Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn until Tuesday 8 June.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, at end add'but that, pursuant to Standing Order No. 122 (Earlier meeting of House in certain circumstances) should the public interest so require, Her Majesty's Ministers of their own volition or following representations from Her Majesty's Opposition shall represent to Mr. Speaker that the House should meet at a time earlier than that to which the House stands adjourned'.'The purpose of the amendment is to make it clear to the House and to the country that the House of Commons stands ready to come back at any time during the Whitsun Recess and attend to its business, should that become necessary.
In the normal course of events one could leave this matter to be considered through the usual channels without an amendment of this sort being tabled. But in the present circumstances it seemed to the Opposition that it was right that we should have a formal amendment on the Order Paper to make the position clear. My feeling is that it is likely that the House will be recalled. I find it almost inconceivable that nothing that can interest the House will happen during the next week. Whether that be so or not, at least the country will be aware that this is what we intend and what we have provided for.
I hope, therefore, to get the support of the House for the amendment.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
It is customary in debates of this character for the Leader of the House to reply at the conclusion and deal with the many points which I know hon. Members will wish to raise. With the permission of the House, I should like to do that, but it may be helpful if I refer at this stage to the amendment standing on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.
The Government fully appreciate the concerns that underlie the amendment. Since the Falkland Islands crisis began, the Government have welcomed the positive contribution that Parliament has made in its debates and have recognised the importance of keeping the House informed.
The Government, therefore, accept the amendment. They will give proper and serious consideration to any approach made to them on this matter by the Opposition and will, if they judge that the public interest so requires, take the appropriate steps under the Standing Order for recalling the House, as was done during the Easter Recess.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, East)
I support the amendment in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends because, although the Leader of the House has referred to the Falkland Islands, there is another much longer lasting and more serious crisis which will almost certainly require the recall or at least the attention of the House at some 852 stage. That is the deteriorating situation in the National Health Service, where a number of the unions with membership in that service are taking industrial action.
The National Health Service would not be in this situation were it not that the Government had of their own volition abolished the Clegg commission in their early days of office.
§ Mr. Moyle
As my hon. Friend says, it was disgraceful. If the Clegg commission had still existed as we left it, employees in the National Health Service would be at least £19 a week better off, and, even if they were not satisfied, machinery would exist for a painless adjustment of their grievances.
In 1980 inflation at times touched 20 per cent. and National Health Service pay rises were only 14 per cent. In 1981 the inflation rate was 16 per cent. and the National Health Service pay rises were only 6 per cent. This year price inflation is still around the 10 per cent. mark and the offer that the Government have made to National Health Service employees is only 4 per cent., with 61/2 per cent. for nurses. So the Government have failed over some years to meet the legitimate ambitions of National Health Service workers.
What sort of wages are we talking about? We are not talking about the wealthy of this world. Obviously, in an organisation such as the National Health Service, there is a wide range of pay rates, but, for example, catering and domestic assistants and cleaners receive a basic £59 for their working week. Even if they were given the full 12 per cent. increase that the trade unions are asking for, they would have an increase of only £2.36. Caretakers, storekeepers and assistant cooks enjoy, if that is the right word, a basic take-home pay of £64.22. Again, 12 per cent. on that would yield them only £2.57 per week.
The Confederation of Health Service Employees has estimated that half the employees in the National Health Service have a take-home pay which qualifies them for consideration under the family income supplement scheme. The grades I have mentioned may not be the grandest employees in the National Health Service but they need to live and they are needed to make the Health Service tick over. Yet the Government have offered them only a 4 per cent. increase, which in some cases is an improvement in pay of only pence per week.
The sole argument for that approach by the Government is the need to fight inflation—not an attempt to apply justice, but a need to fight inflation. The same argument applied when the police claim was considered and settled this year, but they got an increase of 13 per cent. The firemen got 10 per cent. Water service workers got 9 per cent. Even local authority manual workers got 7½ per cent. Doctors and dentists got 6 per cent. Members of the Armed Forces—soldiers, sailors and airmen—got 6 per cent. Civil servants generally got 6 per cent., and top civil servants, judges and defence chiefs, as we all know, have recently been granted an 18½ per cent. increase. In fact, Lord Chief Justice Lane's annual increase under this settlement of about £8,000 a year compares favourably with the average ancillary worker's annual income in the Health Service of £3,070 before the present pay claim is settled.
It would not be right to attack the good fortune of the groups that I have mentioned, any more than it was right 853 to attack their good fortune before their increase was granted. However, I want to ask the Government why some modest part of the good fortune which has been granted to those groups should not be extended to people on very low pay. Why should the full burden of fighting inflation fall on the shoulders of a humble cleaner in the NHS, when apparently it is far too heavy a burden for the Lord Chief Justice to bear?
In the past three weeks in the South Atlantic we have lost three frigates. The cost of those losses, with other additions, amounts to £375 million. That price will not bring this country to its knees, but it would be enough to settle in full the union claim. That too would not bring the country to its knees.
We now have mounting industrial action in the National Health Service. The official aim of that action is to reduce the NHS to an emergency service. When I attempted to obtain the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 a week ago yesterday, I said that unless this House paid attention to what was going on in the Health Service it would be an incitement to perhaps irresponsible elements to take matters into their own hands and take them much further than they should be taken. Evidence of that is now emerging and it is one of the reasons why the Government should be prepared to recall the House to consider the situation in the NHS.
There is news of patients doing without meals, and of operating theatres being deprived of the services of sterile units. During the past 24 hours, news has been coming through of miners in Yorkshire and South Wales who are prepared to take action to support the NHS workers. That action is being taken because of the morality of industrial action in the National Health Service. The most fervent supporters of the morality that it is difficult to take industrial action in the NHS are NHS employees themselves. If the great mass of them did not have an overwhelming dedication to the welfare of the patients, the NHS would have ceased to exist as a viable organisation a week or two ago, and the Government would have been in serious trouble. They are saved by the sense of duty and dedication of NHS workers and union members.
Where is the morality of the Secretary of State when he complains that patients' lives are being put at risk by industrial action, while he seeks to exploit the NHS workers' reluctance to strike by paying poverty line wages? When I was a law student I was told that people were supposed to "intend the natural consequences" of their action. It is a good principle for life, as well as for law. The Secretary of State should come to the House in the not-too-distant future so that we may ask him why the Government have adopted the policy of putting patients' lives at risk because, as a consequence of the Secretary of State paying poverty wages, the NHS workers are forced to take some form of industrial action.
There should be a return to a machinery of fair comparison between NHS wages and those of equivalent jobs outside, as was provided by the Clegg commission, which was set up by the Government of which I was a member. If the NHS staff are not to strike, we should provide a machinery for fair wages that relates to the economy in general. We should dearly like to know the Secretary of State's plans in this connection. If the motion proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) is accepted, it will be possible for the House to consider at an early date the problems in the Health Service to which I have drawn attention.
§ Sir Walter Clegg (North Fylde)
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was wise to accept the Opposition amendment.
I shall not follow the right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) in what he said about the National Health Service, except to say that my namesake was responsible for a great deal of inflation, and that the last time he was in action I was identified with him, which I found somewhat embarrassing at times.
A matter which affects my constituency and in which time is a great element is the fishing industry. By the end of this year, we have to reach some conclusion about a common fisheries policy. At present, there is great confusion in the industry, as well as great uncertainty about what is to happen during the next six months. I have spoken to inshore fishermen and fishermen who are still operating in our medium-water trawlers, and they do not know where they are going. By this time last year, substantial help had been given to the fishing industry, and I know that my right hon. Friends are discussing the matter at the moment.
If we are recalled next week, we should have an early statement in the House on this matter. The structure Of the industry is affected, in that uncertainty does not help vessel owners to plan replacements or to see their way ahead. The news from Europe is that other countries are subsidising the building of fishing vessels. Here we seem to be waiting for Godot as we wait for the common fisheries policy. Soon after we come back, the House should be given a statement about what is happening in this area so that the uncertainty can be removed.
§ Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)
I support the amendment, because it is important that we should have an opportunity to discuss the proposed closures of the British Rail engineering works at Shildon, Horwich and Swindon. Each represents a community which will be destroyed if the closures are allowed to take place.
Today, 700 of my constituents came to London. They took letters to Sir Peter Parker from children in Shildon pleading with Sir Peter that their fathers should nol be made redundant. That is the position in Shildon. If Shildon dies, there is no other work there. The children have written to the chairman of British Rail saying "Don't sack our fathers. Give them jobs and let us have some prospect of jobs ourselves when we come of age."
As they walked through the streets of London from Kings Cross to Westminster, those 700 people noticed that people were asking "Where is Shildon?" A brave little town in County Durham can die and the majority of people in Britain do not even know where it is. Just as people did not know where the Falkland Islands were a few weeks ago, they do not know where Shildon is and they care little whether it lives or dies.
I am proud to say that after today's activities many more people in the south of England will know where the town of Shildon is. Shildon was the birthplace of the railway and has 150 years proud history of railways. The majority of people in the south who do not know where Shildon is have no idea either of the suffering of the unemployed and what it means to have the prospect of long-term unemployment for the foreseeable future. Those people now know where Shildon is and they know the 855 anger and the bitterness of those people who have given every co-operation to try to ensure that their works was competitive both in Britain and abroad.
British Rail says that it does not need to buy any wagons. There were 130,000 wagons in 1979. There are 75,000 wagons now and there will be only 34,000 in 1986. That is partly because of the greater utilisation of wagons. I welcome all increases in productivity, whether they be in nationalised industries or in private sector industries. That is good and we welcome it.
However, in 1986, marginally less freight will be carried by a quarter of the fleet. That is a substantial reduction. In addition, that greater utilisation must mean that those wagons will have a shorter life and must have more maintenance and repair. Yet when we ask British Rail what it foresees will be the optimum rate of replacement of the 34,000 wagons in 1986, it cannot tell us. It says that it does not need to buy any until 1985 and that a few will come through in 1986. How many wagons is it commercially prudent to buy to replace that fleet of 34,000 year by year? British Rail has no answer to that.
If one assumes, for the sake of argument, that a wagon has a 30-year life, British Rail—surprise, surprise—will need to buy about 1,000 wagons a year in the medium and long-term to replace its stock of 34,000 wagons. A thousand wagons a year is just the new production that Shildon needs to ensure its long-term future and its continued profitability.
British Rail Engineering Ltd. made £1.2 million profit last year, of which £800,000 came from the little works at Shildon which has always been efficient and profitable. If it has a market for its goods, that profitability and efficiency will continue. I argue that there is a market for those wagons. While there has been a severe reduction in the number of British Rail's wagons—from 130,000 in 1979 to 34,000 in 1986—the number of wagons that are owned or leased by clients of British Rail has increased to 17,000, and British Rail expects that there will be an increase of about 8,000 by 1986. Therefore, in 1986, British Rail will own 34,000 wagons and British Rail clients will own 25,000 wagons. Therefore, another 8,000 wagons will be needed and will be produced between now and 1986.
Those wagons should be built at Shildon, but I can almost guarantee that they will be built by private manufacturers. There is not a lack of demand for wagons; the demand for wagons is being diverted from British Rail Engineering Ltd. to private manufacturers to suit the convenience of British Rail because it eliminates its need to operate within tight financial limits.
The fact that wagons will be built not in Shildon but in the private sector is privatisation by the back door. That is a new and imaginative method of privatisation. The works are not bought out but are starved of work, the workers are sacked and the equipment is sold at knockdown figures to private manufacturers which—surprise, surprise—are growing and will need new equipment. I wish that the Labour Party had thought of such a thing when it was in power.
There is a great deal of anger in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends, who I know would like to catch your eye Mr. Deputy Speaker later this evening on the subject of British Rail engineering closures. We are determined to pin the blame where it belongs—on the 856 Government's policies that are starving British Rail of investment and imposing far too tight financial limits upon British Railways and which have resulted in Sir Peter Parker not knowing whether he is coming or going. He sold out his own work force to obtain the electrification of British Rail from the previous Secretary of State for Transport—who failed to deliver the goods. Sir Peter Parker now has a confrontation with his own loyal work force, which he is beginning to abuse.
Those matters cannot go undebated and I am glad to have had the opportunity to draw attention to them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. For the good order of our debates, may I remind hon. Members that they should link their arguments to reasons why the House should not adjourn? This is not a general Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) about the need for the House to be recalled instantly should the Falkland Islands situation worsen. However, I should briefly like to raise a couple of other potentially dangerous matters on the home front.
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) on the difficulties of British Rail from a slightly different angle. We are faced with further serious industrial trouble from British Rail before many days into June.
This year has been a bad year for the railway industry. Its relations with its customers have sunk to an all-time low. Management and unions have been at loggerheads. In The Guardian this week Mr. Sidney Weighell was quoted as saying:Railworkers have reached the end of their tether and must now stand and fight for their industry. We do not advocate going to the barricades every Monday.I appreciate that he speaks for the overwhelming majority of the people he represents. That newspaper report went on to say:Sir Peter Parker, BR's chairman, is at loggerheads with not just one but all three rail unions, making the situation even more serious than when it was a straight fight with ASLEF.There is a threat of further industrial action on 7 June, which is why I think that it is relevant to raise the matter now.
I am glad to see that, on the problem of allowing the Bedford-St. Pancras electrified line to work with the new rail rolling stock, Mr. Weighell has disclosed that he has put compromise proposals to the management for the operation of the new rolling stock on this line. Mr. Weighell's proposal from the NUR is that guards on the new train should also double up as ticket inspectors and collectors, which would in turn reduce the number of people required to man the platform barriers.
I cannot stress too strongly the fact that many of my constituents who are regular commuters on that line look forward to travelling on the new electrified stock, instead of the old worn-out diesel stock. They would view another industrial clash on British Rail with absolute horror. In some parts of the country the idea has grown up that we can somehow manage without the railways. That is wishful thinking for the South-East. This capital city teeters on the brink of road chaos day after day. It is on a knife edge. If there is a rail strike or any trouble, the chaos instantly becomes much worse.
857 I should like to know British Rail's response to Mr. Weighell's compromise proposal to get the electrified line working properly. I hope that there will be a quick agreement so that the commuters know what the position is. If an agreement can be reached on operating that line with new rolling stock, we may be able to build on that and seek further agreements in the industry.
In general, the railways cannot go on like this. I am convinced that, with the experience of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, British Rail should talk to those industries that have overcome the problems of productivity, manning and the new technologies. There is a bank of other industrial experience from which British Rail can draw. Under its terms of reference, ACAS can set up an inquiry. The members should consist of representatives of both management and unions in an industry that has overcome the problems that British Rail is now grappling with.
Other industries have succeeded in overcoming similar difficulties and it is not impossible to reach an agreement in the railway industry, and thus avoid putting commuters from the South-East and elsewhere into constant difficulty.
Another industrial difficulty is looming. On 18 May, The Times carried the following headline:Power workers decide on action over pay.The article stated:The first stage of the campaign will begin May 3 l"—slap in the middle of the recess—with an overtime ban. That will be followed by a programme of selective strikes from June 14 in large power stations and among staff collecting cash from domestic meters.It is difficult to predict the effect of an overtime ban in the power industry. Some of us remember what happened in December 1970, when an overtime ban ran rapidly out of control. Within hours of the start of the ban there was the most exceptional difficulty. If there is no agreement in the power industry and there is an overtime ban followed by further action, a very careful response will be required from the Electricity Council, and particularly from the local management of power stations, if we are to avoid the terrible difficulties of December 1970.
Everybody knows that power cuts have a swift and devastating effect that often goes far further than intended. Therefore, if that difficulty cannot be avoided, I hope that management will make a very careful response. Again, such a problem raises the question of the pay of those in vital public sector industries. I am well aware that the electricity supply workers are in difficulties with their management, because they can see the settlements made in the mining, gas and water industries. The offer made to them is not quite at the same level as that made to the workers in those industries.
That too raises the problem of obtaining agreements in our key public sector industries without running the risk of strikes and overtime bans. Once an overtime ban has begun, all sorts of reactions may follow and the industry and the domestic consumer can be seriously affected.
The Government have a great deal of talking to do with the TUC on, to name but one matter, the new training initiative. I hope that the Government will widen their discussions to see what can be agreed on pay and conditions in our key public sector industries. The Electricity Council and the unions can probably reach a compromise settlement, but even if we settle this year we have not got rid of next year's problem. Therefore, in 858 those industries we must try to create a more settled atmosphere so that we can avoid the problems that I hope will not be experienced by the end of the month.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
You have asked, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that hon. Members should relate their remarks to the motion or the amendment. I shall do precisely that. I shall give the House several reasons why it should not adjourn for a week. All hon. Members can enumerate half a dozen or a dozen subjects that demand the urgent attention of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) has declared his priority, which is also mine.
However, during the eight days in which we are absent from the House heaven knows how many hundreds of young British and Argentine men will be killed. Hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money will go down the drain somewhere in the South Atlantic. While that is going on, hon. Members will be in recess. It is interesting to compare the Government's attitude—particularly that of the Prime Minister—towards expenditure on that great tragedy in the South Atlantic with the money spent on keeping people alive through the medium of the National Health Service. The Prime Minister is on record as saying that, whatever the cost, she and the Government will go through with the South Atlantic adventure. She will do that come what may and whether or not the operation costs £1,000 million of taxpayers' money. Indeed, it will probably cost more than that when the ships that have been lost have been replaced. In addition, it is impossible to measure the cost of the lives that have been lost; that is particularly true for the wives and families that are left behind.
When it comes to saving lives and paying nurses, ambulance men and all the ancillary workers in the NHS, the Prime Minister does not say that, no matter what the cost, they will get a fair deal. She does not say that at all. The Government have brutally told the nurses that those dedicated men and women will get an increase of about 6 per cent. this year although the rate of inflation is about double that. In other words, they are saying that those dedicated people must have their standards of living slashed, no matter what the value of their work to the community.
The Government claim that in a way the nurses are receiving favourable treatment. They are to receive an increase of a little more then 6 per cent. However, by the time that the increase in their lodging allowances has been deducted, hardly anything of this year's increase will be left. Meanwhile, we pour thousands of millions of pounds down the drain in the South Atlantic. Yet the Prime Minister dares to say that the House and the country are behind her in that obscenity of priorities. She had better think again. She has not got the House or the country behind her. Her priorities are not civilised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East referred not only to nurses and ancillary workers in the NHS, but to the Plowden report on top salaries. I refer to those people who are struggling along on the poverty line, knocking along on £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000 a year, plus inflation—proofed pensions and all the perks that;go with their jobs. My right hon. Friend will not believe what that Top Salaries Review Body said, so I shall put the words on record. In considering those poverty-stricken 859 folks, the judges, the top civil servants, the admirals, generals and air commodores, the review said that they must have much higher salary levelsthat are consistent with the effective motivation of those occupying such posts.The review added that the salarieswill ensure that they"—the judges, the top civil servants, and the top brass in the Army and elsewhere—are not affected by lack of incentive or deep-seated feelings of unfairness.I swear that those are the words used by the Top Salaries Review Body. But there is no incentive for the nurses struggling along below the poverty line. Half the nurses in our Health Service are struggling along on a wage that, by the Government's own definition, is below the poverty line. What kind of priority is that?
The position is even worse. In the three Budgets of this Government it is the people at the top who have had the tax concessions. The people at the other end of the scale have been clobbered by tax. Again, that is seen from the Government's figures. Everyone on lower than averge earnings is paying more in tax than three years ago. The people earning more than £20,000 a year are paying less tax than three years ago. It is that gross unfairness, that gross division of the country between the poor, or the less well-off—the more worthy citizens, I should add—and those at the top that incenses our people.
It is rather sinister that the Government have given the highest salary increases to the Armed Forces, the police and the judges. I wonder why. Is it because the Government think that there will be increased social tension as a direct result of their policies? There could be something in that.
We have sought a debate on the National Health Service and on the Government's pay policy, if only to get the Secretary of State for Social Services to the Dispatch Box to defend what he is doing. He even has the genteel Royal College of Nursing against him. They are the people who will not strike. They are too respectable to strike. I can understand that. No one in the Health Service wants to strike and hurt patients, but the genteel folk in the Royal College of Nursing are now having a ballot to see whether they want to alter their constitution, which at present forbids them to take strike action. The Government know that these workers in the Health Service are so responsible, so moderate, and so unmilitant that they will not strike because that would hurt the patients. The Government have said "OK, we can belt them in the groin because they will not strike." That is exactly what the Government are doing, have done and will do in future unless the nurses stand firm.
The nurses want 12 per cent. when inflation is just about the same. They had a massive reduction in their standard of living last year so they are only saying "We want, please, if we may, to stand still." They are asking not to advance their standard of living, but merely to stand where they are.
The Secretary of State for Social Services claims that the 4 per cent. and 6 per cent. offers are generous. He now says that he is waiting for the result of the ballot in the Royal College of Nursing. I warn the nurses that if they say that they will not strike or take any industrial action, 860 but will accept the Government's offer, they will have lost. The Government will have won and they will repeat the process next year.
The truth is that the National Health Service is bleeding to death at the same time as the Prime Minister and the Government are pouring hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money into that silly adventure in the South Atlantic and jeopardising the lives of our young men. For those reasons even the few hon. Members here tonight could spend the whole of next week and the whole of the next six months arguing and debating the obscenity of the Government's policies and priorities.
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
I too suggest that we should not go into recess at a time when there are so many problems facing the nation. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) but I shall not follow him because I want to deal with the great problem facing British Rail that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster).
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel) pointed out that by 7 June there will be a crisis in the railway industry because the National Union of Railwaymen, supported by other unions, has made it clear that it is not prepared to see the railways destroyed by the Government and the British Railways Board.
I refer specifically to the problems that have arisen in my constituency of Swindon. We heard a week or two ago, with the utmost shock, as did Shildon and Horwich, that Swindon is to lose 1,500 jobs, leading to partial closure, and that Shildon and Horwich are to be completely closed down. That is being done when there are 3 million unemployed. In Shildon and Horwich the unemployment rate is between 25 and 30 per cent. In Swindon we have a high rate of unemployment and insufficient jobs are being brought to the town: Like Shildon, Horwich, and other areas, Swindon cannot afford to lose 1,500 jobs. What is more, it is quite wicked to propose that those jobs in Swindon, and jobs on the railways in other parts of the country, should be lost at a time when the railways, far from being deliberately run down, need refurbishing for the benefit of the people of this country.
We went through this trauma in Swindon in 1973–74 when the British Railways Board decided that the railway workshop at Swindon should be closed. A new manager was sent to Swindon with the express instruction to close down the workshops. When he arrived he realised the potential of the railway workshops and, in co-operation with the workers at Swindon, he rebuilt them. They are now a viable and profitable enterprise. That has been achieved by a real partnership between management and men.
No locomotives had been built in Swindon since 1962, but through the co-operation of the work force it was possible to build 20 from scratch for Kenya. That was a massive operation. Without anything on the ground, the workers built 20 locomotives from scratch. It showed their potential, skill and dedication. They co-operated. A real partnershhip was recognised by management and by British Rail which led to the end of demarcation disputes. For 10 years there was virtually no industrial trouble—a model of good industrial relations.
The Government are always talking about partnership in industry. That was the sort of partnership they were seeking. That was the sort of partnership that Swindon 861 gave them, but the reward has been the sack for 1,500 people. People in Swindon, Horwich and Shildon and those in the railway industry throughout the country simply will not stand for that sort of treatment. That is why the NUR and other trade unions, including the ETU, of which I am a member, will put up such a fight as the Government have never had from the railway industry before.
I have with me a copy of a petition that was sent to Sir Peter Parker, the chairman of British Rail. It is signed by 160 people who were tricked into rejoining the railways because they were assured of a long and secure future. They sent that petition to Sir Peter Parker, who has not yet had the courtesy to reply to them. I shall now have to take the matter up with him and ask why he has had the discourtesy not to reply to those 160 people who were tricked into joining his railway on the assurance that they had secure jobs for a long time ahead.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I am sure that my hon. Friend's constituents will now be getting a reply, because I am sure that the message will have got home to Mr. Flexible Rostering.
§ Mr. Stoddart
I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend is right and that this place still has some influence at least to get a reply from the chairman of a great nationalised industry.
There is a suspicion in my constituency that the British Railways Board is not now quite so committed as it was to running railways. The suspicion is that, instead of providing engineering jobs and enabling highly skilled and dedicated people to continue working in Swindon, the British Railways Board, at the behest of the Government, is more interested in making money. Property in Swindon is valuable. There is a suspicion that the 1,500 people—it will eventually be 3,500 people—are being sacrificed on the altar of property speculation. Believe me, if the British Railways Board thinks that it will get away with that, it will have a fight on its hands.
The Government seem to have written off the railways by their disgraceful treatment of the industry as revealed in its financial operations. At this very moment, because of Government policy on external financing limits, money which should be used for capital spending, building new carriages and new wagons and refurbishing the fleet is being used on current operations. It is being used to pay wages, salaries and so on on a day-to-day basis. We believe that the Government have treated the railways disgracefully, and ought to be giving a greater commitment to that industry.
The British Railways Board has a lot to answer for. It also seems to have too little commitment to railways. Every time I meet the board, all I get is the argument that is given by the British Road Federation—that 90 per cent. of goods must travel by road. Apparently, the British Railways Board sees no hope of attracting that traffic back to the railways.
The people of Britain do not want heavy lorries on our roads. They suffer the environmental damage caused by heavy loads, and those vehicles will get heavier if the Government have their way. They want the railways to be used to carry freight and to improve the environment. I sincerely hope that the British Railways Board alters its attitude very soon.
The travelling public deserves a better deal than it is getting at present. It deserves to travel in decent, 862 comfortable railway carriages—not the wrecks, some of them 40 years old, that are disgracing our railway; at present. Those carriages can be provided if the money is provided. They can be provided by the workers in British Rail workshops and other railway workers who will run them for the benefit of the country and the people.
If the British Railways Board stopped fighting its workers and instead fought the Government for the money with which to bring the railways up to a decent, modern standard, it would be doing a service not only to itself and railway men but to the country as well.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), who spoke so eloquently, and for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), I support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do so for much the same reason as my two hon. Friends, the crisis—I believe that term is justified—in the railway industry.
During the past 25 years, the railway industry has tottered from crisis to crisis and from problem to problem. In the 1950s—indeed, almost in the first week that I began working on the railways—it was said that the industry was Victorian and grossly overmanned and that, unless and until the railway unions and management got together and sank their differences, the future would be bleak.
In the 1950s, there were the modernisation plans with their consequent redundancies, and dieselasation with its effect on the locomotive grades in particular. The 1960s heralded the Beeching era, when the good doctor, who w as then paid a salary of about £24,000 a year, told the workers "Ah, but this time, if you accept your medicine, those of you who are left will have well-paid and secure jobs." The workers in the industry are still waiting.
At present, the industry is being told that it is again the fault of the wicked trade unions and that if only it will accept the board's productivity proposals there will be jobs for all and the Government will play their part in the modernisation of the railway system. I met some of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland this afternoon. No one within the railway industry believes this any longer. All the years of cooperation have brought not the benefits that railway men were promised, but rather the reverse.
Any pleasure, if that is the right term, that I might have derived from addressing railway men this afternoon is tempered by the fact that the fight for the railway industry will not be waged in this Chamber. The fight for its future will not even be waged at Rail House—that palatial building outside Euston to which the British Railways Board has managed to move itself lock, stock and cocktail cabinet in the last few weeks, despite financial problems within the industry. The fight for the future of the industry will be waged by the men and women involved within it. Success will be achieved only, I regret to say, by a fight, the reasons for which I shall try to outline.
No one who has any connection with the industry likes advocating strike action. I have participated in one official and one unofficial strike during my time in the industry. Strike action is a course upon which railway men—a disciplined and ordered body of men—are reluctant to embark. Yet hon. Members saw within the precincts of the House of Commons today a group of men driven by desperation and concern about their future prospects and the future of the railway industry to come to London to 863 march from Euston station to the Embankment. Some were saying that they had never before taken part in a march. However, so great is their concern that they felt they must express it.
The Government, who have promised through successive Secretaries of State to take action over investment and modernisation of the railway system, are far from blameless. The previous Secretary of State made various promises about electrification—some in the Chamber and others through press releases—that have not been kept. One cannot accuse the present Secretary of State of breaking any promises, because he never says anything. The right hon. Gentleman seems reluctant to comment at the Dispatch Box on the future of the railway industry and its modernisation. That is perhaps not surprising. By all accounts, the right hon. Gentleman did not particularly want the job, which was widely regarded by experts in the newspapers as a demotion for him. However, it is sad that, given the state of the industry and its problems, we seem to have a Secretary of State who shows a deplorable lack of concern for its future.
On electrification, the British Railways Board has made all the necessary submissions to the Government. It has set out the prospectuses for inter-city and freight business, established as preconditions by the Government, who stated that, once they were received, a sympathetic approach would be adopted towards authorising further electrification projects. The board has belatedly submitted proposals for electrification of the East Coast main line between Kings Cross and Edinburgh. The railway unions, despite the adverse publicity that many receive, have cooperated on a wide range of productivity items—another precondition for electrification laid down by the Government.
Nevertheless, the Government have taken no action to keep their promises. It is surprising that a Government who supposedly believe in business, profitability and efficiency should treat the board's application to go ahead with further electrification in a cavalier manner. It is surely in the interests of the Government, as paymaster, as well as in the interests of the management and the rail unions, to proceed as speedily as possible with electrification. The benefits of such a programme are well known: increased speed, increased reliability of rolling stock and equipment, reduced fuel requirements, lower maintenance costs, lower marginal costs, lower capital costs and greater productivity from the railwaymen. All that could be achieved by a programme of electrification.
The Department of Transport and the British Railways Board produced a review of main line electrification as long ago as February 1981. It was stated at the time that the largest and the most expensive scheme, in terms of investment, would bring great tangible and measurable benefits to the railway industry. But the only Government announcement has been the agreement to go ahead with electrification of part of the line from Liverpool Street to Norwich. No new money has been provided for this purpose. The Government know that preliminary work before electrification, such as re-signalling and track alterations, will take about two years, which should see them safely, they hope, into the next election. Nothing at all has been offered towards paying for further electrification.
864 There have recently been leaks in the newspapers about prospects for the Channel tunnel. It would appear from newspaper reports that the Prime Minister turned down the Channel tunnel project at a meeting with President Mitterrand on 18 May. But hon. Members are still awaiting a Government statement confirming this.
There has been even greater pressure on the British Rail Property Board in recent months to sell off its assets. Sir Robert Lawrence, the property board chairman—he is no Left-winger—said recently that he believed that only three years remained before the property division was virtually stripped of its prime assets. In an article in The Guardian on 19 May he conceded that the property board, because of pressure from the Government to make sales, was not getting the best price for the land and property that it was selling.
The true decline in the railway industry is amply outlined in a recent report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee pointing to service reductions and the fact that passengers were not receiving proper treatment because of the pressure for savings imposed on the board by the Government. The report expressed concern about the effects of the application of rigid financial targets on the quality of services. Those who continually complain about standards of service in London and the South-East would be better employed, instead of writing angry letters to Mr. Sid Weighell and Mr. Ray Buckton, pressing Conservative Members to apply pressure on their Government to bring about more investment and so produce better services in their areas.
There have been other numerous consequences of service reductions. The frequency of London to Birmingham stopping services which normally use the slow line through Northampton has been reduced and the journey time increased due to the state of the track. The effect is felt not only by passengers and commuters using the stopping services. Because of the state of the track, many services booked to use the fast, more direct route via Rugby find that they are moved to the slow line due to the backlog of maintenance on the fast line. Customers who depend on a service at 30-minute intervals and a journey time of one and a half hours between London and Birmingham are deserting the service because of the chronic unreliability of the trains.
The line was electrified in the mid-1960s. It carries traffic far in excess of that for which it was designed. There are not only two trains to Birmingham from Euston every hour, but one to Manchester, one to Liverpool, one normally to Scotland and an intermediate semi-fast train to Preston and either to Blackpool or Barrow. The same lines are used by freightliner trains from Willesden and by freight trains from other regions.
There is a chronic need for greater investment and modernisation of a line on which a great amount of money was last spent 17 years ago. In that time, the equivalent of 30 rail years have been used due to the amount of additional traffic. Again, that is a commentary on the productivity of the railway men, which is rarely, if ever, acknowledged by the Government.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said, it looks as though industrial action will be precipitated in the railway industry in the next few weeks. I blame not only the Government for this. The management must take some blame. All too often, it appears to want to do the Government's job for them. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend's constituency, when the 865 employees at the Swindon works staged a demonstration in protest against the threatened partial closure of the works and in defence of their jobs. The following day, in a newspaper which circulates in my hon. Friend's constituency, under the headingBR want to cut rural lines",a Mr. D. J. Cobbett, who is described as the director for strategic studies, talked about the need to get out of suburban services and some of the more lightly used commuter services. He said:Our dearest wish is to get out of having to do it.That is, having to run passenger trains. He continued:We are not allowed to in many ways. Our own unions are not as clear-sighted on this as we are, which is a great shame as there is much opportunity in employment if you concentrate on strengths rather than including your weaknesses and allowing everything to fritter away to everyone's detriment.I do not know Mr. D. J. Cobbett particularly well. In my railway career we managed to do without a director for strategic studies. I should hazard a guess that he has no problem about flexible rostering for his work. However, when senior managers in the railway industry are doing the Government's job for them, it is a sad commentary.
§ Mr. Snape
Further, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon said, it undermines the position of the railways, and of the unions in defence not of jobs for the sake of jobs, but of the industry, because they want to see a reasonable and viable future for the railways.
Ultimatums have been issued by both sides. The Railway Staffs National Council meets on Friday this week when it is expected that the negotiations will collapse. Many in the industry, and those of us who are members of the railway unions, believe that the management of British Rail has decided that now is the right time to take on the railway unions to try forcibly to implement many of the so-called productivity schemes that it desires.
One scheme that it is trying to force on the National Union of Railwaymen is that of one-man train operations between St. Pancras and Bedford. The management has put up a valid case for a driver only, with no other crew member on a train. As an ex-railway guard, I know that there are times when it is not possible to deploy railway guards to "maximum efficiency", to use one of the board's phrases.
It will be a far worse railway system for many of the passengers and commuters if the only member of the staff is the driver, isolated as he is, in the front cab.
§ Mr. Snape
Yes, it is also dangerous.
For the travelling public, one-man operation of buses has proved to be a disaster. I remember the arguments in the early 1970s about productivity, when I was a member of a passenger transport authority. The result of the forcible implementation of the one-man buses is a mass desertion of passengers from buses. The buses are too slow and cumbersome and passengers cannot get assistance with luggage. There is no service provided. Public transport should provide a service. It should be concerned with helping people on and off trains and moving parcels and mail.
The proposals of the British Railways Board for one-man operation of trains are, in my view and that of my union, a disaster. We were prepared to talk, but we are 866 now being told by the board "Drive them, operate them, or else". If we do not operate them, the board says that it will close down the system. So be it. The railways board is ready for what it would term a long siege. It is prepared for a two-months' shutdown, or one that is even longer.
None of us with any regard for the industry looks on that with any pleasure. I have little patience for those who continually spend their time carrying banners demanding "Fight, smash, and crush", or this, that, or the other. However, railway men have been driven into a corner from which the only escape will be strike action. That will be a disaster for the industry, but the responsibility will lie primarily with the Government.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I shall vote for the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, (Mr. Silkin) for the reason that he enunciated. However, like my other hon. Friends I have a further reason for doing so, and one that is also urgent. It relates to regional policy and to those changes that were announced in the early life of the Government, of which my right hon. and hon. Friends representing the Yorkshire region were apprehensive a year ago. We were responsible for promoting a full day's debate, the purpose of which was largely to bring to the attention of the Government and the House the effect of the Government's impending changes in regional policy on our region.
The timetable for those changes is almost up, and time is fast running out. Already, it is too late to lodge applications for aid under certain headings of regions! policy. Already parts of Yorkshire and Humberside are viewing the changes that are to become final during the next few weeks with much more dismay than they thought possible a year ago, because of the change in their economic conditions.
Some parts of Yorkshire and Humberside, soon to be deprived of assisted area status, believe that the impact of those changes on them could be nothing short of catastrophic. I wish to look at the region as a whole before focusing on my corner of it, South Yorkshire and the city of Sheffield. In doing so I wish to take stock of the fortunes of our region over the past year. I remind the House that our region remains substantially dependent for manufacturing employment on three sectors—textiles, mining and steel—and prospects for all of them have deteriorated since we held our debate a year ago.
The bulk of Britain's wool textile industry is concentrated in our region, in Bradford and Huddersfield. Although the industry has moved up market and now exports 40 per cent. of its output, it remains prey to foreign competition. Consequently wool textile manufacturers find themselves once again wondering what kind of future: lies ahead for the industry, as they have to face up to regional difficulties.
Trade union leaders too are questioning yet again whether the job sacrifices that they have made have been worth it. In the short space of a decade and a half the Yorkshire coalfield has been transformed from a top-heavy, under-productive organisation to a highly efficient one, using the latest technology to achieve productivity levels that are the admiration and envy of nearly every other British coalfield. Yet the future of our mining industry is, like that of textiles, difficult to assess.
Although coal's importance seems likely to increase further as a result of oil supply and price uncertainties, the 867 future of the region's pits will be affected by the development of the great new Selby coalfield in neighbouring North Yorkshire.
Sheffield has also been seriously hit by the problems of two of its principal sectors—steel and cutlery. Private sector steel has suffered long and hard from market raids by European producers, especially the Germans, who appear to have established an efficient and streamlined marketing system for all grades of specialised steel.
In the public sector, the British Steel Corporation, having shed more than 1,000 jobs a year for the past 13 years, is down to 3 million tonnes of manned capacity. In cutlery about 90 per cent. of the market for stainless steel knives, forks and spoons has been captured by importers, which has forced the local industry to concentrate almost entirely on higher priced items.
The engineering sector as a whole remains depressed, with a generally low level of business and cuts in employment continuing at firms such as Johnson and Firth Brown and involving for the first time firms such as Davy Loewy. Those are engineering giants. There are no parts of the private sector on which the whole of our economy must depend more than those firms. If they get into trouble, the whole of British industry is in trouble. Moreover, the majority of small firms in great engineering centres such as Sheffield depend precisely on the giant engineering firms such as Firth Brown and Davy Loewy as well as the British Steel Corporation and Hadfields to keep them going.
The deep-sea fishing fleet on Humberside has declined from nearly 500 80 ft trawlers at the beginning of 1975 to about 120 registered trawlers, of which no more than half are active at present. For Hull that has meant that only about 5 per cent. of the labour force is now employed in fishing and its associated processing industry.
British Aerospace workers at Brough are worried about their future employment. Today's announcements about cuts elsewhere in the economy by British Aerospace will do nothing to ease their anxieties. People in both Rotherham and Doncaster hope that the completion of the South Yorkshire navigation improvements will symbolise the renewal of the region and the ultimate revival of their industries. However, Doncaster, with its unique geographical setting, its long-established and advantageous rail links, its industrial diversity, which includes glass, fabrics, vehicle manufacture and everything from railways to steel rope-making and a high standard of industrial relations and responsible trade union leadership, might be expected to survive the recession better than most. Instead, it continues to be afflicted with severely increasing unemployment.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) brought to the attention of the House today in his early-day motion entitled "Unemployment in South Yorkshire", the level of unemployment in the south of the region continues to rise. The underlying trend continues to rise more steeply than in almost any other part of the country.
Despite today's news of the sag in the national level of unemployment, the level in South Yorkshire is still at 14.5 per cent., which is higher than the national level of 12.4 per cent. and significantly higher than the level of 11.3 per cent. that Yorkshire Members deplored just a year ago in our debate on Yorkshire.
868 Furthermore, that unusually high level of unemployment in South Yorkshire hides the severity of the problem in the main industrial centres. In our region unemployment is now higher than it was traditionally and is rising more steeply than elsewhere in the economy, yet in the part of the region that includes North Yorkshire, a rural county, the number of unemployed is substantially lower, which brings down that level. Therefore, the level is higher in the industrial centres.
When we scrutinise the level of employment more closely we see that the regional rate, even in the old industrial centres of West and South Yorkshire and Humberside, also hides the higher level of unemployment among men. In all the great cities such as Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull, the male-only figure of unemployment is now approaching 20 per cent.
Because of the overall state of the United Kingdom economy, the rate of inward investment into our area has been low. The gap between jobs lost and jobs created has been growing. In trying to persuade new industry to settle, from now on most of the region will be able to offer only a narrower range of investment incentives, following the Government's redrawing of development area boundaries and their intention to deprive local authorities such as Sheffield of assisted area status in a few weeks' time and given their general retreat from regional policy. That is where my concern lies.
A comparison of average gross weekly earnings, spending on social security benefits, regionally relevant public spending per head and regional development spending per head with figures for Scotland, Wales, the Northern and North-West regions shows that our region fares badly. There is less public investment within our region than in neighbouring regions. The onus for securing economic regeneration has been placed as a result upon the local authorities. Each of the four county councils, together with their constituent districts, has been investigating possible new initiatives aimed at influencing the pattern of economic development.
South Yorkshire has been active in the development of industrial estates. In Humberside a large quantity of land on the Humber estuary is being offered as an inducement for major petrochemical plant development. Sheffield city council is setting up its own employment department, thus launching a unique initiative in local government. A special working party recently set up by the Sheffield trades council criticised the youth opportunities programme for its failure to create new jobs for young people. A group of Sheffield business men have devised a plan called "future enterprises" to revitalise the city's industrial base.
In West Yorkshire the county council has supported an action committee formed to link the various bodies concerned with the problems of the wool and clothing industries. It hopes to attract EEC funds for a scheme for textile area regeneration, known as STAR, through which aid to improve the environment and stimulate employment opportunities can be channelled.
In the Yorkshire and Humberside region there is a surprising and heartening amount of self-help among local authorities, trade unions, trade councils and private business men. It is precisely the response for which the Government have asked. Every responsible body in the region is playing its part except the Government. The Yorkshire and Humberside region is a good area in which to test Britain's industrial prospects. In economic terms the 869 region shares many of the structural problems affecting many major United Kingdom centres. It has a number of important assets which suggest that it is one of the areas where economic improvement would manifest itself with the right encouragement and the required Government policies.
The Government have well-defined financial policies. They can point to some results, but they have no strategy to help British industry sustain itself against the shattering effects of those same financial policies. The Yorkshire and Humberside region is in trouble, its industrial base of textiles, mining, steel and heavy engineering has been badly eroded. Yet this is the time when the Government have chosen to deny parts of the region investment incentives.
I appeal to the Leader of the House and the Secretaries of State for Industry and Employment to reconsider their policy decisions. There might have been some justification for those policies when notice of them was given nearly three years ago. Given the deterioration within our national economy and the faster deterioration in the Yorkshire and Humberside region, there is less justification than there was. In parts of the Yorkshire and Humberside region, such as Sheffield, the imminent deprivation of assisted area status is viewed as perhaps a near-disaster. I hope that the Leader of the House will bring to the attention of his right hon. Friends my appeal to them at this late hour to reconsider their regional policies.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) in his contention that there are a hundred and one reasons why the House should not adjourn for the Whitsun Recess. Yesterday during Welsh questions I referred to the scandal of Welsh water charges. I was incensed by the indifferent nature of the reply that I received and I resolved to raise the issue again at the earliest opportunity.
It seems that Ministers at the Welsh Office have an insufficient realisation of the gravity of the situation that is developing in Wales over water charges. I gave them due warning during the Welsh debate on 25 February, especially of the feeling that was building up in my constituency. An urgent statement is now necessary from the Secretary of State for Wales on financial relief for hard-pressed ratepayers in Newport and throughout Wales. Bearing in mind the right hon. Gentleman's performance, I am not optimistic about the outcome.
One can point to the scandalous nature of the administration of the Welsh water authority. The authority was created nearly 10 years ago by a Conservative Government. Throughout its area there has been no representation on its management board from Newport, which is the third largest town in Wales. On the new board that has been created by the Secretary of State—one might say that it is his brain child—Gwent does not have a representative, yet Gwent has about 20 per cent. of the population of Wales and perhaps the largest sector of industry throughout the Principality.
The public have become cynical about the political nepotism that is so frequently demonstrated by the Secretary of State in the appointments for which he is responsible. This tendency has been most marked over appointments to the new Welsh water authority. We have, for instance, the ridiculous appointment of Sir John 870 Cotterell of Hereford, a well-known Conservative. As I have said, Gwent, which is one of the largest counties in Wales, has no representative.
There is no need to take my word for the strength of feeling over appointments to the authority. A few days ago the Gwent county council had a full-scale debate on the issue, during which it was said that retired Army officers seem to have the best chance of being chosen for the board. Among other scathing criticisms reported in the Welsh press was a reference to the "clowns" at the Welsh Office. A senior member of the county council said that the new board was an "affront" to Gwent and was a case of "jobs for the boys."
There has been some speculation that the board will meet in private. Bearing in mind its composition, one can understand why. Newport and Gwent seem defenceless in this situation. Exorbitant charges are levied without representation. All local access to and local links with representatives will vanish. Such developments are dangerous for democracy, particularly when one considers the strength of feeling that is building up over these charges. I have received several large petitions from people who say that they will refuse to pay. I do not encourage them to do that, but I can understand why they feel as they do.
Newport, as a progressive local authority, provided for the water supplies of its consumers many years ago. Then, over the years, we experienced various centralisation measures. The Newport authority was followed by the South Monmouthshire authority and the Gwent authority. Now we have the Welsh water authority. Throughout this time the ratepayers of Newport have paid through the nose.
Since 1960 water rates in Newport have increased by no less than 2,700 per cent. That is why I say that the charges are a scandal. They have risen from £1.93 in 1959–60 to £53.00 in 1982–83. There has been a similar exorbitant pattern of increases in sewerage charges.
For the average domestic ratepayer, water and sewerage charges will amount to £96 compared with a total borough rate of £46. That figure is finalised by the 18 per cent. imposed by the Welsh water authority about three months ago. The charges for water and sewerage are more than double the charges for all the other services provided by the local authority.
A great proportion of the rates in Newport is eaten up by these charges, when so many other valuable services need that money. A great deal more money could he spent on housing. Public health, swimming pools, parks, public works, the municipal bus service and a subsidy for the National Welsh Bus Company must be provided for out of the rates. What is left must be spent to try to attract new industry to the area.
Industrial sites must be developed to provide new jobs not only for Newport but for the valleys of the hinterland. Newport has done its best to persuade the Welsh water authority to provide drainage and water supplies for the new industrial areas. We already pay enough to the Welsh water authority to have that type of service. Work is particularly necessary on a number of low level sites on the coastal belt. Such sites could accommodate the massive new industries, such as Datsun, which we hope to attract to the area. Many firms realise the potential of the area, with its motorway links to the Midlands and South-East England, yet the Welsh water authority just
871 does not wish to know about this vital work and says "We shall leave it to the Welsh Development Agency or you can do it yourself at the ratepayers' expense".
There is no rebate scheme for water charges for the really needy sections of the community. Pensioners, some of them with limited means, cannot understand why they receive such hefty bills when the quantity of water that they consume is so small.
Mr. Haydn Rees, the chairman of the Welsh water authority, will retire this week after six years in the hot seat. I do not blame him for the situation that has developed. He inherited the problem, and he seems to know the difficulties, but the Government have not given him the wherewithal to rectify the position.
In his valedictory statement a few days ago, Mr. Rees said that within 10 years there would be a common water charge for England and Wales. Such a system has already been created for gas and electricity charges. Perhaps that is the way ahead, but people in Newport are not prepared to wait for 10 years. Mr. Rees has at least attempted to get a realistic price for Welsh water where it is sold to other water authorities, but the Secretary of State for Wales is dithering over this proposal. Indeed, he has been dithering for seven months. It is absurd that people who live in the shadow of the Elan valley reservoirs are paying more for their water than those who live in industrial Birmingham and the West Midlands.
The Labour Government introduced a rudimentary equalisation scheme and the Welsh water authority benefited by £3 million annually. Admittedly that was not much, but the idea was that the system should be built up to obtain an element of justice for Welsh ratepayers. However, when this Government came to power they soon set aside that scheme.
Ministers in the Welsh Office should remember that if they do not take some action on the exorbitant charges they will reap the whirlwind. Those who live in Newport and in the whole of Wales are law abiding, but now they seem to be saying "Enough is enough".
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I shall return to the matter of the railways, a subject which has already been raised by four of my hon. Friends. The Leader of the House will be aware that many Opposition Members are distressed because, due to the need to debate the European Community tomorrow, we have been deprived of the opportunity to discuss the grave state of affairs of British Rail, which is likely to lead to the worst industrial confrontation—and perhaps a decimation of services thereafter—that I can recall. It will certainly be the worst during the present generation. Those are serious words. I hope that they will be taken seriously.
We are now on a collision course, about which the Government must make a statement before the House rises for the recess. The deadlines involved will have been passed before the House resumes. It appears that on Friday, at a meeting of the Railway Staffs National Council, the British Railways Board will advance proposals that will lead to the complete shutdown of the railways. It may have decided on that course of action in the knowledge that a collision with all the major rail unions, at a time of national crisis and hypertension as a 872 result of events overseas, may intimidate railway workers out of taking industrial action, which will be inevitable if the board puts forward its package.
The board is being egged on by the Government. The Government have brought about the impasse. That impasse will continue as long as the complete freeze on investment and a failure of confidence in the railways remain. Decisions about the future of the industry have been pre-empted because of the inquiry—which may be an inquest on the whitening bones of the industry if the Government force the industry to commit suicide by egging the board on to a collision course to disaster. I shall not go into detail as others have done. I shall deal with the problem as it affects my constituency and the industry as a whole.
It is not right to say, as I believe the Secretary of State for Employment—that well-known hammer of the unions—will say in Beaconsfield this evening, that the railways have not delivered, that the unions must be told that if there is a showdown they will be to blame and that they must be whipped back into line. The unions and those who work on British Rail have always acknowledged that there is a need for a more efficient and productive railway. Most of them have delivered.
The National Union of Railwaymen, to which I belong, has delivered on the productivity deals that the British Railways Board has suggested. The railwaymen have delivered on freight marshalling yards, rationalisation, cuts in passenger train mileage and the acceleration of administrative changes, and they have co-operated in all of the good housekeeping schemes that have been put up by British Rail.
Every month 1,000 people leave the industry. From April 1980 to April 1981 there was a reduction of 5,886 posts, with a saving of £28,896,000 in staff costs. In the following April to December of 1981 another 8,293 posts were lost, yielding a saving of £33,741,000. The unions have delivered time after time. They have delivered the jobs of their own members. What have they received in return? Nothing. All the schemes for electrification have been put on the back burner. They have had no tangible benefits recently to show for the years of co-operation.
The matter has been brought to a head by the proposal artificially to bring forward the decision to close two-and-a-half railway workshops and make major redundancies elsewhere. We have heard what has happened to the Shildon and Swindon works. In my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) the Derby locomotive works must face 400 redundancies. The work force there has co-operated with the management in every scheme. Now the workers are told that they will have some work as a result of closures elsewhere, so why not co-operate? "Let the crocodile eat other people and he will eat you later." That is not working people's view of closures elsewhere when they know that their turn may come next or the time after that.
Two of the three apprentice schools in Derby have been closed as a result of a rationalisation. In those circumstances, how can British Rail say that it will be going out for expansion and that if productivity were better it could obtain more overseas orders? A large order for Nigeria is being discussed. Where will the rolling stock be built? Where will the trained personnel be found if lay-offs in the workshops continue in this way and skilled apprentices do not come through into the work force? The answer is that it will be impossible to find them.
873 Many of us suspect that not merely is British Rail embarking on a collision course with all the unions, having deliberately put together a package which includes elements of conflict with the staff unions, the NUR and TSSA, but that the Government are encouraging British Rail to act as their willing client in selling off most of the assets of the railways.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to the sayings of Sir Robert Lawrence about asset-stripping. In Derby our workshops have been the pride of the railway system. There is the technical centre and there are the carriage and loco works. We now hear that those workshops may be candidates for privatisation. They will not be closed, because too much investment went into them in the good days of the railways, but if they are slimmed down and the work force bled away they may well become candidates for privatisation. Indeed, we are told that GEC may be coming to look around. It would be outrageous if the engineering workshops in Derby were sold off.
I believe that in the last Session of Parliament there was a draft Bill, which never saw the light of day or the scrutiny of Members of Parliament, to permit the selling off of all the workshops. Our suspicion and fear is that, after two months of total shutdown on the railways and a crisis from which everyone should now back away because it will lead to the most destructive confrontation, the result will be the devastation of the railway system as we have known it.
As has been emphasised several times this week, there have been persistent calls for statements from the Government on a number of issues. Where is the statement about the Channel tunnel? Where is the statement about the delays in electrification? Where is the statement about railway workshop closures? Finally, before the key decision that must be made on Friday, just before the House rises for the recess, I say in all seriousness to the Leader of the House that an explanation is required from the Government. There must be some understanding by the Government that if the essentially moderate people who work on the railways are driven too far, not only will they be driven to the point at which they have no alternative but to take industrial action, as I believe will be the case if the proposals to be put on Friday are carried through, but the result will be the destruction of the British railway system, for which the British public will not forgive the Government.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I endorse all the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) about the onslaught on the railway industry. My hon. Friends spoke eloquently of the need to defend their constituencies and the industry and they have the full support of the entire Parliamentary Labour Party.
It is many years since the House went into recess in a situation such as today's, in which we are at war with another country. There was unanimous agreement in the House in totally condemning the Argentine junta's invasion of the Falkland Islands. Before the House goes into recess, however, the need for a negotiated settlement must be understood. I understand the political pressures that led the junta to take its action. The week before the 874 invasion, there was a massive demonstration in the Argentine capital, and it was to relieve itself from that pressure that the junta acted as it did.
The need to seek a negotiated settlement is very important and should be given great priority by the House and by the Government. I was concerned at what I considered to be the negative attitude shown by the Prime Minister at Question Time today. When pressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about negotiations, the United Nations and so on, the right hon. Lady fell back on the need for military victory. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the speech which the Foreign Secretary made on Thursday was somewhat different from the remarks we heard from the Prime Minister today.
I hope that the Leader of the House will listen to this quote from what the Foreign Secretary said only last Thursday:I was coming on to the future of negotiations, which was one of the important points taken up by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South-East as well. There is no question of the Government having turned their back on the idea of a negotiated settlement. The diplomatic option and effort continues as vigorously as before.In the same speech the Foreign Secretary also said:I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said about military and diplomatic pressures going together. Both are required. Neither would be effective without the other. They are part of a comprehensive whole."—[Official Report, 20 May 1982; Vol. 24, c. 552.]We know about the military pressures and the escalation which has occurred since the debate last Thursday. What we do not know about are the diplomatic efforts and what efforts have been made by the British Government to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis.
No one, certainly not myself, denies that the issue is complex. I have said previously in a debate on the Falkland Islands that I do not consider this to be another Suez because at the time of Suez it was clear who the aggressor was. If I believed it was another Suez, I would be virtually condoning what the junta did. That does not alter the fact that a military solution will not be a proper lasting solution—for reasons which must be obvious to everyone in the House. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not close the door on negotiations or on trying to find an interim arrangement.
There has been much talk in the House and in the media generally about the possibility of United Nations administration or trusteeship. That type of solution may be more acceptable in the long run than Britain simply repossessing the Falkland Islands. If we repossess the islands, what will we do afterwards? Will we keep a huge force there, 8,000 miles away from the United Kingdom? Will we have to keep such a force there in case the ruling authorities in Argentina decide to have another go? There must be recognition of all the complex problems involved, which must mean a need to get around the negotiating table. Of course it goes without saying that that applies to the junta as well as to the British Government.
I am glad that the Leader of the House accepted at the outset the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). It would be impossible to believe that if there was a further major escalation of the conflict with major casualties the House would not be called back. I hope that pressures from Members of Parliament and the public generally will ensure that we will be brought back.
I have contempt for those who believe that what is happening in the South Atlantic can be a springboard for 875 some electoral success. It would be a disgrace if the British and Argentines who have lost their lives and those who have been injured were used as an excuse for a snap election in which the Tory Party could do well on the basis of what has happened over the Falkland crisis.
I hope that, like me, most Conservative Members will view with contempt those people who are willing to use people's lives, let alone British lives, lost in military action purely and simply to advance their party's narrow interests. Might I add here that the inquiry has yet to take place about the events which led to the invasion in the first place, and presumably the then Foreign Secretary did not resign for the fun of it.
I turn now to some local matters. Although there has been some decrease in unemployment according to the figures which came out today, the underlying number of unemployed adults is still increasing. What is particularly worrying for hon. Members like me who represent West Midlands constituencies is the continued substantial increase in unemployment in the region during the past three years.
On 22 April I asked a question aboutthe percentage increase in unemployment between May 1979 and the current time in each of the travel-to-work areas of the West Midlands."—[Official Report, 22 April 1982; Vol.22, c. 130.]In my own travel-to-work area of Walsall, the increase in unemployment over the past three years was 240 per cent. In Dudley and Sandwell, and, also of course, in the black country, the figure was 271 per cent. In Birmingham, it was 182 per cent. Clearly, the increase in unemployment in the West Midlands has been far greater than in most other parts of the country, and certainly nationally.
I have here an answer to another question that I asked on 8 April. These answers will be of particular interest to the Leader of the House, for obvious reasons. I asked for the percentage increases for the West Midlands and the Walsall travel-to-work area. I have already mentioned the increase of 241 per cent. in three years in the Walsall travel-to-work area. For the West Midlands as a whole the figure was 193 per cent. There are also continuing large-scale redundancies, closures, and the rest. We therefore believe that measures are urgently needed to reverse the tide of mass unemployment so that people may get back to work, and to stop adults rotting their lives away in the dole queues, as well as young people leaving school.
So far, there has been no announcement from the Government that they intend to pursue policies which will reverse the tide of mass unemployment. At the moment, the dominant issue is the Falklands. That is natural, because lives are involved and we do not know how many more casualties there will be. However, when the Falkland crisis is over, we shall still be faced with the crisis of mass unemployment and the fact that millions of people in this country are denied the opportunity to earn their living.
I am also worried because those who have been made unemployed are to be penalised in a particularly vindictive manner. We had a debate about the fact that unemployed people are to be taxed. We know, too, that although taxation will begin in the current year, the 5 per cent. which was taken from them in 1980 in lieu of taxation will not be restored. I have a reply here from a Treasury Minister to a question in which I asked how many 876 unemployed will not pay income tax because their income is too low. The reply was 1¼ million. So out of those who will not be liable to income tax—the registered unemployed—1¼ million will not pay any income tax at all because their total income is too low.
Forty per cent. of the unemployed are affected in that way, yet those people who will not pay income tax are denied the 5 per cent. in benefit. The 60 per cent. of unemployed people who will be liable to tax will be subject to double taxation. They will pay income tax as well as the 5 per cent. deduction that was introduced in lieu of taxation about 2 years ago.
I mention that matter because it seems to me that the House should have special concern for those people most at risk in our community. It is all very well for the Government to say that unemployment is unfortunate but inevitable because of economic trends and what is happening abroad. That is certainly not an argument that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would accept.
What possible justification can there be, however, for the measures that I have been describing being taken against the unemployed? People who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without work and on the dole queue are penalised by having less money than they would otherwise have. When we talk about going into recess, everyone should bear in mind how difficult things are for those of our constituents who are out of work and to whom every single penny counts. It is not just the unemployed who suffer: it is their wives and children. Yet the Government have taken action which is amongst the most vindictive that they have taken in the past three years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was right in what he said about the nurses. He also referred to the wealthier sections of the community which have done so well. It is about time the Government took some action for the poorer sections of the community and certainly for the unemployed. The plight of those people who have been the victims of Government policy should be brought to the notice of the House. I hope that even at this late hour the 5 per cent. that was stolen from the unemployed will be restored to their benefit.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Many of my hon. Friends have raised the issue of the railway workshops. Like some of my hon. Friends, I have the good fortune to be an NUR-sponsored Member. There is nothing that I can usefully add to the authoritative speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and others who have spoken on this issue, as the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) knows well.
In all the meetings that I have attended with the NUR I have been struck by the extent to which the union has cooperated in the various proposals that have been put forward over the years by British Rail. If anybody thinks that in the cuts and in the changes in passenger services and freight there has not been formidable union cooperation, they are living in another world. It may be that they have been too helpful for their own good. It would be a great pity if at this stage, on the crux issue of railway workshops, unfair advantage was seen to be taken of all the co-operation that has been given over the past few years.
Last year, with several colleagues, I visited the railway workshops in the constituency of my hon. Friend the 877 Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart). It is an extremely impressive place. The training is exceptional. As one whose job it was to go round a number of training institutions in Britain, I can say that the training given at Swindon is second to none. I hope that the Leader of the House and his colleagues will heed what Labour Members have said.
It would be an abuse of the procedure of the House to go in detail into the many aspects of the Falklands issue at this stage in the business. However, I thank the Leader of the House for the undertaking that he gave at the beginning of the debate on the recall of Parliament. I shall concentrate on one issue. If those who share the view that some of us have put forward are to be persuasive in trying to achieve a ceasefire and an immediate end to bloodshed we must point out to the Government that they should be very careful about inviting the Russians into the South Atlantic. As the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, we must look over the hill. In addition, the American Secretary of State has said that there is no military solution. Therefore, the House should be recalled if there is any sign of change within Argentina.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall be brief.
Elements of the Left in the Argentine Air Force and Army, together with some of the Left-wing Peronistas and—according to friends who work for a Latin American newsletter—the Communists, are almost certainly trying to put together some deal with each other. I do not say that General Menendez and his forces on the Falkland Islands are likely to surrender, but it is possible. Our forces face the most formidable terrain when crossing the island to Port Stanley. However, if General Menendez and his forces surrender, there will almost certainly be a coup or revolution in Argentina. If I were asked what evidence there was, I would point to an important fact that is known to the Foreign Office. Indeed, I have spoken partly in the hope that the Foreign Office will take it more seriously than those who put it to them suggest.
Juan Abalmedina was secretary general of the Peronistas in the 1970s. Those of us who spoke to the Latin American delegates at the Latin American European Assembly conferences will know of the charisma that attaches to that man. He has been incarcerated—that is the word—in the Mexican embassy in Buenos Aires for the past six years. In a sense, he is a charismatic figure. He could have been given his freedom only with the connivance and agreement of at least sections of the Argentine armed forces. Therefore, I suggest that a deal has been made. We must study carefully what the right hon. Member for Sidcup called the other side of the hill.
Hon. Members should imagine the scenario of the Argentines facing defeat, inflation and a debt of $35 billion. We have the ingredients for an explosive situation and either for a coup by the Right to achieve a more hard-line Government or for the advent of what can be described only as a Gaddafi-like situation. If that situation were to develop in the Southern hemisphere, it would be extremely dangerous for the West. It would play right into the hands of the Soviet camp. The one thing of which we can be certain is that any successor to the Argentine Government, Right or Left, will not be any more disposed towards negotiation. There is no likelihood of a civilian 878 Government who might negotiate. I suppose that one must look at it from our point of view and from theirs. Indeed, if it is worth dying for the islands, they must be worth keeping. The more blood spilled, the more intransigent the impasse that we have reached.
However, Argentine intransigence would survive any British military triumph. Therefore, we would unleash a revolutionary process in Argentina that certainly would clash with the traditional sectors of society. That involves the British community. This is a new situation because there is no precendent for such a war in South America.
The purpose of my speech is to stress that at this stage, and possibly in the next 10 days, we must be careful to look for any moment at which, by stopping fighting, we can help those forces in Argentina who want a dialogue with the West rather than the alternative of dependency on Moscow. For that reason, I am not happy about the EEC sanctions. The sanctions, which I suspect are inefficient, nevertheless create the atmosphere of the Hispanic world taking on the Anglo-Saxon English-speaking world.
During Question Time reference was made to the French Government and their exports. The French Government said that the radar avionics for the Exocet were not exported by them. That is the weaponry that sank poor HMS "Sheffield". However, the chairman of Dassault, exulting in the missile's success and suggesting that his exports are really formidable, told us that it was a package. Both cannot be right. The question arises: who is right? If, as one suspects, the chairman of Dassault is right and the French Government are wrong, one begins to wonder about the efficiency of the embargo. The sanctions are not efficient, because Siemens has told the German Government that it will not obey the embargo, or words to that effect. So that sanction is not effective. And we all know what the Italians are doing.
If we create the atmosphere of these sanctions, we are reinforcing the idea of the Hispanic world against the English-speaking world. That is extremely dangerous and it must be watched in the coming crucial 10 days. Incidentally, it is a situation that makes those around Willy Brandt, not necessarily around the German Chancellor, extremely angry with what is happening.
Another reason I hope that there will be a report back concerns the delicate issue of what is happening on the South American mainland. The Leader of the House may look very bored about all this——
§ Mr. Biffen
I have spent 30 years listening to the hon. Gentleman, and they have been the most pleasurable experiences that I have had.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is a gem for my election address.
I endeavoured to raise this matter of considerable importance under Standing Order No. 9. If the press had not raised it, I do not think that I would have done. There is widespread belief that there has been an operation on the South American mainland. Unlike some of those with whom I am widely associated, I think there is a perfectly understandable reason for doing that. It is politically hazardous, but if we do not withdraw the task force, as would be my preference, something might have to be done about the bases. However, someone some time will have to explain why that helicopter crashed in Chile. We can be forgiven for the assumption that it was some kind of an attempt to do something about the Super Etendards that carried the Exocet that sank the "Sheffield".
879 If I were a member of the task force or had relations serving with the task force, I would be pressing as much as anyone—given that the task force was there—for something to be done about the Super Etendards and the Exocet. Rather than sending Vulcans to knock them out, frankly it might be better to send SAS parties—as has been suggested by the Daily Mail, among others—on to the Latin American mainland. To me, that is a reason for withdrawing the task force.
If landing on the mainland has been found necessary, the Government are creating a new situation. We have been told by the Venezuelan President that once anything happens on the South American mainland, diplomatic relations will be broken with Venezuela. Certainly Roberto Campos gave the same indication to some of us about relations with Brazil, as did the Colombian ambassador. That therefore brings us back to the whole question of relations with the Latin American continent.
The House has been patient with me. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his promise. I merely seek to extract from him the courteous assent that he will raise these matters with the Foreign Office. It knows perfectly well that they have been raised before. I hope that, by raising them now, they will be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
I also support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that the House should adjourn, especially in view of the serious situation in my own constituency—and several other constituencies—over the operation of the community enterprise programme run by the Manpower Services Commission.
The matter is urgent in Vauxhall, where Elephant Jobs Ltd., sponsored under the community enterprise programme, is threatened with foreclosure of its funding from the end of this month; in other words, before the House returns from the recess.
I posed various questions to the Secretary of State for Employment and received a series of unclear replies. For example, I asked the right hon. Gentlemanwhether he has required the Manpower Services Commission to reinterpret the guidelines for projects funded by the community enterprise programmes",and received a typically monosyllabic answer:No".—[Official Report, 24 May 1982; Vol. 24, c. 228.]On the other hand, both Elephant Jobs Ltd. and the House of Lambeth Project, funded indirectly by the Manpower Services Commission through the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement, may have to close part of their project work because of a change in the interpretation of the guidelines on the financing of these programmes.
The change in interpretation hinges—this has been confirmed by the Minister—on what is meant by "economic" and "economic benefit" and whether projects of this kind can put existing jobs at risk. So far as anyone concerned with these projects can tell, no evidence has been adduced to suggest that this is the case and that jobs are at risk.
The reply that I have received from the Minister is purely hypothetical—that projects should not be put at risk but that there was a possibility that projectscould put existing jobs at risk or prevent the creation of potential new jobs."—[Official Report, 19 May 1982; Vol. 24, c. 111.]880 What we have here by implication is a variant on the Government's general crowding-out argument from either public enterprise projects or public sponsored projects and their impact on the private sector. Just as the Government are mistaken in arguing generally that public spending drains rather than sustains the private sector, so, in the particular case of two projects—one of which, Elephant Jobs Ltd., employs 140 persons and the other, the House of Lambeth, employs 40 persons—the Government's reasoning is dubious and raises a fundamental question.
If these projects are now to be called into question and further funding denied them, how is it that, under the same guidelines, they were approved for funding by the Manpower Services Commission and the community employment programme under the same provisions and under earlier spending commitments?
The definition of what is or is not a project meriting benefit comes out of the CEP's sponsors handbook, which says that the community enterprise programme scheme should contribute to the improvement of the local environment, the conservation of energy or provide amenities or economic benefit to the community. But the handbook makes no other reference to community benefit. There are references to other things that the scheme should not do, but what is defined as community benefit is not made clear. Nor, frankly, is it made clear by the replies that I have had so far from the Minister. He says that projects put forward by sponsors are considered individually and the Government will judge whether projects are of economic benefit in the light of local needs and circumstances.
However, if they were local needs and circumstances we might be talking about one or two isolated projects. I am not only faced with two projects that are now threatened with closure in my constituency, but another similar project is threatened. Several projects are now in question, not only in the London area, but in the rest of the country.
Clearly the Secretary of State has passed instructions down the line that there should be a revision of the interpretation of the rules for funding which throws not only these projects but others into nothing less than crisis. The crisis is caused not only because current activities cannot be sustained, but also through not knowing how funding should continue. It is very difficult to know what lies behind the effective reinterpretation of the rules, but one suspects that it must be something which either the Manpower Services Commission or the Secretary of State prefers not to make public. One can only suspect that they hoped that this fudging of the community benefit criterion definition would not be observed.
There is also a widespread suspicion that this is a covert way of changing the whole nature of the community enterprise programme projects nationally. The Minister assures me that this is not so and that the Government have made available additional resources under the programme to support another 5,000 places during the coming year. It is interesting to speculate how they will do this. It is very hard to imagine the creation of programmes that would escape the harsh and unrealistic redefinition of employment creation.
What sense can be made of the community benefit of projects of this kind if they cannot create employment which, in effect, brings benefit to the local community? If the Minister is not clear about the benefit, it is possible to suggest grounds on which he should be able to judge 881 whether benefit is brought to a local area. These include the generation of income and surplus by the enterprise and higher spending power of some of those employed in inner city areas.
Unfortunately, that is not the end of the matter. In Elephant Jobs Ltd. the average wage is £83 gross a week. About one-third of the employees are married or single parents, with dependants. But others are single persons. I have asked the Minister to state the net cost to the Exchequer if these people were made unemployed instead of continuing to be funded on these programmes. I was told that there would be no net Exchequer cost, for given reasons. The reason that was not given—which is important to the whole rationale of these programmes—is that they would be eligible for unemployment benefit that amounts to as much as they are being paid to work. There would be no net difference. The difference is that, instead of being engaged in craft training schemes and in employment, they would be unemployed and on the dole.
I stress my reasons for being concerned about the immediate impact of what is happening in my constituency and in other inner city areas. The employees of Elephant Jobs Ltd. are largely drawn from the most deprived parts of a relatively deprived community. More than 50 per cent. are black. Many live in the Lambeth and Lewisham areas. Many are ex-offenders. It is people in these categories who are likely to be put on the streets by the change in the rules and guidelines for these programmes and who will view with considerable cynicism any seriousness on the part of the Government about realising the alleged intention of the inner cities programme to create jobs and to foster "community spirit" in those areas. These projects represent a first line of defence against a collapse of confidence in the social system as a whole, giving rise to the grave social discontent that was seen in the streets last year, not only in Lambeth and Brixton, but elsewhere.
I am worried by the fact that the Minister does not seem to be aware of the manner in which the Manpower Services Commission is interpreting these rule changes. I was told that the Secretary of State had not requested the Manpower Services Commission to reinterpret the guidelines. Yet the House of Lambeth project, providing 40 jobs, mainly in woodworking, has received a letter from the Manpower Services Commission giving notice thatafter taking Head Office advice, the House of Lambeth fails to meet the community benefit criterion of the Community Enterprise Programme and for that reason the scheme is not regarded as refundable.It is clear that, despite the Minister's assurance, instructions are coming down the line to axe a whole series of these projects in the inner city areas. The Manpower Services Commission says that there has been no change in the criteria. I have drawn attention to the guidelines, opaque though they may be, from the sponsor's handbook. It seems, however, that the Minister is not aware that the change in the interpretation of the guidelines means that capital projects approved last year will now be wasted. Resources have been committed to them, but the funds for their operation will not be available.
The change in the attitude of the Government towards these programmes is made plain in the case of the House of Lambeth by the fact that this project came up for grant renewal last October and was encouraged to expand from 31 to 40 places, which was done. It seems that at that time the Manpower Services Commission was happy with the 882 criteria. So happy was it that it gave sanction to Lambeth council to approve a £13,000 grant from the job creation fund to help. That capital sum has been spent on a GLC rented factory, which, if the scheme closes, will be wasted.
There is a strong case for claiming that the revision in the application of the funding rules at best amounts to maladministration by the MSC, for which the Secretary of State is responsible, and at worst represents a cynical attack on the principle of publicly funded projects in the inner city areas. Schemes such as the House of Lambeth expire in July. Following pressure, they were given a three-month extension beyond that date either to come within the criteria as redefined, or to find alternative funding, for instance to convert to a youth opportunities training workshop or a local authority sponsored workshop.
However, as the House of Lambeth—sponsored by the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement—has submitted to me, it is difficult to answer the case that has been brought when one no longer knows of what one is accused. The attempts at definition by the MSC at informal meetings have been arbitrary and—in effect—obstructive.
The future of the Government's programme for the long-term unemployed, the cut in places in a borough such as Lambeth and the loss of jobs are seriously affecting inner city areas. Since the events took place in Brixton last year we have had a virtual doubling of youth unemployment in the area. It is very worrying that on the one hand a project such as the House of Lambeth has been praised for "creating real jobs" through its various projects and on the other hand has been told that it is taking away jobs from the local community. The change in interpretation is ruining not only years of work but the morale of those who are employed.
I asked the Minister of State, Department of Employment whether he was aware of what the impact of a cut of 40 of the places on the Elephant Jobs scheme would be on the enterprise. He replied that that was for Elephant Jobs to determine. Of course, it is not. If one takes 40 places from 140 places on such schemes, which have fixed overheads in terms of management personnel and the commitment of a basic management staff, that means the closure of the project.
It is clearly time that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Employment got together to face the responsibilities of their respective urban and economic programmes. It is time that they got together to try to marry the commitment to the inner cities, of which we hear so much, with the real preservation of community sponsored jobs in inner city areas.
At present we are in a "Catch 22" situation. All projects are required to benefit the community. They are supposed to do so through job creation. Yet when they move to viable areas of job creation it is claimed, without evidence, that they are competing with the private sector.
The House should address itself to this issue. We should receive a reply from the Leader of the House indicating that he will not only draw these matters to the attention of the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for the Environment, but will seek to ensure that projects such as these in the Vauxhall constituency can not only survive, but grow and flourish.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that when I was explaining my presence from seven o'clock and the fact that I had not been called I was not commenting on his speech? I was telling my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) that it did not make any difference if one sat here all the time and tabled an amendment, and that a letter to Mr. Speaker was the only way of securing that one was called. That is one reason why the Chamber is continuously empty week after week. I am disappointed that my amendment was not called. It would have provided power to Back Benchers instead of the Front Bench and the Government who have power to determine the business of the House.
I support the motion tabled by the Opposition Front Bench, because I believe that there is a continuing and growing need to reflect the criticism of the Labour and trade union movement of the Government's policy of waging war in the South Atlantic. That is no criticism of the men who face the grave danger in which the Government have placed them in the South Atlantic with a great deal of courage and fortitude.
The reason why I believe that the House should not adjourn has already been mentioned by my hon. Friends and, significantly, not by any Conservative Members. It is the difficulty faced by National Health Service workers because of the position in which they have been placed by the Government. They have no wish to go on strike and they recognise the dilemma that they are in. They provide a continuous service that looks after those who are ill. They do not want to prejudice that position. If they have a face of compassion, the Government will not look at it with sympathy—they will kick it. That is the sad, glaring truth.
Over the past three years Health Service workers—ancillary workers, nurses and ambulance drivers—have taken a cut in their wages. In 1980 when there was an annual inflation rate of about 18 per cent. ancillary workers received about 12 per cent. In 1981, with an inflation rate of about 12 per cent., ancillary workers had a wage increase of 7.5 per cent. over a 15-month period. Currently, with an inflation rate of about 10 to 12 per cent., the Government are offering a 4 per cent. limit. That is a wage cut. The Government do not say "We recognise the difficulties and the need to provide a continuous service". The workers see the Government imposing wage cuts because of the cash limits on the National Health Service.
Mining is an occupation that has more regard for National Health Service workers than most occupations although most workers recognise their significance and importance. The National Union of Mineworkers in the Yorkshire area has said that it is prepared to take sympathetic action. That will be made illegal by the Government's Employment Bill that passed through the House this week. That is more action by the Government against workers organising themselves to fight for a just claim.
The National Health Service is labour-intensive. It is a caring service for which significant funding is required. That includes the concept of paying decent wages to the staff. That is not against the interests of the national economy. If higher wages are paid, there is an increase in demand, which means an increase in demand for the goods 884 and services that we produce and make available. However, the Government are showing their concern for the National Health Service by encouraging the privatisation of the service. They are doing so by encouraging the growth of, for instance, the Yorkshire clinic, which is in the Aire valley and not in the Keighley constituency. A number of greedy consultants, aided no doubt by the banks, which are anxious to earn interest on the investment, have decided to open a new private clinic. This will be a drain on the Health Service: trained people will be moving from the service because the private sector does not provide adequate training. This is an indication of the Government's priorities.
The Government have said that there is no money for NHS workers and only limited money for the Service. The public sector borrowing requirement is extremely high because of the massive dole queues created by the Government's policies and the consequent payments of unemployment benefit, supplementary benefit and loss of tax revenue. This is costing in excess of £10 billion.
However, there is money for the Falklands episode. The Government have been highly selective in the military juntas that they have chosen to move against and to be critical of—indeed, a mere 20 months or so ago the chairman of the Conservative Party, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Paymaster General, far from being critical of the military junta, which was the same one that is now in control, went on a five-day mission to Argentina to try to improve trading relations between Britain and Argentina. The Government are now much more critical. All of a sudden they have discovered the junta's reactionary nature. That has happened because it suits their position. Money for the Falklands will be running into hundreds of millions of pounds.
As other hon. Members have said, the Government—this has emerged not by open debate but by a planted question—have produced a top salaries review. We should always remind ourselves that the review is carried out by "top people". Queen's Counsel and Members of the Lords meet to decide that their chums are not nearly enough well catered for and that the under secretary, the deputy secretary, the second permanent secretary and others are merely rubbing along on £30,495 a year. That is the salary of a second permanent secretary. They find that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and the Secretary to the Cabinet are barely managing to make ends meet on £35,845 a year and that the Lord Chief Justice is somehow eking out a miserable existence on £44,500 a year. High Court Judges are just rubbing along on £35,000 a year. All these people have received an 18 per cent. increase without asking for it, without their striking, and without any organisation. The Government have given that to them on a platter. These people are not short of money.
Last Wednesday I addressed a meeting in my constituency at the Airedale general hospital when the workers came out on strike, like many others in the National Health Service, to ask for a decent living wage by means of a 12 per cent. increase. There were over 300 at the meeting. These workers read in the newspapers that the "top people" are rubbing along on £40,000 a year and need an 18 per cent. increase. The "top people" have to be compared with the recipient of a wage slip for 4½ weeks' work, including weekends—this slip was received by a person who has been qualified for five years—of £283.23 net. Another worker at the same hospital received 885 £231 for the month of March. That is an approximate take-home pay of £56 a week. When they read about the massive increases to the massive salaries of those who sit in judgment, those who advise the Government in senior Civil Service positions and the rest, they feel a deep and abiding sense of outrage which is driving them to take the industrial action that they feel is necessary.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.