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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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Employment

Labour Statistics

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the unemployment rate in Worcester in (a) 1979, (b) 1984 and (c) 1989.

Between 1984 and 1989 the rate of unemployment, unadjusted, for the Worcester travel-to-work area fell from 11·2 per cent. to 4·5 per cent. Worcester travel-to-work area, as currently defined, did not exist in 1979.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he confirm that that decline is greater than the reduction in unemployment achieved in Wales during the comparable period? Are the employment policies pursued by the Welsh Office and by his Department identical? If the Secretary of State for Employment was to succeed the Secretary of State for Wales, would those policies continue?

The hon. Gentleman has a close personal interest in the future of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales in relation to both their voting records. From January 1989 to January 1990, unemployment fell by 22·4 per cent. in Wales whereas in the United Kingdom as a whole it has fallen by 18·7 per cent. Wales has done considerably better than the United Kingdom over that period.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that unemployment in Wales has fallen by 150,000 as a result of inward investment and that that achievement is due in great part to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales? I am sure that the people of Worcester, too, would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for his efforts.

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) also agrees, because he described my right hon. Friend as the best Secretary of State that Wales has ever had. In response to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), more people are employed in Wales than ever before.

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by what amount the level of unemployment in the north-west of England has changed over the last three years for which figures are available.

Between January 1987 and January 1990 seasonally adjusted unemployment in the north-west region has fallen by 179,000 or 43 per cent.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that at the previous general election the Labour party promised to reduce unemployment by 1 million inside two years? Does he recognise that we have achieved that and more inside a shorter period? Does he agree that the best hope for the north-west, whose economy is booming, is a continuation of this Conservative Government?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made no such specific pledges at the election, but we beat the Labour party's promise by two months. Unemployment has continued to decline since, and my hon. Friend correctly attributed that to the success of the Government's policies.

Is the Minister aware that in January there were 7,500 unemployed men and women in Oldham, that the number has increased since and that it is likely to increase even more unless his Department puts pressure on his colleagues to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement is renewed and textiles are protected?

The hon. Gentleman knows very well the attitude of my right hon. and hon. Friends to that matter. We must look at the whole employment picture in the north-west, which, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg), is a very bright one.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fall in unemployment of 179,000 in the north-west is due in no small way to the vigorous policy of inward investment operated by the Department of Trade and Industry and to his Department's strong small business policy which have created thousands of new businesses and brought in much new investment from overseas?

I am always happy to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and I agree entirely with my hon. Friend's observations. It is easy to overlook the important contribution that inward investment makes to sustaining our excellent employment record.

As he surveys the background to the Budget next week—we have the highest real interest rates of any of our main competitors, the worst inflation record, the worst balance of payments deficit, and training gaps and skills shortages—can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when unemployment will get back down to the level that the Government inherited in 1979?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware, but perhaps is not, that there are 1·5 million more people in work now than in 1979. That is the answer to his grossly extravagant claims, and that excellent record is the result of this Government's policies.

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for the total work force in employment in the United Kingdom.

In September 1989 the work force in employment in the United Kingdom was 26,955,000—the highest level ever. This represents an increase of 3,391,000 since March 1983.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for those figures. As he said, it proves that 1·5 million more people are in work now than in 1979. Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out our job creation record to our European partners who would foist upon us a social charter?

My hon. Friend makes a most important point. We are determined not to have inflicted upon us policies that would undo our achievements since 1979. Those achievements are due to our policy of lower regulation and the freeing of enterprise. Many of our European colleagues have much to learn from that.

It is not difficult for the Secretary of State to comfort one of his hon. Friends from the south-east on a question such as this, although I note that he did not point out that two thirds of the increase in jobs last year was represented by part-time jobs. What does the Secretary of State say to an hon. Member from the north of England—from, say, the Sheffield travel-to-work area—where the number of registered claimants in January rose for the second month running?

Unlike Opposition Members, Conservative Members do not denigrate part-time work, which we believe has an important part to play in improving prospects for employment. The hon. Gentleman is aware that during the past few years unemployment has been falling in the north at least as fast as in other parts of the country, if not faster. Prosperity is spreading to all parts of the country.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one reason for the high number of people in work is the bonfire of controls over industry and the enormous benefits from reducing corporation tax levels, especially for smaller firms? Will he try to explain that to the Opposition, some of whose emergent policies would throttle British business and increase unemployment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The task of explaining these matters to the Opposition is very difficult, but we must never give up trying.

Notwithstanding the welcome improvement in unemployment figures, does the Secretary of State accept that the numbers of long-term unemployed people in some parts of the country, including the pockets of unemployment in Liverpool, remain stubbornly high? Does he further accept that when chambers of commerce make representations about the impact of the Channel tunnel on the more disparate regions of England, it could have a detrimental effect on employment patterns? What consideration is the right hon. and learned Gentleman giving to that?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are still pockets where long-term unemployment is too high, although long-term unemployment has been falling faster than unemployment generally. The Channel tunnel will benefit all parts of the country. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman talks about the effects of Government policies on unemployment, particularly in Liverpool, he will pay full tribute to the uniform business rate, which will go a long way to improving employment prospects in his area.

Tourism

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the increase between 1988 and 1989 in expenditure in Britain by overseas visitors.

It is provisionally estimated that overseas residents spent £6,850 million in the United Kingdom during 1989, 11 per cent. more than in 1988.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that last year was the third record year in a row for the tourist industry? Will he also confirm that more than 1·5 million people work in the industry? Does he agree that the Opposition's attitude to tourism is an insult to the people who work in it?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw our attention to the fact that tourism is a highly vibrant industry. About 17·2 million visitors came to the United kingdom in 1989, and about 15·8 million in 1988. As my hon. Friend said, that is a record. It is welcome, especially for people working in the industry.

The Minister mentions the importance of the tourist industry and the benefits to the nation, but I draw his attention to the miserable amount of money that the Government spend on promoting tourism in Britain. The sum of about £50 million is just petty cash compared with the potential earnings for the nation.

When one looks at the facts, rather than the rhetoric, one sees that in 1991 the British Tourist Authority will receive £27·7 milion and the English tourist board will receive about £14·5 million. Those are increases of 11 per cent. and 9 per cent. respectively. Where the hon. Gentleman goes wrong is in believing that an extremely thriving, mostly private sector industry could be helped by the dead hand of the state. Those days are gone and it is time the hon. Gentleman caught up.

Does my hon. Friend remember the figures under the Labour Government in 1978–79, when tourism was derided as a candy floss industry good enough only for Mickey Mouse? Could not we further increase expenditure if we put out tourist information centres to competitive tender and concentrated, in this European Year of Tourism, on foreign languages?

In an industry as successful as this, the good ideas will keep on coming. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that tourism has done extremely well under the Government. It comes badly from the Opposition to pledge their support for tourism but to deride jobs in the service industries.

I welcome the extension of foreign tourism in the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it usually coincides with the success of the Government's policies and a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling?

I am not sure whether I can comment on that. The important point is whether we consider the industry in terms of overseas tourism of our citizens or of overseas citizens coming here. The industry is buoyant and has done extremely well under the Government.

Training

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of firms with 10 or more employees provide training.

The latest survey carried out by my Department shows that 80 per cent. of firms with 10 employees or more provided training for their employees in 1986–87. The survey excluded agriculture and the armed services.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures are most encouraging for the future? Do not they give the lie effectively to the charge that is often made that British employers are not willing to provide training?

My hon. Friend is right. A total of £33 billion was spent on training in 1986–87, and the amount spent by employers has increased substantially.

When the Minister calculates the amount spent on training, will he include in this year's figure the £11 million given to Astra Training Limited and the land which was passed to Astra, valued at almost £100 million, on which the skill centres are situated? That was a complete break with the policies set out in the Deloitte Corporate Finance Ltd. document issued on behalf of the Department of Employment. When will this ramp of taxpayers' money be given the publicity that it so richly deserves?

That money was made available to ensure that Astra could continue training at those skill centres. It represents an excellent agreement for the taxpayer and those who will continue to get training at the skill centres concerned.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the increase in expenditure on training demonstrates the Government's increasing commitment and the fact that, in addition to the substantial success of the training and enterprise councils, the more control employers have over the delivery of training, the more their commitment will be and the better it will be for the long-term future of the British work force?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Training and enterprise councils represent the most exciting initiative ever in training. I am delighted with their progress and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the 1989 labour force survey has just been published? Why, after 11 years of indifference and inactivity, do only 14 per cent. of British employees receive any form of either on or off-the-job skills training? Will he concede that we are in the second division for skills training—and not seeking promotion to the first division, but trying to avoid relegation to the third?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing on his footballing past for the analogy in his question. I do not accept the suggestion of second division status in any respect. The latest labour force survey statistics show a substantial increase in the number of employees in receipt of training. We propose to build on that increase, and the training and enterprise councils will ensure that we succeed.

Disabled People

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many disabled people were helped into jobs by his Department's programmes in 1988–89.

In 1988–89, an estimated 77,200 people with disabilities were placed into jobs by jobcentres. In addition, many found jobs by other means following participation in other Department of Employment programmes.

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the figure that he has just announced is an impressive witness to the work undertaken by his Department to help the disabled? I say that with particular pleasure because 22 years ago I was a junior official in the Department. Will he continue to give a high priority to helping people with disabilities to get and keep work?

I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the officials in my Department concerned with disabilities. The evidence of increased commitment can be seen in several ways, one of which is by looking at the increase in expenditure. In 1986–87 we spent £220 million on help to the disabled in employment and now we spend about £350 million.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is two years since his Department commissioned an important review into employment services for disabled people? When will the report be published?

My hon. Friend and many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen await the publication of the consultative document, and we are doing our best to produce it as soon as possible. We have decided that it would not be appropriate to publish it before we know the results of the survey of people with disabilities in the labour market. That has been commissioned and is being completed. We hope to be able to publish the consultative document in June this year.

Unofficial Strikes

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of industrial action taken in Britain is unofficial action.

A recent special exercise showed that in 1988 approximately one half of all stoppages and one third of all working days lost resulted from unofficial disputes.

Does not the common sense vote by the ambulance workers to return to work illustrate how awful it would be if there were an unofficial strike by pockets of ambulance workers? Does my hon. Friend agree that it says much for the Employment Bill which is going through the House of Commons that it would make such wildcat strikes illegal?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw the House's attention to the provisions in the Employment Bill which will require trade unions to say whether they support industrial action in particular cases. It is interesting that in Committee Opposition Members did everything that they could to defend the rights of unofficial strikers.

In view of the ambulance workers' decision, why could not the Government have settled the dispute much earlier without the problems that have been caused? In relation to unofficial strikes, does the hon. Gentleman want workers to become wage slaves who must accept work whether they like it or not? The last right that ordinary working people have is the right to say no if they do not want to work for a particular employer in certain circumstances. By denying that, the Government are taking away a basic human right.

That really is the voice of the day before yesterday. It is remarkable that at a time when the citadels of state Socialism are crumbling all over Europe, the hon. Gentleman can get up and make a remark like that in favour of unofficial action. I should have thought that people who claim even a passing acquaintance with the trade union movement would be prepared to say that unofficial action should not be supported, but, to be frank, I never thought that the hon. Gentleman would take that view.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of the British people are sick and tired of having to suffer at the hands of those who choose unofficial action, particularly in the public sector, and that the vast majority of the British people are thankful that at long last the Government have decided to do something about the problem? Does he agree that the attitude of Opposition Members in Committee, who continually opposed the progress towards this change in the law, is to be condemned and means that they are totally unfit to form a Government?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. If anyone wants evidence of the fact that Labour is the striker's friend, as it always has been—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful!"]—he could do much worse than read the reports of what was said in Committee. As hon. Gentlemen have just admitted, it is quite disgraceful.

The Minister referred to the crumbling citadels of Socialism in eastern Europe. Does he accept that some of those citadels crumbled because of the type of unofficial action that the Government are making unlawful?

That was a question of remarkable puerility, even for the hon. Gentleman. It would be interesting for anyone who thinks that the alliance might live again to examine the hon. Gentleman's voting records and see how many times he had to side with the Opposition in Committee.

Women Workers

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what further steps the Government are taking to develop child care facilities to ease the path of women into employment.

The provision of child care facilities is primarily a matter for employers. Ministers have recently taken a number of practical initiatives to encourage the development of good quality child care provision.

That inadequate reply will cause disappointment in many parts of the House. Does the Secretary of State understand that child care is an idea whose time has come, because the overwhelming majority of new entrants to the labour market will be women? We shall recruit them only if we take the right steps now. The Government should not have a hands-off policy—standing back and leaving it to everyone else—but should take the responsibility for creating a comprehensive nationwide system of child care. That will not come cheap, but the Government should bear the largest burden because they will recoup in extra income tax, national insurance contributions and value added tax much of the money that they would have spent on a child care system.

I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of making provision for women who wish to return to work. The labour force survey, which was published at the end of last week, shows a dramatic increase in the number of women at work and is evidence that women are returning to work in ever-growing numbers. However, I do not think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman would suggest that the Government should assume responsibility for the wide-ranging measures to which he referred. That is primarily a matter for employers, who are increasingly recognising their responsibilities.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a high proportion of women who return to work are employed by small companies which are incapable of providing the type of child care facilities that women need? Will he assure us that his Department is studying the whole range of possibilities, such as vouchers and other mechanisms, by which such women can be attracted back? There is already an excellent precedent in the employment training facility.

I note what my hon. Friend says. I am sure that employers are looking increasingly at precisely the type of facilities to which he referred. However, the primary responsibility must be theirs.

Is not the local authority the best provider of child care? It knows what local people want. If local authorities were given the resources, they would be the best provider of child care. That would stop kids being dragged about in the early hours of the morning on buses and other forms of transport. Why does not the Minister accept his responsibilities as a member of the Government? If it could be done during the war, why cannot it be done now?

I am afraid that I cannot share the hon. Lady's views about the omniscience of local authorities. Therefore, I cannot agree with her suggestion.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that more women are working in this country than in any other European country? Although many of those jobs are part time, which the Opposition deride, does he accept that many want part-time work because it fits in with their family responsibilities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on both counts. I take some comfort from the Select Committee's recent report on part-time work. It paid particular tribute to the record of my Department, which makes part-time work available to virtually everyone who is appropriately qualified to do the job in question.

Health And Safety

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive; and what was discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive, together with the chairman of the commission, on 31 January for a discussion on the work of the commission and the executive.

Does the Minister accept that there are still far too many accidents at work, and that, tragically, far too many people are still killed at work? What steps will the Health and Safety Commission take to protect in particular the increasing number of part-time workers who have great difficulty in making representations to their employers about their working conditions, if they are dangerous?

The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was entirely right. I am sure that that is accepted on both sides of the House. As for the Government's contribution to the funds that are needed, during the past three years we have met the HSE bill in full. The HSE's consultative document relating to those who work on multi-contractor sites goes a considerable way towards addressing the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the past 20 years there have been significant improvements in health and safety at work in this country and that we compare favourably with all other countries, particularly the advanced ones? Is he further aware that if we become too draconian, that can eventually be counterproductive? Will he please tell that to the director-general?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that standards are a great deal better than they used to be. However, they could be a great deal better in certain industries. I have in mind the construction industry and the self-employed. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees with me that a great deal more needs to be done.

Order. I called the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd). I shall have to give the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) another chance.

It was a small piece of ventriloquism, M r. Speaker.

When the Secretary of State met the director-general of the Health and Safety Executive, did he discuss the lack of new personnel to monitor the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, the lack of specialist health and safety inspectors and the lack of a proper framework within which to do the health and safety work that the Minister says he wants to be done? That is not happening.

My right hon. and learned Friend has had wide-ranging discussions with both bodies. If the hon. Gentleman was trying to say, yet again, that a mere increase in the number of inspectors will automatically lead to an automatic decrease in the number of accidents, he would be disguising the fact that the responsibility for dealing with health and safety is ultimately the responsibility of those involved—both employees and employers.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Health and Safety Executive has been granted all the resources that it asked for, for this year and for the next two years? Does not that give the lie to the Labour party's propaganda?

I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said a moment ago in relation to the public expenditure survey over the past three years. Under this Government, spending in real terms is at least as good as it was under the previous Government. Opposition Members sometimes make the mistake of believing that all those problems could be solved by the mere expenditure of money. It is a beguiling notion. It would be good if it were true, but it Js not.

Disabled People

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what proportion of the registered disabled adult population are currently in (a) full-time and (b) part-time employment.

I regret that comprehensive information on the employment status of registered disabled people is not yet available. A study commissioned by my Department will provide comprehensive information about the numbers and characteristics of people with disabilities in the labour market.

We shall all be very grateful when those statistics are available. Does the Minister accept that previous surveys showed clearly that unemployment among disabled people—reaching about 19 per cent. in 1988—is much higher than among able-bodied people? Is not there a need to introduce programmes to educate employers into recognising that one disability does not mean general inability, so there should be discrimination to ensure that disabled people are offered posts for which they are qualified?

The hon. Lady made some good points. I thank her for her recognition of the need for a comprehensive analysis. There have been surveys, but, with regard to the type of job, the type of disability, and so on, they have been partial. We have decided to delay publication of the consultation document on the review, to enable us to take account of the study that is being carried out. That will be to the benefit of everybody who is interested in disability.

Will my hon. Friend do what he can to remove the uncertainty that hangs over training establishments, such as the SHARE community, year by year? Without training, so many people cannot benefit from the job opportunities that are available to able-bodied people.

Obviously, my hon. Friend understands how we make money available for training on a year-by-year basis. That is necessitated by the way in which my Department is funded. If my hon. Friend wishes to draw a particular point to my attention, I shall be very happy to meet him to discuss it.

Unemployment, Cornwall

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest unemployment rate in Cornwall; and what was the average figure in Cornwall in 1979.

In January 1990 the rate of unemployment in the county of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly was 10 per cent., compared with an average of 9·7 per cent. for 1979. Those figures are not adjusted to take account of seasonal influences or changes in coverage.

The House may be aware of the recent announcement that one of the two remaining tin mines in my constituency and in Cornwall—the Wheal Jane tin mine—is to be closed. This is a matter mainly for the Department of Trade and Industry, which has been funding the mine. However, I hope that Employment Ministers will make a special effort to help with, and take into account, the employment problems that may arise in that immediate area as a direct result of closure, if it goes ahead, and as a result of spin-off losses.

I am very sad to hear about those closure plans. I visited the mine, which, I think, is just outside the hon. Gentleman's constituency, some years ago. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, I have to say that over the past year the fall in unemployment in his constituency has been sharper than the fall generally in the United Kingdom.

Health And Safety

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether he will make a statement on the Health and Safety Commission and Executive's annual report for 1988–89.

The report of the Health and Safety Commission and Executive was published on 26 February. Latest provisional statistics for 1988–89, published in the report, show an apparent levelling off of major injuries, which we very much welcome. But the number of fatalities, which include those from the Piper Alpha disaster, and high or increasing injury rates in particular industries demonstrate that there is not room for any relaxation of effort by industry to improve standards.

In view of what the Minister said earlier, does he accept that no Opposition Member is suggesting that there is a direct, hard and fast relationship between the number of factory inspectors and the number of accidents? However, the report shows an unjustifiably high number of fatal accidents—something which was commented on at the press conference last month. Does the Minister accept that factory inspectors do very important preventive work, which improves the situation? Surely the Government must look at that again and take an initiative to increase the number of factory inspectors.

I can agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman says. If he looks at the changes over the past two and a half years, he will accept that there has been a relatively late but welcome conversion to the proposition that mere inspector numbers do not automatically produce a decrease in accidents. Yes, inspectors have their place and, yes, that is why the HSE has been funded, but they are not the whole story.

As a result of the HSE report, has my hon. Friend found out whether the displaying of notices in all workplaces, giving the address and telephone number of the HSE, has ensured that employees and employers alert the HSE to many more cases of concern? Has my hon. Friend's Department looked in offices in the Palace of Westminster and seen how few seem to display those notices, which appears to be against the law?

I accept my hon. Friend's point about getting over to people the idea that there should be greater awareness of health and safety legislation. My hon. Friend asks me to pass judgment on a legal matter relating to the Palace of Westminster. I am tempted, but I shall decline.

Training And Enterprise Councils

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many corporate plans were submitted by 5 February and how many training and enterprise councils he anticipates giving approval to by 2 April.

Thirteen prospective training and enterprise councils have submitted their corporate plans and they are currently being considered. I am not prepared to speculate on the number that will begin operation on any particular date.

The Secretary of State will be aware that many other hon. Members and I welcome the setting up of training and enterprise councils, but he will be aware also that they will be judged by their success. Will their corporate plans include targets for the number of traineeships, for the number of additional qualifications and for the reduction in the number of unemployed people as a result of the TECs? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that 50 per cent. and more of the work force has had no training? Does he agree that, unless that percentage is substantially reduced, any change in structure will be a failure, as many other initiatives have been?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the TECs. I agree that they will be judged by their success. Not only will they be set targets, but a part of their income will depend on an assessment of their performance, and that is one reason why I am so confident that they will b a huge success.

Low Pay

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment when he last met representatives from the Low Pay Unit; and what was discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend has not met representatives from the Low Pay Unit.

Does the Minister accept that those who are on low pay, many of whom are in the old industrial valleys and rural areas of Wales, are the very people who will be hardest hit by the poll tax? Those families will get no benefit from rebates. Will the hon. Gentleman take up this matter with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that, at the very least, the position of those people is safeguarded in that they will not be brought within the tax rate by the non-indexation of tax allowances?

As the hon. Gentleman says, there is a community charge rebate system. Some 7·5 million people will benefit from a rebate of up to 80 per cent. Obviously, everyone, including the Government, will watch with great interest how the scheme develops in practice.

Engineers

19.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to meet the demand for qualified engineers.

It is a primary responsibility of employers to ensure that they attract, develop and retain qualified engineers. My Department, through the Training Agency, is taking action that will encourage employers to take a stronger lead in improving the supply of skills in industry, including engineering.

That action must be welcome. What liaison does my hon. Friend have with the Engineering Council to further its good work?

I recently had the pleasure of discussing matters with the chairman of the Engineering Council, Sir William Barlow. The measures that we are introducing, including TECs, recognition of the important role of employers in defining vocational qualifications and our various initiatives to encourage business and education partnerships, will all help to improve engineering skills.

Health And Safety

20.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the Health and Safety Commission's annual report 1988–89.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang).

Does the Minister agree that the greatest asset to industry is its work force and that the health and safety of that work force is of paramount importance? Is the Minister satisfied with the number of health and safety inspectors, and with what is he doing to increase the powers and numbers of health and safety inspectors?

I accept what the hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his question and I pay tribute to the work of the inspectors. However, we must both accept that a mere increase in the number of inspectors is not the whole answer to the question, although it is a valuable contribution.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening, I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an outrage for Members of this honourable House to incite others to break the law?

Yes, I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is a negation of democracy and an appalling example to all young people, whom we urge to obey the rule of law, for without that, there can be no order. I welcome the condemnation by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) of the violence and of the 31 Opposition Members who have said that they will not obey the law. Those are his words and we now wait for him to follow them up with action.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13, March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

We in Scotland—[Interruption.]—if the right hon. Lady does not mind my borrowing that phrase—are still waiting for the answers to many of the questions from which she ran away when she visited our country last week. Do she and her hon. Friends recall that 11 out of 21 Scottish Tory Members of Parliament lost their seats in 1987, largely because of the poll tax? As she managed to make the draw for the semi-finals of the Scottish Football Association competition a week before the qualifying matches took place, would she now like to draw the next batch of losers on her own Back Benches before she herself bales out?

I should like the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) to take action on the 31 Opposition Members who are refusing to pay the community charge and to know from the hon. Gentleman whether he himself believes in upholding the law.

If my right hon. Friend needs reassurance, which I doubt, may I assure her that last Sunday's press reports of polls and plots against her were absolute poppycock? [Interruption.]

I thank my right hon. Friend. I did not believe the reports anyway and thought that the usual source near to No. 10 Downing street, who dismissed them as bunkum and balderdash, got it absolutely right.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will the Prime Minister respond to the report of the Policy Studies Institute, which showed that nearly 3 million households owed £3 billion by way of personal debt? As the poll tax will mean payments of 33 per cent. more than the rates cost last year and will represent an even larger burden on many families, and as mortgage rates are sky high and rents set to rise by 20 per cent., is the right hon. Lady aware that the Government are plunging people deeper and deeper into the red? Is she further aware that the British people are showing how fed up they are with being bled white and blue?

Nonsense. It will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that the rates of income tax are far below any that reigned in Labour's time in office, that they are now 25p in the pound as the standard rate and 40p in the pound as the upper rate. I remind the hon. Gentleman that if community charges are very high, that is the fault of Labour councils——

Order. The House must not be disorderly. We must hear the Prime Minister's reply to supplementary questions.

Does my right hon. Friend think, given the Banking Acts' requirement that fit and proper people should hold banking licences, that the brothers Fayed should hold a banking licence at Harrods?

That is a matter for the regulatory authorities, not for me. The regulations are clearly laid down. How the law is applied is a matter for those authorities. How a prosecution happens is a matter for the Attorney-General, who answered questions on that matter yesterday.

With that last answer, the whole House will have noticed the right hon. Lady's choosy view of law and order——

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that, despite the continued rise in retail sales, the Government will not resort to higher interest rates yet again?

My answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first comment is that I should have thought that he would know that prosecution is never a matter for politicians—[Interruption.] He does not even know that. The day when a politician could institute prosecutions, the rule of law would end. The prosecuting authorities are independent and they are not politicians.

As for the figures of retail sales, which are up 2 per cent. on this time last year, I should point out that the previous year they were up by 4 per cent. and the year before that they were up by 8 per cent. So there is a steady progression downwards and therefore interest rates are working.

The Prime Minister should check the figures. This time last year the rise was 2·2 per cent., which is less than it has been in the last month. Does she not yet realise that her high interest rate policies are not controlling demand but are increasing inflation? That which she said would cure inflation is actually causing it. Will she admit that and not take a course that will add to the problems and make matters worse?

No. Retail sales this year are 2 per cent. above what they were this time last year. Last year they were 4 per cent. above what they had been the previous year, and the previous year the figure was 8 per cent. So there is a steady progression downwards in the growth of retail sales. There is no other way of getting inflation down than by increasing the price of money. If the hon. Gentleman reads what previous Labour Finance Ministers said, he will see that they took the same view.

Has not the Prime Minister grasped the idea that her policies are failing to manage demand? They are increasing inflation, decreasing manufacturing investment and clobbering every home buyer in the country. How is that helping to reduce inflation, which is an objective shared by all sensible people but not fulfilled by the Prime Minister and her policies?

But I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was complaining that demand in regard to retail sales is still pretty high. He cannot have it both ways. Either he is saying that people have no money, or he is saying that they have rather a lot, to make the retail sales higher than a year ago. In any case, we do not take lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on inflation, which rose under the previous Labour Government to 27 per cent.—a record for this century.

Will my right hon. Friend spell out the consequences of any campaign of civil disobedience, as advocated by certain Opposition Members? Would not that starve local authorities of resources, thereby leading to tens of thousands of job losses in local government, and furthermore to the curtailment of services for the elderly and disabled? Is that what the Labour party wants?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If people do not obey the law and pay their community charge—which is the fairest charge that we have ever had for local authorities, and is far fairer than the Opposition's alternative—the consequence will be that there will not be enough money for teachers or for community care to look after old people and children. Such people would be wilfully damaging those whose interests they claim to represent.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that doctors in Manchester have now gone on record as saying that patients are dying because of a lack of intensive care beds? Those beds are not available because the authorities do not have the money to pay the trained staff. The Prime Minister normally gives us a long lecture at this point. Will she simply say what she intends to do to ensure that my constituents and those of my colleagues in that area do not die because of the lack of beds?

I can only say that more money has been made available by the taxpayer for the Health Service this year than ever before. This year, an additional £2·4 billion will be available, and next year there will be a further £3 billion. Altogether, that amounts to some £39 a week in respect of every family in the country. We look to regional and district health authorities to use that money well. We note that the great majority of them are able to do so, and provide services that most people find excellent.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to congratulate the Labour-controlled council in Barking and Dagenham on having set a community charge of £280, which is just £2 over the Government's suggested figure? As that part of London is represented in the House by two shadow Cabinet members—one the chief spokesman on the environment—is not that an excellent example of what can be achieved, for them and us to present to other Labour-controlled councils?

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively. It is possible to live within the Government's guidelines for spending, and some Labour-controlled councils are already doing so. That only shows up the rest as deliberately trying to overspend to make it difficult for their residents.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

With 2 million more people in debt and 400,000 people two months in arrears in rates and mortgage payments, and with the divorce rate almost doubling, does not the Prime Minister recognise that she is crucifying the women of this country and family life?

No. Far more people are in owner-occupied houses now than 10 years ago and there are more women with jobs now than there ever have been. Separate taxation for married women will be introduced on 1 April, again for the first time, and that will be welcome to many people.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the report of the National Society for the Prevention o Cruelty to Children, which links satanic practices with child abuse? Will she do everything in the Government's power to support the police and the child welfare agencies in stamping out such loathsome practices?

I saw the reports on the NSPCC report in the newspapers this morning. All hon. Members will be outraged that children may be sexually abused for the purposes of perversion or pornography, and everyone will be equally anxious to stamp that out. We have increased the penalties for child cruelty and we have tightened the law on child pornography by making possession of such material an offence. Tackling the problem remains a priority for the police, but we need evidence, and if people have evidence of cruelty to children they should not hesitate to place it before the police so that action can be taken as quickly as possible.

Arts Funding

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the structure of arts funding in England.

In December 1988 I commissioned a study of the system which exists for funding the arts in England through the Arts Council and the regional arts associations. My object was to ensure that we have the best funding structure for the arts in the 1990s.

The review was conducted by Mr. Richard Wilding, formerly head of the Office of Arts and Libraries, who presented his report to me in September 1989. Copies were placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I thank Mr. Wilding for his excellent work, a deep analysis of the problems and their possible solutions.

Following receipt of the report, I initiated an intensive period of consultation during which I received more than 6,000 written responses, had discussions with all interested parties and met several delegations of hon. Members and regional representatives.

I asked Mr. Wilding to pay particular attention to the following objectives: coherence between the national funding bodies and the regional arts associations in the formulation and delivery of policy; strengthening accountability for the public money spent by the regional arts associations; improving structures for the handling of business; considering the administrative cost of the whole system so as to get the best value for the arts.

Working on the basis of Mr. Wilding's recommendations, I have taken broad decisions that combine greater devolution with strengthened accountability.

First, I look to the Arts Council to formulate a national strategy for the arts and to monitor its operation throughout the country. The council will retain overall responsibility for strategic issues such as training, education, research, touring, innovation, broadcasting and international affairs. The Arts Council will continue to fund the national companies and some other organisations.

Secondly, I have decided that there should be a further shift in grant-giving responsibilities from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations. The associations will be responsible for most clients, although as the devolution process takes shape I shall need to be satisfied that it will both maintain and enhance standards of excellence throughout the country.

Thirdly, devolution to the regional arts associations will be accompanied by greater accountability for the larger sums of public money at their disposal, through a system of forward planning and budgeting under the direction of the Arts Council.

Fourthly, it will be important to have strongly based and well-resourced regional arts associations to deal with their enhanced responsibilities. The statistics show clearly that Merseyside Arts and Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts are, in terms of budget, population and the number of local authorities in the region, considerably smaller than the other 10 regional arts associations. I have, therefore, decided that, with effect from April 1991, Merseyside Arts should merge with North West Arts, Humberside should join Yorkshire Arts and Lincolnshire should become part of Eastern Arts.

I fully acknowledge the specific and unique cultural identity of Merseyside and the vital role that Merseyside Arts has played in the regeneration of the area. A regional arts office will be maintained in Liverpool for the foreseeable future, although Manchester will be the new regional headquarters.

Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts has also been a tireless promoter of the arts in its area. I shall ensure that satisfactory arrangements are made for the future well-being of the arts in Lincolnshire, and to preserve its cultural identity.

There will also be other boundary adjustments. The new regional arts associations will become regional arts boards. The chairman should be elected by the board and I have not accepted the recommendation that local authority councillors should be debarred from the chairmanship.

I recognise and welcome the important role of local authorities as funders of the arts, and I have decided they should have substantial representation on these new regional boards, provided it is less than a majority.

The Arts Council should have no more than 20 members. The number of regional representatives should be increased from three to five to reflect the enhanced role of the regional arts boards. Its decision will also be assisted by a newly established consultative body consisting of the chairman of the Arts Council, the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh Arts Councils, and, if he so wishes, the chairman of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Fifthly, the Crafts Council will remain an independent body. It should explore with the Arts Council ways of achieving closer co-ordination and co-operation to prevent duplication of effort. I am inviting the Crafts Council to reassess its corporate strategy in the light of my announcement.

Sixthly, I have set out more clearly defined roles for the British Film Institute.

Lastly, we should aim for the overall changes to be completed by April 1993. I am establishing a steering group to be responsible for implementing the changes. This group will report to me. I am pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Timothy Mason, at present director of the Scottish Arts Council, to manage these reforms.

I have set out all these arrangements in more detail in a letter to the chairman of the Arts Council, a copy of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

We warmly welcome the Minister's announcement of a major devolution of power and responsibility from the Arts Council in London to the regions, but where is the new money, where is the investment, with which to take advantage of the opportunities which the Minister has quite correctly and positively created today?

Devolution is an essential step towards providing a structure for the expansion of the arts throughout this country in the 1990s, but it will be realised only if the Minister can back his structural alterations by showing similar courage and foresight in providing money.

The Minister has demonstrated that he has listened to the 6,000-odd representations that he has received from all over the country and to the, I understand, nearly 200 hon. Members who have written to him and with whom he has had meetings. We wish that more Ministers would listen so constructively to representations made to them, and we wish that more Ministers would take such an interest in devolving power from the capital to the regions. We commend both those initiatives to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She might well learn from the right hon. Gentleman.

We welcome the new strategic role for the Arts Council, but we have to ask how radical a devolution it is to be. We note that the Arts Council will retain the national companies and some other organisations. Will the Minister tell the House today how many other organisations, and which ones? Will it include the orchestras, Opera North, the English Stage Company and others? Does he accept that if he lengthens the list too much he will weaken the positive move towards devolution that he has announced? He has a difficult job there, and I think that the House needs to hear more from him on that.

We regret that the Minister has not had the courage to follow the logic of his devolutionary statement and allow all the regional arts boards to be represented as of right on the Arts Council. If he is serious about regional devolution, why will there be only five regional members out of 20 on the Arts Council? How will those five be determined, who will choose them, and why, if he is giving them more power, does he not trust the regions to have a voice and act in the national interest when they are represented on the Arts Council? Will there be an inner cabinet with this new consultative body that he is setting up? Will he tell the House rather more about the consultative inner group that he mentioned?

We are extremely enthusiastic about his belief in strongly based regions and we noticed that he said that they should be well resourced. We, of course, concur with that. They are not well resourced at the moment. Is he intimating that there will be new money?

I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends from Merseyside will require a great deal more from the Minister than the kind words and the cuts that we have had this afternoon. Will he explain and justify further his thinking behind picking out Merseyside and Lincolnshire and Humberside as the only areas that should be axed? Will he give positive reassurance to my hon. Friends and others about the local roots and contacts with companies in Merseyside and the expertise and skills in that regional arts association? Will he ensure that there are no job losses and that the structure can maintain the excellent cultural life of Merseyside and of Lincolnshire and of Humberside?

We are delighted that the Minister has given assurances that councillors will be eligible, as they should be, to be chairmen of regional arts bodies. We recognise that the important role of local authorities has been mentioned by the Minister. Will he say more about that? Does he join us in believing that the real expansion in the 1990s in our cultural life will come through local authorities? If so, how does that square with the poll tax?

On timing, we believe that this may be too slow. Will the Minister consider ways of speeding up the process, and who will bear the cost of the changes? It would be wrong to devolve and then ask the regions to bear all the costs for that decision. The regions will welcome the decision, but they should not bear the cost.

The House will note that there were two omissions from the Minister's statement. One is the mention of tiers, of which Mr. Wilding made great play. Will the Minister join us in confirming that the tier structure will not feature in his plans? What has happened to the federal structure to which Mr. Wilding referred?

This is an important day for the arts. The Minister has made a brave and good start on a framework for the arts in the 1990s, but he knows that new funding is needed not only for the national companies, which are acutely in deficit, but for the new opportunities that he has created in the regions. There is demand not only from the West Yorkshire playhouse and the Lyceum in Sheffield but from theatres in Cumbria and galleries and art centres all over the country. Will the Minister recognise that the poll tax could damage greatly what he is attempting to do in the regions? Will he take that on and fund arts at local government and regional level? If so, he will have the support of the whole House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, if I understood him aright, for his general support for the statement on the structure of funding for the arts into the 1990s and into the next century. It is very important for it to be coherent and to get the right structure so that it commands the confidence of the arts world and of Parliament.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about devolution, does he remember that just before Christmas he was generous enough to congratulate the Government on the 24 per cent. increase in the next three years in the total amount of financial support for the arts? If that is not a commitment by the Government to the arts, what is? That is a substantial commitment against the background of three-year funding which has been introduced for the first time.

On the scale of devolution, if, when the hon. Gentleman has time, he studies the letter which I have sent to Mr. Palumbo, the chairman of the Arts Council, he will see the broad guidelines that I have set for devolution. A copy of that letter is in the Library. Broadly speaking, I accept the recommendations of the Wilding report, but I also ask that we should consider the possibility of further devolution. I have extended the number of years before which it must be implemented to three to give time to assess it. It will be up to Mr. Mason, who is managing the reform, to recommend which of the main parts of the Arts Council, which are centres of excellence in the regions, would be suitable for devolution. But I would want to be reassured that they remain centres of excellence and that nothing was done to undermine that.

There will be 10 regional arts boards, and five representatives will serve on the Arts Council. I am anxious not to have a large Arts Council. For that reason I decided that membership should be limited to 20. I hope and believe that the regions will feel that they are well represented.

I am conscious of the important role that Merseyside and Lincolnshire have played in the arts over many years. There is a strength and a cultural identity in both areas. I am aware of that and I am asking the manager, Mr. Mason, to make absolutely sure that in any transitional period they do not suffer in any way and that their cultural identity is properly acknowledged.

I have decided that the tier system recommended by Mr. Wilding is not the right way to proceed because it would lead to confusion. The hon. Gentleman referred to a federal partnership. I am looking for a partnership between the Arts Council and the regional arts bodies. They will be accountable to the Arts Council and they will have to account for the expenditure of taxpayers' money, but they must work in partnership.

Order. Before I call Back Benchers, I remind the House that we have an important day ahead of us, with 43 new clauses and numerous other amendments to be debated. I ask hon. Members to ask single questions rather than multiple questions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the continued independence of the Crafts Council will be most warmly welcomed? Does he foresee increased regional control leading to more local accountability? Will the balance within each region be fairly ensured? For example, in Greater London, will there be a sanction to ensure that outer London is not treated worse than inner London from an artistic and cultural point of view?

I believe that I have taken the right decision about the Crafts Council in that it should be independent. The role of the Crafts Council in relation to craftsmen is slightly different from the role of the Arts Council in relation to artists. The Crafts Council has a hands-on role. However, I am anxious to ensure that resources are not wasted and that there is proper co-operation between regional arts and the crafts organisations.

I will summarise the regional arrangements for my hon. Friend. The basis of my announcement is that, on the one hand, there should be more devolution and responsibility in the regions, while, on the other, there should be an effective system of accountability for the use of taxpayers' money for which the Arts Council will hold ultimate responsibility to me and, through me, to Parliament. That is the basis of the system that I am advocating. Greater London Arts is responsible for the Greater London area and its job is to ensure that the arts flourish in all parts of London.

How will the strategic role of the Arts Council be strengthened, particularly in its co-operation with the regions, if only a quarter of the members of the new Arts Council are to be drawn from the regional arts associations? Who will elect the regional arts boards? What additional funds will be made available to local authorities for their work in that area?

The local authorities already play an important role in supporting the arts. That role varies and is patchy in some areas, but it has increased over the years. Fifteen per cent. of the overall resources of the regional arts boards—as they are now to be called—presently come from local authorities. I want them to play an important role, although their members must be under the majority of the board.

With regard to the Arts Council and the appointment of five regional arts representatives, I am anxious that the members of the Arts Council should remain small in number and not more than 20. Theirs is a strategic job. They must look at the national picture—whether that is Scotland, Wales or the whole of England—and take decisions on that basis. Therefore, representatives should cover a cross-section of interests in the country, both in the arts and in the non-arts areas, and ensure that they consider things in the broadest possible sense. However, I believe the regional arts bodies will find that by having five representatives their interests are taken fully into account.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on another excellent series of decisions. In view of the concern in Buckinghamshire about our having to belong to an extremely large Eastern Arts region, will Bucks go to the Eastern region or elsewhere?

In my letter to Mr. Palumbo I said that as Eastern Arts is taking on Lincolnshire, I did not think that Buckinghamshire should become part of Eastern Arts. Bucks is part of the East Midlands area at the moment, but I have asked Mr. Mason to consult Buckinghamshire to see whether it wants to be part of the East Midlands area or part of Southern Arts. I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's support.

The House will have received the right hon. Gentleman's most welcome statement with pleasure. However, is he aware that if he is to achieve a diffusion of the strength of the arts in London into the regions, he will need to develop the strength of the regional boards? As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) has said, that will need money. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is providing some money, but more will be needed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that one of the great strengths of which he ought to be able to make use when approaching the Treasury is that Britain is the centre of the arts for the English-speaking world? That is an enormous strength. People come to this country not because of our weather or necessarily because of the type of people that we are, but because of the strength of the arts. If we can spread that strength through the regions, that should provide the right hon. Gentleman with a marvellous claim that he can present to the Treasury in due course.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's support for the broad thrust of the announcement. Of course, I acknowledge the important role of the arts in this country—I have said that time and again. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that a 24 per cent. cash increase over the next three years is a substantial commitment by the Government to the arts in this country. I hope and believe that that is the case.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is important that the regional arts boards should be robust and strong and able to manage a wide range of arts activities, from important centres of national excellence to local community arts. At the moment, they handle £30 million-worth of resources and will have a considerable further shift. That is why it is important that their boards should represent a cross-section of interests.

May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his decision, which will be widely welcomed in the arts world and provide a satisfactory framework for the future? However, is he aware that there will be some dismay on Merseyside about the fact that we appear to be losing our identity in the north-west? Will he assure us that the office that will be established in Merseyside will protect not only the funding that Merseyside Arts receives but the excellent innovations of and the unique place that Merseyside Arts has in this country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and am sensitive to the point that he has just made. Over the years, I have paid many visits to Merseyside and have seen the arts in that area and the work of Merseyside Arts. As I said in my statement, I entirely accept that there is a clear and distinct cultural identity in the Merseyside area. If Merseyside Arts were to continue as it is, it would be too small an organisation to manage the large-scale devolution that is taking place. However, because I believe that it is so important to have strong arts on Merseyside, I have acknowledged that there should be a regional office, which will have considerable freedom, working with North-West Arts. I hope that that acknowledges my hon. Friend's important point.

Notwithstanding that answer, does the Minister realise that to the people of Merseyside his announcement will look like devolution in reverse? They will be concerned to ensure that the regional office is staffed as well as Merseyside Arts is staffed at present. Will the Minister assure us that there will not be any redundancies? Will Merseyside be assured of proper representation on the North West Arts board?

On the latter point, it will be exceedingly important that those organisations integrate and work closely together. I believe that there can and will be advantages to Merseyside in being part of that larger organisation while preserving its own identity through a strong regional office.

It would be wrong and misleading of me to suggest that there will not be any redundancies. At this stage, it is not possible exactly to determine the scale of staffing. There will have to be intensive discussions between Merseyside Arts and North West Arts to decide how they will work effectively together. Overall, we should not lose sight of the importance of the possible benefits to be derived from a bigger organisation.

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for making the case for Merseyside and its unique position in the arts. I have tried to follow all his arguments about administration, but I am more interested in the Liverpool Playhouse and the Everyman theatre. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to help me about the representations that he has received. While the reorganisation is taking place and the balance of power shifts to Manchester, will the Liverpool Playhouse and the Everyman theatre continue to exist, or are we to have the "Terry Dicks memorial desert"?

As my hon. Friend knows so well, the arts in Merseyside are wide ranging and strong. They range from the national institutions—the national museums and galleries to which I gave national status three or four years ago—to the wide range of performing arts, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra and the excellent theatres and playhouses. The range of arts activities on Merseyside is strong and important, and I acknowledge that. How they are funded is a matter, now and in the future, for the regional arts associations to work out in conjuction with the Arts Council. I am convinced that the important role that Merseyside plays in the arts will continue to be acknowledged.

Many of us believe that the right hon. Gentleman is doing as good a job as Minister for the Arts as anyone could do under the circumstances of the Government. Nevertheless, we are disappointed at his decision not to agree that the Merseyside Arts Association should be the basis of the regional arts body. When we met him he agreed with us—and he said it again today—that Merseyside has a special and, as it were, peculiar position in the arts, based on years of great artistic activity. It has a special role to play. After a time, once the district office has been running for a while—clearly the decision will not be reversed—after, say, two or three years, will he reconsider it to see how it is functioning and whether it could be upgraded again to a regional arts body, as we on Merseyside believe that it should be?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he approaches the problem. I sought to take on board the strong views that he and his colleagues expressed to me about cultural identity. I believe that the new arrangement will not undermine the strength and importance of the arts in Merseyside. Of course, I undertake to watch developments closely. I shall ask Mr. Timothy Mason, the manager of the reforms to take into account the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed. I believe that by close co-operation between the regional office on Merseyside and North West Arts we shall find that the Merseyside area will not suffer.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the positive and thoughtful way in which he has responded to a constructive report has been widely welcomed. Does he accept that there will be continuing anxiety on two issues? The first is regional representation on the Arts Council. Will he take steps to ensure that there is a rotating system so that all the regions in turn are represented on the Arts Council? Secondly, does he recognise that there is still anxiety about the future of our great national companies, especially the Royal Shakespeare Company?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his continual support of the Government's work in the arts. I shall take his two points in turn. I have thought carefully about regional representation on the Arts Council. It is a difficult balance to strike, but the number of regional arts associations has been reduced from 12 to 10. It is reasonable to say that half of those—five—should be represented on the Arts Council. How they are selected is a matter that I am discussing with Mr. Mason, the new manager of the reforms. It will be a matter of the associations devising a system that enables them to elect either an alternative chairman or other suitable representatives, if they so choose.

I confirm that the national companies will remain firmly the responsibility of the Arts Council. That is right for them. They will receive an 11 per cent. increase in the coming financial year. Their role in this country remains exceedingly important in maintaining the highest standards of excellence.

It may be helpful if I congratulate the Minister on appointing Tim Mason from north of the border to advise on the consultative body. Obviously, I welcome the regional and devolutionary emphasis, but devolution requires a national strategy. It is not sufficient merely to devolve; there must he a national strategy. Are the boards to be development boards? Will they be a rather more hands-on body involved in the development of the arts? None of this will be possible, not even the new structure, unless money is available. The boards may have their bones, but where is the meat? That is what is required.

On the hon. Gentleman's last point, I must reiterate that there is a propensity to ignore that there will be a 24 per cent. overall increase in the arts budget in three years. The Arts Council will get a 22 per cent. increase. In cash terms next year it will be 12·5 per cent., which is £20 million. That is a substantial increase in the Government's commitment to the arts. I attach great importance to the financial and management strength of the regional arts boards. As I say in my letter to Mr. Palumbo, it would be right for them to be incorporated. They should move in that direction because it will strengthen them in the important range of tasks that they must fulfil.

Despite the compelling logic of my right hon. Friend's proposals, does he recognise that there will be genuine anxiety? He will understand the anxiety in Lincolnshire. I am grateful for his assurance that Lincolnshire's cultural identity will continue to be respected. Will he go further and give the essential, explicit reassurance that there will be no net loss of resources to Lincolnshire as a result of the introduction of the new system?

I appreciate the anxiety that my hon. Friend has expressed. Obviously, it is important that we preserve the cultural strength of the arts throughout Lincolnshire. For that reason I said in my statement that I would ask the manager of the reforms to embark on discussions with the arts association in Lincolnshire, Eastern Arts, to work out a system that ensures that we preserve its cultural identity and strength of funding. I see no reason why Lincolnshire should in any way lose out. As part of the bigger organisation, Eastern Arts, in the long term Lincolnshire does not stand to lose; if anything, it stands to gain.

Although the Unionist party welcomes devolution from the centre to local bodies, as it will mean that local cultural traditions will be strengthened and enhanced, we are anxious that there should be a strong fertilisation at the centre so that we do not all drift too far apart. In the light of that, why is the Minister allowing the chairman of the Northern Ireland Arts Council to attend, or not attend, the consultative body at his whim? Surely he should have to attend in the same way as the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh arts councils?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the need to ensure that there is a national approach and strategy on the arts. For that reason I decided that there should be a consultative body consisting of the chairmen of the Scottish and Welsh arts councils as well as the chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain. The Arts Council of Great Britain does not fund directly the Northern Ireland arts, so I used a slightly different form of words. It is my wish and hope that the chairman of the body in Northern Ireland that looks after the arts will participate in the consultative group.

On behalf of those of us who represent the arts in the south of England, may I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to our representations and not merging South East and Southern Arts, as Richard Wilding proposed? Will he confirm that in his future model he sees the regional arts associations extending deep down into the community and working closely with the counties and all other district and borough councils in their area?

I confirm that in the 1990s I look to the regional arts boards, as they are to be called, to play an increasingly important role in strengthening the arts in co-operation with the local authorities. To achieve that, it is right to reduce the number from 12 to 10. That will provide both more scope to strengthen the boards of management and for a cross-section of people to be representatives—people from the business community, voluntary bodies and the arts—to ensure that the boards are as robust as possible to cope with what will be a great firing of and expansion in the arts as we approach the turn of the century.

May I simply congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most warmly on this admirable new projection of policy? What an excellent Arts Minister he has become. But is he aware that some of us were proposing somewhat similar arrangements and responsibilities for the regional areas in the early 1970s and 1980s but we were, unfortunately, prevented from pursuing those matters by lack of vision of a couple of our leaders?

I shall leave it to the House to draw its own conclusions from the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I appreciate the strong support that he has given to the announcement, given his well-known and well-established interest in the arts.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Northern region there will be a huge sigh of relief that Northern Arts is not to be merged with Yorkshire, although from the outset that was the most unlikely prospect among all the regional arts associations? Is he also aware that the real strength of the proposals is that there will be greater accountability for regional arts associations, there will be a much-strengthened structure for regional arts bodies and that, as a result of the Wilding report, the pressure put on Northern Arts means that a new arts strategy has been brought to Teesside?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in the arts. I stress that, while devolution is taking place, accountability back through the Arts Council will be more coherent and consistent than the way in which it operates at present. That will give the Arts Council a singularly important role in accounting for a national strategy for the arts and ensuring that it works in partnership with regional arts associations to benefit the arts in Britain as best it can.

I congratulate the Minister on listening to our representations about Northern Arts. Can he assure the House that the new regional authorities will have new money commensurate with their new responsibilities?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The scale of the shift in resources from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations will flow from the decisions that I have taken, and it will be for Mr. Mason, the manager implementing the reforms, to determine over the next three years, which is the time span that I have given for devolution. I expect a substantial shift in the number of clients away from the Arts Council to the regional arts associations, while the Arts Council will gain great strength for its strategic role. As far as money is concerned, I can only repeat that overall resources to the arts will increase by 24 per cent. in three years.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on combining the new strategic role for the Arts Council nationally with an ever-increasing role for arts bodies in the regions. I add my congratulations to him for listening to the views of people in the north-east who insisted that we should retain an independent identity through the successful Northern Arts. Can he confirm that there will be no change in the boundaries of Northern Arts?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has robustly made his views known to me for a number of months. I have taken his views and those of many other people seriously, and I have come to the conclusion that it would not be right to adjust the boundaries of Northern Arts, because it is a clearly identifiable area, and it should remain as such.

I welcome the fact that the Minister ruled against the proposal to merge Northern Arts and Yorkshire Arts as it was resented in both regions. In future, under the system of regional representation on the Arts Council, will the Minister bear in mind the suggestion about rotating positions on the council? Will he ensure that no region is unrepresented on the Arts Council for more than a year at a time?

I shall take into account the views that the hon. Lady has expressed about the system of rotation, which still has to be worked out. I did not want to lay down dogmatically precisely how it should operate, but I think that something can be worked out that will make sense.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady's views on Northern Arts and Yorkshire Arts. Despite my decision, I hope that there will be closer collaboration between the Northern arts board and the Yorkshire arts board.

Does the Minister accept that, from the point of view of my constituency and the south-east, everything that he has said and the reassurances that he has given mark him as the Minister who has made the most positive announcement in the House at any time since the Conservative party returned to power?

The Minister's statement will be widely welcomed by people in the Northern region, with the possible exception of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), whose conversion we also welcome, since originally he was in favour of a mega-region for the north. Does the Minister acknowledge the contribution made to the arts by local authorities in the area? I refer in particular to the metropolitan borough of Gateshead, with its policy of providing art in public places, and the city of Newcastle, which boasts some of the finest theatres in the country. However, will the Minister consider specifically the present per capita basis for the distribution of Arts Council grants, which seems to me to work against regions such as the north?

I have paid a number of visits to the Newcastle area and to Northern Arts. I very much appreciate the work that is going on there. The collaboration between Northern Arts and the local authorities is strong and effective and produces excellent results for the arts. I am grateful to local authorities for the role that they play. Support for the arts throughout the country does not require vast sums of local authority money; often it requires only modest sums. Through collaboration with the regional arts associations we can see what benefits that brings.

Per capita support for the arts in the Northern region is a matter for the Arts Council. It has to decide how to distribute the money, taking into account the overall support per capita for the population of the area, as opposed to the rest of the country, and other factors, including the strength of the arts in the area.

I join hon. Members in welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, but I ask him to look yet again at regional representation. Does he not realise that those authorities that have no Arts Council representation will resent the fact that no one is batting for them? Would it not be possible to avoid that resentment by providing five additional seats? It would avoid rotation, elections and the sort of thing that my right hon. Friend has described.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. However, there is already a system under which, by means of a kind of electoral college, there are three representatives from the regions—one from the northern area, one from the midlands and one from the south. That has been operating fairly effectively and fairly well for two or three years. I am expanding that mechanism to ensure that instead of three representatives there are five. It will be possible to work out a sensible formula. I want the size of the Arts Council to remain modest. Such bodies can become too large and cumbersome. In this way I believe that we shall ensure that the regions are well represented. However, I shall think about my hon. Friend's point.

I genuinely welcome the proposals, unlike some hon. Members who seem to have changed their minds. I congratulate the Minister on taking notice of the representations regarding Northern Arts and the courtesy that he extended to us when we met him. It must be the first time that a Minister has taken notice of representations.

I welcome the decentralisation of arts and local government involvement. The Minister referred to resources. I urge him to keep a constant eye on resources, in particular for Northern Arts so that it does not find that it is without the funds that are necessary to make a success of decentralisation.

Yes, of course—to the extent that there is a considerable measure of devolution. The amount of money that follows devolution will have to be discussed by the Arts Council, the regional arts associations and Mr. Mason, who will be implementing the changes. Those factors will be taken seriously into account.

May I add to the beatification of my right hon. Friend by welcoming warmly his announcement, particularly in relation to the Crafts Council and also devolution?

May I ask him to work with Mr. Mason, when dealing with the new opportunities in regional arts at local level, to ensure that the environment being created, as well as being good for artists, provides new opportunities for people to participate? On the question of ethos, will he ensure that there is an open-door policy so that more people may enjoy and benefit from the arts?

My hon. Friend is right. In this context, I reaffirm the objectives of the royal charter of the Arts Council and, in turn, the objectives of the regional arts boards: to promote interest in the arts in this country, to improve access, and to ensure the highest possible quality. We are referring to all levels of activity in the arts—from the community level, right up to the national centres of excellence. This is an important opportunity to reaffirm that, as we look to the 1990s and to greater public interest in the arts, there will be a very important and significant role for the regional arts boards.

Order. I draw attention again to the pressure of business. I know that today's business is exempted, but if hon. Members wishing to ask questions will be brief, I hope to call all of them.

I will award the Minister five out of 10 for the structural changes. However, I repeat the question: where is the beef to back up the structural change? The Minister has talked about 24 per cent. over three years. Of course, to gauge its usefulness, that will have to be set against inflation and the effect of the poll tax. Is the Minister aware that virtually every local authority in London is setting a budget that involves cuts in expenditure on arts and leisure activities? What monitoring is being done to ensure that the Greater London arts association, which will have the greatest concentration of clients, will not inherit a major arts crisis?

I cannot be precise about the budget of the Greater London arts association, but I think that it is about £9 million. The association gets a larger share, in absolute terms, than any other regional arts body.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point about the resources that are available, I would point out that two factors have to be taken into account. One is the overall budget for the arts—I have mentioned the figure several times—and the other is the shift of resources that will go with devolution. The latter must be a matter for discussion and negotiation between the Arts Council, the regional arts boards and Mr. Mason, who is implementing these plans. In the absence of agreement on what sums of money should be transferred from the Arts Council to the regional arts boards, it would not be right to take decisions about devolution to these bodies.

While welcoming the devolution proposals, may I ask whether the Minister's statement means that the main philosophical and artistic thrust of the proposals contained in the "Glory of the Garden" and the Cork report have been entirely abandoned? In that regard, will more money be available to the Royal Shakespeare Company to enable it to keep its doors open at the Barbican in November?

I do not think that this undermines the "Glory of the Garden" policy of the middle 1980s. The purpose of that policy was to set up regional centres of excellence to attract interest. I take as an example the Plymouth area, where the Royal theatre has created a great deal of interest and has attracted support from Cornwall and Devon for the setting up of regional centres. That is important. In my view, not all centres of excellence should be in London. Although this city must remain a great cultural centre, we should have centres of excellence throughout the country. Glasgow—the cultural city of 1990—is an example. National bodies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company will remain the responsibility of the Arts Council, which must make the final judgment. The success of the Royal Shakespeare Company is there to be seen. The company has taken some difficult management decisions. There has been quite a lot of debate in the House on this matter, and I know that the Arts Council attaches great importance to the company's work.

The Minister will be aware that the Sadler's Wells theatre, which is known nationally and respected internationally, currently faces severe financial difficulties. He will know also that, by indirect arrangement, it receives funding from the Arts Council. It is possible that, under the new arrangements, that funding will be endangered. Can the Minister give me an assurance that he will do everything he can to ensure that Sadler's Wells not only survives but thrives?

I will draw to the attention of the Arts Council chairman the views that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed about Sadler's Wells, which has played a long and important role in arts in London. I realise that a number of changes are taking place. For instance, Sadler's Wells Royal ballet is moving to Birmingham. That is not necessarily a bad thing for the arts as a whole, as Birmingham, too, is a great and increasingly important centre of excellence.

As a member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, I have questioned the Minister many times, and I have always thought that he shows a civilised approach to the arts. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to instil in us his confidence about money, and I hope that it is justified. As he knows, I come from Sheffield, in South Yorkshire. The rejuvenated Lyceum theatre, of which I am a director, will open, I hope, in December. It is the only theatre in Britain outside London designed by the architect responsible for it. The region is an arts area. I should like to know whether the people who join the Arts Council from the regions will be elected or picked and how the regional boards will be instituted.

I warmly welcome the role that the hon. Gentleman plays in the arts in Yorkshire. He will have noted that the new playhouse for Yorkshire opened in Leeds last week. It will have an important role for the arts in that area.

I am giving some thought to how the representatives from the regions will be chosen. I think that the mechanism will provide for twinning of the 10 regional associations into five pairs, which between them will select a representative for their area for a defined period. The representative posts will rotate and, after another period, the associations will have to choose another representative. That representative may be the chairman of the regional arts association or someone else who is considered equally appropriate.

On Timothy Mason, is not Scotland's loss his gain? What policy funding conclusions are raised by the case of my constituent, Lizzie, the 340 million-year-old early carboniferous reptile found near Bathgate? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Geologists Association has contributed £10,050 from its fund, easily the largest contribution it has ever made? By what mechanism will the Government help funding for geological specimens in this position and stop their export?

The Scottish Arts Council has done an outstanding job for many years. It has been under Mr. Mason's leadership as director for many years. There are many centres of excellence in Glasgow, Edinburgh and many other parts of Scotland.

As for Lizzie the lizard, which I think is the best way to encapsulate her title, I have asked the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art to look at this case and to recommend whether such objects should in future be included under the control system.

The Minister gets no congratulations from me today. In his statement, he has failed in his ministerial duty to the arts generally. He has tried to cool the pressure from the regions by giving them this and that and giving them a committee on which to serve, but no additional money is made available. When he made his previous statement we argued with him about additional money. The amount available does not keep pace with inflation. We shall have to keep the services going and improve them. The Minister can stop making statements such as he has made today. That is why I say that I do not congratulate him. He has not done his job properly.

There is nothing new in that; the hon. Gentleman has not yet congratulated me on anything, but I do not resent that.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little confused. He does not seem quite to have grasped the fact that I am shifting more strength and resources to the regional arts associations. I should have thought that he would welcome that news for his area rather than despise it. I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that we are increasing resources for the arts overall by 24 per cent. in the next three years. Instead of despising that news, the hon. Gentleman should encourage the flourishing of the arts which we will see in the 1990s, thanks to the Government's commitment.

Apart from my hon. Friend the Member for High Drama and Great Acting—my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes)—the Minister has received and earned the praise and congratulations of the whole House on almost all he has said today——