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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 87: debated on Monday 18 November 1985

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Wales

Labour Statistics

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the percentage of full-time workers, male and female, respectively, in Rhymney Valley, Mid-Glamorgan and Wales earning less than 90 per cent. of the respective United Kingdom averages.

According to the results of the new earnings survey undertaken in April 1985, the Wales figure is 54 per cent. for both males and females. The corresponding figures for Mid-Glamorgan are 57 per cent. for males and 56 per cent. for females. Similar information is not available for Rhymney Valley.

Will the Secretay of State confirm that wages for those in Wales who are employed are not only among the lowest in real terms in the United Kingdom, but in relative terms are falling? If the Government's view is correct, that lower wages mean more employment, how can the Secretary of State justify the record level of unemployment in Wales? How much lower does he want wage levels in Wales to fall before unemployment starts to fall?

The crucial fact which explains the difference in wage levels is the different structures of industry and service employment in different areas. The point about wage levels is their effect upon wage costs. We are concerned about wages being pushed up in a way that adds to wage costs and makes firms uncompetitive. It must be an advantage in any area to ensure that the firms that operate there do so competitively.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, how much young people resent the proposal that wages council protection for them should be scrapped, in particular holiday rights protection, and fear that this will usher in a new era of exploitation of young people? The right hon. Gentleman may be interested in Victorian values, but we know that they are bad, not good, values.

There is a great deal of evidence that the constraints imposed by the wages councils as they have applied to young people have destroyed job opportunities for them. There is also a great deal of evidence in countries which do not have the same restrictions—for example, Germany—that job opportunities for young people are thereby greatly strengthened. I should have thought that that ought to be the priority for the hon. Gentleman, but it does not seem to be.

Does the Secretary of State accept that in England last year the average wage for men in manufacturing industry was £159, whereas in Wales it was nothing like that figure? Is the objective of the Secretary of State to keep down wages, in a vain bid to try to get work to Wales, or to try to increase the standard of living in Wales?

I said that what matters is that wage costs in an industry should be competitive. I welcome the fact that successful industries are able to pay higher wages to their employees. As we diversify and strengthen the Welsh economy, as we are doing, I hope that there will be higher earnings for a great many people.

Will not the Government's proposals on Sunday trading further undermine the wages and conditions of the people who live in the valleys and towns of Wales? Would it not be better for the Government, after six and a half years, to concentrate on getting people back to work regularly for five days, from Monday to Friday?

The important point is that individuals and companies should be able to choose on which days of the week they wish to trade. I see no reason to believe, particularly with the safeguards that will be built into the legislation, that there will be the kinds of effects about which the hon. Gentleman speaks. That has not been the experience in Scotland, which does not have the kind of protective legislation that exists in England.

Is it not typical of the Opposition and their head in the sand attitude that they are still unaware that the majority of people in Wales want Sunday trading?

Above all, it should not be imposed by law. It should be a matter of individual choice and conscience whether people want to shop on Sunday, and traders should be able to decide whether they wish to open their businesses on Sunday.

House Building

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he is taking to seek to ensure that the level of house building meets the current demand and anticipated demand.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest number of housing starts in Wales this year.

Substantial resources are available to local authorities for housing. So far as new house building in the public sector is concerned, the Government are giving priority to the housing associations, whose starts in the first nine months of this year were 200 per cent. higher than in the same period of 1984. Local authority spending, on the other hand, has changed emphasis towards much needed renovation of the existing stock.

In all, 6,418 housing starts were reported in the first nine months of 1985.

A year ago the Minister's predecessor told me that 11,000 new units of accommodation were required each year to keep pace with demand. Each year since 1980 we have failed to come near that total. Does the Welsh Office realise that that accummulated deficit, year on year, is building up an increasing housing crisis?

We have not changed our overall objectives. Last year's completions, which totalled 9,209, were the best since 1980.

Now that the Minister's answers have revealed the desperate position being faced by the homeless in Wales, will he reveal just a little more and tell us how much of the Chancellor's largesse is likely to come back to Wales for housing? When will we receive the proceeds from the sale of council houses promised repeatedly by his right hon. Friend? When will that money be spent on council housing and housing generally in Wales?

My right hon. Friend is at this moment considering the implications of the Chancellor's autumn statement for Wales. An announcement will be made at the appropriate time.

As regards capital receipts on the sale of council houses, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the 1980 legislation made it clear that those receipts would not be available for spend in any one year. They are linked to the overall position on capital spending, and they remain so.

Is my hon. Friend in a position to assess the performance of the various housing authorities in the light of the resources available to them?

We believe that housing associations are making a substantial contribution to housing in Wales. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind when making allocations in the coming year.

Why are Welsh housing authorities allowed to spend only 15 per cent. of their council house sale receipts, while English authorities are allowed to spend 20 per cent.?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, it is a combination of allocation. The fact that local authorities are allowed to spend 15 per cent. in the coming year is reflected in the overall sums that come from central Government sources.

By playing with percentages, the Minister has shown a substantial increase in the number of starts in the housing association sector, but will he address himself in greater detail to the question posed by his hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) and study the role of the housing associations in Wales? Will he give an assurance that, in the allocation, there will be a further substantial increase to meet the needs of housing in Wales and also the commitment which the housing associations tell us they can fulfil?

The current programme for the Housing Corporation this year was £43 million. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend is considering the allocations for the coming year, but he is already on record as saying that increased resources for housing are a priority.

It was encouraging to read last week's statement by the South Wales House-Builders Federation about the record progress in house building, but I noticed that its only major constraint was the availability of land. For that reason, or any other, has my hon. Friend instructed local councils to sell certain school playing fields?

It is not our policy to instruct councils on the manner in which they should use their resources or dispose of surplus land. However, where councils have surplus land, it is our policy to encourage them to sell it.

Education

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the present state of education in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

As our White Paper "Better Schools" made clear, although there have been marked improvements in recent years in both primary and secondary education, sustained efforts will be needed to ensure that all our schools achieve the high standards of our best schools. The Government's education policies for the schools are aimed at securing that objective. I must add that the present strike is doing serious damage to the education of our children.

Are not the hon. Gentleman's ministerial colleagues responsible for the prolonged pay dispute with the teachers? Will he accordingly advise them to get on with the job of trying to sort out this dispute, for the sake of children, teachers and parents?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government are responsible for prolonging this dispute—quite the reverse. The Government are not intransigent. They have shown their helpfulness by promising to make a further £1·25 billion available over the next four years. That will be in addition to whatever award is received by the teachers by way of increases in wages during those years.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Clwyd county council is prepared to spend up to £2 million of its normal capital allocation on developing the castle and grounds at Bodelwyddan, at a time when it proposes to defer the school capital programme? Is that not a scandal? Will my hon. Friend bring the utmost pressure to bear on the county council to persuade it to concentrate on its statutory obligations, the principal one being education?

The development at Bodelwyddan castle is a matter for Clwyd county council. I have visited the technical and vocational education Initiative established at the castle, and been very much impressed by it.

Is the Minister aware that Labour councillors on Clwyd county council have been against the development and that Conservative councillors have been pushing it? Will the hon. Gentleman have a word with them over the matter?

The hon. Gentleman is confirming what I have already said, that this is primarily a matter for the county council.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have been informed that the National Association of Schoolmasters and the National Union of Teachers have selected both his constituency and mine for special disruptive action? Does that not show a cynical disregard for the welfare and education of our children, and prove beyond any shadow of doubt that much of the present action is politically motivated and has nothing to do with the interests of the teachers?

There is much cynical disregard, in particular, of the interests of the children, about which we are most concerned, although we are also concerned about the interests of the teachers. The Government, as I have said, have shown their helpfulness by saying that further money can be made available over the next four years, provided that we get changes in the pay structure and conditions of service that we require.

If the Minister wishes to raise the quality of teaching in our schools, will he implement the market law, which is that the higher the wages paid to the teachers, the better will be the quality of the teachers that we have in our schools?

We accept, and have said, that there are shortages of teachers in certain subjects, and that we should like to pay more to attract people to take up teaching in those subjects. That is one of the aims of the restructuring proposed by the Government.

Labour Statistics

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people are unemployed in Wales and in Clwyd; by how much this has increased since May 1979, as a total and as a percentage; and how many are long-term unemployed as a total and as a percentage.

On 10 October 1985 there were 182,734 unemployed claimants in Wales, an increase of 105,534, or 136·7 per cent., since May 1979. On 10 October 1985 there were 24,982 unemployed claimants in Clwyd. A comparable claimant-based figure for May 1979 in Clwyd is not available. In October 1985, 77,412, or 42·4 per cent., had been unemployed for more than one year in Wales, while for Clwyd the figures were 9,835, or 39·4 per cent.

In the Deeside travel-to-work area, 13,000 people are jobless, and manufacturing jobs have recently been lost at Deeside Titanium, P.D. Cans and at Catharall's Brick at Buckley. Will the Secretary of State urgently consider how he may make available the accounts of Buckley Brick, so that the work force may challenge the proposed closure? Does he know of the brick workers' discontent at the low redundancy payments being offered to them? How will he help the brickworkers at Buckley?

The hon. Gentleman will have an Adjournment debate on this and related employment issues later in the week. I suggest that would be a better time at which to discuss the affairs of the company. The hon. Gentleman listed job losses, but he might have listed the impressive number of job gains that have been announced during the same period. For example, there was another announcement of jobs created at Sharp, and the company to which he referred has announced some investment at Lane End, Buckley. He should give both sides of the story.

What would be the effect on foreign confidence, and hence employment, in Wales if a future Labour Government were to implement their proposals to spend an additional £51 billion in public expenditure?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would severely dent the confidence of investors, who would recall exactly what happened when a similar policy was implemented by the Labour Government, who had to go cap in hand to the IMF, which cut capital programmes by 45 per cent.

How does the Secretary of State reconcile those terrible and tragic figures with the renewed boast of the Chancellor of the Exchequer about a week ago that Britain is in the third, the fourth or the fifth year of national recovery? Has Wales had a share of that national recovery? Will the right hon. Gentleman, even at this eleventh hour, stop the cut in regional aid that he is carrying through, which could only add to those terrible figures?

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the growth in the economy and the fact that it is likely to continue in the year ahead, just as I hope he welcomes the fact that there has been a small reduction in unemployment in Wales during the past month. We have announced a range of measures especially to help the long-term unemployed. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that the number of community programme places in Wales will increase from 9,600 in April to more than 20,000 places to be filled by June 1986. That is a sign of the Government's determination to meet the special problems of areas such as Wales.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, had it not been for his efforts and those of his colleagues at the Welsh Office, trotting the globe to entice foreign industries to come to Wales, and had not those industries come to Wales, unemployment in the Principality would have been much worse?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the substantial inward investment that has taken place and the fact that about a quarter of all the inward investment to the United Kingdom for two years has come to Wales. That gives the lie to the absurd proposition of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) that the Government do not have an effective regional policy.

Ncb (Closures)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if, when he last met the chairman of the National Coal Board, he discussed the recent closure programme.

I met the chairman of the National Coal Board on 14 November and discussed a range of matters affecting the Welsh coalfields.

That was not much of a reply, considering the damage that is being caused to parts of Wales, especially Ogmore. I should tell the Secretary of State—the coalfield rapist of Wales—that since 1979 he has closed or been responsible for the closure of the Caerau and the Coegnant collieries in the Llynfi valley. St. John's colliery—the only colliery left in that valley—is subject to the new review procedure. Wyndham Western colliery, which was the only one left in the Ogmore valley after 1979, has also been closed. There is also now a threat to close Garw colliery, which is the only colliery left in the Garw valley.

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the promise that was made by Philip Weekes, reported in the Western Mail, to the Welsh miners who were on strike in April that we would have a new colliery in the Margham area? What does he intend to do—

My original answer was precise and answered the main question. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that south Wales deep mine losses in 1984–85 amounted to £188 million and that, against that loss-making background, it was inevitable that measures would be taken to deal with the situation. I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that productivity is increasing significantly, that the operating cost per tonne has fallen sharply and that some £38 million of capital expenditure has been announced for 1985–86 for the south Wales coalfield.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst enemy that the coal industry in south Wales has is the NUM, associated and allied with some of its friends on the Opposition Benches?

The disastrous strike led by Mr. Scargill and encouraged by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has probably had as catastrophic an effect on the south Wales coalfield as it has had elsewhere on the interests of the NUM.

Has the Secretary of State had the opportunity to examine the Department of Trade and Industry survey into the post-redundancy experiences of Welsh steel workers? If so, will he say how relevant those findings are to the experiences of coal miners in Wales?

A lesson that we learnt from the experience in the steel industry was the valuable work done by BSC Industries. That is one reason why a substantial share of the comparable operation launched by the NCB has been devoted to south Wales, and I am glad to say that it is already associated with about 600 new jobs.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas the steel organisation which was set up to deal with redundancy gave valuable advice to the recipients of redundancy benefit in that industry, it appears that the NCB does not do that, and that no comparable advice is, given to recipients of redundancy in the coal industry? Will he make representations to the NCB and the Secretary of State for Energy to ensure that similar advice is given to recipients of redundancy in the coal industry?

The new NCB industry organisation is, among other things, helping to fund local enterprise trusts and organisations geared to provide that type of advice. However, as my hon. Friend has made a specific point, I shall draw it to the attention of the management of the NCB and follow it up.

The right hon. Gentleman seems incapable of understanding the impact of closures on vulnerable valley communities. These communities are now facing social and economic crises, yet the right hon. Gentleman seems to have no sympathy for them. Is he aware that 11,000 jobs have been lost since 1979 in the south Wales coalfield? Is he further aware that 1·5 million tonnes of prime coking coal are being imported into south Wales this year? We feel a sense of betrayal of the Margam deep mine. We look to him to help us on that project.

If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that the cost per tonne of deep-mined coal bears a relationship to the amount of coal imported, he does not begin to understand anything. He should ask the steel industry about the relationship. I should have thought that he would want a competitive steel industry that can buy coal at a competitive price.

Hill Farming

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with the present state of hill farming in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Following the abnormal weather experienced during the summer months this year, farm incomes are expected to be adversely affected in 1985–86. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced on 8 October that assistance will be given towards the extra costs incurred this year and the amount and extent of that assistance is under consideration. Announcements about this and the rates of hill livestock compensatory allowances for 1986 will be made shortly.

When will the Secretary of State pay the hill livestock compensatory allowances? Will he pay them in full?

The hill livestock compensatory allowances are being considered at the moment. It is only within the past 10 days or so that we have had the normal meetings with the unions. They have expressed the hope that an advance payment of allowances will be made this year. The Government are well aware of the need to make early payments to relieve the problems that arise from this year's very wet weather.

Because of the serious difficulties suffered by hill farmers, will my right hon. Friend consider introducing a generous outgoers scheme on the milk side?

We already have such an outgoers scheme. Not only has it helped those on the milk side who wished to leave the industry, but it has enabled us to put more than half the Welsh producers back to their original 1983 base levels. We do not have any plans to introduce a further scheme. The European Commission has put forward tentative proposals for a European scheme, and we shall have to consider them in due course.

Labour Statistics

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what are the latest figures for unemployment in (a) Newport, (b) Gwent and (c) Wales; what were the equivalent figures in May 1979; and what was the percentage increase in each case.

On 10 October 1985 there were 12,911, 29,173 and 182,734 unemployed claimants in the Newport travel-to-work area, Gwent and Wales respectively. The equivalent figure for Wales in May 1979 was 77,200. The increase was 136·7 per cent. Comparable figures for 1979 in Newport and Gwent are not available because of changes to travel-to-work area boundaries and the move to claimant-based figures.

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen last week's report by the Gwent county engineer, Mr. Howard Pullen, who pointed out that, in the past seven years, cash for road maintenance has fallen in real terms by 45 per cent.? Does this not explain why our roads are in such a shocking condition? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, even in the 1930s, Conservative Governments had the wisdom to take people out of the dole queue in great numbers and to employ them on road maintenance.

Of course I appreciate the need for road maintenance. That is why we have carried out the largest and most expensive road maintenance project yet undertaken in Wales. This is being carried out in Gwent on the M4. The need for a continuing maintenance programme will be very much in mind as I take our decisions on the road programme, which results from the public expenditure announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

In view of the figures for Gwent, Wales and Newport that were cited by my right hon. Friend, will he assure me that he will do everything in his power to ensure that, when the Ministry of Defence finally makes up its mind about the disposal of the Vauxhall camp at Monmouth, the Department has it firmly in mind that there should be employment opportunities for Monmouth? I have been trying to find out the Ministry's plans. I hope that my right hon. Friend has greater success than I have had.

I note my hon. Friend's point. I shall take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, who has responsibility for that matter.

Agricultural Support

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what was the total amount spent by his Department on agricultural support in Wales in the latest year for which figures are available.

The sum of £82·2 million was spent by my Department in support of agriculture in Wales in 1984–85.

In addition, certain other payments under the CAP were made by the intervention board for agricultural produce, including payments in Wales amounting to about £4·7 million on the beef variable premium scheme; about £21·4 million on the sheep variable premium scheme; and about £0·8 million on school milk.

In view of that figure, does the Secretary of State acknowledge the vital contribution made by public expenditure to the Welsh rural economy? Will he give us an assurance that there will be no further attempt to reduce jobs or opportunities for farmers to obtain advice through the advisory services as a result of his Department's privatisation proposals?

My Department's estimated provision for expenditure in support of agriculture in Wales in 1985–86 is £82·7 million. That is a substantial sum. The Welsh Office's share of changes over previous plans for agricultural support for 1986–87 involves a net reduction of about £4 million over the previous year. That reduction mainly reflects revised forecasts of future demand-determined expenditure on grants for capital and other improvements. We have announced that we are making some savings in ADAS and charging for some of its services. I can confirm that there will continue to be provision for a substantial level of advice from ADAS.

When does the Secretary of State expect that the help to compensate for the wet summer will be available? The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced to the Conservative party conference that it was to be finalised by the end of October. October has come and gone, and no aid is forthcoming.

Discussions are going on at the moment. I well understand the need to arrive at early decisions. It is not entirely a straightforward matter to arrive at a scheme that directs help to those people and areas that most need it, because, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the damage and consequences vary substantially. In some places they are horrendous, while in neighbouring areas the effects have been much less. They are not entirely straightforward matters. We are considering them urgently. I hope that it will not be long before we can make an announcement.

Will my hon. Friend assure sheep farmers in my constituency that the Government will resolutely oppose the EC Commission's surrender to French protectionism by its iniquitous proposal for a claw-back on exported ewes.

As my hon. Friend will be aware, we registered our objections formally. We voted against the European Commission's proposal about a week or 10 days ago. We continue to oppose the alternative proposals. The position is somewhat uncertain at the moment because the original scheme has come to an end and no new scheme has yet formally taken its place. I fully understand the importance of that matter, and the Government will continue to take a resolute stand on it.

Development Board For Rural Wales

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has any plans to give extra financial aid to the Development Board for Rural Wales; and if he will make a statement.

We are currently considering the board's funding as part of this year's review of public expenditure.

Does the Minister recognise that whatever direct aid is given to Mid Wales Development there is a crying need for greater indirect aid in the form of the rapid development of the east-west road link? Does he accept that there is great dissatisfaction in mid Wales about the lethargy being shown by the Welsh Office in producing that road link?

I am glad that I detected that the hon. and learned Gentleman approves of the budgeting of the development board so far. It has done well this year by having £10·3 million to spend, which is £600,000 more than last year. With regard to roads, yes, representations have been made to me about those roads by the chairman as late as last Friday, and we shall, of course, consider them in our roads programme.

Sporting And Recreational Facilities

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with the Sports Council in Wales about the availability of sporting and recreational facilities within easy travelling distance of every community in Wales.

I discussed the development of sport in Wales generally with the chairman of the Sports Council for Wales on 30 October.

Does the Minister accept that there is a disgraceful position in the Dwyfor area? There is not one indoor swimming pool or sports centre open to the public in that district. That area has been identified by the Sports Council as the most deprived in Wales in that respect. Will he give an undertaking that when considering the capital allowances for local authorities for the coming year, sympathy will be shown to an application to remedy that weakness?

The hon. Gentleman has already written to me on this subject. The application by the Dwyfor district council for a special capital allocation to build a leisure centre at Pwllheli is still under consideration. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that his representations will be taken into account, but I must point out that we have received numerous other applications as well.

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that, following the Bradford disaster, many small football and rugby clubs are having to spend considerable sums of money to make their grounds safe? Is it not right that the Welsh Office, perhaps through the Sports Council, should assist those clubs? Without such help, many of these clubs will be driven out of existence, with the consequences that all of us can imagine.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that clubs are being asked to undertake improvements to their grounds to make them safe. The Government do not accept that there is a case for Government assistance for this aspect of sport.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great need for indoor tennis facilities in Cardiff city? Will his Department give every assistance towards providing these facilities, which are urgently needed in the United Kingdom generally?

I take note of what my hon. Friend has said about indoor tennis courts. I am sure that representations about this matter have also been made to the Sports Council for Wales.

Duchy Of Lancaster

County Palatine (Visit)

22.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he will next visit the county palatine.

On 29 and 30 November next, when I visit Manchester and Blackpool.

When my right hon. Friend goes to the county palatine, will he make sure that he draws attention to the suffering that is now being imposed on some of the residents of the palatinate as a result of the cruel activities of Liverpool city council?

It is quite likely that on my next visit, or even before it, I may comment upon the follies of those who have been actively destroying the city of Liverpool by their activities on the city council. No doubt I shall be able to quote from the words of the Leader of the Opposition and the many leaders of trade unions who have condemned extreme Left wingers in the Labour party in Liverpool.

At the same time, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the whole of the county of Greater Manchester and take note of the fact that over the past six years unemployment there has increased from around 5 per cent. to something nearer 14 per cent.? That matter greatly concerns the residents of the area.

I understand that concern. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Her Majesty's Government have been active in many ways in seeking to combat the problems, of unemployment. As he knows, the average level of unemployment has risen under every Government since the end of the war. These are deep-rooted problems and I know that he, like me, will take some comfort from the fact that at the moment this country is generating more new jobs than the rest of Europe put together.

Duties

23.

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on his duties as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

My duties are such that I have overall responsibility for the work of the Duchy of Lancaster Office.

That tells us a lot. Is it not also part of the right hon. Gentleman's duty to try to ensure that the deputy chairman of the Tory party does not keep putting his foot into his mouth? The right hon. Gentleman in particular is always talking about other organisations being democratic. Can he explain why there are no elections for the position of party chairman? Why is the appointment subject to only one person's choice?

If providence had not pre-empted him, the hon. Gentleman would be in danger of making a fool of himself. The fact of the matter is that my duties as chairman of the Conservative party, for which I emphasise I do not answer in this House, are entirely similar to those of the general secretary of the Labour Party, Mr. Whitty, who is not elected to his post, either.

Church Commissioners

Bishop Of Durham (Palace)

24.

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, how much the Church Commissioners have spent on (a) dilapidations and (b) other works at the palace of the Bishop of Durham in each of the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Representing Church Commissioners
(Sir William van Straubenzee)

As the answer contains a number of figures I will, with permission, circulate them in the Official Report. However, total expenditure by the Church Commissioners over the last 10 years was £816,000.

Can my hon. Friend say whether that is the truthful expenditure on the palace of the Bishop of Durham, or whether other money is being spent, and if so, from what sources, and why it is being spent? Is it not possible for the Bishop of Durham to live in more modest surroundings, instead of at such enormous cost?

Of the total of about £940,000 which has been spent on the chapel at Auckland castle, about £320,000 was met by grants from the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission. Auckland castle is a great ancient and historic house, and I understand that there are very strong feelings in the diocese that the bishop of the diocese should continue to reside there. It is illustrative of the great burdens on the Church. For example, we have had to provide £6,300 for the replacement of beetle-infested timbers. I am sure that my hon. Friend would not want the bishop to be infested with beetles.

Is my hon. Friend aware that most people who care about these matters will be glad that the money is being spent? I remind him that Auckland castle is far more important than any of its temporary inhabitants, and far more inspirational than any of them.

I listen carefully to what my hon. Friend, with his special skills in this matter, tells me, but he will join me in reminding ourselves that this is money that could otherwise be spent on stipends and other matters, and is part of the very expensive heritage of buildings of the Church of England.

Will my hon. Friend consider hiring a reliable medium to take advice from the late Bishop Hatto about how the inhabitants of the building should be entertained and preserved?

I should be very grateful if my hon. Friend would volunteer for that task.

Following are the figures:

Expenditure on dilapidations and other works by the Church Commissioners on the Bishop of Durham's official house (Auckland castle) over the last 10 years has been as follows:

Dilapidations

Other works

Total

£

£

£

Year to 31.03.764,3481254,473
Year to 31.03.776,493276,520
Year to 30.03.7824,0098,52032,529
Year to 31.03.7957,3255557,380
Nine months to 31.12.7942,5341,24343,777
Year to 31.12.80118,5103,941122,451
Year to 31.12.81131,58113,967145,548
Year to 31.12.82269,26420,095289,359
Year to 31.12.8317,45613,73031,186
Year to 31.12.8453,32529,75083,075
724,84591,453816,298

(As a result of the commissioners changing their financial year, the period to 31.12.79 covers only nine months).

Employees (Hours Of Work)

25.

asked the hon. Member for Wokingham, as representing the Church Commissioners, what are the normal hours of work of employees of the Church Commissioners; and if he will make a statement.

I am not surprised that the Church Commissioners are working from Monday to Friday and doing only 41 hours, and I am relieved that they do not yet have to work on Sundays. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a double standard in operation when the Church Commissioners' assets committee invests £240 million in new shopping centres in Glasgow, Bury St. Edmunds, Ipswich and other areas, and supports several leading shopping chains, such as Mothercare and Habitat, which want to open on Sundays? Should not my hon. Friend, through the Church Commissioners, be encouraging them to stay shut on Sunday, the day of rest?

The Church Commissioners as such have not made any pronouncement on the matter, partly because they wanted to wait and see the terms of any Bill. However, my hon. Friend must not assume that they will necessarily continue to remain silent.

Wales

South Glamorgan Health Authority

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what were the provisional allocations for spending by South Glamorgan health authority in 1984–85 and 1985–86; on what dates those allocations were advised to the health authority; and what extra moneys have been found for the health authority in each of these financial years.

The provisional allocations notified to the South Glamorgan health authority in 1984–85 and 1985–86 were £119·4 million and £128·5 million. The revenue and capital elements of these allocations were notified on 10 February and 27 February in 1984 and 25 February and 26 March in 1985. Additional funds totalling £6·3 million were provided during 1984–85, and an additional £0·2 million has been provided in 1985–86. A further £1·27 million of provision for specific developments will be released to the authority when required.

We are all appreciative of the real increase in expenditure on the National Health Service achieved by my hon. Friend and his colleagues, particularly the extra moneys that have been found during the financial year. What staff of South Glamorgan health authority has he instructed should be axed?

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a 21·25 per cent. increase in the funding of health authorities in Wales since 1979. It is not my right hon. Friend's policy to instruct health authorities to reduce the number of staff. It is for them to decide how to use their allocations.

The Arts

Northern Arts

27.

asked the Minister for the Arts what recent representations he has received from Northern Arts about the impact of the abolition of Tyne and Wear county council on arts spending in the region; and what response he has given.

I have received a number of representations, and I visited Tyne and Wear on 11 November. As I announced in the House on 14 November, the Government will make £25 million available to the Arts Council next year, towards the replacement of arts funding in the abolition areas. It will now be for the Arts Council to decide its regional allocations and for successor authorities to play their part.

During his visit to the region last week, did the Minister notice the unique arrangement which means that a large proportion of arts expenditure is funded by Tyne and Wear county council rather than by the districts? Does he think that the excessively London-minded Arts Council has grasped the significance of that in regard to the use of the money that he announced on Thursday? Is he aware that that and the small increase in the base rate of grant will result in rural areas such as Northumberland being left behind when it comes to arts grants while the region tries to sort out the problems created by the abolition of Tyne and Wear?

I had useful discussions in Newcastle last week with Tyne and Wear county council and the successor authorities. I am aware of the distribution of money between various authorities and I am satisfied that the Arts Council will take the factors that the hon. Gentleman mentioned fully into account when disbursing the additional money. As for rural areas, I have announced an increase in the amount of money available for regional development. It will make an important contribution.

Can my hon. Friend extend that assurance to metropolitan county areas generally? I have the west midlands in mind.

Yes, I can. It is up to the Arts Council to decide how to disburse the money. I am sure that it will take each region's needs into account.

Can the Minister confirm from his visit to the north-east last week that the whole region utterly opposes the Government's asinine policy of abolishing the county of Tyne and Wear and the resulting chaos?

The purpose of my visit was to have constructive discussions—which I had—with Tyne and Wear county council and the successor authorities about how they can play their part in financing the arts, in addition to the Government's role. I thought that the successor authorities demonstrated a positive approach.

Victoria And Albert Museum

28.

asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement about the voluntary system of charges introduced by the Victoria and Albert museum.

33.

asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement about the introduction of the voluntary entrance fee at the Victoria and Albert museum.

Charges are a matter for the trustees' discretion. The trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum have decided to introduce a voluntary donations scheme at the museum and to suggest a donation of £2 per adult and 50p for students and old-age pensioners. The donations will accrue to the Associates of the V and A, an independent fund-raising body, which will use them to support museum ventures not met from the moneys voted by this House.

Will my hon. Friend also congratulate Sir Roy Strong and the trustees on devising this popular and sensible means of subsidising the arts? What will he do to encourage other museums to do the same and to retain more of the receipts from charges?

It is entirely up to the trustees of national museums to decide what methods they use to provide additional funds. The Government provide basic funding for national museums and will continue to do so, but we should do everything to encourage them to raise extra money by other means to improve services. I would encourage any method of raising extra revenue. Indeed, I am considering methods of improving the system.

While I also commend the initiative taken by the Victoria and Albert museum, and point out that there is a world of difference between its scheme and compulsory charges for our national museums, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that the person who led the publicity campaign against it on television and who said that his taxes had paid for the V and A only showed that his sense of history was as poor as his misplaced histrionics on television?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The trustees have discretion and can either raise voluntary donations or impose admission charges, as the National Maritime museum does. It is at their discretion. I agree with my hon. Friend that almost every other country with a national museum makes charges, and it seems extraordinary that people should discourage the efforts of those who are trying to increase their available resources.

We should be proud of our policy of free admission to museums. Does the Minister not realise that these voluntary charges are a form of moral blackmail, and will undoubtedly deter many people from visiting museums? Will he keep a careful check on attendances at the V and A, and, if they fall off, will he dissuade other museums from carrying out a similar policy?

I shall not. It is up to the trustees and governing bodies of local museums to decide how they secure extra revenue in addition to the basic funding from the Government. When one considers the range of places that are chargeable, for example, visiting a country house, it is extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman should say that it is immoral to experiment in this way.

Does the Minister accept that his comments on the freedom of trustees might be listened to with more care if it were not for the fact that in 1973 and 1974 the present Prime Minister compelled them to introduce charges, the consequence of which was a 50 per cent. decrease in attendances at the V and A during the three months following their introduction? We persuaded the museums to drop those charges, and we shall rescind these charges next time. These are national institutions and they cannot be left to make such decisions, which will result in an immediate fall in attendances. Any extra money will be clawed back.

It is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman should suggest that if ever he had the chance to be in office he would look to ways of discouraging museums from raising extra revenue. If museums wish to do so, why should they not have the freedom to improve their services?

Business Support

29.

asked the Minister for the Arts what plans he has to simplify and improve the incentives to businesses to support the arts.

The Government have already made a number of tax improvements designed to make it more attractive to give to the arts, thus honouring the commitments in our manifesto. In addition, the business sponsorship incentive scheme has generated an extra £5·5 million in its first year.

Will my hon. Friend seek to impress on his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the fact that the complication and uncertainty of the present tax rules discourage many potential sponsors, and that it would be better if we simply allowed businesses that wished to support the arts to set off donations up to a certain percentage of pre-tax profits, as other countries do?

I note what my hon. Friend says, and I shall convey his views to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend will acknowledge that during our time in office we have undertaken many moves to encourage businesses to sponsor the arts, ranging from a reduction in the covenanting period to relief from capital transfer tax on all gifts to charities. That is an encouragement to sponsorship. I am anxious to find any way that will enhance further the amount of support from the public and from businesses for the arts.

While the Minister has the gratitude of the House, and particularly the people of East Anglia, for his continued support of the business sponsorship scheme, may I ask whether he accepts that opera houses cannot function on an annual basis, and, in order to plan ahead, desperately need endowments?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am grateful for his support of the business sponsorship scheme. I am glad that his wife has benefited from it, and rightly so. The scheme provides support for many regions; not only East Anglia, but all parts. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about opera houses. In addition to any basic grants from the Government, opera houses should be encouraged to find ways of securing extra outside private support.

Regional Facilities

30.

asked the Minister for the Arts if he is satisfied that sufficient resources are being made available for the extensions of facilities for the arts in the regions.

It is for the Arts Council to allocate its funds, taking due account of the needs of arts bodies, and the contribution of local authorities. I have every confidence in the council's regional development strategy as set out in "The Glory of the Garden", and the grant for 1986–87 which I announced on 14 November will enable it to continue. The £3 million development money allocated by the council in the current year has, I am pleased to say, already generated more than £2 million additional local funding.

Does the Minister support councils such as Burnley borough council, which is converting the Mechanics building in Burnley to a theatre and a multipurpose arts centre? Will he give that council financial support? Is he aware that it seems that present Government policy will penalise Burnley once it has converted the building and has to meet the revenue costs?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's keen interest in the Burnley Mechanics Institute Theatre project, but, as he knows, it is now Arts Council policy not to support capital expenditure of the kind that he has described. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look not just to local authorities, but to private sponsorship as well, to help in this connection.

Yes, Mr. Speaker. Given the importance of my question No. 5 and the indequate reply from the Secretary of State, I should like to give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.