House Of Commons
Tuesday 25 June 1985
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
ASSOCIATED BRITISH PORTS (No. 2) BILL
Lords amendments agreed to.
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL (SUPERANNUATION) BILL [Lords]
Read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.
LINCOLN CITY COUNCIL BILL
ROYAL HOLLOWAY AND BEDFORD NEW COLLEGE BILL [Lords]
Considered; to be read the Third time.
Oral Answers To Questions
Education And Science
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current teachers' pay dispute.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the current teachers' pay dispute.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current position over the teachers' strike.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the current teachers' pay dispute.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current situation with regard to the teachers' dispute.
On 23 May the management panel of the Burnham committee increased its 1985 pay offer to 5 per cent. The teachers' panel rejected this, refused to go to arbitration and declined to address my 21 May initiative. That had carried forward my offer of July last year to consider carefully any restructuring package on which the employers and the teachers might agree. On 21 May I made plain the Government's readiness to make additional resources available for teachers' pay next year if agreement in principle could be reached by October on a reform of the current pay system designed to meet the Government's educational objectives and to provide improved promotion opportunities for good teachers. The Government are also seeking a clarification of teachers' duties and are prepared to consider alternative arrangements and funding for the midday supervision of pupils. This initiative requires a quick and constructive response if the prospect of a realistic and lasting settlement is not to be lost for yet another year.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to raise standards in the teaching profession, parts of which seem determined to be dragged screaming and reluctantly into the next century. Does he believe that there are any prospects of the new talks in Burnham scheduled for 3 July taking place with any value al all? Does he feel that there is a risk of the NUT once again withdrawing from the discussions?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I acknowledge that most teachers are effective and hard working in dealing with an intensely difficult task. I cannot predict what will happen when Burnham meets again, but I hope that the interests of the children and teachers will prevail so that attention can be given to the bargain that I have invited the teachers and their employers to negotiate with a view, if the outcome is affordable and good for the children's education, to extra funding next year through the Government.
Following my right hon. Friend's helpful comment about the work of the vast majority of teachers—and observing that that, in my case, with all-party colleagues, is refreshed by recent evidence in primary schools throughout the country — does he agree that for the cause that they represent to be successfully prosecuted, it must have public support? Does he further agree that the recent industrial action has, sadly, much eroded that support among the people whom they must convince and who, in the end, will have to foot the bill?
I agree that the action chosen by the teachers to damage the education of children must be damaging to their own claim to professionalism in the eyes of the majority of the public.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a long-term settlement is the only sensible basis for a solution to the teachers' problem, and that the war of attrition being carried out by the teachers against the children in our schools is deplorable and no more than blackboard blackmail?
I think that I am entitled to recognise that most, if not all, of the initiatives taken by the Government outside pay have been such as to be welcomed by most teachers in the interests of good and better schooling in this country. Therefore, I agree that a long-term approach—coupled with appraisal, better promotion prospects and better career development, all of which are undertakings by the Government—is in the interests of the teachers and of the whole country.
Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a letter in The Times last Friday from a Peterborough headmaster illustrating the appalling damage that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is causing to education and to the teaching profession generally? Did the right hon. Gentleman note particularly the last paragraph of that letter, in which the headmaster made it clear:
"Our leaders are rich enough to be detached about money and too foolish to see where their daily slander leads"?
Without impugning the sincerity of the writer of that letter, I think we can all agree that the bargain, which sooner or later will be struck, must be concerned with the interests of the children and of schooling in this country. I am sure that virtually every teacher would accept that.
Did my right hon. Friend read the report in the News of the World magazine at the weekend describing the practice adopted by our hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, when he was a distinguished headmaster, of providing space in school reports for parents to comment on teachers? Does my right hon. Friend think that that practice should be spread throughout education? Will he also say something about the mechanism to be adopted for appraisal so that good teachers can be paid more?
I normally take very seriously the views of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, but I have in mind that the method of appraisal should be broadly worked out by the teachers themselves and their employers. Informal appraisal is already carried out on a wide scale. I merely seek to make it formal, and I have put aside some taxpayers' money for pilot schemes to try out different methods in the next few years as soon as the teachers' unions allow them to take place.
Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the House and to teachers throughout the country that he will not use his veto if members of the Burnham committee wish to recommend an improved offer, as I have no doubt they would like to do, and that they should and will do so if standards of education in this country are to be improved?
No Minister should inhibit himself from using the power of veto if it seems to him and to the Government to be in the interests of the public. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it stems from the time of a Labour Government.
How is it possible for a police constable in Workington to be earning £9,234 a year, which is more than a head of department in many comprehensive schools in Cumbria? How is it possible for a 26-year-old constable on the beat in London to be earning more money than a deputy head in many comprehensive schools in Cumbria? How is it possible for the lowest grade of policeman to be earning more money annually than highly educated and professional people in the teaching profession? Is there not something wrong with the Government's system of priorities?
The Government are offering the teaching profession the prospect of a changed salary structure in return for improvements in effectiveness, the use of an expanded in-service training network and increased promotion prospects — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because at the time when the police pay structure was sharply altered, and as a result of the behaviour of the Labour Government, there was a great shortage of policemen. Pay arrangements must respond to recruiting, retention, motivation and quality factors, as policemen's pay then did. Secondly, the conditions and performance of policemen—for example, their lack of the right to strike—must be taken into account. I doubt whether most teachers would welcome the conditions of work of policemen.
Will the right hon. Gentleman define what he means by "affordable," and will his definition take into consideration the cost to the nation of not creating a decently-paid and highly motivated teacher force?
I also take into account the cost to the children and to the nation of present standards, which, as I have explained time and again, are not entirely the responsibility of teachers. The salary scale for teachers must take account of their willingness to improve their average effectiveness, their acceptance of improved promotion prospects and their use of an expanded network of in-service training—all of which is either on offer or has already been announced by the Government.
Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that children's education has been disrupted because of the Government's intransigence in paying such miserable wages to the teachers? Does he accept that the Burnham committee, due to the recent elections, has changed in character and that at its next meeting the authorities panel will be supporting the teachers? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he must put some new money on the table, because tying it to all the other things in the package is holding things up? Is he further aware that at packed meetings throughout the country—I attended one last night — the teachers are planning to carry this dispute right up to the end of the year?
But it was the teachers, led by the NUT, who decided to disrupt the children's education.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present strikes are so rotting the behaviour and atmosphere in schools that they will make the lives of teachers much more difficult when normality is resumed?
I fear that the teachers are setting a very bad example to pupils.
Why has the Secretary of State neither replied to nor aknowledged my letter to him of 19 June, in which I asked him for a meeting to discuss the teachers' dispute? Why has he not more enthusiastically welcomed the recall of the Burnham negotiating committee? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is still Secretary of State for Education and Science and not yet the Minister without Portfolio, which he is tipped to become. Why will he not for once take some positive, constructive action to end this highly damaging dispute?
I am sorry if I have not answered the hon. Gentleman's letter. I shall do so immediately. I am glad to welcome the recall of the Burnham committee. The hon. Gentleman would have been more his honest self if he had phrased the latter part of his question by asking me why I was not producing more taxpayers' money. That is what he has in mind. The Government are willing to produce more taxpayers' money in return for an affordable bargain from the teachers.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will transfer more of his Department's work to Mowden Hall.
The Department is committed to transferring areas of its work to Darlington where this is justified in terms of operational efficiency and cost, taking account also of the interests of London staff.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Darlington staff, whose work may not be glamorous but is important to the fulfilment of his Department's functions? Can he reassure me that he will continue to transfer work to Mowden Hall as and when necessary?
Yes, gladly, and with genuine warmth, I pay tribute to the staff at Darlington, which I and my two colleagues have visited with pleasure.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current number of students entering training for teaching.
The number of entrants to initial teacher training in the academic year 1984–85 was 16,707. Target intakes for the academic year 1985–86 are 17,652.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one consequence of this damaging and prolonged dispute is the reduction in the number and quality of mathematics and science teachers coming into and remaining in the profession, since many have taken early retirement to take up jobs in industry?
We are actively considering whether other intitiatives might be pursued by the Department, in concert with others, to improve the recruitment of teachers in shortage areas. We have recently received advice on this subject from the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers, and the Secretary of State's comments will be made known in due course.
Does the Minister accept that there is considerable unease and anxiety among those involved in initial teacher training about the roles of the institutions and the funding available? Is it not time that he made a clear policy statement on this matter?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the national and Wales advisory bodies have been invited to advise on the allocation of teacher training intakes to institutions in the public sector. The University Grants Committee is considering the distribution of intakes among universities. Its comments, and the response to them, will be made known in due course.
Teachers (Pay And Performance)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with teachers' unions other than the National Union of Teachers on a package of proposals for restructuring pay and performance.
Since last October I have had discussions touching upon these matters with the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, the Professional Association of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will be greatly welcomed by the hundreds of dedicated teachers in my constituency who are not members of the NUT and who abhor that union's wrecking tactics? Does he agree—he would have the support of the House if he did—that we should push forward with negotiations with unions other than the NUT on appraisals and restructuring, and not allow the unrepresentative majority of the NUT on the Burnham committee to block all sensible negotiations?
The statutory framework limits negotiations to Burnham. I am under pressure from many to seek legislative authority to change Burnham, and I remain ready to be convinced that that would be a useful step. However, that is the subject of a later question.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any Minister who has to rely upon his veto or the veto of his officials to overcome the Burnham committee's recommendations will fight a losing battle? It is like trying to stop the tide. The role of King Canute does not become the right hon. Gentleman. He should accept the majority wish of the Burnham committee, if and when that recommendation is made.
It was King Canute's courtiers, not the wise King Canute, with whom I think the hon. Gentleman is comparing me. How can the taxpayer be protected when the Burnham committee makes decisions about the spending of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, unless someone has some power to set a limit, if necessary by veto, on what is agreed by those who do not pay for the consequences?
Is my right hon. Friend absolutely determined to stick to the October deadline for agreement if there are to be additional resources next year? Many people think that, even with the best will in the world, that is not an attainable target. Furthermore, they believe that it plays into the hands of the NUT, which, by its unrepresentative and militant stand, is undermining the good work done by other teaching unions, such as the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association.
The Government's choice of October is not an arbitrary one. It is the date before which decisions must be made if extra money is to be injected into rate support grant.
Why does the Secretary of State not do something a little ingenious for a change? Why does he not go to the Treasury, when the Chancellor has gone missing, call at the Bank of England, when the Governor is on the golf course or on a foreign trip, get £100 million of the money that is needed to resolve the teachers' dispute, and say, "I am just doing a Johnson Matthey"?
The hon. Gentleman is showing the degree of his ignorance if he thinks that there is £100 million lying about in either of those places.
What does my right hon. Friend think is the objective of calling out on strike teachers in constituencies which dare to return Conservative Members? Is the idea that we should go to my right hon. Friend to make a special pleading? If so, how do we avoid giving the lesson to children that bad behaviour, threatening and bullying win through?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the example that is being set is deplorable. To that must be added the ignoble and thoroughly deplorable practice of taking it out on children and their future, merely because, by chance, a particular person has been elected to represent the constituency.
How much money is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put behind the package? I hope that it is more than the 2 per cent. which is rumoured in the press.
I am glad to say to the House and to those outside who are concerned about this matter that it would be wise not to take too much account of what they read in the press.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, if he had been able to pursue a more consistent package in the earlier stage of the negotiations, the response that he received from the organisations to which he referred when replying to this question might have provided him with an opportunity to resolve this damaging industrial dispute? Will he pursue a package, along the lines of that discussed with those associations, which will not only include a no strike deal but will put more money on the table and provide a long-term programme?
The essence of the proposal, which was confirmed in my letter of 21 May, has been on offer since July last year—11 months.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the majority of teachers in my constituency and throughout Britain generally do not support the disgraceful industrial action that is doing so much damage and marring the education of our children? Will he therefore urgently examine ways of getting the talks on performance and pay under way, even if that means upsetting the politically motivated leaders of the NUT?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct in saying that many teachers and some leaders of teachers' unions welcome the main features of the bargain proposed by the Government.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about salary scales for university lecturers.
The Department has received about 1,800 letters in the past two months on the pay of university academic and related staff.
How does the Secretary of State justify the 20 per cent. cut in real terms in the pay of university lecturers since the Government came into office in 1979? Is that a sign of the Government's feelings about the true worth of those who are responsible for helping our young people to be properly trained? Is he aware of the burden that that places upon university lecturers at a time when the Government are cutting university finance by 2 per cent. per year? When will the Government see sense?
The figures and judgment produced by the hon. Gentleman are the result of a selective choice of dates. I understand that university teachers' pay has kept pace with the cost of living.
Has my right hon. Friend seen last week's Audit Commission report, which calculated that at least 75,000 extra students could be taught, in view of the present small classes? As well as agreeing new salary scales for college lecturers, should he not also find better ways to employ them more fully?
My hon. Friend focuses upon something slightly different—the non-advanced level of further education upon which the Audit Commission has produced a significant report. With regard to universities, polytechnics and colleges, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend and the House that the student-staff ratio in polytechnics has improved a great deal. It is nearer to what the Government judge to be the proper level for a student-staff ratio.
What representations has the Secretary of State received about the glaring injustice in the remuneration of university lecturers in medical schools when compared with similar employees in the NHS? Is it not about time that some comparability was achieved?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am aware of the problem and am, of course, waiting to see what the relevant authorities will recommend. Universities must live within their budget, which comes mainly from the public sector, and decide on their own priorities.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Audit Commission gave praise as well as blame? Would it not be nice if occasionally some praise were given to those who work in higher education?
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I do that most gladly. I seem to be constantly praising — the latest occasion was in front of the Select Committee this morning — the outstanding reputation that our higher education system has across the world.
Is the Secretary of State convinced that the present salary levels, other than those in the clinical sector, are sufficient to attract people of the highest ability into university teaching in those subjects about which he is most worried?
I hope that I am worried about all subjects. The Green Paper on higher education recognises that the essentially national system of pay is not necessarily the ideal way to attract the highest talents, and has invited comments upon possible alternatives.
Does my right hon. Friend accept the gist of what I have put in early-day motion 805, relating to academics in higher education in the medical sector? Does he accept that the statement by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) is correct, and that a proper comparison should be made between those in the Health Service who administer health care and those who teach in the universities, and that their salaries should be comparable? It is no good awaiting reports. My right hon. Friend should act now to ensure that that is the case.
I understand the essence of what my hon. Friend says, but there is a body called the clinical academic staff salaries committee which is considering how to reflect the salary arrangements made for doctors and dentists in the NHS in those made for clinical academic staff. I must await its advice and the reaction of the universities.
Instead of giving praise, will the Secretary of State find a little extra money for those who work in universities? Does he accept that there is not just a problem with the clinical staff and those who work in the NHS, but that there is also an increasing problem in science and technology, where there appears to be a growing brain drain from this country to the United States and Canada?
On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I accept that if evidence accumulates of a net brain drain, as opposed to an exchange of brains, the position is worrying. That is why I spoke only a week ago of the importance that I attach to the ABRC's recommendations for science. However, I warn the hon. Gentleman that, because he is always getting up and undertaking to spend more public money, the cumulative total will completely discredit his party.
Universities (Freedom Of Speech)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals about his proposals concerning freedom of speech in universities.
My right hon. Friend has discussed this issue with the committee and will be doing so again next month. Recent events continue to give concern.
Will my hon. Friend press ahead with those discussions as soon as possible? Does he agree that recent events in some of our universities, involving militant action against free speech by tiny groups of student—stiny both in number and in mental stature—give rise to doubts, particularly in the case of the recent incident at Bristol university, about the fitness of such people to be in universities in the first place?
I readily concur that the correspondence columns of the Bristol university periodical are a rich quarry on the subject of freedom of speech in an academic environment — indeed, with a vigorous freedom of speech of their own that is worthy of Burke.
Does the Under-Secretary of State recognise that tenured appointment for university staff has been an important element in safeguarding freedom of speech and thought in universities? Does he not realise that the Government's intention to threaten that tenure is causing great concern about the future of freedom of speech in universities?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made it absolutely clear in what he has said about tenure that freedom of speech and of thought—academic freedom in total—will not be threatened.
Local Authority Expenditure
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on "Local Authority Expenditure Policies on Education Provision in England—1984".
I authorised the report's publication and commend its measured analysis as essential reading to all concerned with the provision of education. I look forward to discussing its findings with the local authority associations.
This report is highly critical of the Government. It points out that the Government's demands for new technology to be introduced into the curriculum leads to many problems for local authorities. Their school buildings need to be refurbished. Many of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s and considerable sums of money need to be spent upon them. If I may give a constituency example, the city of Manchester needs £10 million to carry out this work. That does not take into account the normal maintenance that has to be carried out by local authorities.
I accept that there are shortcomings over the maintenance of school buildings that reach back over several Governments and very many years. However, the same report to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention criticises the management of resources by many local education authorities. They are spending money where it needs not to be spent, with the result that money is stinted where it ought to be spent.
This report is a gross indictment of the Government's disgraceful, disgusting and unacceptable treatment of the education system. Highly qualified and trained teachers are being denied the buildings and the resources that are needed to provide our children with the basic education that they require.
The hon. Gentleman is guilty of selective quotation. The maintenance of buildings is criticised in the report, but it criticises as more significant still the combined effects of bad management by many local education authorities of public resources and ineffective teaching by a considerable minority of teachers.
As a result of Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on expenditure on schools, does the Secretary of State agree that crisis point has been reached in terms of school repairs? One shire county alone has a backlog of repairs amounting to £35 million. Is the Secretary of State aware that in my constituency, during the last year four schools have had to close because of lack of repairs and that one of them, Elm street, requires repairs amounting to £600,000? Will the Secretary of State help local authorities like mine to foot the bill for these repairs?
Without condoning the position on repairs, I ask the House to realise that the same report said that there was scope for redeployment of public money in many local education authorities. The report, which Opposition Members are using as a quarry to criticise the Government, was not published by them in their time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in paragraph 14 of the report Her Majesty's Inspectorate—his own advisers — makes it clear that there is a link between resources and quality? Is he further aware that paragraph 89 points out that if we are to increase the level of achievement in our schools there must be more resources? So why is he cutting back central Government money to local education authorities by 9 per cent. in real terms over the next three years?
The hon. Gentleman continually quotes that figure, without adding that that figure was specifically described as provisional. As the report says, adequate resourcing is not a sufficient condition for sound education, but, that said, I accept that there is an association between satisfactory levels of resourcing and the quality of the educational process. There is no conflict between that finding and other evidence that there is only a slight correlation between levels of attainment, as measured by public examinations, and levels of spending on education.
Children (Lunchtime Supervision)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the lunchtime supervision of children at schools.
I deeply regret the fact that members of the three largest teacher unions have, in pursuit of their pay claim, chosen to withhold their support from the head teacher in exercising his overall responsibility for the conduct of the school during the midday break. This has placed a great strain on the head teachers and I should like to express my respect for them and for their sense of duty towards the pupils—and to those who have helped them—in maintaining supervision over the past months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Humbug."] I am surprised that Opposition Members do not share that sense of respect. I have made public the Government's readiness to consider alternative arrangements and some additional funding for midday supervision in 1986–87 in return for a clearer definition of teachers' duties.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that I once supervised 1,500 school dinners every day? Therefore, I can well understand the agony recently expressed by head teachers over their problems with supervising school dinners, supervising schools, meeting parents during the lunch hour, supervising the neighbourhood of the school and so on. Is it not a terrible irony that after years of fighting for payment for lunchtime duty there has so far been no discussion by teaching unions of my right hon. Friend's offer of 21 May for payment for lunchtime duties?
I very much hope that discussions on that matter will start fairly soon.
How many children will there be to supervise if the proposal in the Fowler review to scrap free school meals is implemented?
The Fowler review is in Green Paper form. There will still be a need for midday meal supervision, whatever happens on that account.
Pupil Profile Pilot Schemes
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the pupil profile pilot schemes.
Eight pilot schemes have been established in England and one in Wales. The schemes began in April this year and are expected to run for three years.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and I am sure that on the Conservative side of the House we applaud the introduction of those schemes. Does he agree that such schemes will prove invaluable to employers, in that when an individual comes before an employer for a job he will have something concrete, not just an academic paper qualification, which will tell the employer something about the individual? This is a great step forward in getting more jobs for our young people.
There are many children who do not achieve academically but have other qualities that are of interest to a prospective employer and to the community at large. We believe that in time records of achievement will be of great use to all children, irrespective of their academic commitment and purpose.
Degrees And Qualifications (Sale)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action his Department is to seek to take to stop the sale of degrees and academic qualifications.
The Government believe that no solution is possible without legislation, but further proposals are being put to us, to which we are committed to giving serious consideration.
That reply is most warmly welcomed. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread abuse in this country over the selling of bogus degrees and of the great harm that it does to the well-established colleges of education? Can he give an assurance that that legislation will come through in the next Session of Parliament?
I join the hon. Member in deploring the practice of selling degrees or other academic qualifications. At their request, I recently met representatives of the Association of Business Executives, who have undertaken to set out a proposal which they think might avoid some of the difficulties described. This will be examined and considered on its merits.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
My right hon. Friend undoubtedly shares the horror and frustration felt throughout the country at the recent spate of bombings at airports and on aircraft. When she goes to Milan this week, will she add another British initiative in this matter by raising with other Heads of Governments and perhaps with Governments and flag carriers the possibility of a co-ordinated effort to counter such acts of terrorism and horror, particularly at airports?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We all share the same horror at those desperate acts. I certainly will raise this at the European Council and I hope to discuss it with Vice-President Bush when he comes next week.
Is the Prime Minister aware that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends wish warmly to congratulate the police on the remarkable detective work and the success that they have achieved against the Provisional IRA? We believe that the whole nation has cause to be grateful. Can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that all necessary resources will be provided in order to ensure that the police can fully and quickly undertake the painstaking search that they now have to undertake of hotels and boarding houses in all the resorts mentiond by Commander Crawshaw?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, my right hon. and learned Friend will be making a statement on this matter shortly. We all warmly congratulate the police on preventing a disaster which was calculated to maim and kill many innocent people. All possible resources will be devoted to the task of the necessary search.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that in a bad week, when terrorists have terrified the world, it is high time that everyone united in congratulating the police on their brilliant anti-terrorist operations? Is it not time that the GLC anti-police Bill was withdrawn and that the sour and obstructive attitude towards the police by many Members in the Labour party was brought to an end?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and indeed I have already indicated that we warmly congratulate the police on their success. I agree with him about the GLC anti-police Bill.
Can the Prime Minister give any explanation at all why the Tory candidate in the current by-election goes about as if he has never heard of her? What possible explanation can there be for that?
I am sure that we have a candidate who is concentrating on putting across positive, constructive policies—[Interruption.] Those policies are the policies of our party. The Labour party attempts to personalise politics because it has no constructive policies to put across.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
Does the Prime Minister recall her speech to the Welsh Conservative party conference in Swansea in 1980, when she said that Welsh people who wanted work would have to move to find it? Is that still her advice to the people who live in Brecon and Radnor? If it is, where does she suggest they go? Surely she cannot be suggesting her constituency of Finchley, where 3,000 people are on the dole.
In that speech I said that movement was a part of finding a job—[Interruption.] That is also mentioned in the employment White Paper published many years ago.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest blessing that a Government can give to the sick, the unemployed, the disabled and those on fixed incomes is — [HON. MEMBERS: "To resign".] — lower inflation? Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House and to the nation from the Dispatch Box that that remains the paramount policy of Her Majesty's Government?
It is our policy to reduce inflation. Although at the moment it is higher than we would wish, it is lower than any level achieved by the Labour Government.
Why is the Government's representative in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg arguing so adamantly in favour of the power of a Labour Government to nationalise industries without adequate compensation? Does the Prime Minister really believe that the shares that she has sold to large numbers of the British public should be open to renationalisation at a knock-down price?
The European Commission on Human Rights has pronounced on the case and the matter has now gone before the Court. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we accept the Court's decisions, whatever they may be.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June
May I make an appeal to the Prime Minister's scientific mind? The expectation of an event occurring which is one divided by 10 to the power of 53 is small. Is that not exactly the position of the Scottish miners, because 413 men have been re-employed, but not one of the 203 men from Scotland has been re-employed? Are we therefore correct in assuming that human intervention is involved? Will the Prime Minister now instruct the National Coal Board to pay the same attention and give the same justice to Scottish miners as to miners in other areas, so that some at least of the 203 men who have been dismissed will be re-employed?
I told the House what the Coal Board said when I replied last time. The hon. Gentleman is the first to know that the correct procedure for miners who were dismissed during the dispute is to appeal to an industrial tribunal. If that tribunal finds that any miner was unfairly dismissed it can order compensation and recommend reinstatement. That is the correct procedure.
Will my right hon. Friend use the opportunity of the forthcoming European summit to strike a blow on behalf of millions of small businesses throughout the Community by trying to amend the sixth directive on value added tax to increase the threshold to above £50,000 a year so that small businesses can get on with the job of making a profit and creating new jobs rather than being weighed down by the enormous bureaucracy in the EEC?
I raised the subject of that directive at the previous meeting of the European Council. My right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio has also raised the matter. We shall continue to raise it. We believe that the level for VAT set in that directive is far too low and should be raised substantially.
Referring back to earlier barbarism and terrorism, will the Prime Minister tell us why British intelligence services, for which she is responsible, have blocked the release of information on Klaus Barbie held by American State Departments and being sought by special investigators trying to combat Nazi cells in America, and failed to provide information in connection with the Klaus Barbie trial, which is still to take place in France?
I have answered a question on that matter before. The answer has not changed. We try to release as many documents as we possibly can and to be as helpful as we possibly can, but there are sometimes reasons why documents cannot be released.
Is the Prime Minister aware that one of the issues that is emerging in Brecon and Radnor is the utter inability of the rate support grant formula to maintain an adequate level of services in areas of great sparsity of population? In view of the £50 million of help that she has given Scottish ratepayers and her promises to reform the rating system—[Interruption.]—when can the people of Brecon and Radnor expect some relief from their problems?
As my hon. Friends are saying, it is unlikely to come from the hon. Gentleman. The Government have done as much as they can to persuade local authorities to constrain expenditure and, if need be, to cap the rates. In many cases, that has been highly successful. I look forward to receiving the hon. Gentleman's support when we bring forward proposals fundamentally to change the rating system.
asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Billericay.
I have at present no plans to do so.
My constituents will naturally be disappointed by that response. Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents wish to see control of the level of inflation, control of the level of public expenditure and a reduction in taxation? Can my right hon. Friend give pledges on those matters as well?
As my hon. Friend is aware, it is the Government's policy to keep strict control of public expenditure. I agree with the Leader of the previous Labour Government, who said:
"If you talk to people in the factories and in the clubs, they all want to pay less tax. They are more interested in that than the Government giving away money in other directions."
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the recently published report of the Select Committee on Employment is the report of the Opposition Chairman, supported by Labour Members, and not supported by Conservative Members, as at no time during the giving of evidence did Mr. Scargill condemn the nature—
Order. This is a bad habit, because that matter is not the Prime Minister's responsibility.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
As the Transport Bill is now in another place, would the Prime Minister care to inform this House of the name of just one country in the developed world where the deregulation of transport and the sort of regime that the Bill envisages exists?
I do not know of any country that has had the system that we are trying to get rid of, under which subsidies have increased and passengers decreased.
Further to the earlier question from the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), will my right hon. Friend take time today to remind the House that if it had not been for the Lib-Lab pact in 1977 the aircraft and shipbuilding industries would never have been nationalised in the first place?
I thank my hon. Friend for putting his point so cogently.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 June.
I refer the hon Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether her Government have now made up their mind whether the best recipe for the British economy lies in greater public spending or more cuts and tax cuts? Which side of the Cabinet is winning?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government believe in the control of public expenditure, as do almost every Government in power, because they have to. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will never have the experience of being in power, so e will never know that fundamental fact. Only if we control public expenditure and have the type of growth that we have had during the past few years can we cut tax. Had we kept the present amount of tax and the structure of income tax that existed under the Labour Government, the average family would be paying £260 more in tax than it is now.
Questions To Ministers
I wish to make a statement.I have reflected on the point of order put to me after Prime Minister's questions last Thursday. The difficult task imposed on Mr. Speaker is to balance the diverse and urgent claims of hon. Members, both Back Bench and Front Bench, and of nearly a dozen parties in the House. In its wisdom, not for years but for centuries, the House has advised its Speaker not to give reasons for the exercise of his discretion. When Speakers have departed from that apparently cold discipline in answer to points of order, as I did on Thursday, they often find themselves on the spur of the moment stating what are not, and cannot be, rules, but must necessarily be instantaneous judgments. It has been and is the fervent hope of successive Speakers that the sum total of their decisions will be accepted as fair and reasonable by the House which elected them to the Office of Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I thank you for offering us a characteristically wise reflection on the nature of your task, which we fully understand is not always easy?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will be grateful to you for your statement and will wish you well in the exercise of your very difficult task.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.As the House will know from the statement issued by the police yesterday, on 22 June five people were arrested in Glasgow by Strathclyde police and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has approved the extension of their detention for five days for further questioning. Since then the police have arrested and detained under the Act a further 16 people. Those detained are being questioned in connection with a number of offences, including the bombing of the Grand hotel at Brighton. As a result of information obtained following the arrests made on 22 June, the police were able to discover and disarm a bomb set for detonation on long-term timer in a room at the Rubens hotel, Buckingham Palace road. The investigation, the discovery of the bomb and its disarming are outstandingly successful demonstrations of the professionalism, courage and determination of the police in the battle against terrorism, which they are fighting on behalf of us all. I congratulate warmly all the forces concerned. The House will also be aware, however, that the bomb discovered at the Rubens hotel was intended to form part of a wider operation involving the planting of bombs in a number of towns: Blackpool, Bournemouth, Brighton, Dover, Eastbourne, Folkestone, Great Yarmouth, Margate, Ramsgate, Southampton, Southend and Torquay. The bombs were to be timed to explode at intervals from mid-July, at the height of the holiday season, and the attacks would have been quite indiscriminate in their victims. But, as last night's statement showed, the police have reason to believe that the only device so far placed was the one discovered in the Rubens hotel, and that the preparations of the IRA have been interrupted at an early stage. None the less, the police must take account of what they regard as the slight possibility that it was not only in the Rubens hotel that a bomb had been placed. Accordingly, they are urgently pursuing co-ordinated inquiries and searches on a basis agreed between all the chief officers of police concerned. That will involve conducting searches in the places identified as intended targets just as vigorously as if there were positive reasons for believing that bombs had been put in place there. The police service therefore now faces one of the largest preventive operations that it has ever mounted. I have asked the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Kenneth Newman, to undertake personally the co-ordination of the operation. The Commissioner's task is not to take over the local operational responsibilities of chief officers, but to provide a co-ordination centre and clearing house, in which individual forces may be represented, for the conduct of the operation. For that purpose, the forces principally involved will be invited to second appropriate officers temporarily to assist the commissioner in that task. He will in that way be able to ensure that information derived from related inquiries in any police force area is made available to others who may need to act upon it or refer to it. Those arrangements will also enable the public and the press to be kept properly informed, particularly in relation to any ways in which they can help. But the local Members of Parliament may also have an important role to play. For that reason, the commissioner, in consultation with the chief constables for the relevant areas, will be arranging briefing tomorrow for Members of Parliament for the constituencies identified as possible targets. The purpose will be to explain the background and the police assessment as fully as practicable and to discuss ways in which the Members and the public can best help the police. The House will appreciate the limitations on what can be said at this stage in the inquiries about the considerable amount of information that has so far been discovered. That has already resulted in a major terrorist outrage being thwarted. Every possible effort is now being made to prevent any further risk to the public and to bring to justice those who have been planning the cold-blooded and indiscriminate murder and maiming of totally innocent human beings.
On behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition, I congratulate the police on this skilful and successful operation. By their tenacity and ingenuity, they have almost certainly saved the lives of innocent people-possibly very many thousands of innocent people. If that plot had succeeded, it is appalling to imagine the havoc and carnage that would afflicted countless carefree holidaymakers.I hope that the Home Secretary will report to the House on any further significant developments as the public, including those in the holiday and tourist industries, will naturally continue to be concerned at any possible hazards. I am confident that all involved, whether those planning their holidays or those who work hard to earn their living at seaside resorts, will join the House—representing, as we do, the whole country — in in sending a message to those evil people who, for their bleak and inhuman purposes, are ready to destroy and maim men, women and children. That message is clear and unmistakable: "Your methods will not win. Bombs never have and never will change the principles and purpose of the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom."
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I shall certainly report to the House on any significant developments. I hope the House will feel that the course that has been followed in this case, of being as open as possible with the public about what has happened, is the right one.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the whole House will endorse his congratulations to the police? Other hon. Members may agree that, in view of the briefing that he is arranging for hon. Members who represent the towns affected, it would be inappropriate to press him today on detailed points. However, will he confirm that, where people have made, or might be considering making, plans to spend their holidays in the towns he mentioned, as of now he sees no reason why they should change those plans?
I certainly confirm what my right hon. Friend invites me to confirm. People should not change their plans. One reason for the briefing is that, apart from enlisting the support of hon. Members in the weeks that lie ahead for the tasks that fall to the police, the circumstances in each place will differ, so it is more convenient to deal with them by way of a briefing.
My hon. Friends and I wish to be associated with the expressions of admiration for the police and the intelligence services and join in the congratulations to them on the remarkable success of this operation. It has been reported that the nature of the hotel in Buckingham Palace road is such that, if the bomb had gone off, numbers of American tourists might have been killed. If that is so, does the Home Secretary agree that this is a timely moment for Her Majesty's Government to underline yet again to the American public the folly of donating money to organisations that support campaigns of this kind? Does he agree that there is some ray of optimism, in view of the information about IRA plans that has been forthcoming, and that that underlines yet again the growing revulsion of British and Irish citizens at this campaign of persistent murder and terror? Does he agree, therefore, that this would be a good time for the Government to underline yet again their intention to continue the constructive dialogue with the Government of Ireland?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those remarks, and I agree with everything he said. The common purpose that we share with America in fighting and defeating terrorism is well reflected in the supplemental treaty on extradition which is being signed today and which, when completed and ratified, will prevent those who commit terrorist acts from seeking a haven in the United States, while hypocritically claiming a political justification for their murderous acts.
I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) said about this not being the time to press the Home Secretary on matters of detail, particularly as those concerned will be briefed tomorrow. However, as my right hon. and learned Friend said that there was a slight chance that bombs may have been placed, will he give an assurance, irrespective of tomorrow's briefing, that as soon as it becomes clear that has not happened, a further statement will be made to that effect? Otherwise, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, there will be an adverse effect on tourism, a trade which is of vital importance to parts of the country?
I assure my right hon. Friend that if it is felt possible to eliminate, more conclusively than I have been able to do today, any further possibilities, I shall be delighted and happy to do so.
I applaud the success of the police against the Provisional IRA. They have done well; may their efforts continue that way. However, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have been surprised at the detailed information that has appeared in the newspapers today, not only because that may help any remnants of a cell that is in this country but also because I hope that it will not weaken any case that may come before the courts?
The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience of these matters, is giving a salutary warning to all concerned in the handling of these issues.
Is the Home Secretary aware that, while in Southend this morning, I detected among the public a sense of outrage that the IRA planned to kill and maim innocent holidaymakers? Is he further aware that the public are immensely grateful to the police for showing professional skills and bravery in thwarting the IRAs appalling plan? Does the co-ordination arrangement mean that the extremely professional skills of the Met will be available, if required, to county forces?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The answer is that it does.
Have the Government taken note that once again the operations of the Provisional IRA have been pointedly used to bring pressure to bear on Her Majesty's Government in the context of the conclusion of certain arrangements with the Irish Government?
I am not sure that I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the people of Brighton will greatly welcome his statement showing yet again the competence and effectiveness of the Sussex police force and the other forces involved? Will he emphasise the importance of the public giving full support to the police in their activities and ignoring the anti-police activities of small groups of extreme Left-wing activists in my town and in other parts of the country?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's observations and I welcome the opportunity that they give me to say that members of the public should be on the alert for suspicious objects, individuals and incidents, but that neither they nor hoteliers should institute searches of establishments without advice from the police.
Will the Home Secretary convey the congratulations of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to all those police forces throughout the country which have played such a notable part in forestalling appalling outrages and in particular to the force in the Strathclyde region? In that context, does he agree that it is to the regional and local police forces that the country must turn for protection and that we must guard against responding by any step towards the creation of a national police force? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in that regard I view with some disquiet the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman in a co-ordinating role?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the contributions of a number of police forces and to single out Strathclyde in this instance, but I am afraid that I do not agree with his comments about the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman. If the hon. Gentleman had followed carefully the terms of my statement he would have realised that it was designed to avoid precisely that which he fears. There is no question of a step towards the creation of a national police force. I happen to believe that such a force would not be more efficient, quite apart from any political disadvantages. In an event of this kind, however, the necessity for co-ordination is real and imperative and I believe that the machinery that we have set up is appropriate.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that all concerned with the tourist industry, especially hoteliers, are most perturbed by these developments? Will he confirm that additional surveillance will be given in areas which, although not mentioned, are equally vulnerable?
Certainly, wherever in the judgment of the police there is an enhanced risk, enhanced protection will be provided.
Having witnessed too many times for comfort the professionalism of the police and the Army in situations of this kind I can only congratulate them yet again on their success, as I have done many times before. Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) has said, is the Home Secretary in a position to say in a few words whether the Prevention of Terrorism Act has helped him in circumstances of this kind?
The answer to that is—undoubtedly.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the superb work of the intelligence services, which deserves the gratitude of the whole country, bears out the truth of what my right hon. and learned friend told the Select Committee on Home Affairs some months ago—that but for the work of the security forces hundreds of people now alive would be dead?
My hon. and learned Friend is quite right. I did not and could not anticipate that what I said to the Select Committee would be borne out so vividly and in such a horrifying way so soon afterwards.
Further to the point raised by the leader of the Liberal party, in view of the record number of American visitors staying at British hotels this year, would it not be sensible to draw attention to the fact that the IRA is no respecter of whom it maims and murders, and should not such visitors be given an information pack on the IRA to take home?
That process of education was sadly and tragically enhanced by the Harrods bombing in which there were American victims. The fact that IRA terrorism respects no persons can and should be abundantly clear to citizens of the United States, whether visiting here or at home. I also wish to say to them that they are most welcome here, and we will do everything we can to make them safe.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the arrangements he has made to brief tomorrow the representatives of the resorts identified. Further to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the investigations which he has reported to the House yet again underline the importance of the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act? Will he join me in expressing the hope that those who have opposed this legislation in the past will reconsider their attitude in the light of these developments?
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I do not wish to enter a partisan note, but I was always baffled at the thought that those who introduced the legislation should have felt that it was no longer necessary. Present circumstances and events, alas, underline its enduring necessity.
Will the Home Secretary accept that, with others in the community, we share in the joy at the success of the security forces and agree with the necessity to co-ordinate those forces to deal with such an attack upon the nation? Does he also accept that a recently elected Derry councillor, who five years ago carried a bomb into Londonderry guildhall, has gone on record as saying that that was a political statement? Perhaps the time has now come for the Government to reconsider the position of Sinn Fein, the political representative of the IRA, and to proscribe it as a political party.
I shall not comment on that suggestion, but there can be no question of any political justification for acts of violence. We do not recognise violence as a means of furthering political ends.
On behalf of my many constituents who work and shop in Southampton throughout the year, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the magnificent success of the security services. As he has pointed out, the danger has not gone away. Will he therefore seriously consider using the Central Office of Information to mount a vigorous advertising campaign to warn holidaymakers and others of the ever-present danger?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion, which I should like to consider.
Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Members of Parliament of all the cities named will look forward to the meeting but that we must go through an educative process? We must become more vigilant to the obvious things that should be observed. I think in particular of hotel managements, hotel employees, hotel guests and everyone who frequents a restaurant. Wherever people reside, they must look for the unattended parcel and the easy hiding place.
My hon. Friend is entirely right.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend convey to the Kent police force my thanks and those of my constituents for the part they played in producing this result? Does he agree that at least part of the IRA campaign was aimed at economic rather than personal targets? Does he further agree that it would be a tremendous and sad irony if, in the light of the success of the police campaign, the British public were to do the IRA's job for it by boycotting English seaside resorts?
My hon. Friend is entirely right in his assessment of one objective of the IRA, and I share his determination that that objective should not be achieved.
Is my hon. right hon. and learned Friend aware that many hoteliers in my seaside constituency will be relieved by today's news? Does he agree that this is an appropriate moment to spare no effort in tightening the control and handling of baggage and cargo at airports?
Certainly, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has taken the matter well on board.
Since these perverted people have been thwarted in this campaign, is there not a danger that remaining members of that cell or other cells may still be active? Should there not be a campaign by the Government to warn the public about the risks in any public place, such as restaurants, stations or big stores?
Naturally, I have no knowledge or information beyond what I have told the House about this campaign. The risks that the hon. Gentleman identified are real, but I do not believe that they should be exaggerated.
Order. I will call the five hon. Members who are standing, but I ask them to address their questions in a somewhat different fashion. I know they are speaking for their constituents, but this is a narrow statement.
Noting the gratifying unity in the House today, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether it is true that those who will an end must will the means? Is not an indispensable means to the end that we all seek the Prevention of Terrorism Act?
Since terrorism is the most barbaric form of protest, does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that, aided and abetted by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry plus a very sympathetic Chief Whip, the time has come for the Cabinet, as a matter of policy, to put the Whips in and reintroduce capital punishment for terrorism?
My hon. Friend will have observed how I voted when this matter came before the House, but I have not changed my view that this matter should not be determined on the basis of a party vote.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend be more specific about the new arrangement with the United States, which is a remarkable change in American practice on extradition? Is he sure that it will obtain the approval of Congress and the co-operation of all American judges?
As my hon. Friend says, it will require the approval of the United States Senate, and that approval has still to be achieved. Events such as the ones that we are discussing will underline, in the United States as elsewhere, the importance of ensuring that there are no safe havens for those about whom there is suspicion of committing such acts. I hope that the ratification of this important agreement will proceed smoothly.
In congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on the superb work done by police forces throughout the country, may I add a word of caution? I would imagine that it is important that other members of the IRA, no matter where they are in the country, should have no more details of what we have done to date. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider supporting what the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) said, and introduce a security clampdown? I know that the House is fully behind the police force, under Sir Kenneth Newman, and we must cut out the cancer of IRA terrorists as a matter of great urgency.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. The information that we have been given is only a small part of the information that is already in the hands of the police. We must all be sensitive to the primary needs of security, although the wide availability of information can assist in tracking down people on occasions such as this.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the American treaty. Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, if the treaty is ratified, it will be retrospective? On the appointment of Sir Kenneth Newman, will my right hon. and learned Friend brush aside all the nonsense of the suggestions that this is a move towards a national police force? It is no such thing. Will he recognise also that the best thing that the House could do for Sir Kenneth Newman and for the police as a whole is to ensure that the Special Branch and the anti-terrorist squad have the necessary men and resources to provide bipartisan support for the Prevention of Terrorism Act and put an end to rate-financed denigration of the police?
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the denigration of the police and the need for them to be adequately supported. I agree also with my hon. Friend's point about the role of co-ordination that is necessary in this case. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the extradition arrangements. My hon. Friend asked whether the supplemental treaty would be restrospective. It will apply to any offence that is committed before or after it comes into effect.
Board And Lodging Payments
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the arrangements for supplementary benefit payments towards board and lodging charges.The House will recall that consultative proposals on board and lodging payments were referred to the Social Security Advisory Committee in November 1984 and that in March this year the Government laid regulations which came into operation on 29 April. The regulations were designed to achieve two main purposes. One was to contain the rapid growth in expenditure and to stop the abuses that had been taking place. The number of ordinary board and lodging cases had risen from 49,000 in 1979 to an estimated 139,000 in 1984, while annual expenditure in this area had risen from £52 million to an estimated £380 million over the same period. There was widespread public criticism that young people were too easily able to settle in such accommodation at the public expense, often at levels of charges well above what could be afforded by people in work. Our second purpose—at least as important as the first—was to ensure continued help at an appropriate level for young people who really do need board and lodging for more than a short time. We therefore took steps to exempt from time limits people such as those who were recently in care, those who have children, those who are disabled or mentally handicapped, those who are or have been mentally ill, and those who are in board and lodging as part of a programme of rehabilitation arranged by, for example, the probation service. We also exempted people living in homes qualified as hostels. We made it clear that we would be monitoring the new regulations with great care and would be ready to make changes quickly if the need were shown. That monitoring is of course continuing, but the initial indications suggest that, generally, young people with a real need to be in board and lodging for more than a short time should be covered by the various categories of exemption from the time limits for which the regulations already provide. It is therefore important—I want to emphasise this to every hon. Member—that claimants, or anyone else who is concerned about a particular case, should ensure that any special circumstances are fully explained to the local DHSS office, which will give them careful consideration before any final decision on benefit entitlement is reached. We have, however, decided that an additional exemption category is needed to cover young people under the age of 26 who are living with their parents or step-parents in board and lodging accommodation. Regulations to achieve this will be laid before the House shortly, and until they come into effect we shall make special arrangements to help those people to whom they would apply. The regulations will also enable us to extend the exemption categories to cover other types of case if a need can be shown. As I have said, we believe that the present exemptions generally cover those to whom the time limits ought not to apply, but we think it right to ensure that we can act quickly and flexibly if it should become clear that there are other groups who should also be covered. The Government's objective is to strike a proper balance between curbing undoubted abuse and ensuring that genuine social security needs are effectively met. The additional proposals that I have made today will help us to maintain that balance.
Is the Minister aware that we welcome this extension of the exempt categories, while insisting that this is an insufficient answer to the method of operating the rules, which has been shown to be exceedingly harsh and unjust? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the restrictions which he introduced two months ago have caused hardship to innocent claimants out of all proportion to the limited abuse which they were designed to remedy? Is he aware that because, as the Government's own Social Security Advisory Committee has advised, adequate alternative powers exist for the DHSS to deal with this abuse, these rules should be suspended pending a wider and more thorough review?Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that even after today's limited relaxation of the rules they still remain unfair, because a period of two, four or even eight weeks is inadequate in which to obtain accommodation from a local authority waiting list or housing association, to register with a GP or a dentist for medical treatment, to obtain legal rights—since bail is not granted if there is no fixed address—or even to register as a voter? Is the hon. Gentleman aware also that extending the exempt categories will not prevent reported suicides, like that of Brian Brown last year in Glasgow, or attempted suicides, like that of David Leitch in Telford, since they were already in exempt categories but did not know it? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that where a young couple have separated and one partner has custody of the children the other partner will still not be allowed to stay for any length of time in the area where his partner lives, so that in many cases children will be deprived of access to their father? Is he further aware that the right of appeal against a decision that is tantamount to an eviction notice is still effectively abolished, since it takes longer than the two, four or eight weeks available to get an appeal heard? Is the Minister aware that the Government continue to deal with the symptoms rather than the causes of the problems of homelessness? Is he aware that expenditure on board and lodging payments has increased so much in recent years only because of the growth in the numbers of homeless people who have been forced to live in this type of accommodation because they have nowhere else to go, due to the huge cut in public spending on house building which Government policies have brought about? If the Government believe that the problem is caused by young people taking holidays by the seaside, why do the regulations cover the whole country and not just the seaside? Why do the Government not simply rely upon powers which they already possess under requirements regulation 9(14)(b), which has always provided that a person who is on holiday and staying in board and lodging accommodation cannot have his board and lodging charges met? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in many cases the real abuse is committed, not by claimants, but by some landlords unscrupulously exploiting guaranteed payments by the DHSS and installing cookers and switching to self-contained tenancies to avoid these regulations? Is the Minister aware that minor tinkering, like today's package, will not deal with the problems caused by these regulations and that they should be repealed and replaced by a comprehensive programme to deal with the real causes of homelessness, including greater investment in public housing and measures to bring board and lodging within the Rent Acts so that residents are protected from arbitrary eviction? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if he does not do that — the Social Security Advisory Committee warned him about this — the Government will be creating an army of young people forced to move around the country like nomads, unable to put down roots, to find a job or to get on a housing list, and that his concession today will do nothing to stop that?
The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously contend that there was only limited abuse, in view of some of the evidence that has been adduced and the huge increase in numbers. It was not confined, as he implies, to seaside resorts. We have evidence, for example, in one leading inland town of a 37 per cent. increase in the number of claimants in board and lodging accommodation during a period of only five months over the turn of the year, and the opening of about 100 new board and lodging establishments in a period of not much more than a year.
Where was that?
Reading.Of course, I accept that there was abuse and exploitation by landlords. We introduced the regulations because we were determined to curb that abuse and exploitation. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the regulations will cause large numbers of young people to move about the country. He has only to study the number of young people who have claimed board and lodging in recent years, the huge 50 per cent. or more increase in their numbers, and the reports that have come from many parts of the country about the influx of young people to know that the previous regulations were creating that rootlessness.
Order. It might be fair to hon. Members to say that, as we have an important debate in which no fewer than 30 right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part, as well as a ten-minute Bill, I cannot allow questions on the statement to run after 4.30 pm. I hope that all hon. Members will ask brief questions; then they will all get in.
My hon. Friend made an interesting comment about hostel accommodation. In my constituency there is the New Bible college with 60 residents. The owners of that college have applied for registration as a hostel. If the cut-off date —8 July—comes before authorisation for registration is granted, will my hon. Friend ensure that the cut-off does not take place, thus throwing those 60 young people on to the streets?
May I look into the case that my hon. Friend has mentioned? We have two or three hostel applications currently under consideration. The best thing would be for me to have a decision made quickly.
As the whole House agrees that many landlords are ripping off the welfare state through the regulations, when will the Minister make a statement to the House that deals directly with that matter, rather than aiming at those landlords through claimants?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be fair-minded enough to accept that the restraints that we have imposed in the regulations through the time limits, and, in respect of landlords, through the financial limits, have been directed at curbing abuse and exploitation by landlords. I should not want to leave the impression that the abuse is caused solely by young people. It is important that we prevent young people from being exploited by others.
I welcome the relaxation announced by my hon. Friend. Is he satisfied that sufficient steps have been taken to ensure that claimants understand the wide categories of exemptions? There is evidence that that is one of the causes of some of the hardship. Secondly, will he take on board the fact that probation officers have been expressing anxiety because of the lack of accommodation likely to be available to young people coming out of institutions?
My hon. Friend will be aware that probation hostels would normally be exempt under the hostel provisions, and that anyone in board and lodging under a programme arranged by a probation officer would likely to be exempt.
The Minister is to be congratulated on easing these unworkable regulations, which were always a triumph of bureaucracy over humane and political judgments. If he will not withdraw all the regulations, will he consider two immediate exemptions: first, an exemption for those who are offered council accommodation which will be available after the end of their allowed stay; and, secondly, an exemption for those who are offered jobs which will begin after the period of allowed stay? Will he also give instructions that people be allowed to stay where they are pending an appeal? Thirdly, will he commend those authorities which have set up a system of prevention similar to that in Leeds, where the DHSS notifies people when they must move on and also notifies the social services and gives individuals a list of telephone numbers of the citizens advice bureaux and social services, which is a help when people would be allowed to stay but are unaware of their rights?
I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's first two suggestions within the terms of the power to make the extensions which I propose in the amending regulations. We are anxious that people should be pointed towards proper advice. The letter which currently goes to them tells them of the exemption categories and asks them to talk to the local office if they have problems. I am arranging for that advice to be strengthened, in the hope that we shall he able to move in the direction that the hon. Gentleman would like.
I thank my hon. Friend for his statement. Can he confirm that the BBC, in trying to exploit the case of Mr. Leach, who is a constituent of mine, was misleading the public by saying that he was still in hospital when the programme was put out and that he had tried to commit suicide because of a threatened cut in the lodging allowance that he was to receive? Will my hon. Friend confirm that in that case my efficient DHSS manager, Mr. Eade, had, before the programme went out, advised Mr. Leach that he was covered by one of the exemptions in the original proposal and arrangements and that he was exempt from the cut that was threatened?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I shall take the opportunity to say that I am grateful also to the "That's Life" programme for the trouble that it took to put me fully in the picture with the details of the cases that had come to its attention. I am happy to confirm that Mr. Leach, who was interviewed by the local office last Friday, will be in an exempt category when he is once again available for employment, and he has had a letter confirming that fact.
Is not the Minister, who is normally so compassionate, thoroughly ashamed of his nasty little regulations? Was he not warned by the organisations working in this sphere—Shelter and the Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless—of what would inevitably happen? He went ahead notwithstanding, and the results flowed from that. Will he and his officials listen in future and disabuse themselves of the illusion that under-26-year-olds, born and brought up in their own towns and cities, have families to which they can return?
I do not see, and have never seen, anything compassionate in permitting the continuation of a system which was allowing the kind of exploitation which rightly worried the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). It has led to many tens of thousands of young people being trapped in inappropriate accommodation in circumstances where they probably could not even afford to take work if it were offered.
It is impossible to suggest ways in which my hon. Friend could have been more compassionate or sensitive in his consideration of this matter. There was immediate anxiety in my constituency because of speculation that he was intending to relax the scheme. There are examples of connivance by youngsters with landlords, and that must not be forgotten. The one thing that is clear, which I hope my hon. Friend will bear in mind in all his considerations, is that there is no genuine incentive to link the search for board and lodging with finding work. In fact, at the moment there is every incentive to seek accommodation where no work exists, in order to perpetuate unemployment and the receipt of benefit.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. I am grateful for his earlier remarks. The time limit and the structure, with the longest limits in the large travel-to-work areas, such as the metropolitar areas, are designed to take some account of that point.
Would the Minister care to put aside for one second the cynical disregard and callous unconcern that the Government have so far displayed when considering these issues and examine for a minute the decline in the availability of public housing stock for rent? Does he accept that if he measures one against the other he will see that the decline in public housing stock for rent reflects the dramatic increase in claimants which he has identified today? His hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said that
"The Department have established a very carefully worked out catalogue of exemptions for those who would be affected by the new regulations"—
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask a brief question, because he made an application on this subject yesterday under Standing Order No. 10.
He said—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am reading because it is a quotation. He said:
Who is to be believed? Were the exemptions that were announced last Thursday afternoon adequate? If they were adequate then, why do they need to be extended now? Furthermore, how does moral and physical danger stop at the age of 19?"Nobody in need can slip through that net of exemptions."
I confirm that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that there was an extensive list of exemptions in the existing regulations, covering many of the difficult cases which have caused controversy in recent days. However, it was necessary to extend the exemptions in the way that I have announced this afternoon, and it is wise for the Government to have the power to act quickly should other needs be made known to us.
One welcomes the changes, but there is a large number of cases of real hardship. Would it not be right to have some form of appeals procedure whereby one case could be judged adequately against another?
My hon. Friend will know that there is an appeals procedure in respect of the category into which a claimant is placed. If he is denied exemption, he can appeal against the decision on that basis. That is a wide-ranging and important right, and it is the appropriate course to adopt, as with other parts of the benefit system when benefit is refused.
What advice would the Minister give to the two 16-year-old girls in my constituency who live in a hostel at Watson road, Worksop, who deliberately got themselves pregnant last month so that they could stay in the hostel and not be evicted? Was it the subsequent publicity on breakfast television, on Radio 4, in the Worksop Guardian and in other organs of the media that persuaded him to change his mind?
Since, on the facts suggested by the hon. Gentleman, the two young ladies in question would be exempt, that does not affect anything that I have said this afternoon about additional exemptions. The suggestion that young women deliberately become pregnant has often been made in respect of local authority housing allocation policies. To the extent that that can be seen to be a problem, it is not unique to these regulations. Unless we are not to take account of such circumstances, it is always possible that people will contrive such circumstances to achieve a particular advantage.
Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the blame for the current anguish lies with certain voluntary and political organisations which, for a variety of motives, have not read the exemptions and have not therefore attempted to apply them? Does he further agree that if we accepted the suggestion of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that the board and lodging system should be brought under the Rent Acts it would solve the problem because it would wipe out board and lodging altogether?