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Commons Chamber

Volume 113: debated on Wednesday 1 April 1987

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 1 April 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answer To Questions


European Year Of The Environment


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what initiatives his Department is taking to contribute to the European Year of the Environment.

My Department intends to provide more than £750,000 in direct support of the United Kingdom's National Committee and of projects within its programme for European Year of the Environment. We are also sponsoring a number of specific projects.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in addition to the various initiatives in which he is involved, industry in the United Kingdom has set a lead in producing much of the new technology that will help to abate pollution? Does his Department intend to support in any way the fair that is due to take place next month in Birmingham, which will show British technology at its best?

Yes, Sir. We had a lot to do with the generation of the idea of the international pollution abatement technology fair at the national exhibition centre in Birmingham. which starts on Monday. It is important to remind people that valuable jobs are to be found in providing modern equipment for pollution abatement for home use and export.

Will the Minister comment on the work of the national committee in promoting the European Year of the Environment, and in particular the efforts of the officers who have been responsible for drawing-up the programme?

I should like to pay tribute to those, including the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who have done sterling work on the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Harrop. The committee is finding the job enjoyable, in that many good projects are coming forward. I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the staff, who will now be in place with a proper budget to deal with.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what progress is being made in the European Community, particularly by the United Kingdom, towards reducing levels of acid rain?

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last year, we are committed to a £600 million programme of flue gas desulphurisation to ensure that the declining trend of our sulphur emissions continues, as we need it to do.

As to European Environment Year, will the Minister indicate what occurred at the meeting of European Environment Ministers with regard to the protection of the ozone layer?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the case, at least in theory, that Council meetings are confidential, but it is no secret that the Community agreed a negotiating position to take to the Vienna meetings, where the protocol will finally be agreed, which will involve a freeze followed by cuts in the production of chlorofluorocarbons.

As part of the European Year of the Environment, will my hon. Friend encourage bee keeping? If so, will his Department drop the proposal that is contained in the consultation document to classify bees as pests?

There has been a certain amount of unnecessary alarm about this matter because, by a failure, for which I apologise, I did not send the relevant consultation paper about air pollution to the bee keeping associations. Bees are ecologically and economically important, but in urban areas uncontrolled swarms can occasionally cause problems to householders. We were discussing whether additional powers were needed to deal with that.

Will the Minister note that this is the European Year of the Environment, and will he send a message of goodwill to our European neighbours by announcing that the British Government will join them in signing the 30 per cent. declaration on acidic emissions? Will he announce the phasing out of the dumping of sewage sludge in the North sea, and will he give the House an assurance that the Government will not block the directive on large-scale plants for acidic emission, which is due to come up at the May Council meeting, and thereby do something to improve Britain's bad name in European environmental circles?

Britain's name is not so bad as the hon. Gentleman appears to hope it is. To start at the end, it is not Britain but Spain that is now blocking the large plant directive. Secondly, I would be happy to end any particular dumping if it were shown to be environmentally correct to do so. Scientific studies show that for some treated sewage sludge dumping at sea may be the best practical environmental option, and we must not abandon that concept. On the hon. Gentleman's third point, we have explained again and again that the starting date of 1980 for the 30 per cent. club is systematically unfair to Britain. That has been recognised in the negotiations in Europe on the large plant directive, incidentally, but it has not been recognised yet in the protocol itself.

Housing Needs Expenditure


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to allow local authorities to spend more than 20 per cent. of their capital receipts from council house sales on housing needs; and if he will make a statement.

I have no immediate plans to alter the rule whereby local authorities can spend the whole of their receipts from council house sales, provided they do not use more than 20 per cent. of them a year for prescribed expenditure.

Would it not be a splendid idea with the coincidence of this question with National Housing Week to double the limit for prescribed expenditure to 40 per cent. to give a real initiative to housing authorities? Secondly, would it not be important to build on the consensus on the need to involve housing associations, building societies and other financial organisations to put together a committee that again could build on the consensus and enable us to solve the housing problem by using all the financial resources that are available, which are obviously considerable?

The Labour party and the Conservative party—the Government—both agree that there should be overall control of local authority capital expenditure. The Liberal party, and the Social Democratic party—the alliance—have not made clear to me what their view on that is. If that is the case, an increase in the prescribed proportion of receipts would result in a reduction in capital allocations. That would be unproductive. It would make life harder for housing authorities in deprived areas in inner cities. Although the hon. Gentleman does not really care about the details, it would probably make life harder for Leeds than will leaving the percentage as it is.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, given the improvements in the economy since this policy was introduced, for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly took credit last month when introducing the Budget, it is increasingly difficult to defend or understand the 20 per cent. limitation? Is it not high time that it was revised upwards to at least 30 per cent.?

I am sure my hon. Friend realises that what matters is gross provision. That has increased from £2,669 million last year to £2,922 million in 1987–88, a big increase. As for dividing the gross provision between allocations and the use of capital receipts, the issue is whether the resources go to the more deprived areas or to the less deprived areas. I think the House will feel generally that the right way to help deprived areas is to make available to them the bulk of the capital allocations, rather than to increase receipts.

In view of the supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), surely there can be no justification for preventing local authorities from spending 80 per cent. of their own money, which they have been forced by the Government to accumulate, when there is desperate need in areas such as Leicester for improvements, repairs and maintenance, and when the council has had 50 per cent. of its funds taken from it by central Government.

The hon. and learned Gentleman may not understand the system. Allowing an increased proportion of receipts to be spent means that local authorities go out and borrow more. Local authorities are indebted in total to the extent of over £30 billion, and any increase in spending will lead to an increase in debt. The Government do not mind a bit whether spending takes the form of so-called capital receipts or of increased allocations. The point is to determine the best way of helping authorities in need. Is it receipts, or allocations? I would have thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman would look to the interests of his constituents and realise that allocations will be of more use to them.

Where a council has a good record on selling council houses and has been sensible about its spending and its rates, will my right hon. Friend let such councils make individual representations to him to allow the 20 per cent. to be exceeded if that council has a number of derelict homes that urgently need repair?

I would dearly like to have the sort of slush fund suggested by my hon. Friend, but I fear that that would be the wrong way to proceed. I must repeat that, if the House wants more money to be allocated to the major areas of housing stress and housing repair problems, the right way to do so is to reduce the prescribed proportion and increase allocations. However, I am not proposing any change.

In view of the obvious anger, if not dismay, felt on all sides of the House, will the Secretary of State reconsider Government policy on local authority capital receipts? Is he not aware that many Conservative as well as Labour authorities regard this policy as unnecessarily restrictive, especially since their money is involved? Will he contact the Conservative councillor to whom I spoke in Coventry yesterday when I opened a sheltered dwelling scheme—Quniton Lodge—who said, "We would like to build many more of these schemes and we have the money to do so, but the Government will not let us spend it". That is the case in many authorities around the country—Labour and Conservative alike—which need only one word from the Minister—yes—to allow them to spend their money to provide houses, especially for elderly and disabled people. How can it be right to have a fiscal adjustment of £6 billion in the Budget and to continue with this stupid control?

I read, even though the hon. Gentleman may not have done so, the Labour party's policy for local government finance. He made it absolutely clear that the Labour party believes in controlling the total capital expenditure of local authorities. Do we agree?

It is the same point.

If we are agreed that there should be control of borrowing, is the Labour party saying that it would like to increase the prescribed proportion and reduce the amount that goes on allocations within a controlled total? That is the question that the Labour party must answer. If the Labour party answers it in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), it will deprive the hon. Gentleman's constituency of the help that it needs.

In the light of the representations made to my right hon. Friend by both sides of the House, but especially from the Conservative Benches, will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to the matter? Will he agree to meet a delegation of his hon. Friends, not least because those of us who represent responsible borough councils — my borough of Macclesfield is the lowest-rated borough in Cheshire — are aware that they need to spend their money to provide accommodation for the elderly and for the young? Will he bear in mind that these authorities have obeyed every exhortation and request of the Conservative Government?

I would he delighted to meet my hon. Friend and any group of councillors or hon. Friends that he may wish to bring with him. I would be — [Interruption.] If the House will listen, let me say that I would be sorely tempted to agree with him. However, if I were to do so the result would he that the most deprived areas of the country, including Leeds, Whitehaven, Workington and South Shields, would suffer because they would receive less in allocations because more would be going to my hon. Friend's constituency.

Fulham Football Club


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to meet the president of the Football League to discuss the future of Fulham football club; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Richard Tracey)

I see the president of the Football League regularly, but I have no plans to discuss the future of Fulham football club specifically. I have no powers to interfere in decisions of the club's directors or with discussions they may have with the Football League.

I am sad to hear that. Will the Minister recognise that his act of listing certain buildings at Craven Cottage, helpful as it was, will not stop the Bulstrodes of this world from demolishing our football clubs for commercial gain? When the Minister next meets the president, will he urge him to change the Football League's regulations so that no one may acquire a League club without guaranteeing that the club will not be used for other than football and sports-related activities without the management committee's approval?

Obviously, the Football League's regulations are very much a matter for the League's management committee. I am sure that the House will agree with the hon. Gentleman about the protection of football clubs. However, the problem at Fulham football club, as with many other clubs, is that it has lost the support of the communities around it and the supporters who ought to be bringing in revenue to keep the club together.

Will the Minister recognise that Fulham football club has generated more loyal support and determination to save it from the greedy hands of property speculating asset strippers than virtually any other sporting institution has demonstrated this year? Will he also recognise—this is critical—that the survival of football clubs depends on thir being run in the interests of football? Part of the problem with Fulham football club has been that its ownership in recent years has been vested in the hands of individuals who have been more concerned with what money they can make out of property development than out of the furtherance of the football club's fortunes.

I am sure that Fulham football club will have found a large number of supporters in recent times. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has become a vocal supporter, as was his predecessor, the late Mr. Martin Stevens. I am well aware that football as a game has increased considerably in popularity across the board in recent years. However, unfortunately, the clubs at top level have been losing supporters because they have lost the support of the communities around them.

Is the Minister aware that we have rarely heard such a dismal reply to such an important question? When he meets the president of the Football League, will he explain that the football grounds are so attractive to speculators because they were all created, at the turn of the century, in the heartlands of our industrial populations? They need to be protected by regulations within football itself, and by suitable planning action by local authorities and the Government. Will he also consider with the president Ihe fact that there is such a little return on investment in football at the moment that makes the capital sale of the grounds so attractive to the speculators? Action to maintain these oases of sport in the midst of our industrial conurbations will require of him initiatives which he has so far singularly failed to take.

I have to remind the right hon. Gentleman that football clubs are private companies, and it is essential that private companies should be attractive to their supporters—the consumers. I have observed, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, far too many interventionist tendencies, which are only too typical of his party.

Private Sector Tenants


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received in respect of security of tenure for private sector tenants.

We get a steady flow of representations on this issue, requesting the reform of the private rented sector to bring empty flats and houses back into use in the interests of those who need homes.

Why should any legislation that would remove security of tenure from incoming tenants in the private sector be any more successful than the totally discredited Rent Act 1957, which not only ensured a substantial reduction in the rented sector, but led to Rachmanism and to existing tenants having their security undermined? When will the millionaire Secretary of State recognise that the appalling housing crisis requires much more public sector and housing association accommodation, not opportunities for racketeering landlords to exploit tenants?

On the hon. Gentleman's second question, I do not think that cheap personal attacks on my right hon. Friend do the hon. Gentleman any good at all.

On the hon. Gentleman's first question, opinion about the private rented sector has changed greatly. I direct him to the excellent editorial of 24 March in that admirable morning newspaper, The Guardian. Now that my reselection has safely passed, I can mention that that editorial was rather in my praise. The editorial said that the private rented sector had a vital role to play in housing, and it was right.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the appalling housing crisis to which the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has just referred is entirely due to the dogmatic and static attitude of the Opposition parties? The way to give the right to rent to millions of young families is to encourage building societies, institutions and other responsible bodies to provide that rented accommodation. Will my hon. Friend do everything possible at the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation to that effect?

May I remind the Minister that the question is about security of tenure? Does he appreciate the vulnerable position of the tenants of some private landlords? Landlords knock on the doors of their female tenants late at night, not coming for a cup of coffee, but seeking other favours. That happens throughout the country and, indeed, in my constituency. That vulnerability is due to lack of security of tenure, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and others call for greater security of tenure in the private rented sector. The Minister must address himself to that point. Young people, and women in particular, are extremely vulnerable under the present rules.

I was slightly surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, because he has never written to inform me of any of those complaints. I repeat what I said on Second Reading of the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill the Government have no intention of changing the security of tenure of present renting tenants.

Does not the present legislation relating to rented accommodation mean that unemployed people who have access to work are often unable to accept the offer of employment? Will not legislative reform enable people to take jobs that they cannot take now because no private rented accommodation is available?

Only the attitude of some — I stress, some — Opposition Members is preventing us from reaching a position in which the law can be reformed in order to bring back into use some of the 540,000 empty privately owned flats and houses in the country. That would be in the interests of those seeking work, of young people who are moving to big cities and of the homeless.

Liverpool (Rate Support Grant)


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what rate support grant is to be received by Liverpool city council in 1986–87; and what the comparable figure was for 1981–82 and 1983–84, in constant 1986–87 prices.

The figures in 1986–87 prices are £129.8 million for 1986–87, £154.1 million for 1981–82 and £141.1 million for 1983–84.

Is that not further evidence, if it were required, of the Government's attack on the city of Liverpool? Is it not time to call off the vendetta against the people of Liverpool, in which the Government have been engaged over the past six or seven years? Does the Secretary of State not realise that it is not councillors with whom he has political differences who suffer, but the homeless, who require homes, the old and the disabled, who require social services, and the council tenants, whose houses require urgent repairs? Is it not time that there was an adequate rate support grant for one of the greatest cities in this country?

I am surprised by that, because I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Liverpool's share of rate support grant was 1·34 per cent. of the total in 1981–82, and last year it rose to 1·44 per cent. of the total, so Liverpool is in fact receiving a greater share of the rate support grant total.

Will my right hon. Friend remind the Opposition where rate support grant comes from? Does it emerge from the ground like daffodils in the spring or out of the sky like showers in April, or does it come from the taxpayer in villages, towns and cities throughout the country, most of which are run by councillors who are responsible, balance their budgets and show a great deal more consideration for their fellow taxpayers than do those in Liverpool, Manchester and many of the inner London boroughs?

As my hon. Friend raises the point, let me tell him that in 1986–87 Stockport received £171 per head in rate support grant, whereas Liverpool —[Interruption.]

Perhaps I can give the figures that I intended to give. In 1986–87, Liverpool received £264 per head in rate support grant. Stockport received £171 per head. Next year, in 1987–88, at the settlement assumption, Liverpool will receive £264 per head and Stockport £173 per head. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). The problems of Stockport are every bit as severe as the problems of Liverpool. That illustrates the point that I made to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), that Liverpool is getting a very good share of the rate support grant—indeed, a much bigger share than Stockport, where, I think he will agree, there are some serious problems, too.

Is it not invidious to start drawing comparisons between different areas? Does the Secretary of State not accept that the rate support grant system is fundamentally flawed, because it does not take into account major demographic changes? One third of the city of Liverpool's population have left in the past 20 years, one in four people are over retirement age, and there is the fastest growing group in the over-80s, one in five are unemployed, and there is one of the largest voluntary sectors of education anywhere in the country. With those major demographic changes and special circumstances, should the right hon. Gentleman not look again at the way in which Liverpool's rate is settled? If the district auditor comes in, and if the Audit Commission carries out a survey that highlights areas where the Secretary of State should assist, will the right hon. Gentleman agree to follow those recommendations?

It is precisely because of the factors that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that Liverpool's GRE gives it a higher rate support grant than that of many other authorities. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the additional factor of shrinking population. I receive strong representations from my hon. Friends who represent Berkshire to the effect that growing population is an equally severe problem for them. Every hon. Member has different views as to why his authority should have a greater share of the rate support grant, and those views are all reflected in the long, almost continuous negotiations on GRE, which have resulted in Liverpool getting not 1·34 per cent. of the total but 1·44 per cent. of the total, a growing proportion, in recognition of those very problems.

I call Mr. Dickens. However, I remind the hon. Gentleman that this question is about Liverpool.

Has the Secretary of State read the remarks by the former deputy leader of Liverpool council, who stated that the abolition of the Merseyside county council and bus deregulation had saved an enormous amount of money? Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Government are reaching those parts that the Opposition have failed to reach?

I read that a sum of £10 million had been saved for Liverpool as a result of those two policies. Indeed, I have read that sums of great magnitude have been saved through the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils and as a result of the Transport Act 1985. I am only waiting for the letters of thanks from the councils that opposed both those measures. I believe that due thanks are now in order here for to the very large sums that councils have been saved.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what two of his predecessors said about the problems on Merseyside and Liverpool? The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) came up with proposals to try to help the area, but they were cut back by the Cabinet of the day. Also, another of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends said when he came to Liverpool that he had never seen such problems in relation to housing anywhere in Europe. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends recognised that the problems in Liverpool have arisen because of the decline of the port, which is no fault of the people of Liverpool? That has happened because we are on the wrong side of the country and because we entered the European Common Market. Is it not time—

Is it not time that Conservative Members recognised the real problems of the city, the high level of unemployment, the great problems with housing and the other problems that go with that, and began at last to deal with those problems on a serious basis instead of producing the nonsense that we hear from the Conservative Benches—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman should try to apply for an adjournment debate on this subject. I know that this subject is of grave concern to the hon. Gentleman, but he is taking a long time. We have reached only Question 5.

With due respect, Mr. Speaker, it is not a joke that my people in my part of the world are unemployed and suffering. It is about time that the Government began to look at the real problems instead of listening to the nonsense from the Tory Back Benches.

It is a pity, when so much of what the hon. Gentleman says is justified —there are indeed real problems in Liverpool —that those problems were compounded by Militants and by the Labour-controlled council. I have been reading the accounts by Mr. Hamilton of the gross mismanagement of the city by the hon. Gentleman's friends. I can only say that the people of Liverpool now have an opportunity to elect a council which will not behave like the previous council.

People in Liverpool will have to live with the consequences of whatever council they elect. That is the nature of local democracy, and the hon. Gentleman must abide by that.

Order. May I now appeal to the House for brief questions so that we may make progress? We have reached only question 6. Mr. John Cartwright, No. 6.

Homeless Young People


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further research his Department plans to institute into the issue of homeless young people.

I have just announced major research into various aspects of homelessness, costing more than £300,000. We are also acting to help the homeless, for example, through our new mixed-funded housing association schemes, by a leaflet to encourage young people to take a realistic view about leaving home, and by our hostels initiative.

Is the Minister aware that the overwhelming majority of homeless youngsters coming to constituency advice services all over London are local youngsters who are homeless through no fault of their own? Does he have any idea of the number of young people in Greater London who are moving around, sleeping on friends' floors, or sleeping rough, because they have no chance of being housed by a housing association or by a local council? Will he consider a crash programme of emergency housing to deal with the growing army of homeless young people?

I know the depth of the hon. Gentleman's concern about this. Governments have never collected statistics about the young homeless as such, and perhaps we should begin to do so. We are discussing that aspect with the local authority associations. The hon. Gentleman is right that both national Government and local authorities have a responsibility. The most recent figures available to me show that about 40 per cent. of people accepted as homeless give the reason that their friends or relatives no longer feel able to house them, so there is also a wider responsibility.

Will the research cover the problems facing homeless young people in Ealing, who are especially vulnerable due to the NALGO strike? Is my hon. Friend aware that the borough may be in default of its statutory responsibility under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act because people cannot contact the department concerned'? If that is so, what remedy is available for homeless young people in Ealing?

The picture is similar to that which emerged a year or two ago in Brent. In the past year the Labour administration in Ealing has been ruining a perfectly well-run borough and failing to deliver services to people of all ages. It is an extremely serious matter when young people are unable to obtain the statutory help to which they are entitled.

Will the Minister take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), that it is extremely damaging to the cohesion and quality of our society and its economic health if thousands of single people cannot afford to live in the communities in which they grew up because they are unfortunate enough to be unemployed or homeless? Will the Minister establish a programme for local authorities and housing associations to provide accommodation at reasonable rents and with security of tenure so that young people can remain in the communities in which they grew up and thus maintain the quality of our society?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems unaware that the Housing Corporation already has such a programme. The hon. Gentleman is in a good position to talk to Labour-controlled authorities such as Brent and Lambeth which have refused money offered to them on a plate this year to help with the problem of homelessness. In the same way, alliance Members might talk to Liberal-controlled Tower Hamlets about the 3,000 flats and houses being kept empty there.

Unified Business Rate


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received from small businesses on his proposal for a unified business rate as a replacement for the commercial rate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Christopher Chope)

I continue to receive representations both for and against the uniform non-domestic rate.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the concern of small businesses represented by the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses, especially those in low-rated areas, is that they may be required to pay more towards the cost of local government services under the unified business rate? Will he confirm that there will be a transitional period for businesses to adjust to the new rate, and state how long that period will be?

I cannot say exactly how long the transitional period will be, although there certainly will be such a period, but the major benefit for small businesses will be the knowledge that after the transitional period it will be impossible for the rates to rise by more than the rate of inflation.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread feeling that if Ministers wish to make the business rating system fairer they should go for improvements in the rate support grant system and for an urgent revaluation? Is he aware that figures further given by the Minister for Local Government show that business rates will rise by 31 per cent. in Westminster and by 28 per cent. in Hammersmith and Fulham, that business rates will be forced up by the Conservative party by 33 per cent. in Ealing, by 25 per cent. in the Prime Minister's area of Barnet and by no less than 57 per cent in the Minister's former borough of Wandsworth? Does he agree that The Economist was right when it said:

"The road to Mrs. Thatcher's proposed poll tax"—
and to the unified business rate—
"is one paved with banana skins and leading nowhere"?

Not at all. It is a bit rich to hear those statistics given by the hon. Gentleman, because they relate to the year 1986–87 and, as I understand it, he is supporting the fact that in Ealing in one year the rates have gone up by 65 per cent., an increase of £260 per employee for one particular firm in Ealing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that small businesses cannot tolerate is the rate increase which is erratic and unpredictable? Is he aware that in Leicester in local election year the rates go up by 5 per cent. and that the following year the council does not care and the sky's the limit? No local or small business can possibly tolerate such a situation.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend wholeheartedly. That is the major benefit that will flow from the national non-domestic rate.

Rate Support Grant


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the cumulative reduction in the rate support grant since 1979 expressed at 1986–87 prices.

The cumulative reduction in rate support grant between 1979–80 and 1986–87 in England amounted to £12·75 billion in 1986–87 prices. The cumulative increase in spending by local authorities in England over the same period amounted to £9·5 billion in 1987–87 prices.

Is it not true that the rate support grant for Cumbria has been cut from 75 to 50 per cent. of net expenditure over those years? Does the Secretary of State understand that in the county of Cumbria we have now lost £60 million in the current year on a budget of £220 million and that we cannot afford it unless rates go up or services are cut? Does the Secretary of State understand that the people of Cumbria do not want that kind of politics and that we cannot afford it? Will he now re-examine the whole question of those settlements?

The hon. Gentleman knows that for the past eight years the Government have been transferring some of the burden from central to local taxes for local authorities. I merely make the point that, far from containing their expenditure, it has had no such effect, and local authorities have, in fact, increased it by £9·5 billion cumulatively over the same period.

Is not the question of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) nonsense? Surely there has been a massive increase in real spending in many of the Labour authorities? They have been spending as though there were no tomorrow. Had there been no rate capping, Leicester, for instance, would have been in a diabolical situation. Leicester has been allowed to twin with Nicaragua, create the Nelson Mandela park, abuse the system totally, have "go gay" policies and put the ratepayers' interests at the bottom of the line, with party political propaganda on the rates.

I confirm that the real increase in local authority current spending has been 13 per cent. in the past eight years. So whatever else they may be, no one can accuse local authorities of being short of resources.

Not only the House but the whole country will welcome the candour with which the Secretary of State has now confessed that tit has been a deliberate policy of the Government for eight years to switch the burden from central taxation to rates. Is it not also the case, however, as Treasury figures published yesterday demonstrate, that the burden of central taxation for the average family with two children far from decreasing in those eight years, has gone up by about £20 per week? So, the result of the Government's policies after eight years is a massive increase in the rates—the direct result of policy, as he has just said—and an increase in the burden of central taxation as well. What bigger failure could there be than that?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman what bigger failure there could be, and that is if his party got into power and spent another £37 billion a year.

Countryside Conservation


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the increase in (a) money terms and (b) real terms in expenditure since 1979 by his Department on the conservation of the countryside; and if he will make a statement.

My Department's support for conservation of the countryside is channelled principally through grant in aid to the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission and in the supplementary grants given to the national parks. These grants have gone up some 275 per cent. in total since 1979, which is 115 per cent. in real terms.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the scale of the increase, at a time when Government expenditure has been carefully controlled, shows how great our commitment is to the countryside? Does he also agree that there is no room for complacency? in particular, there is a growing threat to our estuaries from a range of developments. Will he ensure that estuaries, which are among the best habitats, are properly protected in future?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The expenditure represents the Government's settled and steady policy of raising the priority for the protection of the countryside as compared with the position left by the Labour Government. On the question of estuaries, the formal answer is, of course, that every individual project must be considered properly on its merits in due course. I think it is right to make it clear to my hon. Friend that some of our unspoilt estuaries must remain unspoilt, and that the planning system must be used to do that.

Will the Minister take time today to read the back page of The Western Morning News? Had he recognised that, according to this report, in the countryside of the south-west:

"Rivers were getting dirtier with pollution of 40 per cent. between 1980 and 1985"?
Does he recognise that the countryside people down there are drinking
"discoloured and unpleasant tasting water"
as a direct result of the meanness and shortsightedness of the Government? What will he do about it?

I think that the hon. Gentleman should learn not to refer to the inhabitants of the southwest peninsula as those "people down there". The delays in the time scale for water investment are rather longer than he understands. The problems in the south-west derive largely from the absolutely savage cuts in water investment imposed by the IMF on the Labour Government after 1976. We have restored those cuts and have spent more in real terms.

Further to that last question, would it not be much safer in those circumstances if the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) decided that he would be better off staying north of the border?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is looking for a retirement home, and where better?

How can the Minister equate his supposed care for the countryside with a letter that I received from him today saying that he is granting permission for a massive opencast site in my constituency which will involve the destruction of 27 rights of way, 47 acres of public open space, 68 acres of woodland, plus miles of hedgerow? Although this is for 100 jobs, which we all know are needed, is he aware that it will involve the complete and absolute disruption of the whole road systern in my constituency, with heavy lorries, noise and dirt?

We have just had a classic definition of NIMBY—not in my back yard. Anywhere else, the hon. Lady would welcome the cheap and secure fuel and the jobs, but not in her back yard. That is not a responsible way to proceed on national issues.

May I refer to my hon. Friend's back yard and ask him to put a stop to the silly machinations about a Severn barrage, which will cost a lot of money and be an environmental catastrophe?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's robust views on the matter. There will have to be plenty of time for his views and for the equally robust opposing views of other people on the matter to be properly investigated in due course.

Community Charge


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the latest total of representations received by him in respect of his proposals for a community charge in England; what proportion was in favour; and what proportion was against.

A summary of responses to the Green Paper "Paying for Local Government" was placed in the Library on 15 December.

Will the Minister confirm that as recently as last week he told constituents of mine in Lancashire and Yorkshire that his poll tax would increase their family bills by about 15 per cent.? Will he further confirm that that applies especially in the townships of Wigan and Leigh, and especially to those owner-occupiers in lower-priced properties?

I can confirm that all single householders in the hon. Gentleman's constituency will be significantly better off as a result of the introduction of the community charge.

Can my hon. Friend tell us the proportion of people who were in favour of the charge and the proportion who were against?

I do not have the precise proportions, but out of about 600 responses, 390 were in favour of the abolition of the domestic rating system.

I showed surprise, Mr. Speaker, because so many hon. Members were rising.

First, will the Minister confirm that his suggestion that all single householders will benefit from the poll tax is quite untrue because at the moment single householders on the lowest income pay nothing in rates because they get a full rebate? Under his proposals everybody, however poor, will pay at least 20 per cent. of the poll tax.

Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has told constituents in a wide range of Conservative marginal constituencies in the north that in some cases their rate bills will almost double when the poll tax is in operation? In Conservative York it will go up by 25 per cent., in Bradford by 20 per cent., in Grimsby by 17 per cent., in marginal Pendle by 55 per cent., in marginal Hyndburn by 50 per cent. and in Labour Burnley by 90 per cent. Is that what the Conservatives have in mind when they say that they wish to create greater fairness by abolishing the rates?

If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the way in which the question that he asks is answered in the Green Paper, he will see that the examples are only examples and will by no means definitely be the resulting figures. The precise resulting figures will depend upon whether the authorities concerned spend wisely.



asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the average rate increase in the current year (a) for councils under Conservative control, (b) for non-rate capped councils under Labour control, (c) for councils under alliance control and (d) councils under joint alliance/Labour control.

On average, rates in Conservative councils are up 5·4 per cent. compared with 12·4 per cent. for non-rate capped Labour councils, and 10·7 per cent. for councils under the control of the Social Democrats and/or Liberals. Political control in many of the councils with no overall control is unclear. The average rate increase in all such councils is 8·5 per cent. For those shire counties for which we have information, councils under joint alliance/ Labour control are raising rates by significantly more than are those under joint Conservative/alliance control.

Does my hon. Friend agree that his answer shows that authorities controlled by the Socialists or hung councils controlled by the Opposition parties have increased the rates by 100 per cent.? Therefore, does he not agree that a fairer system of local accountability and local expenditure should be introduced at the earliest possible opportunity?

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. It is because the present system does not allow for proper accountability that the Opposition parties are so in favour of it.

The real reason why the figures highlight the problems about which the Minister speaks is that there is industrial deprivation and great unemployment in the north of England. Will the Minister give an assurance that under the new system, the poll tax, the poor, old-age pensioners, the widows and the unemployed will not suffer by having to pay the 20 per cent. extra that he proposes in the poll tax?

The figures that I have given do not refer specifically to the north or to the south. In Gloucestershire, for example, there has been a massive increase in the rates, but I am not aware that that county has a particular problem as a result of unemployment.

Voluntary Agencies, London


asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will meet representatives of the voluntary agencies in London to discuss their funding in the next financial year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while the anxieties about the future voluntary agency funding have been substantially allayed, there are considerable difficulties for voluntary agencies in the annual budgeting that is forced upon them by so much public accounting? Will he give us an assurance that voluntary agencies, which increasingly are taking on jobs of considerable importance, will be able to look further into the future when considering the funding for which they are dependent on the Government?

I shall certainly take my hon. Friend's comment into consideration. Let me add that the present Government have done more than any previous Government for voluntary agencies.

Higher Education And Research

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government's policies for higher education.

Higher education is crucial to help our nation meet the economic, social and intellectual challenges of the final decade of this century. We must ensure that our universities, polytechnics and colleges respond to the country's requirements. Important reforms are already under way; I pay tribute to the efforts that are being made, especially in our universities, to adapt more closely to the needs of the nation. The White Paper we publish today announces new policies in three key areas: first, wider access to higher education so that the United Kingdom gets the skilled people we need for economic success and to compete in international markets; secondly, the financing and management of polytechnics and colleges in England; and, thirdly, the thorough-going reform of the University Grants Committee, along the lines recommended in the Croham report.

It is 21 years since the polytechnics were conceived. They have now come of age. They are successful, mature institutions with a strong national role, complementary to our universities. But they are held back by current planning and funding arrangements. Control by individual local authorities inhibits their progress towards meeting the challenges of the 1990s, and towards managing their resources to best effect.

We therefore intend to legislate to convert the polytechnics and other mainly higher education colleges in England to free-standing corporate bodies under boards of governors. Local and regional industry and commerce will be strongly represented on the boards. We want industry and those colleges to work more closely together. Industry will find it more attractive to place contracts for consultancy and research. We will be setting up a new Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council which will be independent of Government, although subject to guidance from the holder of my office. The council will succeed the National Advisory Body, and will contract with individual institutions for the provision of higher education.

Local education authorities will retain control of those colleges that do not provide predominantly for higher education. The Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council may contract for the provision of degree and full-time HND and equivalent courses at such colleges. Other courses, including all part-time sub-degrees, at colleges remaining under local authority control will be a local responsibility: the present expenditure pooling arrangements will end. Responsibility for the 530,000 students on non-advanced further education courses in some 360 colleges across the country will continue to rest with local authorities.

The voluntary and other colleges of higher education that are grant-aided by my Department will be brought within the ambit of the new funding council. For the present, however, those arrangements will not be extended to cover the polytechnics and colleges of higher education in Wales.

Secondly, we intend to introduce legislation to change the University Grants Committee to an independent statutory body on the lines recommended by the Croham committee. We accept the Croham recommendations that that body should be smaller, with broadly equal numbers of academic and non-academic members and a chairman with substantial experience outside the academic world. The new body will be called the Universities Funding Council, and its primary responsibility will be the allocation of funds to individual universities under new contractual arrangements.

Thirdly, I want to encourage more people of all ages to go on to higher education. The Government already have an outstanding record on access to higher education. Student numbers have increased by almost 160,000 since we took office in 1979. After its fall in the 1970s, the participation rate for young people has increased by 15 per cent., and the number of mature entrants has risen by about a quarter. We remain committed to providing places for all with the intellectual competence, motivation and maturity to benefit from higher education.

Over the next decade, however, the number of 18-year-olds will fall by one third, and student demand will no longer be a sufficient basis for planning. A major determinant must also be the nation's demands for highly qualified manpower. The increase in graduate output already planned seems unlikely to do more than keep pace with the nation's requirements until 1990, and may be insufficient by the mid-1990s. This view is echoed in the excellent report published yesterday by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior).

For the present, the Government's best judgment is that they should plan for the student numbers envisaged in the higher of the two projections which I published last November. This projection involves an increase in full and part-time student numbers from 906,000 in 1985–86 to 957,000 in 1990. That is an increase of 50,000. By the year 2000, almost one in five school leavers would then be going on to higher education. The Government want to ensure that within the total numbers the shift towards scientific and other vocational courses should be carried through.

Whether we reach these student numbers will depend crucially on this shift being achieved; on whether the schools and colleges succeed in raising the proportion of young people who qualify; and whether the universities, polytechnics and colleges can admit more mature students and more young people with vocational qualifications. The Government believe that higher education will meet these challenges.

Fourthly, the White Paper acknowledges that the quality of our research is recognised worldwide. The Government are committed to maintaining and enhancing the strength and quality of the science base, of which our institutions of higher education are a major and essential part. We attach particular importance to sustaining the work of the most able scientists and their teams. The Government are accordingly making available an additional £15 million for 1987–88 through the science budget. This funding is in addition to the £39 million increase in that budget for 1987–88 which I announced on 6 November last year, and the extra £17·5 million over three years for AIDS research by the Medical Research Council, announced since November.

The consequences of the increase I am announcing today for later years will be taken into account when we consider the science budget in this year's public expenditure survey. But I emphasise that we, and the scientific community, face difficult choices in the future. We must be more selective. We must concentrate resources. We must get even better value for money from better targeted research. We must exploit our science to the utmost —and that is a matter as much for industry as for Government, the research councils and higher education.

Our country's higher education is among the best in the world. Our policies will secure and develop its distinctive strengths. They will extend its benefits to a wider section of the population and will ensure that it serves our nation.

We have listened with interest to what the Secretary of State has had to say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Welcome it."] I welcome his conversion to the view that a policy of contraction simply will not do. Will he confirm that, according to his own White Paper, by the mid-1990s we shall have no more students in higher education than we have today? Will he also confirm that the CBI has calculated that industry will need at least 4 per cent. more graduates every year and that the report published yesterday of the Council for Industry and Higher Education —the organisation of industrialists and academics chaired by the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) —concluded that the number of students planned by the Secretary of State will not be enough to meet the needs of the economy in the decade ahead?

Is it not also the case that, even with that small improvement in the participation rate that is planned by the White Paper, the proportion of 18-year-olds in higher education in this country by the mid-1990s will still be well behind those of the United States and Japan, as well as of several other European countries? It will also be lower than the 22 per cent. projected for 1981 in the Prime Minister's 1972 White Paper.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in any case, many people will view his White Paper figures with some scepticism? We observe that the Government have buried away in a Committee the political time bomb of student grants, which are so crucial to access. We note that the Secretary of State is not making any commitments to provide extra resources—again so necessary for access—and we remember above all that the Government have squeezed and cut higher education during the past seven and a half years.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the welcome increase in research funding no more than meets the cost of the recent salary increases? Is he aware that that leaves the science budget in the position in which the Advisory Board for the Research Councils said that resources fall short of what would be needed to maintain the buying power of that budget?

Is the Secretary of State aware that, as over the teachers and local government, so now over the control of higher education, he is taking power to himself? Why is he rejecting the advice of the National Advisory Body committee set up by his predecessor, that, although the day-to-day running of the polytechnics and colleges should be in their hands, the overall strategic responsibility for them should remain with the local education authorities? Higher education will now be run on the basis of Whitehall diktat, and the view that the Secretary of State always knows best.

Finally, is the Secretary of State aware that for all the glossy exterior of the White Paper and the fine words that he has spoken to the House this afternoon, he has ducked the real challenge of opening up higher education to a far wider group than ever before, and of providing more graduates in the decade ahead to meet Britain's needs? The right hon. Gentleman has failed to do that.

The hon. Member has something of a nerve to chide me about the numbers of students in higher education, because the Government of his party cut the number of students by several thousand. I am planning an increase of 50,000 by 1990, on top of the increase of 160,000 since 1979. Those are ambitious targets. I make it clear to the House that achieving them depends on young people coming forward with the right qualifications. It depends also on the polytechnics and universities being more willing to welcome into their studies young people with vocational qualifications. That is an important point.

The hon. Gentleman also chides me for centralising the policy relating to polytechnics. However, I remind him that the present system of polytechnic policy is already highly centralised. I have a statutory responsibility for the distribution of all the money and for approving or disapproving well over 50,000 individual courses. We are putting the polytechnics in the same relation to Government as universities. They will enjoy much greater freedom and entrepeneurial independence.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the National Advisory Body's good management practice working group. That group necessarily had to operate on the assumption that the existing structure would continue. It was not asked to consider alternative structures, and would not have been the appropriate body to do so.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics made it absolutely clear in February that it favours the policy for polytechnics that we have announced. It stated that corporate status alone would not solve the problems and without direct funding, they are not convinced that it would go far enough. In support of my view, I quote a former Labour Minister in the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Gerry Fowler, who is the director of the North-East London polytechnic and who has clearly said that he wants the polytechnics to be independent.

Order. I must have regard to the business before the House. There is another statement after this, followed by a ten-minute rule application and an important debate in which there is enormous interest. I shall allow questions on this statement to continue until 4 o'clock and then we shall move to the next statement.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the additional £15 million that he has announced for scientific research will be extremely welcome? Does he agree that scientific research in our universities should be a seamless robe, from the acquisition of fundamental knowledge to improvements within existing technology? Will he commit himself to sustaining the whole of that robe and not just parts of it?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support; I know that for many years he has taken a great interest in the scientific funding of our universities. The money provided will allow key scientists, programmes and research teams to be kept together. We all want good science—that is common ground across the House—and we want that science to come out more into the market place. It is evident from all our research funding that the link with technology transfer is not sufficiently strong. British industry simply does not spend enough on technology transfer and basic research development.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I am happy to welcome some aspects of the report — [HON. MEMBERS: "Only some aspects?"] The right hon. Gentleman asks for such welcomes and I give them to him—particularly the Government's reversed attitude to cuts in higher educaton and research? With falling rolls, is he not missing a unique opportunity substantially to increase the percentage of people going through higher education? I note that he did not answer the previous question about the numbers in higher education in 1990. Will he answer that now? Is he aware that the Council for Industry and Higher Education, to which he referred earlier, commenting on the 4 per cent. increase, said that this was "at odds" with Britain's ambitions for prosperity and renewal?

Is the Secretary of State aware that we can welcome his statements on corporate status for polytechnics? But why must that once again be centralised? [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] This is an extremely important statement on which we have several points to make.

Indeed, Mr. Speaker.

Why does the Secretary of State believe that, in these circumstances, he must take that power? Will not that concentration of control over the polytechnics result in the polytechnics being less able to meet the needs of their communities?

As a result of the decline in the birth rate which started in 1966, the number of 18-year-olds in higher education in the 1990s will drop by a third. The projections on page 6 of the White Paper show that the numbers will dip in 1990–91 and then rise again. If we get our policies in place and change the qualification requirements of young people, I hope that we may be able to avoid that dip.

I have read carefully what the hon. Gentleman has said in the past few days about alliance policy on further education—

It is quite difficult. The alliance policy carries a big price tag which rises into the billions, matching Labour Front Bench policies. But I shall return to that at a more propitious moment.

The hon. Gentleman and his party are not taking the right line if they object to our proposals for the polytechnics. Our policy is to increase their independence. The directors of polytechnics, and industry, want it and I am sure that it will result in much better relationships. I beg the hon. Gentleman not to commit his party to opposing that part of our policy.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this positive statement which, despite the carping words of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), will be widely welcomed? Can he confirm that the additional 50,000 students will be over and above the 160,000 to which he referred? Will he advise the House what the number of students in place was when Shirley Williams, the president of the SDP, was Secretary of State for Education and Science in a Labour Administration?

When the president of the SDP held the responsibility which I now hold, she cut student numbers and froze teachers' pay. When she held that position in a previous Government, she also came out in favour of student loans instead of student grants. I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) that the extra 50,000 students is over and above the 160,000, and that that means that when we came into office, one in eight of the 18-year-olds in our country could expect to go into higher education, but by the end of the century it will be one in five.

I welcome the Secretary of State's conversion to Labour party policy in terms of wider access, but does he agree that, to make it successful, additional money must be made available for universities and polytechnics in real terms, taking into account the fact that during the lifetime of the Government on average they have suffered a reduction in their real unit of resource? Does he agree that, if we are to get more young poeple from working-class homes into higher education to use their talents and resources, we need a system whereby youngsters at the age of 16 years are persuaded to stay on for further and higher education? On that basis, what plans do the Government have for introducing a system of educational maintenance allowances?

We have no plans for the latter, because I do not believe that that will attract more people to stay on, and there is a great deal of deadweight expenditure involved in it. As to funding; we have witnessed over the last seven years an increase of 160,000 students — many of those 160,000 students come from, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, working class homes—who have been attracted into higher education because they see the benefits of it. It is as simple as that. As to funding of universities, there has been an increase in funding for 1987–88 of well over 10 per cent. That is the money that I announced before and after Christmas, and figure H of the White Paper shows planned increases over the next three years. By 1989–90, for the first time, the money that is spent on higher education will rise to over £4 billion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his positive approach is profoundly welcomed by those of us who care deeply about education and is in marked contrast with the unmourned, and I hope now dead, Green Paper of 1985? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the attention which has been given to the polytechnics to give them the status that they have earned and achieved is particularly welcome? Cambridge is also grateful.

We should, as a country, take pride in the polytechnics. They are excellent institutions. [Interruption.] I said that as a country we should take pride in them. As I visit many of the polytechnics, I see courses and faculties which are often better than in many of the neighbouring universities, and I am glad to see that the number of first-class degrees given by polytechnics rose by 20 per cent. last year. Polytechnics will now have the independence that their maturity deserves and they will be able to establish a close relationship with local companies; that must be good for them.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that mature students can gain access to higher education through the provision of adequate family awards?

There has been a good increase in mature students—people who are aged 20, 30 or 40 years—going into higher education in the last few years; an increase of nearly a quarter. From memory, I think that they number between 40,000 to 50,000 a year. They tend to be funded in a variety of ways. If they have not gone into higher education first, they qualify for grants. Many of them are sponsored by companies, which is a growing practice that I warmly applaud and whenever I can I encourage companies to sponsor mature students.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his positively expansive programme for higher education. Is he aware of the warm welcome that his proposals for polytechnics will receive, not only from directors of polytechnics but also from teachers at polytechnics—I was such a teacher before I entered the House — but more importantly, from students in polytechnics, who will benefit from having teaching taken out of the party political arena and brought into an independent academic institution?

Many of the teachers, staff and faculties, apart from the directors, will welcome the independence that will come from not being subject to the control of the local education authority. They will be able to raise their own money much more freely. Many industries and companies will be willing to support them in the knowledge that their moneys will be directed to specific institutions for specific courses and disciplines and not merely to the local authority area. I am glad to say that the chairman of the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics, Dr. Rickett, made this clear effectively in a radio broadcast this morning.

Will the Secretary of State accept that £15 million will be entirely inadequate for research council funding generally, when that is merely the figure required in Wales to bring the Principality into parity with the rest of the United Kingdom? If there is to be a real increase from 2·5 per cent. for research council founding in Wales, the system will require much more than £15 million.

We support the right hon. Gentleman's access policy, but how does he equate the notion of greater access with today's reports that six departments in University college, Cardiff are facing closure? How does he equate that with the £20 million to be taken out of the university of Wales over the next two years? In the absence of a statement from the Secretary of State for Wales, will the right hon. Gentleman announce the Government's proposals for Wales in the light of the Graham report?

The circumstances that have brought University college, Cardiff to its present position are peculiar to that institution, as I think the hon. Gentleman is aware. It would not be productive or sensible to generalise on them. No changes are proposed for Wales because the Welsh system is smaller than the English one and only a few colleges concentrate on higher education, which means that the need for change is different from that in England. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will consider making changes similar to those proposed for England if the Welsh Advisory Board does not demonstrate in its current review that it can offer advice based on national and not local considerations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as befits the senior partner in the Oxbridge duo, Oxford has a university and a polytechnic, which means that his announcement is doubly welcome? Will he take it from me that the key phrase in his statement about polytechnics is that of their coming of age? Many of us who have seen the excellent work that is going on at Oxford polytechnic, for example, thoroughly endorse the phrase and welcome my right hon. Friend's moves. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the £15 million for research council funding of which he has spoken, which is most welcome, comes on top of the £40 million which is additional grant this year for the councils, and will fund the extremely generous pay award of 24 per cent. for the staff of the research councils and allow them to continue their research?

I can give my hon. Friend all those assurances. The money that I made available for the university pay settlement was £170 million over three years. That was made available after Christmas. It allows for an increase in academic pay of about 24 per cent., with 16 per cent. payable from 1 December and 7 per cent. from March 1988. That is a demonstration of the importance that we attach to university teachers. The money is additional and it will ensure that research money is available for key scientists and to keep key teams together. Research grants will be given, but the allocation will depend on the Advisory Board for the Research Councils.

My hon. Friend mentioned Oxford polytechnic, which I remember visiting five or six years ago. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State visited it more recently. It is an outstandingly good and successful polytechnic.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his announcement reflects the Government's previous neglect of the education system and will be seen to have more to do with the approaching general election than a genuine interest in education? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware also that the university of Newcastle upon Tyne has recently announced a reduction of 140 academic posts as a direct result of the Government's policy, and his announcement will have little impact on that?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we have asked universities to examine their priorities, and universities throughout the country are doing that. During the lifetime of this Government, Newcastle polytechnic and other polytechnics have flourished like the green bay tree. Newcastle polytechnic has expanded and developed, as have other institutions in Newcastle. I was impressed by the college of art and design at Newcastle, which is providing services and training for 16 to 19-year olds. That will continue under Newcastle city council. The hon. Gentleman should recognise the enormous expansion in higher education that has occurred under this Government.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for the extra £15 million that he has announced for research for the civil science Vote? In doing so he has proved once again that he is a listening Minister and that it is worth while for Back Benchers occasionally to make speeches in the small hours of the morning advocating a change in Government policy. We thank him very much.

In the past few weeks there has been a lot to listen to regarding scientific research. The debate that took place on the Consolidated Fund was certainly pointed, because the hon. Members who took part spoke forcefully of their experience of universities in their constituencies as well as their broader experience. I am glad that that debate contributed to allowing me to announce the increased expenditure today.

Why has the Secretary of State not waited for the report from the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education, "Management for a Purpose", which I gather his Department paid more than £350,000 to commission? It would have been useful if the Secretary of State had waited for that report, because there is a great deal of scepticism about the centralisation that is taking place. Although I agree about the coming of age of the polytechnics, one of the main functions of those polytechnics has been to bring the university sector into closer contact with their localities and industries—rather than the reverse. We are fearful that that could be lost by this centralisation and the proposals announced this afternoon.

When the hon. Gentleman sees the proposals in the White Paper, I think that he will appreciate that the present system is already highly centralised. I am trying to create polytechnics as independent, free-standing institutions funded by an independent council. It will be guided by advice from the holder of my office, but will have the same independence as the University Grants Committee has of Government.

With regard to the NAB working party, I saw the chairman a week ago and explained the Government's proposals. Indeed, I answered that point about 10 minutes ago.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the seven years since my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) first proposed a polytechnic grants committee, nothing has happened other than to prove that the work of the polytechnics is too important to be left to the whims and prejudices of local councils? Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that, since the war, the only Government under whom the proportion of 18-year-olds entering higher education fell was the previous Labour Government when Mrs. Shirley Williams was Secretary of State?

My hon. Friend upon me to make the most of that—it is a two-barrelled gun. This failure was both under Labour and also when the president of the SDP was Secretary of State. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend with regard to polytechnics. I believe that. in the past few years, many directors of polytechnics have found it extremely irksome to be dependent upon political control. They have seen me — many of them are not particularly of Conservative persuasion—and have said that they cannot stomach any longer the nitpicking and political interference to which many of them have been subjected.

Order. I remind those hon. Members who have not been called that if they put down questions this Friday they will be answered during education Questions on 28 April.

Higher Education (Scotland)

4.2 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on arrangements for planning and funding of higher education in Scotland announced in today's White Paper on higher education. This follows consultations on the recommendations in the report of the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council on future strategy for higher education in Scotland and advice from the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the Croham committee on the University Grants Committee.

In my statement to the House on 17 July 1986, I said that the Government accepted STEAC's view that there is scope for improvement in the planning and co-ordination of provision in higher education by the universities and colleges in Scotland. In reaching decisions on the future, I have recognised that six out of eight Scottish universities opposed the central STEAC recommendation for a separate Scottish body with funding responsibilities for both the university and college sectors. I share the views of the universities that they should continue to be, and be seen to be, an integral part of the British university system and believe that that might be prejudiced by removing them from the British funding framework of the UGC and its successor.

Irrespective of the source of funding, it is, however, highly desirable that both the university and college sectors can plan the development of their provision in the knowledge of what other institutions in Scotland are planning to do. But knowledge is not enough—we need arrangements to ensure that plans can be discussed, adapted and co-ordinated to take account of what other institutions intend to do and to ensure that overall provision in both sectors is in line with likely national and local needs. That is why we announce in the White Paper that we propose to accept and build on the recommendations of the Croham committee that the proposed Universities Funding Council should have a Scottish committee. The committee will play an important part in planning higher education in Scotland. It is important that the Universities Funding Council and its Scottish committee should take into account the needs of Scottish higher education as a whole. To this end in future the Secretary of State for Scotland shall give the Universities Funding Council guidance on plans for the other sectors of higher education in Scotland and will expect it to have regard to his views on the implication of Scottish needs for the university sector. These will, of course, be consistent with guidance given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Universities Funding Council. The UFC and the Secretary of State for Scotland will then be able to plan provision, with the help of the Scottish committee, in the university and college sectors respectively, with a clear knowledge of the implications of each other's plans.

I expect the committee to advise the UFC on the implications of the Scottish education system for the needs of the Scottish universities. It will, in consultation with my Department, consider the demand for higher education in Scotland and the balance of provision between its constituent parts. Appointments to the Scottish committee will be a matter for the Universities Funding Council in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I envisage that the committee will include members drawn from the non-university sector and employers as well as from the UFC and the universities and that there will be representation from the Scottish Office.

I believe that the establishment of a Scottish committee of the UFC on these lines will mark a very important development in the relationship of the Secretary of State for Scotland with the university sector, with far-reaching implications for the proper planning of higher education. For the first time he will have formal access to a group taking an overview of the needs of the Scottish university sector and will be able to discuss with them his views on the priorities for higher education in Scotland and the plans of the college sector.

I am confident that the arrangements will be welcomed by the universities in Scotland. They will be able to maintain their role as part of the British system, but will have a new focus for looking at Scottish needs. They will be better able to plan their provision in the light of knowledge of each other's plans and those of the central institutions. The central institutions for their part should welcome the more systematic opportunity afforded by the Scottish committee for joint planning between my Department and the universities on how demands from students and employers should be met. Most importantly, Scotland should benefit from the improved arrangements for co-ordination and planning of higher education to meet the changes envisaged by the White Paper between now and the end of the century.

The Secretary of State, perhaps typically, has opted for the least exciting possibilities open to him. To many of us on the Labour Benches his announcement sounds like a recipe for muddle and confusion.

Even in terms of the Croham report, is not the Secretary of State a minimalist? I concede that Croham offered a Scottish committee of the University Grants Committee, but it did so only if a Scottish planning and funding body was not established. The Secretary of State has made a great deal of the views of the six out of eight Scottish universities, but perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that they were the views of six out of eight principals. In any event, they emphasised their fears about the peer group review. That matter was specifically referred to the Croham committee. Can the Secretary of State confirm that Croham made it clear, when considering the matter, that a separate funding solution would not affect or disrupt the maintenance of national standards or any other aspect of the peer group review as it presently operates?

Is not the Scottish sub-committee of the Universities Funding Council a poor apology for an effective, coordinating body, which would consider central institutions, colleges of education and universities, as recommended by the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council report?

The new system means that the Secretary of State for Scotland, together with his colleague the Secretary of State for Education and Science, will intimate his views to the Universities Funding Council. The sub-committee is no more than a nod in the direction of consultation; a little bit of window-dressing that perhaps cannot do much harm, but certainly will not do much good.

The Secretary of State will be familiar with paragraph 8.19 of the Croham report which, when discussing the possibility of a Scottish sub-committee, advised that it would have the specific remit of looking at the existence of separate Scottish school examinations and four-year honours courses at the universities. The report said that it would consider, specifically,
"the proposed resource distribution as it affected Scottish universities".
Will he say whether that distribution of resources, in particular, will be part of the remit of the sub-committee he is establishing? If it disagrees with the Universities Funding Council, what will be its powers to do anything about it? Can it merely complain on the sidelines or can it really and effectively affect the outcome?

The Croham recommendation was that the Scottish Education Department or any sub-committee would be represented by an assessor. Will the Minister tell us whether it will be by an assessor on this occasion or will it be by direct appointment and, if so, why has there been a change? Will he accept that there is nothing in the sad and damaging cuts of recent years to suggest that Scottish universities will be safer as a result of the rejection of the STEAC proposals for an over-arching body?

The Secretary of State knows of the Opposition's commitment to a Scottish assembly—[Laughter.] There is a certain amount of nervous laughter by hon. Members. When that assembly is in being, it will have responsibility for the universities and for their separate funding. Will he note our regret that the chance has not been taken now to move in that direction and to accept the STEAC vision of an over-arching body with the necessary authority to plan and build a healthy future for higher education in Scotland?

We have just had the somewhat ludicrous occurrence of the hon. Gentleman seeking to present himself as the champion of the Scottish universities while he simultaneously rebukes the Government for having accepted the representations of the Scottish universities. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He knows perfectly well that overwhelming opinion among Scottish universities was adverse to the recommendations of the STEAC committee in this respect. He knows also, or he ought to know, that even among the central institutions there was a difference of view, with a minority of the central institutions rejecting the recommendations of the STEAC committee.

The hon. Gentleman asked a number of individual questions. He asked about peer review and suggested that the Croham committee had said that peer review need not be affected by separate funding of the Scottish universities. That is indeed the case. However, if the hon. Gentleman wished to be open and frank with the House he might have added that the Croham committee qualified that statement by suggesting that parity of research funding could not be guaranteed if British peer review advice was interpreted by separate funding bodies north and south of the border. As the Scottish universities have a legitimate interest in access to proper research funding, the hon. Gentleman might have reminded the House of that aspect of Croham's conclusions as well.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the membership of the Scottish committee.[Interruption.] He might advise his hon. Friends to remain silent while I am answering his questions. The hon. Gentleman asked about membership of the Scottish committee and I said in my opening statement that there would be representation from the Scottish Office. We shall naturally wish to have consultations on the detailed question of representation. but we wish to have a broad base of representation on the Scottish committee, which will include not only the Scottish Office but representatives of others with an interest in the work of the Scottish committee.

I was somewhat puzzled, surprised and disappointed by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the Scottish committee of the sort we propose would have only what he chose to describe as cosmetic functions. He seems to have failed to appreciate that the announcement we are making today goes significantly beyond the recommendations of the Croham committee. The Croham committee merely suggested that there should be—

I am well aware of the fact that it rejected STEAC. I informed the hon. Gentleman that it rejected STEAC so he does not need to remind me of that fact. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that what we have announced today provides the Secretary of State for Scotland, for the first time, with a locus with regard to the universities to ensure that the interests of Scottish higher education are taken into account, to ensure that there is a minimum of duplication between the role of the central institutions and those of the universities and to ensure, as does the White Paper and my statement, that the proposed Universities Funding Council should have regard to the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland with regard to the needs of higher education in Scotland. That represents, for the first time, a significant development in our ability to co-ordinate higher education in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman might at least have had the grace to acknowledge that, even if he was disappointed that the STEAC recommendations were not being accepted.

Order. I have to apply the same ruling to this statement as I applied to the previous one. In view of the pressure of business, I propose to allow questions to go on for a further 15 minutes. I remind hon. Members that there are Scottish questions on Wednesday next week.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is right to accept the wise advice of six out of the eight Scottish universities and set up a Scottish co-ordinating committee? Will he agree that there are more students in higher education in Scotland than ever before and that that shows how the additional finance put into education by the Government is paying off?

Yes, my hon. Friend is correct. The number of students in Scotland in higher education has increased by about 10,000 since the Labour Government left office in 1979.

Will the Secretary of State accept that there is a wide feeling of victimisation within Scottish universities at the way in which they are being treated, that there is particular discrimination against small universities and small departments and that there is mistrust as to whether the University Grants Committee does understand the Scottish dimension? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that I have a constituency interest in the university of Aberdeen and am rector of the university of Dundee, both of which are facing savage cuts that will devastate their ability to face the future. Will he acknowledge that what he is proposing today is merely cosmetic and that there is no evidence that that body will be able to address itself to the fundamental problems facing Scottish universities? Is he prepared to accept that that is the case, that more action will be needed and that more funding for Scottish universities and colleges will he necessary?

The hon. Gentleman has made a general and unqualified statement. If he is seeking to imply that he wishes that the recommendations of STEAC had been accepted, he has to explain why he takes a view that is contrary to the representations made by the university of Aberdeen and the university of Dundee, of which he says he is the rector. He does not seem to be in touch with opinion in the two universities to which he has chosen to refer. The hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that the new committee provides a proper forum for providing funds for small but significant research programmes in Scotland, which the UGC has failed to do?

The purpose of the Scottish committee is to ensure that the new Universities Funding Council will have full access to information as to the particlar needs of Scottish universities and will, therefore, be able to take into account those needs and the needs of higher education in Scotland overall in coming to its decisions.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the structure he has announced today, with a sub-committee of the Universities Funding Council, having no executive powers, acting only in an advisory capacity and subject to the guidance of the Secretary of State, is completely inadequate to meet the basic recommendation of STEAC, which was that we need a coherent, single planning and funding body for university and non-universiety sectors of higher education in Scotland? The structure announced today does not even meet the need for a single planning body, leaving the question of funding aside. Seven out of the eight universities want a single planning body.

I have to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the precise role of the Scottish Office in future will be to provide that planning and co-ordinating responsibility of the sort to which I have drawn attention in my statement. For the first time the Scottish Office will not only be involved in the planning and funding of the central institutions in Scotland, but will have the right and responsibility to be involved in the co-ordination of the central institutions with the Scottish universities. The right hon. Gentleman should appreciate that, where the majority of Scottish universities and a number of the central institutions made representations against the proposals put by STEAC, it is a sensible outcome to have a situation where the involvement of the Scottish universities in the United Kingdom as a whole is maintained.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when he was Secretary of State for Scotland and the subject of devolution was considered, the Government of which he was a member rejected the idea of the Scottish universities being devolved to a separate funding arrangement. The right hon. Gentleman had better reconcile what he said then with what he says now.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that both of today's statements should help to improve standards and value for money in higher education? Does he agree that colleges and universities could contribute to those aims by re-examining the academic year? The principal of Aberdeen university has shown how that might be done, and he should have the support of Ministers and academics.

That is a matter for the university of Aberdeen to determine, and I do not wish to comment on it. One of our objectives is to ensure that there is a proper use of resources and that unnecessary duplication is avoided. There has been occasional duplication of resources between the central institutions and the Scottish universities — for example, in the subject areas of engineering and technology, business and management, and architecture and town and country planning. The proposals have been announced to ensure better coordination of provision.

Does not the nature of the sub-committee for Scotland give us the worst of both worlds? Is there not a danger that the Secretary of State for Scotland may end up playing second fiddle to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who will now be involved in the Scottish universities? What guarantees can the Secretary of State offer that the Universities Funding Council, which will appoint the sub-committee with his agreement, will not end up with a creature that suits it?

Because the appointment of members to the Scottish committee will be planned in consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have already outlined the broad spectrum of people—from a broad spectrum of backgrounds—that I would expect to serve on that committee.

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I subscribe to a common policy of government. My role will be to ensure that proper account is taken of the interests of higher education in Scotland and that the role of the central institutions and universities in Scotland are more effectively co-ordinated. The universities in Scotland want that co-ordination to be effected without it being done at the expense of the great value that they rightly attach to their presence as part of the United Kingdom university structure.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement is most welcome, not only because he has accepted the advice that I gave in the Scottish Grand Committee in January of last year, but because Scotland will get the best of both worlds? Students from all parts of Great Britain will continue to be able to come to high quality universities such as the university of St. Andrews.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that possibly the most important and welcome news that we have heard this afternoon has been that scientific research will continue without pause this year, and that more young Scots will have access to higher education in the years to come than ever before?

Yes, my hon. Friend is indeed correct that the announcement of an additional £15 million for research that was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science earlier will make a valuable contribution to ensuring the smooth continuation of important research during the years to come.

Will the Secretary of State concede that what we all want is a Scottish higher education system that meets the needs of the 21st century? We are concerned that the sub-committee will not hold to systematic views, but be a pantomime horse that will try to face in both directions at once. There will be no co-ordination or thrust in relation to the needs of Scottish education, now or in the future. We desire a thrustful organisation, a spearhead, a planning organisation, and that has manifestly not been included in the statement.

The hon. Gentleman makes a bland statement without supporting evidence. He must acknowledge that the views that he has expressed are flatly contradicted by the vast majority of those in the universities of Scotland, and he will have to explain that.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement of the future involvement of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Universities Funding Council and the Scottish committee. That is clearly a major step forward.

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that there is a clear need, accepted by everyone, for effective planning across the binary divide in Scotland. Is he satisfied that the system—it is essentially a guidance system—that he has announced will achieve that? As regards his point about demand, does he agree that the crucial figures are the participation rates in higher education in Scotland, which have been excellent in recent years? Can he give the House any guidance on how those figures are likely to go next year?

I believe that the UFC and the Scottish committee will have the same interest in the proper co-ordination of higher education in Scotland as would the Scottish Office. That will represent substantial progress.

On participation in higher education in Scotland, my hon. Friend knows that the White Paper is based on an assumption that the proportion of young people who will have qualifications for entry into higher education in the United Kingdom as a whole will have reached 20 per cent. by the end of the century. I am happy to inform my hon. Friend that Scotland reached that figure in 1980. By 1985–86, the proportion in Scotland was 23 per cent. That shows the great opportunities that are available for higher education in Scotland under this Government.

When the Secretary of State referred to six out of eight universities, if he did not mean exclusively vice-chancellors and principals, precisely whose opinions did he take into account before making his statement? Why has he disregarded the overwhelming—if not unanimous—view of students, who supported the STEAC recommendations about an over-arching body? Why has the Secretary of State rejected their views?

I am not aware of any referendums having been held in the universities of Scotland to establish the views of students as a whole. Such referendums have not been held. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's assessment of students' opinions is no better or worse than that of anyone else. We are entitled to assume that the views of university principals — unless they have been repudiated by the university courts or senates — represent the views of the universities. If the hon. Gentleman were able to inform me that the majority of university principals were in favour of the STEAC recommendations, he would not have tried to suggest that that was of little value in determining opinion in the universities.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the considerations that led the last Labour Government to believe that the integrity of the British university systems should prevent the Scottish universities' removal from that are as powerful now as they were then.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Scottish universities enjoy exceptionally generous funding compared with those in England and Wales? I have seen figures that suggest that they receive as much as 25 per cent. more. Can he confirm that the new system will not prejudice that, since funding under a Scottish Office body might? Are we not witnessing yet another example of the Opposition's Scottish assembly dogma being put before the interests of the people of Scotland?

No, I would not suggest that the Scottish universities are funded better or worse than universities elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Because the Scottish universities have four-year degree courses, they require additional funding for each student, compared with that for students in universities with three-year degree courses. That means that a higher proportion of funding goes to Scottish universities.

May I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that, contrary to the ridiculous nonsense uttered by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), his statement will be welcomed in Aberdeen, particularly by the Robert Gordon's institute of technology, which will now be able to increase its number of science and technology students? Is my right hon. and learned Friend also aware that his statement will be welcomed by the university of Aberdeen with the demise of the University Grants Committee? Will the Universities Funding Council look closely at the need for Aberdeen university to have more money for research, rather than have penalties imposed upon it by the UGC?

The Universities Funding Council has not yet come into existence, so it is difficult for me to anticipate what its view will be. But I remind my hon. Friend of the important announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, that the resources for research at universities in the United Kingdom are being increased substantially.

Will any organisations have a right to serve on the Scottish committee, or will they simply have to take their chance? Does my right hon. and learned Friend hope to see employers' organisations on the committee, so that there is some industrial input, in these days when we require more industry?

Members of the proposed Scottish committee will be there as individuals rather than representing organisations, but I have said that I envisage that the committee will include members drawn from the non-university sector and employers, as well as from the UFC, and that there will be representations from the universities in Scotland as well as from the Scottish Office.

May I take it from what my right hon. and learned Friend has told the House that the proposal will preserve the university framework in Great Britain, with a clear Scottish dimension within that framework? Is he satisfied that the importance of higher education throughout Scottish society will be fully recognised and pressed by the Scottish angle of the new body?

I firmly believe that the proposals that we have announced today represent the best of both worlds for the Scottish universities because they not only provide continuing integration of the United Kingdom structure, which is what the universities want, but, for the first time, they enable a sensible co-ordination of the needs of higher education in Scotland, which both the Scottish universities and the central institutions recognise as being important to their future.

Questions To Ministers

4.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I shall not complain unduly at the fact that today's was the second environment Question Time when, unfortunately, I failed to catch your eye—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Yes. Part of the reason for that is that questions tend to be rather long on both sides of the House. On the Labour Front Bench, we have seven shadow Ministers who all seem to want to intervene at least twice, which cuts the time for Back Benchers to ask questions.

Question No. 3, asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), was about Fulham football club. I wanted to ask a question about Chelsea football club, which is also very much under threat—

Order. With great respect, I anticipated that. That question was about Fulham. I did not think that Chelsea would be in order.

I think that I could have found a way of linking the two, but that is not the point.

The point is this. The Minister responsible for sport was present at that time. We do not have many opportunities to direct questions at him. I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you exercise some judgment when it is the turn of a Minister to answer questions, who is not often put at the Dispatch Box—given his performance, one can understand why. That should be an opportunity for us to ask direct questions of a Minister who is not often in the Chamber. In future, when such an opportunity arises, will you exercise some discretion, Mr. Speaker, and allow the questions to run on for a little while?

I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman said, but, with the greatest respect, I cannot use my discretion to allow supplementaries to go wide of a question. The course that the hon. Gentleman should take is to table questions and hope that they come near the top of the list on the Order Paper.

Hon Member For Ynys Môn

4.33 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am raising a matter of which I have informed you. I have also informed the hon. Member concerned.

The hon. Member in question, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best), has just made a statement that he made multiple applications for British Telecom shares. In view of that statement, Mr. Speaker, have you heard that it is the hon. Gentleman's intention to make a personal statement to the House, on his own admission, which may be a serious crime?

I have not had any intimation at all of a personal statement, and I do not know anything about that matter.

Well, Mr. Speaker, it is well known that Members of Parliament are supposed to put statements about shares and their interests in various matters in the Register of Members' Interests. I should like to know—[Interruption.] Just hear this out. In future, we must make sure that we have a full and comprehensive register. When people make multiple applications for shares in companies that have been privatised, for which they have voted in the House, will you see to it, Mr. Speaker, that that is included? Would it be a sensible item to include on the register in future, because—[Interruption.]

Order. I heard the hon. Gentleman. He should take up that matter with the Committee concerned. It is not a matter of order.

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not my role. He must make his own decisions in these matters.

Bill Presented

Dartford-Thurrock Crossing

Mr. Secretary Moore, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Ridley, Mr. John MacGregor, Mr. Secretary Channon and Mr. Peter Bottomley, presented a Bill to provide for the construction of a bridge over the River Thames between Dartford in Kent and Thurrock in Essex and of associated works; to provide for the Secretary of State to be the highway authority for the highways passing through the tunnels under that river between Dartford and Thurrock and their approaches, instead of Kent and Essex County Councils; to provide for the. levying of tolls, by a person appointed by the Secretary of State or by the Secretary of State, in respect of traffic using the crossing; to provide for transfers of property arid liabilities of those Councils to the person appointed and the Secretary of State and for the transfer to the Secretary of State of property and liabilities of the person appointed on termination of his appointment; to provide for the management of the crossing, including the imposition of prohibitions, restrictions and requirements in relation to traffic, and otherwise in relation to the crossing; and for connected purposes; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 126.]

Why do you not tell the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and his hon. Friend instead of picking on Labour Members?

Housebuyers' Protection Bill

4.36 pm

I beg to move,

The leave be given to bring in a Bill to ensure the registration for public inspection of the selling prices of all residential properties; and for connected purposes.

I shall break all the records for brevity in introducing the Bill, but it is a matter of importance.

For most people, buying a house or flat is the biggest financial transaction of their life, yet that decision is made with less knowledge than when they buy, for example, a second-hand motor car or a packet of cornflakes. The key problem to which my Bill directs itself is that the buyer of a house or flat does not know how much to offer when he or she looks at an estate agent's list. Of course the asking price is published, but we all know that, while sometimes the asking price will be identical to the selling price, at others there may be a 20 or 30 per cent. difference between the two. Estate agents—perhaps not surprisingly—are rather secretive about the prices at which their properties sell.

My Bill is simplicity itself. It provides that, when a house or flat is sold, the price at which it changes hands will be registered for inspection, probably at the local town hall or Inland Revenue office. The information to be given will be the price of the property—I am talking about residential properties only—the date of the transaction and whether the property was sold freehold or leasehold. The name of the purchaser or the seller will not be published. Indeed, that information is already made available to the Inland Revenue at the Land Registry, but is not published by it, so the cost of that procedure would be minimal.

The advantage is that when anyone seeks to buy a property in a particular area, all he or she has to do is to inspect the lists on which are shown the dates of transaction and prices of similar properties that have been sold in the recent past. That enables the buyer to make his or her offer for the property with much more knowledge than ever before. The results will be to stabilise prices—not to control them, because demand and supply will still affect the price levels; but the Bill will have at least some effect in lessening the likelihood of gazumping because better knowledge of prices will give people less incentive to leap over a price that has already been partially agreed.

The Bill will also help in the valuation of properties, and in some instances it will even be of help to sellers. I cannot speak for all estate agents, but the few with whom I have discussed the Bill seem to think that it is not a had idea. I say most emphatically that I do not regard this provision as an invasion of privacy. The individual's name would not be involved. I believe that this is a simple and effective way of protecting consumers in their capacity as buyers of property and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alfred Dubs, Mr. John Fraser, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Clive Soley, Mr. Nick Raynsford, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Robin Corbett, Mr. George Howarth and Mr. David Clelland.

Housebuyers' Protection Bill

Mr. Alfred Dubs accordingly presented a Bill to ensure the registration for public inspection of the selling prices of all residential properties; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 1 May and to be printed [Bill 131.]

Orders Of The Day

Criminal Justice Bill

As amended, (in the Standing Committee), further considered.

New Clause 1

Death Penalty

'A person convicted by the unanimous verdict of a jury of the premeditated killing of another person or of knowingly and intentionally killing another person in a manner, or for a reason, or in circumstances which a reasonable person would consider to be evil, shall suffer death in the manner authorised by law.'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Before I call the right hon. and learned Member for Southport (Sir I. Percival) to move the new clause, I announce to the House that I have selected amendments (a), (b), and (c) to the new clause. I repeat what I said earlier. An enormous number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. I have no way of limiting the length of speeches. However, it would be very helpful today if an average of 10 minutes per speech could he achieved. That would mean that a great many right hon. and hon. Members would be called.

4.41 pm

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

I start from the premise that every single right hon. and hon. Member is greatly concerned about the level of violence in this country, that we all have an equal concern for the sanctity of life, and that we are all equally conscious of the responsibility that rests on our shoulders for the safety of those whose lives are at risk from criminals. I hope that every hon. Member will start from the same premise. That is to say, that no one has a monopoly of those thoughts or values. The difference between us is that those who support the new clause sincerely believe that the death penalty has a part to play in connection with those concerns and responsibilities. We do not claim that the death penalty will resolve all the evil violence with which our society is beset. However, we do claim that it has a role to play in lessening it.

I will explain fully to the House why I say that, but first I want to deal quickly with one or two generalities. Some people say—I think mainly to divert attention from the real issues—"Why again and why now?". The answer is quite simple. The reason we say that the House should consider the subject again is that we are putting a new approach before the House — and we are putting it before the House at a time when there has been a rising tide of evil, the like of which I have never seen in my life. We believe that the House should debate the new approach in the light of the new circumstances, and we believe that the public expects the House to do that. With regard to the question "Why now?", it is because the Bill is the perfect, if not the only, vehicle for raising the issue before the House, and it was inevitable once the Bill was presented that this debate would take place at this stage.

Next I want to consider another but quite different generality. There are some who will always say that in no circumstances is it permissible for anyone to take life, and that the worst of all is for the state to take life because that sets an example of brutality. I do not agree with that. I shall endeavour to show why I think that it is wrong, but it is a point of view. Neither part of that has ever been accepted by the majority of this House.

It has always been accepted that the death penalty is the appropriate penalty for treason and that the state has the right to execute those found guilty. Less well known outside the House is the fact that our service men are liable to execution if convicted of any one of five offences. It is well known in this House because as recently as 10 April 1986 there was an attempt, no doubt very sincere, to abolish those penalties. In fact, that was defeated by a majority of 3:1, and it is interesting to note that that majority included a significant number of hon. Members who on other occasions have voted against the death penalty. Maybe some of them have changed their minds. Whether that is so or not, it is clear that for the majority the question is not whether anyone guilty of any crime should ever be executed, but which ones should be executed. That is the question to which we who have tabled the new clause have addressed our minds, producing in the result a wholly new approach.

Immediately after the war, there were great debates in the House and in another place on this very issue. The then Archbishop of Canterbury put forward a view that was pretty representative of others when he said that, although he felt that the weight of experience and argument was against the abolition or suspension of the death penalty at that point, he was against returning to the state where it was the automatic penalty for all murder, and he hoped that someone would propose a way of discriminating between the less heinous and the more heinous, and he felt that if someone did so that would be a real step forward.

In an attempt to meet that., the Government of the day brought forward such a proposal based on a list principle. It listed certain types of murder that were supposed to be more heinous than others. That was enacted in statutory form in the Homicide Act 1957, and in my opinion that was a disaster. It led to the Lord Chief Justice of the day saying later, in 1964, that he was for the abolition of the death penalty not on any moral grounds, but merely because the Homicide Act 1957 was so bad. I would need a great deal of persuading before I would support any return to any kind of list because any kind of list necessarily involves a real danger of terrible anomalies. We have sought to meet the archbishop's point while avoiding the pitfalls of the list system.

I want to explain briefly to the House how the proposal would work because there has been the most fearful misunderstanding or misrepresentation, call it what you like. The system would work like this: the judge would have to say to the jury, "Ladies and gentlemen, you have to be sure, and unanimous, that the accused killed the person referred to. You have to be sure that it was premeditated or that it was done knowingly arid intentionally. But that is not enough. You must also be sure, all of you, that the manner, reason or circumstances in which it was done was such that any reasonable person would consider it to be evil." The judge would say, "I cannot define evil to you. That is for you, the members of the jury, to exercise your qualitative judgment." There is nothing new in that. Already in many cases a qualitative judgment must be exercised by the jury. Where a qualitative judgment is required, what better body to exercise that judgment than a jury? Two objections have been raised to that so far. One was raised this morning that, on the drafting, two offences are created, one up to the first "or" in the new clause and one after. I do not think that that is so. Even so, there is nothing in that point which, if it is a defect, cannot easily be cured by including the words, "in either case done". On that point, if there is a defect, it can readily be put right and I would agree to doing that to remove any doubt.

The other objection is on the question of the definition of evil. I do not think that a jury would have difficulty with the word "evil". It is not a word that I dreamt up. It has been used by judges frequently recently. I noticed two cases in the past 10 days—they have nothing to do with my use of the word — where the judges in sentencing said, "You are evil men." "These were evil crimes". In any case, the system would work as follows. For example, if Hindawi had succeeded in killing 376 people, would any jury have had any doubt or would it have taken them more than five seconds to decide on the requirement of evil? Hon. Members do not appreciate that there is a built-in fail-safe provision in that if just one member of the jury says, "No, I am not sure", there can be no conviction under the clause.

I do not claim that my wording is perfect. but I know that if the new clause is carried there will be the most rigorous examination by everyone who is interested, including both Houses of Parliament and all the lawyers. I would in no sense resent that. On the contrary, any assistance which would improve the wording would be most welcome. It would be as flattering as it would be unlikely that I had got it exactly right first time.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend address himself to a problem relating to the jury? He will agree that a sizeable minority of people, among whom I number myself, oppose the death penalty. As some members of any jury are likely to be drawn from that number, what are the chances of anyone being found guilty by a unanimous verdict?