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Commons Chamber

Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

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House Of Commons

Monday 1 July 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Lincoln City Council Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Oral Answers To Questions


Dial-A-Ride (London)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will hold further discussions with London Regional Transport and the organisers of dial-a-ride in Greater London to ensure its continuance in operation if the Greater London council funding is terminated at the end of 1985–86.

My officials are discussing the future of the dial-a-ride system with officers of the London boroughs and London Regional Transport. I intend to find satisfactory arrangements for the continuation of the scheme.

I thank my hon. Friend for the assurances that she gave yet again in an important speech at the beginning of last week. Will she elaborate a little, as reassurance that this vital and developing service will continue is needed? Will she spell out, even if only in a preliminary way, how funding will continue after 1985–86?

I am willing to have discussions with my hon. Friend, but it would not be fair to the London Boroughs Association or to London Regional Transport to go into too much detail, as they have not come to any overall agreement. I have told them that the scheme is important and much valued, that I intend to ensure that it continues and that it is made as efficient as possible so that we get good occupancy and reduce the cost per trip. I cannot tell my hon. Friend more than that at the moment.

Will the hon. Lady take this opportunity to assure the House that users of dial-a-ride schemes throughout London will be able to continue to use those schemes and that there will be no cost to existing borough councils in London greater than those which they already pay towards dial-a-ride schemes? Will she ensure that the disabled of London are not forced to pay for her proposals for taking control of London Transport from the people of London?

This has nothing to do with the transfer of London Transport to London Regional Transport. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the costs of dial-a-ride schemes are borne wholly by ratepayers. I see no reason for that to change, but we have to find the best way in which to do it. I assure the disabled people who use dial-a-ride schemes that the reason for working so hard to find the best, most efficient and cost-effective scheme is that they should be able to go on using them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Greater London council's recent press release on the future of the dial-a-ride service has brought a great deal of unnecessary worry and distress to disabled and elderly people?

I regret to say that, once again, by spreading scare stories, the GLC has again worried many disabled people. [Interruption.] I am happy to say, however, that, despite the mutterings of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), the scheme will continue. We want to find the best and most cost-effective way in which to run it.

Is the Minister aware that, sure as we are that her intentions are good, we need more assurances than the suggestions that, somehow or other, the scheme will continue? Where is the money to come from? Is she aware that for this Government cost-effective is another way of saying fewer journeys, more people left in their own homes, and greater problems for the disabled?

For the umpteenth time, the hon. Lady has got it wrong. The Birmingham dial-a-ride schemes have come down to an average cost of £2 per trip, but certain London schemes vary between £10 and £16 per trip. It is surely my duty, if we are to extend such services to a greater range of disabled people, to reduce the costs.

M1 Motorway (Repairs)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the arrangements his Department has made for monitoring traffic on the M1 south of Bedfordshire from 2 to 16 July while extensive repairs are being done to the M1.

The arrangements for monitoring traffic include a considerably increased number of police patrols, video cameras positioned in the contraflow system and aerial surveillance during daylight hours. Everything practicable is being and will be done to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely.

As we do not want traffic in south Bedfordshire to come to a complete standstill between 2 and 16 July, will my hon. Friend assure me that there will be a sustained publicity campaign in the midlands, the north and Scotland, to try to persuade drivers to avoid that section of the M1 while repairs are done unless they have business in the south Bedfordshire area?

I assure my hon. Friend that every possible aspect of the national campaign has been and is being followed up. I have spent my time this morning in the M1 area, and the traffic was flowing freely. However, that will continue to happen only if those who normally use their cars on the M1 use the trains, as I have advised, during the repair period and the car parking that has been provided for them at Milton Keynes station, Birmingham international, Leagrave, Luton and St. Albans.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the good precautions that she has taken to avoid chaos on the M1? Never before have such tremendous efforts been made in advance, and those who use the M1, such as myself, are very grateful to her.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she said. Provided that the advice that has been given out in the leaflet, through broadcasts, question sessions and so on is followed, I believe that we can keep the remaining traffic, which should be the heavy goods vehicles, on the M1. The other traffic can stay at home or use the railways or planes. The schemes that have been developed over many months are there to help the traveller while the essential work is done.

Does the Minister accept that the unprecedented closure of the M1 is due to the enormous increase in road freight over the past decade —[Interruption.] Whether or not that amuses the Secretary of State, it happens to be true, although he would not know, given his present job. In their policies, the Government appear to be determined to increase heavy road freight still further. Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that she will continue to resist Common Market pressure for 44-tonne lorries, before all our motorways have to be closed? Will the hon. Lady confirm that the only advice that she can offer regular travellers on the M1 is, as she said, to take the train or stay at home?

There is absolutely no question of 44-tonne lorries being acceptable in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help everybody else for once by getting it right in future. We are not closing the M1. The northbound traffic will go up the southbound carriageway, which has a narrow two-lane contraflow upon it. The M10 traffic will come on, go off round a roundabout and come straight back on after junction 8 where the 200-yard stretch is being renewed. The freight traffic on that stretch of the M1 is about a quarter of all traffic. The growth in the number of cars is even more than that of freight.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have been a user of the M for more years than I care to remember? Would there not have been a reduction in the use of the motorway during August, when large numbers of the population are away on holiday? Has the right forthnight been selected for these difficult roadworks?

My hon. Friend is not quite right about the volume of traffic during the holiday season. It increases on that stretch of motorway, which is why we are seeking to do the work before the children's summer holidays start. We have chosen the best combination of long daylight hours, the drier weather, which we hope we shall see during the first fortnight of July, and the higher night ambient temperatures. It is not possible to have the best of each of those, but the best combination of all three makes it the right fortnight to get that essential work done.

Bridges And Tunnels (Tolls)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what information he has as to the total revenue raised by tolls on bridges and tunnels in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement.

The gross figures for each year starting in 1979–80 were: £20·2 million, £22·3 million, £28·5 million, £34·9 million and £39·2 million, totalling £145·1 million.

The Government's policy remains that estuarial crossings should be paid for by the users through tolls rather than by taxpayers, except where there are counter-arguments on the grounds of traffic diversion or congestion. That is because of the exceptional savings in time and money which these expensive facilities make possible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of financing toll bridges and tunnels places a considerable burden on local authorities, especially counties such as Essex and Kent, which must finance the Dartford tunnel? Does he agree that toll booths cause considerable delays at bridges and tunnels? Despite the revenue, does he agree that the country overall would be better off if toll charges were abolished?

Taking the last point first, it would make no difference to the country overall if tolls were abolished and the costs were put on to taxpayers rather than users. The costs still have to be paid, whoever pays for them. I do not think that any direct cost falls on Essex and Kent county councils, because they have a fund to administer the tunnel. In due course it is expected that that fund will be repaid, probably in the early 1990s, and the county councils will not be out of pocket as a result.

Regarding delays, when the toll plaza is complete and there are 12 toll booths in each direction, and when the road widening is completed up to the mouth of the tunnel, I do not think that there will be delays, except those caused by a lack of capacity in the tunnel. We have already announced that we are studying how best to provide extra capacity to obviate that shortage as soon as possible.

Is not this issue of toll charges on estuarial crossings becoming more farcical every day? The latest example on the Severn bridge is of thousands of pounds being extracted from disabled drivers because no one has told them that they may cross the bridge free of charge. Surely such a concession should be advertised nationally and in the local press by the Ministry of Transport.

I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman. Until 1979 he supported the Labour Government who firmly and strongly advocated the continuation of tolls on estuarial crossings. Why does he appear to change his mind now that there is a Conservative Government? The disabled have the concession to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I hope that he will do his best to ensure that there is a high take-up of it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Fife region is the only region in Britain that one pays both to get into and out of—on the Forth and Tay bridges? Does he not realise that the sooner we get rid of that nonsense the better?

If the hon. Gentleman feels like that my advice to him is to stay in Fife.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it costs £2 to cross the Humber bridge and return home again? Is there any other county in the United Kingdom where one must pay to go from one part of it to another? Does it not make a mockery of the creation of Humberside, which artificially joins north Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire, much to the chagrin of its inhabitants?

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel like sending a copy of that supplementary question to Mrs. Barbara Castle and, indeed, perhaps an invoice to match it.

If the engineering study announced last week by the Minister of State recommends in favour of an additional river crossing at Dartford, will that new tunnel be subject to the same toll arrangements as the existing Dartford tunnels?

When a question involves two "ifs" I am entitled to say that it is hypothetical. Indeed, that is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.

May I make a further helpful counter argument? Will the Secretary of State consider throwing a lifeline to the increasingly floundering Conservative candidate in the Brecon and Radnor by-election and, consistent with recent other gifts, end tolls on the Severn bridge?

No, Sir. It is not Government policy to seek to buy by-election results as Mrs. Castle did with the Humber bridge. Humberside was lumbered with an enormous debt as a result of that by-election promise. We have no intention of inflicting such a cruel burden on the inhabitants of Brecon and Radnor.

Is it expected that the toll revenue will pay off the cost of these bridges and tunnels? If so, will there be a time limit on the changing of tolls?

It depends on which crossing the right hon. Gentleman means. Some are within sight of redeeming their capital debt, but others are not.

Air Services


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many international scheduled services currently operate out of regional airports; and how many operated in 1983.

There are about 925 individual international services per week from regional airports compared with about 690 two years ago, an increase of just over one third.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those impressive figures show the Government's commitment to regional airports? How many more routes have started from regional airports since 1983?

About 1,500 international routes are now available from regional airports, of which 100 are in use. This year alone, 14 started from Manchester and four from Birmingham.

Will the Minister undertake at least to investigate the possibility of providing full customs facilities at Inverness and Wick airports so that the potential for international flights between the highlands and Scandinavia and northern Europe can be more fully exploited?

We are always willing to investigate the possibility of additional customs facilities and I shall certainly look into the cases that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We must, however, be sure that there is a reasonable amount of traffic to justify the cost of providing those facilities.

Will my hon. Friend give some idea of the expected increase in international routes from regional airports? What are the prospects for Manchester airport in the light of the White Paper?

The prospects for Manchester airport are excellent in view of its track record in the immediate past. There has been an increase from 3·5 million passengers per annum in 1979 to 6 million this year. Bristol has shown a 25 per cent. increase in the same period and international traffic from regional airports generally has risen from 7·6 million to 12 million passengers per annum over the same period. On the basis of experience, therefore, the future holds excellent prospects for regional airports.

Will the Minister give an assurance that those excellent prospects also apply to Carlisle?

Carlisle has had its ups and downs, but it is a good airport. I think that we have now overcome the customs problems.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern in Norwich that cross-subsidy for Stansted may make fair competition difficult, if not impossible, for regional airports? Will he introduce further measures to encourage the development of regional airports and the reform of their financial structure?

Under the new Bill, which we shall introduce as soon as possible, the accounts of the various airports in the BAA system will be transparent. Any loans between airports will have to be at fully commercial rates. Norwich is an expanding airport with tremendous possibilities, especially through the inter-regional system into northern Europe. There are good prospects there, and many new routes have started up recently.

Is the Minister aware of the misleading practice by British Airways, which in its scheduled flights includes certain international flights from regional airports that go via London Heathrow? Will he confirm that the figures he has given relate to genuine international flights from regional airports exclusive of calls in London?

It is quite true that a number of passengers travel from regional airports through the London system, because the London system is the busiest international hub in the world. Our object is to build up other hubs, notably at Manchester, and we are being very successful in that policy.

Does the Minister accept that Birmingham's excellent regional airport owes a great deal of its success to the activities of the West Midlands county council in recent years? Does he also accept that many regional airport directors feel very strongly about the Government's practice of refusing permission for foreign airlines to fly direct to the regions unless that permission is linked to the withdrawal of slots by those airlines in and out of Heathrow? Will he ensure that that practice ceases?

Birmingham's recent record was not as bright as the records of many other regional airports. One of the reasons why its prospects are now extremely good is that central Government have given £20 million of taxpayers' money to develop Birmingham airport.

Motorway Construction


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how much has been spent on new motorway construction in each of the past three years at constant prices.

At constant 1982–83 prices, the amount spent on new motorway construction was £285 million in 1982–83; £289 million in 1983–84; and provisionally, £295 million in 1984–85. A further £725 million was spent on construction of other national roads in the same period.

I welcome the improvement that has been made, but does my right hon. Friend feel that the new motorway construction programme is adequate? Does he not think that we need a much better motorway network if we are to move goods and materials more quickly and improve our industrial efficiency?

Overall spending on national roads has increased by 30 per cent. in real terms since we inherited the work from the Labour Government. That is a large and major contribution to improving the roads system. Within that total it is likely that more priority will have to be given to non-motorway roads, bypasses and smaller schemes as the motorway construction programme begins to draw towards its close.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that those figures contain a considerable amount for the preparation of the Denton to Portwood motorway in my constituency? Will he now announce the date for starting work on that motorway? Will he also listen with considerable sympathy to the case presented by Tameside council for the completion of the outer ring road around Manchester, which will have a considerable impact on the area's industrial development? In particular, will he press the Minister of State to be sympathetic to the case that will be presented to her when she meets a deputation from Tameside later today?

The costs of those schemes are in the "National Roads England 1985" programme, which my hon. Friend the Minister of State announced a couple of weeks ago. I think the hon. Gentleman supports their going through the public inquiry procedure before they can commence. He will also know as well as I do that my hon. Friend is always helpful and sympathetic, as I am sure she will be when the hon. Gentleman meets her this afternoon.

I should like to give my hon. Friend an accurate figure. Off the cuff figures may not be quite accurate, particularly as my hon. Friend did not specify whether he was referring to urban, semi-urban or rural motorways. I shall give him a full answer.

Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act 1984


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act 1984 will be implemented.

Most of the provisions of the Act were introduced on 20 May 1985. Section 1 has yet to be implemented. We expect to bring this remaining provision, which relates to the identification of driving instructors, into operation later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What benefits have flowed from the Act so far? What will be her reaction to the Driving Instructors Association's seven-point plan for road safety, which will not only save lives but an estimated £2,000 million?

Those elements of the Act already in operation are that all new trainees should be partly qualified before they are allowed to give any tuition—which will be under a minimum of one fifth, 20 per cent., supervision—that they must complete their qualifications within six months and that they will not be allowed to extend their trainee licence for a further six months. They will have to take up special training, and there will be tighter direct personal supervision of the trainees, which is very important. The identification cards are to follow. As regards the representations made by the Driving Instructors Association, my officials have recently met the association for detailed discussion, and I am giving detailed consideration to its proposals.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern on the Conservative Benches that, as a result of implementation, there may be even more generous donations to the Liberal party by the British School of Motoring? Taking this into consideration—

May I then ask my hon. Friend to urge on those driving schools that contribute to political parties that they should show that on the windscreens of their cars?

That must be a matter for the individual driving school. Our concern is better driving and fewer accidents. I hope that everybody's concern in driving instruction will be first and foremost to give the best possible tuition to learner drivers. If that means fewer resources for their political protegees, we might have better drivers.

When the Minister meets the Driving Instructors Association this afternoon, will she give sympathetic consideration to extending the regulations even further so that the proposal put forward by my colleague in the other place, supported by the Government's spokesman for transport there and members of the Labour party, that instructors should be trained to teach, will soon be part of the regulations, in addition to what the hon. Lady has provided for so far?

Our training is training to teach, and certain comments recorded in Hansard in the other place are not quite correct. I am concerned to see that we get the best possible standard of tuition, because with that, and with better enforcement of the law through the penalty points system, we shall have better driving and fewer accidents on our roads. That is what we want to achieve. Any suggestions will always be looked at carefully in that light.

M3 Motorway (Extension)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for a north-eastern extension of the M3 motorway.

Will my hon. Friend accept the appreciation of my constituents and all users of the M3 motorway, including myself, for the recent completion of the southern extension ahead of time? Will she also accept that the same motorists will be disappointed with her reply, because they feel that any time saved by that extension will be lost as a result of the congestion at the other end, most notably on the A4? Does my hon. Friend have any plans to speed up traffic between the Chiswick flyover and Parliament square?

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier comment about the completion of the southern extension of the M3, which was urgently needed. We are purposely looking at the needs and concerns within inner London not only of road users but of those who live in the area. Until the independent assessment studies have been completed, whether it be for that or any other area, I shall not be thinking of any changes to the present network.

When does the Minister expect the road assessment studies to be completed and published?

The work being done by the consultants is going along well on the whole. They need to collect a certain amount of information which they are not being permitted to collect. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer to his question. He had better ask his friends in the GLC.

"Cycles On Trains"


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss the results of the research paper entitled "Cycles on Trains", commissioned by British Rail; and if he will make a statement.

This is a matter for British Rail. My hon. Friend may wish to take it up with the chairman direct.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the two most favoured recommendations in the report by the Harris people are that charges for bicycles on British Rail should stop and that the ban on the inter-city rail network should cease? Is he aware that £7 million of additional income is being lost by the unhelpful attitude of British Rail? Will my hon. Friend say something about that, to ensure that British Rail gets more money from bicycle users?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's longstanding interest in this matter as chairman of the all-party Friends of Cycling group. I assure him that I know of no plans by British Rail to extend its restrictions. There are restrictions on HSTs because there is not enough space to take large quantities of luggage and other paraphernalia. I shall report my hon. Friend's comments to the chairman of British Rail.

Midland Main Line (Electrification)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last discussed with the chairman of British Rail plans for electrification of the Midland main line north of Bedford.

The British Railways Board is responsible for planning its own investment. If the chairman wishes to raise this project at one of our regular meetings, I shall be glad to discuss it.

When my hon. Friend next sees the chairman of British Rail, will he convey to him two simple points on behalf of my constituents in Kettering? First, they want to see the Midland main line electrified from St. Pancras through Kettering to Yorkshire—the whole line. Secondly, they want to see Kettering retain its status as an inter-city interchange station. That is important for my constituents.

I shall keep my hon. Friend's points in mind. British Rail has not submitted to Ministers a proposal to electrify to Kettering, and I understand that it has not come to any decision to do so. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is only three years since British Rail demonstrated its commitment to the Midland main line by introducing HSTs on the route. That has meant a 20-minute saving on the run to Sheffield and has resulted in a substantial increase in customers.

As for electrification generally, I assure my hon. Friend that British Rail is not held back on its requests. Today, I have given British Rail consent to reopen and electrify the Snow Hill tunnel in London.

Does the Minister accept that all those who live in communities served by the midland line support the call for electrification and hope that the Government will encourage British Rail to make such a proposal? Does he also accept that many of us would like to see British-built stock running on the line? Will he consider lifting the ban on BREL's ability to compete in tendering for locomotives so that orders do not end up being placed abroad?

It is not for Ministers to twist the arm of British Rail about the priority that it should give to individual investment projects. It is for management to put forward what it believes to be best to achieve the purposes and objectives that it has been set.

Given the history of investment in the Bedford-St. Pancras line, does my hon. Friend agree that future investment must depend on reasonable productivity being obtained? If so, to what extent have the promises of improved productivity in earlier negotiations, which were the subject of much industrial dispute, been delivered by the unions concerned?

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of productivity, especially when it is part of the appraisal on which the decision to carry out the investment is based.

My right hon. Friend referred to a specific matter concerning productivity. This is a sensitive topic on which there are continuing negotiations, and I should not like to make them more difficult.

Is not the Minister dodging the basic question when he says that it is not his concern if British Rail does not go to British Rail Engineering Ltd. for its locomotives? Has he not worked out that it is a lot cheaper and more efficient to keep the BREL workshops fully occupied than to insist on open tenders from at least five foreign competitors?

I understand that British Rail Engineering Ltd. is involved as a sub-contractor in more than one of the potential bids for the contract about which the hon. Lady is concerned.

International Maritime Fraud


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what steps have been taken in support of resolution TD/B/C.4/AC.4/L.Z approved by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development at Geneva on 6 to 17 February 1984 on combating international maritime fraud.

The Government were disappointed to see that the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers contained no practical proposals for combating maritime fraud. We hope that UNCTAD will produce more constructive ideas at its second meeting, and we shall be working hard to this end.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing concern about the level of maritime fraud, which is currently estimated by the International Maritime Bureau as running at $10 billion a year and which puts it on a par with the drugs trade? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that a high-powered delegation will be sent to the conference in Zurich in October?

I assure my hon. Friend that Britain will be properly represented by a high-powered delegation. We recognise the importance of the matter. I cannot put a precise figure on the cost of maritime fraud, but, in addition to the actual cost of losses, there is substantial damage to confidence within the trading communities concerned.




asked the Attorney-General what steps Her Majesty's Government take to seek to ensure that the appointment of magistrates reflects the nature of the community, particularly with reference to the appointment of working people, women and members of the ethnic minority communities.

The appointment of magistrates in England and Wales rests not with Her Majesty's Government but with the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster. The method of selection is fully described in a pamphlet issued by the Lord Chancellor, of which I am arranging to send a copy to the hon. Member. The policy of successive Lord Chancellors with regard to securing balance is set out in a speech by the present Lord Chancellor, of which I am also sending a copy to the hon. Member.

Why is there such a great preponderance of shire county type justices of the peace, who have no empathy with or experience of urban life and the lives of the majority of the population? How can the Attorney-General justify this bias, with no effort being made to rectify it — for example, by providing child care facilities so that more housewives could do the job, by appointing those in their 40s or 50s who are long-term unemployed and have plenty of time to do a good job, or by having more ethnic minority JPs so that there would be a proper mix for all communities? Does not the procedure of secret appointments mean that JPs have no links with communities in the cities?

The answer to the last section of the hon. Gentleman's comments is no. As for the remainder, I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is the purpose of the Lord Chancellor to secure balance on the bench, reflecting all walks of life in the petty sessional area that the bench serves. To that end, the Lord Chancellor is helped by advisory committees. Greater London has five such committees. It is and has been the policy of successive Lord Chancellors to secure balance regardless of any personal predilection that local Members of Parliament, for example, may have. Balance is essential.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be damaging to the excellent system of the local judiciary if people were chosen purely on the basis of ethnic origin, whether men or women? Is it not right that those appointed should be best qualified for the job? Otherwise, confidence would be lost in the judicial system.

There is only one criterion of overriding importance—personal suitability for the job of sitting in judgment on one's fellow men. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. That must be the overriding consideration, and beyond that there must be balance reflecting all walks of life in the area.

The Solicitor-General will recall, I suspect, a range of questions from me to the Attorney-General about the composition of the bench in Newcastle upon Tyne and the written reply that I received on 17 January 1984, which said:

"The primary requirement is that those appointed should be personally suitable in character, integrity and understanding. The Lord Chancellor also bears in mind the need for each bench to reflect the community it serves in such matters as age, sex, occupation, social background, location of residence and political opinion."—[Official Report, 17 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 155.]
Those are fair guidelines. Therefore, can the Solicitor-General say why, in cities like Newcastle upon Tyne, where previous questioning has shown that the guidelines are being ignored, the Lord Chancellor makes no effort to ensure that his guidelines are insisted upon?

I am reassured that there is a high degree of consistency between what I have just said about the proper test and what my right hon. and learned Friend said a few months ago. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that the Lord Chancellor makes no effort to ensure that those guidelines are met. He makes considerable efforts and is guided in that task by the local advisory committees.

Independent Prosecution Service


asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement regarding discussions with the staff commission concerning the setting up of the independent prosecution service.

The staff commission for the independent prosecution service will not be set up until August and therefore no discussions have yet taken place.

The House welcomes the setting up of the new prosecution service. Will the Attorney-General assure us that his discussions with the staff commission will lead to a properly remunerated service which will attract talented people and offer a good career structure?

That is certainly the Government's intention. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the new service. Regular consultations about the staff commission and all aspects of the Crown prosecution service are taking place with the Civil Service, local government trade unions, representatives of local government employers and other interested parties. We have three months in which to set up the staff commission. It will clearly be done in that time.

European Commission Of Human Rights (Myra Hindley)


asked the Attorney-General what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to be represented at the European Commission of Human Rights in the case being brought by Myra Hindley; and if he will make a statement.

I have seen press reports that Miss Hindley is proposing to make an application to the European Commission of Human Rights. But I have no information about whether she has done so or what the nature of her complaint might be. The Commission will not admit a case for substantive consideration without first inviting the Goverment's comments. It has not done so yet in Miss Hindley's case, and the question of representation at any subsequent hearing is therefore hypothetical. If there were to be such a hearing the Government would, of course, be represented.

Bearing in mind the unspeakably heinous nature of Miss Hindley's crime, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be unacceptable and repellent to the public if she were manipulated out of prison by some European back door because of unrepresentative pressure group action? If her behaviour has improved, would it not be right for the prison service to find her a different role in the prison? Would it not be dangerous both to Miss Hindley and to the public if she were released?

I cannot form any view on her application's prospect of success, because I have not seen it. Indeed, I do not know whether she has submitted an application. It is worth remembering her previous application in 1980 to the Commission complaining about the Home Secretary's refusal to consider her for parole. That application was rejected by the Commission as manifestly ill-founded. Under the convention, the Commission may not deal with any application that is substantially the same as one that has already been considered.

Conveyancing Services


asked the Attorney-General what representations he has received about the likely impact on solicitors' branch offices if banks and building societies are permitted to offer conveyancing services.

The Government have received a number of representations on this matter. Most have suggested that lending institutions would provide unfair competition to independent solicitors, and that the viability of many firms would be jeopardised as a result.

There is growing concern that allowing banks and building societies to carry out conveyancing will result in many solicitors' branch offices, which provide useful services to the community, having to close. How much research did the Government carry out into this proposal?

It has always been apparent that there would have to be the widest possible consultation. That point was made absolutely clear in the written answer given in February last year by my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. That consultation was carried out in the greatest possible detail. I think that my hon. Friend knows the results as well as I do.

Is it true that the Government have decided not to proceed with the provisions of the Administration of Justice Bill before the Coopers and Lybrand report is available?

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that banks and building societies do a great job in looking after financial deposits, that they have excellent solicitors working for them, and that they are a great credit to their professions? What is wrong with competition between the banks, building societies and solicitors?

The Government's position is clear. They have a commitment to permit organisations such as banks and building societies to provide conveyancing services and to do so in such a way that the consumer will not be prejudiced by conflicts of interest or anti-competitive practices. We shall honour that commitment.

Overseas Development Administration

Bilateral Aid Programme


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what priority his Department gives to renewable natural resources and other agriculture-related sectors in the bilateral aid programme.

I continue to attach much importance to these sectors. Within the bilateral programmes we support a substantial number of renewable natural resources and related activities. There are also activities in other economic sectors, such as transport, of which one major objective is to bring benefits to agricultural areas.

If the Minister regards this part of the bilateral programme as so important, why has he cut it by almost £40 million, from 28 to 19 per cent.? Where has the money gone?

I do not believe that the sector has declined as a share of our bilateral aid over the past few years. I attach great importance to these sectors. It must be remembered that, in making decisions about the sectors in which money is spent, we must have regard to the requests of recipient countries as well as to our own desires.

Will the Minister consider the problem of the agrarian subsistence areas which he assists, within the terms of the supplementary question of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett)? In view of the need to have self-help co-operatives and resource centres, will he consider reinstituting a committee of his Department which was wound up by the previous Labour Government? I refer to the Co-operative Overseas Aid Committee, which, I am glad to say, continues to support the work of overseas students at the co-operative college at Loughborough?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We continue to receive advice about co-operatives, but there are considerable difficulties about co-operative farming ventures in many parts of the world.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important factor releates to the policies that are adopted by many of the Governments in the countries that come within the programme, and that bilateral aid, despite the suggestion of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett), is not the only issue? A great deal of progress would have been made if it had been possible for the Governments concerned to adopt policies to encourage agricultural development instead of encouraging a drift to the towns.

My hon. Friend is right. The House has to be reminded from time to time that we are heavily dependent on the policies that are adopted by the recipient countries. In many of them, alas, the policies of their Governments run counter to effective agricultural development.

Aid Policy (Strategic And Political Reasons)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much United Kingdom aid was given for strategic and political reasons in the latest year for which figures are available.

Our fundamental objective in making aid allocations is to assist economic and social progress in developing countries; but we take account also of political and commercial considerations where appropriate. It is not possible to relate these factors to precise statistics.

Is it not wrong for Britain's aid policy to be geared to any extent, however small as a percentage of our total aid budget, to giving aid for strategic and political reasons when aid should be going to the poorest people in the poorest countries as a matter of priority? Surely it is no aid policy to give money to repressive or military regimes scattered around the world for purposes which may coincide with the policies of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, but not with the administration of the Minister's Department.

My budget is a civil aid one, and it is not spent on the provision of military aid. There are many calls on my Department's budget, and we concentrate to a great extent on the poorer countries. I believe that we have a good record in that respect, and that is how it will continue to be.

They give a bit, but, taking Ethiopia as an example, the amount of food that they have given has been minimal, exceeded by India, let alone the West.

Africa (International Fund For Agricultural Development)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the International Fund for Agricultural Development regarding assistance with its project in Africa.

The president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development called on me on 19 June. We agreed on the need for early agreement on the second replenishment of IFAD'S ordinary resources. Thereafter, member Governments could consider whether or not to make voluntary contributions to the IFAD special programme for Africa.

Has the apparent logjam that is developing over the compromise agreement that was reached earlier this year between other donors been caused by the United States Administration? Is the right hon. Gentleman using his best efforts to break that logjam?

Within the last fortnight I have had talks both with the administrator of United States aid and with Dr. Jazairy, the president of IFAD, and I have done what I can to try to resolve the disagreement. I believe that it should be possible to get a constructive result.

In our aid to famine in Africa, has the airlift component been met outside, and in addition to, our overseas aid budget? When representatives of the Church of England meet the Foreign Secretary later this week, will it be suggested that it would be more helpful if they would encourage hon. Members in all parts of the House who wish to see new money found for our overseas aid projects rather than to criticise us constantly and, indeed, threaten to vote against us at the next election?

The greater part of the airlift has generously been provided by the Ministry of Defence out of its funds. I am grateful to that Ministry and to the Royal Air Force for the way in which they have carried out this operation. As for the bishops, the Church and the Synod, we should all stand firm in advising them to vote Conservative at the next election, not least because of the effectiveness of our aid policies.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report progress on the Ethiopian Government's contribution in the provision of vehicles to transport aid for the relief of the famine.

The United Nations co-ordinator in Addis Ababa, Mr. Jansson, continues to press the Ethiopian Government to provide more trucks for relief efforts. We understand that at a meeting on 17 June Colonel Mengistu told Mr. Jansson that a further 400 trucks would be made available.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. Does he agree that some time ago the Ethiopian Government gave an unequivocal commitment to provide 4,000 vehicles, but so far they have provided not even one tenth of the number? Does he further agree that Her Majesty's Government owe it to the millions of people in various countries who have donated to the relief of famine in Ethiopia to make the strongest representations to the Ethiopian authorities on this issue? Will we make it clear that unless the Ethiopian authorities keep to their commitment, the relief that has been given by many countries will rot on the wharves because the food will not get to the people who are desperately in need of it? The result will be that more people will die, and that will be the fault of the Ethiopian Government.

It is difficult to say exactly what number of trucks has been provided by the Ethiopians at any given time. The numbers appear to fluctuate. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Ethiopians need to fulfil their promise to provide many more, and we are prepared to support any representations to that effect.

Aid Projects (Women)


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what measures he has taken to assess the benefits of British aid projects to women in recipient countries.

We take account of the role of women when designing projects. New procedures have been introduced to enable us to assess the benefits derived by women. I have seen these benefits for myself, for instance, when I visited the Orissa family welfare project in India and the Mbeya referral hospital in Tanzania. Recently we redesigned a project in Malawi to ensure that extension services reached women farmers.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one or two projects hardly meet the point and that there is widespread concern that the role of women in development is not sufficiently recognised by his Department? For example, does he have an adviser on the role of women in Third-world countries? If not. will he either appoint one, a woman, or a team, to take this important factor into account in development issues?

We have a social development adviser whose role certainly includes concentration on the implications for women of the projects that we put forward. However, the essential point is that in our procedures for assessing and appraising projects, we consider the impact on women as a matter of course. I believe that that is the right way of doing it, rather than creating a separate department to deal with the matter.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on this side of the House take a dim view of aid going to one particular quarter? Does he agree that aid should be for everyone in a country affected by problems of this type, not uniquely for women or anyone else?

There is much good sense in what my hon. Friend says. As I have already said, women face many hardships, especially in agriculture, and it is right to consider those. However, I am against the notion that we should split the aid programme into different sectors by age, sex, class, creed or anything.



asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the level of overseas aid from the United Kingdom to Indonesia.

In 1984 we spent £6·72 million on capital aid, including the aid and trade provision, and £3·81 million on technical co-operation. In addition, the Commonwealth Development Corporation invested £15·473 million.

In view of that substantial commitment to overseas aid in Indonesia, does the Minister believe that he should speak against blatant abuses of human rights in that country, including the execution of political prisoners, some of whom have been in prison for 12 to 15 years?

We are against abuses of human rights wherever they occur. The Government's position on this matter is well known.

European Summit (Milan)

3.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, this morning I asked whether I could put down a private notice question—

On a different subject entirely, Mr. Speaker. As you will know, at the weekend in Milan our Prime Minister was subjected to full-frontal federalism by other European Governments. Later this evening we shall have an important debate on European matters. We are fortunate to have the Leader of the House in the Chamber with us. In view of the dramatic events of the weekend and the radical nature of some of the proposals that have been made it is essential, before proceeding with this evening's business, that the House has a report from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House or someone else about what took place at the weekend. If not, it will be impossible for us, in the changed situation, to make the speeches that we would be able to make if we knew the true circumstances of what happened at the weekend. Will the Leader of the House say something about this?

Yes, Sir. I wonder whether you would ask someone from the Government to say whether the Prime Minister proposes to make a statement about what happened at Milan. We are all anxious to know the Government's attitude towards the sadly unsuccessful summit. We all know that the Dooge report was sent to be approved by the Government 10 days ago. Many of our European allies came forward with proposals based upon the Dooge report, but, to our amazement, the British Government opposed those who support the Dooge report—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has frequently mentioned the Government. That has nothing to do with me. He must put a point of order which I can answer.

Perhaps you would be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to cajole some response from the Government. Of course, I shall be guided by your interpretation of your powers, but sometimes our constitution works in curious ways. Although I would not suggest for a moment that you should give a nod or a wink to the Government, it might facilitate later proceedings if we knew something more about the institution for which it is suggested the House of Commons should vote money. I hesitate to say this, but some Conservative Members believe that, with a majority of 140, we should not be arrogant. I know that the Government would never wish to be arrogant and try to bounce the House into voting for something about which it does not know.

Order. I think that is the speech that the hon. Gentleman may make in Committee.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps you could help the House. We read in the newspapers over the weekend—we often obtain information from newspapers first—that the Prime Minister might make a statement tomorrow on her humiliation in Milan. It might be helpful if a Minister were to make a statement today about the position in the EC, before we debate whether we should give further large sums of money to subsidise this enterprise. The Government may have changed their view, and it would be helpful to the House to hear from them today before the debate on the European Communities (Finance) Bill. Is there any way in which the Government can be invited to make a statement today rather than tomorrow?

It is not open to me to force statements from any quarter. I also saw what the hon. Gentleman read in the newspaper, but I have no knowledge whether there is to be a statement tomorrow, I have had no notification of a statement today.

Order. I do not think that any point of order can arise, because I do not know about any statement being made.

Do you have any control whatever, Mr. Speaker, over the timing of debates, other than those under Standing Order No. 10? I am sure that you would wish the House to be properly informed of the very important EC discussions which took place at the weekend, before we proceed with this evening's debate.

I am riot responsible for the debates that are called on any one day. I am glad to say that that is not one of my responsibilities.

Questions To Ministers

3.35 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I well recognise that the content of a ministerial answer is not a matter for you, but when that answer is in contradiction of a previous answer given within the past two weeks, I should have thought that it might be a matter for you.

I wish to raise with you the answer that I received to a supplementary question that I put on question 42. In my view, it was in contradiction of a reply that I had received to a written question—

Order. We cannot indulge in the practice of continuing Question Time. The hon. Gentleman must find other methods of dealing with the matter.

Tamil Asylum Seekers

3.36 pm

Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that on Friday the High Court found against the Home Office and directed it to reconsider the case of a Tamil asylum seeker who had been refused leave by the Home Office to remain in Britain? This is a serious matter. Has there been any intimation from the Home Office that it intends to make a statement on its view of the High Court decision and the fate of the other Tamil asylum seekers at present living in Britain and who have some concern about their future?

I have had no notification of a statement, but I do know that there are to be Home Office questions on Thursday.

Youth Training Scheme

3.37 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on youth training.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget statement that he was making extra resources available which could fund a two-year youth training scheme. On the same day I asked the Manpower Services Commission to consult and develop proposals for such a scheme to start from 1 April next year and to report to me in three months.

On 27 June the commission, which includes representatives fom the CBI, local authorities, education interests and the TUC, unanimously approved proposals for the two-year scheme. The chairman immediately submitted these to me and asked for the earliest possible approval.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have now approved the broad framework of these proposals and I have today authorised the commission to proceed with implementation, within the resource levels previously announced and on the planned date of 1 April.

The proposals represent a major step forward in improving the opportunities for young people both in training, and work experience. The scheme will give broad-based training in the first year, with a greater emphasis on more specific training in the second year, with the opportunity for all to obtain a vocational qualification. This will be building on the foundations laid by the current youth training scheme, which more than three quarters of a million young people have entered so far. The youth training scheme has opened new horizons for young people and employers and has brought home to many the contribution which training can make to improving employability and productivity. I pay tribute to the work of all the individuals and organisations who have played their part in the development of the one-year youth training scheme.

The main features of the new scheme will be as follows: There will be a quality training programme leading to vocational qualifications and there will be at least 20 weeks off-the-job training over two years. In addition to a planned programme of on-the-job training and work experience. There will be two years' training for 16-year-old school leavers and one year for 17-year-old school leavers.

There will be a training agreement between the trainee and those responsible for his training setting out their respective rights and responsibilities, including the detail of each young person's training programme.

From April 1987, only approved training organisations will be able to take part, after they have satisfied criteria drawn up by the Manpower Services Commission, and a new training standards advisory service will be set up to monitor the quality of the training provided. Trainees will be paid an allowance of £27–30 per week in the first year and £35 per week in the second year.

A basic grant of £160 per month will be payable in respect of each trainee to his training provider. There will be a managing agent's fee of £110 per annum.

We recognise the special needs of some areas and some young people who may find it difficult to find employer-based training places and it is proposed that a premium payment of £110 per month per trainee will be paid in such cases to those providing alternative training.

In approving that broad framework I have approved an increase in the existing trainee allowance to £27·30 with effect from the beginning of September this year, as recommended by the commission.

Under the new scheme, up to 200,000 more young people will be in training than under the existing youth training scheme, bringing the total to over half a million in training at any one time. This will mean a major improvement in the opportunities for training and work experience for our young people and one that will become a permament and essential feature of vocational education and training provision in this country.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is no mention of a new training inspectorate in the version of the statement that I have received, and that it is unfair to make such an announcement when the Opposition spokesman has not been notified of it?

Will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the backdrop to his announcement is that there are almost 1·25 million unemployed under-25-year-olds and that about 300,000 people under the age of 25 have not had a job since leaving school, that young people have borne the brunt of the Tory Government's social security cuts — including the loss of board and lodging allowance after a few weeks in one town — and that there is a near certainty that young people are about to have the flimsy protection of the wages councils removed? In other words, young people are facing a crisis as a result of the Government's actions.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, despite the Government's massive propaganda exercise, the customers of the YTS—the youngsters—do not believe that they will receive that which they most desire, which is full-time permanent employment, at the end of the scheme? Does he further acknowledge that YTS is no longer about providing a permanent bridge between school and work, to use the fine words that were used when the scheme was launched four years ago, but is more a gangway to the dole queue for about one third of the youngsters, who fail to obtain a job when they complete their scheme?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite all his assurances about no job substitution, one undesirable spin-off from the YTS has been a dramatic reduction in apprenticeships, and that a one-year or even a two-year scheme is not a proper replacement for a well planned three or four-year apprenticeship scheme as organised by the engineering industry training board? The collapse of apprenticeships over the past five years has resulted in the skill shortages about which the Secretary of State now complains. Will he confirm that many employers are showing a marked reluctance to become involved in a two-year scheme unless there is a substantial increase in Government money for them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that parents, trade unionists and the Labour party are not satisfied that enough effort has been put into health and safety cover for youngsters on YTS? Far too many youngsters are suffering unnecessary accidents. Will he try to improve the involvement in YTS of the Health and Safety Executive?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the allowances that he has announced are a scandal and that the Labour Government paid an allowance which would be £37 a week at today's prices? That should be compared with the Government's proposed £27·30 for the first year and £35 for the second. Do the Government have any plans ever to pay young trainees a fair allowance?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Labour party would welcome a comprehensive two-year training scheme for young people which included an education allowance which allowed academically gifted youngsters from poorer homes to remain in higher education, which would guarantee employment for the vast majority of youngsters at the scheme's end? It is obvious that the nation will have to wait for a Labour Government, who will expand the economy and get the country moving again, before such a scheme can be put into operation.

I do not think that I am the only hon. Member who regarded that as an extraordinarily sour response to an announcement which is extremely good news for all youngsters corning out of school, as it will improve their prospects. It is especially sour as it comes from the spokesman of a party which considered introducing such a scheme and then refused to approve it and was not prepared to put forward the necessary funds. Instead, Labour introduced the youth opportunities programme, which had no training content and offered nothing like the prospects for the future that our scheme offers.

When I listen to the sour attempts of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) and some of his colleagues to score party political points, I am much more impressed with the attitude of the TUC, which has unanimously supported these proposals. I take comfort riot from the hon. Gentleman's statement but from the comments of young people on YTS. All the evidence shows that there is increasing support for the scheme and increasing recognition of what it does. As from next year, every 16-year-old school leaver will be assured of two years of good training and work experience. Every parent should know that too. The country has never previously been able to offer that assurance, but we are determined to achieve it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this development is widely welcomed? In view of the extraordinary farrago of nonsense that we have just heard from the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans), it is worth observing that, when the engineering industry training board came to see some of us the other day it said that it wanted to shorten apprenticeships, not to four years, but to about two and a half years. It is nonsense for the Opposition to claim that the earlier scheme offered by that training board is better than what is now proposed.

I think that the hon. Member for St. Helens, North is involved in the engineering industry, and his comments about apprenticeships were those of the old world, which offered that type of training. We do not want a limited number of people attending schemes on a time-serving basis, or access for only one age group. We want to open training, if possible to all ages, but certainly to widen opportunities for young people. We want training that is based on the achievement of standards, rather than on time serving. That is the modern approach, and what the TUC supports. I am delighted to have that support.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has a great responsibility to get this right, as many trainees already do not stay the whole of the first year, and therefore the second year must be a big improvement on the first? Many employers are not sure that they can keep trainees interested for two years, so schemes must be improved and more must be put into them. The Government are not putting in enough money. They are trying to get the scheme on the cheap. The Government are trying to get two years for the price of one. If they are really concerned, they should be willing to put in the money.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the level of allowances that he has announced is not high enough, and that part of maturing to adulthood is having one's own money and using it? Is he further aware that what we need is a proper inquiry into the funding of a proper scheme?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's more moderate and constructive approach, in relative terms. I know of his interest, as Chairman of the Select Committee, which also has taken an interest in the YTS. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we are looking to employers for a major contribution in the launching of the new scheme. In looking at the finances required, it is not sufficient to look just at the Government's contribution. The scheme is based very much on employers, who recognise its value, making their contribution as well. The hon. Gentleman said that he was looking for improvement. I pay tribute to my predecessors who launched the scheme. It is a remarkable achievement, but we are continually looking for improvement. We shall certainly look to the second year to make a greater improvement in the quality of the scheme.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, contrary to the assertions of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans), the scheme has in fact proved an effective route to long-term employment for young people? Can my right hon. Friend give the House the latest figures for the percentage of those who, on leaving the scheme, continue in employment or further education?

I am glad to have that piece of heckling from the hon. Gentleman, so that I can correct the totally erroneous figure that he has given. He quoted a figure of 48 per cent., which happens to be a small sample of a few trainees in October. In response to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the overall figure for those going on to full-time jobs or going back to further education or training is about 70 per cent.

I give the Secretary of State's announcement a qualified welcome. Will he also tell the House the number of people who are dropping out of the scheme in any given month? One figure that was suggested was 56 per cent. for one month. Will the right hon. Gentleman do anything to implement the proposals of the Manpower Services Commission for improving the quality of some of the schemes concerned? Has he repudiated entirely the suggestion made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that people who are involved in these schemes might lose their supplementary benefit?

The position has been made absolutely clear by myself, by the Prime Minister and by everybody else concerned. We have no proposals on that matter. The hon.

Gentleman sought to discuss the number dropping out of the scheme. I hope he will recognise that a number of the so-called drop-outs go off into full-time employment and take jobs elsewhere. I do not regard that in any way as a failure. We intend the scheme to give youngsters a good start in life. Some respond more quickly than others. Some find that they can go out and get other jobs that may reward them better. I do not regard that as disappointment. We want to give all the youngsters a better start in life. In considering these matters the House should recognise the real achievement that has been made. I pay tribute to the commission and the work that it has done in putting forward the proposals. It is a challenge. It will not be easy to meet it. I am grateful for all the work that has been done by the commission and by all the staff in bringing forward the proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today's announcement will be much welcomed in my constituency which has high unemployment for the south-east of England and where there has been a dramatic loss of apprenticeships over recent years? Is he further aware that I have one of the excellent ITECs in my constituency? Can he offer any hope that he will extend the courses provided by these excellent colleges for youngsters who are similarly qualified to those going on YTS? Will there be any hope of a vocational qualification at the end of a possible two-year ITEC course?

As my hon. Friend said, ITECs have been a considerable success. Indeed, I visited two schemes—one in Glasgow and the other in Cumbernauld, which are both areas of significant unemployment. The managers reported that they were placing more than 90 per cent. of the youngsters in full-time jobs at the end of their ITEC courses. We are studying ITECs in particular, because this announcement does not cover them. Further study is being made to ensure that ITECs can continue effectively under the two-year scheme.

Does the Secretary of State want to attract people from full-time education to YTS courses? Is he aware that during the past two years the number of youngsters staying on in education has declined, almost certainly because of the attractions of the YTS training allowance? Would it not be a good idea to treat those who remain in education and those who attend YTS in the same way for the purpose of allowances?

I notice that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are making bizarre proposals, which will be fairly expensive, if allowances are paid to those in full-time education and to those in YTS. We believe that it is right and fair to pay a training allowance. We have also made it clear that we are determined to ensure that it remains a high quality training scheme and to improve its quality. Therefore, I make no apologies if we moderate the training allowance in the interests of maintaining the quality of training on the scheme. That is overwhelmingly in the long-term interests of all youngsters on the scheme.

As more people will be needed to train young people in this scheme, can my right hon. Friend confirm that a big effort will be made by the Manpower Services Commission and employers to recruit people from among the skilled unemployed to help with training in the scheme, which, among other things, would reduce the level of unemployment?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. Perhaps I should emphasise that to launch a two-year YTS is a major challenge. It will be a major challenge to ensure that we have the places available and the staff to man the scheme. The role of employers will be significant, but, in view of their tremendous support for the one-year training scheme, I am confident that they will recognise both the challenge and the opportunity that this expansion of training will bring.

Is not the DHSS policy on board and lodging allowances completely at odds with the policy which the Secretary of State has announced today? If young people cannot get a job locally now, unlike previously, they will not be able to get a job anywhere.

I do not follow the logic of that argument. We are determined to ensure both that training is available and that opportunities exist locally. I am not, therefore, sure what the hon. Gentleman's point is.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend unreservedly on his announcement today. In the light of the sustained and co-ordinated Marxist-led campaign against YTS, which this afternoon has unfortunately found an echo on the Labour party Front Bench, will my right hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that the picture that is accurately projected is that of the vast majority of YTS trainees, who have found employment and also enjoyed the experience?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment. It is a little depressing that the Labour party, which used to criticise the one-year training scheme and say that it should be a two-year training scheme, still cannot find it in its heart to make anything other than sour and grudging comments when we produce fully costed proposals, make the resources available and give the scheme the priority that it needs. I would have thought that this was one issue on which the House could have united.

Will the Secretary of State admit that the numbers leaving YTS to go into work vary substantially throughout the country? In the north of England, for example, the figure can be as low as 30 per cent., and not 70 per cent. as is claimed. What will the Secretary of State do about that? What will he do in county Durham, where we cannot find sufficient employers to provide the scheme that he wishes?

The hon. Gentleman will notice that in my statement I referred to the way in which we shall fund schemes where there is a shortage of employer-based schemes. I recognise that the percentage of those who go into full-time employment varies up and down the country. That does not happen in the construction industry training board scheme. I saw some people from Durham and the north-east on an extremely successful course there, after which more than 90 per cent. find full time jobs. That variation does not occur with other training board schemes, either. We are determined to improve the chances of youngsters finding full-time work. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to say that YTS does that for youngsters. Those who have been on a scheme are much more likely to have the chance of a job.

Order. I have to bear in mind that today is an important private Members' day, but I will allow questions to continue for a further 10 minutes, making a full half hour for Back Berchers.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a two-year YTS has nothing to do with fiddling the figures, exploitation or any of the usual destructive criticisms made by the Opposition, and has everything to do with ensuring a constructive vocational and voluntary training scheme which will lead to high quality qualifications? Does he agree that the Treasury support of £3,800 per trainee bears interesting comparison with the £3,600 in West Germany, the only difference being that in West Germany every penny is paid by the employers? Is it not time that all employers in this country began to look on training, not as an on-cost, but as a valuable investment in their future?

As my hon. Friend has said, our financial commitment to the scheme is substantial. This development of the scheme certainly puts greater responsibility on employers, but I am confident that they will respond to the challenge. Everyone who has worked with the scheme recognises that, although there may be variations in the terms and arrangements, the scheme is here to stay. It is a major and fundamental improvement to the opportunities for young people in this country and we are determined to make it work.

I wholly welcome any expansion of the youth training scheme, which cannot guarantee employment but which makes the prospect of a job much more likely. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that in areas of high unemployment, especially the sparsely populated areas of Scotland, where employers are most hard-pressed to find places, the Government will do their utmost to ensure that the approved training organisations are not handicapped by a lack of response from employers?

As I have said, I have agreed with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor the amount of Government resources to be made available for the scheme, but the scheme depends on a partnership with employers and other providers of training. The record so far is good. There was the great success of ensuring that we met the guarantee that every 16-year-old leaving school and wanting a place on the scheme could be offered a place. We intend to carry that forward to try to meet the needs and aspirations of all young people in this respect.

In the recent defence debate anxiety was expressed about the difficulty of finding British crews to man ships flagged out and manned by foreign crews when requisitioned in case of hostilities. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to try to persuade ship owners to be more constructive and to offer more YTS places? Does he agree that a year ashore and a year at sea could begin to establish a Merchant Navy reserve which could serve this country well in times of hostilities? As this will require instructors, will my right hon. Friend consider extending job release arrangements so that men with lifelong experience and skills in industry and the armed forces taking early retirement will be available to become instructors in the youth training scheme?

I have consulted the greatest living authority on the youth training scheme, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is sitting beside me, but neither of us can answer off the cuff in relation to merchant shipping. I shall look into the matter and write to my hon. Friend.

Does the Minister agree that 4 per cent. is a miserly increase and that the original £25 allowance was too low in the first place? How can youngsters be expected to build an independent life on £27·30? Would Conservative Members expect their children to be able to do so? Is it not true that there are no real jobs for young people at the end of the scheme?

The hon. Gentleman's last comment was a characteristic piece of rubbish and shows that he had not been listening to the earlier exchanges. The resources that we have made available and to which we have given priority are limited. It is our responsibility to determine the balance between the funds going into the value of the training and those going into the training allowance. Given that many of these youngsters' contemporaries are still in full-time education and receiving no resources at all, the balance that we have struck does not seem unfair. In the past two years we have sought to raise the allowance a little, but I think that we have struck a fair balance and that the resources that we have made available will be widely welcomed by young people.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the schemes concentrate on practical, technical skills? Is he aware that the Tullos training centre in my constituency, which does just that, achieved a 93 per cent. success rate in finding employment for the young people last year and hopes to better that record this year? As for providing incentives to improve take-up, could not the incentive scheme be extended to the Opposition? Perhaps more of them would then turn up to debate these matters.

I was most interested to hear of my hon. Friend's experience of the scheme in his area when I was there last Saturday. There is no doubt that there are now some outstanding schemes with exceptional records, going as high as 100 per cent., in placing young people in full-time jobs. The average, however, is still not as high as we should like. The challenge that we face is to bring all the schemes up to the standard of the best.

Given that the credibility of the scheme rests on the proportion of young people who go into real jobs afterwards, will the Minister stop quoting anecdotes and minor surveys and give reliable figures about how many young people actually find jobs? As the outstanding feature in West Germany is that 10 times as many young people gain recognised qualifications, will he tell us how many young people in this country will gain recognised qualifications as a result of the scheme, and how many employers will be involved?

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, as I thought that the took a reasonably close and intelligent interest in these matters. We are continuing to monitor the outcome of the scheme. Figures are published every month and they are available in the Library if the hon. Gentleman wishes to consult them. We are anxious to get the fullest possible picture. As for anecdotes, I referred to the construction training board, which had about 17,000 trainees last year and a success rate of more than 90 per cent. in placing those youngsters in jobs. I do not regard that as an anecdote. It is a very significant sample.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the qualifications available through the YTS are likely to be of greater value than the sweat shirts, teacups and other gimmickry offered by the Labour party last week? Will he do all in his power to market the value of the qualifications, so that young people are not discouraged by the utterly negative attitude of the Labour party?

One of the most exciting aspects of the scheme, on which I am not yet able to advice the House further, is the work being done to integrate the qualifications available at the end of the scheme. As I said in my statement, we aim to give all young people in the scheme the opportunity to achieve a qualification. Intensive work is being done to try to integrate the qualifications with those of the City and Guilds, the Royal Society of Arts, the Business and Technician Education Council and other qualification-granting bodies, to ensure that young people achieve the first step on the ladder which can take them on to further qualifications.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Lincolnshire 88 per cent. of those who were on the scheme in the first year have now found work or further training? He mentioned the quality of training in the second year. That is a good aim, but we must work extremely hard to achieve it. How will we make sure that the quality of that training really is up to a second year?

Having given my approval today to the broad framework, the detailed work will now proceed following an intensive round of discussions with all those concerned — educationists, training providers and employers — to ensure that the second year of YTS meets all our expectations.

Will my right hon. Friend dismiss, ignore and forget the disgruntled and bitter comments of the Opposition and their supporters on the extent of the scheme, which is widely welcomed by all parts of society? Does he agree that in certain sectors, such as retail, there are still substantial anxieties about the validity, content and depth of the second year? Will he ask the MSC to have discussions with the retail industry to see what will go into the second year content?

I recognise that concern has been expressed about the retail sector. A colleague commented that while in this country I can be asked whether we can justify a second year of training, if I were a German Minister I would be asked why we have fewer than three years training. One of our greatest ambitions is to get a better understanding of the value of training and to make it applicable to every activity and occupation.

The Secretary of State injected into his announcement a comment about a new training inspectorate. What will the role of that body be? Can he assure us that it will be adequately funded and staffed to monitor the approved training organisations? May I make clear to the right hon. Gentleman and all of his hon. Friends that the Labour party would welcome a fully comprehensive two-year scheme to train young people, which is not what we have had today? What has been announced today has more to do with massaging the unemployment figures prior to the next general election than with training young people.

It is difficult to choose between the hon. Gentleman's first and second contributions. That attempt somehow to retrieve some of the ground achieved by his pathetically sour initial intervention was not worth the effort. The training standards advisory service will in many ways be analogous, although not at all comparable, with Her Majesty's inspectorate in the schools. In other words, it will examine and monitor the performance of the training providers to ensure that training standards are kept up to scratch. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will support that. If the new service is to do that, we are determined to give it the resources to do a proper job.

Business Of The House


That in respect of the Further Education Bill [Lords], if the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House, further proceedings on the Bill shall stand postponed and that as soon as the proceedings on any Money Resolution come to by the House in relation to the Bill have been concluded, this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill. —[Mr. Neubert]


4.12 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the Government's very substanial reduction in housing public expenditure which has occurred in the past five years, and which has resulted in considerable hardship and indeed misery for so many unable to be offered rented accommodation; also recognises that much essential improvement and major repair work cannot be undertaken by local authorities, or owner-occupiers on limited means because of the cuts; and calls on the Government to reverse its disastrous housing financial policies and to allow local authorities and the voluntary sector the means to build the necessary accommodation as well as allowing urgent improvement work to be carried out in both the public and private sectors.
This debate takes place against the background of an acute housing crisis. A large number of families and single people are now without adequate and secure accommodation, and many are forced to live in substandard housing and often overcrowded conditions. Homelessness is continually increasing.

In London alone, bed and breakfast accommodation is costing the boroughs £1 million a month — a sum that would be sufficient to pay off loan charges on 3,000 new council dwellings. In England and Wales, 1·25 million homes are now unfit for human habitation, and 1 million homes lack one or more basic amenities such as an inside toilet, bath or hot water. Across the country 2·5 million homes are seriously affected by damp, and 3 million homes each require immediate repairs that will cost £2,500 or more.

Between 1979–80 and 1985–86—the current financial year — there has been a 68 per cent. reduction in real terms in housing public expenditure, from £4,522 million to £1,431 million. The figures for central Government subsidies to local authority housing show that in 1980–81 —a year after this Administration came into office—the amount spent was £1,423 million. In the current financial year, it is just £400 million, a reduction of more than £1,000 million. Those figures explain why there is now a housing crisis and so much housing hardship and misery, so much of which stems from the lack of rented accommodation.

Ministers are fond of saying—we shall no doubt hear the same today—that cuts took place under the previous Labour Government. I do not deny that. There were cuts, of some of which I would not approve. It is unfortunate that the housing programe was adversely affected during the last two or three years of the previous Administration, but one should compare those cuts with the cuts made under the present Government. There can be no doubt that the present cuts go much, much deeper. Moreover, they are part of the philosophy adopted by the Government towards public sector housing.

I have accepted that there were cuts under the previous Labour Government, but it is interesting to note that in 1978 — the last full year of that Government — the number of new public sector starts was more than 107,000.

Not yet. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue for a while longer, especially as a number of hon. Members wish to take part. I shall give way, but not at the moment.

The number of new council dwellings started last year was the lowest in peacetime — 39,500. However, the estimate for the current year is that just under 32,000 new council dwellings will be started throughout the country. When one compares those figures with the 107,400 starts in the last year of the Labour Government, one can understand what I mean when I say that the housing cuts carried out by the present Government go so much deeper than anything that occurred under the Labour Administration. In addition, fewer private dwellings were started last year than in 1978.

Perhaps I can reinforce and bolster my hon. Friend's already powerful argument. In the last two years of the Labour Administration, the Government persistently overprovided for housing sums that were not taken up and spent on new housing by the predominantly Conservative district and borough councils which existed then.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who had responsibility for such matters during the last Labour Government. We know of his deep concern on this issue.

Because of Government diktat, local authorities can now spend only 20 per cent. of their capital receipts whereas about two years ago the Prime Minister told us that local authorities should spend on new capital projects. She explained why it was necessary for local authorities to do more. Now not all the money that local authorities raise themselves can be spent. As a result, about £5 billion is frozen at a time when there is such a desperate shortage of adequate housing.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the policy on which the Labour party fought the last election were in operation today there would be no capital receipts at all?

I anticipated the Minister's question. Two points should be made. One, as my hon. Friends and I have asked time and again, is that if it is right for local authority tenants to buy, why is it not right for private tenants? Secondly, under a Labour Administration, there would have been, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has explained, a different approach to housing from that adopted by the Minister and his colleagues.

My hon. Friend is aware that there are differences of opinion within the Labour party about the sale of council houses, but those of us who advocated the sale of council houses did so on the basis that new funds would be available for local authorities to spend on new projects. We were arguing that by selling, councils were forgoing the possibility of reallocating accommodation in the future for cash now, but that that cash should be spent on replacing housing stock. Is not one of the deceits of this Government that they adopted that policy and sold it on that basis, but have ratted on that commitment?

My hon. Friend is right. The Minister would be in a stronger position, even allowing for the fact that we all know why private tenants are not allowed to buy, if he said that the Government believe, and have acted accordingly, that council tenants should be able to buy but that there is a responsibility on the Government to make sure that that which is sold off can be replaced. However, as my hon. Friend explained, the Government have done the opposite. They have been keen to sell at a large enough discount to encourage people to buy but, far from trying to ensure that such buildings are replaced, the very opposite has been the Government's policy.

The number of people employed in the construction industry is 300,000 fewer than in 1979. That figure can be compared with the labour force survey for 1983, the last figures that are available. That shows that some 257,000 unemployed people seeking work had been employed, as their last job, in the construction industry. That figure will, I am sure, have increased in the past 18 months to two years.

When I spoke about the Conservative Government's attitude I had in mind a particular point. I had thought it proper to give the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) notice of this, and I believe that he was trying to come to the debate, but perhaps he has been prevented from doing so by various duties. The hon. Gentleman was, during the time of the Labour Government, the Tory spokesman on housing and construction. He gave an interview to the National Builder in which he was asked a number of questions on the basis that his party could win the May 1979 election, as it did. He is quoted as saying:
"Thus, in our view, local authority activity should be directed towards helping those sections of the community that by definition cannot help themselves. The emphasis will be on sheltered housing for the elderly, special housing for the disabled and for the very poor who just cannot manage … the need is not there."
In many respects, the hon. Gentleman is to be commended, because he was as frank as one could wish. In the main, Ministers do not use such frankness. The hon. Gentleman set out what is now Conservative Ministers' philosophy—local authority dwellings are not necessary, there is no need for them except for the poorest and the elderly, and the rest can get a mortgage. In essence, that sums up Ministers' attitudes and that is why we are facing such a housing crisis.

It is a myth, and a very dangerous one, that, except for the very poor, the rest of the community can simply get a mortgage and purchase its own accommodation. Owner-occupation has grown, and I welcome that. In the 1960s, the Labour Government took certain steps that assisted people on limited means who could not otherwise obtain a mortgage to get one. We have always been in favour of encouraging people, if they so wish, to become owner-occupiers. What is far from the case is that everyone except the very poor can solve housing problems by going along to the local authority or building society and obtaining a mortgage.

For the first-time buyers, the average dwelling price in Greater London last year was £32,635. The average advance was over £26,000. In the west midlands, as one would expect, the figures are lower. The average first-time price was £18,429, but the average advance was over £16,000. To quote building society statistics, the average income of people who have borrowed for the first time in 1984 in London was nearly £13,000. In my part of the world, the west midlands, it was £8,555.

Even when one takes into consideration that there may be two incomes in the household—often, although the wife's income is taken into account, when the children come she may stop working — and even if one leaves aside, as I have no intention of doing, the level of unemployment, particularly in the west midlands, it must be pretty obvious to Ministers, especially the Prime Minister, that a large number of people are simply not in a position to purchase. They are not earning enough to get an advance so that they can afford to purchase in London or the west midlands. They do not earn that sort of money now, and Ministers are of course saying that there should be low, or no, wage increases.

A large number of people, whom I would not describe as very poor and who manage to get by as long as they are permitted to work by the Government, have a fairish income. However, they do not have the sort of income that would qualify them for a building society mortgage. They do not have sufficient income to pay off such a mortgage over 20 or 25 years, pay rates on the property and keep it in full repair and maintenance. That is my point.

Therefore, there remains a clear need for rented accommodation. That need will not be met by the private sector. It is another myth that if one allows the private sector to revive through encouragement, it will meet demands. It will not, and there is no evidence that it will.

Two points need to be made. The hon. Gentleman talks about the private sector, so I shall be interested to hear what he has to say about housing associations, which cater for a real housing need in the areas about which the hon. Gentleman has talked. The other point is that, now that he has told us about people on low incomes, I should be interested to hear about those who are on high incomes but living in municipal accommodation.

That is another one of the Tory myths. We all know about Tory propaganda about a Rolls-Royce and perhaps even a Daimler as well outside the council house, owned by people who are going on holiday four times a year to all parts of the world. Perhaps I am naive, but I had believed that at least that Tory myth was no longer in circulation. However, the hon. Gentleman has shown us that, when it comes to council houses and tenants, the Tory mind has not changed much.

The Minister boasted about shorthold tenancies, but is there any evidence that that is doing anything to satisfy housing need in London or elsewhere? Why are so many people now in bed and breakfast accommodation? Why are local authorities spending the sums that I quoted at the beginning of my remarks if shorthold tenancies are the solution? The truth is that people will invest in the private property market only to the extent that they get a rate of return that they would not get elsewhere. They have no wish to provide accommodation at the level of rents that ordinary people can afford.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) whether he suggests that quite wealthy people who live in council housing which is now unsubsidised and from which the Sefton council makes a profit should move into owner-occupation so that they may receive large subsidies and income tax relief from the Exchequer.

My hon. Friend has asked an interesting question to which I am sure the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) will want to respond. The hon. Gentleman made a valid point about housing associations, but they form part of the Opposition's argument because, like local authorities, their funds have been cut so deeply that they cannot do their job.

In the borough of Walsall, no contracts for council dwellings have been entered into since 1979. Nor is there any hope under existing policies that there will be any such contracts. I ask the House to imagine a borough of the size of Walsall with no contracts having been entered into for six years because the council simply has not sufficient finances. Land owned by the council is being sold because it cannot be utilised by the authority. A great deal of work needs to be undertaken on older and mainly pre-war dwellings in the borough. Again there is not the money to do it.

In passing, I mention the Rosehill estate in Willenhall in my constituency. It was built before the second world war. The tenants have waited for years for their properties to be modernised. The conditions there are terrible.

I have written to the Minister a number of times asking whether he would be willing to meet a deputation from the Rosehill estate. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has replied saying that it is not a matter for him. His view is that it is purely a matter for the local authority. The local authority tells me that it simply has not the cash to carry out the necessary work. It so happens that the tenants intend to come to London this month on a deputation and to go to Marsham street. I wonder whether the Minister will be courteous enough to see them — or will he remain indifferent to their plight and, even though they have travelled down from my constituency, will not spend some time putting forward his point of view and listening to theirs?

I have mentioned my area, but Birmingham has nearly 25,000 council dwellings in need of modernisation and major repairs. Only 40 are being attended to this year, again because of the financial crisis.

Local authorities have the added headache of putting right the defective prefabricated concrete dwellings in their ownership. The work has to be done out of the annual housing investment programme. On top of all their other difficulties and headaches, local authorities have to rectify the defects in concrete dwellings that require urgent action. No extra money has been provided. The Minister says again that it is up to the local authorities.

I do not deny that there was a substantial increase in the money provided to owner-occupiers for improvement grants. It helped many people buying their own homes who in many cases would not have had enough to improve them. However, once the Tories won the general election of 1983, they were not interested. Today, as a result, we have a large number of defective houses whose owner-occupiers, many of them pensioners, do not have the means to put them right and to whom local authorities say, "We are sorry, but we have not the cash to give you improvement grants." What sense is there in that? I remind the House that when the necessary work is eventually undertaken, it will be much more expensive. I cannot understand why the Government will not give owner-occupiers on limited means the chance to put their houses right and to make them adequate for the coming winter. But, again, there is no response from