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Commons Chamber

Volume 156: debated on Wednesday 5 July 1989

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 5 July 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Wesleyan Assurance Society Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Economy

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the Scottish economy.

I met the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 30 June.

Next time the Secretary of State meets the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, he will find him, like so many other people in Scotland, deeply concerned at the paralysis that has hit the Scottish Development Agency due to the cash crisis that it faces. Is he aware that many projects in my constituency and in many others are being hit by the funding crisis? Will he ensure that the agency immediately receives the funds it requires to retain its credibility among the Scottish people and to create the jobs that Scotland so deeply needs?

When I met the general secretary of the STUC a few days ago, he did not raise that subject, but emphasised that he thought that the Government's proposals for merging the SDA with the Training Agency were a splendid idea, and that he and his colleagues looked forward to welcoming those proposals in the coming weeks and months. The SDA receives healthy funding, provided by the Government, and as a consequence is involved in a number of major projects around Scotland.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the TUC should be happy about jobs in Scotland? Will he confirm that Scotland's unemployment rate is lower than that of most of our European partners, including France, Belgium, Holland, Spain and Italy?

Yes, that is correct. Although unemployment in Scotland is still far higher than any of us would wish to see, it has fallen by more than 100,000 in the past two years. As my hon. Friend rightly says, it is lower than the level to be found in at least five other countries in the European Community—France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Ireland.

The Minister will have seen the reports showing that £400,000 of the £3·7 million of public money that was put into the Wang project in Stirling is to be repaid. It that true? Will he also comment on the stories that Intel, a Californian company, may be interested in the plant? Does he believe that there is a realistic prospect of finding a buyer to take over the plant as a going concern? Does he accept that there must have been something very wrong with his Department's monitoring system when Wang so signally failed to meet its targets at Stirling and he was left with only one week's notice of the decision to decamp?

On the final point, Wang received financial assistance from the Government under the same criteria as that provided by former Labour Governments. It was precisely because of the difficulties that that created in the past that the Government changed the criteria in 1984. As regards the hon. Gentleman's other points, Wang has indicated that some repayment to the Government might be appropriate. I share the hon. Gentleman's deep interest in finding an alternative user for the site, but I earnestly suggest that at this stage speculation about who that potential user might be is not in the interests of Stirling or of investment in the area.

Standard Grade Development Programme

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the funding of the Government's standard grade development programme, particularly in relation to technological studies, computing studies and office information studies.

To date, more than £37 million has been spent or provided for specifically for standard grade. This includes more than £9 million within local authorities' capital allocations for the purchase of scientific and technological equipment.

It is obvious that the Minister has not met senior education officials in Strathclyde, who have expressed to me their grave concern about the severe underfunding of these important subjects in education and have asked me to ask the Minister to think again and to put money into these subjects so as to allow the young people of Scotland to be trained so as to enable them to compete in the new industries that are supposed to be coming to Scotland. Those education officials tell me that if they do not get the money they will view the future of those subjects with grave concern.

I am surprised that the education authorities are making their representations through the hon. Gentleman. The Scottish Education Department has received no representations of the kind that he has described. The education authorities have had substantial provision. If the Educational Institute of Scotland is worried about standard grade, it should address its criticisms in the first instance to the education authorities, to which adequate provision has been made.

I should say in defence of the Educational Institute of Scotland that its executive took a different position from that of its conference and opposed any boycott of standard grade. It is unfortunate that the annual general meeting took such a view, and I hope that the teachers who have implemented standard grade so successfully will continue to make a contribution.

Does the Minister accept that there is an important role in all this for the Scottish Council for Educational Technology? Will he therefore ensure that it is properly resourced, including proper funding for the Scottish central film library and the Scottish film archives, which have made a major contribution to technology in our time?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have been sensitive to the needs of the Scottish film industry. I recall the hon. Gentleman telling me privately how pleased he was at the Government's announcement following our review. I am sorry that he is not prepared to say publicly in the House what he was prepared to say privately—[Interruption.]

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment?

The Minister has clearly misunderstood the meetings which took place about the Scottish Film Council and has confused it with the Scottish central film library. I believe that that was a genuine misunderstanding and that he should withdraw what he said.

Community Charge

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proportion of single parents in Scotland are gaining from the introduction of the community charge.

It is estimated that some 80 per cent. of single parents are better off under the community charge than they would be under the domestic rating system.

I welcome that answer, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that an even higher percentage—85 per cent.—of pensioners stand to benefit from the introduction of the community charge? Do not those two sets of figures amount to further evidence of the inherent fairness of the community charge compared with the present rating system?

That is undoubtedly true. It is also particularly welcome because single pensioners and single parents can be found among those with the lowest incomes in our society. The fact that they overwhelmingly benefit as a result of the change in the system of local taxation is, as my hon. Friend says, another vindication of that change.

Will the Minister have a care about his use of words? The question was about gaining. How can he suggest that single parents or anyone on a low income will gain from the imposition of the poll tax? Will he also consider the huge cost of the tax to Scotland? It costs £30 million to £40 million more than the rates. What a burden that is, and what an intrusion it is on people's civil liberties.

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman with his oft-proclaimed interest in the well-being of the poorer sections of our community would be the first, if he wished to be seen as an objective commentator on these matters, to welcome the fact that 85 per cent. of single pensioners and 80 per cent. of single parents pay less now than they would be paying if domestic rates were still in force.

The hon. Gentleman may not like the facts, but he will have to live with them.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that single parents in Dundee are not getting the full benefit and advantage of the community charge because since 1983 Dundee district council has paid the salary of Mr. Jim White, a full-time official of NALGO, who brought about the strike and has caused terrible inconvenience to single parent? Is that not a further example of why the community charge is far higher than it should be, and a factor which may be prevalent throughout Scotland?

Undoubtedly, factors of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers have led to the consequences that he has described. I should have thought that anyone interested in the well-being of the community would wish to discourage any action by local authority officials or others which would have that effect. The vast majority of local authority officials are carrying out their responsibilities diligently and with due consideration for the important matters to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Is not the only reason why single parents are marginally better off this year than they were last year the iniquitous 20 per cent. minimum payment that the Government imposed on those who are hardest up in our society? If the Secretary of State is so keen on statistics, why does he not tell us the percentage of people earning more than £25,000 per year who are considerably better off as a result of the poll tax?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for rebuking the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and confirming that single parents and single pensioners are better off. That is the most eloquent denunciation yet of the nonsense that we have heard from some Opposition M embers.

Rural Housing

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of Scottish Homes to discuss the development of a rural housing strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

The development of Scottish Homes' rural strategy was one of the issues discussed formally when I met Sir James Mellon, chairman of Scottish Homes, on 23 June.

When the Under-Secretary of State spoke in the Scottish Grand Committee last week about homelessness, one remedy that he did not describe was building more houses. Given that homelessness is as much a rural as an urban problem, and that the amount allocated by Scottish Homes to housing associations in the north of Scotland will scarcely allow for any new projects to be brought on stream in the next year, what steps do the Government intend to take to give more support to housing associations so that they can fulfil the important task of building and providing housing?

I have good news for the hon. Member. Orkney housing association has been allocated £850,000 this year—the largest allocation since its formation. Moreover, programme expenditure for the north region is no less than £44 million for 1988–89. I fully expect the rural strategy now being worked out by Scottish Homes to be in place by May next year. That strategy will point the way to more houses being built in areas where they are most needed. We expect that in Scotland as a whole between 3,000 and 4,000 houses will be completed this year.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of rural and urban housing, the Loreburn housing association has carried out exceptionally good work in Dumfries and Galloway? Will he do everything possible to approve its exciting new scheme at Nithsdale mills, even it if means the demolition of a Victorian mill?

I can confirm that the performance of Loreburn housing association has been extremely impressive. Its application to pull down the building to which my hon. Friend refers is currently with Dumfries and Galloway regional council, which is the planning authority. The application will be considered this month. If it is approved, the decision will be notified to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State as the building is listed, but the matter will be processed as quickly as possible thereafter.

Community Charge

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people in Scotland are on poll tax registers; and how many of them have not so far paid at least the first instalment.

It is estimated that almost 99 per cent. of the adult population have been registered. It will be some while yet before reliable information on payment levels becomes available from local authorities. The current indications are that local authorities are satisfied with the progress so far made in collecting community charges.

Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that the staff of 10,000 at the Scottish office are insufficient to make a dozen telephone calls to the regional and islands councils to obtain the figures needed for a full and accurate reply to a parliamentary question? Or is there, perhaps, a political reason for his refusal to reveal the whole truth about the number of non-payers? Does he admit that if it became public knowledge that several hundred thousand people in Scotland were refusing to pay the poll tax, more and more people would join the non-payment campaign, which is the only realistic way to defeat the poll tax and stop it being foisted on the people of Scotland by a discredited Government?

If there is a political reason, I must say that it is a very odd one. I understand that Strathclyde regional councillors have yet to be informed by their own officials of the level of collection in the region. The hon. Gentleman never likes to admit that he is pursuing a lost cause. His views on this have been repudiated by his own party—and, indeed, by the general public, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and a large number of other Scottish organisations—but he can continue to whistle in the dark.

Is it not disgraceful that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) should support a campaign which argues that people should not pay their lawful dues to society when the legislation has been passed by a democratically elected House of Commons? What do Labour Members think would happen if Conservatives took the same attitude when a Labour Government were in power? Is it not also outrageous that well-heeled Opposition Members should refuse to pay their dues to the community whose services they receive?

It is not unusual for either the hard Left of the Labour party or the SNP to give itself the right to decide which laws it should observe and which it should not.

Is the Secretary of State not disturbed by the increasing use of pinding and warrant sales as a method of collecting poll tax?

It is very much up to local authorities to decide which procedure they should apply. As the House well knows, major reforms have been made to the warrant sales system, leading to the removal of all the features of that system that were causing concern to both sides of the House. Those who are owed the community charge and have not received it are clearly entitled to use such methods as they think appropriate under the law.

Nhs Reform

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many representations he has received expressing support for his review of the National Health Service.

Most submissions on the White Paper "Working for Patients" have shown strong support for certain proposals and have questioned others.

That reply beggars belief. The Minister must concede that there is hardly anyone on whom he can call for support. According to a recent Gallup poll, not even the Conservative party supports what he is doing to the National Health Service. Is it not about time that he withdrew this nonsensical review—at least in respect of Scotland—and got down to serious discussions with people in the Health Service about trying to create a better service rather than trying to fragment it?

I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. Even the British Medical Association supports our proposals for a medical audit, money following patients and resource management. As for the public and those who depend on the Health Service as a whole, there is widespread support for our measures to reduce waiting lists, to ensure that people are given appointments on which they can rely and that they see a consultant, to make it easier for patients to change doctors and to extend patient choice.

The opinion poll to which the hon. Gentleman referred represents a public view on the White Paper as presented by the BMA and the Government's opponents, which is a long way from any proposals that we have presented. If the hon. Gentleman has studied the poll and our proposals, he will know that the Government have no intention of privatising the National Health Service.

Will the Minister acknowledge that there has been massive and united opposition to his proposals from general practitioners in my constituency, who are against the proposal to create a poorer and less effective National Health Service? When will he start to acknowledge that there is massive public disapproval of his plans, as well as professional disapproval? This is a democracy. When will the Minister stop dictating to the people and start to understand what they are saying and do something about it?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a word with some of the GPs in Angus district. One GP who has come forward as a volunteer to run a pilot scheme —[Interruption.] Opposition Members should not mock. The BMA itself suggested that pilot schemes would be a good idea. That GP, who came into my office to volunteer as a result of representations by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), practises in Angus. He believes that his proposals will result in better services for the patients on his list, and we shall see if we are able to take them forward.

As health expenditure per person in Scotland is 25 per cent. higher than in England, can the Minister assure the House that, on average, Scottish citizens are 25 per cent. healthier than English citizens? If not, should he not spend his time making sure that his Department devises indices to answer that question rather than ramming through National Health Service reforms, since neither the Government nor anyone else can say whether they will improve or reduce health standards in Scotland, England or Wales?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to point out that health expenditure is 25 per cent. higher in Scotland than it is in England. He is also right to point out that health in Scotland is no better as a result. He should address his remarks to his own party, which seems to believe that the problems of the Health Service are entirely—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is a member of a party which is arguing that the only problems with the Health Service are due to inadequate resources. Yet he has pointed out that although Scotland has been provided with substantial additional resources, health in Scotland is not proportionately better. It is for those reasons that we put forward our White Paper proposals. I welcome the hon. Gentleman as an ally in what we are trying to do in the National Health Service.

Scottish Development Agency

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chief executive of the Scottish Development Agency; and what matters were discussed.

I met the agency board, including the chief executive, on 22 May and discussed a range of issues of mutual interest.

Notwithstanding the reply that the Secretary of State gave to question No. I and also to this question, did he have any discussions with the chief executive about the shortfall of funds? Is he aware that in my constituency of Kilmarnock, small Scottish business men with good businesses and good workers are losing out on projects that could have received a grant because spending is ahead of schedule, either as a result of sheer efficiency on our part or because the weather in Scotland is mild at the moment and building work is further ahead than usual? If the Secretary of State could give more money to the Scottish Development Agency now so that those projects could be kept within the plan, he would dispel the fears of those small business men who are losing out and also defeat the wisecrackers who are going about the streets of Kilmarnock suggesting that he has backed the Wang horse.

I am delighted by the hon. Gentleman's comments. Any suggestion that the SDA is underfunded does not match the facts when one considers what has happened. Total provision for the agency in 1989–90 is £160 million, compared with £147 million last year. The fact that support is being sought for even more projects suggests that economic activity in Scotland is healthy. I have no doubt that the SDA, which has £160 million available to it this year, will be able to respond positively to a very large proportion of company requests which justify support.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, compared with the view of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey), we in the north-east of Scotland appreciate the work of the Scottish Development Agency and the funding and support that it provides both for major projects, such as Aberdeen Beyond 2000, and for rural projects, such as those to be found in Braemar in my constituency? May I have his assurance that the SDA, contrary to the way in which it acted in the past, will continue to take an interest in activities in areas outside the central belt of Scotland, such as the north-east?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We have emphasised to the Scottish Development Agency that its remit is for the whole of Scotland and that the north-east in particular is entitled to its fair share of any resources that are available. Some of the criticism that one used to hear a few years ago about the concentration of SDA activity in one particular part of Scotland is now heard much less often. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is able to confirm that the SDA is supporting projects in his area.

When the Secretary of State next meets the Scottish Development Agency, will he consider asking it to look into the structure of community businesses, which are developing well in Scotland but which need to be given a new legal status if they are to expand further? Will he also consider whether the SDA might have a role in providing venture capital for new businesses as there is still a gap in the market for venture capital, particularly for those who have ideas and energy but no collateral?

I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said. I shall be happy to ensure that his ideas are discussed with the SDA, to find out whether there is a gap in its ability to meet that requirement and perhaps it will comment on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take time today to congratulate the director of the national galleries on resuming and restoring the galleries for such a small sum? Will he remind the House—[Interruption.]

Order. I am no great expert on Scottish matters, but is this a matter for the SDA?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the House that the Government have provided the funds to enable the work to be done through the SDA because of our economic policies. We have had a decade of regeneration in the arts in Scotland unrivalled by any previous Government.

I can certainly confirm to my hon. and learned Friend that the restoration and improvements to the national galleries have rightly received wide applause throughout Scotland. It was a remarkable achievement, whether or not the SDA was involved.

During his meeting with the chief executive of the SDA, did the Secretary of State establish the reasons for the decision to include three public houses and a betting shop within the boundaries of the Inverclyde enterprise zone? Is it not the case that the two local authorities will lose more than a bob or two over the next 10 years because of that gaff? Given the Secretary of State's ever-ready desire to berate Labour local authorities for their poor financial management, will he now give an assurance that the two councils concerned will not lose any money because of that gaff?

First, I understand that those particular sites were regarded as potential sites that could be used to attract new investment to Inverclyde. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that local authorities will lose out, because their revenue support grant takes into account their expected revenue. If that revenue goes down, there will be an enhancement of revenue support grant. Thirdly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in expressing delight at the decision of Crusader to move 300 jobs from Reigate in Surrey to Inverclyde because of the Government's decision to create an enterprise zone there.

Unemployment

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the number of unemployed in Scotland (a) in June 1983 and (b) at the present time.

Seasonally-adjusted unemployment in Scotland in June 1983 was 300,100, and the figure for May 1989 is 239,800. Unemployment in Scotland has now fallen for 25 months in succession, the longest and largest sustained fall on record.

Is it not clear that jobs are now returning to Scotland because the Government have failed to encourage the "the world owes us a free lunch" mentality encouraged by the Opposition, and have encouraged the traditional Scottish virtues of hard work, industrial and commercial innovation and enterprise which have served Scotland, the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth and the world during previous periods of prosperity? Is it not good to know that the ancient virtues are the best way to serve Scotland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The civilian work force in Scotland grew by 66,000 last year. Although I am glad that unemployment is falling in the north of England, in the past year seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland fell faster than in the south-east of England.

Notwithstanding the Minister's self-satisfied response, does he accept that youth unemployment in Scotland, and in the city of Glasgow in particular, is at a record level? Five of the six wards which I represent in Glasgow, Central have youth unemployment in excess of 28 per cent. One has a horrendous youth unemployment figure of 45 per cent. Will the Minister say what hope he can hold out to school leavers in Scotland?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening contribution to the proceedings of the House. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing many more contributions from him. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the youth training scheme operates extremely effectively in Glasgow. Last year, 82 per cent. of those who completed a YTS course in Glasgow obtained some form of employment over the following three months. Unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has fallen by 2,140 since January 1987.

Has my hon. Friend taken the trouble to make clear to people in Scotland the extent to which grants from the United Kingdom Treasury are made available, for instance in the development of tourism in Scotland, where, with a similar rate of unemployment —[Interruption.] May I wait until the interruptions have finished, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I understand that this may not be welcome to the Labour party, but I will repeat the question as it was interrupted.

Has my hon. Friend made sure that people in Scotland realise the extent to which grants are available, for instance under the Development of Tourism Act 1969, in conditions of unemployment in Scotland, where they would not be available in the rest of the United Kingdom, including the south-west?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Regional assistance is applied evenhandedly across the United Kingdom. However, as a result of need in Scotland, 65 per cent. of our working population work in assisted areas, compared with 35 per cent. for the rest of the United Kingdom. Regional assistance has helped to regenerate the Scottish economy and create the new jobs to which I referred.

Community Charge

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received about the impact of the standard community charge in self-catering tourist flats.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received a number of such representations.

Is the Minister aware that the border areas tourist authority which conducted a survey of 500 properties in the retail self-catering sector of tourism in the area, found that the owners of such properties are paying an additional £200 a year as a direct result of the standard community charge? Is it not slightly ludicrous that a unit containing 10 self-catering flats on one site is subject to the commercial rating system, whereas 10 separate units in different locations must pay 10 individual standard community charges? Will he consider changing the regulations so that all units are subject to commercial rates?

The hon. Gentleman should refer the increased costs faced by such organisations to regional and district councils in his area, because they have deliberately chosen to impose a standard charge as high as twice as much as is open to them. Had they imposed a multiplier of one instead of two, many of the problems faced by self-catering establishments would not have arisen.

Is the Minister aware that not only is the tourist industry being seriously affected by this aspect of the legislation but that it is also causing serious financial hardship to organisations that work for the disabled? Is he aware that the Association of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, which was bequested two small properties, is paying standard community charge on them, thereby making it increasingly difficult for it to offer respite to the carers of disabled people?

Such a development would, indeed, be extremely regrettable. The standard community charge accounts for about 0·3 per cent. of total local authority revenue. The choice is open to them of imposing a multiplier of one instead of two, which would halve the burden faced by such organisations.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that this is a problem? The impact of the standard community charge on the provision of self-catering and other tourist accommodation cuts right across other Government schemes, such as farm diversification. Will he acknowledge that this problem requires a review, and will he undertake to instigate such a review?

As I have made clear on a number of occasions, we are constantly considering all aspects of the community charge legislation. Nevertheless, I urge my right hon. Friend to bring to the attention of his district and regional councils the fact that the solution lies largely in their own hands.

Will the Minister consider the possibility that his bland refusal to offer any movement on a non-ideological point of common sense relating to the standard community charge accounts for the standing of his party in Scotland? Nobody believes the Minister when he says that the standard community charge is the responsibility of local authorities. Everyone knows that the Scottish Office calculations for the poll tax were based on the assumption that a multiplier of two would be used. Will the Minister accept the commonsense solution and allow local authorities to vary the standard community charge according to the type of properties and the level of use?

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion would take us back close to a property tax. The assumption made in the distribution of revenue support grant was in line with normal practice and carried no implications for, or recommendation on, the decisions by local authorities. Indeed, had the multiplier assumption been one instead of two, six of the nine regional authorities in Scotland would have had less revenue support grant, rather than more.

Unemployment

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the level of unemployment in Scotland in (a) January 1987 and (b) May 1989.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland in January 1987 was 340,600; and the corresponding figure for May 1989 was over 100,000 lower at 239,800. Unemployment in Scotland now stands at its lowest level for eight years.

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent and encouraging reply. Does he agree that the Government's economic policies have helped to achieve that result? No doubt, that will cause distress to the Oppositon. Will my hon. Friend confirm that inward investment has contributed to that excellent result and that such investment would be strongly questioned by overseas companies should the Labour party ever have the chance to govern this country again?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right. We saw the Labour party's contribution to the inward investment effort when it helped drive Ford from Dundee.

The Minister will know that high unemployment, especially among our young people, forces many young people to go to the London area. Is he aware of the posters at King's Cross advertising vacancies for waitresses and hostesses in busy West End clubs and saying that payment will be made daily? Surely, as long as the Government fail to consider unemployment in Scotland, our young people will be in moral danger.

It is certainly the case that different unemployment rates in different parts of the country attract people to move in different directions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out that Crusader Insurance recently decided to relocate from the south-east to the Inverclyde enterprise zone. That shows that market forces are working effectively within an integrated United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that unemployment in his constituency has fallen since January 1987 by 2,470.

Will Scottish unemployment continue to go down over the next 12 months?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government never give forecasts, but, on the basis of what has happened over the past 25 months, that is a reasonable expectation. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, unemployment has fallen by 1,685 over that period.

My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the attraction to Scotland of major inward investment projects, such as JVC, Digital, Compaq and Crusader Insurance. Is he aware that inward investment organisations in the north and south of England are complaining that everywhere they go in the world they are faced with Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Development Association—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is that?"]—sorry, the Scottish Development Agency? The success of the Scottish Office and the SDA has been widely commented on south of the border. Will my hon. Friend do us all a favour and not try quite so hard in the future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to the inward investment successes of the Government and our agencies. It is true that the electronics industry in Scotland is of great value to the Scottish economy. It accounted for our single biggest export category when, in 1987, 26 per cent. of our exports, valued at £1·5 billion, were in that category. The one thing that would jeopardise our inward investment efforts would be the uncertainty created by tax-raising devolution.

Education

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he now has any proposals to extend section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 to Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

As I indicated in the House on 20 June, we shall look again at the case for action in the light of the outcome of the review of the operation of section 43 in England and Wales by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Does that not represent an astonishing about face, given the Minister's reply in the House on 7 June, when he said that there was no evidence in support of such a move? Does that mean that he does not know his own mind, or that he is coming under increasing pressure from Conservative Members, who owe no allegiance to Scottish higher education?

On 7 June, I said that there had been little evidence of disruption of free speech in Scotland. I also said that we would be prepared to legislate if necessary. That remains the position.

I suppose that this is a hopeless request, but will the Minister now give a guarantee that he will stand firm against the rather brutal performance of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) and some of his intellectual bovver boys behind him? Will he look at the evidence and advice of his own Department, and show some respect for Scottish universities by defying the Right-wing prejudices with which he is too often personally associated? Does he recall that when he was asked specifically by the right hon. Member for Chingford whether he was arguing that there was no problem in Scottish universities or whether he was saying that section 43 would, in any case, offer no safeguards, he replied that he was quite clear that he was saying both? Why is he now flirting with a review in this weasel way?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman regards the preservation of freedom of speech in our universities as a Right-wing prejudice. I appreciate that the Left in this country has been associated with the denial of freedom of speech, but this is the first time I have heard a Front-Bench spokesman suggest that concern about freedom of speech is a Right-wing prejudice. Unlike many of his hon. Friends the hon. Gentleman was actually present for that debate. He made his position clear and he will have seen that the House was well attended. Hon. Members made a number of interruptions in the debate and, as a Minister, it is my role to take account of the views of the House.

School Leavers

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects school leavers in (a) Glasgow, Maryhill and (b) areas of similarly high unemployment to be able reasonably to anticipate finding a permanent, full-time job.

With the considerable fall in unemployment over the past two years, the buoyancy of Scottish industry and the projected decline in the number of young people, the employment prospects for school leavers are better than they have been for some time.

Does the Minister realise that he will stand accused of amazing complacency by the people of Scotland when they consider his replies to questions on unemployment this afternoon? Has he noticed that of the 20 constituencies in Great Britain with the highest level of unemployment, no less than eight are in Glasgow? Will he tell us what the Government's present economic policies are doing for the people of Glasgow, including the school leavers who cannot get a job?

Glasgow undoubtedly continues to have very considerable unemployment problems, to which the Government are addressing great attention. Nevertheless, since January 1987, unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by 21,500, or by about 30 per cent. I would feel more guilty of complacency if it were not for the fact that Glasgow and Strathclyde have rejected the technology academy offered to them, which would considerably have advanced the prospects of young people in the area.

If Scotland ever had the misfortune either to have an assembly or to be separated from the United Kingdom, does my hon. Friend take the view that we would have more employed and more inward investment, or less? Indeed, would we have more mistresses, or whatever was suggested earlier?

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend makes a useful point. Over the past six years, the Scottish Development Agency has invested no less than £166 million in Glasgow and that is helping to generate new enterprise in the area.

Will the Minister comment on that successful Scottish firm, Hinari, which is based in Cumbernauld, which chose its name because it sounded Japanese? The founder has said:

"Although our products are designed in Scotland most are made in the Far East, half coming from Japan. We wanted to let people know that our products are made in Japan".
What comment is that on the economic miracle?

The hon. Gentleman will have to develop his points on another occasion. He has given us a tantalising glimpse of the point that he was trying to make. I am prepared to compliment Hinari, which is a good and effective company, as are many other companies in Scotland. The number of companies registered in Scotland has increased by over half in the 1980s. There has been an increase of 20,000 and an extra 66,000 people have entered self-employment in recent years. Those are signs of the growth of enterprise and of the spread of new companies in Scotland over that time.

Unemployment

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last discussed unemployment levels with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

I have frequent contacts with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland. Its most recent assessment, conveyed to me in a letter from the chairman of the Scottish Council, is of confidence in the continuing buoyancy of the Scottish economy.

I warmly welcome the fall of 100,000 in the number of people unemployed in the past two years and the fall from 13·6 to 9·6 per cent. What discussions has my right hon. and learned Friend had about Enterprise Scotland and about how the CBI and himself consider that there may be a further fall in the numbers of people unemployed?

Yes, there is a great degree of interest in the proposal that was published in the Government's recent White Paper which proposed private sector-led local agencies. At the moment we are considering our response to the many constructive comments that have been made. I hope to report to the House in the near future because I have no doubt that the proposals will be relevant in dealing with the need to reduce unemployment further over the months and years to come.

Will the Secretary of State explain why the Scottish Office has allowed the employment services division independently to launch a two-year pilot scheme called the "job interview guarantee scheme" in the Whitfield area of Dundee and in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow without consulting or even informing local Members of Parliament, local councils, local people and the local partnership groups which exist in those areas under the New Urban Life for Scotland policy? When will the Government stop doing things to the long-term unemployed and start doing things for and with the long-term unemployed?

The hon. Gentleman might be under a misapprehension. This matter is under consideration, but no decision has been reached.

Given the importance of the new towns to the economic health of the Scottish economy, when the Secretary of State met the CBI, did he explain the reason for the inordinate and unacceptable delay in the publication of the White Paper on the future of the new towns?

There is no delay in that matter. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in the well-being of the new towns, he must be of the view that we should bring our proposals forward only when we are in a position to do so. These are important matters. The winding up of the various new town corporations is a long-term reform of great significance to all those who live in the new towns. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wishes us to rush such matters before we have reached appropriate conclusions.

My right hon. and learned Friend and his Scottish Office colleagues have been rightly proud this afternoon when stating how much help they have managed to give to Scotland. In an earlier supplementary question, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that expenditure on health in Scotland was 25 per cent. more per head of population than it is in England. If that is so in relation to industry and employment also, would my right hon. and learned Friend be surprised if and many of my colleagues who represent English constituencies felt that we were being discriminated against?

I do not think that it is true in the spheres of industry and employment. However, it is certainly the case that throughout the United Kingdom the Government spend more on those areas which have higher levels of unemployment. That is what regional policy is about, whether it is regional policy implemented in England, Scotland or Wales.

Does the Secretary of State accept that nearly 240,000 Scots were unemployed in May 1989 and that that figure is still 70 per cent. higher than the figure of 140,000 for May 1979? Clearly, there has not been a stunning 10-year success story in reducing unemployment. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the regime of high interest rates and cuts in regional aid is having a crippling effect on small and medium-sized businesses in Scotland? Treasury figures suggest that Scottish companies are facing a bill of £250 million in increased borrowing costs. Finally, why does the Secretary of State have to go to Wales to attack Thatcherism? Why does he not stand up in the Cabinet and urge lower interest rates, lower inflation and a sensible regional aid package?

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that his views are not shared by Scottish industry. That is not surprising because manufacturing output in Scotland grew by more than 7 per cent. in 1988—the fastest rate of growth since 1973. The hon. Gentleman might also like to reflect on articles by the Fraser of Allander Institute which point to the fact that the Labour party's proposals for constitutional change would cause considerable damage to the Scottish economy.

Nhs Reform

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what interest has been demonstrated by general practitioners in Tayside about the proposals in the White Paper covering general practitioner involvement in self-governing hospitals and for budgetary control of general practitioners' practices.

Interest has been expressed in developing a self-governing hospital and in GP practice budgets. I welcome this wish to explore the opportunities offered by the White Paper and I have asked officials to pursue this with those concerned.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that since the interest was shown in Forfar, further interest has been shown in Blairgowrie and elsewhere in my constituency? Is he also aware that a number of local GPs are interested in setting up their own contracts and they have been in touch with me—[Interruption.] This is important and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can hear me—about the Government imposing the renegotiated contract of service for GPs because they believe that that is in the best interests of patients? That point has been made by several GPs in my area.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend is so active in securing the best interests of his constituents in terms of primary care services. I am also delighted by the response that he referred to from GPs in his constituency. With regard to the GPs' contract, it is a matter of great regret that the conference did not support the position of the national negotiators on behalf of the GPs and the contract, which would have produced a fair deal for GPs and would have ensured that those GPs who provided preventive services were properly rewarded.

Why is the Minister in favour of self-government for hospitals, but not in favour of self-government for Scotland?

On the connection between devolution and the interests of the Health Service, the hon. and learned Gentleman and his party would do well to explain how the additional 25 per cent. which is spent on health care would be funded on the basis of his proposals which would ultimately lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The hon. and learned Gentleman should appreciate that self-governing hospitals will remain part of the National Health Service while a Scottish assembly would prevent Scotland from remaining part of the United Kingdom.

When does the Minister expect to be able to name the first hospital in Scotland to opt out of its health board? Does he agree that that hospital will be acting against the wishes of its staff? Will the Minister take this opportunity to condemn the intimidation of hospital staff in Scotland by the managers who are hoping to get one hospital to opt out? Does he agree that the intimidation and the delay in announcing the name of the hospital reflects the fact that the proposals for hospitals to opt out have absolutely no support anywhere in Scotland?

It is wholly irresponsible for an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to talk about the intimidation of staff by management in the Health Service particularly when we have not asked health boards in Scotland to give an indication of hospitals that are interested in self-governing status. Lest I disappoint the hon. Gentleman, I can assure him that very shortly we will be issuing our proposals on self-governing hospitals and inviting general managers to put forward cases. The process of ensuring effective delivery of health care in Scotland is not helped by the kind of language from the hon. Gentleman that we have grown used to.

Adam Smith Institute

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent communications he has had with Mr. Douglas Mason and the Adam Smith Institute; and if he will make a statement.

I have had a number of contacts with Mr. Mason and with the Adam Smith Institute. I have always found them stimulating and I hope that they will continue.

In any of those contacts was the Secretary of State spared Mr. Douglas Mason's bizarre and unbelievable idea that Hong Kong should be towed, lock, stock and barrel and relocated off the west coast of Scotland, on one of the western isles? As I listened to the radio interview, I thought that the man must be barking mad, until I realised that it was the same Douglas Mason who was the architect of the poll tax. Will the Secretary of State see whether there is a rocky outcrop somewhere on the edge of our territorial waters where Mr. Douglas Mason, the Adam Smith Institute and the trash Thatcherite ideas, which have no support in Scotland, might be relocated?

I said that I always found Mr. Mason's views stimulating. I did not say that I always agreed with them.

Nurses (Regrading)

19.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the regrading of night nursing staff.

I have received a number of representations from hon. Members and from members of the nursing profession. The new grading structure was agreed with the professional bodies and trade unions representing nurses, and it means that nurses are now rewarded for what they actually do. Nurses' pay has reached its highest ever level in real terms and nurses in clinical practice have better career prospects than ever before.

Does the Minister recognise that, nevertheless, there is great resentment and a great loss of morale among nursing staff, particularly among those who are designated night duty, and that the grading appeals system does not deal with that? Does he accept that the management and unions agreed the new grading structure without consulting nurses and that they should now be consulted with a view to changing the grading to ensure that morale is restored?

If doctors' and nurses' representatives, speaking on behalf of their professions, are to be criticised according to the agreements that they reach, it will make the Government's position extremely difficult. Night staff are treated on exactly the same basis as day staff. All clinical nursing posts are graded according to job content. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. All clinical nursing posts are graded according to job content and the level of responsibility carried. Night staff must meet the same criteria as day staff to qualify for the higher grades available, and there is nothing unfair in that.

In addition, night staff also qualify for special duty payments, which add 30 per cent. to the hourly rate for hours worked between 8 pm and 6 am, and 60 per cent. For hours worked on Sundays or on public holidays. All of that is on a basis agreed by the staff representatives and the employers.

Hong Kong

3.31 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about Hong Kong, which I visited from 2 to 4 July.

I held extensive discussions with members of the Executive and Legislative Councils, with professional people, entrepreneurs, students and others.

There can be no doubt that the appalling events in Peking have badly shaken confidence in Hong Kong. It is of the first importance that the Chinese Government take early, tangible and sustained action to begin restoring confidence in China's intentions towards Hong Kong. We shall be pressing them strongly on this.

There has been understandable pressure on this country to grant a right of abode to all British passport holders in Hong Kong. I had to explain that this House would not support an indefinite and open-ended commitment of that kind. It would test our capacity in all kinds of areas—housing, employment, transport, inner-city services—on an unprecedented scale. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs reached a similar conclusion. I was, however, able to assure the people of Hong Kong that we can and will take action in a number of matters.

First, on the question of nationality, we want to enhance people's confidence to remain. We are working urgently on a scheme which will make some provision for people in both the private and public sectors on the basis not simply of connections with Britain but the value of service to Hong Kong.

Secondly, at the European Council in Madrid we alerted our Community partners to Hong Kong's problems. I am also in direct touch with the other countries which will attend next week's economic summit in Paris. We shall continue there and elsewhere to mobilise the support of the international community.

Thirdly, I was able to confirm as common ground that the Joint Declaration, with its prospect of the greatest possible autonomy, remains the best foundation for Hong Kong's future. We have identified a number of ways in which Hong Kong's traditions of freedom can be further protected. In particular, there is scope for reviewing the rate of progress towards representative government. In this, the wishes of the people of Hong Kong will continue to be fundamental to our approach.

We favour a Bill of Rights entrenching essential freedoms. The Hong Kong Government are announcing today that they will introduce such a Bill as soon as possible. It will form part of the existing law and be able to continue after the transfer of sovereignty.

We shall take up with the Chinese Government two matters of special concern—article 18 of the draft Basic Law, which could enable the central Government in Peking to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong after 1997 and, even more important, the question of the stationing in Hong Kong of Chinese military forces.

Events in China have overshadowed Hong Kong's most immediate practical problem—how to cope with the 48,000 boat people who have found shelter there. I visited two of the camps housing boat people and saw the screening of new arrivals now being conducted under the auspices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Hong Kong Government and people have dealt magnificently with an appalling problem, but Hong Kong is being overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers. The vast majority of those reaching Hong Kong are not political refugees. They have no hope of being accepted for resettlement anywhere else in the world. Hong Kong cannot offer them a home or a livelihood.

At the recent conference in Geneva, resettlement pledges are made for all those who qualify as refugees. The report of the Select Committee recognised that it is intolerable for those who do not qualify as refugees to have to spend years in camps. Their only future lies back home. I have discussed this problem with the Vietnamese Foreign Minister both in Geneva and in London. Official talks are continuing. I am hopeful that we will be able to find a solution which enables boat people to return to Vietnam in safety and dignity.

Hong Kong's predicament reflects the facts of its history and geography. Those are inescapable, but, in approving the joint declaration, the House undertook to make the best possible provision for Hong Kong after 1997. We shall pursue the measures I have outlined with vigour as part of that wider and unchanged commitment.

We welcome back the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary—Typhoon Geoffrey—after his eventful visit to Hong Kong. [Interruption.]

We trust that some of his experiences there will cause him to value all the more the balanced, restrained and positive approach to all subjects by Her Majesty's Opposition in the House. On the other hand, he will equally have learnt that the people of Hong Kong are capable of accustoming themselves speedily to democratic political activity. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said so little on that crucial issue. We trust that the Government will lose no time in making clear their acceptance of the Select Committee recommendation that 50 per cent. of the Legislative Council should be elected in 1991, with full democracy in 1995. We also support the Select Committee's advocacy of an elected Chief Executive, although we believe that he or she should be directly elected from the start.

I am glad to hear of the speedy introduction in Hong Kong of a Bill of Rights. People in Hong Kong asked for that when I was there, and no doubt they made the same demand of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

We hope that discussions on the Basic Law will resume quickly. While concerned that there should be no attempt on either side to unravel the Joint Declaration, which, if it is abided by, represents the best prospects for Hong Kong's future, it would be valuable if assurances could be obtained of firm Chinese adherence to the declaration and, if at all possible, of agreements by China to keep the People's Liberation Army out of Hong Kong.

The Opposition believe that it would not be right to offer any commitment to Hong Kong British dependent territory passport holders on the right of entry into the United Kingdom or the right of abode here. Others with an existing right of entry to the United Kingdom, which the Government refuse to honour—such as the dependants mentioned yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond)—have a much more specific and immediate claim. If there are Crown servants in Hong Kong, at whatever level, who might feel or find themselves at risk as transfer to China approaches, of course it would be right for the Home Secretary to consider using his discretion under the Immigration Act 1971 in their favour on an individual basis. I am sure that this Home Secretary or his Labour successor would do so.

In the light of the scheme that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says he is considering, I state clearly that the Opposition are against the creation of special favoured categories based on status or affluence. I agree with yesterday's statement by Dame Lydia Dunn that the creation of such categories would be divisive and difficult to defend. I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if such categories are created a Labour Government would not necessarily be bound by them.

We believe that international action should be invoked to reassure Hong Kong citizens. I welcomed the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance that this issue will be raised at the forthcoming Paris economic summit. I believe that it should be discussed in detail at the Commonwealth conference at Kuala Lumpur in the autumn and at the European Community Paris summit in December.

We believe that the United States has a special responsibility towards the Vietnamese boat people, whose plight stems directly from the consequences of the Vietnam war. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, like myself, had the unforgettable experience of visiting the boat people in their detention centres. I hope that any solution to this difficult problem will be based only on arrangements that recognise and uphold the human rights of those unhappy migrants, whether refugees or not.

While it would be wrong to take the view that China must be permanently excluded from the international community, I must make it clear that we believe that it would be absolutely wrong, after an indecent interval, somehow to pretend that the Peking massacres never happened. It would be a betrayal of the murdered thousands and the people of Hong Kong were we to return to business as usual with the guilty men of the forbidden city.

Will the Foreign Secretary assure the House that there will be no Government support for the British-China Expo '89 due to be held in Peking in November or the major trade missions planning to go to China later this year, one of which boasts that it will be meeting Li Peng. We are told that the Department of Trade and Industry will be offering support to the participants in the trade missions and that official facilities will be drawn upon to the full. I hope that that offer will be withdrawn, as it would be unacceptable in the light of what has taken place in Peking.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure the House that there is no question of anything but rejection of Peking's reported order from Britain of 170 military vehicles?

We urge the Government to stand up for the basic rights of the people of Hong Kong and to stand up against the reversion to barbarism in China, exemplified by the massacres and executions. As long as they do so, they shall have the support of the Opposition.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for focusing, although not sequentially, on the extremely important and difficult aspects to which we must address ourselves.

Nobody could condemn more strongly than myself, except perhaps the people of Hong Kong, the events that took place in Peking just over a month ago. Yet it is the people of Hong Kong who are most concerned to secure from this House the right balance of response to those intolerable events in the light of the significant responsibility of China for their future. That is why I noticed with sympathy the right hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of continuing now to build upon the Joint Declaration, to recognise that there should be no attempt to unravel that and to proceed further to examine particular aspects of Basic Law. Those propositions that he urged upon me necessarily involve engagement with the people now in charge in China.

The people of Hong Kong are also concerned to secure the least possible damage to their economic vitality as a result of what has happened in China, because China is their largest trading partner and vice versa. Although I take seriously—as does the House, I am sure—the right hon. Gentleman's point about the way in which we deal with the present Administration in China, we must also not neglect the need to promote in every way we can the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

I noticed with interest what the right hon. Gentleman said about the future of democratic arrangements in Hong Kong. The people to whom I spoke there are, of course, conscious of the recommendations of the Select Committee in that respect. Frankly, they have not yet had time to address themselves to the implications for their own 24 May recommendations, which fell short of those put forward by the Select Committee. They emphasised that they would need further time to consider that, and that is why I emphasised that we must pay attention to their conclusions.

The Select Committee said:
"we also believe even more strongly that Hong Kong people must be allowed to decide on their own system of government before 1997 as well as after 1997."
Therefore, that must be the guide.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the announcement being made in Hong Kong today, and confirmed in this House, about the intention to implement a Bill of Rights as soon as possible. I am also grateful to him for the reminder, although I need no reminding, of the need for the Home Secretary to pay special attention and exercise discretion to Crown servants and others whose occupations may put them at risk or in jeopardy.

The right hon. Gentleman made two further observations which, 1 confess, I find it a little difficult to reconcile. He confirmed that there should be no automatic conferment of a right of abode to BDTC passport holders, which is a point supported by the Select Committee. At the same time, he was apprehensive about the consequences of having specially favoured categories. If by that he means a set of narrow categorised propositions, I understand his point. However, the Select Committee, and many of those to whom I spoke in Hong Kong, would like attention to be paid—even if not to the extent urged by them—to the role that can be played by assuring people in the public and private sectors, and more widely, to encourage them to maintain their position in the Hong Kong economy. That is a matter to which many people attach a great deal of importance.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of the extent to which the United States should accept its fair share of responsibility for the Vietnamese boat people. The United States representative at the Geneva conference, Mr. Eagleburger, said:
"Those who flee clandestinely and cannot establish a well founded fear of persecution must understand that such flight no longer leads to resettlement. Such persons will face an indefinite stay in a holding camp."
He continued:
"It is important for those thinking of fleeing the former North Vietnam to realise that most will fail to qualify as refugees and will therefore not be eligible for resettlement."
But he stopped there, and, in our judgment, that is the wrong place at which to stop. If they are to be categorised in the way in which the United States and others have done, as not entitled to treatment as refugees, it must be right to try as we are doing, to secure a method for them to return to a secure future in their homeland.

It is obvious, and has been for a long time, that it would be completely impractical for Britain to provide a right of abode for 3·25 million or many more Hong Kong people—a point which my right hon. and learned Friend has been making with great patience and courage in Hong Kong these past few days. Therefore, does he not share with me some regret that an orchestrated and expensive new campaign is yet again being mounted in Hong Kong and London to hammer home this single unattainable point?

Does not that distract the people of Hong Kong from concentrating on the many more positive possibilities which are now opening up for the future prosperity of Hong Kong, including persuading the international community to underwrite assurances for the future security of Hong Kong and providing passports for certain hard working key personnel to stay in Hong Kong. Contrary to the views of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), those people are not the elite or the rich, but those who are most dedicated and vital to maintain the administration of the territory in the coming years.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his observations and for the work of the Select Committee, over which he presided. He was quite right to draw attention, as he did in the Committee's report, to these two distinct factors: first, the importance of seeking the widest possible international assurances against an eventuality which we all hope will never happen; and secondly, as the Committee said, an immediate need to provide assurances to those people whose presence in Hong Kong, by reason of their skills and qualifications in both the public and private sectors, is vital to its continued prosperity. I hope that those who may be contemplating a sadly distracting campaign, of the kind to which my right hon. Friend referred, will think again about the wisdom of doing so.

May I first welcome the Foreign Secretary's commitment to a Bill of Rights, and secondly, may I welcome the fact of his visit to Hong Kong? It clearly would have been much worse if he had not gone, but how much better it would have been if he had not gone with an empty hand and a closed mind. Surely his total failure to reassure anyone in Hong Kong, from the most senior expatriate downwards, cannot but have the effect of undermining the credibility of our administration in Hong Kong, of accelerating the flight of capital and brains from the colony and of placing in jeopardy our long-term strategic interests in the entire area.

I ask the Government now if they will study the interesting report by Professor Bernard Corry, which outlines the economic benefits to Britain of honouring the right of abode, and I ask them for a response to it. Surely that is a much more rational way of approaching the delicate question of nationality than the sort of scaremongering that we have heard from the Government and from the Labour party.

The right hon. Gentleman is not very perceptive in his observations: he denounced my visit for having been undertaken with an empty hand, having immediately preceded that by congratulating me on the firm commitment to the Bill of Rights, which was one of several things on which I was able to give some assurance to the people of Hong Kong. I have dealt with the others in my statement.

If the right hon. Gentleman studies the Corry report, he will find that it deals separately with the economic aspect and that, in a very qualified judgment, it states:
"The feasibility of such a large migration therefore seems to be shown from an economic point of view".
It goes on to deal with what it calls management and logistical issues and clearly says that many of the problems that arise are exactly the same as those that I identified in my statement. The right hon. Gentleman would be wrong to conclude that the report offers any sort of support for his proposition, which is, on the whole, rejected on both sides of the House.

Although the whole House understands the anxieties of the people of Hong Kong, may I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) and say that it is perfectly clear to almost every Member of the House that Parliament would never pass the legislation necessary to give the right of abode to more than 3 million citizens of Hong Kong? I am sure that I speak for many friends of Hong Kong in the House when I ask whether it is not time, therefore, for the leaders of Hong Kong to study the alternative thoughts of my right hon. and learned Friend about an international operation to deal with the issue of abode, about how to push forward the Joint Declaration and obtain a good Basic Law, and about how to formulate a Bill of Rights—which, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend, is an important proposal?

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support in that respect. I think that he should not respond too unsympathetically to the position of the leaders of the people of Hong Kong. He will understand as well as anyone the impact of the shock of the past month on the attitude of those in the territory. He will also join me in acknowledging that they have already shown themselves capable of responding in many respects to the need for leadership which their people are expressing. I hope that they will respond—I have some confidence that they may—to the kind of advice that my right hon. Friend has given them. It is important that they should understand that the advice on these issues coming from this House is fully appreciative of the immense difficulty of their present position in Hong Kong.

Whatever the validity of the treaty made long ago with a very different regime about the territory of Hong Kong, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we must at all costs uphold the right of self-determination of the people who now live there? Should not that right be emphasised in any negotiations with the Chinese Government?

The right of self-determination, in the sense in which it can sometimes be expressed, cannot be applied in anything like the traditional sense to the territory and people of Hong Kong, because of the extent to which their position depends on a lease that runs out in 1997; but that does not undermine the importance of paying the utmost respect, as far as it is possible to do so, to the wishes of the people of Hong Kong. That is why we consulted them so closely in the evolution of the Joint Declaration, why we tried to secure their support for it, and why I now attach the greatest importance to the fact that, in this House and in Hong Kong, the Joint Declaration that we achieved is regarded by people on all sides as the best common ground on which to build for the future.

Is not one of the most important things that the Select Committee report reveals about the right of abode the fact that flexibility about those who could qualify to be British dependent territory citizens would mean that more than 5 million would qualify? That figure puts the problem into perspective. Given that background, does my right hon. and learned Friend also agree that now is not the time to run a campaign through advertising, but a time for quiet reflection? Would not an early debate on the Select Committee's report send out a clear signal from the House that would be valuable for Hong Kong and the world?

I welcome my hon. Friend's first point. His second point is also important. It has been heard by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and will no doubt be taken into account in his preparation of future business.

There are no easy answers to the anxieties and problems of the people of Hong Kong, but one important element, as the Foreign Secretary has already recognised, is the status of representative government in Hong Kong before the 1997 deadline. With that in mind, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make it plain that the ascertained wishes of the people of Hong Kong will be what determine the timetable of the advance towards full democracy, rather than apprehensions about the reactions of the Chinese Government?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support generally for our approach to this matter. I take note of the important point that he makes. In my answers, I have tried to say that the actual shape of the representative institutions that are appropriate to emerge between now and 1997 is not a question on which opinion in Hong Kong has yet focused with as much care and precision as people there would like. They would want to take account not only of the generally recognised need for faster progress, but of the need to secure stability into the future. Once they have formulated their views in that respect, Her Majesty's Government will be paying direct attention to what they have to say. It is already clear from what I have learnt this week that the arrangements to come into place in 1991 will need review in any event. That is quite apart from what may be necessary for the longer-term shape of the institutions.

Is not the best guarantee for Hong Kong people not to clamour to get out of Hong Kong, but rather to stay in Hong Kong, to develop and entrench their democracy, and to make Hong Kong the success that it undoubtedly can be? That success is the best guarantee, and the only long-term guarantee, of Hong Kong's future.

Yes, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend in that respect. I underline the extent to which the future pattern in respect of the matters about which he is talking depends crucially on the need for the Chinese Government to recognise the great damage that has been done to confidence in Hong Kong by the dreadful events of a month ago, and for them to take early and sustained action to begin to repair that damage.

While the Foreign Secretary is right to concentrate on the central importance of improved relations with China, the events in Tiananmen square will remain indelible. At the economic summit, will he attempt to get the other six nations to help China to remain on course for economic reform, but also tie it in to changes in the Basic Law and make it see the interrelationship of economic reform in China with a peaceful and sensible transition in 1997 in Hong Kong?

I accept the point put by the right hon. Gentleman, and have already been in direct communication with the Governments who will be represented at the economic summit next week. I have drawn their attention to the central economic point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. We need to leave those in China in no doubt of our abhorrence of what took place a month ago, but nevertheless we must refrain from action that can sever all links between it and the prospects of economic reform. That is a difficult road to strike, but it is the position precisely endorsed, as the right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten, by the Madrid summit only a week ago. This is the prudent position. It is also important to secure the widest possible support for the measures advocated on both sides of the House on the Basic Law.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the solution to the problem of the Vietnamese boat people will be found when the Vietnamese realise that they have a stake in their country and wish to live in it? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will use his good offices to ensure that the necessary international agreements are obtained, Vietnam can be incorporated and reintegrated into the world community as a developing nation, and one that desperately needs substantial development aid—much of it from this country. If the Foreign Secreary agrees, what timetable can he suggest for those events?

I think that it is generally recognised that, if Vietnam is to join the ranks of those nations that might expect development aid, it will be necessary for her not only to begin taking effective action to receive her own people back into their country, but to secure the withdrawal of her army of occupation from Cambodia.

The whole House knows that the world will insist that, if Vietnamese troops withdraw from Cambodia, it must be on condition that Pol Pot and his cronies do not return to play any part there.

Another feature of the statements of Vietnamese Government spokesmen that is becoming increasingly clear is their recognition that the worst blight that they must remove from their own economy is the blight of Socialism, which produced the current disaster.

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his courageous visit to Hong Kong, and on the emphasis that he has placed on the fact that the best hope for the future of the people of Hong Kong resides in a stable and prosperous Hong Kong? Will he take action to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs' report on the establishment of a constitutional court to sit in Hong Kong, interpreting in accordance with the traditional principles of British law rather than the political principles of the People's National Congress? If there is no confidence in the stability of the legal system, the future confidence of Hong Kong itself will not endure for long.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his support. I have noticed, as have others, the Select Committee's recommendation of a re-examination of article 157 of the Basic Law and the specific proposal for a joint constitutional court. It is too early to reach a conclusion on that. It would, I think, be unrealistic to expect the sovereign authority of the People's Republic to divorce itself entirely from the constitutional process at the last resort, but the further the matter can be taken along the lines advocated by my hon. and learned Friend the better.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that if all of us here were Chinese in Hong Kong, none of us would be as sanguine about our future as various hon. Members have been this afternoon? Is he aware that the reason why people are anxious to maintain the pressure for the right of abode is that everyone in his right mind knows full well that, in the period after 1997 when China resumes full sovereignty over Hong Kong, any agreements that he secures will not be worth the paper that they are written on if China decides to apply its sovereignty in the murderous fashion that we saw in Peking last month?

Let me ask the Foreign Secretary a final question: if the people in Hong Kong were white, would he take the same view that he has taken today?

I am dismayed that the hon. Gentleman should descend so far as to make that last point, which is entirely unworthy of him and of the argument.

The assessment made by members of the Select Committee, and by many other Members of the House, rested on the sheer scale of the problem. The numbers involved could be well beyond 3·25 million—perhaps 4 or 5 million. The hon. Gentleman's other point has been manifest to most of us for very much longer than it seems to have been to him. The future of Hong Kong cannot be separated from that of China—the world's largest Communist country, on the very corner of which the people of Hong Kong have established a magnificent society. It is for that reason that we have all been working as hard as we have been—not with any undue optimism or sanguinity, but to achieve the best possible result for Hong Kong, as the House would wish.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that one of the results of his visit has been to reassure the people of Hong Kong that Britain has not turned its back on their future? His visit will have reassured them that their future lies at the very forefront of his thinking and the thinking of all hon. Members. Does my right hon. and learned Friend also accept that what is most urgently needed in Hong Kong is restoration of confidence in the future? As he said, the future lies in Hong Kong's relationship with China. When, therefore, does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it might he prudent to begin again the urgent discussions that are necessary if Britain, China and the international community are to provide a basis for the re-growth and rebirth of confidence in Hong Kong's future?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first observation. Although I recognised that a lot of the message that I had to take to Hong Kong was bound to be seen as unwelcome, I was grateful for the fact that some of the most outspoken critics of views expressed in this House were the most outspoken in their thanks to me for having gone to Hong Kong. I am sure that it was right to take the opportunity to carry this dialogue forward. I certainly derived benefit from what they had to tell me.

As for my hon. Friend's second point, he is absolutely right that we need to promote the re-creation of confidence, but the Government of China have a leading part to play in that. I am not yet able to say when we can begin contacts of the various kinds that will be necessary—whether in the Joint Liaison Group, or in the Basic Law drafting committee, or more directly than that. It is important to achieve headway in that direction in a way that is compatible with all the other considerations that the House has in mind.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that friends of the Chinese people are appalled and saddened by the recent tragedy? However, there is no point, as some people have suggested, in Britain helping the people of Hong Kong in the distant future, if a disaster occurs. A disaster has already occurred. When the Chinese shot unarmed students in Peking, they shot the confidence of the people of Hong Kong. What is required now is the restoration of hope and confidence—hope by maintaining a dialogue with China and confidence not simply by alerting foreign countries, as the Foreign Secretary said, but by seeking immediate international guarantees of sanctuary for the people of Hong Kong, with Britain playing a leading role.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his advice. I know that he has played a leading part in establishing bilateral organisations between ourselves and the people of China, not least those connected with disability. He understands very well the basis of respect between the two peoples, which should form the basis of our relations. He is quite right to say that what happened in Tiananmen square did grave damage to many of those relationships. He is also right to urge the necessity for dialogue of the right kind with the people and the Government of China, along the lines that he suggests.

As for confidence, there, too, we shall certainly seek to do all that we can to promote confidence by dealing with the other nations that are of most importance, although it will be exceedingly difficult to translate that into precise numbers and timed guarantees.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that the prospect of mandatory repatriation for the Vietnamese boat people is a very serious step? For many of them, particularly those in Da Nang province, his statement that their interests would best be served by staying at home means a return to abject poverty caused by war, the policies of their own Government and also natural disasters such as typhoons and other serious catastrophes which make their lives intolerable? If we are considering mandatory repatriation, is it not time to follow the advice of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in its 1986 report, which was to start to plan internationally how best to restore Vietnam to the family of south-east Asian nations and therefore give the people who are being forced back to Vietnam some prospect of a better standard of living than the one they have left?

I well understand my hon. Friend's long-term interest in the future of the people and country of Vietnam. I sympathise with the force of his point. It is encouraging to have the reluctant acceptance of the Select Committee that the logical consequence of a screening programme is the repatriation of those who have been screened out. It is important for us to couple that with every encouragement that we can give towards economic reform in Vietnam. As I have said already, it has to be coupled with the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia under terms well understood by the international community, and with a willingness to accept the people who are on their way back to their native land. Against that background, it is right to encourage Britain and the international community to look in the direction of the commencement of development aid.

Now that we have clearly established that the moral responsibility of the Government, Parliament and the people of Britain to the people of Hong Kong extends no further than doing what will cause us least discomfort, should we not drop the pretence that there is anything honourable about our stance? Should not the Foreign Secretary feel a little abashed about having to dress up his statement with proposals about extending democracy in Hong Kong and a Bill of Rights? He must recall, as I do, the many debates in the House over decades, when various propositions by Back-Bench Members were rejected out of hand, mainly on the basis that to extend democracy to Hong Kong would offend the Government of the Chinese People's Republic? Surely the Foreign Secretary is not suggesting for a moment that those proposals will help the people of Hong Kong in their present distress.

The hon. Gentleman seems at odds with most other right hon. and hon. Members, as everyone has welcomed the measures that we have supported in my statement earlier today. He will recollect that the history of Hong Kong has always been a matter of special interest and has been so treated from both Front Benches.

Order. I have to have regard for the following business today, which is an Opposition day, and for the fact that we may be returning to this matter later. I shall take two more questions from each side.

Was my right hon. and learned Friend aware of any moves now in Hong Kong towards the realisation that the greatest test of leadership for those who represent the people of Hong Kong is facing up to the need to build up Hong Kong as a successful and stable province economically and socially, so that beyond 1997 they have the best chance of preserving two systems in one country? Was he able to reassure them that the Government will do all they can to help that process towards democracy—for example, by issuing a Green Paper on electoral law as the Select Committee proposed? Finally, will he reinforce his clear statement that he will do all he can with the Government in China to stress that military forces should not be based in Hong Kong beyond 1997, particularly on HMS Tamar?

I certainly shall not neglect the importance of my hon. Friend's last point. In regard to a Green Paper on electoral reform, he will understand that all those matters are essentially for consideration and management by the Government of Hong Kong. I know from my discussions with them this week that they will be addressing themselves to that part of the agenda shortly, having felt it necessary to address other matters in the immediate aftermath of the shocking events of a month ago. I can certainly assure him that those in the leadership of the people and territory of Hong Kong are immensely aware of the importance of building up confidence in the territory in the years between now and 1997, and beyond. One of the most heartening features of the immense complexities and difficulties of this case is the quality, dedication, energy and skill of those who are currently leading the people of Hong Kong.

While one understands the perfectly justified feelings of concern in Hong Kong, feelings that we would share if we were living in Hong Kong, is it not in the overall economic interests of China that the agreement signed between Britain and China should be firmly adhered to from 1997? Despite the horrors of what has occurred in China recently, is it not likely that China has every intention of honouring that agreement?

But does not the Secretary of State agree that, first and foremost, China should show that it understands our revulsion at what occurred by ending its present policy of repression and terror? How confident is the Secretary of State that the Chinese leadership will agree that Chinese troops should not be stationed in Hong Kong after 1997?

I address myself to the general point made by the hon. Gentleman, because I cannot make any predictions about the response of the Chinese Government on that or any other point at this stage. It is clear, as a matter of logic and common sense, that it is massively in the interests of China for the Joint Declaration to be upheld and for Hong Kong's stability and prosperity to be maintained. That is the basis on which the declaration was entered into, and the basis on which we have commended its credibility, not only in Hong Kong but around the world. The actions taken by the Chinese Government a month ago plainly were not in the interests of China, its Government, its people or anyone else. Those actions, which plainly flew so much in the face of justice and common sense, did much to damage present confidence. I certainly accept the hon. Gentleman's advice about the need to press China as strongly as we can to return to a true recognition of its interests in upholding the agreement.

Would my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a number of hon. Members were deeply concerned when we transferred the sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1984, and therefore affected the future of its people, without any meaningful discussions with them? Will he take seriously the recommendations of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which were reinforced by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who said that the one way of re-establishing confidence in Hong Kong and guaranteeing its future is to implement a meaningful system of democracy, involving the franchise for all the people of Hong Kong, before the transfer of sovereignty in 1997?

On the first point, my hon. Friend may not have observed the immense attention that we paid at the time, in consultation after consultation with the people and the leaders of Hong Kong as well as hon. Members—

And the people, so far as it was possible to do so, and the House. The Joint Declaration was the result of consultation to such an extent that it is massively endorsed by people on all sides in Hong Kong as well as here as the true foundation for the future.

On my hon. Friend's second point, I am always ready and glad to receive advice from him on any subject. but the advice that one must regard as being more decisive is that which comes from Hong Kong.

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to reply to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) about whether the Government will recognise the trade mission, and if so what extent, that is due to visit Peking later this year?

The position of that mission is still under consideration, and will be addressed according to the conclusions set out at the end of the Madrid summit last week. We certainly shall not sustain fresh subsidised business, but it would be foolish—this is the strong advice that I have received from Hong Kong—to move in the direction of an economic embargo on the People's Republic of China.

Order. I will certainly bear in mind the claims of hon. Members who have not been called on the statement.

Rail Dispute

4.18 pm

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

"today's rail strike."
The matter raises a number of issues that deserve urgent debate, not only in respect of one-day stoppages but in the event of escalation of the present dispute. First there is the recalcitrant attitude that management and unions have adopted about negotiating terms. While they argue not about whether to talk but about where, the rest suffer.

Secondly, there is the question of the future of monopolies such as the railways and London Transport. Can we tolerate being held to ransom in this way? Should we not urgently discuss alternative structures? Is it not time to get on with opening up competition by privatising London Buses?

Thirdly, we must discuss how best to combat the effects of the stoppages. Extra car parking space merely exacerbates the problem of heavy traffic. More radical solutions are surely necessary if we are to fight back.

We need to establish a political consensus in tackling the wildcat strike, in the growing belief that such action by public service employees should be illegal. That means ascertaining the Opposition's views. If that leads them to a new set of principles, as with that adopted on nuclear weapons, it is all the more welcome.

Millions of our citizens are facing transport difficulties each week, with no apparent end in sight. Those difficulties and how to overcome them should be discussed by the House. Nothing is more urgent or relevant.

The hon. Member seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"today's rail strike."
I have listened to the hon. Member with care. As he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is to decide whether it should be given priority over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that the matter that the hon. Member has raised does not meet the criteria of the Standing Order. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.

Points Of Order

4.20 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to recall that at Scottish Question Time this afternoon, following question No. 3 from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie), you were kind enough to call me to ask a supplementary question? In reply to my question, the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)—said that he was quoting from a private conversation. I therefore seek your guidance. First, have not you and many of your distinguished predecessors frowned upon the use of private conversations in the Chamber and is not the practice to be deplored, especially when it comes from a Minister? Secondly, as the Minister clearly misunderstood the name of the organisation about which I was seeking information and confused the Scottish Central Film Library with the Scottish Film Council, has he sought to withdraw the misleading impression that he gave the House, which remains the only decent thing for him to do and what the House would expect of him?

I confirm that private conversations should be private. As for whether the Minister is prepared to withdraw his comment, that is not a matter for me.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. That was not the only occasion during Scottish Questions when some of us thought that the behaviour of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) did not match what most of us expect of Ministers or, in fact, from hon. Members on either side of the House. On one occasion, the hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) to shut his mouth. That was the expression that he used. The Minister has a responsibility to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House to go to the Dispatch Box and apologise for his behaviour during Question Time.

I certainly did not hear anything of that kind. We should move on.

European Community documents. Not moved.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the leave of the House, I will put together the 11 motions relating to statutory instruments.

Ordered,
That the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Port of London Authority and London Borough of Newham) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Black Country Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Borough of Walsall) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Black Country Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (General) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Leeds Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (British Railways Board) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Leeds Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (General) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the London Docklands Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Thames Water Authority) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Merseyside Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (General) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Merseyside Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Transport Land) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Sheffield Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (British Railways Board) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Port of Tyne Authority and British Railways Board) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation (Vesting of Land) (Various Local Authorities) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Dorrell.]

Prevention Of Child Abduction

4.22 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make satisfactory arrangements to prevent the illegal removal of children beyond the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts; and for connected purposes.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), who have been working on behalf of representatives of children who have been abducted from the United Kingdom. I hope that, following today's discussion, all hon. Members with a common interest in this issue will join together to solve this growing problem.

On 22 May this year, in the spring Adjournment debate, I raised the case of my constituent, Mr. Colin Winstanley, whose children were removed from the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts without his consent and, so far as I can ascertain, without the active consent of the children. Both children were taken by their mother to the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, and over the past few months Mr. Winstanley has not been able to make satisfactory arrangements to see his children. With the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the children have been contacted belatedly and have expressed their desire to see their father and grandparents.

Tragically, Mr. Winstanley and his children are part of a growing army of forgotten people caught up in the Pied Piper world of child abduction. The tug of love syndrome means that 500 or more of our nation's little children are stolen, kidnapped and abducted each year, leaving a trail of grief-stricken mothers and sometimes fathers, in their wake.

Child abduction is a special crime, mainly involving parents—or sometimes grandparents—acting out of a perverted or overwhelming sense of love, fear of losing custody proceedings or desire to seek revenge in the wake of a broken relationship. The problem is growing and I contend that it has reached epidemic proportions.

On 12 June 1987, Law magazine reported on the issue, saying that it was estimated that between 200 and 500 cases occurred each year. It continued:
"The scale of the problem flows from the increase in the number of international marriages and the high rate of separations, combined with ease of travel and employment overseas—and the belief of parents who have been denied custody here that the abduction of their children will result in a more favourable order in another country."
The problem is not confined to marriages where there is an international element. In August 1981, Jean Burt's British ex-husband flew out to Kuwait with her son Graham and instead of returning home from his holiday, he remained in Kuwait. She went to Kuwait and got a wardship order from the local courts. She held an English wardship order of custody which was finally recognised by the Kuwaiti authorities. She obtained an order for them to direct her husband to give up the child and to return him to the United Kingdom in April 1983. Unfortunately, there are few such instances of a successful conclusion in abduction cases. Moreover, Jean had to raise £13,000 for the return of her child. Even if the other country is prepared to co-operate, the child usually remains abducted and outside the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts unless the mother has substantial resources at her disposal.

In the cases with which I and other hon. Members have dealt, one has an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. One sees the home without the child, with quiet, well-kept bedrooms, but none of the loving clutter of children, none of the screams of joy, the tears, the smell that always accompanies the child, the hugs or the feelings of warmth and safety. They are all denied to the parent and child who have been dragged from each other in a moment of madness and despair. It is almost as though the child has died and one sees the small shrine of photographs and toys. But it is worse than that. There is an unconsolable grief which cannot be exorcised.

Parliament has a special responsibility to the nation's children. We must act as their guardians and defenders in a real sense and, in the final analysis, be their ultimate liberators, acting to return them to the United Kingdom. Despite the admirable sentiments behind the Hague convention and the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985, the abduction of our nation's children is on the increase. So far, the equivalent of three average-sized primary schools have been emptied of their pupils. More than 500 children are missing, never to be returned home and often living in socially hostile and disorienting environments. Sadly, many hon. Members of all parties are coming to the conclusion that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not want to meddle in so-called "family affairs". The children are regarded as a diplomatic embarrassment and a nuisance which could interfere with diplomatic relations.

The 1985 Act has, in practice, failed to protect hundreds of innocent little victims of the unique social crime of child abduction. As recently as 1 July this year, a report in The Independent investigating the issue said of the Act:
"In practice, the children's return is rarely prompt; case after case has been trapped in the morass of competing legal systems and bureaucracies. To pay for travel, accommodation, legal costs and, where the husband has gone underground, a private investigator, requires considerable private funds, which most of these women simply do not have."
The Foreign Office has stated that it is vital that taxpayers' money should not be wasted. That is rich indeed, from a Government who have spent millions of pounds chasing around the courts of the world to prevent publication of various memoirs about the secret service. If such resources are at the Lord Chancellor's disposal, they should be used to chase around the courts of the world on behalf of little children who have been abducted and wish to return to the United Kingdom but cannot do so.

In 1984, Lord Brandon was reported as saying in the House of Lords:
"I see no good reason why, in relation to the kidnapping of a child, it should not in all cases be the absence of the child's consent which is material, whatever its age may be. In the case of a very young child, it would not have the understanding or the intelligence to give its consent".
Abduction removes the child's right to consent. The challenge that my Bill seeks to address is the child's inability to have a say about its abduction.

The Bill will have four main provisions. The first is the establishment of a children's ombudsman to provide legal aid, advice and assistance to retrieve children currently illegally abducted to places outside the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts. The ombudsman will also provide advice about preventing abduction and will mediate between the Governments and legal systems of the countries to which children have been abducted.

Secondly, the Bill will provide resources to reunite the National Council for Abducted Children with other voluntary self-help groups. Thirdly, the Bill will seek to amend current court practices and will provide for the issuing of advice to judges to ensure the automatic surrender of passports to the courts during custody proceedings and the automatic entry of child custody decisions in the passports of the parents or guardians and of the children concerned.

Fourthly, the Bill will seek the establishment and maintenance of a register of abducted children, because at the moment we do not even know how many children have been abducted.

If the House were to fail in this matter, and if the Government were to fail to take action, a blot would be left on the character of the House and a stain on the nation's conscience.

Question put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Roger Stott, Mr. Frank Doran, Mr. Jimmy Hood, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Keith Bradley, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Gerry Steinberg and Ms. Dawn Primarolo.

Prevention Of Child Abduction

Mr. Ian McCartney accordingly presented a Bill to make satisfactory arrangements to prevent the illegal removal of children beyond the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts; and for connected purposes. And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 164.]

Opposition Day

16Th Allotted Day

Training

4.32 pm

I beg to move,

That this House, noting the fiasco of Employment Training which has reached only 40 per cent. of the Government's target and now has a drop-out rate of nearly 50 per cent., as both employers and trainees reject the programme as under-funded, poor quality and low-paid, and noting that job-related training for 16 to 19 year olds have been constantly falling in recent years, calls on the Government to remedy the growing skills shortage by investment in training which matches the funding, quality, skills and economic commitment of the United Kingdom's major competitor countries.

In 1992, with the advent of the internal market, Britain will face economic pressures at least as intense and competitive as those we faced on our entry to the Common Market 16 years ago. The coverage and quality of our skills training will then become one of our key economic weapons. It is the contention of the Opposition that the Government have consistently and drastically failed to develop that aspect of the country's economic defences so that today we have an adult training programme which is spurned by employers and trainees alike and which is poised to collapse before it has reached even half its target.

There was no lack of ministerial hype at the programme's inception last September, when the Secretary of State for Employment said:
"Employment training is the largest and most ambitious training programme ever undertaken, and the scope and opportunity it offers to longer-term unemployed people is unrivalled anywhere in the world."

The right hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," which serves to make my point.

However, the reality is rather different. Five months after the programme started, the Financial Times reported:
"The Government is cutting the number of places on its employment training scheme by 10 per cent. because not enough people have joined."
On the same day, The Independent reported that more than 70 local authorities of all political persuasions had withdrawn from the scheme. One of those, the Tory-controlled council covering the Prime Minister's constituency, closed its 400-place ET scheme. A report prepared by officials at Barnet council, which was endorsed by councillors, stated:
"One of the factors blamed for the failure was that most participants in the old Community Programme, where maximum earnings are £60 a week, refused to switch to ET where they are allowed only normal benefit plus £10 expenses."
That confirms everything that the Opposition have always said.

The Secretary of State's TV extravaganza got it slightly wrong. To the bars of what I can only describe as somewhat incongruous music, the extravaganza proclaimed:
"We'll train the workers without jobs to do the jobs without workers."
It really meant:
"We'll train the workers without jobs to do the jobs without wages."
At the launch of ET on 1 September last year, the Secretary of State made his objective very clear. Amid enormous media fanfare, he declared:
"Employment training will provide training for some 600,000 people a year."
Nine months on, by which time the target of 450,000 places should have been filled, only 187,000 places have been filled. The Government have achieved just 41 per cent. of their target. However, internal confidential Department of Employment management papers, which I have seen, paint a bleaker picture. They show that no fewer than 117,000 people have already dropped out of the scheme and that there is an overall dropout rate of no less than 46 per cent. Worse still, the dropout rate is accelerating fast. In January the dropout rate was 36 per cent. In February it was 41 per cent. In March it was 57 per cent. and in April—the last month for which figures are available—it was 75 per cent.

The Secretary of State may well screw up his face, because those figures come from his Department. If the trend continues, the number of leavers each month will soon be larger than the number of starters. On that evidence, the number of trainees on ET could begin to fall before the scheme's first anniversary—ET's first anniversary could also be its last.

At the start of the scheme, the Secretary of State was full of overblown rhetoric about the employers' response. On 29 December, according to a Department of Employment press notice, he announced:
"Britain's biggest companies have given Britain's biggest adult training programme a ringing endorsement into the New Year."
A little earlier, he was carried away enough to state:
"The response from providers to the challenge of Employment Training has been magnificent, and the Training Commission now has in place a comprehensive network of training agents and training managers."
Six months later, on 12 June, in answer to a parliamentary question from me, the Secretary of State was forced to admit the truth behind the billboard waffle. He had to admit that only 13 major companies had signed up with ET on a national scale and that only two of them had filled more than half the places for which they had contracted. If the employers' response has been so magnificent, why has Habitat contracted for 200 places, but filled none of them? Why has Mothercare contracted for 50 places but filled none? Why has Heron Service Stations contracted for 81 places but filled only one?

The hon. Gentleman is either knowingly deceiving the House or deceiving himself. [Interruption.]

Order. I am sure that the Secretary of State can make some amendments to what he has just said.

Of course I will. The hon. Gentleman is mis-stating the position. He has just given the impression —all hon. Members have heard it—that only 13 major companies have been associated with employment training. That is the clear implication. He is quoting only one part—that is, the numbers who are with the large companies unit of the Department of Employment. One hundred and twenty major companies, and 1,000 companies over all, have contracted to do employment training. That is why what the hon. Gentleman has said is deeply misleading. His remarks about the numbers are also misleading. He is either doing that intentionally or without knowledge. He is confusing the number of filled places with the throughput in employment training. What he has stated so far is very misleading.

I obviously asked a rather pointed and embarrassing question. I was quoting from the answer that I was given. It is the right hon. Gentleman himself who says that only 13 companies have joined up with ET nationally. That is the fact and that is what he said only three weeks ago.

The hon. Gentleman can at least concede that what I have said—that is, that 120 major companies are working with ET—is truthful.

In that case, why was that not in the original answer? Why is it that the answer that I quoted were the right hon. Gentleman's words?

I will not give way again. The right hon. Gentleman has a lot more explaining to do, so we will reserve the opportunity for him.

Perhaps he could explain also the findings in the report of the Institute of Manpower Studies, which was commissioned by his own Department and which he so coyly refuses to publish. The institute interviewed 40 large companies, not just the 13 that I have been talking about. Most of them employ more than 1,000 people—precisely the group about whom the right hon. Gentleman is talking —but they did not give ET the ringing endorsement that the right hon. Gentleman claimed. In no uncertain terms, they criticised the Department of Employment's Training Agency for its
"excessive inflexibility, jargon, bureaucracy and confusion."
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that that is what they think.

The right hon. Gentleman also had pretensions that the scheme would be attractive for the unemployed. In September, he announced with great flourish that
"it will offer training at every level from basic skills to technician level skills, and will enable unemployed people to acquire the skills they need to find and keep work."
The reality six months later, as The Guardian reported on 24 March, under a headline "Unemployed shun ET", is that
"Targets on the Government's … Employment Training scheme … have been drastically reduced by between 30 and 50 per cent. in some parts of the country because of poor demand for places."

I will not give way. I want to get on; it is a short debate.

At about the same time, the Financial Times reported:
"Employment Training … is facing mounting difficulties in attracting trainees in the north-east, an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country."
It went on to state that in Cleveland, for example,
"only 81 of the 450 places with employers have been filled."
It is altogether a sobering and humiliating story, yet the Government's advertising blurb still continues to take on a life of its own, divorced from any reality
"Custom-made to give people the skills they need for tomorrow's jobs"
is another of the Government's slogans. What happens on the ground is a rather different story. I recently received a letter from a man in Wales who applied to go on ET for agricultural maintenance, with a view to starting his own business. In his own words, this is what happened to him:
"Day 1. Went to local office at 9 am, filled in two forms and sat until 4 pm. The woman in charge was a senior team leader who was also on a training scheme, and appeared to have no idea why I or anyone else was there.
Day 2. Reported at 9 am sat around till 3.30 went home.
Day 3. Same routine, but had fire drill.
Day 4. Same routine—despite repeated inquiries, could obtain no information regarding the training programme.
Day 5. Finally visited training centre forty-one miles away …
The workshop was … an old shed, with rubbish strewn about, bits of steel, old engine parts and no clear working surfaces … The gas cutting gear had perished pipes, and there was no evidence of goggles; the electrical equipment had no safety cut-outs. The only supervisor I saw was also responsible for a hundred and forty acres, two workshops, livestock and twelve trainees. There was no trained instructor, in fact they are advertising for one.
Trainees on farm work were left unsupervised to drive tractors with no brakes or safety frames, one trainee was operating a mechanical digger with the engine overheating to such an extent that steam was coming from it."
In case the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that was a rather special or one-off letter, I have had a mass of letters about ET, which would be almost funny if the matter were not absolutely depressing. In the Wirral, a trainee painter and decorator was taught by unqualified people who previously worked in landscape gardening. In London, two unemployed people who wanted to be a chef and a bricklayer were sent on an amateur video-making course because there was nothing else available. In Liverpool, a car mechanic was working in a swimming pool—presumably not on a car—and a trainee refrigerator engineer was sent to insulate lofts.

One might have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have responded to those inanities with a measure of humility by redoubling his efforts to make his ET course rather more relevant and appropriate. What he has redoubled is the advertising budget, which is now running at a cool £9 million. The right hon. Gentleman has told training managers who provide the training to adjust not the relevance of their ET courses but their publicity. They have been told to provide the Department of Employment with "good news stories" which
"it is essential that we publicise."
He even had the bright idea of asking "ET graduates" to participate in an "ET roll of honour" which is to be
"displayed prominently for maximum publicity in unemployment benefit offices and job centres".
Instead of all the ludicrous and false packaging to conceal a massive failure on the ground, and instead of the glossy advertising costing £9 million, the right hon. Gentleman would do far better to direct taxpayers' money and his own Department's efforts to improving the lamentable quality of training on ET and giving employers and trainees a proper deal.

I do not know whether it is just a further example of the county of Kent being superior to any other place in the country, but the experience of ET in my part of Kent is almost unidentifiable with the hon. Gentleman's. I would be interested to hear whether he has letters of that kind from Kent.

I am sure that we shall be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he can produce some real examples, because clearly he is embarrassed by the roll call of disasters that I have mentioned. I will be surprised if Kent does not have its disasters, too.

The Government's propaganda on ET is riddled with manipulation and deceit. The Government profess to favour the training of married women to fill the demographic gap. The Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Lee), said a week ago:
"Employers must look beyond traditional sources of recruitment to provide the workforce of the 1990s. Ninety per cent. of the growth in the labour market in the 1990s will be women and many of these will be women 'returners'."
The point is that the Government refuse to make married women eligible for ET child care allowances. When Kay Jackson, a married woman with three pre-school aged children, challenged that at an industrial tribunal in January as being in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act, she won. But what did the Secretary of State then do? Instead of extending ET child care allowances to married women, he took them away from single parents who already received them.

The Government profess to he in favour of developing the voluntary sector, yet ET is destroying it. In Birmingham, the Voluntary Services Council was forced to close its 400-place ET scheme earlier this year. Only two months ago, the Council for Social Action in Manchester, which in the north had been a flagship project with 1,000 trainees, was forced into liquidation with £500,000 of debts and was forced to make 200 staff redundant. In April of last year, 220,000 community programme workers were in post performing a whole range of social and community services. Now there are only 97,000 ET trainees in such project-based services. That decline has had a devastating impact on community provision for the most disadvantaged in our society, such as the elderly and the disabled, which had been built up on community provision funding, and is now being destroyed.

If Britain is being miserably served by ET in meeting adult training needs for 1992, youth training is being handled with an equal lack of drive and imagination. The right hon. Gentleman keeps telling us about the demographic gap. We all know that there will be a 25 per cent. shortfall in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds over the next five years. However, the right hon. Gentleman then proposes to fill that gap with more married women, while denying them child care allowances, or with more older workers, while focusing ET on the under-50s.

What the right hon. Gentleman will not accept is the obvious policy of upgrading YTS and ridding it of its deserved label of cheap labour. The fact is that still less than 30 per cent. of trainees who leave YTS obtain a vocational qualification; still the general experience is of low-cost training, patchily equipping young people with skills that are not in short supply; and still, as the Confederation of British Industry reminds us in its report today, more than 100,000 16-year-olds enter the labour market every year with no training at all.

The past two years have shown that it is still true that three quarters of YTS trainees drop out of the scheme prematurely and that Britain still has a participation rate for 16 and 17-year-olds in education and training trailing 20 to 30 per cent. behind that of our main competitors in Germany, the United States and Japan. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is supporting that.

The Government's sole answer to those manifest deficiencies of training, as in every other sector, is privatization—selling off the skill centres and replacing the training agency by employer-dominated training enterprise councils. In fact, the sale of skill centres has nothing to do with improving the quality of training, but it has everything to do with asset stripping on the model of Royal Ordnance. The management buy-out covers only 20 of the 58 skill centres, and I understand that for the rest there is such lack of interest that probably one third of the sites will not even have a bidder unless they are given the incentive of a quick property killing—such as at Twickenham, Perivale and Slough, along the M4 corridor, or Lambeth skill centre in the middle of docklands, which I understand already has B2 planning permission now granted for any office or industrial development.

It is characteristic, but shameful, that the Government are far more interested in selling off the country's training assets than in investing in high-quality training to match our competitors. However, the TECs are not proving popular even with the employers who will control them. Presumably the Prime Minister thought that their appeal would be irresistible when, in the blaze of publicity at the launch of the TEC prospectus in March, she called on British employers to recreate the traditions of the medieval guild system
"when father taught son … and when apprentices learned from their masters."
However, I am glad to note that the reintroduction of master-servant grading holds less attraction for employers than for the Prime Minister as an obvious model for training.

It is employers, not just the unions, who have been expressing considerable disquiet about both the impact and representativeness of the TECs. It is employers who are complaining that the creation of 80 self-governing TECs will lead to the fragmentation of training and the undermining of industrywide and national standards. I understand that the Government are apparently now even proposing to phase out the approved training organisers, who are the one sure guarantee of quality control. It is employers who have been saying that they fear that the TECs are a smoke screen to disguise the Government's retreat from funding industrial training.

It was, in fact, the employers, in a letter from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce to the right hon. Gentleman in February, who disowned the TECs by complaining:
"there will be no mechanism by which it can be ensured that TEC boards, once appointed, do not become self-perpetuating and take decisions in isolation from the local … communities."

No, I would prefer to finish. Owing to the earlier business, there is a shortness of time in this debate.

With friends like that, it is scarcely surprising that out of the 100 TECs that the Government were originally planning, they have had only 22 applications from employers. It is scarcely surprising also that the flagship TECs which were planned for London and Birmingham have been ignominiously postponed indefinitely due to in-fighting and inefficiency.