Gentleman aware—I shall be most interested in his views—that the colliery review procedure is a farce? It contravenes every rule of judicial impartiality. The decision to be made in respect of a proposed colliery review procedure — [HON. MEMBERS: "In Yorkshire."] in Yorkshire or anywhere else—may be pre-empted because the regional director of the NCB can so manipulate affairs that the procedure does not operate fairly. For example, the regional director can empty a pit of men, as he has done at Bates' colliery in Northumberland.

I believe that there is a very good existing colliery review procedure. I am pleased with what I believe to be a reasonable offer put by the NCB to the three unions concerned, thereby improving that procedure and fulfilling the agreement reached last October with NACODS. I hope that the modified procedure will be put in place as quickly as possible.

Tuc Fuel And Power Industries Committee


asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the members of the Trades Union Congress fuel and power industries committee; and what was discussed.

I met members of the committee on 27 February to discuss oil refining policy.

In view of the enormous importance of the energy sector to the whole of British industry and to domestic users, will the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues discuss with the TUC the contribution which the different sectors of the energy industry can make towards reducing costs and improving efficiency, thereby helping the competitiveness of British industry?

The TUC committee requested a discussion on the refining industry. We had a very good meeting on that subject. Energy as a whole is extremely important, not only to British industry, but to the economy.

Coal Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the reduction in the level of output, manning and number of pits in the British coal industry since the end of the dispute in the industry.

Since the end of the strike, production has recovered well in most areas. I understand that coal deliveries last week were over 2·5 million tonnes, the highest for five years.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give some indication of coal imports? Will he give me an assurance about investment in the Comrie colliery in Fife and the Longannet complex? Will he also comment on morale in the industry, especially in Scotland where 203 men who were dismissed during the strike have not been re-employed because of the obduracy and bone-headedness of the NCB chairman?

I think that morale in the industry would have been adversely affected by some of the violence displayed in Scotland. Obviously, such a dispute will have certain effects. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about investment in the colliery to which he referred.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is crucial for the NCB to move from high-cost to low-cost capacity, and that an important contribution to that change will be the speedy implementation of the plans for the south Warwickshire prospect?

I believe that a general welcome has been given to the fact that in south Warwickshire there is potential for a very heavy investment programme and production of coal at low cost. That is certainly important to the industry's future.

I remind the Secretary of State that the purpose of the coal mining dispute was primarily to fight against pit closures. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the NCB has already announced the closure of St. John's colliery in Maesteg? Three weeks ago, I asked the rigt hon. Gentleman whether he would set up an inquiry to ascertain why that colliery would be closed and whether he would give me some details. I remind him that on Saturday I attended the last function of the mining apprentices club in mid-Glamorgan. That club, which was established 15 years ago, has had to be wound up because it no longer has sufficient apprentices.

At regional level, I know that the proposals for Wales are being discussed among the unions. The modified pit closure procedure that has been suggested by the NCB will be raised in further discussions with those unions. Any closure will be fully looked at, if necessary by an independent group, before any final decision is made.

Why should my right hon. Friend have to talk about reductions in coal output when it was Scargill who caused such reductions? Should not my right hon. Friend congratulate pits, such as the Leicestershire coal mines, on their excellent output and good manning levels? Will he join me in criticising what the Select Committee on Employment has done? That Select Committee, and no one else, has diminished morale in the industry. We should be encouraging our miners to get on with the job of producing more coal.

In my reply I said that production in most parts of the country is fast returning to normal levels, and in some areas it is at very high levels. The fact that more coal was moved last week than at any time for five years is another reflection on the fact that the industry needs encouragement and that some people should not take the attitude that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had about a new "Plan for Coal"? He will be aware that the present plan runs out this year. Does he agree that if we are looking to the future of the industry there should be an overall plan, which could be agreed between the unions, the Government and the NCB?

Yes. I gather that in that sphere the board is preparing views to put to the unions. There will be a meeting with the unions to discuss in principle what is required for a plan that will produce coal at the right price to take full advantage of the market opportunities and of the high investment that has gone into that industry. Therefore, I believe that talks will take place along the lines that the right hon. Gentleman envisages.

Ec Energy Policy


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he is satisfied with progress towards the development of a European Community energy policy.

Does my hon. Friend realise that some of us feel that progress has been disappointingly slow so far? Do the Government intend to take any initiative to try to speed up progress in achieving such a policy?

I note my hon. Friend's view. Community energy objectives provide a framework for national energy programmes and actions. This country's policies have made a major contribution to improving the Community's energy position. We share the Commission's view that we need to continue with effective policies for the future.

Will the Minister confirm reports that the French authorities have offered to provide cheaper electricity by cable to the United Kingdom? If so, what is the Government's response?

The Central Electricity Generating Board and EDF have agreed to construct a 2,000 MW cross-Channel link. The first half will be available later this year, and the second half a year later. The CEGB has agreed with EDF the commercial arrangements for the operation of the first half of the link during the first two years. There are no agreements covering the period after that.

Could my hon. Friend translate into one of the European languages what he means by "progress"? How much progress, how much cost and how long?

I understand that the rules of the House forbid me to translate into foreign languages.

The Minister might try Welsh, and he might get away with it. Is he aware that the Secretary of State has given repeated assurances that he will not allow the Commission to interfere in the financing and subsidising of the national coal industry in the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that there is an attempt to dilute the national veto over several areas in the EEC context which are to be discussed in the next few weeks? Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that it will remain the right of our Government to decide on the subsidising and financing of the National Coal Board?

Yes, Sir. No Commission proposals have been received yet, although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, new Community legislation will be required by the end of the year to regulate national aids for coal. Otherwise, they would breach the European Coal and Steel Community treaty. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already told Commissioner Mosar that the proposals will have to reflect the interests of the major coal-producing member states. Energy programmes carried out under article 235 require unanimous Council agreement. The ECSC treaty contains provision for majority voting in some cases. However, any decision to replace the existing state aids regime would require Council unanimity.

Dismissed Miners (Scotland)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what discussions he has had with the chairman of the National Coal Board about the re-employment of dismissed National Union of Mineworkers' members in Scotland.

Of 9,808 miners arrested during the dispute, more than 7,000 were charged. Of the 5,653 cases so far dealt with, 4,318 were convicted. It is against those figures that one must recognise that 1,019 were dismissed. The board has been reviewing dismissal cases, and 414 miners who were dismissed have been reemployed. I have been assured by the chairman, as he assured the Select Committee on Employment, that area management is continuing the board's policy of reviewing dismissal cases.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This question relates specifically to Scotland. Why did the Secretary of State not answer it?

The facts, figures and the whole approach apply to Scotland in the same way as to everywhere else.

Order. Will the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) confine his question to Scotland, because I shall expect every other hon. Member who is called to do the same?

Is the Secretary of State aware that the decisions that have been taken in Scotland are outrageous, because, of 203 men who have been dismissed, not one has been reinstated? Is this not a matter of natural justice, as has been underlined by the all-party Select Committee report? What action is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take over Scottish miners who have been dismissed?

The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase "all-party Select Committee report". It is true that one Conservative Member agreed with parts of that report, but, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, that report has been widely condemned for having no— [Interruption.] A report which failed to deal completely with the violence that took place—[Interruption.] I assure the House that matters in Scotland are being reviewed on the same basis as elsewhere. Those cases will be carefully considered. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Opposition, will condemn the view, expressed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and by the leader of the NUM, that people who are convicted of violence should receive an amnesty.

Has not each Scottish miner who was sacked exactly the same right as sacked miners elsewhere to go to an industrial tribunal—[Interruption.] Is it not also a fact that in some parts of the country —[Interruption.]

Is it not also a fact that in some parts of the country sacked miners are being reinstated by industrial tribunals and that their rights are being upheld? Does not the unwillingness of the Scottish miners and others to go to court show that they are not interested in staying within the law or using it when it is to their benefit?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The NCB made it clear to the Select Committee that it will carefully consider any tribunal findings.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite what the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) said, sacked miners in Scotland do not apparently have the same rights as other miners in the United Kingdom? It is quite clear that the policy being pursued in Scotland is vicious and irrational compared with the policy being followed in other regions of the United Kingdom. People who did not support the strike, or were not fully behind it, now see that a totally vicious policy is being pursued in Scotland. If the Secretary of State takes no action, it will be clear that he is pursuing the same policy as the National Coal Board.

As the board has told the Select Committee, it is continuing to review all cases, including those in Scotland. Many people in Scotland who witnessed some of the events around Bilston Glen certainly believe that it is right that some of the miners involved should have been dismissed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Scotland and elsewhere the NUM thought that at the end of the dispute it could secure a general amnesty, as it succeeded in doing in 1972 and 1974, and, therefore, many miners were encouraged to participate in violence or intimidation, in the hope that they would have immunity in the short term and in the belief that they could secure an amnesty in the long term? Is it not extraordinary that in the middle of the 20th century anyone should argue that employers should be forced to retain or reinstate men who have burnt their buses, smashed their equipment and assaulted their staff? Is it not right to deal with such conduct through industrial tribunals? Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Select Committee, whatever else it said, could not bring itself to say that miners had been unfairly dismissed in the dispute?

The points made by my hon. Friend, who served on the Select Committee, are perfectly correct. Regarding the arguments about an amnesty, it is interesting that both the president of the NUM and the right hon. Member for Chesterfield have said that not only should an amnesty be given by the National Coal Board, but that if a Labour Government came to office an amnesty would be given for sentenced miners, no matter what they were sentenced for by the courts. So far we have no sign from the Leader of the Opposition that he disagrees with that view.

Will the Secretary of State pause and consider the question that was asked, which was specifically about Scotland? Two hundred and three men have been dismissed, and not one of those cases has been discussed by the board in Scotland with a view to re-engagement. I gave some information to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, but will the Secretary of State undertake to meet Scottish Members of Parliament and go through this issue and then meet the National Coal Board to ensure fairness and justice, because we are manifestly not getting that at present?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have never refused to meet Members of Parliament on any question, and I will always meet them.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of his Conservative colleagues feel strongly that he should not intervene in matters where miners have been dismissed in this way, and neither should Parliament? Does he accept that if the Select Committee's report, which was decided on the casting vote of the Chairman—and an Opposition Member at that—were put into effect by the House it would lead to the peculiarity of giving miners rights under the law which no other groups enjoy?

I am interested to know whether there is a similar desire by the Select Committee to investigate some of the ghastly instances of intimidation of working miners which took place.

Is it not the case that many of the individual decisions being taken by the board not to reinstate miners—Scotland is the worst affected, but other parts are also affected—will poison relations for weeks, months and perhaps years to come? Is it not also the case that the Secretary of State has the right to intervene? If so, why does he not do so?

The point is made clearly by the figures that I gave to the House. Of 5,653 convictions, slightly more than 1,000 were dismissed, and already 414 have been reinstated. Those figures show that careful consideration has been given.

British Gas


asked the Secretary of State for Energy whether he will make a statement on the expansion plans of British Gas prior to privatisation.

That reply was not particularly helpful.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what steps he intends to take to persuade British Gas to honour such commitments as it has entered into to expand services to rural areas, because there is a growing feeling in rural areas, especially among domestic consumers, that if they did not get gas prior to privatisation they will never get it?

My hon. Friend raises an important and sensitive issue, and I am glad to reassure him that the present obligations of the British Gas Corporation will be carried over to the new company.

North Sea Oilfields


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has about the cost of production of North sea oilfields recently brought on stream.

The average cost per barrel for fields which started production between 1980 and 1984 is estimated to be £9. The corresponding cost for fields now under development is £13.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reduction in oil prices and movements in the exchange rate will affect the profitability of those fields and that something must be done for them? Will he recommend mergers and the rationalisation of some small firms which have applied and been successful in the ninth round?

Of course if the price of oil falls that affects profitability. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on the figures that I have given. The price will have to fall a long way before the North sea becomes unprofitable.

Is the Minister aware that the future lies in enhanced oil recovery from existing fields? Since nothing was done this year to encourage that development, what urgent consideration is he giving to future proposals in this regard?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this matter was considered in the preparation for the Budget this year, and a case was not made out on the information presently available. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has invited the industry to reconsider its case, and has said that he will consider it when it is presented. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue.

Coal Mines (Ownership)


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his policy towards the sale of deep mines surplus to National Coal Board requirements to other operators; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received regarding the future ownership and structure of the coalmining industry; and if he will make a statement.

The Government have no plans to privatise the mining activities of the National Coal Board.

Just as launching other nationalised industries on the road to profitability was a precursor to privatisation, will the defeat of the Luddites in the NUM, and turning back the Coal Board from everlasting reliance on state subsidies, be a precursor to the gradual privatisation of pits? If not, why not?

The present losses and deficits in the industry are a great disadvantage to the country, to those who work in the industry and to its prospects. However, I hope that we shall find ways of giving NCB employees much more direct participation in the industry than they enjoy under nationalisation.

Is the Minister aware that the NUM and others in the mining communities will welcome his statement that neither he nor the Government have any intention of privatising the coal industry? However, since it is an important part of the work of the industry to improve industrial relations, does he accept that until he gets rid of Mr. MacGregor as the chairman of the NCB industrial relations will not improve to the point that we require?

At present, there are plenty of examples of co-operation and of pits going well. I gave the figures for the production and distribution of coal this week, and there are some encouraging signs. I do not wish to become involved in making judgments on any personalities. Mr. MacGregor's definition that the best future for the industry would be to have an expanding market with highly effective coal production as a result of high investment is the only sensible analysis of the future of the industry. I should have liked to give the hon. Gentleman a more helpful reply in his birthday week, but I regret that I cannot do so.

Does my right hon. Friend at least have plans to liberate opencast operations from the restrictive patronage of the NCB?

It is important that we take advantage of the opencast opportunities that exist. In some parts of the country, especially Scotland and Wales, such a step would be important for jobs.

Although I do not agree with the privatisation of the coal mining industry, does the Minister believe that selling surpluses will do any good? Presumably, the reason for closing collieries now is that the coal is surplus to requirements. What is the sense of selling them?

The sense is to produce coal in the future at a price at which the world wishes to buy it.

If approaches were made by other operators or by miners currently employed by the NCB to purchase NCB assets or to become involved in joint ventures with the NCB, would the Government stand in the way of an NCB decision to sell its assets?

The NCB is considering several such applications from miners. However, the matter is more complicated than it sounds, because I fear that the miners who have made applications in respect of the pits at which they work have not taken into their calculations the enormous investment that is required to maintain safety standards in pits. That is not a simple process. Any approach by miners will be considered by the National Coal Board and be regarded sympathetically by the Government.

British Gas


asked the Secretary of State for Energy what recent representations he has received regarding his proposals to privatise the British Gas Corporation.

I have received a number of representations from various organisations and individuals. I have also met the chairman of the National Gas Consumers Council and will be meeting representatives of unions.

Does the Secretary of State admit that the move towards privatisation of the British Gas Corporation arises out of political dogma and to help raise money that the Government need? Does he accept that the best interests of consumers and of safety will be served by leaving the corporation in public hands?

No. The move to privatise the British Gas Corporation will be good for consumers, employees and the country.

Has my right hon. Friend received any representations from the gas producers? Is he afraid that the monopoly position of British Gas might discourage exploration in the North sea, to the detriment of jobs in Britain?

I have received no such representations, but I can assure my hon. Friend that British Gas and the Government have a vested interest in encouraging the maximum development of the North sea. I can assure my hon. Friend that that will take place.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the country will not be able to judge whether the move will benefit anyone until we have seen the details of the proposals? Will the right hon. Gentleman publish the details long before legislation is brought before the House? In particular, will he tell the House on what principles gas prices will be fixed?

Of course we shall publish proposals in advance of legislation. Knowing the terrific mental application of the Social Democrats, I am sure that they will have no difficulty in formulating their view long before legislation is introduced.

Is it because of what my right hon. Friend has said that British Gas has taken space in the country's Left-wing magazines' colour supplements in the last fortnight?

I do not know whether one would describe The Economist and the Spectator as Left-wing magazines, but since British Gas advertise in them, too, a tolerable balance has been achieved.

Will not the proposals be good for Rothschild's as well? In view of the role that it played in Britoil and Amersham International, is this not another disgraceful appointment by the Government?

Rothschild's had its association with Waterloo, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's remarks will go the same way.

Coal Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, he will discuss the future development of the coal industry in Leicestershire.

I am aware of the National Coal Board's plans for the development of the coal industry in Leicestershire and expect to discuss them with the chairman of the board from time to time as they develop.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the development of the industry in Leicestershire is an admirable model for other parts of the country, with its high investment, high wages and high productivity? Does he agree also that the coal industry as a whole would do better to concentrate on a rosy future rather than on looking over its shoulder at the outworn ideas and outworn pits of the past?

My hon. Friend put the agument well. There is an exciting future for the industry in the area, with the movement towards low-cost, high productivity pits. I understand from the National Coal Board that work on the sinking of the shaft at Asfrodby will begin next month. Productivity at such pits is expected to reach five times the national average. That is good news for everyone connected with this great industry.

Is the Minister aware that high productivity and excellence in the coal mining industry in Leicestershire has not prevented what will be the devastation of that industry by the closing of a considerable number of pits and by saving only a few jobs as a result of opening the mine at Asfordby? Will the Minister promise that the remaining pits in the Vale of Belvoir will soon be open so that the production to which he refers can save the industry, not only in Leicestershire, but in the midlands, where it is so badly needed?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has his facts wrong. The numbers employed in the coal industry in that area will increase by the end of the century. I wish that the hon. and learned Gentleman would spend his time paying tribute to the miners in the south midlands area, who worked throughout the strike and showed their good sense and support for an industry that will produce competitively priced coal.


asked the Secretary of State for Energy if, when he next meets the chairman of the National Coal Board, he will discuss industrial relations in the coal industry.

My regular discussions with the chairman cover all major aspects of the coal industry.

Is the Secretary of State aware that industrial relations in the mining industry are at zero level? Are they not worse than they have ever been since the pits were nationalised in 1947, and almost as bad as they were under private enterprise? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware of the position at South Elmsall Frickley colliery where workmen and retired workmen have held fishing rights on two ponds for more than 60 years? The ponds were acquired by the NCB in 1974 to provide water for washing and fire fighting. Does he realise that the NCB has told the miners that they can no longer fish those two ponds? That has caused a great deal of upset in the village.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Acton Hall colliery in Featherstone—

It certainly is, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Acton Hall colliery is the first to have its closure announced since the strike, that all men over 50 have been made redundant, that men under 50 have been asked to volunteer for redundancy and that 112 have volunteered with 17 being made redundant? The others will be transferred—

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's considerable anxiety about the problems in his constituency. Obviously, I do not know about the fishing rights and therefore cannot comment on that. As the figures I have given show, over much of the country production is increasing and acceptance of change is taking place in a good way. I hope that everybody will encourage that. There is no doubt that if we continue with the sort of approach that stops development, investment and sensible production of coal, the industry will have a bad future rather than a good one. There is a duty on the leadership of the NUM to pay far more attention to encouraging productivity rather than encouraging dissatisfaction.

House Of Commons

Parliamentary Lobbying


asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent representations he has received on the amount of parliamentary lobbying by outside interests and the number of hon. Members being retained by such outside interests; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations on this topic, and a report on parliamentary lobbying has also been made recently by the Select Committee on Members' Interests.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Select Committee report to which he referred fudged the issue posed in my question? Is he not concerned about the rapid growth of what I call parliamentary political prostitution, because hon. Members — especially Conservative Members — are selling their services to outside interests for unknown sums of money? That is bringing Parliament into great disrepute. Will he given an undertaking that the report will be debated in the House at a very early date?

I take at once the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses, which I imagine is in the context of the fact that the current Register shows that 120 Members of Parliament are now parliamentary consultants—an increase of 50 per cent. on the Register for the previous year. However, I doubt whether the debate is elevated by partisan accusations. I shall, of course, consider his point about a debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are a small number of Opposition Members who move heaven and earth to ensure that large numbers of immigrants are allowed to stop in this country? Will he investigate whether they are doing that with the best parliamentary interests in mind, or whether other things are at the back of their minds?

I think that that question goes somewhat wide of the original question. I do not think that I would encourage a detached assessment of the problem if I followed that line.

Secretarial And Research Allowances


asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent representations he has received from hon. and right hon. Members about the level of secretarial and research allowances; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what recent representations he has received from hon. and right hon. Members about staffing facilities; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations from right hon. and hon. Members about this matter, including several parliamentary questions.

Is the Leader of the House aware that 202 Members of Parliament, from both sides of the House, have signed a motion showing general dissatisfaction with the present system? Most hon. Members underpay their staff if they employ more than one. Will the right hon. Gentleman receive an all-party deputation to discuss this matter further?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his parsimony and puritanism in these matters are making this legislature the laughing stock of the Western world? Why does he side with the Executive in seeking to turn Members of this legislature into a squalid version of Ruritania?

The hon. Gentleman has a good turn of phrase in personalising all these great matters. It is not my parsimony but a vote of the House, by 95 to 52, which set the present scales for the secretarial and research allowance.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are those who consider the allowances to be perfectly adequate—[Interruption.]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are those in this House who believe that to ask for more is a load of pretentious nonsense?

I note what my hon. Friend says, and I look forward to the possibility that, in her generosity, the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) will ask him to join her delegation.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that he should also give weight to the 450 right hon. and hon. Members who have not signed the motion to which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) referred? Has he also considered that the excessive number of written questions now appearing on the Order Paper indicates an excessive number of research assistants already?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I must also have regard to the fact that the present level was determined by a vote of the House about 12 months ago. In any case, we have a provision for its review in due course.

Private Members' Bills


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will refer to the Procedure Committee the question of time for Private Members' Bills.

I understand that the Committee is considering how best to deal with these matters.

When a Bill has been strongly supported on Second Reading and extensively discussed in Committee, does the Leader of the House think it right that the House should be able, if it chooses, to extend its sitting hours to reach a decision on the matter? If he does not think that, will he accept the degree of restraint on the Government's legislative enthusiasm that would result if he stopped tabling motions asking hon. Members to sit after 10 o'clock to consider Government Bills?

That is precisely the type of question that should be central to the considerations of the Procedure Committee.

The House passes a resolution saying what amount of time should be allocated to private Members. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, however strongly those of us who support a particular Bill feel about it, we feel even more strongly that those conventions passed by resolution should not easily be overturned?

That is a reasonable general proposition, but when tested in certain singular circumstances, great passions are released and the task that has been given to the Procedure Committee will be formidable when it looks at the principles that are involved in the governing of private Members' time.

Register Of Members' Interests


asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has received any proposals for changes in the Register of Members' Interests.

The Select Committee on Members' Interests has recently reported to the House and recommended that various categories of non-Members having access to Parliament should be required to register details of their employment outside the House.

While welcoming that recommendation, which I hope will soon be implemented, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that a further change that is undoubtedly required is for right hon. and hon. Members to state in the Register the source and amount of income received? Does he agree that without details of the amounts of money received, the Register is of limited importance?

The hon. Gentleman is right to remind us of the limitations of the Register and, therefore, of the extent to which one should try to place significance on it. In calling for the degree of relevation contained in his supplementary question, I think he will find that he has touched on a very controversial issue indeed.

Will my right hon. Friend stick to his present line of refusing to recommend to the House the setting up of a register of political lobbyists, partly because to do so would be giving a bogus status to those lobbyists, but also because the House cannot enforce the present Register of Members' Interests, since the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) cocked a snook at the requirement to register his interests?

I very much agree that whatever the House decides in this area should be related to enforceability. On reflection, I think that the evidence that I gave on this issue was well placed.

Will the Leader of the House accept that I share the animadversions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) on the recent report on lobbying? Does he agree that it was an extraordinarily superficial exercise? Is it not time that we had a much more stringent and profound examination of the whole question of Members' interests and lobbying in the Palace?

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has only recently commended the report. However, it has now been attacked by two hon. Members. That goes to demonstrate that there is no general judgment of view upon it. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the significance—

Yes, I have. I trust that I am joined in that eccentricity by the hon. Gentleman.

Civil Service

Civil Service Unions


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met the Civil Service unions; and what matters were discussed.


asked the Minister for the Civil Service when he next plans to meet representatives of the Civil Service unions.

I last met the Civil Service unions on 14 June, with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when matters relating to the pay of the non-industrial Civil Service were discussed. Neither I nor my right hon. and noble Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have any specific plans to meet the Civil Service unions now.

When the Minister next meets the Civil Service unions, will he undertake to discuss with them a further review of security procedures in the Civil Service? Is it not time that he accepted Lord Denning's original definition of subversion as an attempt to overthrow parliamentary democracy by unlawful means? If he does not think that that is an acceptable definition, will he tell the House what he thinks is wrong with it?

If the Civil Service unions wish to discuss that issue with me, I am sure that they will be in touch with my office to arrange a suitable time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is desirable that we should have an early settlement of current pay claims? Is he aware of the special problem that is faced by the Civil Service in some areas near London because of the vast number of civil servants who are resigning as a result of the wide difference between salaries in the public and private sectors?

There are a number of people who are resigning from the Civil Service. There are particular difficulties in and around London for specific grades, but, generally speaking, there is no great problem. It is in areas of specialist experience and knowledge where there are sometimes particular problems. Special measures have been taken to deal with them and will be taken again if necessary.

Does the Minister recall that when a strike of computer operators took place at Newcastle in 1984 it was over a sum of about £50,000? Is he aware that the Minister for Social Security has told me that the Government spent £145 million over that strike? When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the Civil Service unions, will he justify spending £145 million of taxpayers' money to save £45,000 to £50,000? Will he consider telling hon. Members how he can justify such an outrage?

The figures that the hon. Gentleman has quoted show the great irresponsibility of the local Civil Service union leaders who were responsible for the strike, which I know was not supported nationally. It arose over an issue on which there was no need for a strike to have taken place.

What further special measures will my right hon. Friend consider taking in special circumstances in the Civil Service, bearing in mind that in some areas, such as Boscombe Down and Porton Down in my constituency, there is great unrest in a loyal Civil Service about the threat of contractorisation.

The special measures that I had in mind were along the lines that we followed earlier, of responding when there is an absolute need to increase pay. We have done that recently, for example, for inspectors of taxes. Measures like that can be taken. I believe that it is the majority view in the House that if there are areas within the public sector where work can be carried out more efficiently by the private sector, we should move in that direction with all due speed.

As the Minister responsible for answering Civil Service questions in the House, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that of the immense admiration felt on the Labour Benches for the people at GCHQ who refused to give up their trade union membership, despite all the pressure from the Government? Does he realise that those are the very people who uphold our democratic claims? As they are not in Latin America or Eastern Europe, should they not be allowed to retain their union membership and their employment?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to re-run matters which have been fully debated in the House. In any case, he knows that they are the primary responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Is my right hon. Friend able to say how many people are now employed in the Civil Service? Is he satisfied that the unions are co-operating fully with the financial management initiative and other value-for-money initiatives?

I commend the great co-operation that civil servants, from the low grades to the higher grades, are giving in trying to provide better value for money. The number of civil servants is now just below 600,000. It is the first time that the figure has been at that level since the end of the second world war. That is a remarkable achievement.

Is the Minister aware that the letter from the chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue dated 24 May 1985 to the Association of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Taxes is the subject of one of a long series of complaints brought by the Council of Civil Service Unions and the Trades Union Congress, under convention 151 of the International Labour Organisation, about the Government's behaviour as an employer, and is at present being considered by the ILO?

Is the Minister aware that he may have misled the House about the nature of the letter, during the last Civil Service Question Time, by quoting selectively from it?

Is the Minister further aware that the letter implies that the career prospects of Inland Revenue staff could be put at risk by taking industrial action, since the chairman's letter clearly states that that is one of a number of factors that will be relevant to decisions about promotion? Will he now agree that that is no way to conduct industrial relations within the Civil Service?

Those matters were not discussed when I last met the Civil Service unions, nor, to my knowledge, are they seeking a meeting on them. Matters concerning the ILO are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment.

The hon. Lady spoke of misleading the House. As I placed the full text of the letter in the Library of the House immediately after quoting from it, I do not see how it can be suggested that I misled the House. I admit that, having quoted only a sentence or a phrase from the letter, by definition that was a selection, but I thought that it put the balance right in view of the hon. Lady's question at that time.

There was nothing new about general policy in the letter, because I had made the same policy report to the House at Question Time some weeks before, so the hon. Lady's main charge falls completely.

Is it normal and decent for the Leicester DHSS to challenge all the Members of Parliament based within the city of Leicester to a debate on the social security Green Paper by writing to the Leicester Mercury rather than having the courtesy to write direct to Members of Parliament? Is the method of notifying the press rather than giving Members of Parliament a personal invitation—

It is certainly not my responsibility, but I suspect that my hon. Friend will be doing all right in the Leicestershire press.

House Of Commons

European Community Legislation


asked the Lord Privy Seal how many statutory instruments, draft directives and other legislative instruments recommended for further debate by the Select Committee on European Legislation are still awaiting debate on the Floor of the House; and if he will make a statement.

At present there are 42 such documents recommended for debate on the Floor of the House. Many of these will, however, become relevant only when active negotiations resume in Brussels.

The Government are constantly and rightly saying that we can and should pay more attention to public expenditure. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the revelation on Friday that the EEC is this year spending £7,000 million on destroying, dumping or storing surplus foods requires us to spend a little more time in considering EEC matters generally? Does he believe that it will be possible to get through the backlog by the end of the Session?

We have made steady progress with the consideration of that type of document—46 have been debated so far this Session. I do not think that wider issues about the common agricultural policy flow directly from this question.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would we not normally go back to Energy questions now?

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we go back to the previous group of questions.

Does the Leader of the House agree that, to get rid of all of these draft directives, it would be a good idea for his right hon. and hon. Friends to join the Opposition tomorrow night in saying that we will not vote that £252 million, whereupon the rest of the directives would become irrelevant?

That is an attractive thought, but I do not think that it is entirely accurate.

Secretaries And Research Assistants


asked the Lord Privy Seal what proportion of total cost of Members' salaries and allowances is represented by remuneration of hon. Members' secretaries and research assistants.

The proportion in the financial year 1984–85 was approximately 22 per cent.

Does the Leader of the House agree that that figure, and some of the others that he has given today, show that the time is ripe for a conciliatory move by him towards hon. Members by allowing a debate and a vote on parliamentary allowances and facilities in the House?

I thought that, though monosyllabic, my response to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was conciliatory.

Select Committee On Employment (Report)

3.32 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order concerning the report of the Select Committee on Employment dated 19 June. In accordance with Standing Order No. 99, the Committee was appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Employment and associated public bodies. On 19 June, there were two Divisions in the Select Committee. The first was on an amendment proposed by a Conservative Member. As was said earlier at Question Time, that amendment was defeated by the Chairman's casting vote. The Committee then decided by five votes to three that that important report be submitted to the House, which it duly was.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, concerning the proper treatment of Select Committee reports, irrespective of whether they are presented by a casting vote, by a majority, by a member of one party or by a member of another. I should have thought that such reports should be treated with respect by the House and by the Government. A report of such substance which makes important recommendations should be debated. At the very least, the Minister concerned should make a statement, or a proper reply should be given. Instead of that, the Government have made no statement, have had no debate and have given no reply. They have merely referred to the report during Question Time, and the references have often been utterly irrelevant to the question being asked.

My point of order is whether it is in order for the Government to refuse to provide the House with any facilities to discuss a Select Committee report and to refuse to answer questions on a matter which affects many hundreds of British citizens.

Order. The House and the hon. and learned Gentleman know that, when a Committee has made its report, it is up to the House—certainly not the Chair—to decide what action to take. It is not a matter for me.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that Opposition Members were worried about the Secretary of State's reply to question 6, which referred to Scotland. There was also anxiety on both sides of the House that the Secretary of State referred to the Select Committee report in the most dismissive terms. Is it in order for a Secretary of State of one Department to rubbish a Select Committee report before that Committee has received a response from the Department to which it relates?

I should be chary about echoing comments such as "rubbishing" a report. The hon. Gentleman knows that this matter is not for me. The Secretary of State, like every other hon. Member, must make his own justification for what he says.

Young Homeless People (Cleveland)

3.35 pm

; 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,

"the visit of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), to Cleveland on Thursday last and the views that he expressed on the plight of the young homeless people in Cleveland county."
The matter is specific because it relates to the visit of a Minister to Cleveland and to the fact that he chose to close his eyes and stop his ears to the abundance of readily available evidence about the plight of young homeless people in the area. Then, without any recourse to lousing department records, voluntary aid group registers or church council experience, he proceeded to give public utterance to statements running diametrically counter to the real situation.

The matter is important because of the numbers affected by the regulations. There are 650 in Stockton, 2,500 in Cleveland and more than 50,000 throughout the country. The matter is also important because the Minister's attitude would deny victims consistent medical or psychotherapeutic attention on which they may be dependent. The Minister's attitude disrupts the continuity and stability of any police or probationary provision to which those involved might have to conform. That attitude also increases dramatically the potential burden on social services departments of councils that are already strapped for cash by Government diktat and, consequently, threatened by rate capping.

The Minister's attitude makes it more likely that a legally separated parent will have to undergo longer periods of isolation from the child awarded in custody to the previous partner. To all intents and purposes, the Minister's attitude imposes practical disfranchisement on young electors who, having registered to vote in their home town, are being condemned to wander until, come election time, they return to vote on some form of Tebbitan bike; they would do better seeking a Tibetan camel.

The matter deserves urgent consideration because 80 people in Middlesbrough alone await the hearing of their appeal against the DHSS refusal of exemption status; the figure for Stockton is not available today. Such appeals could take as long as three or four months and in the meanwhile those people are without financial support. In short, they have been judged, sentenced and executed.

In Cleveland, with 2,500 such cases, we have more than five times the national average. In Stockton, with 650 cases, we have more than four times the national average. All this comes to a head on Friday when those young people are condemned to the roads. There have already been suicides.

We must have a debate, and we must have it today.

The hon. Member 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,

"the visit of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Seurity, the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), to Cleveland on Thursday last and the views that he expressed on the plight of the young homeless people in Cleveland county."
I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman 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 I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Bill Presented

Sale Of Alcoholic Beverages From Garage Premises

Mr. Tony Speller, supported by Mr. Peter Bruinvels, presented a Bill to prohibit the issue of off-licences to retail outlets situated on garage forecourts: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 5 July and to be printed. [Bill 170.]

Adjournment Debates

3.39 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday each week, the Leader of the House comes to the Dispatch Box to answer questions about the business for the following week. Each week a ballot is held for Adjournment debates, and I understand that one of the debates called in the following week is at your discretion.

As you may exercise your discretion, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you would be willing to accept requests for Adjournment debates from the Floor of the House. For example, a group of hon. Members might wish to press for a particular debate and ask you, in exercising your discretion, to select a subject for debate in the name of one hon. Member.

Order. It would be very unwise to accept that suggestion. I think that everybody who applies for a debate on every day, including Thursday, feels strongly about a subject. It is left to my discretion to choose which subject is debated on Thursdays.

Opposition Day

[16th Allotted Day]

Skill Needs (Government Policies)

3.40 pm

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's failure to make proper provision for improving the extent and standard of modern skills training that is essential for Britain's economic recovery and industrial growth; deplores the Government's destruction of the nation's training system, including the abolition of industrial training boards, the closure of skillcentres and the catastrophic decline in apprenticeships, and its failure to provide quality training for the new technologies; believes that the present adult training strategy is inadequate; and demands a comprehensive statutory framework to deliver sufficient quality of training to produce the competent and committed work force Britain needs.

In moving the motion, I am aware that only recently we had a good debate upon the crisis which affects young people. I shall try to keep away from some of the points that I made in that debate, but training for skills in this country is a matter of such importance that you, Mr. Speaker, will perhaps permit me to go back over some of the same territory.

Training is vital for economic recovery and growth and for the future development of industry, commerce and public services. Training builds effectiveness, quality and commitment into that most crucial factor of production, our nation's work force. This proposition ought to be uncontentious. It is accepted by the Government and the Opposition, by key agencies such as the Manpower Services Commission and the National Economic Development Office and by the researchers and policy analysts at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Institute of Manpower Studies and elsewhere; but the increasing turbulence of technology and of the markets and the role of the multinationals in exposing our work forces in different countries to direct competition one with another means that workers will have to train and retrain continually throughout their adult lives.

Training is not a sufficient condition for economic recovery and growth. It alone will not create effective and competitive industry, but it is a necessary condition without which it will be impossible to achieve recovery and growth. As that benchmark for all of us who are interested in training, "Competence and Competition", showed, this is so at the level of our international competitors. Japan, Germany, the United States of America and many other countries have vastly superior systems of education and training. This is linked to their relative economic success compared with ours. Our system produces a fraction of the qualified young people produced by those countries. This lays down attitudes and habits for a lifetime. Our adult participation rate in training is less than half that of our German competitors.

But now we have further evidence from our own country at the level of the company and its policy on training. These are remarkable figures. Against the notional target figure of 2 per cent. of turnover—I hope that the Minister will remember the figure — that companies ought to be spending on training and retraining, a yardstick that the director of the Manpower Services Commission regards as appropriate, the average private sector firm in this country spends just 0·15 per cent. This is the figure for larger firms which generally do more training. Instead of spending £26 billion, the private sector spends just £1·2 billion. Moreover, as between companies, nine out of 10 of the top performers carried out adult training involving nearly half of their employees, Jut only half of the low performing companies had done any training at all, and, in those that had, less than one in five of the work force was ever involved.

I do not want to give the impression that the education and training system of a country should be geared only to its economic needs and the requirements of industry, but so far as it serves those needs the training system of a nation is one of the essential supports of its economic and industrial system. Until recently there was something of a consensus on this question, built around the employment and training Acts of 1964 and 1973 and the terms of the new training initiative, the NTI. However, the Government have dismembered the system that was built on that consensus which, flawed as it was, none the less provided some of the essential support that training needed. Those supports have been kicked away like so many pit props. Sixteen of the 23 industrial training boards have been abolished. Instead of covering about half the work force, industrial training boards cover now only about one quarter. They were abolished in the name of voluntarism and 100 non-statutory training organisations have grown up to fill the void, but they have become known in the industry as industrial jokes in terms of training.

The apprenticeship system has been allowed to collapse. It used to be the envy of the world and provided a trained and skilled work force not just for this country but for many industries abroad. The apprenticeship system had 150,000 places in 1979, but the number had become about 100,000 in 1984. The number of entrants is down by three quarters. The recruitment level in engineering is down by about 15,000 from the 1970s level—from well over 20,000 to fewer than 8,000. That is a reflection not simply of what has happened in the industrial sectors, which have been ravaged by the recession and the Government's economic policies, but of the Government's deliberate policy, which has been to destroy, attack and undermine the apprenticeship system and to turn off the resources tap, as witnessed by the withdrawal of its Exchequer support.

Many of us will be conscious of the closure of our skillcentres, because 27 of the 87 are to be closed. There will be a loss of at least 3,000 training places, and 1,000 skilled instructors will be sacked for moved elsewhere. Those essential training resources for individuals and local industry have been taken from where they are most needed—the areas of high unemployment. That is, indeed, kicking away the pit props of training. In South Wales, where the mention of pit props is appropriate, there is a feeling of desperation about the level of unemployment, and an even deeper desperation at the knowledge of the pit closures that the Government are forcing on it.

Many local authorities in south Wales are doing their utmost to attract alternative industry to provide a future and hope for their men and women. I recently saw the Islwyn borough brochure. It is an attractive brochure designed to attract people into industry in that area. It describes the advantages of the area. The people and their quality are rightly given prominence. It gives pride of place to describing the skills that can be acquired at the local skillcentre. It says:
"Of particular advantage to incoming and existing industries is the Government skillcentre at Pontllanfraith, Blackwood, which currently has places for 160 persons on various industrial training courses."
That no longer exists because it is one of the skillcentres being closed.

Not even the much bally-hooed retraining of miners through the MSC and the skillcentre training agency will do any good, even though it is a perfectly placed skillcentre to make a contribution in that area. I do not wish to dwell too much on that but that is where the people from Brecon and Radnor would go to obtain their skill training. [Interruption.] Conservative Members laugh. They think that it is amusing, that an unemployed man or woman living in Brecon and Radnor will now have to make a round trip of 80 miles to the skillcentre in Newport. Removing a skillcentre that offers a retraining opportunity for people will mean—

—that people are deprived in a vital part of south Wales, and that is a crime against unemployed people who want a future.

This decision will not do anything for the 2,600 unemployed people in Brecon and Radnor. It could do something for them if the Government had used imagination. The Government could have tried to retrain the 69 people in Brecon and Radnor who have been unemployed for five years, the 63 people who have been unemployed for more than four years, the 179 people who have been unemployed for more than two years and the 1,724 people who have been unemployed for more than a year. That skillcentre would have given those people hope and a future, but they will not have that chance.

Does the hon. Gentleman understand that, by arguing the case in that way, he is arguing that we should train fewer people in south Wales, including Brecon and Radnor? Is that what the Opposition want?

The Minister knows precisely that that is not what I want. I now anticipate his next intervention.

People look at the destruction of our national training system and say, "We do not understand why the Government are doing this. Are they mad?" They are even more puzzled when I tell them that the Government are proud of what they are doing in adult training and when I explain that the Government have reassured us that it is not as we think it is. Let me give the Government's assurances. They say, "The national training system may have been destroyed, but this Government are training more people than before. In fact, they are training twice as many. There are even 50,000 training places on the community programme." That is one of the measures mentioned by the Minister. I go on to explain, "Not only that, but there is a series of programmes — PICKUP open tech, college employer links, local collaborative projects and REPLAN. On top of all this, the Government are mounting a national awareness campaign on the importance of adult training." For most people, their awareness of adult training has been heightened by nothing so much as the fact that their local skillcentre has been closed or is under threat. The prospect of local unemployed people obtaining high-quality training has plummeted.

The Government's claims are pure humbug. They are a tissue of deceit because, under their schemes, the unemployed will be given only a palliative. They will be given an illusion of training opportunities, short on duration, thin on content and bereft of qualifications at the end.

Is it not ironic and astonishing that the criteria for all the schemes that the Government have introduced are that they should be half the price and half the cost of those that they abolish? We cannot have training on the cheap.

Despite all this, the Government are not mad. Their approach to training is linked inextricably to what passes for their economic and employment strategy. Its features are by now only too familiar. The strategy starts with an idolatory of the market. Its objectives are to be set by employers and its delivery is to be privatised as far as possible. Most crucially, training policies are going to reflect, entrench and police the Government's theory of the dual labour market. The primary labour market consists of those sunrise and other private sector employers that the Government have decided have a future. It is to those companies and their needs that the adult training strategy has been harnessed. However, the bulk of the labour market is to be a secondary labour market, characterised by low wages, low skills and low technology and punctuated by bouts of unemployment so that workers can never become too secure.

Once this key proposition has been grasped, everything else falls into place, despite obfuscation and sweet talking. The Government will not increase resources for adult training, despite the importance that they claim to attach to it. To focus resources on these priority areas, the Government have written off the training needs of the unemployed and of the regions.

However, on the way, the Government have completely abrogated the third objective of the new training initiative, which was their own policy in 1981, and which seemed at the time to be the high water mark of the previous consensus on training strategy. Its terms were to open up widespread opportunities for adults, whether employed, unemployed or returning to work, to acquire, increase or update their skills and knowledge during their working lives. Viewed now, what humbug, what deceit that seems. What was never revealed was the secret codicil to that objective, which reads something like this: "We do not really mean the unemployed at all. As to the rest, there will be opportunities for training only if your employer wants a particular sort of training."

It is hardly surprising that the results of the strategy are beginning to show through in serious skill shortages. Who would have believed, in a country with 4 million or more unemployed people, that we should be suffering from serious skill shortages? With 4 million unemployed, industry is experiencing constraints because of the lack of skilled manpower. That trend has been going on systematically since the middle of 1982. The skill shortages are not just in the high tech areas, although they are there too. They include machine tool-setter operators, mechanical, maintenance and repair occupations, electricians, carpenters, joiners and sewing machinists.


What may seem extraordinary is the fact that industries that have been decimated by the recession are also experiencing bad skill shortages, including the textile industry. Representing Huddersfield, I know the industry very well. The reasons are there to see. The training infrastructure in textiles, as in many other industries, has collapsed. The industrial training board has gone, and the voluntary training organisations have not filled the gap. The skills of the workers made redundant have either ebbed away during their enforced period of non-use or been abandoned in favour of some other occupation if they are lucky enough to get one. The Government do not seem to recognise the importance of the mutually supportive structures of education, training and industry. Once they are gone, it takes a lot more to revive the infrastructure than hot air from Ministers and the employers' federations to which they listened when they abolished the industrial training boards.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about skill shortages, about which he speaks with great passion. Does he accept that those shortages are not helped by the grossly irresponsible campaign of the young Socialists who are terrorising young people going on youth training schemes? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I tell him that that is happening. It is happening in my constituency. If the hon. Gentleman does not condemn the actions of the young Socialists who are terrorising young people who are going on YTS, does he accept that he is condemning young people to further bouts of unemployment?

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman again if he continues making such stupid interventions.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that faults are always on more than one side, and that one of the reasons for skill shortages is the refusal of trade unions to allow enough apprentices to be recruited over the past 15 to 20 years?

That is nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman had had any acquaintance with or had talked to any of the trade unions, he would know that that is not so.

I should like to refer to the area where one would have expected the Government to do best—high technology. I see that Ministers on the Front Bench have been joined by a Minister with some knowledge of the subject, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Given the Government's preoccupations and their rhetoric, one would expect them to do best in new technology. It is true that there are initiatives at various levels. Regrettably, all carry the mark of the Government's doctrinaire approach, and so have failed signally to meet their full potential. In schools, the technical and vocational education initiative has been introduced in a way that has caused great divisiveness between pupils, between schools, and between the education service and the Manpower Services Commission.

The obvious and desirable option of proper curriculum reform to introduce a technical element for all pupils has been ignored. That no doubt partly reflects expenditure restraints and a preference for doing things despite the education service rather than with it. But there is also the question of a dual labour market. Why encourage widespread technical literacy when the majority of young people under this Government's policies have a low tech future?

The information technology centres—the I-techs—were an initiative from the Community that was taken up by the Government. The Opposition supported expansion. But instead of building on that initiative as a permanent Community-based resource that would give access to high tech to all sections of the Community, it has been made subject to the doctrinaire arrangements that dictate short-term contracts for staff and a requirement to make money which will poison the training relationship within those centres and act to the detriment of I-techs in areas of high unemployment.

One wonders where this philosophy will end. Given the Government's philosophy on the closure of skillcentres and the way in which they do not favour I-techs, It seems that if they apply the same logic to the other MSC programmes, even YTS and the community programmes will cease to be available in areas of highest unemployment.

What of technicians and high tech graduates? There have been two reports from the Butcher committee, and an extra £43 million has been pumped into higher education. This is an absolutely classic case of too little, too late. The Government have known for years that there will be needs in the high tech areas, but they spent their time closing down large chunks of the national training system, and they brought some of the most important resources for procucing high tech skills, such as Bradford and Salford universities, to their knees through expenditure cuts.

When they finally woke up, the developing needs for high tech manpower had become a skill shortage crisis, but Ministers still met, wrung their hands and dithered. Finally, they acted by providing less than half of what even the Engineering Council regards as necessary in the desperate situation that we face. There are the self-same private employers to which the Government insists they are paying attention.

Contrast that with the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the other place. That has again provided some of the long-term thinking and undogmatic analysis that this Government so badly need. It rightly criticises the ad hoc approach to the organisation and funding of technological education and training and short-term attitudes to funding. It made 60 comprehensive and far-reaching recommendations which should make the Government feel ashamed of their failure to act decisively and effectively in that area.

In a moment.

The Government's public relations hopes are always pinned on YTS. Many people had high hopes of YTS, including the MSC and the TUC. Despite what has been said, the TUC is a prime supporter of any hopeful training initiative. In addition, many thousands of trainers and educationists have put much effort, energy and dedication into trying to give young people a better qualified start in adult working life.

Not for a moment.

The Opposition wish the second year of YTS well, most particularly for the sake of the hundreds of thousands of young people and their parents who will have no realistic alternative option in the next two or three years until there is a Labour Government. Although I expect the MSC, the TUC and others to produce a good outline scheme for the second year, I have grave fears that most of a two-year YTS will still be little better than the present one-year scheme — which for the most part is merely work experience rather than proper training.

There is a twofold reason for my fears. First, youth training makes sense only in the context of jobs at the end of training, yet the Government's dual labour market approach will consign the vast bulk of YTS graduates to low-tech, low-wage jobs or to unemployment.

A few days ago the Secretary of State for Employment challenged me when I said that only half the YTS graduates were getting jobs. He intervened in my speech and said that I was wrong and that I was misleading the House. He said that the figure was 60 per cent. or more. There was no doubt then who was right, and there is even less doubt now, because two days after his intervention the MSC reported that the figure was 48 per cent. If the Minister can read, he should read that report, which shows that 48 per cent. is the figure.

I shall give way only to the Minister if he wishes to say whether 60 per cent. or 48 per cent. is the right figure. He fails to rise. It is precisely because of the number and quality of jobs likely to be available to young people under this Government's policy that there is no real incentive for the Government properly to resource a high quality, two-year YTS.

That is a second part of the tragedy. A two-year YTS as a permanent feature of the education training system is an important and significant change. It ranks with some of the extensions of universal schooling in the 19th century, for it will lay the foundations for the British work force of the 21st century. It cannot, and must not, be done on the cheap, yet that is precisely what the Government have done and are proposing to do.

When YTS was announced three years ago, it was to be a £1 billion scheme. But when the two-year scheme is fully operational, it will cost barely £1 billion, even at 1984–85 prices. I challenge the Minister to dispute the fact that this would have been significantly less than £1 billion at the time when he made the £1 billion claim. I challenge him to come clean and to say just how much less it would be. He does not rise to answer that point.

The Minister is also selling short the adult training strategy, the adult unemployed and youth. His training strategy does not meet the needs of individuals, women, or black people; nor does it meet the needs of employers or the nation.

The education and training system is part of Labour's long-term social, economic and political objectives. We see it as serving personal and intellectual development and the building of democratic values in a nation rich in creativity, humanity and spirit which has the means to enable people to lead full and satisfying lives. We see it producing the skills and knowledge that are essential to the creation of wealth in working conditions which respect and value the people who create that wealth. We also see the education and training system working towards a better life and a better society. We want to equip people for a genuine economic and political democracy, to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination and to provide real opportunities for people from all walks of life—not only the privileged.

These objectives are closely related. The goals that education and training serve for individuals include the opportunity to contribute effectively to the economy. People's aspirations are bound up with the job that they want to do. Without work and economic security, those aspirations are illusory. It will be impossible to make the economy work for all the people, not just for the profit of a few, unless people have a real stake in a society in which they have work.

Education and training are the means to acquire competence and the skills necessary to contribute to an active and effective democracy both at the place of work and in the community. If workers are to exercise greater control over their lives, to have greater control in the industries of which they are part and to run, and participate in, the management of private and public enterprises, as we believe they should, competence at work is an essential first step. Far more people who can organise work effectively and participate actively in directing the change that our country requires need to be available.

Our training policies will be firmly located in our economic policies. We see training as being linked to the package of investment measures in the infrastructure, construction and industry, which a Labour Government will carry out. The key lesson from "Competence and Competition" and other studies of Britain's training problems is the need to develop a culture of training, and an environment in which training is perceived as natural, useful and desirable for workers who need to acquire many skills during working life. That means breaking the habit of using the school system to filter the academically bright.

To that end, we shall apply a series of co-ordinated measures to initial education and training. The first will be curriculum reform in secondary schools, leading to a common core curriculum, which will be relevant to all pupils and will motivate their participation, and which will include a technical element for all. Secondly, for the post-16-year-olds, the keynote will be a coherent and comprehensive approach. That will include coherence in financial provisions for those studying full time and those engaged in new training. It will include education maintenance allowances for children at 16. It will include coherence in terms of rights to education and training, which will embrace both those in study and on YTS, and those in employment. Coherence will also be extended to methods of learning and its certification and assessment, focusing on outcomes and based on a modular, integrated system to ease entry and re-entry, and the development of personal profiles of learning and achievement. [Interruption.] I am trying to spell out some of the vital elements of an education and training policy. It is a serious matter and I wish that Conservative Members would listen.

I shall not give way. I have taken up enough of the House's time and I shall not allow another intervention.

Although those measures will provide the framework for learning and the encouragement for future learning that the whole of the nation's work force needs, what will motivate the system and the young people who participate in it more than anything will be the knowledge that there are jobs at the end of it. For young people coming through the system, the culture of education and training will be part of their understanding of life and work—it will be natural to learn and to relearn, and in that learning will lie both better performance in work and growth in personal and intellectual development.

In the area of adult education and training our first act will be to restate what has been obvious to everyone, except the Government and some of the short-sighted employers to whom they have listened, since shortly after the war. If the Minister listens to nothing else, I hope that he will listen to this. Voluntarism is not the way to create a culture of training or to produce the quantity and quality of training that industry, commerce and public service need and demand.

What about Germany?

Indeed, what about Germany?

There will have to be a comprehensive statutory framework to bolster and promote the changes in attitudes and values that are required, and to ensure that the short-sightedness of some British employers is not allowed to disable the whole nation. Part of that statutory framework will be the establishment of a comprehensive contributory fund so that there are sufficient resources available for training to be carried out, and sufficient purpose in encouraging the training that most needs to be done. Part of that framework will be the rights of individuals to ensure that they play their part in being alive to the training opportunities that exist, and that they are encouraged to take advantage of them in a positive way. There will also be a specific measure aimed at the level of a firm. A Labour Government will put an end to the futile finger-wagging exercise at industry of the Government in favour of specific measures to encourage a firm to identify its training needs and to meet them. That will include the establishment of training committees with trade union involvement, similar to the health and safety committees. The trade unions know that training is their business, and it is right that they should play a full part. The comprehensive contributory fund will be available to support and encourage the measures that the training committees identify as necessary.

We shall also use the education and training system as a pace setter. That is vital. Skills can lead to productivity and improved performance, particularly when there is an extremely high rate of change. In that, a Labour Government will build on the pioneering work carried out by Labour local authorities in recent years, despite Government hostility and financial constraints.

The education and training system will also be an important path for tackling the lack of equal opportunities for black people and women. It will be specifically geared to the needs of increased industrial democracy, the development of a significant co-operative sector in the economy, and the talents required for effective municipal enterprise. That is what we believe in. The responsibilities of wealth creation and of improving production and performance are far too important to be left to the owners and managers of British industry. It is up to all working people to take responsibility for production, and taking that responsibility will be the measure of their willingness to share in the control of how that wealth is produced and distributed. The education and training system has a key part to play in equipping them for that role.

In short, the education training system of a Labour Government will embrace the concerns of industry, commerce and public and private services. But the purpose of that embrace will be, not merely to serve the economy as it is presently run, but to change it.

4.16 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

'welcomes the Government's many major initiatives which are producing for the first time coherent industrial and training strategies for the country as a whole, within which employers, in co-operation with others concerned with providing training, can anticipate and meet emerging skill needs.'.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), just as I listened to what he had to say two weeks ago, but I did not hear anything new. Nor did I hear anything constructive—although, to give him his due, he was more constructive about the youth training scheme this week than he was two weeks ago. Despite the hyberbole towards the end of his speech, I did not hear anything relevant to the problems and needs of today. He talked about training committees, and a comprehensive contributory fund. We know what that means — the heavy hand of bureaucracy. That is precisely what the Opposition want. I assume that the hon. Gentleman was unable to answer my hon. Friends the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) because he could not. The opening speech was just like last week's debate, but, for all that, I welcome the opportunity to debate training again.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the underlying theme of "Competence and Competition", and the comparisons that are drawn between ourselves and our American, Japanese and German counterparts, show it to be an important document. All hon. Members could learn many lessons from it. The hon. Gentleman may have seen or heard of a new document produced for the Manpower Services Commission by Industrial Facts and Forecasting Ltd. which is being published this week and is entitled, "Adult Training in Britain". Research was carried out into companies in relation to their training, their profitability, their confidence in terms of their expectation of an improved position, and their expansion in their work forces and output, whether or not they use high technology skills and introduce new products. The research showed that 24 per cent. of the firms qualified as high performers, 47 per cent. as medium performers, and 29 per cent. as low performers. However—the hon. Gentleman and I may agree on this—there was found to be a high correlation between the amount of training done by firms and their business performance. More than 90 per cent. of the high performers had undertaken adult training, involving nearly 50 per cent. of their employees. Therefore, our objectives remain the same.

Of course, modern skills training is essential for Britain's economic recovery. As we have all learned, bad training equals no jobs in the future, and the pace of change is such that a sound foundation is bound to be needed on which to build further periods of training and retraining during an employee's working life. However — this is where the hon. Gentleman and I disagree completely—unless that training is relevant to the needs of today and tomorrow rather than yesterday, the time and resources spent on it will be wasted; worse, the time and resources spent on outdated training perpetuate manufacturing processes that are not only out of date but uncompetitive in world markets, so leading to lower employment prospects. That outdated training is training for bankruptcy and redundancy, not for profitability and job security.

That is why the Government have always maintained that employers are and will remain the main training providers. However, the Government can — I believe that they do—play an important role as a catalyst and as a pump-primer. Employers will remain the main providers, because they can spot the market demands first. They can then identify the skill needs and, with the Government and the providers of training, they must be in a position to plug the training gap quickly. The chasm—I believe that it was a chasm—that existed between industry and commerce and public providers of training was so wide that it was well nigh impossible to plug it quickly.

I hope that the House agrees that matters have improved, but there is still a considerable distance to go. It is a slow process made slower by vested and conservative interests, which obstruct every attempt to bring the system into the latter part of the 20th century.

Is my hon. Friend happy with the extent to which the MSC has consulted businesses in each community, especially in those areas where skillcentres will be closed, to establish precisely their preparedness to provide those training places and the basis on which such training will be provided? I agree with my hon. Friend about placing the emphasis on employers, but is he happy that there is an impetus to fill the gap that will be left by the closure of some skillcentres?

Yes, I am happy. I discussed that point with the chairman of the MSC and with my hon. Friend at some length. The MSC has an important role to play in this regard. Indeed, it fulfils that role extremely well because it brings the provider and the employer much closer together. However, the process is like building a bridge. It takes time to ensure that the foundations are properly installed, but by and large I am happy with the building process.

The Minister said that it is difficult to fill skill shortages quickly by training. Is he aware that many skill shortages arise not because of a lack of training, but because skilled personnel who have been made redundant are reluctant to take up their skills again? The problem is often to attract skilled workers back to their trades.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that technology moves on apace. With regard to the personnel to whom he is referring, in many cases a period of updating training is necessary to bring them into the technology of the next decade and the decade after. I was referring to the chasm between the training provider, especially in the public sector, and the employer, which makes it more difficult for the people about whom he and I are worried to obtain that retraining.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has introduced many reforms with regard to training providers in the public sector. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate—will highlight what he has done. Among the initiatives that we have taken with the sole objective of bringing the two parts closer together is the technical and vocational education initiative, which we discussed in the House two weeks ago. The hon. Member for Huddersfield belittled it by saying that it was a small pilot scheme without any will behind it. He is wrong. Already, 62 local education authorities are participating in the initiative. The total cost of the programme is about £20 million. In Clwyd local education authority, the initiative is so successful that it has gone, voluntarily, countywide. Yet, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the initiative was resisted initially by many educationalists and by some Labour-controlled — tending to be Left-wing Labour-controlled — local education authorities, which have refused to participate in it. Why do they do that? Why do they deprive their 14 and 15-year-olds of the opportunity of this break?

The answer to the Minister's question is that the Labour-controlled authorities wish to know when that opportunity and those resources, in terms of capital equipment and teaching, will be available to all children in that age group, rather than only to the favoured few for a trial period.

The hon. Gentleman is arguing that Sheffield and Liverpool authorities are saying, "Here is taxpayers' money available for a group of 14 and 15-year-olds, but we shall deprive you of it because it is not available for all." They say that despite the fact that many will not want it and it is appropriate only for some. Their attitude is quite remarkable.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the information technology centres, 164 of which are already in operation and about 175 of which will come on stream in the autumn. He did not say that that was a bold initiative which, in many cases, has helped children with less academic records. He did not say that more than 60 per cent. of youngsters who go through the information technology centres go straight into jobs. He did not give the Government the credit for a significant and major initiative.

I should continue, because the hon. Member for Huddersfield delayed the House for some time and I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

The hon. Gentleman did not refer to the initiative begun by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment with regard to the non-advanced education budget. As he will be aware, in 1985–86, the MSC will spend about £65 million and in 1986–87, it will spend about £110 million. That, coupled with the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science — the college-employer links project — will ensure that the training and education in those institutions is much more closely geared to the labour market.

I was not surprised by the fact that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that, last week, the Audit Commission published a report on further education. I suspect that he did not mention it because it talks about value for money and makes the point that colleges should, within the present budget, take about 75,000 more students. The report states that there was much waste in that area. The reason he did not refer to it is simple: those who objected to its publication last week were supporters of the Labour party. The Opposition did not appear to notice that there was a need to change what happened in schools and colleges. Nor have they any desire to do something about it, even when the need for change is pointed out.

As the hon. Gentleman reminded us, two weeks ago we debated at length the youth training scheme. He was a little more fulsome about it today. He knows that I asked the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) to substantiate remarks that he made about the YTS about three months ago. He said that it was a load of rubbish. I wrote to him once before the debate, and I have written to him since then, but the hon. Gentleman is still unable to produce evidence about any scheme to show that it is rubbish. We still have not received an answer from him. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, who is not today flanked by his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, was a little more fulsome in his praise.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield talked about apprenticeships. I wonder how recently Opposition Members have visited a factory. I accept that the number of traditional apprenticeships has dropped substantially, but surely Opposition Members must accept that because of high technology the number of men and women on the line is substantially fewer. The requirement for apprenticeships in the traditional sense must therefore have dropped. The Opposition remain determined to perpetuate the old apprenticeship system which, for all its usefulness in the past, is no longer necessary to the same degree.

We are challenged to say whether we have been round any factories recently. In the west midlands there are many factories which we visit regularly. To what line is the Minister referring on which he sees fewer people, which makes him believe that there is a need for fewer apprenticeships? Is he talking about the toolrooms or engineering support systems, which are as much in need as ever of apprenticeships?

I am amazed that the hon. Member for Coventry North-West (Mr. Robinson) should say that. I am flabbergasted. Has the hon. Gentleman not been round the car plants in the west midlands? Has he not been round the manufacturing plants there? Does he suggest that with modern technology and machinery the same number of people are required to produce the same, or even six times, the amount? The hon. Gentleman must be blind and deaf if he does not realise that today's needs are different.