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Commons Chamber

Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 13 November 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Yorkshire Water Authority Bill Money

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Ordered,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Yorkshire Water Authority Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to that Act in the sums payable out of such money under section 90(6) of the Land Drainage Act 1976.—[Mrs. Fenner.]

Trade

Return ordered,

of Statistics relating to Overseas Trade of the United Kingdom for the year 1986 and for each month during 1986.—[Mr. Brittan.]

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Farmers And Crofters (Assistance)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he has taken to assist farmers and crofters following the recent summer weather.

Financial help will be given to the hardest hit sectors of the industry. Details are being worked out and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Why are the Government being so slow? Does the Under-Secretary remember that his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said at his conference on 9 October that assistance would be forthcoming soon, and he mentioned Scotland in particular, before the winter, when cash problems would be extreme? Has the Under-Secretary been in Scotland recently? If he has, he will have noticed that it is snowing. When will the help come, because small tenant farmers and crofters in particular have been savagely hit?

I came down from Scotland only yesterday, so I am well aware of the weather there. We have had to make a careful assessment of the position and evaluate fully the various measures that are available to deal with the problem. This has necessarily taken time, but I assure the House that the matter has been given the highest priority.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the urgency of this issue and recall that I raised it with Ministers at the end of August? Will he also bear in mind that such aid will help not only the beef sector but the many dairy farmers who have been equally badly hit? Will my hon. Friend find some way to help them as well as those in the less-favoured areas?

I am aware of the particular problems of the dairy sector, but I think it is correct to say that the sector in most need is the livestock producers in those areas where fodder is in short supply. Buying it in will prove expensive.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the fodder producers and others producing non-subsidised crops are in the greatest need? Will he assure the House that not only will there be an announcement of what measures will be taken urgently, but that the Department will ensure that help goes to farmers in greatest need rather than to sectors in greatest need and that resources are not spread too far by giving money to those who do not need it?

My hon. Friend has highlighted one of the problems, which is that we must try to ensure that the money goes to those sectors of the industry that are in most need. However, it would be difficult to target in on individual farmers. We are aware of the problems, for example, in Stirling, in my hon. Friend's constituency. That sector is being considered along with others.

Is the Minister aware that already some loads of fodder have been imported from Canada? That shows the seriousness of the problem—it is not even possible to buy winter feed from the Scottish mainland. As the weather was apparent several months ago, and as Lord Gray saw the situation several weeks ago, is not this delay unacceptable?

I am aware that hay has been imported from Canada, and that highlights the problem. It is not just a matter of cost, but of the availability of hay. There is more to the harvest problem than hay—there is also a cereal problem, which has a knock-on effect to the feeding sector. We had to wait until we saw the whole picture, and we have to consider carefully how we should set about giving help so that it goes, in the most appropriate way, to the sectors most in need.

Does the Minister not appreciate that when his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) asks for public expenditure to be increased things must be in a bad way? It is not good enough for the Minister to tell the House that the matter is under consideration. Is he aware that the farmers in my constituency, who welcomed Lord Gray earlier this year, left him in no doubt of the gravity of the position and demanded quick action? The House, particularly Labour Members, knows that the farming community often cries wolf, but on this occasion the wolf is there and we have seen the devastation. Does the Minister accept that action must be taken quickly?

As I have said, financial help will be given to the hardest hit sectors of the industry. Considerable public money is already given to agriculture. This financial year, Scottish agriculture received about £157 million in various allowances and schemes, and that is part and parcel of the Government's aid to agriculture and of public spending. Nobody on this side of the House denies that that is an important part of the Government's role in the economy.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the worst hit area in the whole of Britain is that of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Is he further aware that many farmers are selling their breeding stock to pay for the fodder that they must buy, and, therefore, are liable to lose the premium headage payments of their entire herd? Will he consider a derogation for this year because of that?

My hon. Friend is right to point out those particular difficulties, and we have them in mind. We have already secured and announced a small but useful extension of the closing date for applications for the Buckler cow subsidy from 30 September to 30 November this year.

We welcome the promise of emergency aid for agriculture, just as we would welcome aid for other hard-pressed industries in Scotland. However, I must press the Minister on the intolerable delay in implementing that promise. Is he aware that Lord Gray said on BBC radio on 3 October that the aid package would be finalised in weeks rather than months? Is he further aware that the weeks are turning into months, and that many livestock farmers are facing a critical position now? We have had the general promise. When will we get the hard cash?

I have made it clear that we hope to make an announcement fairly soon. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's personal interest in the matter. One of the factors that we had to take into account was the cereal harvest, and the amount of straw that would remain after it to help with feeding. I hope that there was not too much burning of straw where the hon. Gentleman farms. I should be interested to know whether he saw straw burning, and whether he and his neighbours took a responsible view on burning straw.

May we take it from this afternoon's exchanges that the Minister and his Department have been shaken out of their political complacency on this issue? As hon. Members on both sides have stressed, for between a month and six weeks the upland farmers, the hill sector of livestock farming, have had great problems buying winter feedstuffs. Is he aware that the Government have driven Scottish agriculture so deeply into indebtedness that many farmers are not financially capable of handling one bad harvest? Is that not a general indictment of the Government's policies in this area?

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Gray, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been well aware of the problem for some time. That is why I said that we were taking steps to work out a programme which would bring maximum help to those in greatest need. Some time ago I visited some farms in my constituency and attended markets to see what the price of livestock would be. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish when he suggests that only he is concerned.

Crosshouse Hospital And Prestwick Airport (Contingency Plans)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to pay an official visit to (a) Crosshouse hospital and (b) Prestwick airport to discuss Her Majesty's Government's contingency plans for their use in time of crisis or war; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to visit Crosshouse hospital or Prestwick airport for this purpose, but any contingency plans involving the use of those facilities would be the subject of appropriate consultations with the authorities concerned.

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed that the people affected by the plans had to read about them in the Sunday Mail? Why have no consultations taken place between Ayrshire and Arran health board and the local authorities in the area? What contingency plans have been made for the patients in Crosshouse hospital who will be ejected from the wards when American troops take over?

I have no responsibility for what appears in the Sunday Mail or any other newspaper. As the hon. Gentleman will know, any plans of this sort are necessarily classified, and are never confirmed or denied, for obvious reasons. I assure him that in the event of any such contingency plans, the requirements of the home and resident population always take priority.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Prestwick is one of the few fog-free airports in the United Kingdom? Does he accept that it is essential that it is retained so that it can be used as an emergency airport in times of hostility?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know the wide range of uses for which Prestwick is suitable. Fortunately, the Government, in their recent review, confirmed Prestwick airport's present role, and that is being developed.

Prison Overcrowding

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on overcrowding in Scottish prisons.

Substantial overcrowding in Scottish prisons is currently limited to four penal establishments—Barlinnie, Edinburgh and Inverness prisons, and Longriggend remand unit. The position will remain difficult until the refurbished Greenock prison and phase II of Shotts prison are ready for occupation in March 1986 and March 1987 respectively.

Does the Minister appreciate that overcrowding is causing great concern to Scottish prison officers, who are being asked to work in impossible conditions which apply beyond the establishments to which he referred—to Peterhead, for example? Was it not a disgrace that in the last financial year the capital budget for the prison service was underspent by the Scottish Office? Does that not illustrate the Minister's concern about this very serious problem?

We are concerned about the problem. The fact that the projects at Greenock and Shotts are coming on stream in the medium term shows that we are and have been concerned about the problem for some time.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have listened with interest to the comment by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) about Peterhead prison in my constituency. Peterhead is overcrowded. Serious problems occur because long-term prisoners need more accommodation. What is happening about the building of the new prison?

My hon. Friend should table a question on the subject raised in the latter part of his supplementary question. Peterhead is a problem because of the nature of the prisoners in that institution. We always want to ensure that the conditions there are such that the staff can cope with the most difficult prisoners that we have to hold in our penal institutions.

Does the Minister believe that the provision of additional places will completely remove the overcrowding? Is he not worried that the availability of additional spaces might simply lead to further and additional incarceration sentences?

I do not think that the judiciary considers whether the prison service has expanded before it decides on a medium-sized sentence or a long sentence. It is difficult to project into the future. My Department is considering ways of producing reliable projections to guide us in our plans.

In discussions will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the regrettable conditions in which prisoners on remand are kept?

That is one of the problems. One of the factors which has led to overcrowding is the increase in the length of time that remand prisoners are kept in custody awaiting trial. I am asking my Department to examine that problem.

If the Chancellor's statement yesterday means extra resources for the Scottish Office, will the Minister get his hands on some of them to establish more designated places?

As the hon. Gentleman knows from experience, such matters have to be discussed by Scottish Office Ministers. I shall be putting in a plug for designated places.

Scottish Tuc

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any immediate plans to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the state of the Scottish economy.

I met representatives of the STUC yesterday to discuss Ravenscraig and Gartcosh. I have no other immediate plans for a meeting to discuss the Scottish economy.

Between now and when the Secretary of State again meets the STUC, will he reflect on the unacceptably high level of unemployment in Scotland, and its effects and pressures on social services?

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he has decided not to establish an inspectorate of social services in Scotland, which would have protected the most disadvantaged in our society, such as the mentally handicapped, the elderly and the young offender?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about a genuine problem. One of the happier features of the difficult times for public expenditure during the past few years has been the increase in provision for social work and social services, precisely because a larger number of people have been unemployed.

When my right hon. Friend meets the STUC, will he point out the benefits of a low inflation policy, which would result in increased jobs in Scotland? Indeed, does it not enable my right hon. Friend to provide more money for the assistance of essential services such as health, social work and education?

My hon. Friend is right. Were I to have such a meeting, I would certainly mention the points to which he referred. If the STUC requested a meeting about the current Scottish economy, I should draw to its attention the fact that all the trends—with the exception of the difficult question of unemployment—are extremely good. What is more, the number of people in employment in Scotland is rising.

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to get away with his view that there is no connection between the future of Gartcosh and the future of Ravenscraig?

I am still evaluating the evidence that was presented to me by the shop stewards committee, which came to see me a few weeks ago. The matter is complex and involves digging deeply into the working methods of the industry. The current position is that the Government have secured the future of Ravenscraig; management has decided that Gartcosh must close.

When the Secretary of State next meets the STUC to discuss the economy, will he be in a position to say exactly when decisions will be made about the LEGUP scheme? In particular, will he be in a position to say when a decision is likely to be made about LEGUP assistance for the Landfall development in Dundee, on which construction, service and tourism jobs are heavily reliant?

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman, who I am very glad to see back in the House. The matter to which he refers is currently under consideration. It is an important proposal, and I assure him that we shall urge those concerned to reach a decision as quickly as possible.

In view of the Chancellor's very encouraging statement on the economy yesterday, will my right hon. Friend say how much more is being spent in real terms on health and roads in Scotland compared with the miserable amount spent by the Labour Government in 1979?

My hon. Friend is correct in his assumption. It seems almost impossible to get people to understand the plain fact that the real growth in spending on the Health Service is about 7 per cent., even at the most pessimistic forecast. It is high time that people gave more credit where credit is due.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that he is almost wholly isolated on the issue of Gartcosh? Even within the Scottish Conservative party there is a great deal of growing discontent and doubt about the way that he has represented Scottish interests. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his failure to intervene on Gartcosh is every day looking more and more like an abdication of responsibility? Will he guarantee that when he is evaluating the evidence he will do so with a genuinely open mind? If, as we believe, it is clear that there is a connection between Ravenscraig and Gartcosh, and that Ravenscraig will be lonely and exposed if Gartcosh is closed, will he at least join the remainder of Scotland and fight to save the plant?

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I have both made it clear that if it were established that the closure of Gartcosh would lead inevitably to the closure of Ravenscraig we would have to review the position, but that is not the case. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall that no Labour Government ever intervened in ordinary management decisions of the nationalised industries that they set up. It would be wrong to do so. Indeed, the type of evidence presented on the matter is an eloquent testimony to the wisdom of nationalised industries being run by those appointed to run them and not being managed in detail by the Government of the day.

Polkemmet Bing

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his action to help the National Coal Board to alleviate the emissions to the Whitburn/Blackburn/Bathgate area from the smoking Polkemmet bing.

The question of emissions from Polkemmet bing is a matter for the local authority to pursue with the National Coal Board.

Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate has given advice previously about the problem and is available to do so again if it is asked.

Obviously there must be concern about any emission, but in this case it is the responsibility of the district council, under the Clean Air Act 1956 to decide whether action can be taken against the owners of the mine if they fail to take all practicable means to prevent combustion and to prevent or minimise the emission of smoke and fumes.

The emissions from the bing or tip, call it what we will, must be intolerable to local residents. Cannot the Government press the National Coal Board to remove the offensive heap? The local residents must be suffering greatly from the terrible smells.

I am sure that both the district council and the National Coal Board will note with interest my hon. Friend's question. The district council is obtaining advice on the health aspects from the community medical specialist employed by the local health board.

Teachers' Dispute

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on progress made in solving the Scottish teachers' dispute.

I refer the hon. Member to the statement I made in the House on 22 October.

Since the Government are embarking on a brainwashing national exercise to persuade us that we are on the brink of a marvellous, prosperous era, does the Secretary of State not think it appropriate to allow the teachers of Scotland a share of that prosperity by setting up an independent review board? With the impending Christmas season, would it not be a nice Christmas present for parents, teachers, children and Scottish education generally if he were to concede that request?

I am glad to welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the message that is being sent round from this side of the House. I have been trying hard to persuade the teachers to accept more money on any reasonable terms since December last. The tragedy is that a very large number of teachers have not yet appreciated how much the offer of extra money that I made them in August involves or could involve. I hope very much that they will pay more attention to that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many teachers in my constituency would like a first phase interim pay settlement linked to negotiations on contracts of service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the teachers suggested when I met them in late September that that might be a way out of the dispute, but that is not a realistic proposal, amounting as it does to a request for a very large increase in pay now with nothing in return for the public. We have to remember that the public must expect to get decent value for the money that they spend on teachers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that at the all-party meeting held last week in the House of Commons during the teachers' lobby of Parliament, the spokespersons of all parties got a fair hearing, with the exception of the Tory party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher) who got such a belting from the teachers that I, as the neutral chairperson, had to come to his rescue to allow him to be heard? Is that not indicative of how much the Tory party is isolated and completely out of touch with the opinion of teachers, parents and the general public in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State now face up to his responsibilities and set up an independent pay review to bring about an end to the damaging dispute, which has been dragging on for well over a year?

If I were the hon. Gentleman and had been in the chair at the meeting, I would be ashamed to admit that everyone had a fair hearing except my hon. Friend. As chairman, the hon. Gentleman had an obligation to ensure that my hon. Friend had better treatment than that.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have told his former colleagues in teaching and his constituents who are in teaching to look very hard at the offer made to them. It was an offer, over a four-year period, of extra money from the Government amounting to 10 per cent. over and above the annual increases negotiated in the normal way. There are many workers in many other industries who would be very glad to receive such an offer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are doubly hit by the EIS targeting of Lenzie and the primary school feeders of Kilsyth? Does he think that it is any accident that the bulk of the targeting action is directed against children who go to schools in the constituencies of Conservative Members of Parliament? Does he agree that it is as morally indefensible as the targeting of schools in his constituency and those of his ministerial colleagues? Will my right hon. Friend remind the EIS that, since the dispute must be solved by negotiation, the best thing it can do for Scottish education is to respond to his invitation to come back and talk?

My hon. Friend is correct. Whatever happens, the dispute is bound to end by negotiation. I do not think that anyone would disagree when I say that I have played my part in trying to get negotiations going between the parties as quickly as possible, and I again urge them to do so.

I express my deepest sympathy to my hon. Friend about the effect of targeting on schoolchildren in his constituency. Having suffered severely from targeting for most of last year, we have discovered in our area that it is extremely counter-productive, as all parents of almost all political persuasions think that it is a grossly unfair practice.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is real concern in Scotland among parents and teachers that he is no longer able to maintain an adequate education system? There is particular concern that he will not be able to ensure that there is proper provision for pupils not only to take examinations but to be fairly assessed and marked. Will he acknowledge that the statement he has just made and the one that he made last week at the Scottish Council are a misrepresentation of the Government's position, and that the offer he has mentioned would not even guarantee teachers a cost of living increase for the next four years?

If the hon. Gentleman, as a Member of Parliament with every access to information, thinks that that is a proper description of the offer, we are indeed in a bad position. One of the chief difficulties is that very few people seem to have bothered to find out what the offer amounts to. The hon. Gentleman's description of it is totally incorrect. The offer to the teachers was of extra Government money over four years amounting to 10 per cent. over and above the annual increases negotiated. That has no relation whatever to the description given by the hon. Gentleman.

The teachers are perfectly aware of the offer on the table, and they have determined repeatedly that they are not willing to accept it. When will the Government recognise the determination of the teachers in the campaign and come forward with a new initiative to settle the dispute?

I am looking all the time for any way forward in the dispute. Most of the teachers' representatives would agree that great efforts have been made by the Scottish Office and themselves to find a way forward. I am in no doubt whatever that teachers feel that they are under-remunerated, under-appreciated and badly treated. That is why I have been trying since December last year to find a way of paying them more money. It is time that the vast majority of teachers responded and came to discussions to make use of the offers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the teachers are in their present position because they were treated so badly under the Labour Government?

As I pointed out to the deputation last week, if the teachers are concerned about the erosion of their position since the Houghton awards, more than half of the erosion happened under the Labour Government.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the 10 per cent. to which he refers is 10 per cent. of the first year's salary, and not—this is the impression that he giving—10 per cent. of the third or fourth year's salary. It is very important that that should be made clear. The Secretary of State said at Gleneagles last week—and he has repeated it today—that he appreciates that the teachers are fed up and feel that their value to society is not being recognised. What will he do about that in practical terms? If he sits down and does nothing, as he has been doing over these past months, the promise and commitment that has has given on his own behalf and on behalf of the Scottish Examination Board, that the examinations next year will go ahead, will simply be incapable of fulfilment. The examinations will not go ahead unless he gets the dispute settled quickly.

No amount of fancy arithmetic alters the fact that the extra money offered from the Government is £125 million over and above the annual increases that will be negotiated year on year by the normal machinery. That is what has to be understood.

As regards the examinations, I go a long way with the hon. Gentleman in what he says. There is no doubt whatever that if the boycott by all the teachers of the examination process really does take place, while the Examination Board will do everything it can to run the examinations, such a boycott is bound to cause considerable damage to the examination system. That is an additional reason why all concerned ought to try their best to change their positions to resolve the dispute. I shall certainly do all I can to bring that about.

Rates Relief

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce the amount of rates relief available to domestic and commercial ratepayers in Scotland for the financial year 1986–87.

The level of domestic rate relief in 1986–87 is one of the elements of the rate support grant settlement that I plan to discuss with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 29 November. My right hon. Friend is still considering the future level of the revaluation rate rebates, which affect both domestic and commercial ratepayers.

Is the Minister now in a position to tell us what level of claims has been made in the current financial year of the £50 million earmarked? It would be an interesting figure. Could he give us an assurance that there is a commitment on the Government's part in principle to continue the scheme into next year? If that is the case, it would be necessary to give the important additional assurance that it would be financed by new money and not just by the aggregate Exchequer grant available for local authorities next year.

The hon. Member must be aware that both my right hon. Friend and I fully realise the problems facing ratepayers in Scotland, as shown in the action that we took this year in increasing domestic rate relief eightfold, from £14 million to £102 million. We also gave relief to the domestic and commercial ratepayers who had valuations over three times. That is an indication of our concern. We shall have to consider, in the light of all the circumstances arising out of the rate support grant settlement, the level of future help to be given in these areas.

Will my hon. Friend bear carefully in mind the substantial benefit that came to people through the revaluation rebate scheme, notwithstanding what may have been said by Opposition Members? Will he and his ministerial colleagues do all in their power to ensure that the scheme is retained until such time as we have rate reform in place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I have found that the scheme that we introduced was warmly welcomed by ratepayers across Scotland, hard hit by revaluation—more warmly welcomed than it was by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly those in the Liberal party and the SDP. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the best protection for ratepayers in Scotland lies in local authorities keeping expenditure down.

Is the Minister aware that there is already considerable anger among the ratepayers in Scotland that the full £50 million promised by the Secretary of State was not forthcoming, and that that anger will be as nothing compared to the anger among ratepayers when bills come through the postbox next year if no rate relief is given? If there is no new money forthcoming, how will he and his right hon. Friend explain this humiliating defeat in Cabinet to the Scottish conference and to the electors in next year's regional elections?

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member on his first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box, and say that on the Government side, at least, we look forward with relish to his future contributions from that position.

I listened to what the hon. Member had to say and I hope that, as he is so concerned about the interests of ratepayers and the anger that they will undoubtedly show if rate bills go up next year, he will press those local authorities that are controlled by the Labour party to keep their expenditure down and to keep rates down accordingly.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the rebates? A rebate that does not remove the difficulties of the domestic or commercial ratepayer having his principal bill of the year multiplied by a factor of 10 times inflation is not a service to the domestic or commercial ratepayer. Unless the factor is realistic, it will have no political or economic effect.

My hon. and learned Friend and I have discussed this matter previously. The decision to set the eligibility factor at a multiplying factor of three times was taken after very careful consideration of the proper measure of relief required to be given. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend's constituents have benefited from this. I am sure they will let him know whether they wish a scheme of this sort to continue.

Agricultural Capital Grant Schemes

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he intends to revise the Agriculture Capital Grant Schemes Regulations in the light of the damage to the industry occasioned by the poor summer conditions.

As I have already indicated, the Government are currently considering how we can best aid those farmers most seriously affected by the bad weather. A number of options are being explored, and it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the outcome.

Is the Minister aware that due to the bad weather in the summer a number of drainage schemes undertaken under the former capital grants scheme might overrun the cut-off date of 31 December? Furthermore, a number of farmers will next year have to undertake reseeding as a result of the bad weather, even though they had not planned to do so, and that will limit their opportunities for future investment under the new capital grants schemes. In those circumstances, will the Minister accept that not to make any appropriate relaxation of the regulations to meet the problems would be unduly niggardly?

I accept that this year there may have been some grant-aided activities that have proved to be less than satisfactory or, indeed, a total loss. If a farmer decides that he wishes to start afresh next year, our Department will be prepared to look sympathetically at such a proposal within the context of the new grants schemes.

Although we thought that most of these farms had satisfactory drainage and liming and would not require major capital grants schemes, is my hon. Friend aware that that is no longer the case because of the severe climatic conditions in the summer? Will he therefore consider the inclusion of full money for liming and drainage grants in any future capital grants allocation?

The new capital grants schemes that came into operation on 1 October were devised following extensive consultation, and they are designed to reflect the priorities in European Community regulation 797/85. Notwithstanding that, I am satisfied that these grants constitute a worthwhile package of assistance.

Teachers' Dispute

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what response he has made to the suggestion from the organisation representing parents of children in targeted schools that an independent arbiter or conciliator be appointed to help settle the dispute in Scottish schools.

My right hon. Friend met representatives of the co-ordinating committee on 24 September. Since then he has, as he told the House on 22 October, been in direct contact with the teachers' side, and the discussions that ensued have produced useful clarification of their position. For the time being, therefore, there seems little further that could be contributed by an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear the possibility in mind.

I am more encouraged by that response than I expected to be. As on earlier questions my hon. Friends were strongly seeking a new initiative, why has not this very good initiative been taken up? I have spoken to the Minister about this on a number of occasions, and he will understand that a conciliator could act as a go-between, solve this damaging dispute and do so perhaps within one or two weeks. We are not talking about bringing in a wise man—an arbiter—to decide something that the Secretary of State is unable to implement, because the Secretary of State has ruled that out. We are talking about a conciliator. Why has that been turned down? As the Under-Secretary has indicated that this has not been ruled out for the time being, will he say when he might make a substantive decision about the suggestion?

Technical discussions, not negotiations, are continuing with the teachers' representatives. It is not, therefore, appropriate to introduce an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear that possibility in mind.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while conciliation may sound fine in principle, each initiative that has been taken by him and his right hon. Friend has been met by increased targeting by the teachers? Does not this show that, at least until now, the teachers have been more keen to exercise political muscle than to conciliate?

I agree with my hon. Friend that targeting is not only unjust, discriminatory and counterproductive, but that it will not lead to a resolution of the dispute. The dispute can be resolved only by reasoned negotiation.

The resolution of the dispute has been held up because of the Government's refusal to accept an independent pay review, presumably on the ground that it might lead to an increase in public expenditure. In view of the highly publicised declaration in the last few days of the Government's new-found love of high public expenditure, will they now give evidence of their belief in it by granting an independent pay review?

As the Government have made clear on numerous occasions, pay cannot be considered in isolation from the duties for which teachers are paid. That is the position, not only of the Government, but of the employers, the Labour-led management. The hon. Gentleman referred to public expenditure. As my right hon. Friend told the House earlier, he is prepared to permit an extra £125 million to be used over four years to finance the kind of pay and conditions package that has been suggested by the management.

Is it not the case that virtually everybody who is concerned about this disastrous dispute has put forward proposals for breaking the deadlock, except the EIS? Is my hon. Friend confident that if he accepted the proposal of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) it would be met with any greater response from the EIS than the hon. Gentleman's very sensible proposal in February of this year?

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will recognise that he obtained a more reasoned response to that suggestion from the Government than he obtained from the EIS.

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State accept that during this period there has been a hardening of the teachers' attitude because they feel so disadvantaged? How long does he expect the dispute to continue, to the damage of the educational prospects of all schoolchildren in Scotland? When will he take resolute steps to halt the dispute and acknowledge that the teachers are disadvantaged? When will he take steps to obtain an independent view of that, even for himself?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to what my right hon. Friend and I have said. Of course this is a very damaging dispute. Some of the tactics used by the EIS are without precedent. The Government recognise the concerns of teachers. That is why they have consistently said that they would be prepared to make extra resources available to finance a sensible pay and conditions package.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that the teachers' leaders do not have confidence in their own ability to reach a negotiated settlement on factors that suit them admirably? There is money on the table, and changes in conditions have been proposed that would enhance their pay in many areas. They are in a unique position. If they were in a position to exploit it, as would any sensible trade union leader, they would do so, instead of calling for this nonsense of an independent review of pay alone.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, the kind of package that has been suggested would have great advantages for the teaching profession.

Rating Reform

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to announce the timetable for and scope of the reform of the Scottish rating system; and if he will make a statement.

We are looking carefully at the whole system of local government finance, including rating. A consultative document setting out the Government's proposals will be published at around the turn of the year.

Is the Minister aware that his answer does nothing to stop the further disenchantment with his party in Scotland, nor the feeling of betrayal at the absence of any mention of rating reform in the Queen's Speech? Will the hon. Gentleman come clean and tell us that he has absolutely no idea what to do about rating reform—this year, next year, sometime, never?

The hon. Gentleman should not be so hopeful. We realise that it is not in the interests of the Labour party that there should be reform of the rating system, which suits the overspending authorities controlled by Labour. Had there been an announcement about legislation on rating in the Queen's Speech before the production of the Green Paper, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to criticise us for doing so.

Solicitor-General For Scotland

Crown Immunity

37.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland on how many occasions in each of the last six years he has been obliged to discontinue prosecution proceedings on the grounds that Crown immunity is involved.

I know of no such case. Criminal proceedings should not be instituted in the first place if Crown immunity is a bar to prosecution.

In view of the statement yesterday by the Minister for Health that the Government were giving further consideration to Crown immunity in hospitals—whereby hospital authorities cannot be prosecuted if, for example, their kitchens fall below statutory standards of hygiene—will the Solicitor-General give a commitment that abolition of Crown immunity will be extended to Scotland? Why should the Secretary of State not be prosecuted if he fails to give hospitals enough resources and puts patients at risk by failing to keep the hospitals up to statutory standards?

The matter of Crown immunity is of United Kingdom application. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, yesterday my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health said that he was considering the matter in respect of food hygiene regulations. If any change were to come out of that, prosecution would have to be considered, but first, we have to wait for what comes out of the review.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that this is a serious problem, because not only are hospital catering departments protected from competition, but they are now protected from action against them when they fall down because of incompetence?

I can only repeat that the matter of Crown immunity is there, and it covers hospitals. There can be no doubt about that. It is essentially a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. There has already been a clear sign that the matter is under review.

Will the Solicitor-General be directly involved in the review that he mentioned? Given that today all-party delegations have been to see his right hon. Friend the Minister for Health south of the border, have the Scottish Office or his Department had any input into the considerations thus far?

On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will have to ask that question of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He will appreciate that the review is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Security to consider. As I have said, the issue of Crown immunity is of fundamental constitutional importance, and I anticipate that, if it were breached, there would be a wide-ranging review.

Will the Solicitor-General clear up the implication of the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)? Would a private contractor operating in a National Health Service hospital kitchen be subject to prosecution if the kitchen was unclean?

The situation is this. Even a number of employees within the NHS could be subject to prosecution if they were in breach of regulations. The position of private contractors is different. From what the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) said, I understand that the point of greatest concern is what happens now, when there are no private contractors and the catering work is undertaken by the health board itself.

Coal Industry Dispute

38.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many policemen were prosecuted for alleged offences during the miners' dispute.

Does not the Solicitor-General's answer show that the dispute in Scotland was a relatively peaceful affair? Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why more than 200 miners have been dismissed by management and why very few of them have been reinstated? What do the Government intend to do about that.?

I must tell the hon. Gentleman once again that reinstatement is a matter for the Coal Board, not for me. Failing satisfactory resolution, it is a matter for an industrial tribunal. The hon. Gentleman described the dispute as relatively peaceful. I have told him before that about 1,000 people were prosecuted for incidents and that 721 of them were convicted. That is a fairly clear indication of our assessment of a peaceful dispute.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that his answer confirms that the conduct of the police during the miners' strike was exemplary? Does he deplore the fact that Labour-controlled Strathclyde regional council has persistently refused since the dispute to bring police numbers up to establishment?

My hon. Friend is right. I do not know how it is supposed that the rule of law can be enforced in Strathclyde when the police are not up to establishment. My best information is that there have been just 14 complaints against the police arising from the miners' dispute. As more than 1,000 people were prosecuted, it appears that the police behaved excellently.

Correspondence

39.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when the hon. Member for Fife. Central can expect a reply to his recent letter concerning the death of one of his constituents as a result of a car accident involving a drunken driver.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the driver, Mr. Sharp of Glasgow, pleaded guilty to two serious charges—careless driving under the influence of drink and causing death by such driving? Does he further agree that Mr. Sharp had a previous conviction for drunken driving and that he had more than three times the limit of alcohol in his blood, and yet Sheriff MacArthur, in the Kirkcaldy court, sentenced him to 240 hours of community service and suspended his licence for five years? Is that not a travesty of justice? Does he agree that the sentence might have been different if someone generally considered more important than my 69-year-old constituent had been killed? Her husband has been damaged for life and his nose was very nearly torn off. Is that not a disgrace and a tragedy for Scottish justice? What can be done?

As far as I can ascertain, the hon. Gentleman's factual narrative is correct in every detail. Whatever view he may have of the sentence imposed by the court—it is clear that there are reservations about it on both sides of the House—he will appreciate that, in Scotland, the Crown, as prosecutor has traditionally stood apart from sentencing policy. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would want us to maintain that distinction in our legal system. When an attempt was made this side of the border to allow the Crown to take an appeal against too lenient a sentence, I understand that the hon. Gentleman's party felt that it was a thoroughly undesirable development.

In view of the great importance of this matter, I give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Productions (Pre-Trial Release)

40.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will discuss with procurators fiscal arrangements for the release of productions before trials.

I am satisfied that procurators fiscal are adequately instructed on this matter.

This is an urgent and critical matter, especially for people on low incomes who have had articles stolen and, in the event of the criminals being apprehended, must wait a long time for the restoration of their goods. Will the Solicitor-General re-examine the rules of evidence so that there might be an early release of productions?

The hon. Gentleman has identified what we also recognise is a problem. In the interest of fair trials, however, there are evidential requirements with regard to the production of items that have been stolen. Instructions have been given to procurators fiscal throughout Scotland that, if possible, they should return productions to their owners. For example, if an old-age pensioner has had a television set stolen, it should be returned. If that is to be done, however, it may be necessary to secure an undertaking from the person involved that, in the event of a trial and the need to produce the item, it will be returned to the court. If the hon. Gentleman has any particular case in mind, I hope that he will write to me.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that this is a major problem in Scotland and gives rise to enormous embarrassment? For instance, a friend of mine had his plumber's gear stolen from his car. Frequently in Scottish courts we have a label in place of the production, which is not required to be brought. If my hon. and learned Friend goes to any production room, especially in Glasgow, he will see a myriad productions which matter greatly to their owners but have no evidential value at all. Surely we could have minutes of agreement between the defence and the prosecution for the return of items which are of immense value to their owners but of practically no evidential value to the court.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. He sets out a solution which I strongly urge should be followed. In as many cases as possible minutes of admissions or minutes of agreements should be entered into. There is, however, a problem at an earlier stage, as it may take some time before the matter comes to court. In those circumstances, procurators fiscal have now been enjoined to consider the matter carefully and to return items to their owners if possible.

Points Of Order

3.30 pm

Order. I will take only points of order concerned with Scottish Question Time.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We reached question No. 4, which was identical to my question No. 26. Has the practice of linking questions ceased? Furthermore, are not Members who take the trouble to put questions on the Order Paper at a grave disadvantage when Tory Members are called as many as three times and we are not even noticed?

I am very conscious of what the hon. Gentleman has said. He is quite right—I do my utmost to link questions, but I cannot do it on every occasion. If the hon. Gentleman studies the Order Paper—I am very conscious of this—he will see that only five hon. Members who had put down questions were not called. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman studies Hansard I think that he will find that Opposition Members were called many more times than Conservative Back Benchers.

Order. I will take points of order about yesterday later, at the usual point in our proceedings.

I think that the same goes for the hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Ryman), who has given me notice of his point of order.

On a point of order arising out of Scottish questions, Mr. Speaker. In relation to question No. 39, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) made an implicit criticism of a member of the Scottish judiciary in claiming that his sentence and judgment were inappropriate. Is it not a habit of this House that no criticism of the judiciary may be made?

As I understand it, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was criticising the sentence and not the judge.

On a point of order in connection with the private notice question that is about to be raised—

Tsb (Scotland) Sale (Judgment)

3.33 pm

[by private notice] asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the consequences of the ruling by a Scottish judge yesterday that the assets of the TSB (Scotland) belong to the depositors and what course of action the Treasury intends to take on the matter.

We are now carefully but urgently considering Lord Davidson's judgment and opinion, which have only just become available and raise complex legal issues. The Trustee Savings Banks Bill, now the Trustee Savings Banks Act 1985, would not have been presented to the House if the Government had not received firm legal advice, which was reflected in last December's White Paper. It remains the Government's expectation that we shall wish to lodge formal notice of appeal as soon as practicable.

May I take it from the Minister's reply that the Government now regret having embarked on this legislation, supposedly as honest brokers for the TSB central board? Does the Minister accept that he now has a duty to tell the TSB to take no further action about the flotation of the sale until the outcome of any pending appeal is known? Finally, how far are the Government prepared to go with taxpayers' money over litigation? Is this matter to be taken as high as the House of Lords? What does the Minister think about the relative sparsity of Scottish Law Lords in that formidable body?

After the recent remarks about the Scottish judiciary, I hesitate to enter further into that field. The hon. Gentleman asked about the actions of the TSB. Clearly, the TSB will have to take into account the current judgment and anything further which transpires in the course of this case. I should like to clear up one misapprehension that was expressed about the decision announced yesterday. The Government have never planned to receive any of the proceeds of a flotation of the TSBs. It has no impact on the privatisation programme and will not be a sale of Government-owned assets. It is a matter for the TSB and no doubt it will consider the implications most carefully.

In view of the onus on the Government to encourage best practice in financial regulations, not least in City affairs, would it not be better if the Government, while the appeal is pending, were to ask the TSB to cease advertising the prospectus—or at least the fact that the offer is about to be made?

I am sure the TSB will take note of what my hon. Friend has said. It is not for me to instruct the TSB what to do. I am sure it is aware of the sensitivities and the implications involved.

Has the Minister taken on board the fact that Lord Davidson stressed the mutual nature of the society and the consequent rights of depositors? All the questions to the Minister so far have stressed that it would be quite improper, pending an appeal, for any prospectus of the sale of the assets to be issued. In view of that, can the Government exercise an influence to ensure that this will not happen?

As I understand it, Lord Davidson did not say that the depositors were members of the banks. Nevertheless, he said that in his view ownership was vested in the depositors. Clearly, the opinion itself raises complex legal issues that we will have to consider most carefully. I do not imagine that the TSB will want to make any hasty judgment or move on that, particularly with regard to flotation, which is not imminent in the immediate future anyway.

I declare an interest; I am a depositor. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] I still have ls lld in the Haymarket Savings Bank. Can the Minister assist me in the following matter? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the Government will heed the opinion of the Scottish courts. I do not quite know what is meant by the Scottish courts. Although the House of Lords is the last court of redress in a civil action, I am sure the Minister will appreciate that in the House of Lords there are only two Scottish Law Lords, one of whom is the Lord Advocate, who presumably gave the advice that the TSB did not belong to depositors, and the other of whom is a depositor. Is the House of Lords considered to be a Scottish court? If it is, what are the Government going to do about that little difficulty?

We certainly have not reached that stage. My hon. Friend will recall that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday that the Government have a right to all the legal remedies available. But if, as we would expect, the Government proceed with an appeal, it will go to the Inner House, which is the Scottish Court of Appeal, and not at that stage to the House of Lords.

Is not the effect of Lord Davidson's judgment that, if the Act is proceeded with, this will be a case of privatisation without compensation? In view of the extremely arrogant reaction of the TSB, which says that it will proceed regardless of the court judgment, will the Minister make it clear to the TSB that there can be no question of its trying to go ahead as though the court judgment had not been made? Will he give us an assurance that the Government will not name a vesting day until the legal position has been clarified?

I appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman makes. During the passage of the Bill, I made it clear several times that, although the flotation was a matter for the TSBs, before then the Government had to vest the assets and name a vesting day under the Act. We have no intention of doing so in the near future.

Is it not flouting the law to allow the TSB to go ahead? Will the Minister asnwer the question that was put to him, first, by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) and, secondly, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan)?

It is for the TSBs to prepare for any aspect of their future, whether that be reorganisation of their internal company structure or preparations for a flotation which they hope will take place. I have already told the House that the Government are required to name a vesting day before that happens. I also said that vesting will not occur in the near future. It depends upon a range of matters quite apart from the legal aspect. At this stage, vesting is not at issue, but the Government will take into account any judgements of the court as well as undertakings from the TSBs before they consider vesting.

Since the hon. Gentleman is a Treasury Minister, may I ask him why the Treasury told the media yesterday that an appeal would be lodged, while the Prime Minister was busy telling me and the House that the Government wished to read and reflect upon the judgment?

I will explain that point to the right hon. Gentleman. The way in which he has raised the matter is slightly misleading, although I am sure he did not mean it to be so. What happened was that, at the close of the hearing, counsel for the Treasury said that it would expect to appeal. That is the normal courtesy at the end of a hearing. It is not the same as lodging a formal notice of appeal. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday that we wished carefully to consider the judgment, which is what we are doing and will do. We have not yet drawn up a formal notice of appeal. The comments made expressed our expectation that we would appeal, but no press statement such as the right hon. Gentleman describes was made.

Is it not strange to hear Labour Members of Parliament advising the Government to obey the judgment of the courts when only a few months ago, during the miners' strike, they were not at all sure whether they should support the courts?

Can the Minister clarify what he is saying about the vesting day procedure and the possible tabling of an order? Did he not say this afternoon that the legal judgment and a possible appeal by the Treasury will not be the only factors taken into account when the Government decide whether to name a vesting day? Does that not show, despite his apparent reverence for the Scottish legal system, a considerable irreverence for the law and the judgment—it is not an opinion, as he described it this afternoon—that was given in Edinburgh yesterday?

No, Sir. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it does not suggest that. I said in July that we would consider our subsequent action in the light of any judgment. I am happy to re-emphasise that today. I did not say that the Government would disregard the judgments of the Scottish court in favour of other considerations. I said only that considerations other than the legal ones have not been resolved, and that we are nowhere near the stage when it would be appropriate to vest. The question of immediate vesting has not yet arisen.

Is it not the case that the Government should never have gone ahead with the sale without determining the ownership of the TSB? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, during the passage of the Bill, the Labour party raised the ownership point time and again? Should not the Government have tested this in the courts first? What has changed since Conservative spokesmen said in the House seven years ago that the TSB was part of the mutual banking sector? What new advice has the hon. Gentleman had since then?

Is not this flotation the equivalent of the housekeeper selling off the family silver without checking whether the family owned it? Is it not a fact that the Government are now so eager to privatise anything in sight that they will even privatise businesses that do not belong to them?

Will the hon. Gentleman make the position on the flotation clear? The Financial Times reported today:
"the Government intends to press ahead with the flotation of the TSB in February regardless of yesterday's setback in the Scottish courts."
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the Government will not take the action before vesting that they need to take to allow the flotation to go ahead? Will he also make it clear that the Government will await the final decision of the courts before doing anything that would facilitate the flotation?

Is it not clear—[Interruption]—that this is yet another embarrassment for the Government, as a result of which the courts have had to step in to protect the small man against the actions of this Tory Government?

It is a great pity that the hon. Lady prepared her questions before she listened to my answers to the questions asked of me today. Even if she believes everything that she reads in the press, she should perhaps consider what is said in the House by Ministers before she puts too much weight on the press reports.

I began by saying that the Government were not pressing ahead with these matters. If certain newspapers say so, that is their responsibility, not mine. The Government are not placing any pressure or responsibility on the TSBs to proceed—that is a matter for them. I have said, and I shall repeat, that before any action is taken by the Government, we shall take full account of any decision by the courts as well as many other matters, including not only the points that I have already mentioned but the fact of what is potentially within the scope of the existing Trustee Savings Banks Act.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman's point of order refers to this matter, in which case I shall take it.

Yesterday, when the issue of the TSB was even more immediate and relevant than it is today, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) applied for a private notice question today—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows the conventions about these matters. The names of those who have applied for a private notice question are never mentioned in the Chamber.

Yes, Sir. I tried to raise this matter earlier on, but you overruled me, Mr. Speaker. In my respectful submission, you have allowed a flagrant breach of the sub judice rule to take place in allowing this matter to be discussed when the Government have announced, both formally and informally, that an appeal is pending from this decision. May I refer you—

Order. I can help the hon. Gentleman immediately; I understand that the Government have not given formal notice of appeal. Such points of order take up time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have not heard my submission, so how can you possibly rule on it?

I distinctly heard the hon. Gentleman say that the matter was sub judice. I am saying that it is not.

Will you hear me, Sir? There is a point which would be of interest to the House generally, and on which your guidance is sought. The rule is set out clearly on page 429 of Erskine May and I am sure that you know it by heart. It states clearly that if a notice of appeal is given, the matter is sub judice. A notice of appeal being given does not simply mean that the notice is filed with the court; it can be done in one of three ways: by notice to the court in a document, by the leave of the judge who delivered the original verdict, or by asking leave of the Scottish equivalent of the Court of Appeal. From the Minister's statement and answers, I understand that the Government are considering an appeal to the Scottish equivalent of the Court of Appeal. From the realities, not the technicalities of the matter—judges look at the realities now, not the technicalities—it is common sense that an appeal is about to be lodged. If so—

Order. I must stop the hon. Gentleman, because he is confounding his case. He may be right in saying that an appeal is about to be lodged, but the point is that it has not been lodged, and the matter is not sub judice. That is enough of that.

Breweries Merger (Report)

3.51 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. Michael Howard)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on Scottish and Newcastle Breweries and Matthew Brown which was published on 12 November. The Commission has concluded that, while the merger could not be expected materially to benefit the public interest, there are not sufficient grounds for concluding that the proposed merger may be expected to operate against the public interest. In the absence of an adverse public interest finding by the Commission, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has no powers under the Fair Trading Act 1973 to intervene to prevent that merger, or to impose any conditions on it.

Following press reports at the end of last week, it has been suggested that there may have been a leak of confidential information in advance of the report's publication. An investigation is under way to establish whether there has been a leak.

My attention has been drawn to the existence of a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, about which he has written to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). That, together with all other material which may be relevant, will be considered in the context of the investigation.

Is the Minister aware that this is an extremely serious matter because it reflects on the capacity of the Government and agencies responsible to them to hold commercially confidential information until the appropriate time for a public announcement? In those circumstances should not the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who is responsible for the whole Department have come to the House to make the statement, instead of a relatively recently appointed junior Minister?

Is the Minister aware that it is a little more serious than information "perhaps" having been leaked? It is well known that on 8 November, some days before the public announcement was made, newspapers carried stories predicting, not what the result of the Commission might be, but the result in terms which showed clearly that they knew the contents of the report, particularly the recommendation to which reference has been made.

Is the Minister further aware that there was a significant movement of shares, whereby the shares of the company in question moved from 478p to 520p—an increase of 42p—on the information being made available fairly widely through the press? As a result of that, is it not clear that an investigation in considerable depth should be held—I welcome the fact that an investigation is being undertaken—with a full disclosure of what it reveals? Will the Minister guarantee that that will be done?

Furthermore, should not the Government consider whether Ministers and officials, whether of Departments or agencies responsible to them, fully understand the important rules which exist about commercial confidentiality, and should they not take urgent steps to ensure that if those rules are understood, they are also enforced? It is disgraceful that a Government are unable to hold commercially confidential information as they are expected to. If they cannot do so, they are breaching an important trust to the British people.

It is of course a serious matter, and a serious investigation will take place. Of course that investigation will be in depth, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests. All the matters to which he has referred will be carefully and fully investigated in that inquiry. It has not, however, been the practice of this or previous Governments to publish reports of internal inquiries and I therefore cannot give him the guarantee of publication which he requests.

Is not the most remarkable aspect of this affair the letter which the Minister sent to me yesterday in which he said:

"Although Matthew Brown have no present intention of closing the Carlisle and Workington breweries, the jobs there could not be regarded as totally secure in the longer term even if Matthew Brown were to remain independent."
Is the Minister aware that that is simply not true? I have correspondence in my possession from Matthew Brown giving me almost indefinite assurances about the future of the brewery in my constituency.

Since Matthew Brown made £7 million profit last year, until the takeover was approved by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, the brewery at Workington was as safe as the Bank of England and the hundreds of jobs directly and indirectly dependent on that industry were absolutely secure.

Is it not clear that the Minister himself has given the green light to Scottish and Newcastle to close my brewery? He is encouraging Scottish and Newcastle to take that decision. Should he not resign because he has acted irresponsibly?

Finally, may we have an assurance from the Secretary of State for Scotland who leaked—and it was his leak which led to speculation on the Stock Exchange and the rise of 50p in the price of these shares, whereby City slickers have lined their pockets? It is for him, too, to resign. He has offended the House, he has undermined the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and he has done a disservice to the company Matthew Brown which has made an honourable contribution historically to my constituency.

Mr. Speaker, on a more reasonable note may I ask my hon. and learned Friend—

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the question was a bit long so I was taken in myself. I apologise and call the Minister to answer.

In the letter which I wrote to the hon. Member for Workington, I did not express any personal views, but I recited the conclusions reached by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That report has been published and is available for all to see. I invite those who wish to test the hon. Gentleman's wild allegations to refer to that report.

May I say in all reasonableness that many of my constituents believe that the conclusions by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission are at variance with the evidence presented to it? In view of the inquiry that my hon. and learned Friend announced today, does he agree that it is better to put the whole matter on ice and to have a fresh submission to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?

No, Sir. The commission's report is available and I do not wish to make any further comment on it.

Will the Minister explain why he skated so gingerly over the letter which the Secretary of State for Scotland wrote to a member of the public in Leyland, Lancashire, last Friday, four days before the publication of the report, in which he disclosed the contents of the Commission's report and the Government's decision upon it? I do not impugn the integrity or the honour of the Secretary of State, but does not the fact that he sent that letter disclose a degree of incompetence and carelessness within the Scottish Office and the Department of Trade and Industry which is unacceptable when handling market-sensitive information?

May I press the Minister on the nature of the investigation and its publication? There have been few examples of market-sensitive information being leaked, but when that has happened it has sometimes led to a full tribunal. Therefore, the precedents for the widest possible inquiry, including into share profiteering, are very good. I urge the hon. and learned Gentleman to ensure that the investigation is wide and that its results are published.

The letter to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be considered in the investigation. It will be a thorough one, and as wide as is necessary to discover the facts. Unlike the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), I would not wish today to prejudge or anticipate the results of that inquiry.

Is the Minister aware that there is very strong opposition in Cumbria, among all the political groups, to the decision to allow a takeover? Cumbria's unemployment problem is grim, and despite everything that the Minister has said today we expect that in less than two years the breweries will be closed. Will he stand on the sidelines and act as Pontius Pilate, or will he do something about it?

All those matters were drawn to the attention of the commission, which is an independent body. As I said at the outset, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has no power to intervene to prevent a proposed merger under the Act in the light of the conclusion of the commission in its report.

While I warmly welcome the internal inquiry that will look into the unfortunate leak, may I support the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Maclean), bearing in mind the mass speculation from which many people—nothing to do with the brewery, but the city slickers described, quite rightly, by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—have made a great deal of money?

Will my hon. and learned Friend consider setting aside the conclusion in the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and ask it to consider the matter again? Will he bear in mind the fact that many Conservative Members are deeply unhappy about and strongly opposed to a decision that will undoubtedly wipe out an important private brewery in the north-west of England?

I recognise the unhappiness to which my hon. Friend referred. However, the legislation pursuant to which the commission operates has been in existence for some considerable time, under Government of all political complexions. In this instance, it has been operated in the usual scrupulous manner, with all the procedures being properly followed. The Secretary of State has no power to intervene, for the reasons that I have given.

Does the Minister recognise that, now that the finger of suspicion has been pointed at a Cabinet Minister, a number of public authorities and civil servants, it would be wholly inappropriate merely to conduct an internal inquiry, however wide-ranging? Is it not now necessary to ensure that a completely objective inquiry is conducted, by someone outside the public service?

No, I do not accept for one moment that a thorough internal investigation will not be objective. It will identify and ascertain all relevant facts relating to the matter.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is widespread concern that smaller breweries are being swallowed by larger breweries, a process which may not be in the public interest?

If the Government do not have powers to overrule the decision of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, will my hon. and learned Friend seriously consider taking powers to give the Government of the day some right to take action if, in the political of social interest, it is thought necessary to do so?

I do not think that it would be wise to consider that aspect of the matter in the light of one case. However, it is my right hon. and learned Friend's intention to review competition policy generally next year. These matters will be taken into account in the context of that review.

Is the Minister aware that the mass of the public will view this matter as one where a Minister has managed to tip off certain favoured people with information to which the remainder of the population is not privy? [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] As a result, will not many people make a financial killing? The Minister then comes to the Dispatch Box and blithely says that, instead of a proper public inquiry, the matter will be dealt with either by self-regulation or an internal inquiry.

I put it to the Minister that, if someone in a betting shop had managed to land a big coup on the basis of backing a string of winners after they had passed the post, that would be a matter for the Attorney-General, the fraud squad and all the rest. Why does that not apply also to people in the City?

The investigation into the facts of the matter will be thorough. I have nothing to add to what I have already said.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, despite the views of some hon. Members, there are areas in which the findings of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will be welcome? They include Newcastle, where people have wide experience of the Scottish and Newcastle operation and are aware that its reputation and expertise will enable it to run Matthew Brown efficiently and effectively.

I note what my hon. Friend said. No doubt many representations to that effect were put before the commission.

I wonder whether I could ask the Minister to give a sensible reply to my question? Although it is true that the Secretary of State cannot interfere with the recommendation of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the Secretary of State is under no obligation to accept that recommendation? He can accept or reject it.

No, the hon. Gentleman has not accurately summarised the effect of the legislation or the powers of my right hon. and learned Friend. Where the commission concludes that a merger is not likely to be against the public interest, my right hon. and learned Friend has no power under the Act to prevent it from taking place.

Anglo-Irish Talks

4.8 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can tell the House if you have had a request from the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, to make a statement to the House today about the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks? I ask because the Dublin newspapers this morning gave the precise details of the agreement—in particular, the front page of the Irish Press, the mouthpiece of the party led by Charles Haughey, one-time paymaster of the Provisional IRA.

Is it not deplorable that hon. Members, who have been systematically and deliberately kept in the dark about the outcome of the talks, should learn of the conclusions from a newspaper published in Dublin? Is it not despicable that hon. Members from Northern Ireland should learn of their betrayal and the diminution of their citizenship from a newspaper published in Dublin?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We entirely accept what you said about acting on the basis of press reports. Are you aware that the Irish Government intend to circulate the full text of the agreement tomorrow morning? Is it not intolerable that this House will be kept in the dark until at least next week? Is it not possible for the Leader of the House to arrange that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland makes a full and comprehensive statement tomorrow when he answers Northern Ireland questions?

The Leader of the House is present and I am sure that he will have heard that question.

Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Friday 29 November

Members successful in the ballot were:

  • Dr. Norman A. Godman
  • Mr. Andrew Rowe
  • Mr. Terence Higgins

Orders Of The Day

Debate On The Address

[SIXTH DAY]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6 November],

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament—[Sir Reginald Eyre].

Question again proposed.

The Economy

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and those of his right hon. and hon. Friends. In addition, under the powers given to me by Standing Order No. 35, I have selected for a second Division at the end of the debate the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and those of his right hon. and hon. Friends.

A very long list of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen wish to take part in the last day of the debate on the Queen's Speech. May I again appeal for brief contributions so that not too many are disappointed?

4.11 pm

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:

"But humbly we regret that the Gracious Speech includes no proposals which can reasonably be expected to reduce the level of unemployment, revive manufacturing industry and utilise the full potential of the income temporarily gained from the exploitation of North Sea oil."
Yesterday during his statement to the House the Chancellor of the Exchequer invited us to take advantage of today's debate to discuss the autumn statement. It was not an invitation which we needed or which he was entitled to make, but I propose to accept it. Of course, I begin with a re-examination of the central plank of yesterday's manifesto, the sale of British Gas to finance temporary tax cuts.

In reply to my question yesterday the Chancellor insisted that the sale of British Gas simply brought tax cuts forward. I have the quotation here lest he should choose to deny it today, as he denied it yesterday afternoon. What the Chancellor said could mean only that, on his own assessment, without the sale of British Gas there would be no tax cuts next year and probably none before a general election. The tax cuts are to be financed by the sale of British Gas. The Chancellor ought to know, as I believe the country knows, that a policy of selling assets to raise revenue is one which no respectable or responsible private company would contemplate for a moment.

I ask him again the questions that he failed to answer yesterday. After the sale, how would he propose to make up the losses in annual revenue previously obtained from those assets? When the sale has financed a couple of years of tax cuts, how does he suggest that those temporary tax cuts will be sustained? When I asked him that question yesterday he mumbled a generalisation about the sale of other assets. May I therefore ask him specifically if what he hinted at as the afternoon went on is true? Is it the Government's intention to sell into private ownership the water industry? [Interruption.]

If the Government claim that the water industry should be sold to a private monopoly and that that private monopoly should control the price, supply and quality of something as basic as the water, the Chancellor had better tell us now whether he agrees with those Members in the backwoods behind him who are urging that that should happen. He must know that if water is sold into the ownership of a private monopoly few restrictions will be placed upon it to protect the consumer, for that is the pattern of privatisation. It will be the pattern of privatisation of British Gas as it was the pattern of privatisation of British Telecom.

If obligations were placed on the new private monopoly the selling price would not be as great as the Government need and will demand. What will happen with gas and with water will be exactly the same as recently happened with British Telecom. Vast profits have been made but enormous price increases have been imposed in an area where British Telecom has a monopoly and can exploit consumers.

The Chancellor denied all this yesterday. I see him nodding because he intends to deny it again today. When he makes a forecast or offers statistics, I think of those famous words from Through the Looking-Glass:
"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean'",
with which he fell off the wall. That view was expressed in less generous language by the Daily Telegraph today; it made the same point about the Chancellor's veracity in language which I would not dare to use. It described his statement as

"a combination of dodgy accounting and electoral cynicism".
Despite all the talk about expansion, growth and success, what we are to have over the next year or two years is an increase in consumption financed by temporary tax cuts paid for by the sale of British Gas. On his own figures, which again the Chancellor denied yesterday, there is a predicted growth over the next financial year in gross domestic product of £6·4 billion while consumption is to rise by rather more—£6·5 billion. At the same time imports will increase at twice the rate of exports and interest rates will be kept high by the Chancellor as an item of policy by which he can keep something like the present exchange rate. The net result must be a continuation of the damage to manufacturing industry which has characterised all that the Government have done for six years.

I know very well that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry derided the report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Overseas Trade, but Government policy and the Chancellor himself vindicate what that report said; it warned that if we are to avoid a major social and economic crisis attitudes towards trade and manufacturing have to be radically altered.

Let us look at the real state of manufacturing industry about which the Chancellor made some boast yesterday and about which the Prime Minister made equally unlikely claims a week ago today. The real facts of manufacturing industry are these. For four years in a row net investment in manufacturing has been negative. Total manufacturing investment is 20 per cent. lower than it was in 1979. Output is 6 per cent. lower than in 1979. The balance of manufactured trade has changed from a surplus of £5 billion in 1978 to a deficit of £4·7 billion.

The Government's attitude towards manufacturing trade has not changed at all despite the claims made by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. All that has changed in the Chancellor's attitude towards manufacturing industry is his language. He no longer insults it as if he were a knight on the Tory Back Benches. He pretends that he is concerned about its welfare, but he and the House know that manufacturing industry remains crippled by high interest rates. The Confederation of British Industry was right to describe the autumn statement in one simple sentence:
"nothing in it for manufacturing industry except £250 million of extra costs".
Month after month and year after year we have tried to convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer that while manufacturing industry and the construction industry founder, unemployment will remain at a level which should be unacceptable in a decent society.

Despite the central continuation of the Government's proposals and plans to which I have referred, and despite the continuing destruction of manufacturing industry, the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Wrigglesworth) told everybody who would listen to him yesterday that we are witnessing a U-turn. That is what the hon. Gentleman and other Social Democrats were intended to believe from the Chancellor's statement. The Chancellor assumed that they would be easily satisfied, but I suspect that he did not believe that they would be quite as rapturously satisfied as the hon. Member turned out to be.

Last year, during the debate on the autumn statement, the SDP fell in behind our demand for a £5 billion boost, to be spent in the public capital sector. This year the Government propose 10 per cent. of that amount to be spent on construction of one sort and another.

The change in the Government's position, as I shall demonstrate in a moment, is far more a matter of presentation than of substance. The truth is that the argument for public sector capital spending advocated by the Opposition, the CBI, the TUC, a large number of Conservative Back Benchers, and by some right hon. Members in the Cabinet has actually won the day. There is now a virtually unanimous consensus that the Government should be spending more on public sector capital. What the Government announced yesterday afternoon was very little indeed, said in order that they could not be accused of doing nothing.

The basic economic policy remains, and it involves a writing off of 3·5 million men and women who are unemployed. They have been written off because they are politically expendable. Although, no doubt, the wets in the Cabinet will seize on the announcement as a sop to their consciences, the minuscule increases in housing renovation and hospital building will finance virtually no jobs. I have it on the authority of the Prime Minister. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) may laugh at that authority. Some of his hon. Friends around him may take the Prime Minister more seriously than he does.

On 10 December, the Prime Minister told me that the cost per job through increasing infrastructure can vary from £35,000 to £55,000 a year. Let us take the position in the middle. Let us assume that the Prime Minister was right and that a job financed by investment in construction costs £45,000. If the Prime Minister was right, what the Government announced yesterday and what was heralded as a U-turn by the SDP will produce 11,000 new jobs. The infrastructure proposals, the capital works, will produce one new job for every 3,000 men and women unemployed.

If we are witnessing a U-turn, it is a U-turn of a very strange shape, and it should be described in a little honest detail. The Chancellor certainly will not do that. This year there has been some reflation. The Prime Minister has denounced reflation. She promised that there would be no reflation, but there has been reflation. It has come about not by intention but by incompetence.

Social security payments were increased by £1·2 billion above the original estimate as inflation is higher than anticipated because of the mismanagement of the exchange rate by the Chancellor in January.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he begrudges the increase given to the pensioners and others?

I am saying that if we had been in power we would have paid them the full increase that they were promised, rather than a few measly coppers.

No, I shall go on to list all the other reasons why we have had the reflation that the Prime Minister promised we would not have.

The payment has been larger than the Chancellor intended because inflation has been higher than he prophesied. Inflation has been higher than he prophesied because of the catastrophe that he caused for the exchange rate in January. But that is not the only reason.

The external financing limits on the nationalised industries were relaxed by £1 billion, largely because of the miners' strike, which, the House will recall, was regarded by the Chancellor as a sound investment for the nation.

Local authority spending was £1 billion more than the Government planned. Local authority spending is always more than the Government plan, because the Government never expect to hold it down to their planning figure. The planning figure is always devised artificially low in the hope that the local authorities can be intimidated. The local authorities never are intimidated, so the Government's local authority spending plan is always out of line.

The cost of EEC membership was £500 million more than anticipated. The extra cost of EEC membership was alone virtually as much as the combined extra funds being made available next year for house building and renovation and hospital building.

I do not want the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) to be over-anxious. He will have to wait with patience until the end of this entire passage.

The Government are spending £5 billion more than they intended on programmes. They have exhausted the reserves entirely with five months left to go. The Government—the Chancellor will correct me if I am wrong—have established the precedent of talking to the House about the sums left in the reserve. That is something that Chancellors in the past have never felt they had to do. In addition, the Government have exceeded the PSBR target by £1 billion. All those things have added to this year's involuntary reflation, and that is not the only thing that has happened.

The policy of reflation—not the policy but the accident—which the Prime Minister promised would not happen while she was in Downing street has been supplemented by other factors. They are all factors of which the Government disapproved but over which they were unable to exercise any control. Wage increases have outstripped inflation. The American deficit has attracted British exports. The collapse of the pound, for which the Chancellor was responsible, temporarily helped those exports. Investment decisions have been brought forward to beat the Government's decision to phase out capital allowances. Those are the reasons why there has been a reflation this year, but none of them is likely to be repeated next year.

The Chancellor's intention is to hold next year's programmed spending below the level at which it stands this year. So those right hon. and hon. Members in his party who feel that he has abandoned the financial rectitude by which he has made his name can rest in peace. There has been no U-turn in the statement. There has been a sort of L-turn.

I will remind the Chancellor of what is meant by no U-turn. No U-turn means the continuing collapse of manufacturing industry, the continual deficit on our manufactured trade, the continual squandering of North sea oil revenues on unemployment rather than on jobs, and, above all, no U-turn means 3·5 million men and women still condemned to unemployment.

It is always a great joy to see the right hon. Gentleman jumping through the hoop so well, but he has a nerve to stand there talking of honouring promises with the eloquence of Satan denouncing sin. After all, he was a member of a Government which actually robbed pensioners, by changing to the forecasting method, of over £1 billion. His Government also cut hospital expenditure by about one third. Is not the real reason why he is huffing and puffing at the Opposition Dispatch Box that his enthusiasm for putting his own economic policies before the electorate is the enthusiasm of a turkey looking forward to Christmas?

I am grateful for the opportunity to have a drink of water.

What I was talking about, and what the House will on all sides have to concentrate on sooner or later, is the level of unemployment which, as the hon. Member for Harlow ought to know, is a rather more serious matter than the intervention that he has just made. He will, I hope, know that Opposition Members and the country in general will not be fooled by the softening of the language of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor on these matters, but will be influenced only by a change of attitude and of policy.

The pathetic package presented yesterday by the Paymaster General will make no substantial difference to the level of unemployment. The first half of the statement simply repeated previously announced palliatives and cosmetics. Then we turn to the latest contrivances invented by Lord Young.

When Lord Young was appointed, we on the Opposition Benches said that his task was to obscure rather than to solve the problem. How right we were, as witness the evidence of yesterday's package from the Paymaster General. With unemployment running at 3·5 million, he promised us that we are to have an expansion of unemployment clubs at which the unemployed can come together to discuss their problems. The unemployed know what their problem is. Their problem is the Government, a Government who base their job creation programme on a mistake and a slander. Virtually every one of the proposals outlined by the Paymaster General yesterday was based on the slander that things have to be done to persuade the unemployed to go to work.

That is the reverse of the truth. The unemployed want to work. The unemployed do not want advice on how to go about the business of rehabilitating their attitudes towards work. They want jobs. Those jobs could be provided by a massive investment in roads, railways, sewers, new schools and hospitals and, above all, new housing.

The right hon. Gentleman is obviously returning to the theme of blaming unemployment on the Government. Does he perhaps recall a speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) in 1978, in which he accurately predicted the figure for unemployment as it exists today, said that it was due to demographic factors and added that any attempt to blame that on a Conservative or a Labour Government would be wrong?

What has changed since then, apart from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is now on the Opposition Benches and is clearly likely to stay there for some decades to come?

The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on his perception, for I am blaming 2 million unemployed on the Conservatives. I am delighted that, after all these years, he has begun to understand that point. I propose to deal with the demographic point when I turn to the false claims made by the Prime Minister and others about how many jobs have been created in this country. If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself in patience, I promise the House that I will deal with that point exactly. At the moment, I am telling him and the House what we believe and what the majority of people in the country believe, that the best way to reduce unemployment is by concentrating available resources on public sector capital investment which, as well as reducing unemployment, will do jobs which, in the national interest, are in desperate need of being done.

The Government's report, published only yesterday, said that we need to spend £20 billion on public sector housing repairs. Yesterday, we were promised £230 million. The difference between these two figures is wholly consistent with the Government's record on public and private housing.

Speaking in this debate last Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that Labour could not hold a candle to the Government's record on housing. I thought that it might be worth a small comparison to see whether the Prime Minister on this occasion had made a boast that she could substantiate. Let me tell the House the figures on which, according to the Prime Minister, the Conservative record is such that we cannot hold a candle to it.

Since 1979, public and private housing stock has increased by 1 million. In their five years in office, the Labour Government increased it by 1·5 million, an annual increase in housing stock 50 per cent. better than the Conservative record of which the Prime Minister boasted. I can use the Prime Minister's phrase from another debate: we did better every year than they did in any year.

Yesterday, the Chancellor could have begun to make amends for these six years of appalling levels of house construction. He could have provided money to build houses and to create jobs, but he did not choose to do so. No wonder the Paymaster General was shamefaced in his statement about unemployment, and no wonder he was confused during his performance on Newsnight on Monday, in which he claimed, as I understand even honest Ministers are required to claim, that the Government had achieved a growth rate of 3 per cent. It was pointed out to him that the real average growth since 1979 was 1·3 per cent. a year, to which the Paymaster General retorted, "You've chosen the period carefully". That was the lifetime of a whole Government.

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of public sector capital expenditure, will he tell us, when the sewers have been rebuilt and the new hospitals finished, what happens to all the people who have been temporarily employed on all these social programmes? Secondly, will he tell the House where the funds are to come from? If from the taxpayer, will he tell the taxpayer by how much? If from borrowing, will he tell industry by how much its interest rates will have to rise to finance it?

Three points can be extracted from the hon. Gentleman's question. The first is on taxes, and I promise the House that I am coming to that. The second is on interest rates, and I promise the hon. Gentleman that we shall not maintain interest rates at uniquely high levels for a uniquely long period, which is the record of the present Chancellor. The third is what happens when we all have the decent house that we deserve, the roads are perfect and all the hospitals are in use. That is the process by which we generate some real growth. By investing in capital, one generates growth. By selling off capital, one does no more than promote the temporary consumer boom which is the object of the Chancellor's policy.

I do not wish, however, to over-estimate the Government's achievements. I have mentioned a 1·3 per cent. growth during the Government's lifetime. Without the gratuitous bonus of North sea oil, growth under this Government would have been barely 0·75 per cent. a year. Before the Chancellor begins to take credit for North sea oil, let me tell him that the only connection North sea oil revenues have with the Government's current economic policy is that the policy wastes and dissipates North sea oil by spending every penny on the cost of unemployment—larger numbers of benefits, lost tax revenue—instead of using that money to put Britain back to work.

Whenever we talk about putting Britain back to work, we are told by the Prime Minister, as we were told by the Chancellor yesterday, that there are in this country 675,000 new jobs which have been created as a result of Government policy. This is an attempt by the Government to switch the argument from unemployment to employment. For my part, it is a switch in which I am perfectly prepared to take part, because the assertion that this Government have created, or have caused to be created, 675,000 new jobs is simply not true.

Even within the rules by which the Prime Minister attempts to justify her contention, the figures are wrong.

Nearly 40,000 of those so-called new jobs are part-time—perhaps only a few hours a week. We know from the Government's own statistics that the fall in full-time jobs over the period is 100,000. We have 100,000 fewer full-time jobs than two years ago, and the 675,000 is therefore made up either of part-time jobs or the self-employed. I say "either" because none of us knows the figure for the self-employed. There is no statistical basis on which it is calculated. There is simply a guess made by the Government, and that guess increases every time they want to boast about how well they have done on job creation.

Even if we accept all this and believe—incredible though it may be—that 675,000 new jobs have been created by this Government, there are still 1 million fewer jobs in the economy than there were when they were elected. Do not let the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) tell me that this is all due to demographic failure, to women coming back into the labour market and to a temporary bulge in the birth rate. There are now 1 million fewer jobs in the economy than in 1979, and that must be the result of economic policy.

The point that I put to the right hon. Gentleman a few moments ago is precisely the same as the one that I shall now put. I was saying that one of his own colleagues—a previous Labour Minister—accurately predicted the unemployment figures as they exist today. He said that it was due to demographic factors. The right hon. Gentleman must now tell us what has changed since then, other than the fact that it now suits him to say something entirely different.