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Commons Chamber

Volume 124: debated on Monday 14 December 1987

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House Of Commons

Monday 14 December 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Imported Coal


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairman of British Coal to discuss the cost of imported coal; and if he will make a statement.

I meet the chairman of British Coal regularly to discuss all aspects of the coal industry.

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman, will he discuss the current comparison between the price of British and international coal? Will he take into account the present level of international stocks as they reflect the investment in 1973, after the oil crisis, and how that price reflects the current weakness of the dollar, which is causing great concern when compared with European currencies? Will he also consider the fact that if we turned to the international market, international prices would rise immediately as a result? Will the Secretary of State answer the question raised by the chairman of British Coal recently as to whether we are to close more pits against such an uncertain background? Such closures are totally unjustified.

No. The Government have made it clear, through what they have said and in financial support for the industry, that we want a strong, viable, competitive British coal industry. It may surprise the hon. Gentleman to learn that I agree with him that it is misleading to consider the marginal cost of coal in international markets and to state that 80 million tonnes could be purchased at that price. If the Central Electricity Generating Board were to enter the market for that quantity of coal, the price would be bound to rise.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that metallurgical coke is required for the United Kingdom steel industry and should be imported? Considering the true figures for importation prices, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Chinese, the Colombians, the South Africans and the Australians can all undercut us in real prices? We must face that situation.

I have said that we must have a competitive coal industry. Equally, I agree with my hon. Friend that we do not produce enough of certain grades of coal—for example, anthracite and coking coal. That is one reason why British Coal has proposals to invest at Margam. To make that investment pay there must be flexible working and a new approach to working arrangements. Without those we will have to continue to import the coking coal that we could produce in this country.

Has it occurred to the Secretary of State that the policy of importing coal — including some from South Africa—of further pit closures and of the selling of profitable pits confirms almost every forecast made by Arthur Scargill since he became president of the National Union of Mineworkers? He forecast those events with clinical precision. Is it not a fact that that must be set against the problem of hypothermia, which is likely to kill many people this winter because of the lack of cheap fuel?

I am very surprised that the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about closures. No other Minister has ever approached the right hon. Gentleman's record for closing pits. What is more, under the right hon. Gentleman, miners did not receive the redundancy compensation that they receive under this Government. Coal imports represent about 8 per cent. of total coal consumption in this country. I want to see a strong British coal industry. We are putting up £2 million a day to ensure that the industry receives the investment. We need modern working practices to accompany the investment, and the industry will then have a bright future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to beat the attractions of foreign coal is to continue the increase in efficiency and competitiveness that the industry has already seen? In that connection, does my right hon. Friend agree that our congratulations are due to the entire industry on the magnificent figures recently announced by British Coal in respect of productivity per man shift?

I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought that up. The breaking of the "4 tonnes per man shift" barrier is something for which the entire industry deserves credit. It deserves credit also for achieving that during an overtime ban. It just shows what the industry is capable of doing if men and management work together and make use of modern investment.

I have listened to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the importation of coal. However, he must spell it out more clearly. He is on record as saying different things to different audiences. Does he deny that he has told audiences that if the electricity industry is privatised private industry will be allowed to buy coal in whatever market it chooses? That means another slaughtering of the coal industry, with more pit closures and job losses.

The hon. Gentleman has quoted only half of what I said. I said that we would not bind the privatised industry to buy British. I went on to say that we believe that the British coal industry, if it continues to improve productivity, will become a supplier of choice, not of necessity. The hon. Gentleman should not quote the first part without quoting the second.

Electricity Council


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what the budget for the Electricity Council has been in each of the last five years.

The net operating costs of the Electricity Council borne by electricity boards in England and Wales from 1982–83 to 1986–87 were respectively £28·2 million, £30·8 million, £32·4 million, £35·3 million and £36·5 million.

Will the Minister confirm that the Electricity Council employs more people than the Department of Energy; and will he tell us what they all do?

The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is that those people are responsible for the policy formulation of the industry, including, for instance, industrial relations and financial planning.

Will the Minister tell us what proportion of the budget in each of the years that he mentioned has been spent on research into the efficient use of electricity, renewable sources of electricity and its renewable sources abroad?

I do not have the exact figures, but it is highly unlikely to be very much. All those matters are undertaken by the Central Electricity Generating Board, not the Electricity Council.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), when he was Minister for Energy back in the 1970s, did not carry out the recommendations of the Plowden committee for the reorganisation of the electricity industry, and that, as a result, not only has the Electricity Council's staff exceeded that of the Department of Energy, but its spending is far greater than that of the Department?

The Electricity Council's budget is considerably larger than that of the Department of Energy, which this year is £22·9 million. As for the first part of the question, I am sure that, as my hon. Friend has asked it, it must be right.

Will the Minister tell us what subsidy is paid per tonne of South African, Polish and American coal coming into this country to be supplied to the CEGB?

I think that that relates to the last question. However, I believe that the figure—which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given me—is 2·;5 per cent.

Electricity (Privatisation)


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he last met the chairmen of the area electricity boards to discuss privatisation of the industry.

I met the area board chairmen collectively on 1 October to discuss various aspects of the privatisation of the electricity supply industry, and I plan to meet them again early in the new year.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the area board chairmen are overwhelmingly in favour of privatisation and believe that they will give customers a better deal in the private sector?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The area board chairmen are overwhelmingly in favour of the industry's privatisation.

What did the area board chairmen tell the Secretary of State about the future of the national grid, and, secondly, about the maintenance of jobs within their areas and in the industry generally? Would he care to express his own view on those matters?

The area board chairmen and I discussed the question of privatisation. In spite of rumours to the contrary, nobody in the Electricity Council, the area boards, the CEGB, or the Government wants the grid to be broken up. The area board chairmen believe that their industry has a bright future — the consumption of electricity has been increasing—and that in the private sector they can offer their employees a more secure and better-paid future. They all intend to ensure that their work force receives worker-shareholdings at preferential rates.

I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend has said about the national grid. Does he agree that the national grid is the jewel in the crown of our electricity industry? Is he prepared to go a little further and give a categorical assurance that, when the legislation comes, the preservation of the national grid will be written into it?

There is not and never has been at any time any question of breaking up the grid. An integrated grid has served the country well and will continue to do so in the future.

Does the Secretary of State intend the ownership of the national grid to be in private or public hands? Did the chairmen of the electricity boards make it clear to him that the 9 per cent. increase in prices was completely unjustified, that the industrial rebate for prices may mean that, yet again, consumers will pay more for electricity, and that it may be illegal?

No. When I talked to the area board chairmen about prices I explained that the industry was entering a period of substantial capital investment and that it had to develop an income base to fund that investment, whether it be in the private or public sector. They saw the sense of that argument, as, I am sure, one of these days the hon. Gentleman will.

Will my right hon. Friend note that the area boards want not only privatisation but that 10 out of the 11 wish to be privatised as individual utilities? They believe that they can compete against one another, and one or two have confirmed that they can produce electricity in their area more economically than they can buy it from the national grid.

My hon. Friend is correct. The area board chairmen all said that they would like to have the right to generate in their areas. At the moment, with the exception of one power station in Hereford, none of the area boards has any generating capacity. They would like such a right to be among the rights that they will acquire when they are privatised.

Fuel Disconnections


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy if he will introduce legislation to require the fuel industries to satisfy themselves about the state of health of consumers who are in arrears with payments, before proceeding to disconnection; and if he will make a statement.

The gas and electricity industries operate a voluntary code of practice on paying electricity and gas bills. Under this code, if the sick or disabled inform the industries of their circumstances, the industries undertake to try to reach an agreement on payment arrangements which would avoid the need for disconnnection.

Does the Minister accept that the position is still far from satisfactory? The number of disconnections in the gas industry in the first six months of this year, compared with last year, increased by 40 per cent. There are currently about 1,200 deaths each year from hypothermia, so, with the winter coming, we must establish a system whereby all vulnerable customers are recorded at the local billing and registration points. If they are behind with their payments, they can be visited and, in every possible case, disconnection avoided. Thus, the numbers of disconnections would be substantially reduced.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am concerned that the number of gas disconnections has been increasing. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the National Gas Consumers' Council is looking into this matter, and I discussed with it the manner in which it should do so. With regard to the code of practice, it is important that the points that the hon. Gentleman made in his supplementary question are covered. I believe that, by and large, that is precisely the case.

I commend to my hon. Friend the East Midlands electricity authority, which covers my constituency, which bends over backwards in its efforts to avoid having to cut anybody off. It is very humane in its approach. Perhaps other authorities might copy its example.

Perhaps my hon. Friend is not aware that only two weeks ago I was in part of the East Midlands electricity authority's area and observed what it was doing. The number of disconnections in the electricity industry is on a downward trend. There is an undertaking that no pensioner household will be cut off before the end of March.

Is it not clear that the Government's criterion is that those organisations have to make a commercial profit? Is it not clear, therefore, that the Government are concerned more with profit than with the interests of the people? That is an absolute disgrace. It is about time that the people of this country recognised that the Government are concerned only with private interests and not with the people as a whole.

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not agree with what he has said. Somebody has to pay for the fuel consumed, whether it is gas or electricity. The Government have a number of projects, incuding the homes insulation scheme, which help those least able to help themselves. However, as I said, somebody has to pay for the fuel consumed.

Alternative Energy Sources


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next proposes to have discussions with the European Council of Ministers about alternative sources of energy.

I expect alternative sources of energy to be discussed at the Council of Energy Ministers planned for 21 March 1988 under German presidency.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the balance between United Kingdom national research and European Community research is about right at present, or' does he think that more should be undertaken on a Community basis?

Over a period of years we have done reasonably well from the EEC on the matter of renewables. Our present renewable programme is valued at about £77 million, of which the Commission pays £5 million. As my hon. Friend probably knows, we have decided to increase our expenditure on renewables next year.

As Government funds available for research into alternative forms of energy have more than quadrupled in the past few years, will my hon. Friend assure the House that at the meeting next March the question of duplication of research into alternative forms of energy will be avoided and that it ought to he part of a co-ordinated European programme to ensure that the extra money is being used in the most cost-effective way?

Part of the agreement that Ministers reached last month was that there would be a common form of information and an improved and enhanced data base, which would overcome some of the worries of duplication that my hon. Friend has rightly stressed.

Electricity Charges


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what recent estimates he has made of the impact upon (a) pensioners, (b) low-income families and (c) domestic users generally, of increased electricity charges.

There has been no overall increase in electricity tariffs since April 1985, nor will there be any increase this winter. It will be for the Electricity Council to determine the effects on tariffs from next April of the new financial targets that we set for the industry.

Why are the old and the cold being asked next year and the year after to pay big increases which are wholly unnecessary and unjustified and will simply give City slickers a big profit when electricity is privatised? Does the Minister understand that it will not wash for Ministers to make comparisons between United Kingdom and Common Market electricity prices, when pensions in the Common Market are substantially higher than here? Does he further understand that it is deeply shameful for pensioners and low-income families to be ripped off in that way by Ministers whose entire lives are cosseted and who are protected against the cold at a time when there is great anxiety about the plight of pensioners and low-income families?

The precise increases will depend upon what further success the industry has in reducing costs. We expect the average householder's expenditure to increase by 40p a week and the average pensioner's expenditure by 30p or 35p a week. I should stress that any increase next April will be the first effective increase since April 1985. Since that time single pensions have increased by £5·25 a week and are due to rise by a further £1·65 a week next April.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it does not lie in the mouth of any Labour Member to express concern about rising prices when the previous Labour Government presided over record increases in inflation and record increases in prices, to the detriment of the poor and the pensioners?

My hon. Friend is correct. Under Labour, electricity tariffs rose by 30 per cent. in real terms; under us, electricity tariffs have fallen by 15 per cent. in real terms.

Does the Minister intend after April next year to continue lower tariffs for industries such as ICI? If he does, will that continue to be to the detriment of, and cause increased handicap to, pensioners and people on low incomes?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just said that the Opposition have rather changed their tune, having learnt what is happening—[Interruption.] Last week the Opposition were complaining about heavy increases in industrial costs, so their tune has changed. It is for the industry to determine exactly how the prices will be distributed. Our understanding is that the bulk and intensive discounts will remain.

Can my hon. Friend tell us how much higher electricity prices would be now if we had given in to Scargill in 1984–85, as the Opposition urged us to do?

I do not have the calculations with me, I am afraid, but that is a very good question. Prices would undoubtedly be much higher.



To ask the Secretary of State for Energy when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board; and what subjects he expects to discuss.

I meet Lord Marshall regularly to discuss a range of issues concerning the electricity supply industry.

When the Secretary of State next meets the chairman, will he say that the public liability insurance in respect of each nuclear plant of only £20 million is woefully inadequate? Will he tell him that, if the industry is privatised, it should make proper provision for this risk and not rely on the state to underwrite the risk, thereby giving a generous public subsidy to cover one of the major running costs of the industry?

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. There is a great deal of additional expenditure — far in excess of £20 million — to ensure that accidents do not take place. We set high standards of design, construction and operation. We have a Nuclear Inspectorate, which is wholly independent and has the right to license, or refuse to license, plants. We set a great deal of store by safety. The £20 million cover is cover of last resort. The real effort goes into making sure that it is never necessary.

When my right hon. Friend next speaks to the chairman, will he remind him, as the provider of cheap off-peak electricity, that that electricity is being taken up in Lancashire by only 6·2 per cent. of the population and that further promotion of cheap-rate electricity would assist those low-income categories who will have to bear the extra charges to which reference has been made in earlier questions?

I shall make sure that I make that point and that the area boards press hard the opportunities for taking off-peak electricity at very keen prices. I shall make sure also, as I have already done, that my Department runs a campaign to make elderly people aware of the possibilities that are available for saving energy and for using energy efficiently at little cost to themselves.

Before the Secretary of State meets the chairman, will he give a guarantee to the House that, unlike what happened with British Telecom—when both industries were fattened up before privatisation—if the electricity industry is privatised, the fattening-up process will not allow any Tory Member of Parliament or ex-Cabinet Minister to take on the job of non-executive or executive director of the privatised industry?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, but I cannot give him that undertaking.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman, will he discuss the CEGB's ability to import coal freely? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the CEGB were able to import coal freely, it would be able to meet the real rate of return on assets which he requires of it and that there would be no need for a price increase next April?

I should tell my hon. Friend that we dealt with this question a little earlier. I made the point that although it is possible to buy coal more cheaply from overseas, I doubt whether one could buy the quantities necessary to replace the coal produced by British Coal. We are approaching the problem the other way round. We are trying to help British Coal to make itself a modern, efficient and competitive supplier. We think that our coal reserves are a very important asset, which should be used properly.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the members of the Central Electricity Generating Board are unanimously agreed that the transmission grid should not be separated from the generation of electricity? What does the right hon. Gentleman think of Lord Marshall's view that if the two were separated—whether in public or private ownership — the security of our electricity supply would be lowered and there would be a greater risk of blackouts?

It is true that the CEGB thinks that the grid should be retained by it and that we need an integrated system, whereby the CEGB controls the power stations and the grid. However, others in the industry do not think that that is essential. There is a strong body of opinion that argues that transmission should be separated from generation if one is to encourage private generators to come into transmission and competition in generation. We have not yet made a decision about those two arguments.



To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many homes occupied by (i) pensioners and (ii) others, have been given financial assistance for insulation since 1983.

From 1983 to 1986 some 1,540,000 grants were paid under the homes insulation scheme, of which 312,000 were 90 per cent. grants to low income households, and some 267,000 low-income households were assisted by the community insulation projects. Many of the beneficiaries have been pensioners.

I thank my hon. Friend for that most encouraging reply. Does he envisage any changes in the homes insulation scheme or the community insulation project?

On the homes insulation scheme, the Government have already announced that the 90 per cent. grant will be extended to all households claiming supplementary benefit or housing benefit. That will mean that more than half as many homes again will be eligible. On the community insulation projects, all low-income households claiming income support, housing benefit or family credit will be eligible for the service from next April. That will more than double the number of eligible households, from fewer than 3 million to about 7 million.

Will the Minister confirm that yesterday British Coal agreed to sell 1,400 homes in Nottinghamshire to an organisation called the Lancashire Housing Association, which has assets worth less than £500,000? British Coal has agreed to sell them at a figure of £9·2 million.

I am sorry that I took so long to get to the question. Mr. Speaker. These houses are very badly insulated. They house more than 2,500 pensioners, most of whom have given their lives to the coal industry, and now British Coal in Nottinghamshire is selling them and their homes down the river.

If the households to which the hon. Gentleman referred have a case for help under the homes insulation scheme or the community insulation projects, I shall ensure that those householders have the right to find out what might be available for them. I am not in a position to say more than that.

My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the amount of insulation that has been installed, but what is the Government's thinking on windows? Windows allow the greatest heat loss from houses. Why is double glazing not an automatic feature of new house build? Why is it not put into the specifications, and what encouragement are the Government giving to the building industry to ensure that double glazing is installed to prevent heat loss and help with energy problems?

On housing and building regulations, I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has recently issued a directive that draws attention to the need for double glazing as well as many other ways of insulating people's houses.

Nuclear Power Plants (Working Practices)


To ask the Secretary of State for Energy what plans he has to introduce legislation relating to working practices in nuclear power plants; and if he will make a statement.

Existing legislation provides the basis for effective control of working practices in nuclear power plants. These practices are regulated by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate.

I am disappointed that the Minister has not seen fit to answer my question. As there is increasing evidence, especially from investigations into the results of the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that levels of radioactivity formerly considered safe are no longer acceptable, will the Department thoroughly review its attitude and introduce far more stringent safety standards at British nuclear plants?

I did answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly. The implication was that there were no plans for further legislation because existing legislation is adequate at present. In direct response to his question about risk levels, the industry complies with and works entirely within the limits implied in the National Radiological Protection Board's new risk assessments.

Does my hon. Friend agree that drawing the legislation more tightly might be counterproductive, in that tightly drawn legislation provides loopholes, whereas the present broad legislation indicates more widely what the Government intend?

That is a fair point. Under the present legislation a great deal is left to the wisdom and discretion of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. The inspectorate, with the operator, ensures that the plant is safe. That is the important point. My hon. Friend is quite right. Very detailed legislation and rules might actually lead to a decline in safety standards.

The Minister will be aware that in December last year the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate expressed great concern about safety standards at Sellafield and, indeed, suggested that if standards were not improved within 12 months it would have to consider closing the plant down. Now that that period has expired, has the Minister received any information from the inspectorate as to whether its recommendations have been carried out and whether it is satisfied with safety standards at Sellafield?

That is not exactly how it was. The Nil laid down certain conditions for Sellafield and a time scale within which they must be carried out. They have, indeed, been carried out—and within the time scale laid down.

As it takes three years to train an inspector, and as the nuclear industry is being considerably expanded and may be affected by privatisation, does the Minister recognise the need to increase the inspectorate beyond the level currently proposed? Does he agree that he should be putting plans into action to ensure that more inspectors can be trained than is currently possible?

The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a time lag between advertising for new inspectors and recruiting them. He will be aware, I am sure, that we have engaged in a substantial recruitment programme for the NII. I understand that the programme is going extremely well and it is planned to have 120 inspectors by the early part of next year. We are therefore well on target, including the provision of the training required.

Electricity Charges


To ask the Secretary of State For Energy what representations he has received from (a) district or regional health authorities or (b) other centrally funded public service employers relating to the proposed increases in electricity charges.

Nevertheless, in view of the serious financial crisis facing the hospital service, which according to the Daily Telegraph is recognised by the vast majority of people in this country, does the Minister agree that the Department should either give concessions to health authorities or press the Secretary of State for Social Services to provide added budget allocations for health authorities to cover the quite unnecessary increases in electricity charges?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's view that the increases are unnecessary. On present assessments, electricity accounts for slightly less than 1 per cent. of health services costs. The expected increases will thus be less than one tenth of 1 per cent. How that increased cost —estimated at about £8 million in a total budget of £22 billion next year—is finally accommodated is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

As I understand it, the Government want to increase the rate of return by increasing the charges because the rate of return is under 2·5 per cent., which is only one quarter of the rate of return in private industry. Once that rate of return has been increased and attracts private investors into the electricity generating industry, competition will drive down prices. Obviously, there is in the Government's policy a subtle point that has escaped my attention, but does that make sense?

That is pretty good. The only additional point is that it was the Labour Government who introduced the concept of a 5 per cent. rate of return on new investment in the public sector. The Government are trying to edge the rate of return in the electricity industry towards that 5 per cent.

The Minister has just confirmed an answer given by one of his colleagues in the DHSS in a written answer on 24 November, in which the hon. Lady said that the increased cost of electricity would add about £8 million to the annual costs of the National Health Service. The Prime Minister frequently makes great play about giving extra funds of far less than that to the Health Service. Given the underfunding of the National Health Service and the great public concern about that, is it not right that hospitals should have some exemption from these electricity charges?

I do not know whether it is my place to engage in the question of the funding of the Health Service. If it is, I have to say that the Government have raised expenditure on the Health Service by almost 30 per cent. in real terms since we came to office. Let us get the context in which these things are being discussed. It is that expenditure of £22 billion is planned for next year, out of which this £8 million looks a rather small item.

The Arts

Scottish Arts Council


To ask the Minister for the Arts when he plans to meet the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council to discuss the level of funding for the arts in Scotland in 1988–89.

I met him informally recently. I have announced the Arts Council's grant in aid for 1988–89, and the council will now determine the share for Scotland.

Why is the Minister failing to invest in the arts in Glasgow in preparation for the City of Culture year, which will bring cultural prestige and tourist income not only to the city of Glasgow but to Scotland and to Great Britain as a whole?

I was pleased to have been able to choose Glasgow as the European City of Culture for 1990. One of the conditions for all the British cities that put in bids was that they should themselves be able to provide the resources for the City of Culture. I am glad that the city of Glasgow gave that undertaking as part of its bid. That was one of the many reasons why I chose Glasgow to undertake this task.

When the Minister next meets the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, will he impress upon him the importance of providing the maximum assistance to Crawford arts centre in St. Andrews, which is under threat because the university is unable to continue its previous level of support?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has written to me on this matter and I know about the importance of the work in the Crawford arts centre. I shall draw this to the attention of the chairman of the Scottish Arts Council because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, it is for that council to determine whether it can give any help.

Lincolnshire And Humberside


To ask the Minister for the Arts when he plans to meet the chairman of Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts to discuss the level of arts funding in Lincolnshire and Humberside in 1988–89.

I met the chairman of Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts on 3 December during my visit to the region.

Is the Minister aware that a delay in letting Lincolnshire and Humberside arts association know what its budget is to be for the forthcoming year can cause tremendous problems in its planning strategy? Is he further aware that the whole calculation of the grant to the Lincolnshire and Humberside arts association means that it is discriminated against because the Arts Council formula is based on population? This area is one of small scattered communities, and small organisations such as the Humberside dance project are put at a disadvantage because of this sort of calculation and because of a delay in giving the figures.

When I visited the area two weeks ago I was impressed by the work of the regional arts association. It does an excellent job and has already drawn up a regional development plan for the arts, drawing together the strands of the local authorities and the arts bodies and those of the regional arts association itself. Against the background of three-year funding which is now to be introduced, the regional arts association for that area will feel that it can help the arts bodies to plan ahead, to diversify their sources of funding and to become more self-reliant. I am confident that against the background of a 53 per cent. increase in real terms of resources available to the association in the last eight years its case will be carefully considered by the Arts Council.

Cultural Co-Operation


To ask the Minister for the Arts what steps he is taking to further European cultural co-operation.

I attended an informal meeting in Copenhagen last week of European Community Ministers responsible for cultural affairs. This provided a useful exchange of views on a variety of matters which are to be considered subsequently in more detail at official level. In September I attended the fifth conference of Council of Europe Ministers responsible for cultural affairs in Portugal, at which public and private funding of the arts was the major topic.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom's bilateral co-operation with our EEC partners, including Greece, is in good repair? In view of the great budgetary pressures on the EEC, will he discourage grandiose and expensive schemes from Europe which would pre-empt large national contributions?

I can confirm that bilateral relations in respect of cultural affairs with all our European partners seem to be in good order. So far as the wider front of Community action is concerned, I agree with my hon. Friend's comments that we do not gain, either in this country or elsewhere, from vast grandiose schemes in the European Community. However, there are certain matters, for example, sponsorship and heritage conservation, where we can all gain from co-operation. I am glad that, as a result of the meeting last week, we agreed that we should take the pragmatic and practical approach to these matters.

In encouraging European cultural co-operation, will the Minister give an assurance that he will not overlook the needs of minority cultures, particularly Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales?

These matters have come up from time to time and they featured last week. It is worth making the point that a resolution was passed during the British presidency a year ago supporting the idea that money should he made available for translations of works, particularly from minority communities. I hope that that will be a contribution.

Has my right hon. Friend thought of getting all the European Ministers for Arts and Culture together to persuade the Finance Ministers that we in Britain have by far the best system of VAT when it comes to literature and reading matter?

Given that, in our imperialist past, we looted many of the art treasures of Europe and brought them here—I am thinking primarily of the Parthenon marbles — does the Minister think that it is now appropriate to initiate a general discussion between Culture Ministers in Europe to try to eliminate the legacy of bitterness brought about by that theft? Does he further agree that arrangements could perhaps be made for a civilised exchange of various national art treasures looted from one European country by another?

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the oceans of the world would be extremely busy in all directions if we were to fulfil what he is advocating. It is not just a matter of objects of art in this country which, for one reason or another, originated from other countries. The same applies to many other parts of the world. If we start down that road, where shall we end?

Arts Council


To ask the Minister for the Arts when he plans to meet the chairman of the Arts Council to discuss the base budgets of the Arts Council's major clients for 1988–89.

It is for the Arts Council to determine the allocation of its grant-in-aid between individual arts bodies. The chairman will keep me informed of the council's decisions.

Will the Minister confirm that, when the £5 million in this year's settlement which is earmarked for touring and incentive funding has been deducted, the Arts Council, when deciding how to distribute the money, will have a very small sum? Does he further agree that the impact of this for major clients, such as the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, will mean that they will probably get no more than a 2 per cent. increase this year, which will be a cut in real terms? Is that the measure of success of the so-called triumph of the Minister's budget settlement?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seems to be changing his tune a little from last time, when he appeared to welcome the settlement. I would have thought that an increase of 10 per cent. in the next financial year was a substantial increase. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for the Arts Council, he will see that they will go up from nearly £139 million to £150 million—an increase of £11 million—in the coming financial year, of which £5 million will be taken for incentive funding and touring. If the hon. Gentleman cannot see that as a good settlement, I am not quite sure what he would see as a good one.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the main source of financial strength for the Arts Council's major clients is not only the splendid settlement that he obtained for grants to the Arts Council for the coming year, with its warmly welcomed increase of 10 per cent., but the growth in the British economy over the past eight years? It has meant that more people who want to see performances can pay for tickets.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Looking to the next three years, it is an extremely important point. The challenge that I am putting down to arts organisations all around the country is that, with three-year funding, they can look to their third year, not just the next year, and plan their long-term finances. The more professional they are, the more positive they are with regard to marketing policies, and the more successful they are in encouraging the public to go and enjoy their actitivies, the more income they will raise from other sources and the more encouragement they will get from incentive funding. This is the direction in which we are going so that we may encourage greater self-reliance for the arts world.

Civil Service

Job Satisfaction


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how he intends to make the work of civil servants more effective and rewarding.

A great deal is already being done to make civil servants' work even more effective. A number of major reforms are directed towards this end, including development of the financial management initiative, departmental budgeting systems, a new staff appraisal system, and the scrutiny approach to reviewing activities.

I accept what my right hon. Friend has said. How will the taxpayer benefit from value from money gained from such reforms?

One supremely important example is the efficiency scrutinies that have been carried out over the past several years. They have led to recurring savings of £300 million a year. Many scrutinies are being carried out each year, and that improvement is increasing all the time in terms of value for money for the consumer.

What is the Minister doing about performance-related pay? Does he accept that in the National Audit Office it has been of particular value in being able to get a rather wider range of pay, depending on the kind of work that is performed?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Although it is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is important to re-state the value that we attach to performance-related pay. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, for the first time we are introducing performance-related discretionary awards for senior grades 2 and 3. Performance bonuses are already being allocated from grade 2 down to grade 7. The three-year experiment will be completed at the end of this financial year. We shall have to decide how to proceed from there. The principle of performance-related pay is now well accepted within the Civil Service.

I realise the steps that have been taken by my right hon. Friend under his great stewardship. Does he agree that one of the best ways of encouraging individual performance is to give each person an individual task and objective and then to praise and reward him when he has done them well?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, we have now introduced the staff appraisal system, which enables individuals all the way through the bulk of the Civil Service to determine in an open way with their senior managers their objectives and what is expected of them and then to appraise their overall achievements. The principle of giving some discretionary award to those who have an outstanding contribution to make and whose performance has been outstanding is the right principle to encourage.

Does the Minister agree that the work of the Crown Suppliers is effective, rewarding and certainly provides value for money? Does he agree also that morale is low at present because of the intention of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), to try to privatise the agency for reasons relating to political dogma? Will he inquire into the matter, ask for the views of the head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Robert Armstrong, and, after that, have a quiet word with his hon. Friend?

I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's advice, which I shall consider, but I am not sure whether I shall react to it in that way. I agree that the Crown Suppliers do an excellent job. We are concerned to ensure that the service is managed in such a way that we get the best possible value for money for the taxpayer from the management of that service, and we are concerned at all times with the quality of the service that it offers the public. There are different ways in which such management can take place. No doubt those matters are being examined in that context.

Management Development


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what progress is being made in the improvement of management development in the Civil Service.

Since 1984 we have set up a framework of management development programmes, which include staff at all levels from executive officer to grade 3, and good progress is being made.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he indicate the Government's priorities in providing management development courses for staff at appropriate grades within the Civil Service?

My hon. Friend is right. Training in the Civil Service is a matter of the highest importance if we are to meet the requirements of good value for money, the highest possible standards of professionalism—which we have — and good quality service to the public. The courses, including courses at a very senior level, range from the new top management programme—a six-week course — to the senior management development programme, and the management development programme itself, for more junior staff. All those courses, and many others, are designed to ensure that we have the highest possible standards within our service.

Will the Minister give an assurance that no one involved in the management stucture of civil servants will be involved in training people so that they can be beaten until they beg for mercy? Will there be any way in which anyone in the Civil Service at management level will be able to establish whether a chief constable is sane?

My responsibilities are for the Civil Service, and I propose to maintain my responsibility for that and go no wider.

As gamekeepers undoubtedly make the best poachers, would it not be a good idea if we could ballot the Civil Servants in the House, so that a given number of hon. Members could use the services of an expert civil servant for a year, to goad Ministers?

My hon. Friend is in a very innovative mood today, and I owe it to him to consider carefully what he has said.

Has the Minister read the address by Sir Robert Armstrong to the conference of the Royal Institute of Public Administration last week, saying how unhappy he was with the level of morale in the Civil Service? What point is there in spending money on management development when Ministers so often villify the Civil Service and take as their main aim its reduction in numbers?

It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that Ministers villify the Civil Service. The fact that there has been a reduction in the numbers of civil servants by about 18 per cent. is not a criticism by Ministers of the Civil Service, but follows from a requirement that we rightly set ourselves in 1979, when we said that the Civil Service was too large and that we needed to reduce Government functions. Side by side with increased efficiency in the Civil Service we said that numbers should be reduced. That is not a reflection on the calibre of the Civil Service, which is a slimmed-down and professional service.

Is management development influenced by pay, and are the rates of pay for civil servants now the same as those in the private sector for equal work?

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are now introducing into the Civil Service a much more flexible pay scheme which takes into account the need to ensure adequate recruitment, retention and motivation of civil servants. To that end, we have a more flexible system which allows us to provide more for specialist groups who otherwise may leave the service. That flexible system is leading to better results.

The Arts

Touring Companies


To ask the Minister for the Arts what steps he is taking to encourage touring companies to perform more in the regions.

I have included a contribution towards the cost of additional regional touring in the Arts Council's grant-in-aid for 1988–89 and the two succeeding years.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Will he underline the fact that many of the quality touring companies are based in the regions and provinces as well as London? Will he request that, when such companies tour the country, they contact local education authorities to ensure that they can contribute to the education of the area in which they perform?

I agree that touring must not be seen as a one-way business out of London. Rather, it should be regarded as a two-way business. Excellence in the arts in parts of the country other than London should be available to the regions and London. That is the purpose of the proposals for more touring that are being developed by the Arts Council. My hon. Friend knows that I have set aside more money for touring to ensure that excellence in the arts is available to as many people as possible in as many parts of the country as possible.



To ask the Minister for the Arts what further support he intends to give towards Glasgow as City of Culture in 1990.

The city authorities have undertaken to provide enough money themselves to finance a substantial and varied programme of events.

When the Minister says that Glasgow has been given City of Culture status on condition that no Government money is forthcoming, will he bear in mind that, in 1989, Paris will be spending considerably more than he will allow in Glasgow and that it will not be rate capped? Will he do one thing which will not cost him money—persuade his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to allow the city borrowing powers so that it can go ahead with the concert hall which is so much needed?

I am aware of the anxiety that has been expressed about the plans for the concert hall and I realise that recent proposals have come to nothing so far. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is sympathetic to the problem and that he is waiting for the alternative proposals which might be put forward with a view possibly to constructing a concert hall. As for the city of Glasgow, I repeat that the condition upon which I accepted nominations from cities to qualify as European City of Culture was that they should provide their own resources. I admired Glasgow for saying that it would do that, and it has achieved that aim.

Retail Price Index (Miscalculation)

3.32 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the recently announced miscalculation in the compilation of the retail price index as a result of computer error.

I regret that, in 1985, a mistake was made in one of the programmes for computerising the monthly compilation of the retail prices index. As a result, both the level of the index and the year-on-year inflation rate have in most months from February 1986 to October 1987 been understated, on average by about one tenth of 1 per cent.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled hopes to make a statement to the House later this week on the action to be taken in line with the principle that the Exchequer should not benefit from the effects on social security expenditure.

The computer programme error has now been put right, and I believe our calculation system to be wholly correct. I am however, asking the head of Government statistical service to review it.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this new system of calculation is the direct result of the cost-cutting Rayner review of the Government's statistical service in 1982–83, which was designed to cut the number of statisticians by one third from 1,430 in May 1979 to 960 in April 1984? What is the point of installing computers if the number or calibre of statisticians employed to use them is cut so much that fundamental errors such as this are made? Does this not show that the Government's cost cutting, so far from improving efficiency, is often a false economy?

Why, when the right hon. Gentleman's officials round the figures, do they alway seem to round them down rather than up, knowing that millions of pensioners and others on benefit will be deprived of the full increase in line with the cost of living, which is their legal right?

The Secretary of State has said that pensioners and the severely disabled will be compensated. I should like to know whether full compensation will be paid to them in a lump sum bonus before Christmas. Why will this compensation not extend to all other persons in receipt of other benefits that the Government are under a statutory obligation fully to uprate in line with inflation —especially widows, the unemployed, the sick, the war and industrial disabled and those receiving maternity allowance, attendance allowance, invalid care allowance and mobility allowance, including their dependants?

As tax allowances and index-linked savings have also been under-calculated, are not the Government obliged under the statutory indexation provisions and the Rooker-Wise amendment to recompense others who have lost out, such as those with national savings and occupational pensioners? Will they all be contacted and repaid?

Finally, the Secretary of State has said that supplementary pensioners whose benefit is not statutorily index-linked will be compensated. We welcome that statement, and believe that that principle is right. If pensioners on supplementary benefit are compensated, however, why should not others on supplementary benefit, whose need is just as great, be compensated as well? As there are no lengths to which the Government will not go to claw back money from those whom they allege have been overpaid, surely they must now be even-handed in repaying all whom they have short-changed?

The hon. Gentleman has it entirely wrong; and not untypically. First, the miscalculation has nothing to do with staff cuts. His assertion that it has is entirely wrong. It is the result of a simple human error, which we regret, but it does not stem from staff cuts. There was a computer programme error. If I may put it this way, there was a computer programme designed for Socialist inflation. In other words, the programme missed out everything after the decimal point. That might have been all right when inflation was running at 20 per cent.—it might not have mattered then—but now that it is down to 4 per cent. it is obvious that such a fault will have an effect.

It seems that the hon. Gentleman insists on refighting all the social security battles of four years ago. He should remember that the greatest clawback fidddle was perpetrated by the last Labour Government, who changed the basis of the uprating from historic to forecast. Pensioners lost £1 billion, and they never got it back.

I repeat that the Exchequer will not gain from the social security underpayment. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled, who is seated on the Treasury Bench, will be making a statement on this issue later in the week. The average retirement pensioner has lost so far about £2, which is about 5p per week. For the financial year 1987–88, he will lose £2·60. For the financial year 1988–89, he will lose £5·20 if we do nothing about the miscalculation. However, we do intend to do something about it, and we shall be making special extra payments to national insurance retirement pensioners, supplementary pensioners and the severely disabled. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to await the statement of my hon. Friend the Minister of State on the way in which the special extra payments are to be made.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people will welcome the prompt way in which the Government have announced that the miscalculation will be rectified? It is right that pensioners should be recompensed for any marginal error that has been made, but does he agree that the position is rather different from that of many social security beneficiaries who move in and out of entitlement? Does he agree also that it would be wrong if the miscalculation were to be used as an opportunity further to extend the payments for which Parliament has provided? Does he not think that it is rich to hear what we have from the Opposition, because, if anyone short-changed recipients of social security benefit and pensioners, it was they during periods of high inflation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: no one stole more from pensioners than the Labour Government, and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) knows it. We are seeking to put the mistake right as soon as possible. The point that my hon. Friend makes about people moving in and out of benefit is right. People will believe it is entirely sensible that we should seek to recompense pensioners.

It appears that the error took place some two and a half years ago, in 1985. What changes has the Secretary of State made to arrangements for checking computer programmes in future so that they do not go so long again without checking? He said that the Treasury will not benefit from the error. Is the import of what he said in response to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that some citizens will still lose because of the error?

I shall have to ask the hon. Gentleman to wait for the social security statement. I have made it clear that we will seek to make special payments to the pledged beneficiaries; those include the people to whom I have referred. The error itself came to light as part of one of our regular checks. I believe that the system is correct now, but, as I said, a review is being made to check just that.

If, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) suggests, my right hon. Friend was part of a conspiracy to defraud the poor, why is it that my right hon. Friend, the moment he discovered the error, confessed it publicly and has made a statement in the House today?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. We are by this time used to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (M r. Meacher); he normally manages to blow any opportunity that is given to him.

Can the Secretary of State explain why this error went unnoticed for 21 months? It seems an extraordinary length of time. In anticipation of the DHSS statement, can he make a straightforward statement now that no one will lose because of the mistake? The Government are dealing with the poorest of the poor. If he cannot make that statement, it means that, because of their incompetence, the Government are about to chisel some of the poorest in the country.

I will not try to pre-empt the statement that my hon. Friend will make. What I have said is that the Exchequer will not gain from the social security underpayment. That is a firm pledge by the Government. I have also said that special extra payments will be made to national insurance retirement pensioners, supplementary pensioners and the severely disabled, but for the rest the hon. Gentleman must wait for the statement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public would much rather have a 0·09 per cent. inflation error from this Government than the 26 per cent. inflation rate they had under the Labour Government? If my right hon. Friend discovers, in looking for the source of the error, that the programme was written to anticipate the return of a Labour Government and to concentrate on the big figures rather than the decimal points, will he instruct the programmers that such an eventuality is unlikely?

That I confirm. My announcement on Friday was that inflation had come down to just over 4 per cent. and could well come down further. We are comparing that with an inflation rate in the Labour Government's term of office of over 20 per cent. Nothing did more damage than that to pensioners' standards of living.

Although the Secretary of State is attempting to minimise the error, I think that the House recognises that several million pounds are involved. May I remind the Minister that when people default payment of income tax, interest is charged? I wonder, therefore, whether calculations and attempts will be made by the Minister to ensure that the money goes back to the people who are entitled to it? While I am on this point, I want to inquire about another group which has not been mentioned so far—students and student grants. Students are on miserable rates of pay. Will they be included in the calculations for improvements?

I do not think that the RPI has anything to do with students' grants. I have announced clearly, I hope, that the Exchequer will not gain from social security underpayment. I have also drawn, as is only fair, the distinction made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) between pensioners and those moving in and out of benefit. The Government do not draw back from that distinction.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members will think that he has come forward very quickly to admit the error? That is a good thing for a Minster to do. Does he also accept that many of us who have been told that computers are infallible have now learnt that they can make human mistakes? Does that mean that in future we do not have to accept that computers are infallible and that they are almost as bad as human beings?

What one gets out of a computer obviously depends on what one puts in. If the programme has been written incorrectly, incorrect information will obviously come from the computer. That is precisely what happened. I accept what my hon. Friend has said.

Order. This is a private notice question. I remind the House that there will be a further opportunity to question Ministers later in the week. I have noted carefully those hon. Members who have been rising and who have not been called.

Points Of Order

3.46 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to draw your attention to the composition of the Standing Committee to consider the Health and Medicines Bill. The Committee has 18 members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) from the Opposition Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) from the Labour Back Benches. They will offer the Committee a great deal of expertise. Unfortunately, there is no Scottish Office Minister among the 18 Committee members. Indeed, there is no Scottish Conservative Member of Parliament on the Committee.

As you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, the Health and Medicines Bill contains a great deal of controversial matter. It introduces charges and affects in a number of ways the structure of the Health Service and how it operates. Normally, we have separate Scottish legislation on the Health Service because there is a distinct tradition and a very different structure in primary health care and hospitals in Scotland. It is very important that there is a Minister in the Standing Committee to deal with the Scottish dimension. Can you, Mr. Speaker, offer any remedy in the interests of proper scrutiny of legislation and in the interests of Parliament?

I notice that the Scottish Office Minister in charge of the Health Service announced in the press the other day that he was
"only too happy to … discuss the concerns expressed over the future of the NHS"
by the president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. I very much welcome that. However, it is equally important—and even more important for the House — that the Minister appears in the Standing Committee to debate the issues affecting the future operation of the Health Service in Scotland. It is deplorable that he does not intend to do that. Is there any remedy or any way in which, you, Mr. Speaker, can help to safeguard the parliamentary processes in those circumstances?

Order. The remedy is for the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I have no role in the matter, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may remember on Thursday that you were good enough to call me during business questions when I referred to an early-day motion that I have tabled asking for a proportion of the profits from the Refreshment Department to be donated to the Ethiopian famine appeal. In reply, the Leader of the House suggested that that was a matter for the House of Commons Commission. I understand, Mr. Speaker, that you are the head of the House of Commons Commission. I would therefore be very grateful for your advice on how I can attempt to raise the matter with you. Would it be possible for some resolution to be put before the House so that a Division can be secured on the matter? If not, I can see no way in which I can raise this matter effectively with you and the House of Commons Commission.

The hon. Gentleman knows that I replied to his letter and made a suggestion. It is a matter for the Commission, but I think it unlikely that the Commission will meet again before Christmas. I hope that his suggestion can be resolved on the lines that I suggested to the hon. Gentleman.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), Mr. Speaker—

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the leave of the House, I have put together four statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Education (Mandatory Awards)

That the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1261) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

School Government

That the Education (School Government) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1359) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Teachers' Pay And Conditions

That the Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) Order 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1433) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Department Of Trade And Industry (Fees)

That the draft Department of Trade and Industry (Fees) Order 1987 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Ryder.]

Question agreed to.


3.50 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the continuing level of unemployment in the United Kingdom and its devastating effect on individuals and communities in the North, Scotland, Wales, Merseyside, inner London, the Midlands and many other areas; believes that temporary schemes provide no permanent solution but instead pose an increasing threat of conscription into enforced cheap labour; further notes that recent events in Britain and around the world threaten further increases in unemployment and demonstrate the fundamental instability of the casino economies with their continuing cycles of boom and slump which cannot be fundamentally solved by adjustment in exchange rates, interest rates, privatisations or market forces; therefore calls for the adoption of socialist policies which place human need before profit, such as a massive expansion of socially useful jobs and services and a major reduction in working time, including a 35 hour week, longer holidays, earlier retirement and similar measures; and believes that this can only be achieved by public investment and ownership subject to democratic control, thus enabling the majority of people in communities and in regions, in workplaces and in national enterprises to plan a society of full employment.
I am grateful for this opportunity, because I believe that the topic of unemployment has begun to be seen as something of a bore by the Government, and perhaps by some of their supporters. There is a danger that the view will begin to get around that the present disgraceful levels of unemployment are a permanent, God-given state of affairs. There is also a danger that unemployment will be seen and presented, especially by the Government and their supporters, as a local difficulty in one or two areas that can be massaged and marginally helped through certain schemes.

Although my own region in the north, to which I shall make several references, has the highest unemployment in Great Britain, I recognise that unemployment is not a local problem. Throughout the country there are similar problems, in some cases nearly as bad as those in the north.

It is interesting to read the document produced by the Library, last updated on 19 November, which lists unemployment by constituency in a league table. I note, for instance, that, according to the latest calculations, the highest unemployment in any British constituency is not in the north, the north-west or inner London, but in Birmingham, Small Heath. Another Birmingham constituency, Ladywood, has a fifth highest unemployment level. A number of Glasgow constituencies appear on the list: Maryhill, Central, Provan and Springburn. They come eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th, respectively. Sheffield, Central comes sixth.

Even London, which some regard as part of the prosperous south — the area that is, according to the Government, flowing with milk and honey—is well up in the first 30, with constituencies such as Bethnal Green and Stepney, Islington, North, Bow and Poplar, Vauxhall, Hackney, South and Shoreditch and Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. Inner London as a whole, which has a population of approximately 2·5 million—roughly the same as that of the entire northern region—had 175,000 unemployed at the last count. That is a rate of 14·4 per cent., nearly as high as the current northern rate.

Some will say that that appalling position is now being ameliorated by the creation of some new jobs. Occasionally, there are announcements of new inward investment, even in regions as badly hit as mine. However, even today's announcement of new jobs from Nissan, some of which had already been announced as part of the phase 2 go-ahead given last year—I comment on that because I am sure that the Minister will; and, of course, every new job is more than welcome, and desperately needed — will bring the number of new jobs in my borough since 1980 to a total of slightly below 6.000. That compares with confirmed redundancies for the same period, according to the Department of Employment figures, of 22,938. Despite the inward investment, such as it is, and despite whatever new jobs have been created, there is a net loss of jobs in the borough of Sunderland of 16,000. That shows the scale of the problem with which we are faced.

In the Tyne and Wear area, of which Sunderland is a part, since 1979, when the Government were elected, until August 1987, the total number of confirmed redundancies was 98,784. With the recent closure that was announced at Huwoods, which made mining machinery, and the shipyard redundancies on the Tyne that have been announced, there will have been over 100,000 job losses. There is no sign that the problem is going away, and I am sure that the same difficulties prevail in many other parts of Britain.

The notion that the Government are trying to perpetrate — that we have a strengthening enterprise culture that relies on the private sector to provide jobs where the public sector has allegedly failed—is a myth. I could prove that with regard to my area, and 1 am sure that many other examples could be given from other parts of the country.

Our shipbuilding industry—the merchant building part of which is in public ownership — has contracted dreadfully, but at least there is some merchant shipbuilding left. The way in which the mining industry has contracted is appalling, but at least some of it is still left.

In my constituency, the failures of private enterprise are littered all around us. One of the major shipbuilding yards left in Britain, the Pallion yard, would not be there now were it not for my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who, in a previous incarnation in 1975, faced with the collapse of Court Line Ltd. — a private enterprise company that had been milking its shipbuilding, repairing and marine engine interests to prop up a holiday company — took that yard arid other shipbuilding facilities into public ownership. That is the only reason why Pallion is still there now.

Plessey, which is a massive multinational company, is pulling out of Sunderland, killing off 3,500 jobs; that is the act of a ruthless multinational company. In the past couple of years a major private sector firm, Camrex Ltd., which had been in the area for 100 years and was a marine company, was bought out by a multinational company, Ruberoid plc, which then discovered that Canadian Pacific Ltd. had an insurance claim against Camrex, and deliberately bankrupted it, thus causing a massive loss of jobs to avoid a fairly dubious insurance claim.

Joplings foundry, which was another historic company in my constituency, was bought two years ago by an entrepreneur in the mould that Conservative Members praise to the hilt as an example of the new, dynamic enterprise culture, Mr. Andrew Cook. He said: I will buy this foundry and I can guarantee jobs and work." Within days he closed it and offered employees work in another of his factories in Leeds. Within weeks of some of them going to Leeds, they were told that they were being sacked.

Any empirical analysis of the history of private enterprise in my area, and in many others, shows that one cannot have faith in the private sector and that, inadequate though it is in many ways, it is only public enterprise that has maintained jobs in the area.

Surely there is empirical evidence that at least 13 Japanese companies have moved into the north-east region that unemployment in the northern region has dropped by 25,000 over the past year and that self-employment has doubled over the past four years. Are those figures myths?

I will not be distracted and tempted into that sort of statistical debate. The hon. Gentleman represents a region that still has a total unemployment rate of 17 per cent. with nearly 200,000 people unemployed. I find it incredible that he has the audacity to claim that things are in some way looking up. I anticipated that such comments would be made by Conservative Members, so I have already said that one has only to look at the net job losses compared with the net gains to see that there is massive net loss overall.

We all know that there has been a massive growth in self-employment. However, does my hon. Friend agree that the figures on the income of those who are self-employed show that the overwhelming bulk of them are on fantastically low incomes and that most have gone into self-employment through desperation rather than any great support for the enterprise economy that Conservative Members boast about?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

Another myth is the notion that most people who are self-employed are prosperous and expanding business people. However, my hon. Friends and I deal with the reality. On advice, people have taken some grant, such as an enterprise allowance, and put their redundancy money into an effort that often collapes within a year. I do not have the figures to hand, but recent parliamentary questions have shown that a remarkable percentage of the businesses that are set up fail within 12 months and many more fail within two years. It may be a moving target: at any given time, certain people are self-employed but, as with many other forms of employment such as the temporary schemes, they do not feel secure for the future.

I want to argue strongly that, even on the Government's figures, allowing for the 17, 18 or 19 fiddles that have been used since 1979 and the inadequate temporary schemes, many of those who are seen as being permanently and properly in work are in a position that leaves much to be desired. Many of those people live in permanent fear of losing their job. The figures I have given for the Tyne and Wear area show 100,000 redundancies. However, I cannot believe that that is, 100,000 separate individuals. Concealed within those figures there will be people — I can give examples — who have been made redundant two or three times. Many people do not know from week to week whether their jobs will be safe. That is not a satisfactory way for people to live their lives.

Another major problem concealed within the statistics is the large number of people, the gastarbeiters, from the north of England who are working away from home. Labour Members will be familiar with those who come to their surgeries and advice sessions and say, "I have finally found a job. It is low paid and it is not satisfactory but at least it is a job. I have had to move 200 miles and I could not even put a deposit on a house in the south of England or London even if I sold my home in Sunderland." More and more people are having to work away from home and cannot afford to take their families with them. That is a growing problem and it is an indictment of the Conservative party, which claims to be the party of the family.

Many young people seek work in London because of the misery in the area from which they come. There is still an illusion that the streets of London are paved with gold. That is a component of the London housing crisis and shows how unemployment in one area feeds the social problems of another. The London borough of Camden contains the station of King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston and is a significant borough in that many young people arrive there from the north, Merseyside, Scotland and other areas looking for work. That borough spent £17 million this year alone on providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is £17 million from a total housing budget of £66 million and a total revenue budget of £138 million. That is an extraordinary amount to spend on bedand-breakfast accommodation and is a classic example of how the London housing crisis is being fuelled by unemployment in other areas.

People in fear of losing their jobs because of bankruptcy, privatisation, takeover and rationalisation all form part of the figures the Government use to show how many people are in work. It is unreasonable and disgraceful that people should have to eke out their lives unable to make decisions about holidays, marriages, partnerships, buying homes or cars, buying consumer goods and furniture and supporting their children in higher education because the future of their employment is uncertain. Many working people in many areas are in that position.

Many of those who do not work not only face the problem of poverty but find that their health is affected. Recent surveys and statistical evidence have demonstrated that clearly. Richard Smith, the assistant editor of the British Medical Journal, detailed the link in a recent series of articles. He said:
"The unemployed tend to be more anxious, depressed, unhappy, dissatisfied, neurotic and worried, and they have lower confidence and sleep worse than the employed."
K. A. Moser of City university studied the health of 6,000 unemployed men from 1971 to 1981. His figures show that, for every extra 100,000 unemployed men there will be 97 extra deaths among the men each year and 49 among their wives. If those calculations are correct, there have been many thousands of deaths as a result of unemployment since that time.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, I believe that she will speak about the temporary schemes. Therefore, I will not dwell on that for too long. However, I wish to comment on the notion that the community programme, youth training schemes and other Government schemes are some sort of solution. They are far from being a solution. I recall—I shall remember it all my life—visiting Pallion Residents Enterprises in my constituency during the election campaign. It is a useful scheme. An old clothing factory has been rebuilt and it houses several training schemes, co-operatives and small businesses. I was asked questions by all of those who were working there on youth training schemes. It was the most extraordinary experience.

Those young people had no conception of what full-time permanent work meant. However much one tried to talk to them about policies that might some day, under a different Government, produce real long-term work for them, they showed no interest. They thought it was just pie-in-the-sky talk from politicians. They only wanted to ask questions about the different sorts of schemes. They asked what happened when one completed a scheme, how long it took to get on another scheme, what one scheme paid as opposed to another, how the different schemes could be improved, how they could move from YTS to the community programme and how that would affect their benefits. I was asked question after question and they were interested only in a world of schemes because that is what faces them as there are so few real jobs to be had.

Will the hon. Gentleman take on board the fact that, 10 days ago, I opened two YTS buildings in the north-east of England? The buildings had been operational for some time. In one, 100 per cent. job success has been achieved with those trained in the building industry. In the other, 92 per cent. have been successful elsewhere. To suggest that children in the north-east of England have no concept of full-time employment is to say that none has ever met a school teacher.

I made it clear that I was relating my experience which, sadly, is a familiar one. At least there is some improvement in that the hon. Gentleman is making such illustrations. This contrasts with his performance during the past few years, which involved continually taking newspapers from Buckinghamshire, where he used to live, to his constituency and telling people to apply for the jobs advertised in them.


I remember the stories about some of the people who went on that fool's trail and were back within a few days. The hon. Gentleman did not publicise that as much as he publicised the advertisements.

It is a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not normal for an hon. Member who names another hon. Member in the way I have been named by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) to give way?

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr Holt) intervened. I think that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) disagreed with what he said. It is for the hon. Member for Langbaurgh to seek to take part in the debate later.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) once insulted Norman Lansbury a bus cleaner and a personal friend of mine, whom I had known for years when I lived in that constituency. The hon. Gentleman asked what a bus cleaner was doing as chair of a planning committee. Norman Lansbury did not have the opportunity to answer that point here, so the hon. Gentleman was lucky to be allowed one intervention.

One of the obscenities of such high unemployment is that many people are overworking. I am not one of those who always calls for work, as though work were a virtue, a necessity and a perfect way of life. I recognise that work literally kills — the health and safety statistics are appalling — and that many of the deaths and serious accidents are caused by the stress and fatigue resulting from overwork as well as many other factors. I recognise that a great deal of work is dirty, dangerous, boring, repetitive and tiresome. That is why it is absurd that many people are unemployed whereas many others are overworking. The simple and logical action is to redistribute the work.

As examples of overwork, I cite the disgraceful and tragic position of Northumbria ambulance drivers recently. Of the 78 drivers in the reorganised Sunderland and Washington division of the Northumbria ambulance service, two have died from heart disease in the past 18 months and four have left because of coronary-related diseases and are permanently sick. This happened because the ambulance drivers suffered appalling stress. That is a tragedy not only for them but for all those in the National Health Service who depend on the ambulances. Why do not the authorities shorten their hours? Why not have more ambulance men and a better service? it is estimated that, in the Northumbria ambulance service as a whole, there is a 22 per cent. rate of illness or vacancy related to stress.

What is the position with nurses, especially in some specialties? There are nurses who work for agencies contracted to the NHS as well as working their straight NHS contracts. There are nurses working double shifts. But, at the same time, there are people who would queue up for jobs as nurses if the wages were not so appalling, thanks to the Government. Part of the appalling crisis of the NHS is the obscenity of understaffing while those nurses who are working work hours that cannot conceivably be safe for them, let alone for their patients.

The hon. Gentleman should try to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker.

The problems illustrated in the NHS apply to many types of shiftwork and to much of the public services. I remember, having worked in public transport, the ludicrous hours worked, with people starting work one week at half past 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, driving through rush hour traffic in cities or rural areas, then starting work another week at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, with their body clocks wrecked. This applies to many workers. It is ludicrous that in a modern society the people who work such shifts do not have their hours of work dramatically reduced.

That is why the present position in the coal industry is so important and why it is essential that Arthur Scargill succeeds in his campaign to be re-elected as president of the NUM. Essentially, he is fighting on that front and saying that it is ludicrous that miners should be asked to work longer shifts and a six-day week when, more than any other group, they should be talking about shorter shifts and a four-day week.

It is obscene that hon. Members on either side of the House — although, of course, it comes from Conservative Members—should pooh-pooh any of these suggestions when they have goodness knows how many months holiday a year. They do not even start until half past 2 in the afternoon, so they can go moonlighting in the morning, and work one of the shortest weeks in society. It is a central hypocrisy of society that the people who make the legislation can pay so little attention to the hours and conditions of others.

It is ironic that people in this country, which has the highest unemployment, work longer hours than any similar countries. Some interesting points about the length of time worked emerge from the International Labour Organisation statistics for the last year for which figures are available. The average working week of full-time employees in the United Kingdom was 42·8 hours in 1985, which includes overtime. The figures in other countries were: Canada 32.5 hours; United States 34·9 hours; Belgium 33·3 hours; and Spain — which, until recently, was regarded as one of the poorer countries of Europe —39·1 hours, nearly three hours less than in the United Kingdom. Even in West Germany, the allegedly hardworking industrious Germans put in an average week of 40·7 hours—more than two hours less than in the United Kingdom. In Australia it was 34·5 hours and in New Zealand 39·2 hours. There is not a significant country, whether the United States, or in Australasia, or western Europe, that compares with Britain.

One clear way to start to reduce unemployment in this country is to reduce working hours. It is a matter not just of reducing the working week but of providing longer holidays, earlier retirement on proper pay, and sabbaticals. Why can only a few people — usually the allegedly "well-educated", "professional" people — say that every five or even every 10 years they need a year out to think about things, to recharge their batteries, to go in a new direction and to reflect? Why should not those who work with their hands, get dirty, who risk their lives, go through the sweats—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has already been speaking for half an hour in a short debate. Would it not be fair if he gave way to others?

I have no authority to curtail speeches. However, this is a half-day debate and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, wish to take part.

Why should not all workers in our society have time off on pay — especially as we have high unemployment? A training programme that allowed people to take a year out on full pay at any time in their life to contemplate a different occupation or search for a new career would be a training programme that was worth looking at.

We can look to the European labour movement not only for examples of shorter hours but for examples of how to achieve them. As someone who was once naive enough to believe that the labour movement in West Germany was moderate, tame and employer-oriented, I was interested to learn that, as a result of a successful strike in 1984, IG Metall, the German steel and engineering worker's union managed to reduce its members' working week from 40 hours to 38½ hours and thus to create 100,000 jobs. Since then, the union has negotiated a 37-hour working week, which puts them well ahead of us. Nevertheless, it is preparing to launch another big offensive in the new year to achieve a 35-hour week. On the union's calculations, that will create another 100,000 jobs, which the union desperately needs.

One has only to look at recent press reports—for example, in The Guardian last Friday and in The Observer on Sunday—to discover the action that is being taken by German workers to protect jobs. The workers at a steel mill in Rheinhausen, which the Krupp company is attempting to close, are taking action. It is interesting to note that at Rheinhausen, in Duisburg, the steel complex of the Ruhr, steel jobs have been reduced from 58,000 to 40,000. The workers are saying, "That is enough." The steel industry in this country, and in many others, has been slashed to a much greater extent than that. Unfortunately, we have yet to see resistance such as the steelworkers in the Ruhr are putting up. The Guardian article states:
"Throughout the Ruhr, steelmen, supported by miners, teachers, postal workers and public service employees, blocked motorway access routes, occupied bridges across the Rhine, and set up road blocks, to demonstrate that the closure of the Krupp mill, with the loss of 6,000 jobs, would spell the beginning of the 'slow death of the Ruhr'.
In Rheinhausen, Duisberg, and in seven other cities, shops, pubs, and cafes remained closed, schoolchildren were given the day off, post deliveries were scrapped and policemen helped to guide demonstrators and onlookers through the road blocks in an unprecedented display of solidarity."
This comes from the moderate German working class.
"Mr. Frank Kwasny, a welder, said his trade union would not allow 'workers to be divided, as they were in Britain. We will stand together.' The Krupp management and political leaders have been somewhat taken aback by the unprecedented radicalism of the protesters, who earlier this week stormed the Villa Hugel, in Essen, the mansion that was once the home of the Krupp steel barons. About 60 protesters stormed into Hamburg stock exchange … throwing eggs and tomatoes, before traders repulsed them with a fire extinguisher, a spokesman said."
We have some lessons to learn from the German working class, and not for the first time. The Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund, the West German equivalent of the TUC, calculates in a very useful pamphlet called "Arbeit für Alle", which means work for everyone, that a 35-hour week throughout West Germany would create 1·4 million jobs. West Germany's working week is already two hours shorter than ours and its experience tells us about the number of jobs that could be created—not just by a shorter working week. If we had a shorter working week of 35 hours or thereabouts, reductions in hours for shift workers, earlier retirement on reasonable pay for those in the most strenuous jobs and sabbaticals, we would reduce unemployment. That package of measures alone could reduce real unemployment by more than half.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Hon. Members are complaining that my hon. Friend is going on for too long. It is his debate, and if he wanted to, he could speak for the entire time allowed and hon. Members could do nothing about it. He is perfectly entitled to do that.

That is absolutely correct, but I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) will bear in mind that many of his own colleagues wish to participate.

My speech would have been a few minutes shorter had there not been so many interventions, Mr. Speaker. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

My hon. Friend has referred to the number of hours worked in West Germany and to the possibility of even fewer hours being worked. Will he bear in mind that, although the West Germans work fewer hours than the British, West Germany has a balance of payments surplus of nearly $40 billion. The Labour party members who draw up the manifesto have not paid enough attention recently to reducing the number of hours worked, which would appeal to those in work and to those outside in the dole queue waiting for a job. I am pleased that my hon. Friend is drawing attention to that.

My hon. Friend has made the point that I was coming to far more eloquently than I could have done.

Opposition Members have shown that they do not especially wish to speak. Perhaps you will take that into account when calling Conservative Members, Mr. Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover referred to the extraordinary fact that, although the Germans work fewer hours, they have a massive balance of trade surplus. That was the point that I was coming to. I do not wish to dwell on it, It may be a subject for another debate and it has been discussed in the house before. It is extraordinary that, only a few weeks ago, some were arguing that popular capitalism and increased share ownership represented the answer to everything. They thought that the future looked rosy, but then came the crash that many people had expected. The slide in the dollar has made it more difficult for British companies to export. All shipbuilding prices around the world are quoted in dollars, with the result that there has been a loss of competitiveness of about 25 per cent. for what is left of British shipbuilding since black Monday. That has affected my constituency and others.

Interest rates, oil prices and the pound are going up and down. When the pound goes up, it is good news for some and bad for others; when it goes down, it is good news for some and bad for others. The more that process continues, the more it demonstrates the instability of the system, which makes it quite impossible for enterprise to plan and for people to be secure. The final irony is that, according to today's edition of The Daily Telegraph, that great successful sector the City of London is predicting the loss of 50,000 jobs in the City as the result of the stock exchange crash. That figure was cited in The Daily Telegraph today. How much longer will this go on? That is the reality of the enterprise culture.

Many other things could be done to reduce unemployment. It would be useful for regions such as mine to have development agencies to cut through the bureaucracy facing what little investment there is at the moment. It would be useful if civil servants were dispersed more fairly round the country. It would he useful to have more generous and sensible Government grants. On that point, I take the opportunity to ask the Minister to comment on a piece in the Financial Times on 1 December this year headed
"Britain plans to limit regional aid".
That will not be very helpful. The article says:
"The new discretionary policy will be much more to the liking of the Treasury."
I am sure that if it will be more to the Treasury's liking it will mean less opportunity to create jobs in regions such as mine. I ask the Minister to come clean about the predictions in the Financial Times.

There are many policies which could produce more jobs in this country, but they depend on not leaving things to the private sector and the casino economy of the City. For example, it would make absolute sense to deal with the problem of acid rain, about which the Opposition have campaigned for so long. In September 1986, The Engineer calculated that if three flue gas de-acidification plants were manufactured in the United Kingdom, 30,000 man years' work would be created over a decade. Depending how one does the sums, that means about 3,000 jobs over 10 years. But that extraordinary opportunity is going begging due to the Government's lack of will.

So much needs to be done in our localities. A Government who consign so many people to full-time leisure through unemployment should allow local authorities to provide facilities. I compliment the much-maligned local authority in Liverpool which has built new leisure centres and swimming pools as well as housing. Instead of providing jobs in hypermarkets, which are springing up everywhere and competing with one another to sell consumer goods, we should build leisure complexes, libraries, and so on, so that jobs are created in socially useful ways. Nurseries are also desperately needed. I recently attended the opening of a dial-a-ride service in my constituency. That is part of the community programme. Why are the drivers of minibuses, which provide such a marvellous service for the disabled, not regarded as doing real jobs because they are on the community programme? It is ridiculous to change the drivers every few years. Those jobs should be permanent employment for trained people. Public transport could be extended in many ways to get over the ridiculous congestion on the roads and the waste of precious resources. We need more rapid transit systems —not the yuppie expressway specials being built in the London docklands and threatened in other places, but the type of system that we have in Tyne and Wear and for which people in Manchester and elsewhere are asking.

I make no apology for saying that I do not regard many of our traditional industries as sunset industries. With regard to shipbuilding, for instance, the shipping market analysts Detnorske Veritas recently calculated that 250 million tonnes would need to be built in the next decade to replace old and inefficient tonnage and that further expansion of world trade would probably require a further 150 million tonnes. That is 400 million tonnes in the next decade. If the Government would give British Shipbuilders enough assistance to obtain even 1 per cent. of that total, the remaining merchant ship yards in Britain would be employed beyond their present capacity and could be expanded. We also need new coal-fired power stations as the basis of a sane energy policy. I could give many more examples.

Before Conservative Members start asking the usual question, I will spend a couple of minutes explaining where the money is to come from. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has pointed out many times, when people start asking where the money is to come from, the real question is, "Where did the money go?" A Government who have allowed more than £70,000 million in capital to be transferred overseas since 1979 have a nerve asking the Opposition to explain themselves. I need not dwell on the wealth from North sea oil that has also been squandered. According to the July White Paper, which is available in the Library, in the last four years this country's net contribution to the Common Market has been £4,400 million. If we have that kind of money to spend on aid, we could do better than giving it to inefficient farmers. We should give it to the people of Ethiopia and Bangladesh and set up trading relationships with them which will benefit the British working class as well as those underdeveloped countries.

We live in an economic system in which the City of London can allegedly raise £5 billion for a private project to get people across the channel half an hour quicker. Why cannot the same amount be raised to build hospitals and schools and to create the work that we need? Whatever the various arguments about defence and weapons, whether nuclear or conventional, every million pounds spent on public transport, social services, teaching and other socially useful activities creates more jobs than if it is spent on conventional weapons, let alone nuclear weapons. Scrapping Trident is thus another way to create a great many jobs. We could then provide proper conversion programmes so that people at Swan Hunter and Barrow are not thrown out of work but have jobs which make full use of their skills in a socially useful way.

It is interesting that the Government are prepared to hive off jobs in public enterprise but when it comes to defence, which they and their Back Benchers regard as so important, they retain public ownership. They have not decided to sell off the Army to Securicor—

—because the Government know, as we know, that the best way to organise facilities is through public ownership.