Skip to main content

New Clause 13

Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Report On Commission Calculations

'Within one calendar month of receipt of the calculations made by the Commission under section 5 of Article 3 of the Decision, a paper will be presented by Her Majesty's Government to both Houses of Parliament explaining the financial consequences of these calculations for the Consolidated Fund. '—[Mr. Teddy Taylor.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient also to consider the following new clauses: No. 17 — Report on Operation of the Decision

'A Report shall be placed before each House of Parliament annually on the financial liability placed on the Consolidated Fund of the implementation of the Decision.'.
No. 19—Report on additional revenues
'A Report shall be submitted to both Houses of Parliament by Her Majesty's Government in the event of any additional revenues being agreed in terms of Article 2 of the Decision.'.

The new clause proposes annual reports. We have found to our distress previously that the High reports have not always been shown in what has happened. With regard to the Government's estimates on contributions and so on, it would be helpful to have a regular system of reporting back. I wonder whether my hon. Friend sees any scope for agreeing something along those lines.

I shall be as brief as the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). I have no doubt that the Economic Secretary will reply that the information is readily available, but such information should be clearly available so that we understand exactly what the abatement mechanism involves and the amounts of money that we pay in terms of the various articles and decisions to which the new clauses refer. Information should be less misleadingly available than is evidenced in the parliamentary replies which the Economic Secretary has given to the hon. Member for Southend, East.

The Government will endeavour to provide the necessary information in as clear a form as possible. Calculations relating to abatement will be included in the preliminary draft budget, the draft budget and the budget as adopted, all of which will be laid before the House with explanatory memorandums. I shall ensure, as I always try to do, that that information is made available as soon as possible after those documents are in our hands. There is further information in the public expenditure White Paper and in the Autumn Statement.

Those documents should provide the information that hon. Members need. It is especially difficult to deal with parliamentary questions about refunds and abatements at the moment, because we are at the point of transition from the old system to the new, so the manner of presentation is not always straightforward. I think, however, that I can respond favourably to the spirit of the remarks that have been made.

In view of that answer, which I greatly appreciate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

To report progress and ask leave to sit again.— [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Committee report progress; to sit again tomorrow.

Further Education Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

12.12 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Peter Brooke)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It gives me particular pleasure to bring to the Commons a Bill on which Government and Opposition in the House of Lords have worked with remarkable unanimity of purpose to achieve what was described as a -high degree of consensus" as the Bill left the upper House.

The House will be well aware of the Government's concern to ensure that the education service makes the maximum possible contribution to the vital business of wealth creation for the country. In relation to higher education, the recent Green Paper on the development of higher education to the 1990s made this theme its leitmotif. It was a theme that, in relation to further education, ran through the Government's White Paper on training for jobs.

To this end, the central contribution of the education service is through the provision of appropriate courses of education and training and, at the higher education level, in undertaking associated research of high qualify. But the education system also has the capacity — and I would go as far as to say the responsibility — to apply its intellectual expertise and specialist facilities more directly to the business of wealth creation, particularly by working in collaboration with industry and business enterprises.

It is already open to universities, as autonomous institutions, to do that. It is the principal purpose of this Bill to remove the legal barriers which at present prevent their counterparts in the local authority sector from doing the same, and to enable them to engage in commercial activities which arise out of their primary educational and research functions. The restrictions arise because most polytechnics and colleges of further education have no separate legal existence from the local education authority that maintains them. Local authorities are restricted by statute in the commercial activities that they can undertake; their polytechnics and colleges are currently automatically caught by the same restrictions.

The Bill also repeals section 28(b) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. At present, colleges are legally permitted to run single-sex PE courses for prospective teachers. In 1975, when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed, there were several such courses, but over the years they have been supplanted by mixed courses, and there are now no segregated courses in England and Wales and only two in Scotland, both of which it is planned to integrate in the near future. Meanwhile, the Commission for the European Communities has issued a reasoned opinion to the effect that the exemption made in section 28(b) of the 1975 Act contravenes the EC equal treatment directive 1976. The Government have not accepted that opinion, but have decided that there would be little point in defending before the European Court of Justice a provision the original purposes of which have almost entirely disappeared in practice. The Government are therefore taking this opportunity to repeal section 28(b) but without making any other changes to the Sex Discrimination Act.

I return now to the main business of the Bill. It has been widely held for some time that ready use should be made of the facilities and expertise in higher education institutions. That was underlined in 1983 by a report of a joint working group of the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils chaired by Sir Alan Muir Wood on "Improving Links between Higher Education and Industry". Among other things, the report recommended that the law be changed to allow polytechnics to negotiate contracts and undertake consultancies. The Bill fulfils that recommendation.

As universities have shown, there are a great many opportunities that can be profitably pursued by education establishments in co-operation with business. They range from sponsored or joint research projects through the exploitation of inventions to consultancy and the scientific testing of equipment and materials. Clause 1 defines the scope of those activities by reference to the normal educational activities of teaching and research. Clause 2 empowers local education authorities to enter into agreement for the supply of those byproducts of educational activities, using further education establishments' facilities and the skills, expertise and ideas of their staff and students. It may well be — indeed it is the Government's expectation — that LEAs and their institutions will feel that setting up limited companies will in many circumstances afford the best channel for their commercial activities. Accordingly clause 2 empowers LEAs to lend money for that purpose to companies in which they hold a significant stake — 20 per cent. or more of the voting shares. It is not necessary for the Bill specifically to empower local authorities to establish or hold shares in companies, since they already have that power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Engaging in commercial activities, however, necessarily entails being subject to commercial disciplines, and having to make the same hard choices as face business enterprises. The Government have been particularly anxious therefore that local authorities and their institutions should, in engaging in commercial activities, be subject to an appropriate financial regime that does not enable them to engage in unfair competition with private sector enterprises. Getting the balance exactly right, I acknowledge, is not easy; and the Government have been happy, in the light of persuasive arguments advanced in another place, to introduce a number of amendments relating to that aspect of the Bill.

As now amended, therefore, the Bill requires local authorities to price all contracts at the open market value, and to use their best endeavours to ensure that the separate revenue account that they will be obliged to keep in relation to their commercial activities shows an annual surplus. Such accounts will also have to show the full cost of the commercial activities, including attributable overheads. The intention here is to put polytechnics and colleges as nearly as possible on to the same footing as any other business enterprise. The only exceptions to that rule are supplies arising as an integral part of teaching, where the predominant purpose is to train the student, and the product arises only incidentally to that; and supplies to research councils or other specified public bodies.

Clause 3 lays down the financial and accounting framework, within which the commercial activities must take place. It provides for the Secretary of State, after consultation with local authority representative bodies, to set minimum interest rates for the loans which authorities may make to companies. The purpose of the Bill's accounting arrangements is to provide a consistent approach between one authority and another and, as I have explained, to ensure fair and open competition. I assure the House that in practice those obligations will be kept to the minimum consistent with their purpose. The Department is already engaged in consultations with the local authority associations and the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy about what form the accounting arrangements should take. The accounts of limited companies set up by authorities and their institutions will obviously be subject to company law, rather than to the provisions of the Bill.

If hon. Members have any more detailed points which they wish to raise on the Bill's provisions, I shall be happy to answer them during its passage. In conclusion, I should like to remind the House of the Bill's underlying objective. It is to release the innovative talent, which we believe exists abundantly in polytechnics and colleges throughout the land, so as to bring rewards — financial and otherwise — to LEAs and their institutions, to the innovators themselves, to their partners in industry and to the nation as a whole. The Bill merely provides the framework. It is up to LEAs, their institutions and lecturers to make it happen.

The Bill deserves the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I ask for that support.

12.20 am

The Minister has offered us some fine words about his hopes. I hope that he will admit that in many colleges and polytechnics those hopes have already been achieved. Whether or not that was legal, those colleges already have a successful record in doing what the Government seek.

The Minister also said that he was glad that there was so much accord in the other place when the Bill was finally debated there. I suspect that that was because it was slipped through in the dinner interval. I also suspect that the Government hoped to slip the Bill through at our breakfast interval, but fortunately we are debating it a little earlier than that. Nevertheless, the Government seem to want to slip it through without much national debate, claiming that it deals with practical problems. We suspect that they are again moving towards privatisation, and want to hive off some of the public higher education sector. The Bill should be more fully debated than it will be this evening.

All hon. Members are aware of how difficult it is to draw the line between corruption and misuse of public resources, and good common sense. Many of us have come across lecturers who have become consultants for private companies within their college area, and who have eventually been offered a place on the board, shares, free trips abroad or some other benefit, while the college gets no fee or benefit. It is only right that the college and sponsoring authority should benefit if lecturers carry out work within the college's time.

It is difficult to work out how much a lecturer uses college facilities and time and how much he uses his own to advise and help local businesses. It is difficult to draw clear guidelines.

Moreover, almost all colleges with catering establishments offer training restaurants, and those with hairdressing courses often offer hairdressing facilities.

That raises the question of what the charge to the general public should be, how far it should be related to competing establishments outside where there is no training, and how far it should be reduced because the students are in training. In car maintenance courses, the car of the principal or senior lecturer is normally repaired, which also raises questions. Those are difficult areas, but most colleges have managed to tiptoe through them correctly. Nevertheless, there must be some control and consideration of those areas.

I hope that the Government will not push too many services into becoming purely commercial operations, especially training restauraunts and hairdressing services which benefit pensioners who are prepared to come at inconvenient times.

The Government should also be careful about insisting that fees be charged for other services to the community, especially to groups who are not in a position to pay for them. We should accept the basic principle that our education institutions are a resource for the whole community, not just for a small minority. Tenants' associations, environmental groups and the like often seek advice and expertise from such institutions. It would be unfortunate if they were denied that opportunity in the future because they could not pay for those services.

With regard to clause 4 and the sex discrimination provisions, it seems logical to carry out the directive and to remove the waiver from the legislation. I understand that in practice the exception applies to just two colleges in Scotland — Dunfermline and Jordanhill — and to a minor extent in Northern Ireland. I understand that we are still awaiting the outcome of an inquiry into the provision of physical education courses. How far does this legislation prejudge the outcome of that inquiry? Will the two courses in question simply remain but both become mixed courses or do the Government intend to push through a merger of the two Scottish institutions?

I should also like an assurance from the Government that this is not a major new departure for education institutions but an attempt to make it clear beyond any doubt that what the better polytechnics and colleges of further education are already doing is perfectly legal and that institutions which raise additional resources in this way will not have to hand them over to the local authorities and that the charges imposed will take account of the groups who use the services. In relation to the fair return provision in clause 2, I hope that account will be taken of the fact that for services such as training restauraunts and hairdressing members of the public have acted as willing guinea pigs for a very long time and that the charges will not be set too high.

Finally, perhaps the Government will consider deferring the Committee stage to allow for a little more probing and a wider debate outside the House before the Bill completes its passage.

12.28 am

I wish to deal only with clause 4, which relates to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. My comments will relate particularly to Dunfermline college of education and to the Scottish school of physical education at Jordanhill college of education.

I should make it clear at the outset that I speak for the Association of Lecturers in Colleges of Education in Scotland but in an entirely honorary, unpaid capacity. As a former chairman of the association I am expected to raise matters of this kind.

It is astonishing that in almost a throwaway remark in the dead watches of the night a Minister with no responsibility whatever for Scottish education should announce a major policy change in relation to Scottish colleges of education. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for education in Scotland has now arrived but he was not present when the change of policy was announced.

The Minister said, "Since 1975 things have changed. In England and Wales there are no longer any colleges that are not open to both sexes." He then said that only two Scottish colleges were affected and that these would merge in the near future. That is news to the Scottish college of education system, which did not know that those two colleges would merge in this way. No announcement has been made by the Scottish Office, and the only information that has been given relates to the implications of this clause, reference to which was made in correspondence with the principal of Jordanhill. That states:
"Clause 4 of the Bill seeks to repeal Section 28(b) of the Sex Discrimination Act".
That has already been said. It adds:
"I should also explain that it is not the Secretary of State's intention to bring Clause 4 into effect until such time as the Department has considered the STEAC Report on the framework of higher education in Scotland as a whole".
That committee has been looking at the nature of higher education in Scotland for some time, and I gather that it will report in the autumn. Quite rightly, the Secretary of State is saying that he wishes to wait until he knows the outcome of that inquiry—[Interruption.] From a sedentary position the Minister responsible for Education in Scotland agrees with me. But that is not what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said in his opening remarks. He said that these colleges were to merge in the near future. I hope that we shall get some clarity on this point, because there seems to be a major shift in intention.

I cannot disagree with the thrust of the legislation. It is right that these colleges should take in students of both sexes. Given present numbers in Scottish colleges that train teachers of physical education, it would not be night to take on students of both sexes and divide them up. In some ways it make sense to take the Scottish college of physical education of Jordanhill and merge it with the Dunfermline college. That makes more sense than closing down completely the facilities at Dunfermline college and moving them to the much larger complex at Jordanhifl. I hope that that is how the Minister's thoughts are moving.

That should have been done through a Scottish Office statement or by legislation relating directly to Scotland, rather than have it thrown into a basically non-controversial Bill that in the main relates to England and Wales. There is a separate method in this House for dealing with Scottish matters, and it is not right that we should have a major change in the way in which Scottish colleges of education operate by means of a throw-away remark at a late hour by a Minister who is not responsible for Scottish education.

12.33 am

I intervene very briefly to welcome the Bill and the principles that it enunciates, because they are long overdue.

Would it not be possible, however, to draft legislation in more comprehensible terms? In particular, I draw my hon. Friends attention to clause 2(7), which states:
"For the purposes of this Act the open market value of goods or services shall be taken to be the amount of the consideration in money that would be payable for the supply by a person standing in no such relationship with any person as would affect that consideration."
I mention that particularly because legislation that is as important as this should be expressed in terms that can be understood, are comprehensible and stand up to inspection.

The legislation is right in principle. However, legislation such as this affecting colleges of further education, which will have to be communicated to people, should surely be communicated in the Queen's English.

12.35 am

With the leave of the House, I should be delighted to respond to points that have been made in the course of the debate. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), in acknowledging that there is broad agreement on the Bill, raised the question of whether such a Bill was necessary, given what has already been done by many polytechnics and colleges. It is worth saying that authorities whose colleges engage in commercial trading do so at present in reliance on section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972, which permits an authority to do

"anything which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of their functions".
The difficulty with such widely worded expressions is the risk, particularly when under scrutiny in adversity, that the courts may decide upon a rather narrower interpretation than the authority. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that admirable things are already being done by polytechnics, and the purpose of the Bill is to remove any dubiety at all and to confirm that these actions are undeniably legal.

The hon. Gentleman went on to speak about the arrangements under which those employed by polytechnics and colleges at the moment conduct services in the market place. These matters are essentially for the colleges and authorities concerned, although I recognise the significance of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am certain that those outside will have noted it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to supplies and the pricing of them — hairdressing charges and training restaurants are good examples. These issues are specifically referred to in the Bill in clause 2(4) as
"goods or services · supplied, in the normal course of any of the educational activities"
and they are excluded from some of the pricing considerations that would otherwise apply. We have good reason to believe that the restaurants and hairdressers that are anxious to employ people coming out of the courses recognise that this is appropriate by-product of the courses.

A certain amount was made about sex disrimination in Scotland, not only by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish but by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), and I was delighted that he joined in the debate. What I said earlier is that
"there are now no segregated courses in England and Wales and only two in Scotland, both of which it is planned to integrate in the near future."
In Scotland, there are two courses, one at Jordanhill for men and one at Dunfermline for women. A report is expected before the end of the year from the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory council on the framework for higher education as a whole in Scotland. Until that report is available, no decision about the colleges will be made.

I should stress that I was referring to plans to integrate the two courses concerned, and not to merge the colleges, which is a much wider issue. It is intended that moves will be made towards integrating the sexes in PE teacher training in Scotland, as soon as possible after the publication of the report. Because of this potential delaying factor, the Further Education Bill provides for the repeal to be brought into effect at different times in England and Wales and in Scotland. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish drew attention to the fact that we were taking the Bill through all its stages tonight. We had understood that it was agreed that that should be done. In any event, it is in the interests of the House and of the further education community to proceed as has been announced, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to accept that.

I think that that exhausts the subjects raised in the Second Reading debate, except for the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James), who drew attention to certain infelicities in the Bill's language. I acknowledge that in seeking to provide phraseology which will remove doubt about the pricing matters with which the Bill is concerned, we may have ended up with wording which is perhaps not the most beautiful that the House has ever had before it.

I should have thought that, in a spirit of co-operation, the Minister would have offered to his hon. Friend the opportunity to table a manuscript amendment so that he could alter the offending language.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and I are on very warm terms. I do not think that he wanted to press his point quite that far, so it is a dilemma that I think I shall be spared. But I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Neubert.]

Further proceedings stood postponed pursuant to the Order of the House this day.

Further Education Bill Lords Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Further Education Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable under any other Act out of money so provided—[Mr. Neubert.]

Further Education Bill Lords

Considered in Committee (pursuant to the Order of the House this day)

[MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair]

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Powers Of Local Education Authorities

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Peter Brooke)

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 21, leave out `under the Education Act 1944'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 2.

These two amendments are tabled in response to one tabled by Lady David in another place which she withdrew on the understanding that the Government would table their own amendment along similar lines.

The effect of amendment No. 2 is to cause the Bill to be cited and construed as one with the other Education Acts, thus emphasising that the Bill forms part of that body of education law. Amendment No. 1 is purely consequential.

As a result of the main amendment, the Secretary of State for Education and Science will be able to exercise a number of the general powers conferred on him by the Education Act 1944 in relation to activities under the Bill, including in particular sections 67, 68 and 99.

Sections 67 empowers the Secretary of State to determine disputes between local education authorities and governors. Sections 68 and 99 and default powers permitting the Secretary of State in the last resort to issue directions where he considers that an authority or body of governors is acting unreasonably or in breach of its powers and duties under the Education Acts. The power to vary or revoke orders or directions conferred by section 111 of the 1944 Act will also apply to orders and directions made under the Bill.

It is the Government's hope that only in very rare cases will it be necessary to exercise these powers. They are powers which the Secretary of State already has but very rarely uses in their educational context, and it is not our intention that the Secretary of State should intervene in the commercial matters covered by the Bill, except as a last resort.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

12.45 am

When my hon. Friend has considered the matter, he might write to me to explain exactly what clause 2(7) means.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Repeal Of S 28(B) Of Sex Discrimination Act 1975

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

On Second Reading it was right that the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science should respond to the remarks I made. Although he did so with ability and charm, it is a Scottish Office matter. The Minister who is in charge of education in Scotland is on the Bench. He might like to have the opportunity to say a few words in his own defence; he is desperately shaking his head.

I accept what the Minister said and I look forward to the Muir Wood report with interest. I emphasise again how much better it would be if we in Scotland had an assembly in which we could deal with matters such as this at the proper time of day, with due deliberation and with an opportunity to consult all interested parties in Scotland.

I have already been given a lesson by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on the hazards of straying into Scottish affairs. The last thing I will do is follow him into the issue of an assembly, tempting though the suggestion is.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Short Title

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 6, line 11, at end insert—

'(1A) The Education Acts 1944 to 1981, the Education (Fees and Awards) Act 1983, the Education (Grants and Awards) Act 1984 and this Act, except sections 4 and 5 above, may be cited together as the Education Acts 1944 to 1985.
(1B) This Act, except sections 4 and 5 above, shall be construed as one with the Education Act 1944.'.— [Mr. Brooke.]

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 6, line 12, leave out subsection (2).

The amendment removes the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords to avoid infringing the Commons privilege. Although we do not expect any increase in public expenditure as a result of the Bill's passage, it is nevertheless necessary to remove the subsection in accordance with usual custom.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with amendments.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Overseas Development And Co-Operation

12.50 am

I beg to move,

That the draft African Development Fund (Fourth Replenishment) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 20th June, be approved.
The purpose of the order is to authorise an increase in our payments to the soft lending resources of the African development fund.

The African development fund is an important part of the international economic system. It was set up in 1973 to contribute to the economic and social development of the regional member countries of the African Development Bank by providing finance on concessional terms. It is a long-term development lending institution. The fund has broadly the same developmental objectives as our own aid programme — to help the poorest countries. We have always supported the fund, and the United Kingdom was one of its founder members. Fourteen independent African members of the Commonwealth have received ADF loans. As part of a multilaterally negotiated arrangement, our own contributions to the fund help to gear up a greater flow of money to the poorer countries, and to the poorest people within those countries.

The African development fund is a joint partnership between the African Development Bank, which holds 50 per cent. of the voting power, and 26 non-regional participating states. Almost 75 per cent. of the fund's loan commitments in 1984 were to the very poorest member countries. This figure is likely to increase this year, as more than 90 per cent. of projects in the fund's pipeline are for countries with a per capita GNP of less than $510. All ADF loans are interest-free, but they attract a small service charge of 0·75 per cent. They are repayable over 50 years, with a 10-year grace period—except for lines of credit, for which the repayment period is up to 20 years including a grace period of up to five years.

The present famine in Africa has emphasised the importance of self-sufficiency in food production. Africa's food dependency on outside sources has grown at an alarming pace, with imports of grain increasing at 11 per cent. a year during the past 20 years. The importance of strengthening agriculture, particularly food production, cannot be doubted. Agriculture has received the largest share of fund resources—just over 40 per cent. in the period from 1974 and almost 42 per cent. in 1984 alone. Transport received the second largest share with 26 per cent., followed by public utilities with 18 per cent. and education and health with 15 per cent. By the end of 1984, the fund had approved 349 loans amounting to some £1,870 million equivalent at current exchange rates. Of this sum, £558 million had been spent. There was a slowdown in disbursements in 1984, however, reflecting the current difficulties for African countries in implementing projects.

The fund is aware of those problems and is trying to help by providing increased technical assistance to improve the preparation and implementation of projects. Five per cent. of the replenishment will again be available for technical assistance. So far, the United Kingdom has committed to the fund £55·2 million, of which about £21·4 million has been disbursed. Negotiations for the fourth replenishment of the fund's resources, to cover the commitment period 1985 to 1987, were successfully completed in 1984. The participating states and the African Development Bank agreed to provide jointly £1,012 million—an increase of almost 50 per cent. over the previous replenishment and within 0·2 per cent. of the target set in the governor's resolution. Our own share of the replenishment, subject to parliamentary approval, will be £30,934,961 at the agreed exchange rate. That is a share of 3·05 per cent. of the target figure. The proposed replenishment and its terms and conditions were approved by the board of Governors of the African Development Bank and fund on 2 November last year.

The replenishment arrangements include provisions which envisage that other countries' contributions may be released more slowly for commitment if one or more of the donors fails to meet its obligations in full or in time. That is a valuable safeguard. I hope that the House feels that the order is of value to the poorer countries of Africa. I therefore commend it to the House.

12.55 am

I welcome a replenishment of this very important and significant fund. Of course, we are well aware of its concessionary nature and the positive contribution that it can play in relation to developments in the African continent.

However, the Government's contribution is less than it should be, and certainly so against the scale of the debt crisis with which Africa is faced. At the moment Africa is very much under-capitalised. The contributions made by the fund are good in principle, but they are slow in disbursement. The scale of the under-capitalisation has already been covered by several contributions on development issues in debates in this House during the past two to three weeks, but it is worth stressing that the net flows of capital to Africa, both private and official, have fallen considerably from $11 billion in 1980–82 to a projected $5 billion for 1985 to 1987. That decrease has been substantially due to the fall in private capital flows something which those supporting market forces in Africa — not unassociated with the current Administration in the United States — should note. It is especially important that we offset that by public capital flows.

The scale of the overall debt for Africa of $80 billion, with an average interest rate of 8·6 per cent., is resulting in a debt service of $11 billion as opposed to $4 billion in 1981. Such figures and proportions put the Government's contribution into proportion.

It is also important to look at the structure of resource distribution in the fund against disbursement by the bank, over the 1980s. For example, at the end of 1981 agriculture constituted 26 per cent., transport 25 per cent., public utilities 25 per cent., industry 16 per cent. and education and health 8 per cent. For 1983 the agriculture contribution went down to 23 per cent., and the public utilities share was substantially up from one quarter to one third. Industry was down by nearly a half in percentage terms. Frankly, one would expect that more funds could be allocated to agriculture, granted the massive and horrendous scale of the drought in the sub-Saharan countries. We are sure that the directors of the fund are doing their best to shift resources into agriculture, but they need more support to do so.

It is interesting to look at the average size of project loan being made. In 1982 it was 11 million units of account, and in 1983 16 million units of account. In other words, on 1983 figures, the African Development Bank accounted for some 40 per cent. of the total cost of projects and there has been a very considerable rise in the percentage of projects covered by the fund.

In one sense, that is to be welcomed, but inasmuch as there tends to be a preference by the fund for financing larger projects—whether dams, roads or public utilities — that share has risen, and we trust that it will not concern itself exclusively with the larger rather than the smaller projects.

Despite what the Minister said—and I noted it with interest — about contributions going to the poorest countries, that is not borne out by the relatively recent figures for the bank. For example, the cumulative loans in 1983 show that Morocco gained 109 million units of account and Ethiopia only 16·5 million. Tunisia gained 163 million and the Sudan only 22 million.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about the bank rather than the fund, if I understand him correctly. The fund is, in effect, the equivalent of International Development Association. The fund does for the bank what IDA does for the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Surely it is a little misleading to talk in terms of bank lending, unless I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman.

No, I think not, much as we would talk in terms of what is the relation of IDA lending to World Bank lending, and not least in view of the overall debt crisis affecting the drought-ridden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It is precisely this overall context of the role of the fund that I want to stress in giving these figures. I will put them again. Ethiopia is coming low and Sudan is coming low in terms of the African Development Bank's funding so that the concessionary finance is needed more than ever and has to be taken as only offsetting that other weighting in the country distribution of the bank's financing.

As with Lomé and as with many other agencies, as we are well aware, the disbursement has been slow. The figures to the end of 1983 show that nearly 40 per cent. of allocated loans are not yet disbursed. It is clear that in the replenishment of the fund, from the figures which are available, the United Kingdom's contribution is less than half that of France and Italy, less than a third that of Germany and Canada and less than a quarter that of Japan. It is only a fraction above that of Denmark, a much smaller country than the United Kingdom and one that is facing public expenditure constraints. This low contribution from the Government is against the background of the lamentable cuts in overall official development assistance.

The agricultural crisis in sub-Saharan Africa clearly will not be remedied by measures such as lending by the fund alone. We support the fund; we think that it is doing excellent work, but the figures themselves on the overall crisis are illustrative. In terms of the productivity in land, in Niger, in 1920, the average yield of cereals per hectare was about 500 kilos. By the late 1950s it was down to 350 kilos. We see reflected in that long-term trend the declining average consumption per person per year in the African subcontinent from about 220 kilos per person in 1970 to only 180 kilos in 1984.

In terms of the effectiveness of the funding of agricultural projects, and especially smaller scale projects, Idriss Jazairy when here recently stressed to several hon. Members that whereas it cost about $400 per tonne to transport emergency food aid to the highlands of Ethiopia, an agency such as IFAD, for example, by spending $200, could produce one tonne of cereals per year for 20 years. It is this kind of project in which the fund should specialise. The overall figures on the sectoral distribution of its lending show that it is still finding it difficult to be able to gain sufficient absorbtion of those resources.

I end by quoting Edovard Saouma, the Director General of the FAO, commenting on the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. He said:
"We can beat this crisis. Stage 1 is food relief. Stage 2 is recovery. But famine could reappear if we do not press ahead with stage 3, a new agenda for Long-term development."
Against such a plea and against such a crisis, the British Government's contribution to the replenishment of the African development fund is profoundly disappointing.

1.5 am

While I welcome the announcement made by the Minister tonight, it is sad that the fund, which had aimed to achieve a 40 per cent. target—that is, 40 per cent. for agricultural development during the first three years of ADF 3—is lamentably short of that target.

Considering the soft, concessionary loan funds that are available — not least through the IDA and the African and Asian development funds — it is a pity that full advantage has not been taken of this opportunity for specific emphasis to be placed on agricultural and infrastructural development, which does not require the rate of return, for example, which African Development Bank projects require.

Faced with external debts and the poor economic base of many African countries, much weakened by recession, in addition to the appalling famine conditions and the sustained period of drought, with, at the same time, a population explosion and a declining trend in agricultural productivity—all occurring within the last two or three years — it is a shame that we have not had a greater emphasis from the fund towards agricultural development.

It is important that institutions such as the African development fund should look in particular at medium-term strategies to help overcome the appalling problems that are faced by many countries in sub-Saharan Africa as a result of the drought. It would be beneficial for the fund to examine closely a strategy for medium-term solutions, such as smallholder schemes aimed at relieving the dreadful agricultural decline in productivity.

Apart from hoping that the fund accepts that the challenge for Africa is agriculture—and, therefore, the need to move towards the 40 per cent. target and away from the 23 per cent. figure—I hope that consideration will be given to the slow disbursement that has been characteristic of the fund's activities. This is, unfortunately, a growing problem with all international lending agencies. There seems to be a fixation on paying undue attention to the World Bank project cycle, which can sometimes occupy too much time in project preparation and the pre-appraisal of projects before conditions for disbursement are even reached At a time when disbursement needs to be that much more rapid, I hope that not just the fund but international lending agencies in general will put more energy into the speed of disbursement. Therefore, while welcoming the conservatism for which the fund is renowned in terms of appraising projects, I hope that that will not lead to too slow a rate of disbursement of funds for projects.

I hope that it will also encourage co-financing, particularly with Gulf funds. There is much money still in the international lending agencies in the Gulf — for example, in the Abu Dhabi and Saudi funds and even in the OPEC fund in Vienna. They all have the facility to co-finance. While, therefore, there exist soft, concessionary, loans in various funds, and not least the African development fund, it is important that co-financing with other international lending agencies should take place.

Equally, I urge British companies which are interested in agricultural development in Africa to recognise that the African development fund looks closely at the financing of infrastructural development within an overall project for agricultural development. Companies do not look closely enough at the opportunities available to them for co-financing and working together through the Asian and African development banks, the international lending agencies and, particularly, by way of soft loan funds, when they are appraising financial packages for their projects and investments.

I have always welcomed our having taken on membership of the fund in 1973 and of the bank in 1983. I hope that we will use our influence to persuade the fund to place more emphasis on agricultural development in Africa and to speed up the disbursement process, for such a speeding up is greatly needed today.

1.9 am

I agree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), and I wish to add only one. From the Minister's figures, it would appear that the African Development Fund spends 90 per cent. of its money on the poorest countries in Africa—those with an average per-capita income of less than $510—and that its priority is agriculture. As the money spent is substantially more than our bilateral aid programme, one asks whether the African Development Fund could be a vehicle for increased resources, in terms of reaching those who are uppermost in our constituents' minds. Indeed, they believe that our aid should go to support agricultural development in the poorest African countries.

Although I welcome this fourth replenishment, I question the value of the ADF in terms of our total support for Africa, and our commitment to the fund and its development.

1.10 am

I shall confine my remarks to the African Development Fund, which I understand is the subject of the order. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) seemed to wish to discuss the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the African Development Bank, which, although worthy of discussion, are not included in the order.

My support for the order is qualified. Insufficient control is exercised by my right hon. Friend's Department over the way in which the African Development Fund spends its money. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) mentioned the slowness of disbursement, which is especially difficult to understand when one considers the serious needs of African agriculture, and the nature of the fund. It shows a lack of imagination on the part of those who administer the fund. We should have a robust representative on the fund's board of directors to ensure that those concession funds are used in the most appropriate way. I do not believe that Britain is exercising its full influence on the board of directors, and I hope that, since we are giving an additional £13 million to the fund, we shall endeavour to play a full part in the control and direction of the fund so that it achieves its objectives in disbursement and in the direction of disbursement. This applies to the administration of the African Development Bank and the African Development Fund, which have been seriously criticised, not only in Britain and other donor countries but in Africa. I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that those criticisms are satisfied in the robust manner in which he is tackling other international institutions, such as UNESCO.

As to the direction of the fund, I wish to raise two matters. The first is Shelter Afrique, which is sponsored by the African Development Bank but which I believe should also enjoy some of the fund's money. It could be used to get some housing projects off the ground, to accommodate the people who are congregating round the towns of Africa but who have nowhere suitable to live. They are developing slums faster than ever, and this is exacerbated by the fact that the African population is increasing at such an enormous rate. That means that we must put concession funds into housing and into creating an infrastructure of proper drainage, water supplies and sewage systems. We must provide the basic facilities on which African people can, with the help of concession funds, buy building materials and build substantial, traditional houses. Those are not the same as in many other countries; they are particularly African and therefore appropriate for the sort of money that the fund can provide.

The resources of the fund must be directed to agriculture, but it must be to smallholder agriculture, the development of co-operatives and finding ways in which they can afford proper marketing arrangements and the inputs to make their agriculture more prosperous, not only to produce food for themselves and for the markets and growing urban populations which they serve but for export, so that they can earn the necessary foreign exchange to acquire advice, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. That is not happening on a sufficient scale.

The fund should also be used to assist water supplies, and in bringing clean water to villages. The expertise is available in Britain. Pumping from rivers, it is possible to get 98 per cent. of the bacteria out of the water through filtration methods developed in Britain on a very simple basis. The fund should be used for that purpose, but the disbursement of the fund is not sufficiently fast. I do not believe that there has been as much imagination and drive as there could have been in recent years.

In welcoming the order, I hope that the Minister will take charge and give full support, advice and direction to the fund and to the bank.

1.16 am

By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say that I am grateful for the welcome given to the order from all parts of the House. No one could dispute that it is right that it should go forward or that the work of the bank is of considerable importance.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) said, possibly a little predictably, that our contribution is too small. I do not think that that is fair. In the last replenishment our contribution was £24·2 million. This time it is nearly £31 million, and that represents an increase in real terms of 13 per cent. That is a fairly respectable level, particularly bearing in mind the pressure on our programme to maintain our bilateral side as well as to provide adequate funds to the main claims on the multilateral side which are before us. In addition, I do not need to remind the House of the substantial contributions that we are making to the development of agriculture, especially in Africa, in all sorts of other ways.

It is also fair to make the point that Denmark, which the hon. Gentleman quoted as having a good record—I do not deny it—has traditionally used the multilateral side particularly strongly as a means of operating its aid policies. Perhaps it is not surprising that in percentage terms Denmark shows up very well.

It seemed to me, as I suggested in my intervention, that the hon. Gentleman was confusing the bank and the fund. No doubt he would deny that, but the plain fact is the fund is related to the poorest countries. There is not much point in talking about what the bank can do in respect of them, because it is lending money and trying to achieve the kind of return that the World Bank achieves. These are countries which cannot borrow on those terms; they are not strong enough to do so. That is why we have the fund and overall it does a good job in that respect.

The Minister made that point before and I made my reply to it. But if we are looking at lending overall, and not least lending to the least developed countries and some of the poorest countries in the world, it is directly relevant to see what the bank is doing. The bank is offsetting the concessional lending that the fund is making.

I am not sure that it is worth pursuing the argument, but an essential point is that the bank lends to countries which in this case are not able to afford to repay and would therefore incur debt problems, whereas the whole merit of the fund is that it is a way of conveying resources to the poorest countries. Let us leave it at that.

The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyniham) mentioned agriculture. The fund has allocated 40 per cent. to agriculture cumulatively over the years and 42 per cent. in 1984. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree about the crucial importance of agriculture and the need to support it. That is a respectable percentage. It shows that the fund gives agriculture a genuine priority. No doubt that is something that we can continue to discuss in years to come, and we can bring our influence to bear on the bank.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East mentioned the slow disbursement of aid. That is a problem not just here, as he said, but in many areas in the totality of aid programmes across the world. There has been some improvement in the rate of disbursement. There was a 24 per cent. ratio of disbursement to commitment at the end of 1981 and by the end of 1984 that had risen to a 30 per cent. ratio. That may not be perfect, but it represents a significant increase.

As I said in my opening remarks, 1984 has been a difficult year, for understandable reasons, but at least matters have been moving in the right direction. We are encouraging all the regional banks to do more co-financing. The African bank attracts official resources, but it has not yet been involved much with the private sector. We should like that, but there are well-known difficulties in Africa for the private sector, but certainly the principle of what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East said was correct.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) somewhat qualified his support for the order because of one or two specific points that he made. I have already mentioned control, but we are well represented at the bank and it is in our interest to ensure that it operates as effectively as possible. I undertake that we shall do all that we can to bring that about.

It would perhaps be better if I were to write to my hon. Friend about Shelter Afrique.

I listened to my hon. Friend with considerable interest and sympathy when he talked about the kinds of agriculture that should be supported. He was speaking in very much the same terms as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). It is clearly of paramount importance to try to build up the agriculture of Africa among smallholders, the ordinary peasant farmers and so on. That is not the be all and end all of agriculture, because there are other important aspects, but nevertheless we all feel that that is crucial and fundamental to improving the lot of Africa and lots people. We as an Administration support that, and anything that the bank or fund can do in that direction will have our support.

I thank all hon. Members who contributed to the debate. Once again, I commend the order to the House.


That the draft African Development Fund (Fourth Replenishment) Order, 1985, which was laid before this House on 20th June, be approved.

North Wales (Rail Services)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Sainsbury.]

1.22 am

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport for coming here at this late hour to listen to the debate. I wish to make it plain that I am not setting out to denigrate British Rail. I enjoy travelling with it. The intercity service which I have used for many years has been, on the whole, clean, fast, comfortable, and remarkably punctual. Much of the tourist trade which is so vital to north Wales continues to arrive by rail, as it has for many generations, and in what is now the second consecutive bad year for the tourist industry we desperately need our trains.

In north Wales, there has, however, been a steady—I do not wish to say dramatic — deterioration in service over the years, not so much in speed, comfort and punctuality as in the convenience of the timetable and the facilities available.

I accept that where trains are not full the railway cannot go on running them indefinitely. Services must be cut to reduce losses. The problem with that process is that it feeds on itself. As services are reduced, fewer and fewer people use them and further cuts are required to reduce the loss and so on. However, it is no necessary part of this dismal downward spiral that facilities also be reduced. My first complaint against British Rail—it is the least that I shall voice tonight — is the extreme reluctance and dilatoriness that it has shown in allowing private caterers to take food and drink trolleys on trains on which it no longer operates an acceptable buffet service. Some headway is at last being made thanks to the efforts and persistence of enterprising individuals, among whom my constituent, Mr. Osbiston of Dyserth was one of the first, if not the first, in the area to offer a most attractive trolley service to British Rail travellers in the region.

I shall not renew my plea that decent rolling stock should be allocated to the north Wales line, although that is a sore point in north Wales. The new Sprinter units are coming in slowly, oh so slowly, to replace the bone rattling diesel multiple units in which it is impossible to read, let alone write and still less to drink a cup of coffee. They are being well received and represent a huge improvement. Nor shall I press for the electrification of the Crewe-Holyhead line, although there is a powerful lobby in north Wales arguing for it. I am not at all sure that it would be a justifiable investment, and the effect on the landscape where the train skirts the coastline would be deplorable.

The essence of a railway service is that it should be reasonably predictable. Hold-ups are, or should be, less frequent than on even the best roads, and journey times are shorter — or were when the trains ran direct from London to north Wales. In the past few years, an increasing number of trains have been routed to north Wales via Birmingham, thus adding three quarters of an hour to the journey time. Instead of running direct to and from north Wales, more and more trains now require a change at Crewe. I have no strong objection to either of those things, provided that there is a reasonable connection at Crewe and no excessive wait.

The main burden of my complaint concerns the effect on services to north Wales of the railway works being carried out at Crewe. I fully accept their necessity. I spent one night a few years ago with British Rail being taken round the signal boxes and junctions at Crewe station. All of my colleagues were as shattered as me at the primitiveness and inadequacy of the equipment, which has to handle the hundreds of trains that pass every day through this immensely complicated station layout. It is clear that the work has to be done, and I do not quarrel with the decision to do it all in one go. I have a serious complaint to make, however, about the period chosen—2 June to 21 July. It is just about the busiest holiday period of the year. Had it been possible to start the work two months earlier, the effect on train passengers — north Wales is still heavily dependent on the railway to bring in tourists—would have been much less.

Once the work started, the trains had to be diverted round Crewe, which has clearly resulted in longer journey times. That is a pity, and might lose us some day trippers, but we have to accept it. The real burden of my complaint is that we in north Wales, and a good many others who are served by Crewe and stations beyond it, do not know what we have to accept. A great deal of time and effort is required to find out, and the answer is quite likely to be wrong.

The remodelling of Crewe station started on 2 June, and had been planned several years ahead. On 13 May, and quite independently of the Crewe operation, British Rail introduced new timetables for the area. They are radically different from the old timetables to which travellers to and from north Wales had become accustomed and for which the convenient pocket timetables, which can readily be found in the Travel Office, were available at all stations along the route.

The new timetables are radically different, but as no new pocket timetables have been issued, it is not too easy to find out about trains. Why on earth have they not been issued? How are intending travellers expected to find out the new times of their trains? British Rail has two suggestions to offer. One is that one should buy its complete timetable, price £3, and far too big to go into an already bulging briefcase, let alone the most capacious of pockets. The other is that one should ring up British Rail inquiries and find out. Has anyone at British Rail ever tried doing that from a pay phone box—if one can find one that is not out of order—with no doors?

British Rail admits that the plan to produce pocket timetables "ran into difficulties" — nothing like the difficulties that passengers are now running into without them. But I suppose that BR would now argue that it would not have been much use printing the new timetables because the Crewe remodelling, which began only three weeks after the new timetables came into force, would have made them inapplicable anyway. In desperation I wrote on 12 June to the manager of the midland region in Birmingham and asked him how I could now get to my constituency by rail. So far I have not had so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a substantive reply.

I have managed to procure a document that purports to be a temporary timetable. It is called a "reissued" timetable, whatever that may mean. It gives the timing of the trains to north Wales during this period. It is illegible to the naked eye of anyone over 40. It has now been supplemented by a batch of scarcely more legible leaflets, each one covering a section of the journey. One is entitled "Crewe-Chester-North Wales". It is the only one that covers the north Wales stations. It also shows the connecting trains to and from London.

According to that timetable, there are only five trains a day from Rhyl to London, whereas until 12 May there were 14, and there are to be 13 when the remodelling at Crewe is finished. According to the timetable, there is no way to reach Chester from Euston before 12.30 pm or Rhyl before 2 pm. The position for the return journey is very slightly better with six trains, including two morning ones.

As a matter of fact, I do not believe that the situation is as bad as that. Travellers have been spotted on Rhyl station at 11 in the morning who claim to have come from London that same morning. It may be that there are morning trains, but it is just not possible to find out and, as I said, the midland region of British Rail does not answer letters.

I do not criticise British Rail for doing the work at Crewe—it had to be done. I could have wished that it had chosen a time of year less vital to our already hard-pressed tourist trade, a period during which, incidentally, anyone hoping to travel from London by coach to north Wales instead of by train will encounter the horrendous problems on the M1 near Hemel Hempstead during the first fortnight of July.

However, I understand that the work at Crewe must produce extensive changes to the schedule and a lengthening of journey times, but why, oh why does not British Rail take the trouble to get proper timetables printed and have intelligible notices put out well in advance at the railway stations concerned? Travelling by rail from London to north Wales at present is more akin to hitchhiking than travel by any scheduled service.

1.33 am

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) has said about British Rail's services to north Wales and how they have been affected by the modernisation works at present being undertaken at Crewe—and the failure to produce pocket timetables in good time before timetable changes take effect. I am sure that any of his constituents who have experienced problems will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising these matters in the House today.

I should like, first of all, to explain why British Rail has decided to carry out this major work at Crewe, what the work involves and why it has chosen to do it now. First, why carry out the work? As my hon. Friend said the signalling at Crewe—most of which dates back to 1938 —has reached the end of its useful life. Signal failures became more frequent and BR concluded that early action was needed to prevent the old equipment from becoming a serious hindrance to service reliability and ultimately a safety hazard. BR decided that if it had to replace the signalling it would make sense to take the opportunity to modernise the track layout in the station area at the same time. After all, the tracks had been designed to cope with steam operation. They were complex and unwieldy and could not effectively handle the needs of today's modern railway. The opportunity to bring this up to date and simplify it was too good to miss.

When the work is completed, Crewe will be well equipped to handle present-day traffic requirements. Briefly summarised, the work will mean that one new signal box will replace six old ones; trains will be able to pass through the station at 80 mph instead of 20 to 30 mph, and stopping trains calling at the station will also he able to move more rapidly; the reduction in the number of points and crossovers, from 285 to 110 will mean lower costs and better reliability; new passenger facilities will be incorporated in the station and will include lounges, waiting rooms, buffet, bookstall and toilets with provision for the disabled; two lifts will be installed for use by disabled passengers; certain platforms will be extended to accommodate larger trains; and 47 visual display screens will give passengers full service information.

The end result will be a faster, more efficient and reliable service for BR's customers, who will also have the benefit of a greatly improved station environment at Crewe. BR will have simplified a vastly complex junction, making it cheaper to operate and maintain.

But the old adage "One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs" applies in this case. The work that BR is undertaking at Crewe cannot be done without some temporary disruption of the normal train services. Having considered the impact that the work would have on its customers, British Rail decided to tackle the programme in three phases. Phase I, which I am glad to say has been completed, consisted of the work that could be done without serious disruption to services. This included the new signal box, signalling renewals, platform alterations, building refurbishment, preliminary track works, overhead line foundations and the removal of the present overhead power lines. Phase II covers the shutdown of Crewe for a seven-week period from 2 June to 21 July, when the new tracks and overhead equipment will be installed. This work cannot be carried out without inflicting serious disruption to services. The third phase, planned for July to October this year, covers work which cannot be carried out until the first two phases are completed, and will involve final adjustments to the overhead line equipment and the new track. Services will not be affected during the third phase.

I know that the aspect which principally concerns my hon. Friend this evening is the virtual shutdown, during a seven-week period, of Crewe station. There is no doubt that BR has taken a radical step in tackling the scheme in this way, but BR believes that by concentrating the phase into a short period, rather than spreading it over weekends — as is the normal procedure for such works — inconvenience to passengers and disruption to normal rail services will be kept to a minimum. If the work were undertaken during weekends, passengers would face delays and diversions at weekends which could last for up to four years. The quicker the work is completed, the sooner passengers will benefit from it.

By concentrating the works, BR is providing its engineers with a more cost-effective and efficient way of handling its permanent way staff and machinery. Machinery is being intensively worked for seven weeks, instead of standing at the trackside for five days out of seven. Engineering staff resources can be concentrated on Crewe for the seven weeks and the engineers can get straight on with the job, instead of having to spend some of each weekend making good for normal running the next day. In all, BR expects to save about £1 million by tackling phase II during this seven week period.

Some people might ask as my hon. Friend has, why, if the work has to be carried out in one tranche, BR is doing it in the summer, when people are travelling and the inconvenience caused is greater than it might otherwise be. BR had deliberately timed the shutdown to coincide with the time of the year when the weather is, or should be, at its best and daylight at its maximum. Both the spring bank holiday and the main summer holiday period have thus been avoided. I am glad to be able to assure my hon. Friend that phase II is proceeding well, and BR expects to complete it on schedule.

BR has, of course, made alternative arrangements while Crewe station is closed. I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand if I do not give the full details. In summary, inter-city services continue to travel through Crewe with little effect on their scheduled timings and there are a number of special replacement bus and coach services from rail locations to Crewe and special rail shuttle services between Crewe and Chester and Stafford.

As for the north Wales services, to which my hon. Friend has understandably drawn attention, in the present timetable, as in the 1984 timetable, there are six through services each day from London to north Wales and a further nine services each day from London to Crewe enabling connections to be made to north Wales. The only change is that most of the through services are now quicker than they were in 1984.

Under the temporary arrangements during phase II, the six through services remain. In addition, there are four services on which connections can be made to north Wales with one change at Stafford and a further four services involving changes at both Stafford and Crewe. So of the nine daily services enabling connections to be made to north Wales eight are operating during phase II.

In the opposite direction there are six through services, all of which remain during the temporary work, but of the 10 connecting services in the 1985 timetable only six are operating during the phase II work at Crewe, one involving a change at Stafford and five involving changes at Stafford and Crewe. I understand that journey times for passengers travelling on through trains or changing only at Stafford have been increased by about 10 minutes. The worst affected are those making two changes. For the seven weeks of phase II their journeys will take on average an hour longer because BR cannot provide good scheduled connections for people making those changes while all services are temporarily disrupted by the work.

BR recognises that the level of service performance during the first week of the Crewe shutdown was less than satisfactory and I convey BR's apologies to my hon. Friend for that. The temporary arrangements have now bedded down and I understand that the situation is somewhat improved. BR is well aware of the problems that passengers face and the inconvenience caused by the delays. It is constantly striving to improve matters, although we must all recognise that during this period it is impossible completely to maintain acceptable standards of punctuality.

My hon. Friend asked whether it was possible to get to Chester or north Wales in the morning and referred in an amusing aside to someone whom he had seen on the platform. If my hon. Friend is going to his constituency, he can catch the 6.50 am train from Euston arriving at Chester at 10.10, Rhyl at 10.54, Colwyn bay at 11.8 and Holyhead at 12.10. During the phase II work at Crewe the journey will take about 10 minutes longer. If my hon. Friend does not wish to get up quite so early, there are other connections to Rhyl and Colwyn bay from Euston at 7.50 am and 8.55 am arriving at Rhyl at 11.31 and 12.22 respectively.

I am glad to hear that, but perhaps my hon. Friend will point out to BR that although those trains exist they do not appear in the only timetable covering services to north Wales.

I am sorry to hear that they are not in the timetable available to my hon. Friend. I have another timetable here which may be of help to him. I take his point about the timetables and I shall deal with that in a moment. I would wish to draw my hon. Friend's points to the attention of British Rail. They are matters for the board, and I understand that my hon. Friend has already put his points direct to British Rail. I have seen a copy of his letter and the reply that has been sent to him. I am sorry that it has not yet reached him, but perhaps he can raise that point with services other than British Rail. I hope that the response will lessen his concern and that he will forgive me if I do not repeat the points that he will find in that letter.

I am, however, entirely at one with my hon. Friend in his concern that new timetables should be made available in good time for travellers to see how any revised timings may affect their trains. I was pleased to see that British Rail produced its main timetable, together with a special supplement giving details of certain services that will alter due to the Crewe modernisation works, on 29 March—six weeks before the new timetable came into operation. I believe that British Rail sent copies of that timetable to all hon. Members in the north Wales area.

The question of pocket, or local, timetables is left to British Rail's regional managers. That is where my hon. Friend identified a particular problem. I understand that the London Midland region, whose rail services are the subject of this debate, did not issue the full range of pocket timetables this year. The main reason was the move earlier this year of London Midland region staff from London to new offices at Birmingham and the fact that many staff involved in timetabling preparations opted not to make the move to Birmingham. British Rail hopes that next year it will be able to produce the full range of pocket timetables.

My hon. Friend also drew attention to the size of print of these timetables. While I was waiting for the early hours of the morning to reach this point, I peered at them. I recognise the difficulty that my hon. Friend raises. I shall also draw that to the attention of the appropriate part of the British Rail organisation.

Although London Midland region did not produce a pocket timetable for the north Wales line, I understand that Gwynedd county council published its own pocket version, which was available to passengers. I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not receive one.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the improvement in catering from private services and asked for more progress. I shall raise this with the chairman of British Rail, whom I hope to see later this week. I recognise, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that anything that improves the attractiveness of the services provided by British Rail, including the provision of better catering services, helps to attract and hold more passengers. That is to the benefit of the whole of British Rail and those who work for it. Indeed, I recently heard high praise for some of the private trolley operations that have been provided on some of the services in north Wales.

I believe that my hon. Friend has also told British Rail that he has had difficulty in getting responses to telephone inquiries for information about the times of trains. I know that it can be frustrating when the ringing tone seems to last for ever, but British Rail tries to answer most calls within 30 seconds. Most of its telephone inquiry bureaux are already equipped with a call queueing system which stores incoming calls in sequence so that each inquiry is answered in strict rotation. The Llandudno Junction and Chester bureaux already have such systems, but with the present works at Crewe these bureaux are handling considerably more calls than usual. I am sure my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that British Rail is developing proposals to increase the staff and reorganise the office at the Chester bureau. It has also recently installed monitoring equipment at the Llandudno Junction bureau and plans to increase the number of staff on a temporary basis to cover the summer period.

This year's normal timetable shows the same level of Inter-City service on the north Wales line as last year. That is six trains each way a day, and in most cases Journey times are reduced. Southbound trains are nearly half an hour quicker and northbound trains nearly a quarter of an hour quicker. British Rail has also introduced a new through service between north and south Wales. Overall, therefore, the prospects for these north Wales services, once the Crewe modernisation is complete, look rather bright.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take some confidence from that fact. Meanwhile, I have undertaken to draw the points that he has made to the attention of British Rail. I am sure that his constituents will feel that they have been well served by him at this hour of the morning, when he has raised these matters on their behalf.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Two o' clock.