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Commons Chamber

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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House Of Commons

Monday 11 May 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

British Railways (Stansted) Bill

Aberystwyth Harbour Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers To Questions

Energy

Coal Industry

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal to discuss changes in working practices in the coal industry.

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal; and what matters were discussed.

I have regular meetings with the chairman of British Coal to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

In talking to the all-party minerals group and in recent public statements, the chairman of British Coal has spoken extensively about the changes in work practices in the Margam colliery and elsewhere in the British coalfields. Will the Secretary of State join me in asking the chairman of British Coal to meet the national executive committees of the mining unions so that any changes in national agreements can be negotiated in a proper manner instead of being handed down like a diktat from the British Coal board?

One has seen the reaction of Welsh miners and other people in the mining industry to the proposals that have been made. The hon. Gentleman knows that a great many people in the mining industry, including many of the staff of NACODS, work more than a five-day week. Most miners are interested in improving their productivity.

Did the Secretary of State discuss the problem of mining subsidence with the chairman of British Coal, bearing in mind the problem that I and other hon. Members who represent mining constituencies have experienced and the fact that many miners have had claims rejected because British Coal has moved the goal posts arid left people with a raw deal? I hope that the Secretary of State will discuss this problem with the chairman of British Coal and get it sorted out.

We have had discussions with the board and others on this subject and I hope that we can make some positive proposals in this sphere.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would welcome any developments in the coal industry that would make British coal competitive enough to burn in Fawley B power station in my constituency, if it is ever built. Can he yet reply to my constituents' request for a full public inquiry before he gives the go-ahead for that power station?

I am in a difficult position, as my hon. Friend will understand. I have had no application from the CEGB for such a power station, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I will bear in mind the local views, including the ones that he has just mentioned, if such an application takes place.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the interesting remarks that Mick McGahey made last week when he said that modern work practices must be introduced in Margam and elsewhere, and that the Labour movement should be a movement not a monument?

Yes, Sir. It is remarkable that at present Mr. Scargill seems unwilling to accept that large sections of this country work variable shifts. Nobody is asking any miner to work shifts that are in any way contrary to the present safety standards, and I find it quite staggering that this matter is not being looked at objectively. I am delighted that for once I have Mr. McGahey on my side.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the often expressed view of the chairman of British Coal that if the National Union of Mineworkers does not accept the proposed changes in working practices no new mines will be sunk or, alternatively, that he will call on the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to do the job? That is not conducive to good industrial relations. What does the Secretary of State think about it?

First, I hasten to say that I have heard no such remarks by the chairman of the Coal Board, who has sensibly pointed out to meetings which included members of the NUM and other mining unions that competition and productivity were the all-important elements and that it is in the interests of miners to do better in using the massive amount of capital that the Government have injected into the industry.

Does the Secretary of State accept that some of the changes in working practices may require legislation rather than meetings with the chairman of British Coal, and that it would therefore be highly desirable for him to meet the national executives of the mining unions to discuss the successful future of the industry, for which Labour Members wish perhaps more than do Conservatives?

I am not sure who the hon. Gentleman means by "him", but if he means me, I am always willing to meet the executives of any of the unions concerned to discuss any questions that they wish to discuss. I should be only too delighted to discuss with the executive of any mineworkers union the manner in which they can take advantage of the £5 billion investment that the Government have put into the industry.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what has been the increase in labour productivity in the coal mining industry since March 1984.

For the week ending 2 May average deep-mined revenue output per man shift was 3·65 tonnes, an impressive increase of more than 50 per cent. on the average of 2·43 for 1983–84.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that substantial increase in productivity is a remarkable tribute to the miners and to the management of the National Coal Board, and does he expect further improvement in the forthcoming year?

Yes, I very much hope for further improvements, which I hope will be contrasted by those who are interested in the future of the industry with the fact that under the Labour Government productivity fell year after year.

As the Secretary of State continually congratulates the south Wales miners on their increased productivity, will he tell them whether an application has been made to Brussels for EC financial aid for the Margam development and, if not, why not?

I am not sure whether the application has been made, but I assure the hon. Lady that it is being made.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there has been a 43 per cent. improvement in productivity in the north-east coalfield in exactly the same period? Is he aware that that field will be profitable this year and for the first time in years is recruiting some 200 trainees? Does he agree that that gives the lie to the claim that the Government are not supporting the industry in the north-east?

Yes. In the five years of the Labour Government £3·5 billion at current prices was invested in the industry, compared with more than £5 billion in five years of Conservative Government. That proves the point. My hon. Friend is, however, slightly out of date. In the week ending 2 May the north east achieved an all-time record of 3·42 tonnes per man shift.

Bearing in mind all the successes that the Secretary of State has been talking about, does he agree that taking on private capital or privatising the industry would be an ideological and political decision rather than a business decision?

I have always told the House that I have examined no immediate plans for privatisation, because at present substantial volumes of aid and assistance have to go in to rationalise the industry, but I would never be against the management and employees of the coal industry having a direct participation in their industry.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that productivity in the south Derbyshire and south Leicestershire coalfields in my constituency is at its highest ever? Does he agree that that is a tribute to the reasonableness of the miners there, most of whom are members of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers, and justifies the massive investment that the Government are to put into the area in the future?

There are few industries in the world in which during the period of a Government about £2 million per day has been invested in new machinery, new equipment and new capital. I am delighted that we have done that, and I am even more delighted that the miners have responded with the present marvellous productivity figures.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the increased productivity of British mines is due not only to the laudable efforts of the miners but to the machinery that has recently been introduced? Is he further aware that British mining machinery manufacturers are very critical of the Government's attitudes and policies towards the manufacture of that machinery?

It so happens that one of the most successful and biggest mining machinery manufacturers in the country is in my constituency. I might be accused of having put all this investment in the mining industry for that reason. It has no complaints about the Government.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents have been breaking records week in and week out for the past six months and that the western area is now, for the first time in 13 years, profitable? Is it not the case that under the Conservative Government the coal industry is increasingly becoming one in which the work force and management are proud to work?

Yes. When the Conservative Government came to power after five years of declining productivity under the last Labour Government, no one would have considered it possible to increase productivity by 50 per cent. during this period.

In the light of the satisfactory figures that the Secretary of State has announced, do the Government propose to do anything about cheap, subsidised coal imports?

The fact is that the coal industry will get a bigger share of the market due to its improved productivity, and I am delighted about that.

Foreign Nuclear Power Reactors

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what information he has as to how many foreign nuclear power reactors are at approximately the same distance as or nearer to the United Kingdom than, Chernobyl.

The publicly available figures on the siting of power reactors show that there are some 185 civil power reactors in operation or under construction at approximately the same or a nearer distance to the United Kingdom than Chernobyl.

Even if we did not have the highest standards of design, construction and safety in our British nuclear power stations, does not my hon. Friend's reply underline the absurdity of Britain having any policy either of standstill in nuclear power development or, even more absurd, of getting rid of such power stations? Is not the real lesson from Chernobyl that there must be the highest enforceable international standards of safety, inspection and exchange of information in all matters nuclear?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This country has welcomed and signed the two new conventions on early notification and mutual assistance. The International Atomic Energy Agency is considering a number of proposals for international co-operation, some of them put forward by my right hon. Friend. We are fully committed to that work.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the chief inspector for nuclear installations told the Energy Select Committee last week that he did not have sufficient staff to enable him to liaise with his European counterparts? He also informed the Committee that, because of that shortage, various serious situations have been created at Sellafield which could have led to serious accidents. What are the Minister's views on that?

With the greatest possible respect, the hon. Gentleman has not quite accurately recounted what the chief inspector of nuclear installations said. The NII has always been able to carry its essential statutory function. The Government are determined that the NII should be adequately staffed by suitably qualified people. The inspectors were awarded a special pay increase of £3,500 last September. Salaries have been increased further to achieve the Government's determination to have 120 inspectors by April next year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse)? I support nuclear power, but we can have it only if we are certain that there is adequate safety monitoring? Will my hon. Friend think again about his reply to the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford, because at the Energy Select Committee last week it was said that there was difficulty in recruiting people of the right calibre for the NII?

With respect, the remarks of the chief nuclear installations inspector to which my hon. Friend refers may have been made in ignorance of the further increases of pay that I have just announced.

Does the Minister agree that Mr. Ryder's comments to the Select Committee are important and that the Government should make a public response to Mr. Ryder's allegations?

I have no doubt that when the Select Committee's report appears a response will be forthcoming in the usual way.

Efficiency

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his latest assessment of the impact of his Department's measures to promote energy efficiency.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what new proposals he has to increase measures for the conservation of energy.

The take-up of schemes and sales of energy efficiency products increased significantly during Energy Efficiency Year. My right hon. Friend and I are building upon the success of the year through the development of a 14-point programme of action which I outlined to my hon. Friend in January.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and the steps that he has taken to promote energy efficiency. Will he join me in welcoming the new initiative taken by Surrey county council whereby, for a nominal sum, firms can make use of an airborne survey, using infrared scanning, to detect heat loss from buildings, and can then take remedial action to save significantly on their heating bills?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Surrey county council on its mounting of the airborne thermographic survey. It is a worthwhile and forward-looking initiative. Thermographic surveys can pinpoint energy waste and are a vital weapon in the battle to ensure that we are a more energy-efficient nation.

How much are the Government proposing to spend in the next 12 months on energy conservation, and how much do they believe that such expenditure will save the country?

The Government propose to continue the clear emphasis that they have already placed on concentrating more help on those who are in the greatest need, as visualised in the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the home insultation scheme will be concentrated on low-income families. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has announced the furthering of the work of the vital community insulation projects.

Can my hon. Friend report any progress in his discussions with the Treasury to allow the public sector to take advantage of private sector energy management companies offering third-party financing on an energy-shared saving basis? Does he realise that the delay has held up a huge area of investment in the public sector that could have reduced public expenditure on energy bills?

The new Government guidelines on the use of contract energy management in the public sector have increased significantly the ways in which taxpayers and ratepayers can be saved hundreds of millions of pounds a year in energy bills. The guidelines are an important step forward in our campaign to increase energy efficiency in the public sector.

Will the Minister confirm one simple fact? Does he accept that where there are no MSC-sponsored community energy projects, individual poorer households will not now be able to obtain the equivalent of single payment for draughtproofing, as they were until recently?

The hon. Gentleman constantly decries the work of community insulation projects. When the Government came into power there were six such projects, and there are now 385. It is the Government's determination to ensure that there is a correct balance of groups throughout the country. The ultimate target is a total—[Interruption.]

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Government came to power there were six groups that had been set up by his Administration. We now have a target of 500 groups, and I hope that these will cover all the areas that need this support.

Union Of Democratic Mineworkers

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he has any plans to meet the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to discuss industrial relations in the mining industry; and if he will make a statement.

I am pleased to say that I shall be addressing the Union of Democratic Mineworkers' annual conference, when I expect to discuss many issues with it.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent reply. Is it not stunning proof of one nation when representatives of working miners get round to inviting a Conservative Secretary of State to address their annual conference? Given the recent expressions of dissent from Mr. Scargill by even the National Union of Mineworkers in south Wales, does my right hon. Friend agree that only the Conservative party could have released miners from the bondage of the NUM?

Obviously, I welcome the opportunity to address the conference of those mineworkers who abided by the traditional position of mineworkers in this country of taking industrial action only after they had balloted. Those miners overwhelmingly balloted not to strike and with great courage continued to work during that period. I welcome the opportunity to discuss matters with the union, especially as its members, too, broke all-time production records last week.

In the discussions that the Secretary of State may have with members of the UDM, or any other mining unions, will he raise with them the arrears that are due to pensioners and widows as a result of their pensions increase? Will the Secretary of State accept from me that those pensioners have not received their increases, which were due last October? Will he assure the UDM and other mineworkers that that pension increase will be paid? Will he assure the UDM and other mineworkers that the devastating effect on retired miners as a result of not receiving that increase will be erased and that the despicable attitude of British Coal and the trustees of the pension scheme in not paying that increase will be changed? Does he agree that the pension should be increased?

I also agree that, as a result of this Government, more miners have retired on better pensions than ever before. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of that.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend will address the members of the UDM at its annual meeting. Is it not because of the present industrial relations attitude adopted by the UDM that we have these record productivity increases? Is not Nottinghamshire the cheapest producer of coal in the United Kingdom?

Obviously, I am delighted that the week I have just quoted represented an all-time record for the Nottinghamshire miners. Their achievements have been remarkable. The entire nation praises the UDM, not only for what it is achieving at the present time, but for the manner in which UDM members faced the mobs organised against them during the coal dispute.

Is the Secretary of State aware that last Thursday the UDM in Nottinghamshire had a secret ballot and voted overwhelmingly for the Labour party? In my constituency and in Mansfield they were the best results that we have had for many years. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Tories took the city of Nottingham—they won it by one seat, when Labour had previously held it by one seat? In one campaign the Tories won by three votes only and the alliance did not win a seat, although the Communists did?

I note the hon. Gentleman's neurosis about the impending election. Given the lack of support that the Labour party gave to the Nottinghamshire miners I expect some devastatingly bad results for the Labour party in the election.

Commercial Buildings

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement concerning the construction of more energy-efficient commercial buildings.

My energy efficiency office is concerned to encourage the construction of energy-efficient commercial buildings and supports a range of initiatives to improve the energy efficiency of new commercial buildings, in collaboration with professional groups and the industry.

I thank my hon. Friend for his constructive reply. Does he agree with me that if measures were taken along these lines there would be sufficient energy savings to produce a much more economical operation for the companies concerned? Does he agree also that it is necessary to involve architects and developers in the measures that he has outlined? Does he further agree that it is important to proceed along these lines to ensure a better working environment for those employed in such buildings?

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. All new buildings should incorporate the latest energy efficient designs. Consumer expectation has been raised by the development of low-energy buildings. However, it is calculated that industrial and commercial buildings waste £800 million a year, and that is why I recognised what my hon. Friend said, that we must work harder to gain the support of building professionals, through close collaboration.

Will the Minister tell the House exactly what measures his Department will take to promote energy efficiency, not only in commercial buildings, but in old-age pensioners homes, to prevent the high number of deaths from hypothermia every dreadful winter?

The Government have done more than any other Government, not just in providing heating allowances and heating support, but in ensuring that community insulation projects go from strength to strength. We are now aiming at such projects producing 8,000 jobs and insulating over 300,000 houses per year, particularly those belonging to people on low incomes.

Opencast Mining

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what is his estimate of the output from opencast mining in 1987.

Does the Minister accept that a substantial level of opencast production is secured at the cost of grave disadvantage to communities living in the vicinity of mining sites? Bearing in mind that there are gatherings of those who are poised to secure profit from the privatisation of the coal business, will the Minister assure hon. Members that the views of local communities will be given commanding influence when any proposals are considered to ensure that the local environment, rather than private profit, is preserved? Will the Minister also ensure that the people of Rawmarsh, Wath and Swinton in my constituency are safe from the development of an unwanted site?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, with his background in and experience of the coal industry, is aware that British Coal is among the world leaders in the restoration of opencast sites. It is important to recognise that the right balance must be struck between developing opencast coal reserves and the need to protect the environment. British Coal's new booklet on opencast coal mining emphasises the opencast executive's positive commitment to the highest environmental standards.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the cost of production of opencast coal is way below that of deep-mined coal and that, particularly over the past 10 years, there has been a total transformation in the restoration of workings of opencast coal mines, to the extent that we lead the world?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I emphasise again that opencast coal is an important resource in the United Kingdom that can be produced cheaply and profitably. It is a vital part of British Coal's operations, particularly in deep-mine pits, such as Lea Hall and Littleton, where opencast coal is absolutely necessary to make the product burnable.

Is the Minister aware that it is widely forecast that opencast mine output is to be increased vastly by private enterprise? Is he further aware that only British Coal has detailed knowledge of the quantity, quality and so on of coal reserves? That knowledge has been gained at vast expense. Will he ensure that any information regarding coal reserves that is sought by private contractors will be made available at a substantial cost commensurate with the cost of obtaining such information?

The level of opencast output has to be determined by the market, subject to the acceptability of individual planning projects as determined through the existing planning system. As I said, British Coal takes its responsibilities as a good neighbour very seriously. Its record demonstrates that in the opencast sector.

Does my hon. Friend accept that opencast mining has a devastating effect on communities? Does he consider that the right policy to adopt is that there should be no more than one opencast mine at a time in an area, not two or three at a time?

The planning procedures ensure that applications to work opencast coal do not go ahead without all the arguments for and against being aired. That allows, in the best possible way, for a balanced judgment to be reached. I add that the opencast executive spends a great deal of time and effort in reducing the impact of its sites and restoring them once coaling has ceased.

Is the Minister aware that in our valley the opencast executive is proposing major schemes to tear up both sides of the valley? Is he aware also that the present Secretary of State for Wales overruled his own planning inspector on a scheme in his own constituency on environmental grounds? Is that not a good example for others to follow?

The hon. Gentleman is constantly trying to inject emotion into this afternoon's Question Time. A little reality would be helpful. I think he should recognise that British Coal is spending a considerable amount of time and effort to increase both public and local authority understanding of opencast mining. I commend to him the booklet that British Coal published last week.

Community Insulation Programme

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement concerning the expanded community insulation programme and its implications for jobs.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy what representations he has received concerning plans to revise the home insulation programme; and if he will make a statement.

Neighbourhood energy action has welcomed my announcement about future arrangements to finance the work of the community insulation projects. By 1988 the number of people employed by projects and learning valuable skills will have increased from 6,000 to 8,000, and over 300,000 homes a year will be being insulated.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging reply and I welcome the good news about jobs. Does he agree that it is typical of the way that Conservative Governments take action to get on with the job and take a lead in matters concerning energy conservation, job creation and help for pensioners and others with their heating?

Yes. It has been a staggering achievement already. Half a million such homes have been insulated, at the same time helping people to obtain new jobs and new skills. But even more remarkable is that in the next couple of years that figure will rise to 300,000 a year. That will mean a great deal of comfort and warmth to elderly and low-income families, and also a great deal of work.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the problems in Leeds with the unions which inhibited work being done on council houses, have been overcome and that the work is now going ahead? The only thing that people are concerned about is that the new regulations will prevent the work being done for the benefit of many people, both in council and private houses. Therefore, will the Secretary of State look again at the regulations and ensure the development of a scheme for the benefit of all?

I am anxious to develop the scheme. We have succeeded in developing the scheme to a massive multiple of what existed under the Lib-Lab pact.

Leicester (Heat And Power)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy if he will make a statement on the latest position concerning the supply and purchase of gas by the Leicester Combined Heat and Power Consortium (Leicester Energy Ltd.).

The contractual negotiations are, of course, a commercial matter for the Leicester consortium and its fuel suppliers, but I understand that the consortium has not yet finalised arrangements for the purchase of fuel supplies.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the £80 million investment by the Leicester Combined Heat and Power Consortium (Leicester Energy Ltd.) is under threat because of the difficulty in negotiating a regular long-term supply from British Gas? Is he aware also that it is now considering purchasing a North sea gas field? Can my hon. Friend help in some way to bring prosperity to the area and reduce the cost of oil heating by getting British Gas to offer a more reasonable price for the power available?

I hope my hon. Friend will recognise that it is not for Ministers to intervene in negotiations between the Leicester consortium and its fuel suppliers, but he is right to highlight the importance of the scheme. The consortium is to be congratulated on producing a professional report. I hope that the scheme will go ahead if it can be proved to be economically viable. I repeat that if it had not been for my hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer), we would not have recognised the importance of the scheme in the first place.

British Coal Enterprise Ltd

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Energy when he next proposes to discuss with the chairman of British Coal the progress of British Coal Enterprise Ltd.

I discuss the progress of British Coal Enterprise Ltd. with the chairman of the British Coal Corporation whenever it seems appropriate to do so.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the chairman that no one really believes the stories about the so-called wild success of British Coal Enterprise Ltd.? Will he also take the opportunity to re-examine the whole scheme with a view to replacing the thousands of jobs that have been lost in mining areas? At the same time, will he stop the closure of pits until alternative employment is available? The situation is desperate in many areas, including my own.

Since British Coal Enterprise Ltd. started we have spent £28 million of the £40 million that was allocated, and we have created 16,641 new job opportunities in coal-mining communities. In the northeast, 2,386 new jobs have so far been created and by the time we get through the £40 million, some 25,000 will have been created. This is an outstanding record compared with anything that has happened previously.

When we have won the next election, will my right hon. Friend consider discussing with the chairman of British Coal the extension of real democratic control of the coal miners by working towards a management and work force buy-out?

As I said earlier, I am all in favour of those who work in this industry, and who are having such success in increased productivity, having the correct participation in their industry.

The Arts

Films

19.

asked the Minister for the Arts if he will make a statement on his policy towards fulfilling the commercial potential of films produced by students.

I have ministerial responsibility for the National Film and Television School. The main purpose of the school's film-making is educational. Where opportunities arise, the films are distributed commercially. A recent example is "Home from the Hill", a successful documentary that was broadcast on BBC television.

I think I am right in saying that the film and television industries derive great benefit from the school and, of course, from its students. What part do the industries play in supporting the school, and should they not play a greater part?

My hon. Friend is right. The school produces people who are expert in the television and film worlds and provides a fund of talent, especially for the television industry. Therefore, the television industry and the film industry produce about half the funds. I welcome that, and there is scope for more funding on their part.

East Midlands

20.

asked the Minister for the Arts what representations he has received about the level of financial support for the arts by local authorities in the east midlands.

I have no record of recent representations about the level of financial support for the arts by specific local authority areas. The level of support is, of course, within the responsibility of each local authority.

Will the Minister join me in recognising the efforts being made in Nottingham and in my constituency with a view to providing more cinema screens and to encourage Nottingham city council to go along with the appropriate scheme that is on offer? At the same time, will he encourage the British Film Institute, the county council and those authorities that have been involved, and will he provide some money to help them with this wonderful project?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the way in which the arts are expanding in the east midlands. I welcome his support and encouragement. The Government have injected considerable extra resources into the east midlands regional arts association. Support has gone up by 146 per cent. in real terms since 1979. I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises and acknowledges that and that he will encourage his own district authority, Ashficld, to give some money to the arts. It does not do that at present.

In the light of that reply, will my right hon. Friend assure the authorities in the east midlands that he utterly rejects the policy put forward by the Adam Smith Institute and reported in The Daily Telegraph today that public support of the arts should cease? Will he give the House an undertaking that he will continue the Government's supportive policy and that he will build upon it?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising this matter. He served with great distinction as Minister for the Arts. I am glad to reaffirm that the Government believe that taxpayers' support for the arts has an important role to play alongside private sector support.

On this question of the arts and the east midlands, why is it that the Tory Government and other Governments before them never seem to recognise that pit brass bands are part of the culture of that area? Is he aware that they are spending considerable amounts of money on their instruments as a result of having to lead the marches against this Government's policies over the past 10 years? In the interests of fairness, it is high time that some money was given to them as well as to opera and all the rest.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's new-found interest in the arts, and I acknowledge the important role that brass bands play, particularly in northern areas. I have heard a number of them myself.

"The Milkman's On His Way"

22.

asked the Minister for the Arts if he has received a copy of the book, "The Milkman's on His Way"; and if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to the availability of this book in public libraries.

I have seen this book. In my view it is riot suitable to be stocked in a children's library.

If the children's sections of libraries such as Haringey library persist in stocking such depraved and corrupt literature, what action can my right hon. Friend, or indeed the ratepayers, take?

I agree with my hon. Friend's reflections on the book, which does a great deal to undermine family life and moral standards. I feel that it is right for anyone who sees such books to speak up strongly. The ratepayers in individual local authorities are the most important people to make representations to those authorities. I have no powers to intervene. It is up to the ratepayers to make their views known. The matter is in their hands.

I have here a letter sent by the chairman of the Conservative party to the "proprietor" of St. Pancras library, at No. 100 Euston road. We all know that the chairman of the Conservative party comes from the "burn-the-books" school of Toryism, but will the Minister give the House an assurance that, in the regrettable and miserable event of his Government being re-elected, that will not form part of their hidden manifesto and that the existence of a "proprietor" of St. Pancras library is not an indication that a future Conservative Government would privatise the libraries?

The hon. Gentleman seems a hit jittery this afternoon. I regret that he did not join my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) in condemning the books that we see in some boroughs, particularly in London, and I hope that he will reconsider. As for our general public libraries, they are outstanding. They include some of the best libraries in the world, and we have every intention of maintaining them.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with those local authorities that seem to regard the works of Enid Blyton—which are certainly not great literature—as subversive?

It is true that some local authorities have said that Enid Blyton is sexist, which I find extraordinary. Again, however, it is ultimately in the hands of ratepayers to make their views known, and I hope that more of them will do so.

London Local Authorities

23.

asked the Minister for the Arts what discussions he has had in the last month with arts organisations in London about the level of financial support from local authorities.

I regularly visit arts organisations in London, and their representatives come to see me. We discuss the level of support from local authorities whenever the question of finance arises.

Have not the Tory Government savaged public support for the arts in London by abolishing the GLC and making cuts in local authorities finances? Have not the Liberals, when they have had control in Tower Hamlets, also devastated their local arts? Is it not the case that Londoners who want access to their own culture, recreation and heritage without paying through the nose will have to support Labour?

The hon. Gentleman is living in a world of his own if he thinks that there was a cutback in arts support as a result of the abolition of the GLC or the metropolitan authorities. The opposite happened. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the metropolitan counties throughout the country, he will see that there was a net increase in overall resources made available to the arts as a result of abolition. The local authorities produce more money than before abolition, and it is time that the hon. Gentleman recognised that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that arts organisations in London need funding not only from local authorities but from business sponsorship schemes? Will he report progress on that, and will he say whether the recent reports are true about a deathbed conversion on the part of the Labour party in favour of encouraging business sponsorship of the arts?

I agree with my hon. Friend, who repeatedly in the past has supported business sponsorship. It is making an increasingly important contribution to the arts. As a result of the business sponsorship incentive scheme, over 450 new businesses now support the arts. That is yet another important way in which we can add to the overall resources of the arts. As for the Labour party, it is for it to speak for itself, not for me to do that.

I confirm that when they are in office in a month's time the next Labour Government will continue the business incentive sponsorship scheme. However, does the Minister agree that that scheme is totally irrelevant to Tower Hamlets, and will he join me in condemning the actions of the Liberal-controlled group in Tower Hamlets, which has annihilated arts spending there? The Minister is quite wrong to say that his hands are clean, because it was the abolition of the Greater London council that put pressure on that group, and funding for the arts in London will continue to be under threat while this Government are so hostile to local government expenditure.

I should start by welcoming most warmly the fact that the hon. Gentleman has changed the views of the Labour party. Last week he opposed the business sponsorship incentive scheme. Now he says positively that the Labour party will support it. Even though it may be a deathbed repentance, I welcome it most warmly. It is absolutely true that the alliance-dominated council in Tower Hamlets has cut back its expenditure on the arts to such an extent that the Whitechapel art gallery has had its overall finances reduced and the Half Moon theatre has also had its finances reduced. I very much regret that.

Civil Service

Drug Addiction

60.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will make a statement on measures to combat drug addiction within the Civil Service.

All the evidence presently available suggests that drug misuse in the Civil Service is on a very small scale. But we do not feel we can be complacent. A group of officials from my Department and others will shortly be meeting representatives of the Civil Service trades unions to review the evidence, draft policy guidance to Departments and offer advice to Civil Service managers.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that, as there are between 60,000 and 100,000 known drug addicts in this country, it is not unreasonable to assume that some of them are to be found in every large organisation? The Civil Service employs over 600,000 people. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that adequate counselling and help are being provided for those who may take to drugs? He will agree that it is one of the most intractable problems that is facing every part of this country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He should know—perhaps he does know—that the level of drug misuse in the Civil Service is extremely low. Last year there were only six reported cases of drugs misuse. That shows how small the problem is. However, as it is a widespread problem, it is right that the management of the Civil Service should have guidance at its disposal to make sure that we can deal with these problems as they arise.

Northern Region (Job Dispersal)

61.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he has any plans for the transfer of Civil Service posts to the northern region; and if he will make a statement.

The DHSS proposes to centralise certain benefit work in Newcastle from local offices. This relocation will increase its work force in Newcastle by at least 300 posts. The needs of the regions will continue to be taken into account whenever the question of location of new work or relocation of existing work arises.

Is it not a fact that for the eight years that this Government have been in power they have shed an ocean of crocodile tears about the high unemployment in the northern region? Their hypocrisy has been demonstrated by the fact that during that period they have deliberately decided not to transfer a single Civil Service post to the north. Will the Minister take down from the shelf the Hardman committee report and see just how strong is the case for dispersal to the northern region?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's persistent interest in this question, and I had hoped that he would be pleased by the announcement that I have just made of 300 additional jobs. The hon. Gentleman knows that our dispersal policy is very nearly completed and that 6,000 posts are being dispersed to other parts of the country. I acknowledge that they have not gone to the northern area; they have gone to Scotland and to other parts of the country, because the northern area, compared with other areas, has a high proportion of civil servants to the total number of the working population. Our dispersal and relocation policies mean that other jobs will be going both to his area and to other areas.

Recruitment

62.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what measures he is taking to ensure the adequacy of recruitment methods of civil servants for the 21st century.

Methods of recruitment to the Civil Service are revised as the tasks required of civil servants and the skills and qualities they need change. Within the Civil Service Commission, the recruitment research unit is actively engaged in reviewing the effectiveness of existing procedures and developing improved procedures. Underlying these changes is a continuing commitment to the fundamentals of fair and open competition and selection on merit.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. However, is he aware that concern has been expressed about bias in Civil Service recruitment procedures? Can my right lion. Friend assure the House that there is no bias—for example, that the Oxbridge syndrome does not come into play? Can he give us an absolute assurance that that does not apply to what I believe is known as the fast track?

I think that the commission goes out of its way to get across to all sections of the community the opportunities available in the Civil Service. On my hon. Friend's last question, he will be interested to note that the proportion of Oxbridge graduates who enter the highflying part of the Civil Service decreased from 75 per cent. in 1982 to 46 per cent. in 1986. That indicates that we are getting an intake of civil servants from a much wider background than previously.

Is the Minister aware that, to ensure good recruitment to the Civil Service, the Government must appear to be a good employer? Is he further aware that after eight years of mismanagement including the dismantling of the pay research unit, low pay and under-staffing, and capped by the abolition of trade union rights at GCHQ, the Government cannot convince anyone that they will be a good employer of civil servants in future? Is that not a further reason for the rejection of the Government at the polls on 11 June?

I think that the hon. Lady is indulging in a little wishful thinking. Our record of managing the Civil Service is remarkable. There has been a great improvement in the efficiency and professionalism of the service. Its staff has been reduced to fewer than 600,000, but it is a streamlined, dedicated and loyal service.[Interruption.]

Women (Public Appointments)

63.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what steps he is taking to ensure that a large proportion of women are appointed to public bodies.

The public appointments unit is currently processing the list of more than 600 women compiled by the campaign for women into public life. The unit will put these names forward to Departments whenever suitable opportunities arise, together with names of other women received following recent publicity for the work of the unit.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the number of women in the Civil Service is increasing? Does he share my hope that the number of women in the Civil Service and in public life will continue to increase after the next general election?

I am glad that the public appointments unit, which puts names forward for non-departmental public bodies, has received an increasing number of women's names, thanks to the co-operation of a number of sources, including hon. Members. Clearly, the Government will continue to support all the efforts being made to increase the number of women able to serve in public life

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that only 14 per cent. of the Prime Minister's appointments to public bodies have been of women? Es he further aware—although this is not his direct responsibility—that Britain has only two women ambassadors throughout the world? Does that not show that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government have betrayed women, just as they have betrayed all other categories of our society?

The more questions the hon. Gentleman asks, the more excitable he becomes. The proportion of women in non-departmental public bodies is now 19 per cent. and not 14 per cent., and thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last autumn to raise interest, the public appointments unit now has far more women's names.

Top Jobs (Report)

64.

asked the Minister for the Civil Service what action he proposes to take following the report of the Royal Institute of Public Administration on top jobs, a copy of which has been sent to him.

I welcome the RIPA report as a useful contribution to the continuing debate about the work of central Government. It mirrors in a number of respects the conclusions reached by the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service a year ago, to which the Government's response was presented to Parliament last July.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is of great benefit to civil servants that they should enjoy the process of interchange on secondment with outside bodies, particularly with industry? Will he confirm that that remains, and will remain after the next general election, the Government's policy? What is the rate of inward secondment to the Civil Service?

My hon. Friend is right to attach importance to inward and outward secondments to the Civil Service. That is very much at the heart of the Government's policy on the Civil Service. I am pleased to be able of announce that in 1986 outward secondment has gone up from 229 to 280 people and inward secondment has gone up from 157 to 189 people. That shows that we are building on our policy of secondment.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

I should like to make a brief business statement.

In the light of the announcement earlier today by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the business for the remainder of the week will be rearranged. I propose to make a further statement to the House later today, following discussions through the usual channels.

We very much welcome the circumstances that have brought the right hon. Gentleman to the House, and we shall look forward to his further statement at 7 o'clock this evening.

With regard to the coming struggle, to which Conservative Members look forward with relish, does my right hon. Friend recall the words of Disraeli and Lord Randolph Churchill, "Trust the people"? That is exactly what we are going to do.

With reference to the business provisionally being considered through the usual channels for the remainder of the week, will the Leader of the House see whether he can transfer the Territorial Sea Bill debate from Wednesday to Tuesday, which may be more convenient for some hon. Members with a special interest in that legislation?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have not heard the announcement which he said my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made? But, in so far as my right hon. Friend has now conveyed it to me, may I—I think that the House agrees—congratulate him on the way in which he has answered our questions during business time throughout this Parliament'? However, I am sorry that he seems to have fallen down in his last statement. I hope that he realises that, by announcing the election for June, he is taking from me and from many of my colleagues our summer holiday pay.

Does the rearrangement of business for the rest of this week include the rearrangement of today's business?

No. It is hoped that today's business will stand as announced last Thursday.

May I presume that, among the immensely important business that will have to be rearranged, my right hon. Friend will make certain that we have a debate on the Procedure Committee's reports?

I am sure that I can arrange for that to be considered, but it is a matter of travelling hopefully rather than expectantly.

Does the Leader of the House think that it is legitimate for the guillotine to be used on legislation as important as the Scottish rates legislation? Does he agree that, if we had fixed-term Parliaments, the Government would not find themselves in the position of having to bludgeon the House into ramming through important legislation of this kind?

The decision of the House to provide for a guillotine motion on the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill was taken some weeks ago.

Order. We do not know what the rearrangement of business will be. I am sure that the House would agree that since this is a private Members' day we should reserve further questions until later.

Local Authority Expenditure (Scotland)

3.34 pm

With permission. Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on local authority budgets and rates for 1987–88.

Local authorities in Scotland have budgeted to spend £122·1 million or 3·7 per cent. over guidelines in 1987–88 and have determined rates which will, on average, increase domestic rate bills by 15 per cent. For ratepayers in some areas, the increase is much higher. This is disappointing and unsatisfactory. The rate support grant settlement was a very generous one, intended to allow local authorities generally to maintain real levels of spending without substantial rate increases. However, too many authorities have planned for quite unacceptable levels of growth.

After consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I have therefore decided that, to encourage those authorities with planned overspends to reconsider their budgets, there will be grant penalties for overspending on a tariff which starts at grant loss of 70 per cent. of overspend, rising to 120 per cent. for a 2·5 per cent. overspend. Above 2·5 per cent. the rate of penalty increases to 140 per cent. for a 3 per cent. overspend, and then to 175 per cent. for a 3·5 per cent. overspend or above. The rate of increase between each of these points is even. On the basis of planned expenditure, the total penalty will be £202 million, though penalties will subsequently be adjusted in the light of actual expenditure, and it is therefore open to authorities to reduce their liability to penalty, or to recover penalties completely, by reducing their expenditure. I hope that many authorities will do so, and it is to assist them in doing so that I am making this announcement of our intentions.

I am pleased to note that, for 1986–87, 40 authorities have provisional outturns within guidelines, and a number of authorities which planned to spend over guidelines have reduced their expenditure on outturn. As a result, some £28 million in grant penalties levied in 1986–87 will be returned to the authorities concerned.

I am today laying the necessary rate support grant order in respect of grant reductions in 1987–88, and repayments for 1986–87. A circular is being sent to all local authorities giving them the details.

Grant penalties will apply to all authorities planning to overspend. I have also considered the special problems facing ratepayers in the areas of those authorities which are planning the most substantial expenditure excesses over guideline. As a result I have decided to initiate action in terms of section 5 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966 in respect of Lothian regional council, Clackmannan district council and the city of Edinburgh district council on the ground that their planned expenditure for 1987–88 is excessive and unreasonable. Letters have today been sent to the three councils proposing rate reductions of 3·9p, 2·8p and 2·8p respectively, and inviting each to make representations about the proposed reduction. If implemented, my proposals would result in a reduction in the average domestic rate bill of £50·77 in Edinburgh, 08·59 in other parts of Lothian region, and £16·61 in Clackmannan.

I cannot congratulate the Secretary of State on his timing, but I suspect that it is not fortuitous. I doubt whether the fact that this statement is coming two months earlier than normal is a measure of increasing efficiency in the Scottish Office. However, it may have a great deal to do with coming events.

s The penalty that has been announced is unashamedly linked to guidelines. I can remember—no doubt the Secretary of State can also—the happy days when we talked about indicative guidelines. That adjective seems peculiarly inappropriate now that the guideline is a simple straightforward benchmark for punitive action by the Government against any council that meets with their displeasure.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that last year Scottish local authorities were 3·9 per cent. over guidelines and attracted a penalty of £125 million, and that this year they are 3·7 per cent. over guidelines but are attracting a penalty of £202 million? In other words, the excess over guidelines is down, but the penalty has been increased by 62 per cent. Will the Secretary of State explain why this particularly vindictive line has been taken on this occasion? Will he confirm that, in effect, we are nearly returning to the penalty range of 1985–86 with the small exception that the peak is now 175 per cent. penalty while the worst that was managed in the past was 170 per cent.?

Does the Secretary of State accept that three councils are being picked out for special, and some would say vindictive, treatment? Is it not true that Edinburgh will be left with no rate support grant settlement and that its loss will be £12·5 million, that Clackmannan will be left with no rate support grant money this year and that Lothian will lose £51 million? If the councils cut their budgets and planned expenditure as the Secretary of State is instructing, will he be prepared to adjust their general penalty at that point, or will they be left to wait for a long time for the repayment which would then be due to them?

Will the Secretary of State explain why Lothian, for example, is being hit in this way when the norm for the calculation over guidelines is budget plus 3·75 per cent. and Lothian's guidelines are budget plus 2 per cent.? To put the matter into perspective, will he comment on the fact that, while Lothian is 7·4 per cent. over guidelines, last year's budget of a Tory administration was 6·6 per cent. over guidelines in itself? Since then Lothian council has inherited substantial difficulties from that Conservative administration which cynically raided balances in a way which would be strenuously criticised if that policy had been followed by other councils.

Are we not seeing a further cut in Government support for local services? If the penalties are exacted in full, will that not bring down the rate support grant percentage from 55·6 per cent. to a new low of about 50 per cent.? Is not this part of a long and dreary process which since 1979–80 has caused the RSG per head to fall by 11 per cent. in Scotland, by 50·9 per cent. in Clackmannan and by 18·3 per cent. in Lothian, according to the Secretary of State's figures in a parliamentary answer?

Will the Secretary of State now accept, as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment south of the border accepted at Question Time on 1 April, that there has been a deliberate Government policy to shift the burden of local services from the Exchequer to ratepayers, that Scottish ratepayers have been damagingly hit by that policy, and that Ministers have been reluctant to accept that fact?

Listening to the hon. Gentleman's protestations, one could be forgiven for not realising that this year we had the most generous RSG provision, with no change in the grant percentage, compared with many previous years. Precisely because local authorities, instead of passing on that benefit to their ratepayers, have chosen excessive growth in expenditure, it is necessary for me to come to the Dispatch Box today.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the timing of the statement. He must know perfectly well that local authorities have often pressed for such statements to be made at the earliest possible date. For him to complain because we are able to make a statement at an early date shows that it is difficult to please him whatever one seeks to do.

The hon. Gentleman compared the penalties proposed this year with those for last year. However, he does not draw attention to the fact that this year we have increased public expenditure provision for local authorities by no less than 9·5 per cent. and that the guidelines for local authorities took account of their budgets last year which were then increased to take account of inflation, the teachers' pay settlement and other matters. For local authorities to respond with excessive expenditure in the light of that provision justifies a severe response. It is sad to reflect that when we imposed a heavy tariff there were reductions in excessive expenditure, but when, over the last year, we adopted a more gentle approach, followed by a generous RSG provision, the response from a number of local authorities was as we have described.

As for the individual authorities to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred, I remind him that Edinburgh district council is proposing expenditure which is no less than 24·7 per cent. in excess of its guidelines. Likewise, Clackmannan is 21 per cent. in excess of its guideline. which is by far the largest excess for district councils.

The hon. Member for Garscadden asked whether the penalty would be adjusted if authorities responded to what is being proposed and reduced their budgets. I am prepared to give consideration to that possibility.

The hon. Gentleman protested on behalf of Lothian regional council and implied that its proposals for a rates increase which verges on 30 per cent. is reasonable and not excessive. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Lothian regional council, despite improvements in its guideline, is £29·3 million in excess of its guideline. Its excess over assessed need is £61·5 million or 16·9 per cent. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that if he lived in Edinburgh or Lothian he might not be so friendly towards Lothian as he presently feels able to be.

Order. This is a private Members' day, so I ask for succinct questions.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed in Edinburgh, particularly by the many ratepayers who are suffering severe hardship because of the imposition of a 30 per cent. rates increase by the Labour authorities? My right hon. and learned Friend said that, following these measures, the average domestic ratepayer will benefit by about £50. What benefits will accrue to small businesses in Edinburgh, such as shopkeepers, as a result of this action?

It is difficult to give an exact figure because the range of businesses varies. For example, a Princes street store may experience a reduction of as much as £60,000. Clearly that will have a significant impact for the good of the economy of the city, with corresponding benefits for employment in many stores. Other shops and businesses will benefit significantly, but the size of the benefit will depend on the size of the present rates demands.

Let me be more direct than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). This announcement, which has been made on the day that the election has been announced, will be seen as blatant bribery which is designed to save the seats of Ministers and ex-Ministers in Edinburgh. If that is not true, it is designed to force Edinburgh city to give tip the pensioners' free travel concession. What else is it for?

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite what he said in the earlier part of his statement, the rate support grant settlement in the named rate-capped authorities was not generous? The right hon. Gentleman should have renegotiated the rate support grant levels with the authorities in question because what he is doing in mid-budgetary term will cause chaos and lead to drastic cuts in services.

The hon. Gentleman does not have the slightest basis for his final comment. He should know perfectly well that, when selective action has been taken in the past, not only has it not led to the predicted chaos—such predictions are always made on such occasions—but the ratepayers have benefited from repayments and the local authorities, which have made great protestations about the enormous hardship to the local community, have ended up with egg on their face.

Local authorities will have, as is normal, an opportunity to comment and make representations to the Scottish Office on these proposals. The Government have made it abundantly clear that they are prepared to take action to assist ratepayers and to deal with excessive and unreasonable expenditure. This is not the first year in which we have used or applied such powers. For the hon. Gentleman to impute other motives is unworthy of him.

The generous RSG settlement that my right hon. and learned Friend announced earlier this year is appreciated, but is he aware that constituencies and district councils such as mine in Banff and Buchan find considerable difficulty in meeting the guidelines? Will my right hon. and learned Friend say that, if the district council in Banff and Buchan can get itself back into guideline during the course of this year, its ratepayers will benefit considerably from a repayment in the next year?

As I have announced today, we are repaying £20 million worth of rate support grant because in the course of the previous year some authorities were able to reduce their excess spending. In the case of my hon. Friend's district council, the excess over guideline is only 1·52 per cent., or about £81,000, so I very much hope that it will be able to recover any grant loss arising from that.

The Secretary of State is fond of saying that he has been generous to local government in rate support grant settlement, but he has been directly challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about whether his statement will in fact reduce overall rate support grant for the current financial year. Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer that point?

Secondly, as the Government have little mandate in the constituencies in which the authorities concerned operate and could not even field a full complement of candidates for those authorities, one wonders what authority the Secretary of State has for his excessive attack on them.

I am not clear what mandate the ruling councils in Edinburgh, Lothian or Clackmannan had for rates increases of the kind proposed. I do not recall those proposals being put to the electorate at the relevant time. As for the implications for rate support grant, I have today proposed reductions in grant for certain individual authorities, but whether they lose grant will depend entirely on how they respond. If they reduce their expenditure, there will be no reduction in grant. If they refuse to do so, they will have only themselves to blame.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Government provide more than half the cost of local government expenditure and that the provision was increased this year by more than double the increase in prices generally? Does he agree that his statement about the overspending authorities shows that so long as there is a rating system the Labour party will abuse it? Is that not an urgent reason to ensure that proceedings on the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill are completed before this Parliament ends?

I agree, of course, with my hon. Friend's final comment. With regard to his earlier remarks, I must point out that last year some 40 authorities were able to keep their expenditure within guidelines and suffered no loss through grant penalty. If about two thirds of the authorities could achieve that in a year in which the rate support grant settlement was less generous than this year, there is no excuse for those which have declined to move in the same direction.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that what he calls excess expenditure is adequate fire cover, a decent level of policing, a good staff-pupil ratio in schools, proper provision for the elderly and other vital services? Does he agree that his guidelines are entirely arbitrary and discriminatory and that there are no objective bases whatever for them, and does he admit that his announcement today picking on certain authorities has more to do with the sweaty palms that he and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), and his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Sir A. Fletcher) have because they know that they are about to be replaced by Mark Lazarowicz, Nigel Griffiths and Alastair Darling respectively and that the House and the country will be better places as a result?

The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for reminding him of the time when he predicted that he would replace me as Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands. After an unsuccessful attempt to achieve that, the hon. Gentleman fled to his present constituency and was never seen again in the Scottish capital. If the hon. Gentleman is as confident as he claims to be, I am sure that my Labour opponent, Mr. Lazarowicz, will be happy to change places with him so that the hon. Gentleman himself can stand against me in my constituency.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that in the past couple of weeks rate demands have been popping through the letter boxes in Tayside. Does he agree that if the Conservatives had remained in office the increase would have been about 2p but that it is substantially greater because the Labour party and the Scottish National party know only how to spend other people's money? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this makes it essential to change the way in which we fund local government and to keep control of profligate authorities?

My hon. Friend is correct. Until we have a system of local authority finance in which all who benefit from local services make a contribution towards them through funds raised locally, we cannot expect to have genuine accountability. That is why we hope that the community charge legislation will be enacted in the course of this week, and why comparable proposals for England and Wales are being put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The Secretary of State should know that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) got it wrong. The SNP had nothing to do with rate levels in Tayside.

Absolutely.

If the budget that was put forward before the election by the Tory administration on Tayside had been implemented, there would have been a massive reduction in services for which the council had not budgeted. Rather than announcing penalties today, would it not have made more sense for the Secertary of State to make a more positive response to Tayside regional council's request for £5 million for the water front project, which the Secretary of State claimed to support, so that it could have proceeded?

The way in which Tayside regional council uses the resources available to it and that council's priorites are a matter for it. Like other local authorities in Scotland, Tayside was the beneficiary of a generous rate support grant settlement, and of guidelines that were considerably in excess of its budget last year. I said earlier that overall provision to local authorities was 9·5 per cent. more than last year's. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that local authorities that insist on overspending have only themselves to blame if they forfeit grant as a consequence.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the Opposition that, in spite of constant exhortations to restraint, local government spending in volume terms is higher today than in 1979? All my constituents are facing substantial rates increases because of Strathclyde council's continuing failure to live within its means and to apply Government guidelines to its expenditure.

Is it not true that Labour authorities mean high rates, and it is only when the community charge is introduced that we shall have the accountability that will stop that?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Last year, local authority volume expenditure was, for the first time, below 1979 levels.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden is wrong.

He is not wrong. This year, as a response to the generous provision of rate support grant settlement, volume expenditure is now back again above 1979 levels, thereby illustrating that the high rates increases were not because of the inadequacy of Government support but because local authorities have chosen to go for growth in expenditure as a consequence of central Government support.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the cut in the rate support grant for Clackmannan comes at a time when it has been clawing its way into a position that is comparable with other authorities of similar size? It is the smallest authority in Scotland and suffers from the problems of diseconomies of scale. The bludgeon that the Minister is applying to that small authority this year will result in a massive cut in services at a time when the authority is trying to compensate for the follies of the Government's policies elsewhere in the economy.

I might have more sympathy for what the hon. Gentleman has said if I did not know that the Clackmannan district council was proposing growth in its leisure and recreation expenditure of no less that 75·5 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are other authorities in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that have unemployment problems, but a proposed expenditure increase of that kind and in that area seems extraordinary. It is, of course, for Clackmannan to decide, within an overall total, what its priorities are, but I use that as an illustration of the difficulties that Clackmannan's ratepayers and others are facing.

Asylum Seekers (Heathrow)

3.59 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Home Office to refer the refugee applications of 36 Iraqi Kurds held at terminal 2, Heathrow to the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service, the circumstances that led to suicide attempts by some of the asylum seekers, and their continued unauthorised detention."
Last weekend, three groups of 12 Iraqi-Kurdish people arrived at Heathrow airport. They escaped from Iraq into Syria and boarded a plane to the United Kingdom. They travelled on Iraqi passports. When they arrived at Heathrow, they sought political asylum at the airport and asked that their case be considered. The refusal of the immigration officers to grant them political asylum led to removal directions being placed on them to leave this country. I and other hon. Members attempted to put stops on their removal over the weekend, but our efforts were not successful.

There were then a number of protests by the Iraqi Kurds, including two suicide attempts that resulted in two of the Iraqi Kurds being taken to nearby hospitals while the remainder were held either at the police station at Heathrow or at the terminal 2 immigration office. They have not been removed from this country and they are still being held at the airport. They then requested through their friends that their case be referred to the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service. This request was denied by the immigration officers concerned, and the denial was confirmed by the Home Office by telephone calls to them today.

I realise that the House has many things to discuss this week, but I feel that this matter is extremely important. First, if these Iraqi Kurds are returned to Syria there is clearly a danger that they would be returned to Iraq, where they would be wanted by the Iraqi Government. 'This means that they would be put in enormous danger of their lives. Secondly, the immigration service at Heathrow airport—this should be a matter of great concern to Parliament—appears to be operating the terms of the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill in their entirety and in detail when that measure has not passed through all its stages in Parliament and has not received Royal Assent; and in the light of the business statement that we have heard today, it is unlikely that it will be passed into law this week. This calls into question the operation of the immigration service and the safety of the 36 Iraqi Kurds concerned.

A debate would give the Home Secretary the opportunity to explain to the House what his attitude is towards these genuine asylum seekers and whether he is prepared to consider their case individually, which he is bound to do within the terms of the 1951 Geneva convention, of which the United Kingdom is a signatory.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the refusal of the Home Office to refer the refugee applications of 36 Iraqi Kurds held at terminal 2, Heathrow to the UKIAS, the circumstances that led to suicide attempts by some of the asylum seekers, and their continued unauthorised detention."
I have listened with great concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I regret that I do not consider the matter to be appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Statutory Instruments, &C

Ordered,

That the Value Added Tax (Construction of Buildings) Order 1987 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.[Mr. Lightbown].

The Quality Of Life

4.3 pm

I beg to move,

That this House affirms the overwhelming need to improve the quality of life of millions of citizens in the United Kingdom by pursuing progressive policies for creating more jobs, expanding the National Health Service, increasing investment in housing and schools, and providing higher pensions; contrasts these objectives with the hidden agenda of the Conservative Party in relation to the extension of value-added tax, further contraction of health and social services, the imposition of a workfare scheme for the unemployed, and an accelerated withdrawal of the state from its role as a protector of the weak; and notes that these intentions will be carefully concealed from voters during the general election campaign, since their implementation would be seen as compounding the misery and widening the social divisions already inflicted upon the British people during the last eight years.
The House will have noted that a motion in the same terms appears on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). I am pleased to have won a place in the ballot because it means that I shall set the agenda in the House for the next three hours. That gives me the opportunity in the dying days of this Parliament to draw attention to the damaging and debilitating demeanour of this Tory Government that has diminished the quality of life for millions of people in our land. My winning of the ballot gives me the opportunity to present some of the alternative and progressive policies that the Labour party will be presenting in the forthcoming general election. Those policies will enhance the quality of life for our citizens and give hope for the future based on fairness and freedom rather than greed and injustice.

It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and its cronies think that they will easily win the forthcoming general election. They are wrong.

I am sorry to intervene at this early stage in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I wonder whether he will be telling us during his speech why it is that the lowest quality of life and the deprivation that has ensued over the past four or five years has been mainly in Labour local authority areas—in fact, essentially in Labour local authority areas.

Mainly because Conservatives just do not care about such areas and tighten the screws on them. I shall be dealing with such issues.

The Conservative party is wrong if it thinks that it will win the next general election easily. It may have the media and the bandwagon-inducing opinion polls sewn up and it may have an on-tick mini boom strictly for the duration of the election to try to fool the voters, but it will be unable to hide the truth.

There are already millions of victims of the Government's policies. There are 2·5 million families in England alone who are living in seriously substandard dwellings. There are 3·5 million who are unemployed. There are 4·5 million victims of recorded crime—in reality, there are over 8 million such victims. The total has increased by 50 per cent. as this allegedly law-and-order Government have steadily and increasingly lost control. There are 17 million people living in, or on the margins of, poverty. There are 10 million pensioners who have lost about £9 a week because the Government broke the Labour Government's pension rises formula. There are 50 million or more who rely solely on the National Health Service and who have seen it being eroded. A further 'Tory term in government would not be more of the same; it would be much worse. As William Keegan wrote in The Observer on 3 May,
"At the very least, those who have paid the costs are entitled to share in whatever gains there prove to be in the end."
That is not the Government's attitude. A vote for a third term of Tory government will be regarded as a ringing endorsement of a policy to bash the victims even harder.

Let us be blunt. Another Tory Government would mean more factory closures, more hospitals being shut, more people left to rot on the dole, more made homeless and more condemned to poverty. This would happen in all sorts of ways and it is only right that the British people should know what is in store for them in the Tories hidden manifesto. For a start, there will be large rises in value added tax. The Conservatives said in 1979 that they had no intention of doubling VAT, but when they came into office they increased it immediately from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent.

In my view, VAT will soon be increased to 25 per cent. if the Tories are returned to office, and it will be harmonised with the EEC. That is what the Prime Minister's representative at the EEC, Lord Cockfield, is pressing for. That means VAT on food, children's clothes, shoes, heating and newspapers. It could mean as much as an additional £10 a week on the average family's bill. Especially hard hit will be the low taxpayer or non-taxpayer. He will pay a greater proportion of his income in taxation while the rich will pay less. Such a rise in VAT would inevitably increase inflation.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us from which authority this information comes? Will he quote his exact source so that we may verify it? None of us is aware of it.

There has been a fracas at the European Parliament about it. Lord Cockfield has suddenly gone silent about it, but he has let his intentions be known. He favours harmonisation, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made similar statements in The Guardian in February. I can give the hon. Gentleman the relevant date when I have resumed my seat. The Chancellor has talked about expanding the base for VAT, and that is one of the likelihoods.

There will be big increases in rents—probably as much as £12 a week for council tenants. Such increases will give the green light to private landlords to follow suit. As existing controls are weakened, Rachmanism and thuggery will re-emerge to scar the face of private landlordism.

Mortgage payers will witness a speedy return to high interest rates. Such interest rates have been the hallmark of Tory economic policy outside election periods. There will also be a new poll tax. However, the Conservatives have already increased rates for every family by £4 per week as a result of cuts in rate support grant and penalties imposed on local authorities and their ratepayers. In my borough of Waltham Forest, £40 million has been stolen in that way. On top of such penalties the new poll tax will mean additional charges of £4·17 for an average family and £6·32 for a pensioner couple.

The hon. Gentleman may wish to make a comment, and I shall give him and his hon. Friends an opportunity to intervene if they are prepared to justify how a couple relying on a state pension and who live in a small home in my constituency must pay at the same level of rates as the Prime Minister and Denis in their fortress in Dulwich. Can they justify that? They are keeping quiet because it is unjustifiable.

Prescription charges have gone up twelvefold since 1979. That shows that there is no limit to Conservative callousness to tax the sick. A third Tory term will mean an extra £4 a week to cover the cost of school meals for a family with two children. Water rates have already increased unnecessarily above the rate of inflation, but they will rocket even further if water is privatised and run for profit.

Charges for buses and trains will also increase as the impact of privatisation and the halving of subsidies is felt. The electricity and gas industries will make up for holding back this year. They have kept their prices down AS their contribution to the Conservatives' election efforts. However, in the earlier years of the Tory Administration their charges went up above the rate of inflation and hurt a lot of pensioners in the process.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing his opening remarks. I wonder whether he can explain what he is doing for his constituents who are suffering the imposition of a 62·8 per cent. rate increase. That increase is exceeded only by that of the long-suffering people of Ealing, who have faced a 65 per cent. rate increase. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, when I was leading a march of some 4,000 people demonstrating against Ealing council's disgusting behaviour, there were also marches being held in his constituency? This is a serious state of affairs. Pensioners and disabled people in my constituency are continually in tears because they cannot pay the council's horrendous demands. Is not the position he same in his constituency?

The hon. Gentleman was obviously not present when I spoke of the £40 million stolen by the Government as the result of cuts in rate support grant and penalties imposed on local authorities. I can prove that figure because I have a letter from the borough treasurer quoting it. I can give the hon. Gentleman a breakdown of that £40 million. When the cut in rate support grant was mooted in the House, I called for the Secretary of State for the Environment to do something to give back some of the money. He refused and displayed a callous indifference to the problem. That is the reality.

It is no good the hon. Member for Ealing, North (M r. Greenway) or his hon. Friends pretending to be the champions of the ratepayers in my borough or in Ealing when the Government have stolen such sums of money. The Government are charging ratepayers £1·64 for every £1 spent by local authorities.

I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question clearly and I will not give way.

The nation faces increased charges, and a 2p reduction in income tax pales in comparison to the pounds that will be taken from people in meeting their extra bills. The greedy stand to gain if the Tories win. The richest 5 per cent. of the land have already been given an extra £3·6 billion a year. That is only a start. A blind eye will, once again, be turned towards selfish, anti-social speculation and big City fraud. The majority of people will be allowed their rights under the Tories only if they can afford to pay for them. Such is the Tory dream. It is a nightmare for the rest of us.

There will be a further rundown in the state education system. Vouchers will be introduced to speed the creaming off of resources and the school closure programme. On 8 May, The Independent referred to a recently issued Department of Education and Science circular which said that, by 1991, the authorities must close about 2,000 schools. Teachers and parents will be treated with even more contempt than they are at present. The majority of children will be confined to a less than fair start in life. Students will be given loans instead of grants. Higher education will be put further out of the reach of many youngsters because of the cuts.

Further cuts are planned for the local authorities and other public providers. Community care for the elderly, for people with disabilities and for those who would otherwise be institutionalised will become a myth. Such care will be rationed and will not be available in many parts of the country. Home helps and meals on wheels will not be provided.

Resources for the National Health Service will be cut and it will become more dependent on charity for life-saving equipment. Rail and bus routes all over the country will face the axe. The National Health Service and the health of the nation have been seriously damaged by the Conservative Government. More than 220 hospitals have been closed. The availability of hospital beds has fallen by more than 10 per cent. There has been a quicker turnover of patients. Patients are thrown out of hospital before they have received proper treatment and there is now a higher level of readmissions. Hospital waiting lists have increased by 14 per cent.

The National Health Service also faces a severe nursing crisis because of poor pay. On 1 May, the Yellow Advertiser, my local paper, referred to the nursing crisis and said:
"Health chiefs fear the increase, which is above the rate of inflation, may be just a flash in the pan"—
that is all too true—
"and not enough to attract more nurses to the district."
It reported that Waltham Forest has more than 700 vacancies for nurses on its books. Low rates of pay and working conditions have been blamed for these shortages. That paper fears that if staff problems get worse the quality of service given to patients could be badly affected. Operating time has already been restricted because of the shortage of theatre nurses. Before last week's rise, a fully trained staff nurse with three years' experience was earning £20 or £30 less than the national average.

It is no accident that Britain has gone to the top 'of the poor health league of countries in the industrialised world. We are at the top of the league for deaths from heart disease and Britain has a high incidence of cancer. The Tory rundown of the NHS is out of step with the needs of our people.

In addition, a number of independent reports have clearly stated the cause of the unnecessary deaths and incidence of ill health in Britain. The Church of England report "Faith in the City" and the Black report found that the most important determinants of ill health were poor housing, particularly in the devastated economies of the inner cities and the bleak housing estates of the outer cities, unemployment, and poor nutrition. There was evidence that poor families are forced to cut down on food to make ends meet. There was also evidence that a dangerous environment, particularly because of a lack of suitable play areas for children, leading to road accidents is the main cause of death among young people.

A report was produced by the Health Education Council, but it was stifled by the Government just a month ago. It contained damning, conclusive evidence against the Government. The poorer one is, the less healthy one is. The situation has got worse under the Government. People in lowly occupations are twice as likely to die before retirement than professional people. The babies of fathers who have unskilled jobs run twice the risk of stillbirth and death before their first birthday. The children of poor parents have lower birth rates, shorter stature and poorer health. Unemployed people have poorer health than those who are in work.

Last Friday, the BMA's science and education board working party produced a report on deprivation and ill-health. It was quoted in detail in The Independent. It stated:
"Unemployment, poor housing, and low incomes are causing a substantial amount of ill-health for millions of people in Britain."
It went on to state:
"Inequalities so severe as to give rise to pronounced effects on health seem to us indefensible."
That was stated by the BMA, not a politically-biased body.

The newspaper went on to outline the main factors:
"Housing. Homes which are damp, cold and insanitary directly cause illnesses; overcrowding causes stress and anxiety which can lead to mental illness.
Unemployment. The paper reports 'clear evidence' that unemployment is associated with higher mortality rates, and that unemployed people are more vulnerable to self-destructive behaviour, ranging from suicide to drug-taking. School leavers who went on the dole were found to have worse mental health than fellow-former pupils who found work, and… some psychiatric illness is directly caused by unemployment.
Low income. DHSS figures show almost nine million people were living at or below the supplementary benefit income level in 1983."
The Government fiddled the later figures. They are substantially more than that. The article went on:
"The unemployed and pensioners, in particular, find great difficulty in getting good housing and healthy food. They are forced to buy the cheapest and least nourishing foods and their children are reported to suffer under-nutrition, stunted growth, and health problems brought on by obesity"—
it is an obscenity—
"caused by fatty food.
Other areas of deprivation affecting health are poor education, which reduces an individual's chances of getting a better income, and racial discrimination, which forces people into accepting poorer housing and income."
The report went on to urge that more money
"should he spent on housing, financial support for low-income groups, health education and reorganising the NHS so that it was more accessible to the deprived."
The Government will have to answer to that report in the general election. It will certainly become an important issue.

I am concerned about diet. I have raised the matter before in the House. I presented a petition for action for a healthier diet. It is well known what is induced by a poor diet. Factors include excess fat, sugar, salt, lack of fibre, and food additives. Those factors have been put on record by medical experts, but the Government have done nothing. They have not even introduced the most minimal labelling. They are in the pockets of the farmers, the sugar industry and chemical companies. That is why the Tories are incapable of tackling that cause of ill health.

To improve the health of the nation, we need action that only a Labour Government can provide. We need preventive health measures to combat the causes of ill health. The report referred to low incomes, high unemployment, bad housing and poor environment, improved diets with higher nutritional standards, informative food labelling, and fewer additives being allowed, and health education being set up in a realistic way to help to promote a healthier lifestyle.

We need a charter for women's health so that there is a computerised call and recall system for screening breast and cervical cancer in every health authority area. The results of such tests should be properly conveyed to the women concerned. Every woman should have the right to a regular check-up. Labour will promote a network of well woman clinics, more family planning clinics and increased access to women doctors.

We should improve family doctors' services so that we can reduce the size of doctors' lists and ensure that they have more time for in-patients. We should encourage local family health care teams so that family doctors, nurses, health visitors and other professionals can work together in the community. Above all, there should be at least 3 per cent. investment in the NHS each year so that we can fund the repair and replacement of outdated hospital buildings, cut waiting lists, and train and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health staff to improve treatment and pay them better than the current nurses' poverty wages. That programme is in stark contrast with what the Tories have done for the health of the nation.

The number one issue in the general election will be unemployment. The Tories will try to avoid it as much as they possibly can, but the truth is that they cannot—they will not—reduce unemployment. They may reduce the figures. So far, there have been 19 figure fiddles. About 500,000 unemployed people are no longer accounted for. If elected, the Tories will probably abolish the unemployment register and replace it with a vague employment census. For them, the advantages would be that the unemployed would officially no longer exist.

I have referred to the likelihood of the introduction of United States-style workfare schemes. Does the Minister wish to give way?

No; the hon. Gentleman gives way.

I shall gladly do so in a moment.

The United States-style workfare schemes could include ending teenagers' rights to supplementary benefit, stripping the DHSS or so-called services of any welfare duty towards the unemployed and imposing work tests, including forced labour for thousands who register for the dole. It would be conscription by any other name—conscription to training schemes—otherwise they would lose their benefit. From there it is a short step to "no work, no dole" schemes, even though there is no work.

How many times do we have to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Employment and I have said repeatedly in the House and outside that we have not the slightest intention of introducing a workfare scheme? All hon. Members can put their hands on their hearts and say that the hon. Gentleman is simply scaremongering.

I wish that I could believe the Minister. We must read the small print in such matters. The country and the House have been misled before. Ministers have said, "We have no intention of introducing such a scheme at the moment." [Interruption.] Yes, they have. Of course they have no such intention at the moment because there will be a general election and they do not want their plans to be rumbled into the open.

There is no work for many who suffer. The number of people out of work is seven times greater than the number of vacancies. Workfare will cut jobs for other workers. The BBC's "Panorama" programme found that, in one United States town, 12 out of 16 people working in the local police station were workfare placements, including a workfare cop. The "Panorama" programme also showed that workfare undercuts wages quite substantially.

The hon. Gentleman has been more than generous in giving way and I hope that my interventions are not upsetting him. Why is it that in large areas of London—Labour-controlled local authority areas—up to 30 per cent. of males under the age of 24 are unemployed, yet the capital is overflowing with work opportunities and many employers cannot get people to work?

The hon. Member obviously did not listen to what I said. I had just made the point that the number of people out of work is seven times greater than the number of vacancies. That is also the case in the capital. In addition, the Government have forced down salaries to such a low level that people cannot afford to work for those poverty wages. People would be thrown into even more poverty on those wages.

The Government may introduce some sort of workfare scheme, even though they may not call it that, aimed at making people work off benefits—for example, do unpaid socially useful work in return for social security payment. But the cost of enforcing and administering those schemes is far more than the social value of the work done. Such schemes contain little or no training and give no help to persons to find permanent jobs.

Workfare workers are also forced to do dangerous work or lose their benefits. Similarly if they leave a job because of race or sexual discrimination, or refuse a job because it does not fit in with their child care arrangements, they could also lose benefit. They have no employment rights. If the Government move in any way in that direction, that would be a terrible and retrograde step. I believe that the Government will do that.

We need proper jobs and good basic training instead of such schemes. The country knows that Labour has the best policies to create jobs and to tackle unemployment. We are committed to creating more than 1 million jobs in the first two years of coming to power. The key to job creation is investment in industry to boost the manufacturing that has been so savaged by the Government so that we can again have quality goods made in Britain and an investment bank to halt the flood of money that is going abroad. Under the Government £96 billion has gone abroad.

Labour is committed to direct state investment in jobs by central Government and by municipal enterprise, and investment in construction so that we can build homes, hospitals and schools and rebuild the nation's infrastructure—its roads, railways and sewers. We are committed to investment in the community to help people in the NHS, education, transport, social services and child care. That is a much better programme than any phoney workfare scheme that the Government will put forward.

The hon. Gentleman is complaining about outward investment. I take it that he would be very happy to welcome inward investment from other countries into the United Kingdom. How can he welcome inward investment while at the same time not allow outward investment?

The speculative movement of hot capital does nothing but close down factories. I want to see that £96 billion invested in jobs in this country. The money is needed for that. Labour has the best policies to create jobs. I hope that some of my colleagues and comrades will mention the other progressive policies we need and that Labour offers. We need peace in our schools and higher quality education. We need to build and improve homes for people, not have the relentless dilapidation and homelessness which the Tories' 70 per cent. cutback in housing has produced. We need to improve the standard of living and quality of life of pensioners. We need to stop the 40,000 unnecessary hypothermia deaths which occur every winter because of high fuel costs and poverty in retirement.

We do not want nuclear expansion and our countryside desecrated. We do not want property speculation allowed in our green belts or in our inner cities. We want clean air and clean beaches. We want an end to lead in petrol. We want Britain to adopt international standards to control and combat acid rain so that our forests, rivers and seas are protected from irreparable damage. Under the Government we are the dirty men of Europe in terms of pollution.

Those are just some of the policies that a Labour Government would implement to improve the quality of life for millions of our fellow citizens. Those policies derive from better quality values for a better quality future. Contrast that with the "get rich quick, make a quick buck" approach of the Tories as illustrated by their one-off sales of national assets such as British Telecom and Rolls-Royce. What value has the quick buck when people live blighted and shortened lives because of deliberate neglect in the provision of public services? The few bob made by the Rolls-Royce shareholders will not stop many of them perhaps dying unnecessarily early from heart disease because the Government will not act, or suffering from cancer because of inadequate environmental controls, or suffering from kidney disease because the NHS is underfunded. That few bob will not stop people being part of an increasingly nasty and divided country. Those people may become victims of rising crime as a consequence.

In the article in The Observer of 3 October, William Keegan said:
"The Conservatives promote the worst instincts in individuals and society. They have taken a positive delight in nurturing selfishness and greed and have made 'care' into a dirty word."
That is the case. The Tories have poisoned values and ideals, which leads to a poisoned environment and a poisoned society. Labour offers a better way forward and a better quality of life. Sensible people will vote Labour.

4.37 pm

I do not think that many of us will read Hansard tomorrow after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) without a real sense of wonderment because it is obvious that he does not live on the same planet or in the same world as any of us. It is a world and a planet that he wishes existed because it is only on a planet such as was described by the hon. Gentleman that his wicked schemes and the wicked ways that he seeks to impose on the British people would ever have a chance of succeeding.

I remind hon. Members of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on 5 March 1987:
"You have no policies that the country needs or wants. You know that our policies are needed and wanted. Your only hope is to pretend that those policies are other than what they are. You deceive no one."
The hon. Gentleman, in that catalogue of grotesque distortions and in that fabric of innuendo and shambles, tried to perpetrate on the House a Goebbels-style exercise in black propaganda. Even on the day that a general election has been announced, it was a disgraceful speech by any standards, even by those of the loony and militant Left which he represents. It was a contemptible speech on a matter of great concern and importance. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to make such a speech when he represents thousands of constituents whose local authorities have just imposed a 62·8 per cent. rate rise upon them.

The other night 8,000 people marched on Waltham Forest town hall to express their utter contempt and real anger about the fact that the hon. Gentleman and his cronies should have sought to impose a rate increase. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to come here and lecture my hon. Friends on the provision of care and services, because he will sting every family in that constituency with a 62·8 per cent. rate increase. His nerve is beyond comprehension. His constituents must be praying for release from the long nightmare of Socialist ideology being suffered by those in Lambeth, Brent and Waltham Forest.

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Waltham Forest and its rates rise, may I ask him whether it would not be more helpful to the House if he told us exactly how much money in rate support grant has been removed from the London borough of Waltham Forest since 1979? I understand it is about £40 million. Does he not agree that if that money had not been removed from the ratepayers of Waltham Forest by his Government, the very large rate rises that have been imposed to pay for the services that are needed by the people of that area would not be necessary? Those who marched on Waltham Forest town hall would be better employed marching on the Department of the Environment in Marsham street.

The answer to every point made by the hon. Gentleman is no. The hon. Gentleman paints a view of Britain that is fanciful beyond words. He parachuted from cloud-cuckoo-land into this Chamber today and, like so many of his hon. Friends, he parachuted from the sort of dream world that he occupies with a number of others. They are divorced from the realities of life, and as they chew the barbed wire of Socialism they would do well to reflect that the people of Britain will not be conned in the next few weeks. The arguments will be clearly laid before the people and they will have the opportunity yet again to reject the dreadful and wicked programme proposed by the hon. Member for Leyton. He knows quite well that that programme would do nothing to resolve any of the serious problems that remain to be dealt with in some of the inner city areas.

It would be folly for us to claim or to think that everything in the garden is lovely and that everything is perfect. Of course it is not. It will be no part of the Conservative party's case at this general election to say that we have resolved every outstanding problem, but the foundations are well laid for the resolution of all the serious problems that this country faces.

No, I will not give way.

It is because we have so many difficulties to overcome that we approach them with common sense and real compassion and not with the dribbling, whining crocodile tears of the Opposition or the lunatic meanderings of the absurd Left.

The main topic of this debate is the quality of life of our citizens. Like the power of a nation, the quality of life depends upon the primacy of economic success. [Interruption.] It does not depend at all on where one was born.

The record of growth in the United Kingdom is outstanding. It is one of the highest in the world. Britain has topped the European Community league table for growth since 1982. In the 1960s and 1970s our growth rate was the lowest of all the major European economies. Since 1980, the growth in United Kingdom manufacturing productivity has been the highest of the seven major industrial countries. In the 1960s and 1970s it was the lowest.

Manufacturing output has increased by 10·5 per cent. since 1983 and over the same time manufacturing investment has increased by 20 per cent. I am well aware that to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and to his friends on the more absurd Left of the Labour party these figures are meaningless. To the hon. Gentleman they show no measure of success and no increase in prosperity. They show no raising of the conditions of the people throughout the length and breadth of Britain. However, they are facts that cannot be denied and we cannot be asked to be partial about the facts.

As I say, manufacturing investment has increased by 20 per cent. That is a triumph and should be wholeheartedly welcomed by the Opposition. The real take-home pay of a married man on average earnings with two children has increased by 21·6 per cent. since 1978–79 and by 18·3 per cent. since 1982–83. Growth in the non-oil economy is forecast to be 3·5 per cent. in 1987. Despite the fall in oil revenues of £7·5 billion from their 1985–86 level, in his 1987 Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was able to announce a £2·5 billion programme for a cut in taxation, with the basic rate of income tax falling from 29 per cent. to 27 per cent. I have no doubt that the electorate will view with interest the fact that the Opposition parties voted against that cut. At the same time the Chancellor managed to produce a £4·75 billion increase in public spending in priority areas such as the National Heal' h Service, about which we have heard little commendation from the Opposition. He also announced a £3 billion reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement.

Before the last election, I recall that the right hon. Gentleman who is a great magician with the language, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), said that no British firm could be certain of remaining solvent over the next two years. Like so many of his forecasts and like so many of the forecasts made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook who has taken to the kind of magical forecasts that we used to hear, they have ceased to have any credibility. It is a case of he who cries -wolf"' last. They have gone on crying wolf but nobody believes them.

As I have said, it is no part of our case that the situation is perfect, but gigantic strides have been made in the modernisation of British industry. Wherever one goes in the United Kingdom and whereever people of good will choose to analyse and look and want to see, they will see a real renaissance in the power of Britain as a manufacturing country. They will see it as a country to which economic success means primacy, and that is deeply important to the interests of all our people.

I shall now turn to the National Health Service.

I listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman said about the Government's economic record. Why did he not refer to unemployment, to the decline in manufacturing industry and to the loss of jobs in that industry, and why did he not speak about the deficit in manufacturing trade?

I hope to come to those topics, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman can contain himself. I know that my speech is moving along at some speed, but I intend to detain the House for some time yet. I hope to come to some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman and to answer them, I hope to his complete satisfaction. However, because of his request and before dealing with the National Health Service I shall happily deal with industrial relations and employment. [Interruption.] We talk about these things in different ways, but employment means jobs.

I say again to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr Fatchett) something that I know he finds hard to understand. Economic success pays for all the wonderful services that we provide for people who in many ways are extremely unfortunate. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that I share many of his concerns about the high level of unemployment. Unemployment will never be cured by a backward-looking economy that is wallowing in the slough of a Socialist despond. Unemployment will be cured for ever only by a vibrant, growing economy that is expanding, has confidence and is capable of garnering to itself all the new opportunities, ideas, horizons and investment that will create the new jobs that we shall badly need in future.

Let me make some specific points about unemployment. In March 1987, unemployment stood at 3,042,000—11 per cent. of the working population. That was an increase of 156,000 on the June 1983 level. Unemployment has fallen by nearly 180,000 in the past eight months. That is the fastest drop since 1973, and it is an important step forward. It is very good news, and I know that Opposition Members will welcome it.

Unemployment is definitely on the decline. However, we shall never resolve the problem as long as uncertainty hangs over the country about the possibility of a Labour Government ever again being elected. They would destroy the economy, bring back high inflation and demolish the fabric of improvement for the platform from which we are taking off for economic recovery.

Employment has risen by over 1 million since March 1983. That increase is greater than those in the European Community countries combined. It sticks ill in the gullet of Opposition Members not to congratulate the Government on the real progress being made on unemployment, although we are taking into account that we still have a long way to go.

I know that my hon. Friend is a well-read man. No doubt he has read the recent OECD report, which analyses employment rates in different OECD member countries. Will he remind the House that, for the first time in OECD statistics, the British unemployment rate is now below that of the French? That is a further indication of the progress that we are making on employment.

It is kind of my hon. Friend to remind the House of that important figure. There is no doubt that we have made gigantic strides, for which the Opposition have not given the Government proper credit. Of course, that does not mean that there is not a tremendous amount of ground to cover, but we are past the foothills of dealing with the unemployment problem. We can now see the horizon, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

It is interesting to note how much self-employment has grown. It has increased by more than 750,000 since June 1979. I suspect that the increase would be even larger if all the figures were completely accurate, and if we were not so conservative in our accounting. Youth unemployment has fallen by 120,000 over the past two years and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the percentage rate is much lower than the EEC average. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England stand not at 30 per cent., but 13·7 per cent., 18·6 per cent. and 15·7 per cent. respectively. Unemployment is falling in all regions across the United Kingdom.

I must repeat that it is no part of my case that the work is finished yet. This is a serious matter which is of. great concern to the Government, as is evidenced by the enormous amount of work that they have done. Even having regard to the partiality, and the requirement for partiality inherent in our system, it is a pity that the Opposition do not work together more with the Government to bring about a reduction in unemployment. But, as I have said, the first precondition for fuller employment is for the economy never again to be run by a Socialist Government. We all know of cases—there are two in my constituency—of major foreign-owned corporations delaying substantial inward investment in this country until they are positive that there is no chance of a Labour Government being returned.

Let me now deal with the smears—I can describe them as nothing less—and the black propaganda—I am sorry; I must not use the work "black"—of the hon. Member for Leyton about the National Health Service. What he said really proved to all of us beyond peradventure that the hon. Gentleman is, frankly, a bit barmy. He talks of enormous hospitals being closed, but he does not mention the new hospitals that have been opened. He did not mention that between 1978–79 and 1985–86 there was an increase of 31 per cent. in real terms in capital spending on the NHS. It fell by 31 per cent. under the stewardship of the last