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Commons Chamber

Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 22 October 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business After Prayers

Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill

Yorkshire Water Authority Bill Clwyd County Council Bill [Lords]

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Hereford City Council Bill Lords

Considered

Amendments agreed to.

To be read the Third time.

Worcester City Council Bill Lords

Considered.

Amendments agreed to.

To be read the Third time.

Peterhead Harbours (South Bay Development)

Order Confirmation Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time upon Thursday.

Oral Answers To Questions

Defence

Wg/30 Helicopter

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with Westlands about the future of the WG/30 helicopter.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will make a statement concerning the Puma and Wessex V replacement.

The review of requirements for support helicopters about which my predecessor informed the House on 26 March last is continuing.

My right hon. Friend and Mr. Gandhi discussed the order. Mr. Gandhi made it clear that he did not intend his visit here to be a purchasing visit. Decisions have not yet been announced, although we hope that the Indians will announce decisions shortly. The Government have made it clear that the £65 million of aid that has been earmarked is still available.

I remind the Minister that an engineering force of 8,000 workers depends on the Westland helicopter contract. Although it might be possible to get the Indian order, it probably means only one or two years' work. Does the Minister agree that the British Government should show confidence in British helicopters by buying them, thus encouraging sales to the rest of the world?

The Government have shown strong support for Westland helicopters in launch aid for the WG/ 30 and for the EH 101. We have placed £80 million worth of work there, orders for spares and support amount to £60 million a year, and I have mentioned the £65 million of aid that is available. The Government have shown that they are prepared to go a long way to support Westland. We want Westland to prosper. The company's ability to meet the armed forces' requirement is extremely important to us.

We welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time in his new capacity. Will he repeat that he shares our view that it is vital to maintain an indigenous helicopter building capability and that this matter must be considered in that context?

We want the company to prosper. That is why we have made such large resources available to it and why we have given it enormous support to help it sell its products. As my hon. and learned Friend says, the ability to supply helicopters and spares to our forces is extremely important.

I also welcome the Minister to his new appointment. Is he aware that Westland has shown great courage in carrying the considerable risks involved in the pursuit of the Indian order, at the behest of the Government? Why will the Government not now carry the minimal risk involved in underwriting that order until the Indians go firm in perhaps a matter of weeks? Does he agree that a company such as Westland deserves better from the Government'? Is not the Minister's shilly shallying threatening jobs and the integrity of a great company?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, which preceded an outrageous suggestion.

The Government have provided large sums for the development of the WG/30, and have paid the bill for a large part of its development. The taxpayer has also provided aid to underpin orders. That seems to be considerable support, and that is what we have done. That amounts to considerable sums.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the extremely valuable, and probably unique, experience which Westlands now has of modem helicopters in combat following the Falklands war, and ensure that that valuable experience is put to the best use in the export market through the ECGD giving cover wisely, which it has not been doing sufficiently in recent months?

I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments. We shall do everything that we can to support the company in export markets.

I also welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post, but he seems to be starting as disastrously as his predecessor. How can the Government possibly justify seeking to maintain our defence industries at the expense of the overseas aid budget, when they should be spending money from their budget to support our indigenous defence industries? Will the hon. Gentleman, in his new position, take the opportunity to instruct his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the problem faced by Westland and many of our defence companies is the reluctance of his right hon. Friend to face up to the present strains and pressures on the defence budget, and that the best thing that his right hon. Friend can do is to cancel Trident and get on with our conventional defence?

The hon. Gentleman may not have been on the Opposition Front Bench for long, but he must have been there long enough to know that the WG/30 is not a defence helicopter. That is why it is perfectly proper for us to use the aid budget to help its sales. What does the hon. Gentleman want? Does he, or does he not, want us to help to sell the aircraft? If we did not support sales of it, he would be the first to criticise us. We have done everything we can, and we shall continue to support the sales of the aircraft.

Privatisation

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the current estimated savings by his Department for 1985–86 as a result of privatisation schemes.

No private capital has been introduced this year into any organisation which is the responsibility of my Department. The royal ordnance factories were established as a public limited company at the beginning of this year. When private capital is introduced, I am confident that the current trend towards increased efficiency will be strengthened.

While I welcome the plans to move defence establishments to the north, what total savings can be expected from using private contractors?

Regarding my hon. Friend's first point, we are studying that matter. We intend to see whether there can be some deployment of establishment and offices. No central estimate is available of the savings from commercial management and contractorisation, but I have asked that such a central estimate should be prepared, and I intend to make it available to the House. The present position is that 100 different functions have been contracted out, and 1,000 contracts for support services are being let annually. I intend at the earliest opportunity to make available to the House our estimate of the savings that have resulted from that.

If the Minister cannot tell us anything about the savings from his privatisation experiments, will he tell us something about the costs? Will he be making a statement about the overrun in costs and the deficiencies associated with the private sector refits of Redpole, Otter and Euryalus? Will he explain to the House why public sector money is being used to advertise the privatisation of the royal dockyards before the Minister has any parliamentary authority to go ahead with those schemes?

I did not say that we could not tell the House anything about the savings from commercial management. Of course figures are available. For example, the Department is saving about £12 million a year from contracts that have been let for cleaning in MOD establishments. I said that I intended that a global figure for savings from contractualisation should be made available to the House. HMS Redpole was put out for refit in East Anglia. It has gone into Rosyth for post-refit work and I very much regret that the labour force there is blacking the ship. Instead of blacking ships, it should be demonstrating its efficiency.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the least pleasant side of contractorisation and privatisation studies is the uncertainty that surrounds an otherwise loyal and stable work force? Can he help the Sunday school teachers in my constituency by telling us whether he intends to contractorise or privatise the shepherds on the Portland ranges?

In the seven weeks in which I have been in the Department I have not yet turned my mind to the shepherds, but I shall certainly give them the most careful consideration. There is always uncertainty when measures to improve efficiency are taken. That is inevitable, but we must pursue those measures.

Will the Minister withdraw the slur that he cast on the work force at Rosyth when he said that it should demonstrate its efficiency? The workers have done that over a very long period, to the benefit of the local economy and the Royal Navy. The real question is why the Government do not drop their privatisation plans, which will only further damage the prospects of the Royal Navy and of Rosyth.

I do not think that I cast any slur on anyone. My remarks were simple common sense. When work comes to Rosyth, what good does it do the men themselves or the reputation of Rosyth if a ship is blacked? The men ought to be demonstrating that if even if there is greater competition, they can compete efficiently.

Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the report produced by Dyfed county council on the likely effects of contractorisation on the Cardigan bay range? Does he agree with the estimate of job losses in that report?

I have not had a chance to study that report, but I shall do so and I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman.

Baor (Equipment)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to improve the equipment available to the British Army of the Rhine.

I refer the hon. Member to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985" and my right hon. Friend's statement in his opening speech in the defence debate on 12 June.

Has the Minister read the recent articles in The Economist, which show that Britain has the most poorly equipped army on NATO's central front, with less heavy artillery than the Dutch, fewer tanks than the French and the Germans, 100 fewer helicopters than we need to do our task and no anti-aircraft guns at all? If the Government are seriously interested in supporting NATO, why are they about to spend £12 billion on being independent, in a nuclear sense, from NATO instead of reinforcing NATO where it is weakest and fulfilling our scandalously inadequate commitment?

As the House well knows, we have extensive plans to strengthen the British Army of the Rhine. We plan to introduce six regiments of Challenger into BAOR. Some will replace the existing Chieftain regiments, and some new armoured regiments are being formed. We also have plans to introduce the MLRS—the multiple launch rocket system — a weapon of devastating quality, which will add enormously to our forces in Germany.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's question about Trident, no amount of expenditure of that money on conventional forces could possibly provide the same deterrent effect.

Is it not a fact that BAOR will never get the equipment that it deserves and should have while the Government stretch the defence budget over so many areas? Why do the Government not realise that the British economy and the British defence budget cannot possibly maintain a proper conventional contribution to NATO, to the proper defence of Britain, to the Trident nuclear missile system and to an increasing out-of-area capability? If the Minister is concerned about BAOR, he should cancel Trident and eventually end our out-of-area commitment.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about out-of-area commitments, and I am sure that his remarks will be well noted outside the House. The right hon. Gentleman has just made an extremely interesting initial policy announcement.

As to the effect of Trident on the conventional equipment budget, the right hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we have increased the defence budget by 20 per cent. in real terms. Of that 20 per cent., only one-fifth has gone on Trident, so there is plenty of headroom for an improvement in equipment for our conventional forces.

Will my hon. Friend promise that there will be no cut in defence expenditure this year?

My hon. Friend knows that the Government's expenditure plans are set out in the White Paper.

I am coming on. My hon. Friend also knows that in the normal way in which public expenditure is reviewed, discussions are taking place within Whitehall.

Raf Pilots (Training)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the operational effectiveness of the current content and levels of training for pilots in the Royal Air Force.

We aim to produce RAF pilots of the highest standard of operational effectiveness. The operational performance of RAF crews in tasks such as intercepting Soviet aircraft in the United Kingdom air defence region; in regularly saving lives in search and rescue operations; and in the RAF's massive air lift of food in Ethiopia in very demanding flying conditions shows that such a standard is being achieved.

I recognise that low-flying is an important component of a high standard of training, but is the Minister satisfied that there are not large swathes of the country which are not taking their fair share of this disruptive activity? Does he accept that the activity should be shared more evenly? Is he satisfied that enough is done in the training programme to impress upon pilots the need to observe the 250 ft limit, which is not always observed?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the operational importance of low-flying training, which is fundamental to the survivability in modern warfare conditions of our advanced combat aircraft.

We examine closely the areas within which low flying is restricted. It makes sense to avoid areas of high population or where there are hospitals. Our broad policy is to try to spread the low-flying load as widely and therefore as thinly as possible so as to cause the minimum disturbance in any locality. We train our pilots intensively to ensure that the 250 ft limit is observed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the RAF's airmanship standard is the highest in the world and that that can be maintained only if sufficient fuel is provided for adequate flying hours each month? Can he assure me that that will be available?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comment about the RAF's standard of airmanship, and I endorse what he said. I think that RAF pilots are second to none in the world.

We have been able to make some increases in fuel supplies after initial cuts announced this year. There will be only a small reduction this year. I can assure my hon. Friend that our combat pilots' flying hours are higher than the NATO minimum.

Is it true that the aircraft disaster over Cumbria three weeks ago involving two Jaguar aircraft flying in a dangerous manner cost the MOD £21 million? Is that not rather a lot of money to be involved when two aircraft were flying in the manner described by people who saw the accident?

Is the Minister aware of the unrelenting public hostility throughout Cumbria to low-flying exercises, and is it not time that the policy was reviewed? Is the Minister further aware that I have more letters in my office on this matter than on almost any other subject? May we have some action from the Government. who so far have been insensitive to protests from the general public?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the criticisms that he appeared to direct at the air crew who were tragically involved in that accident, even though the results of the board of inquiry are not yet known.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the House recognise that, in order to achieve the very demanding flying standards necessary in today's modern warfare conditions, the Royal Air Force combat pilots expose themselves to grave risks and must practise intensively to achieve their very high standards.

Will my right. hon. Friend pass on our condolences to the families of the pilots who were tragically killed in that accident? That crash, about which the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) spoke, happened in my constituency.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the vast majority of my constituents dearly wish that low flying was not necessary, but realise that it is preferable to have our pilots flying over the constituency at 250 ft than to have foreign aggressors at 10,000 ft?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I am sure that the relatives of the pilots will appreciate what he said.

I fully endorse his remarks about the critical relationship between demanding flying standards and the survivability of aircraft in modern warfare conditions.

Royal Dockyards

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many representations he has now received following publication of the consultative document on the future of the royal dockyards; and if he will make a statement.

More than 100 letters have been received by my Department since the announcement on 17 April of a period of consultation on subjects relating to the future management of the royal dockyards. In addition, some 2,000 postcards have been addressed to the Prime Minister by dockyard employees. There has also been a continuing correspondence with industry on aspects of the plans to introduce commercial management to the dockyards.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that since he announced in July his firm decision to introduce agency management into the royal dockyards there has been a distinct lack of support and enthusiasm? Will he assure the House that between now and the Queen's Speech he will re-examine his proposals with a view to introducing a more sensible option for the future management of the dockyards?

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this matter. There is, of course, a period of uncertainty in the early stages of any change. After careful consideration, the Government reached the view that it would be in the best interests of the Royal Navy, the local economies and, most certainly, the defence budget to move towards a process of commercial management. I would not wish to give my hon. Friend the false impression that I might be prepared to reconsider.

Will the Government reply to the criticisms of the Public Accounts Committee, especially that the proposals could increase the cost of the defence budget? In view of the massive strain now being placed on the defence budget, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to consider this whole question afresh?

No, because one of the purposes of moving to commercial management was to secure tens of millions of pounds of possible economies from the enhanced efficiency in the dockyards. Obviously, that must be my prime responsibility as Secretary of State.

Should not the Secretary of State refer to the strictures of the Select Committee on Defence about his preferred option? Will he acknowledge that what is happening at Rosyth and Devonport is a diminution of morale in a very essential part of our labour force? Will he assure us that what happened with Redpole will not happen again—when a ship put into the hands of private enterprise had a number of deficiencies, was hawked into the yard at Rosyth and the work force took grave exception to the way in which it was treated? When does the Secretary of State hope to report to the House on the effect of that on our strategic deterrents?

The hon. Gentleman has given a very one-sided account of what happened. The work force at Rosyth would do itself more good if it was actually showing the efficiency that it can achieve. and which it pointed out as being an option within the management of the dockyards.

The most encouraging development that has emerged since I last reported to the House on this matter is that, following informal consultations with the dockyard industrial work force, it appears that we shall be able to secure the enhanced efficiency and the reduction of numbers that we seek largely through voluntary redundancy and early retirement.

In those circumstances, although a state of redundancy technically has to be declared, the process from today's position to the enhanced procedures and efficiencies appears to offer an easier passage than even I believed possible when I first made the proposals.

Is it not a fact that there is no support whatever, either in the House or among informed opinion outside, for the suggestion of commercial management that the right hon. Gentleman is putting forward? The proposal is based not on any form of rational analysis, but is purely party dogma. Will he, even at this late stage, drop this hare-brained scheme, which can only put thousands of people out of work, damage the economies of Devonport and Rosyth and provide a worse service for the Royal Navy in this crucial area?

I must take a view which puts on the one hand the views of the right hon. Gentleman and on the other the views of the Admiralty Board. I find no difficulty in reaching an easy decision to back the Admiralty Board.

Eastern Atlantic (Naval Forces)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning United Kingdom naval forces in the eastern Atlantic.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraphs 432 to 445 of volume I of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985.

Will the strain on the defence budget have any effect on the ordering of the new frigates? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if it does, that will have serious repercussions for shipyards on the Tyne? Would it not make more sense to cancel the Trident project and concentrate the money on the more conventional service vessels?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, a substantial amount of shipbuilding is now taking place at Swan Hunter and that a substantial amount of repair work is going to the Tyne repair yards. The answer to his question about Trident is that we could in no way protect this country against nuclear blackmail with destroyers and frigates.

Will my right hon. Friend bring us up to date on his thinking about the replacement of Fearless and Intrepid, which are needed for the marine reinforcement of the northern flank, and which are likely to end their useful lives by about 1990?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, both Intrepid and Fearless are undergoing refits. That will improve their capabilities and extend their lives until the mid-1990s. As the House has been told, we are examining the various amphibious options for their replacement. That examination is on schedule and, as we have said, we shall be in a position to take decisions next year.

Submarine Statistics

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many suspected incidents have been investigated by his Department over the past 12 months of submarines being involved either in collisions with other vessels or fouling fishing nets within United Kingdom territorial waters.

In the last 12 months, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport have investigated two losses of fishing vessels as a result of fouling their gear where it was initially alleged that submarines might have been responsible. Both investigations concluded that submarines were not involved.

Will the Minister confirm that those two cases concerned the Mhari L, involving the loss of five lives earlier this year, and the South Stack from Holyhead, which was lost last summer with the loss of three lives? Will he further confirm that the Government have received strong representations from the Irish Government about dangers arising from submarines in the Irish sea? Will the Government now give a stronger warning to fishermen about the movement of submarines, to try to minimise the dangers arising from such movements?

The two incidents in the last 12 months to which I was referring involved the Mhari L, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and the Channel Avenger, which sank off Portland Bill in December 1984. As he will be aware, there have been a number of incidents in the last 10 years in which there has been some involvement of submarines with various fishing vessels. We keep our procedures carefully under review and, as far as practicable, every possible precaution is taken to avoid such incidents taking place, and I am glad to say that there have been no such incidents in the last 12 months.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that submarines involved in deterrent and other activities have been entering and leaving the Clyde area for the last two decades? During that time there have been a number of allegations. In a recent one, concerning the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), it was alleged that a fishing vessel had been sunk after being involved with a nuclear submarine. That turned out to be untrue, with positive evidence to show that the ship had fouled something underwater and had had nothing to do with a submarine.

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There have been a number of incidents where the initial allegation has been that a fishing vessel has fouled a submarine. Subsequent investigations have shown that no submarine has been involved.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on almost every occasion when an allegation has been made it has been met with a denial? It was denied that a submarine was involved when the Irish trawler was sunk, until it was proved conclusively that a submarine had been involved. Should not warnings be given to fishing vessels of the dangers that arise, especially in the Irish sea, from the activities of submarines?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that certain areas are marked on maritime maps as being those of naval activity, in some instances submarine activity. I think he will understand that, given the sensitivity of submarine operations, it would be irresponsible of us to give public acknowledgements of submarine routes and deployments.

Low-Flying Aircraft (Powys)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received concerning the frequency of military aircraft engaged in low-flying over Powys.

Over the past 12 months the Ministry of Defence has received 24 representations concerning the frequency of military aircraft flights in the Powys area.

My constituents, tourists, animals, young children and others are having tremendous hardship inflicted upon them by low-flying. Will my right hon. Friend seek immediately to reduce low-flying in Powys by 50 per cent.?

When the hon. Gentleman considers my answer, he will perhaps conclude that 24 representations over the past 12 months is not exactly symptomatic of what he fears on behalf of his constituents and their animals. 'We must return to the point that I made in answering a previous question on low-flying, which is that if we reduce low-flying in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the county in which it is situated, that can only be at the expense of the constituents of other hon. Members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that to maintain the combat efficiency, proficiency and flight safety of Royal Air Force aircrews it is necessary that they obtain adequate low-flying experience, including occasionally over Powys? Will he bear in mind that it is equally important to retain experienced crews? Will he consider the article that appeared in Flight International, on American flying reserves, which describes the excellent value for money that they provide for the United States air force?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point about reserves, which I accept. I endorse fully what he has rightly said about the critical relationship between the effectiveness of the RAF and its ability to have regular and intensive flying at low level.

South Atlantic (Force Levels)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the reduction of Her Majesty's forces in the south Atlantic.

The Falklands force level is maintained at the minimum size necessary to defend the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, but it has proved possible to reduce numbers steadily over the past year or so. Once the new airport at Mount Pleasant and the garrison facilities are complete we should be able to reduce still further the level of forces permanently stationed on the islands.

Against this lessening cost should we not set the splendid training facilities for all three services on the Falklands and the British stake in the vast economic potential of the region? Secondly, are there not naval and air forces which are admirably suited to police a fishing zone, which has been so unconscionably delayed by the Foreign Office?

I think that my hon. Friend will wish to pursue his second point with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I endorse what he said about the training facilities on the Falkland Islands. The islands provide some near unique training opportunities for us, and that certainly should be put into the balance against the cost of the Falklands garrison.

Will the Minister formulate a considered response to the article in the Sunday Post on the conditions of the 3,000 civilian workers on the Falklands? The article alleges drunkenness, drugs and "wacky taccy" parties.

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the conduct of the civilian work force is not a matter for Defence Ministers. I am not sure whether that is a matter for Ministers in any other Department, but, if it is, it would fall to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Will my right hon. Friend continue to emphasise that the garrison is purely defensive and represents no conceivable threat to the mainland? Will he emphasise also that it must not be considered to be a NATO base, because it is not one?

I assure my hon. Friend that the garrison does not represent any threat to the mainland. We seek to maintain the garrison only at the minimum size necessary to carry out our defence obligations to the Falkland islanders. The House will have noted the statement by the official Opposition spokesman that, for the first time, the Labour party apparently intends withdrawing out-of-area forces. This would, of course, include removing the defence forces from the Falkland Islands.

Will the Minister confirm, or deny, statements in the press about the possibility of a new aerodrome being built on the island of St. Helena? Is that, or is that not, the Government's policy?

I do not believe that the Government have reached any such conclusions on that matter.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that defence expenditure is well justified if it provides a framework within which the peaceful development of the resources of the Falkland Islands can be undertaken? If so, will he take note of the increasing puzzlement at the fact that we are allowing the vast marine resources that surround the Falkland Islands to be developed by nations other than Britain?

I understand my right hon. Friend's point. When I was in the Falklands during the recess the Falkland islanders expressed much concern about fishing exploitation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary deals with that matter. Our defence dispositions show our determination to provide a continuing free way of life for the Falkland islanders.

Washington (Visit)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to visit Washington for discussions with his United States counterpart.

I have no immediate plans to do so. On current plans, I will next meet the United States Secretary for Defence at the meeting of NATO's nuclear planning group in Brussels at the end of this month.

In view of some of the reservations expressed by senior American Ministers and others about western Europe's determination to defend itself, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity of the next meeting to point to the recently signed European fighter aircraft deal that was entered into by four western European countries, not only for its own sake, but as an example of western Europe's determination to play an effective part in its own defence?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that the successful conclusion of the decision by Germany, Italy and Britain— I welcome the fact that Spain has now joined the arrangement — to build a European fighter aircraft is one of the greatest manifestations of Europe's determination to defend itself and of Britain's determination to play a full part in that process.

Irrespective of the decision made this week on chemical weapons by the United States Congress, will the right hon. Gentleman inform his counterpart in the United States that Britain will under no circumstances accept chemical weapons on its soil? Will the right hon. Gentleman say also that the American stocks that are held in West Germany will be neither added to nor improved?

I would be more likely to ask my counterpart about his views on the 300,000 tonnes of Soviet chemical weapons that are based in positions that could be used aggressively against the Western Alliance.

When my right hon. Friend meets the United States Secretary of Defence, will he urge upon him the necessity to consult the Secretary of State at the State Department so that they can get their act together to decide what is or is not allowed under the ABM treaty when pursuing their strategic defence initiative?

The Prime Minister has already agreed with the United States President our views about the ABM treaty and the strategic defence initiative. It would be something of an impertinence for a member of one Government to lecture another Government about what might appear to be two voices within one Administration.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the American Administration that Her Majesty's Government will not endorse a re-interpretation of the ABM treaty which would allow the development, testing and deployment of anti-ballistic missiles in space?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it was my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who first made clear the role of the ABM treaty in the context of SDI and, therefore, perhaps placed on the world record one of the most important decisions that Mr. Reagan has made in that context.

Royal Ordnance Plc

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects that shares in Royal Ordnance PLC will be offered to the public.

Subject to the usual caveats of trading performance and stock market conditions, we would hope that the company could move to the private sector in mid-1986.

When does the Minister intend to meet the trade unions to discuss the implications for their members of privatisation? In particular, why has he refused their offer to submit the outstanding problem of pensions to arbitration?

I am perfectly prepared to meet the trade unions. It is important that I should do so at an early date. As regards pensions, the Government have made their position on no detriment clear. There have been a series of meetings between my predecessor and the trade unions. I do not believe that there is much to be added on that subject.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in the Bahamas.

Is it not highly irresponsible of leading Left-wing Labour councillors like Bernie Grant to refuse to condemn violence against the police? Should not we, and all other parties, be united in maintaining law and order and in supporting our police by giving them adequate protection and the resources to maintain law and order?

My hon. Friend is right. The role of the police in those areas is absolutely crucial, because without effective law enforcement there can be no prospect of social cohesion or advance.

I wonder whether the Leader of the House will today meet those who are lobbying against world poverty. Is he aware, for instance, that it has cost the world about &800 billion to produce weapons of war, which is almost equivalent to the amount of money that is owed by the poorest countries to the banks, mainly in the Western world? Will he tell the lobbyists that one of the things that the Government will do is to join others and cancel the debts of the lesser developed countries so that we can feed the impoverished people in Ethiopia and countless others in Africa and central and south America?

I shall be meeting members of the world development lobby from north Shropshire later this afternoon. I have no doubt that they will put the arguments in a much more temperate and convincing fashion that the hon. Gentleman. I shall, in the course of our exchanges, draw attention to the fact that in the last three years the Government's programme on overseas aid has been rising faster than prices. I shall point out the role that the Government have played in trying to produce balanced disarmament.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, on the subject of rate reform, the time for decision and indeed for some action is very much overdue? Reviews of this subject are extremely dated. Will my right hon. Friend take on board the fact that a manifesto pledge, yet another on this subject, will be insufficient and will not carry much credibility?

My hon. Friend is inviting me to stray into somewhat delicate territory, but I have to tell him that it is very prudent that a consultative document is to be issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on local authority finance at the turn of the year. We shall have to see how matters proceed thereafter, but I know that in the discussion which will follow there will be very keen interest in Herefordshire and neighbouring agricultural counties in seeing which political parties support the rating of agriculture.

May I turn the right hon. Gentleman's mind to the depressing subject of the United Kingdom economy? Is he aware that in the three months since he last answered Prime Minister's questions unemployment in Britain has risen by over 111,000, that our visible trade deficit has increased by over £250 million and that the index of industrial production has dropped by 0·5 per cent.? Is it not all too clear that policies and attitudes, as last week's report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Overseas Trade affirmed, need

"to change and change radically if we are to avoid a major social and economic crisis in our nation's affairs"?
Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the panic and knee-jerk reaction of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to this report, within hours of its publication last Tuesday, was both insulting and irrelevant, and that it is not changes in the presentation of policies that are required, but fundamental changes in the policies themselves?

It is an absolute caricature to describe the reaction of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has done. This was an important report, produced by a distinguished group in the other place, and it commanded sufficient public attention to merit an immediate Government response. However, it raises wider issues about the nature of the economy and the fundamental changes that are overtaking not only the United Kingdom but every west European country, because the fall in manufacturing as a share of the total economy can be found in broadly similar terms in both the United States and Germany. My right hon. and learned Friend was merely putting the matter into context by his intervention.

The truth of the matter is that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry totally caricatured the findings of the Select Committee in order to try to neutralise, if not obviate, their impact upon public opinion. If the Leader of the House really thinks that it was a report prepared by distinguished people—as indeed it was—does he really think it right, and is it now to be Government policy, for Select Committee reports to be dealt with by immediate, 12-hour reactions rather than to be the subject of considered and serious reply?

The Government have a very good and well developed record of considered replies to Select Comittee reports, which compares very well indeed with many of the instant comments which have come from the Opposition Benches. What the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about is that the Government have effectively demonstrated that there is a wider and much more advantageous context into which that report is to be placed. This is a comment that was also made by a whole number of distinguished economic commentators in Fleet Street.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagemens for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Prime Minister the congratulations of the House on the way in which Home Office Ministers are tackling the very serious problem of drug trafficking? Will he also make it clear that the new agreement with Pakistan to end production is widely welcomed? Will he say what further steps the Government intend to take in Britain to end this traffic?

My hon. Friend will have noted that Home Office Ministers are here this afternoon to take account of his comments, which I believe to be both generous and fully merited, for not only was my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office successful in his recent visit to Pakistan, but I believe that the House will have heard with approval of the decision from the lips of the Home Secretary' yesterday that a further 50 are to be added to the drug squad in London. That is an indication to my hon. Friend of the urgency with which this serious social problem is regarded.

Will the Leader of the House confirm to the House and to his constituents this afternoon that the overseas aid programme has been cut by 17 per cent. in real terms and that this means that, while the United States contributes $37 a head, Belgium $47 and Denmark $88, our contribution is $25 a head? Is this another teeny-weeny contribution to world affairs in which the Prime Minister rejoices, and are the thousands of people lobbying today to be dismissed as yet more moaning Minnies?

I can confirm that over the past three years the United Kingdom overseas aid programme has been rising faster than prices. Of course, it is true that the per capita contribution from the United States is much greater. It is a question of comparing economies that are quite dissimilar in their inherent ways.

Q4

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Before the Leader of the House is tempted to dismiss the House of Lords Select Committee, as so many other critics of the Government have been dismissed, as nothing more than moaning Minnies, will he concede the peculiarity of the fact that the damage which the Select Committee documents have inflicted has been done in the name of a monetarism which the Chancellor, in formal terms at least, now seems to have abandoned?

I am not sure that I would accept that. I have made a balanced comment on the House of Lords report. It is a valuable contribution to the economic debate. The Government are wholly entitled to set alongside it other considerations that put the economy in a more realistic and favourable light.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In view of the widening split in the National Union of Mineworkers, caused directly by the extremism of Mr. Scargill, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time for the leadership of the Labour party officially to recognise the new union in Nottinghamshire, South Derbyshire and South Durham?

These are very delicate issues. I do not want to say anything from this Box that would unnecessarily complicate the matter. However, my hon. Friend must be right in saying that the emergence of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers on the basis of the clear and evident balloting that has taken place must necessarily require a response from the Trades Union Congress and the Labour party.

When the Leader of the House next meets the Prime Minister, will he make special reference to ex-prisoners of war who were in Japanese hands? There were many thousands of prisoners who were deprived, suffered and some of whom died. Meagre compensation has been paid out by the Japanese Government. A constituent of mine has received three payments so far, totalling £76, for all the misery that he suffered. Is it not about time, considering the wealth of the Japanese Government, to make representations on behalf of ex-prisoners of war that something be done about that?

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to it. Perhaps we have tended to draw a veil over the extraordinarily intense suffering undergone by British prisoners in the far east in the last war.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagments for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to debunk the bogus mythology of Scarmanism? Is it not the approach that says that one should police only at a level acceptable to the most aggressive minority in a community which has led to a flourishing of drug trafficking in our inner cities and which has been the main cause of the recent riots that we have had to suffer?

Lord Scarman is a distinguished son of Shropshire, and I prefer to leave any debunking to another day. My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that once a society slides into partial standards of policing, that not only undermines the whole society in the areas that become less policed, but destroys the inherent cohesion of the national society.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagments for Tuesday 22 October.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

How can the Leader of the House justify the £88 million reduction in aid to Bangladesh under this Government compared with the level of aid going to that impoverished country in 1979?

The distribution within the aid budget clearly must be a matter of judgment, essentially on developmental grounds. The total national aid budget over the last three years has been rising faster than prices.

In his busy day, has my right hon. Friend had a chance to consider the consequences of the Law Lords' judgment in the case of Mrs. Victoria Gillick'? Does he agree that the majority ruling of the judges appears to drive a coach and horses through the concept of an age of consent as laid down in the 1956 Sexual Offences Act? If that is the case, will the Government bring forward revised legislation?

I note what my hon. Friend says on an issue that clearly gives rise to the most deep and delicate feelings. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is reviewing the guidance to be given in the light of the Law Lords judgment. We had better wait for the outcome of that review.

M6 Motorway (Accident)

3.32 pm

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the crash on the M6 between Garstang and Preston which occurred at 1.30 p.m. on Monday 21 October.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing condolences to those so tragically bereaved in this terrible accident and in sending to the injured our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

The accident to which my hon. Friend referred occurred on the southbound carriageway of the M6 motorway between junctions 32 and 33 in Lancashire. A coach and 13 other vehicles were involved in the accident. Thirteen people were killed and 34 were injured, some seriously. Three of the fatalities were in the coach and 10 in the other vehicles.

The site of the accident was 600 yd before a point at which the nearside and middle lanes of the southbound carriageway were closed to enable essential repair works to be done. The weather at the time of the accident was fine and bright, and the carriageway was dry.

The precise circumstances of the accident are not yet clear. The accident is being investigated by the police, and by my Department's vehicle inspectors, who are examining the vehicles involved. We shall consider all the reports very carefully, in order to see what lessons can be learnt for the future.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply and for her expression of sympathy to the relatives involved, and I pay a warm tribute to the nurses and police and members of the ambulance services who in my constituency, sadly, have faced this sort of sad task twice in 17 months, first at Abbeystead, and now on the motorway. I especially draw my hon. Friend's attention to the quick wit of the fire fighting services in managing to create a small bath in which they were able to soak gas cylinders which otherwise would have exploded and destroyed many more lives.

I ask my hon. Friend to look once more at the urgent necessity for banning coaches in the fast lane, which is already used by lorries. At the same time, I should like to pay a tribute to her for the speed with which repairs are being carried out since she adopted the motorway rental system, so that this menace to my constituents of restricted carriageways will be removed at the earliest possible moment.

I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks and join in the tribute which she has paid to the nurses and doctors, and all the emergency services who gave such outstanding assistance. One of the things that I will look at is the lanes in which coaches may travel safely, and I shall also look at all the other evidence which the police will provide following their inquiries. I spoke to the chief constable of Lancashire at 3.15 this afternoon. I may not have a full report for a week or two, but I hope by early next week to have established the preliminary facts of the awful situation. I thank my hon. Friend for what she said about lane rental, but the House will note that this accident did not occur on a restricted part of the motorway and that the weather was fine, clear and dry.

Order. I should draw attention to the fact that the question refers to the tragic accident between Garstang and Preston, and not to other motorways. I have no knowledge, of course, of which hon. Members have constituents who were involved.

I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to send their deepest sympathy to those who lost relatives in this appalling accident, and their very best wishes to those still in hospital as a result of the injuries that they sustained. It is also important to pay tribute to the work of all the emergency services. Their speed of reaction is vital in helping people who are desperately injured, and we are deeply grateful for the part that they played.

I hope that the Minister will look very carefully at the whole question of contraflow in this area. Am I right in believing that there was another accident in that area a very short time previously? Will the Minister satisfy herself that roadworks are adequately signed, as 600 yd is not a long distance on a motorway, given the speed at which modern traffic travels?

I hope that the Minister will also look closely at the whole question of enforcement of speed limits in relation to coaches, as well as coach safety in general. The design of coaches is extremely important in view of the danger to those travelling in them if there is a serious accident.

Is the Minister absolutely certain that the present policy of carrying on roadworks into the winter season is justified, given the difficulties which can arise, not just in relation to weather, but as a result of the restrictions invariably brought about by various barriers on the motorway?

Finally, whatever evidence emerges, will the Minister undertake to come back to the House very soon and ask her right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the whole question of road safety in relation to motorways? The increasing traffic on our road system puts many more people at risk, and we must be satisfied that there is sufficient protection for the traveller.

I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. We shall, of course, give very careful attention to all aspects of this terrible tragedy.

The contraflow systems, which have clear separation between the carriageways, are far better than they used to be, but we shall not stop revising them if further revision is needed. I give the hon. Lady that assurance.

The earlier accident to which the hon. Lady referred occurred in totally different conditions, although it was not very far from the site of yesterday's accident.

I am told that the first indication of the roadworks 600 yd south of the site of the accident was about 1,500 yd before the roadworks, and not merely 600 yd as some press reports have suggested. Nevertheless, I shall consider the sufficiency of signing in these and other circumstances.

The enforcement of speed limits is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I am discussing these very matters with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is here with me today.

This country has led the world in coach safety. In Europe we have been pressing for greater protection for those who travel by coach, and we shall continue to do so following the discussions in Europe in July on greater safety for coaches.

Roadworks are carried out where they are essential. In a sense, we are doing no more now than we were before, but essential repairs must be carried out, because there is nothing so unsafe as an unsafe surface. I intend to ensure that our road surfaces are safe, but I need the co-operation of drivers in this country. They must keep within the speed limits, slow down if weather conditions are unsuitable and keep a safe distance behind other vehicles, a distance which will be greater if the weather is inclement. It is also important that they use their lights and that they clean their lights before setting out on a journey.

Lastly, safety on motorways is better than on other roads. As I believe the hon. Lady knows, motorways are about seven times safer than other roads. Nevertheless, we shall examine every aspect of the matter.

I join in the expressions of sympathy. Does my hon. Friend agree that excessive speed kills? Was there a temporary speed limit in force at the site of the accident? Are temporary speed limits mandatory? If not, will my hon. Friend take steps to make sure that they are?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Since the accident occurred some 600 yd to the north of the roadworks there was no speed limit in force at that point, apart from the normal speed limit of 70 mph, which applies to all motorways. Temporary speed limits are, in general, advisory. We have been experimenting with mandatory speed limits, which we hope will be more easily enforceable than advisory speed limits.

Does the Minister recall saying in 1982 that she was satisfied that in normal conditions coaches could travel safely at up to 70 mph but that she would consider violations of the speed limit? Is she not aware that there are wholesale violations by coaches on motorways? It is all very well for her to shelve responsibility to the Home Office, but how often are the tachographs inspected by the traffic commissioners' representatives or by Department officials?

The enforcement of speed limits, like the rest of the law, is a matter for the police, but they are well aware of their responsibilities to the House. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, in the light of the facts of this terrible accident, I shall be examining the whole matter. It would not be right to start going into detail on the violations, of which there are far too many. We have continually warned operators and drivers about the speed of coaches, and we shall continue to do so. There is a responsibility on every driver, not just on coach drivers.

As a nearby resident and regular user of this section of motorway, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) in expressing condolences to the relatives of those who were killed or injured. As the Member who has the privilege of representing the area in which the headquarters of the Lancashire police are situated, may I point out that they performed an outstanding task in difficult circumstances. Finally, does the Minister agree that the standards that are adhered to by manufacturers of coaches, such as Leyland Bus, are among the highest in the world? Is she aware that Leyland Bus, along with many other manufacturers in this country, in other parts of Europe and the world, are prepared to discuss further improvements in safety so that such accidents do not happen?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. I have already passed on my personal thanks to the chief constable of Lancashire for the work of the police. I have also thanked the other emergency authorities. I agree that British coachbuilders adhere to higher standards than those anywhere else in the world, but we are seeking to make sure that all coach manufacturers produce coaches to a higher standard, because that is important for all travellers. I shall be happy to have discussions to learn from manufacturers anything that will help to prevent tragedies of this type.

May I offer condolences from the alliance parties to the relatives of those who were injured or killed in this terrible accident. May I encourage the Minister to pursue investigations into the speed limit? As one who travels at 70 mph on motorways and is passed by almost everything under the sun, particularly heavy lorries, I bring that matter to her attention. There was a serious crash at Birmingham the other day which, fortunately, did not cost any lives. Is there now a mandatory speed limit in force in the area where the accident took place, because we do not yet know what the outcome of the accident inquiry will be?

There is a 70 mph speed limit on the road. I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the speed of other vehicles. Like him, I feel like a snail when I am doing 70 mph on a motorway and everything passes me. I ask him to wait for the facts, because then we can use that information to try to prevent accidents.

My hon. Friend might not like my saying this, but is it not likely that legislation encourages coaches to travel at excessive speeds to beat the competition? My hon. Friend has told me that the Department of Transport does not have separate statistics for coach accidents. Will she now have discussions with the Home Office to see that that error is put right immediately and, in the meantime, take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) and keep coaches out of the third lane of motorways and subject them to a 50 mph speed limit?

No operator or driver is encouraged in any way to break the law. Operators are required to operate within a reasonable timetable and to meet safety standards. I am not prepared to accept that operators have to do other than that. If any operator is doing other than that, that is a matter for the traffic commissioners.

Is the Minister aware that the coach involved in this tragic accident was going from Edinburgh to London and is owned by the Scottish Bus Group, which has an outstanding safety record on that route? Is she further aware that the same cannot be said of other coaches travelling that route? May I observe as gently as I can that it is little use the Minister lecturing the House about speed limits as she must be aware that I wrote to her Department before the summer recess complaining about a bus company, which I shall, not name, which has been charged and convicted three times for exceeding the speed limit on the motorway? The Secretary of State sent me a dismissive reply in which he told me that he did not propose to take any action. The Minister can have that reply if she wants it.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is here, and I are well aware of the good safety record of many bus operators, including the Scottish Bus Group. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot comment further today.

Order. I remind the House that a private notice question is an extension of Question Time. There are two statements to follow.

Teachers' Dispute (England And Wales)

3.46 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the teachers' dispute in England and Wales.

Intense efforts have been made in recent months by the Government to bring this damaging dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. I regret to say that they have, so far, been unsuccessful. Some of the teacher unions have chosen to continue to disrupt the education of the pupils in their charge rather than accept—or even to discuss—the offer made to them. I deplore this, the damage it causes, and the example it sets.

In August, the Government offered the prospect of an additional £1,250 million for teachers' pay over four years from next April, a sum equivalent to an extra 4 per cent. on the present pay bill rising to an extra 9 per cent. by the fourth year. On 12 September, the employers made an offer constructed upon the conditional Government willingness to see this substantial extra investment on teachers' pay. Under that offer, all teachers stood to receive increases in April and November. Those on their scale maxima would have got additional increases in either September or next March. The average end-of-year increase would have been over 8 per cent. in addition, one in five classroom teachers would have benefited significantly from the additional 70,000 promotions planned from September 1986. All of this would have been on top of any normal annual increase negotiated from April 1986.

All classroom teachers at present on scale 1 or scale 2, even without promotion, could have looked forward to £10,500 a year plus whatever is negotiated each year on pay. In return for these proposals, which would have brought real benefits to the education service, as well as substantial improvements in pay for large numbers of teachers and in promotion prospects, the teachers were asked for a clear commitment to the professional fulfilment of their duties and an acceptance of a pay system which would have offered relatively greater rewards to promoted teachers and to those holding senior leadership posts.

The teacher unions took just 20 minutes to reject this offer. Since then some unions have been engaging in forms of industrial action explicitly intended to cause the maximum disruption to the education service at the minimum cost to the teachers involved in the disruption. This is deplorable and underlines why we so urgently need an agreement to define more clearly the teachers' professional responsibilities.

Since then I regret to say that the employers, by a small majority, have been willing to make offers relating to pay alone. Even before the teacher unions confirmed that their demands far outstripped the employers' capacity to pay, I repeated the Government's position. We refuse to provide any additional resources for a "no strings" pay deal which would be a reversion to the discredited approach where negotiations on pay are separated from negotiations on pay structure and conditions of service. Separation has for years meant, "You pay us now and we will talk about reform later." Simultaneous negotiation of all elements provides the only credible way forward. Notwithstanding the passage of the original deadline, therefore, the Government remain ready to consider whether additional resources could still be approved within the £1,250 million envelope for 1986–87 and subsequent years provided the conditions for reform are met. The Government are also willing to set aside resources from within the total of £1,250 million to help employers cover the cost of supervising pupils at midday. I have discussed that proposition with the employers, and it is agreed between us that officials should now clarify the way ahead.

The Government will continue to make every effort to see a bargain struck, which would provide improved pay and prospects for teachers in return for a better career and promotion structure, the clarification of teachers' duties, and an end to the disruption.

Our objective is to improve the standard of teaching in schools and the quality of our education system. That is why we have agreed to the commitment of such substantial additional resources towards improving teachers' salaries. But we are not prepared to release the resources without simultaneous action on teachers' duties and the pay structure to ensure that the nation receives a fair return for the extremely large investment.

Whenever the Secretary of State makes a public statement, he makes the dispute harder to solve. Most hon. Members will agree that nothing he has said this afternoon has done anything to bring a settlement of the 1985 claim any nearer, particularly his remarks about teachers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition value the work of the teaching profession? Will he acknowledge that throughout the past few months the Labour-led local authorities have been doing everything in their power to reach a settlement, and that the main obstacle to a solution is the Government's unfair and inconsistent public sector pay policy? Has the Secretary of State noted that even his Conservative predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), has admitted that the Government's approach to teachers' pay is unjust? Will the Secretary of State now recognise that the best way out of the chaos that he has created is to establish an independent inquiry into teachers' salaries with a remit to report as soon possible and with a firm commitment from the Government to fund its findings.

The hon. Gentleman rightly gave his teachers his advice to accept the offer on the table and to stop the disruption, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), who was my predecessor in this office. Regarding the idea of an inquiry, as far as I know the teachers rejected it out of hand.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have never described the Government's approach to the teachers as unjust, and that, like my right hon. Friend, I deplore what is happening in the school rooms today, and believe that the National Union of Teachers is completely wrong in being unwilling to sit down and discuss the terms and conditions of service together with pay? The point that I wished to make, and which I now make, concerns the long-term and my belief that we must get away from annual disputes.

In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend consider the establishment of a pay review board for teachers, such as we have for doctors, nurses and other professions, and accept that it should take account of the salaries paid to people with comparable abilities and qualifications in other occupations?

I accept that a substantial number of teachers are not willing to disrupt education and are not doing so, but I must ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he thinks that the behaviour of the majority of teachers is such as to make my right hon. Friends in government look kindly on the idea of a review body, especially as the majority of nurses, for instance, will not neglect the interests of patients.

We, too, regret that there is nothing new or optimistic in the Secretary of State's statement. Does he remember explaining in "Better Schools" that it is the duty of the Secretary of State to secure the well-being of education? While he is talking about LEAs possibly suing teachers in courts of law, is he satisfied that he is carrying out his own legal obligations.

Yes, I am so satisfied, though I always consider on its merits any complaint put to me. On the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, I must remind him that successive authorities from Lord Houghton onwards, including successive Governments and employers, have said that we shall not get better schools until teachers accept explicitly the conditions of service.

Instead of arguing among themselves on the teachers' panel, thereby prolonging the dispute, should not the unions and employers approach ACAS to try to get help to create a new negotiating machinery, in the absence of which classroom disruption continues and there is an increasing risk that the introduction of the important new system of examinations will have to be postponed?

But my understanding is that the employers have been to ACAS, and I think that ACAS has seen representatives of the teacher unions, so far in vain.

When will the Secretary of State admit that he and his Government, in their sheer intransigence, are directly responsible for a moderate section of the community having to take industrial action? The right hon. Gentleman says that he is doing his best for teachers and schools, but will he read the report of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations which reveals that schools are drifting into a state of chaos and that we have not seen such inadequate buildings and poor conditions for children and teachers for many years? When will the Secretary of State put some new money on the table to get the teachers back to work?

I regret that the growing of a beard does not seem to have changed the hon. Gentleman's attitude. In fact, the Government have put, on condition. a very large sum of extra money on the table.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the great tragedy of the strike is that the children of this nation are suffering so badly? That includes ordinary children, disabled children and children taking examinations. Does he agree that teachers are sick of the strike, children are sick of the strike and parents are sick of the strike? It is wrong for the leadership of the NUT to use its controlling majority to prevent other unions that wish to negotiate their members back to work from doing so. Will my right hon. Friend do all in his power to get the NUT leadership to negotiate, negotiate and negotiate again for the sake of the children of this country and their future?

I think that very large numbers of teachers, including some who are disrupting, must be very, very sad indeed at the damage that they are causing to pupils. Let there be no doubt that the disrupting of children's education is the fault of some teacher unions and their members.

Does the Secretary of State not understand that the tone and content of his statement will anger all teachers, whom he has once again run down and insulted, and that it will also depress the local authorities? If he is serious about a settlement, will he offer local authorities a disregard for penalties? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that last week's inadequate 6·9 per cent. offer would cost local authorities £193 million in penalties? If the right hon. Gentleman will not find the money and will penalise local authorities if they try to find the money, how can he expect a solution to the problem?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with his hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) that the teachers should have accepted the offer and ended the disruption.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on standing firm on this difficult issue? Is he aware that the teachers are suffering no financial penalty from their industrial action? Has he any advice which might rectify the problem?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have no brand-new advice, but I remind the House that unless the teachers' unions accept that they should be bound by the conditions that have been absolutely normal for generations of teachers we shall not have the best schools that we want for all our children.

Is not the Secretary of State aware that the frustration felt by teachers, pupils and parents is becoming more and more directed at the Government for not taking a firm lead in trying to sort out the problem? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman took a positive initiative to try to bring people together to find an answer now before a generation of children suffer?

The Government have provided—on condition—£1,250 million extra money which the teachers' unions, led by the NUT, rejected after 20 minutes. After all, the disruption is being caused by some teacher unions. Do let the House remember that. It is they who are refusing to sit down and discuss.

As a former teacher in both the public and the private sector, I deplore what is happening in our schools. I welcome and applaud what he has just said? I seek clarification on one matter. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many teachers have objected to the 12 September offer on the ground that the £1·25 billion does not constitute new money, whatever they mean by that. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to clarify that aspect?

My hon. Friend is on to the legitimate point made by teachers, that the money being made available by the Government is that which is available for spending by local education authorities and which would be subject to a contribution by the taxpayer at the level decided for the year concerned for the taxpayer's contribution to the rate support grant. To that extent it is the same as any other money which the local authorities and local education authorities are entitled to spend with rate support grant support.

Does the Sectetary of State accept that if he and his friends maintain their attitude and refuse to move one inch towards a settlement of the dispute, and if the many tens of thousands of teachers of all political persuasions refuse to move the dispute will continue for a very long time? Does he accept that he will not be able to count this as one of his successes on which to look back when he retires?

Will the Secretary of State make one more effort to see whether an independent inquiry, with agreed terms of reference, can be instituted as a means of escape from this tortuous and long dispute?

The hon. Gentleman forgets that the Government have put forward a very large sum of extra money, admittedly on condition, in order to achieve that which successive Governments and Lord Houghton wanted — explicit conditions accepted by teachers. Surely that is an initiative which should not be dismissed and yet the hon. Gentleman did not even accept it as an initiative.

What advice would my right hon. Gentleman give to parents who believe that they are paying rates and taxes to provide, among other things, education for their children and who now find that that desire—one might even say contract —is being frustrated by militant teachers?

That is a difficult question to answer. The parents of the children who are suffering now are being asked — I hope for not much longer — to endure damage in order to improve education for all children, including their own, in the future if the employers, with the help of the Government, can reach the desired bargain. That is not much comfort to the parents of children who are on the verge of leaving school, but the employers' and Government's objective in seeking the reform so lengthily desired is a noble objective.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, appropriately, negotiations on terms and conditions of service should be between employers and representatives of the employees? In view of that, will he comment on the fact that the NUT has for many months been waiting for such negotiations to begin?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should take that line. In December 1984 the NUT walked out of discussions and in this last month, by a majority over the other teacher unions, the NUT ended any possibility of negotiations.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the majority of teachers understand all the details of the offer which has been rejected on their behalf? If he believes that they do not, can any other steps be taken to project the contents of the package to them?

I have come to think that most teachers now recognise the offer. I think that most teachers are apt to compare the offer with the rewards available to some, but not all, teachers if they moved to business and lived a life with many more risks than are attached to the award which they might receive.

Does the Secretary of State think that £8,000 a year is adequate pay for a married woman school teacher whose career has been interrupted by family responsibilities, whose qualifications cover two degrees and who has 14 years of teaching experience? That is the pay which many ordinary classroom teachers have to live on. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that unless he tackles the pay of the average classroom teacher he will not find a settlement to the dispute and education will never improve.

I think that I should revise my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) because the hon. Lady clearly does not know the circumstances. The employer's offer, with the help of the extra money made conditionally available by the Government, would raise the pay of those teachers to £10,500—a £2,000 increase.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, no matter what view one takes about how we came to the present impasse, it is beyond dispute that the children cannot possibly be responsible? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, no matter how badly the teachers feel about the Government, it is unjustifiable and grossly immoral for them to take their disagreement out on the children?

Does the Secretary of State realise the damage that is being done to the teaching profession? Is he aware that morale is as low as it is possible to be and that the problems that the dispute will cause will blight the future for children who are not yet at school? When does he intend to ensure that a settlement to the dispute is found?

I do not underestimate the damage that is being done by the teachers and by the teachers' unions, but if the Goverment were to enable peace to be bought with no reforms the disruption would start again relatively soon and better schools would not be available for all children.

Since my right hon. Friend's offer and position is continually distorted or undermined, will he consider communicating directly with teachers, however large a job that might be? Does he agree that the evidence from the miners' strike is that only when one communicates with individuals do they fully understand what is on offer?

I do not employ the teachers in the way that the National Coal Board employs the miners. I would have liked to be able to write to every teacher, but I neither employ them nor do I know all their names and addresses. I meet them on as many occasions as possible to ensure that I know their point of view and that they know mine. I am afraid that I cannot do what my hon. Friend suggests.

As a former teacher, I say to you that it is about time that you carried out your obligations to provide the resources necessary for the profession. Is it not about time that your Government stopped using the children as hostages for your own policies? Is it not about time that you stopped making emotive statements, such as that about using the law? We all know that you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink——

The hon. Gentleman is forgetting the very large amount of conditional additional money that the Government have put on offer, and which the teachers unions, led by the NUT, have refused even to consider.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many moderate teachers? During this year, will he do everything possible to help those moderate teachers to achieve a reasonable pay settlement, and to hive them off from the NUT as soon as possible?

Is the Secretary of State aware that today's statement will be seen as a kick in the teeth to an already demoralised teaching profession, which, besides facing a 34 per cent. erosion in pay is, according to the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, facing a decline in building standards, larger average class sizes and cuts in resources? In view of the right hon. Gentleman's unwillingness or inability to do anything, has he not abdicated his right to oversee the education system? is not 12 minutes past four today as good a time as any to announce his resignation?

The hon. Gentleman has joined the large number of those who are ignoring what the Government have already offered. The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), rightly suggested that teachers should accept the offer and stop the disruption.

On a very serious note, is my right hon. Friend aware that to satisfy their industrial action some teachers are virtually releasing children on to the streets unbeknown to their parents? Is that not a disgrace, and irresponsible when we think about the dangers to children —especially in the light of what we have read during the summer.

Has not the right hon. Gentleman allowed the dispute to drift into a position that will be difficult to resolve? Is he taking no positive action? Should we not take into consideration the fact that the children are at risk and that their parents are very concerned about the quality of education and the quality of our schools? Into what is the Secretary of State leading our educational system? If he is convinced that his case is just, why does he not allow an independent body to justify his action?

But the Government and I have taken considerable action and have offered additional conditional money. It is the teachers' unions that have refused even to discuss it.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one encouraging aspect of the present position is that the number of teachers joining the no-strike union, the Professional Association of Teachers, has risen to 300 a week? Will he commend those teachers for taking a truly professional attitude towards teaching?

As the parent of two children at home because of the strike in Birmingham this afternoon, I deplore the present position. However, has my right hon. Friend noted that many teachers are not wholly aware of what is actually on the table? More important, the parents do not realise what is on the table. Is it not possible to advertise in newspapers explaining the position?

I ask my hon. Friend to give me evidence of his suggestion, and in the light of that I will again consider advertising. However, I cannot commit myself because I should have liked to act with the agreement of the employers.

Although I deplore the tactics of the teaching profession and support my right hon. Friend's policy of funding increases only against agreed changes in contracts, does he agree that, judged by most objective standards, the teaching profession is ill-paid? Is that not leading to a substantial decline in morale, especially in moderate areas such as Lincolnshire?

It is because the Government concede that we need to recruit, retain and motivate teachers of the right quality and that a different pay structure is needed, that we put at the employers' disposal, with conditions, a substantial fund of additional money.

I wish to confirm that in Leicestershire there is some misunderstanding about my right hon. Friend's very fair offer. Will he consider not only advertising but writing to teachers? Could not a little more be offered on the condition that a no-strike clause be incorporated into the agreement? No one wants the children to be out on the streets.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the drop in morale among teachers, especially in Lancashire, and the feeling that the dispute is not approaching settlement? Does he not feel that, eventually, the drop in morale will work its way through to the pupils in the classroom and affect the standard of teaching? In November, when the structure of the Burnham panel is changed and the effective block of the NUT is removed, will he consider making further efforts finally to settle this dispute and to produce a long term solution to an intransigent problem?

The consultation process on my provisional decision to change the structure of the teachers' panel ends at the end of this month. The Government will then arrive quickly at a decision.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not unseemly for a Secretary of State, particularly with responsibility for education, to make animadversions against those of us who are virile enough to have grown fine bushy beards—rather better than that thin imperial thing there?

Does not the Secretary of State realise that none of us are unkind enough to make comments on the Struwwelpeter appearance of the Secretary of State?

Order. I think that I would be very unwise to make any comment. I must say that I think that beards suit the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) very well.

Teachers' Dispute (Scotland)

4.20 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the teachers' dispute in Scotland, and in particular the report last week of the Educational Institute of Scotland's ballot.

In July, the management side of the SJNC (School Education) submitted proposals to me involving a substantial redefinition of teachers' conditions of service and the restructuring of pay scales. In early August I told the management side in reply that if a package on these lines could be negotiated within the SJNC I would be prepared to make additional resources available, on a scale building up to 10 per cent. of the present salary bill, over a period of four years beginning in 1986–87. This would be over and above the normal annual pay negotiations and would add an extra £125 million to teachers' salaries over four years.

The management side then put an abbreviated form of its proposals to the teachers' side and asked it to consider it as a basis for a settlement should funding additional to what I had offered be made available.

The teachers' side replied that it saw this as a non-offer and pronounced certain aspects totally unacceptable. It refused to fall in with the management side's proposal of a joint approach to the Government for additional funding for the management side proposals and indicated that it would reject any proposal which would lead to deterioration in the conditions of service of teachers.

In a further attempt to find a way forward, I invited representatives of the teachers' side to meet me on 27 September. It was suggested at that meeting that, provided substantially more money were offered without preconditions, the teachers would be prepared subsequently to discuss conditions of service and curricular development.

My officials have explored aspects of the proposals with representatives of the teachers' side to see if a basis could be found for negotiations which might lead to a settlement. These discussions have produced some useful clarification of the teachers' position and I hope they will continue, but I have to say that, as they stand, the teachers' proposals do not appear to me to offer a way forward.

Meantime, the EIS announced last Wednesday a majority vote in favour of a boycott of public examination procedures in 1986. This is causing great anxiety for pupils who are working for qualifications to secure their own future. I must, therefore, make quite clear the Government's position in the light of the EIS decision.

The Scottish Examination Board has a statutory duty to conduct examinations each year for the award of certificates relating to secondary education. There should be no doubt whatever in the minds of any pupil, parent or teacher that the board is determined to do everything in its power to carry out that duty and that the Government are fully committed to doing everything possible to ensure that candidates now working for SCE and CSYS examinations in 1986 will not be let down.

The present position, therefore, is that the teachers have asked for a large pay settlement without any commitment on their part to changes, especially in the contractual conditions governing the teacher's job. The local authority employers and I are entirely agreed that it is impossible to run an effective school system if teachers have the power to pick and choose which pieces of work they will do. The examinations boycott demonstrates exactly what I mean.

I have always recognised the vital contribution which teachers have in the past made to the running of the education service by their work outside the normal school day, particularly in carrying forward new developments in the curriculum and examinations. We need the continued involvement of teachers in these activities, and the purpose of the package prepared by the local authority employers in July was to give fair and appropriate recognition to this fact in a fresh approach in conditions of service, the definition of the teachers' role and a new pay structure.

It was in recognition of this that I was able to announce that substantial additional resources could be made available over the next four years. The offer remains open, at least for the time being. But I hope that there is no misunderstanding about its status. It was made conditional on negotiation, within the SJNC, of new conditions of service.

I know that many teachers desperately want to see this dispute resolved, as do I and the local authority employers. But I have to say that after all the damage that has been caused, and particularly in the light of this latest threat, the public have a right to expect that one element in a settlement should be a firm clarification of teachers' duties so that they cannot again inflict such chaos and demoralisation on our schools at so little cost to themselves.

The Secretary of State's statement is deeply disappointing. It reflects no more than a flat summary of his known position. It is unlikely that the teachers will respond to what is a homily from the right hon. Gentleman on their duty, a homily which has overtones that are sanctimonious and which will impress no one. He offers no hope and he shows no appreciation of the damage that is resulting from an impasse that owes a great deal to his own obstinacy.

The right hon. Gentleman has attacked the teachers persistently and with some energy on what he sees as their inflexible, but I believe understandable, commitment to the principle of an independent pay review. Will he not accept that the unions—I use the word "unions" in the plural—have shown a willingness to seek a solution by indicating that they are at least prepared to look at a significant cash offer on the table and, once that has been settled, to move on to negotiations on terms and conditions? Will he not accept that 10 per cent. of this year's salary bill spread over four years is not the kind of offer that is likely to enable us to break out of the present difficulties?

I note the only optimistic part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement when he says that he hopes that discussions can continue. Will he please do everything he can, by showing some flexibility, to make sure that they continue? Will he give an assurance that he is not in effect slamming the door when he says that the teachers' proposals do not appear to him to offer a way forward? It is vital, as the whole House will agree, that we keep the sides talking in the present situation, particularly when, as I say, the teachers have made a significant move in an effort to achieve a solution to the impasse.

May we have further information about the contingency plans that no doubt are being formed as a result of the recent ballot on examinations? The right hon. Gentleman says that the Scottish Examination Board will
"do everything in its power."
That does not help the House much. We are entitled to much more information about exactly what the right hon. Gentleman anticipates happening should the present situation continue.

We on this side are sad about the impasse. The Secretary of State refers to a majority vote in the EIS on the boycott. He will recall that it was 87 per cent. for and only 13 per cent. against. That reflects the feeling of frustration and bitterness and, I believe, an overwhelming wish on the part of all teachers to jolt the right hon. Gentleman into some positive action.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the vast bulk of opinion in Scotland sympathises with the teachers in that wish and that all those people wish to dissociate themselves from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman's colleague south of the border, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, on television on Sunday night when he referred to the Scottish teachers "sinking so low" in their attempts to solve the dispute? Will the right hon. Gentleman do the same and dissociate himself from that unfortunate form of words?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expressed view, which I share, that the existence of discussions, even though they are not negotiations because I am not a party to them—[HON MEMBERS: "Oh?"] I am not a negotiating party. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his agreement that it is valuable that discussions should be taking place and that they should continue. I confirm my hope that they will continue, and I hope that they continue in a good spirit.

I agree also with him that many teachers are only too anxious to get a solution and would dearly like to see one. I am bound to say, however, in the kindest way I can, that when rather surprisingly, I produced an astonishing extra sum of money in the summer, that was rejected on television without those concerned even waiting to see the nature of the offer. I hope that future negotiations can take place at a more careful pace than that.

The hon. Gentleman said that 10 per cent. was not enough——

He said that 10 per cent. was not enough over four years, and that was a perfectly legitimate view to express. However, it must be put in its proper context. It is 10 per cent. over four years in addition to the normal increases each year. I am sure that many teachers would wish that more money than that could be available, but few other employees are looking forward in the next four years to anything of that nature. That is a measure of my recognition that the teachers have a case. I have always made it clear that I do not deny that case and that I wish to help to meet it.

The situation on examinations is immensely serious because if the full boycott were carried out as suggested there would be no way in which 100 per cent. proper exams could be conducted by the examination board. However, the board has made it clear—and I support it utterly in the matter—that it would do everything in its power, whatever the circumstances, to produce exams as best it possibly could. It will, of course. have to study carefully the problems. what resources would be needed and where they would be available, and I shall give all the help I can in its study of those issues.

One of the most shattering aspects of the ballot last week was not so much that it showed a majority as that there was such a vast majority for the choice of using examinations and the future of the children as a bargaining counter—[Interruption.] I said recently that I thought that that was a heart-breaking decision. In my view, that was the correct word to use to describe it.