Madam Speaker : No. I am not here to listen to the issues that the hon. Gentleman wants to raise. If he has a point of order that I can deal with, I will listen to it now, but I want direct points of order.
Mr. Burns : Thank you, Madam Speaker, for that guidance. I want to raise with you the bringing into disrepute of this House and the security of this House. As you may be aware, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) appeared govellingly with Saddam Hussein on Iraqi television last night, when he said that he supported Saddam and congratulated him on his courage and that he was with him until he secured victory.
Given that this country fought a war against Saddam Hussein, and given the massacre of the Kurds and the marsh Arabs, will you, Madam Speaker, make a ruling on whether an hon. Member, by associating himself with those who commit genocide and who have provoked a war with us, brings the reputation of this House into disrepute? Furthermore, are there any precautions in place to prevent the hon. Member for Hillhead from bringing into the precincts of this building any of his Iraqi friends who are our enemies because of the actions of Saddam Hussein?
As for last night's television, I was otherwise occupied and did not see the programme in question. It was not a point of order, however. In fact, the hon. Gentleman has just given extra publicity to an hon. Member's opinions on which I cannot possibly comment.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request from the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement in this House about the report that has been published by the marine accident investigation branch and by the marine pollution control unit in respect of the Braer, which went aground over a year ago? I have just been in contact with the other place, where the Shipping Minister serves, and
Column 892with the MAIB, and I am told that a number of copies of the report have been circulated but that the Opposition were not included on the circulation list.
It is high time the Secretary of State asked to make a statement ; if he does not, this House will be brought into disrepute.
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker, about parliamentary language. During Environment questions the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) used the word "gerrymandering" in connection with two London boroughs--the City of Westminster council and the borough of Wandsworth. His suggestion has absolutely no basis.
Madam Speaker : Order. That is a matter for argument. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member and knows that he does not argue with me in the Chair but puts his point to me. What is it, and I will do my best to deal with it?
Madam Speaker : Order. I think that I can deal with this. At this end of the Chamber I often hear rich vocabulary and, if the expression had been unparliamentary, I would certainly have stopped it at the time. Perhaps we can proceed to the ten-minute Bill.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Has not the hon. Gentleman just abused the procedures of the House by raising a spurious point of order attacking the district auditor whose comprehensive report published last week made it clear that there was gerrymandering?
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan) : On a genuine point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of what has been said about Westminster, may I take it that it is in order to describe the reorganisation of Scottish local government as a gerrymander?
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reform the system of taxation so that taxpayers are enabled to hypothecate on grounds of conscience a proportion of taxation to purposes which they nominate. The Bill's simple purpose is to allow people who have a conscientious objection to their taxes being used for public expenditure on military purposes to be able to register that objection and to divert that part of their taxes to a specific fund that will be used for peaceful purposes connected with the development of international security.
I believe, and I think that many people associated with the Bill and with the Peace Tax campaign believe, that far too much is spent on armaments, and that far too much talent is wasted on the development, research and production of arms which could be put to much more useful purposes. Far too many arms are exported from this country, particularly to areas in which we know they will be used by regimes that are intent on internal repression. However, that is not what the Bill is about, nor is it the reasoning behind it. There is no logical reason why someone who thinks that present arms spending is reasonable should not support the Bill's principles.
It is important to stress at the outset that the Bill is about conscientious objection. It is not a way for someone to pay less tax, nor is it in any way a charter for people to dodge taxes. It is about tax diversion, not tax evasion. Therefore, there is no incentive whatever for someone who is not a genuine conscientious objector to take advantage of the Bill's provisions. Many conscientious objectors are deeply concerned about international security, international peace and human rights in areas of conflict or potential conflict. Almost 80 years ago, during the first world war, the House first recognised the right to conscientious objection. It was recognised again during the second world war and during subsequent periods of national service and conscription. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights recognises conscientious objection to war as a legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is also recognised as fundamental by the European convention on human rights.
Being a conscientious objector has never been an easy option. To be a conscientious objector, especially in times of war, has required a great deal of personal courage, and in many cases self-sacrifice. It has never been easy.
It is unlikely now that a conscientious objector will be required actually to fight in a war. The nature of modern warfare involves sophisticated weaponry and professional armies. However, a significant proportion of our taxes is being used in preparation for war to which some people deeply object. For someone who is a conscientious objector that is as unethical as being asked to fight. The Bill would allow such people to have their objections recognised.
May I address a point that is often raised? Some people accept some of the principles behind the Bill, but do not believe that it would work. They believe that such a Bill would open the door to all sorts of problems and that people must recognise that our system of taxation does not work in that way.
Column 894When a Government of whatever persuasion have been elected, they have the right to decide how to spend our taxes which end up in a single consolidated fund. We cannot allow someone to say, "Do not spend my taxes on roads or education". To change that, one can vote for a different party at the next election ; we cannot expect Governments, local authorities or anybody spending public money to please everyone all the time. I agree with that, as do others who support the Bill.
However, it is a special case. I do not consider that it is a special case that I have to prove to justify the Bill as it has already been recognised by Parliament. If conscientious objection can be recognised in wartime, why not in peacetime as well?
In practical terms, it is not a difficult exercise. All that would be necessary is for the number of registered conscientious objectors to be known by the Inland Revenue. The average individual contribution to the Ministry of Defence budget can be calculated and a simple multiplication of the two figures produces a sum of money to be paid into a peace fund. That would certainly satisfy people who support my view.
The Bill would specify in general terms the purposes for which the fund could be used. I mentioned the need for research and development into converting industry from military to non-military production, the study of causes and resolution of conflict, community-based work to develop and maintain democratic structures and human rights in areas of potential conflict.
In view of much of what has been happening in Europe in recent years and may well happen in future, the need for such work cannot be over- emphasised. Even during the terrible events in the Balkans in the past year or two, small groups of people have been working locally, trying to promote understanding and to maintain democratic structures and human rights. Those people deserve our support by any means.
I hope that we can all agree on the importance of non-military work in promoting peace, security and human rights. A fund of that kind would make a direct contribution to security for everyone. In his recent statement "An Agenda for Peace", the Secretary-General of the United Nations suggested the establishment of a peace endowment fund which, in many ways, is a similar concept.
People have strong personal objections on religious, ethical or moral grounds to taking part in war, and I am asking the House to recognise that similar objections are held by people in respect of the spending of their taxes on arms.
One need not be a pacifist to respect the sincerity of the beliefs of those who are or to acknowledge that people have the right to a conscience. I am asking the House to allow the means for that conscience to be expressed and not violated. I ask the House to support my Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Neil Gerrard, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Cynog Dafis, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Ian Davidson, Dr. John Marek, Mr. Malcolm Chisholm, Mr. Michael Connarty, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mrs. Alice Mahon and Mr. Frank Cook.
Mr. Neil Gerrard accordingly presented a Bill to reform the system of taxation so that taxpayers are enabled to hypothecate on grounds of conscience a proportion of
Column 895taxation to purposes which they nominate : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28 January, and to be printed. [Bill 35.]
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 18th November, be approved.
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.
Miss Widdecombe : The proposals before the House seek authority for the Construction Industry Training Board and the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board to impose a levy on the employers in their industries to finance the operating costs of the boards and to fund their range of training initiatives, including grants schemes. Provision for this is contained in the Industrial Training Act 1982, and the orders before the House woud give effect to proposals submitted by the two boards.
Both proposals include provision to raise a levy in excess of 1 per cent. of an employer's payroll. The Industrial Training Act 1982 requires that in such cases the proposals must be approved by affirmative resolution of both Houses. In each case, the proposals are almost exactly the same as those approved by the House last year. As in previous orders, they are based on employer's payrolls and their use of sub-contract labour. Both have special provision for excluding small firms from paying levy.
For the CITB the rates are 0.25 per cent. of payroll and 2 per cent. of payments made by employers to labour-only sub-contrators. Employers with a payroll of £61,000 or less will be exempt. This is an increase from the previous threshold of £45,000.
The ECITB treats its head offices and construction sites as separate establishments and applies different levy rates which reflect the actual costs and the different arrangements for training particular workers. For head offices, the rates are 0.4 per cent. of payroll and 0.5 per cent. of payments to labour-only sub-contractors. Firms employing 40 or fewer employees are exempt. The rates for sites are 1.5 per cent. of payroll and 2 per cent. of labour-only payments, with exemption for employers with a payroll of £75,000 or less. In each case, the proposals have the support of the employers in the industry as required by the Industrial Training Act 1982 and have the full support of the respective boards, which consist of senior employers, trade unionists and educationists.
The House will know that the CITB and the ECITB are the only two statutory industrial training boards. Most other sectors of industry are covered by independent, non-statutory arrangements. In those two industries, however, employers are firm in their support for a statutory board and the House will recall that last year we reconstituted the CITB for a further five years. In doing so, we recognised the strong feelings of employers, and the performance and achievements of that board.
The House will also be aware that the ECITB is currently being reviewed. Such reviews are, of course, necessary if we are to ensure that the training arrangements that we have in place are right for employers in a particular sector. As with the CITB, we have consulted fully with the
Column 897industry about the effectiveness of the board and about the levy system more generally. The ECITB's current term of office is due to expire in July and I expect to make a statement to the House around the beginning of April.
The draft orders will enable the two boards to carry out their training responsibilities in 1994. It is right that the House should approve them, and I commend them accordingly.
Miss Widdecombe : Before the hon. Member comments on the degree of Government interest in training, will he recall that there were no Opposition Members present during a major debate on the national education and training targets a few weeks ago?
Mr. Lloyd : That is an interesting point given that the Minister is surrounded by a Whip, who has to be here, and by the hon. Members for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), who- -and I mean no disrespect by this--are always here for such debates. I do not think that there are signs of a massive interest in training.
Perhaps I can provoke discussion by starting off where we left off yesterday, when the Minister offered me various invitations. She asked whether I would welcome the number of young people in training and jobs. But she never responded to the argument that, at a time when skill shortages are beginning to emerge in the economy, 125,000 16 and 17-year- olds are unemployed. She has never sought to deny that fact because the figure comes from the Department of Employment's labour force survey, which was published in the Employment Gazette.
I am happy to talk to the Minister or, indeed, to the Secretary of State who invited us to discuss the fiddled figures. If the Minister gives me a guarantee that she will talk seriously about what happened to the 125,000 unemployed 16 and 17-year-olds and state why they did not appear in the official unemployment figures, we shall attend the discussions. Will the Minister give that guarantee?
Miss Widdecombe : The invitation to discuss with the Secretary of State the way in which the figures were calculated and the various differences and studies was extended to the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, but it was never taken up. I shall be most interested to know whether the current Labour Front-Bench team want to take up the offer. Until the team come to discuss the employment figures with us, they are not in any position to condemn civil servants for their independent and high standard of work.
Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is bigger than I am, so the invitation is bound to come to him first. We would be delighted to come along. The accusation is not that civil servants fiddle the figures but that politicians instruct them on how they should count--in fact, miscount--the figures.
I did not pluck from the air the statistic that 125,000 16 and 17-year-olds are unemployed. The figure appeared in the Employment Gazette, a Department of Employment publication, and it comes from the labour force survey. It
Column 898was produced by the same civil servants who the Minister wants to deride. Of course, those civil servants are telling the truth. For 125,000 young people, the Government's guarantee did not apply. They were betrayed by the Government. They were unemployed, some of them were left idle on the streets and some resorted to crime and drugs-- the sort of things that afflict young people and society. The Government are responsible.
Miss Widdecombe : As the hon. Gentleman has such utter confidence in the labour force survey, and as he is so keen to accept its figures, will he confirm that he accepts the figure of 2.7 million unemployed and that it is not underestimated by 1 million, as his friends have been claiming in recent days?
Mr. Lloyd : We had an enjoyable debate about that matter on Sunday ; regrettably, it was not in this place. As the Minister will recall, I was able to quote to her a survey done by Dr. Wells at Cambridge university. He pointed out that the Government's official figures underestimate real unemployment by between 1 million and 2 million. It is internationally accepted that the Government are prepared to use and abuse any form of statistics, just as we saw with the abuse and suppression of information on the health service and the way in which the Government manipulate figures up and down to suit their political purposes, and sometimes for nefarious purposes. Apparently it is not relevant to mention the £1 million profit that the Conservative party made when it bought the freehold of Smith square from Tory-controlled Westminster council and then sold it on again to the private sector.
I do not think that it was applied to training. I think that it was to prop up the deficit of the chairman of the Conservative party at that time. That matter is not central to training, but it is central to the shoddy way in which the Government deal with their own properties and those of other people.
Miss Widdecombe : May I refer the hon. Gentleman to the debate? I am sure, Madam Speaker, that if you had not been otherwise engaged, you would have ruled several of the hon. Gentleman's sentences out of order.
However, the hon. Gentleman claims that the International Labour Organisation definition is the one which we should be using. He says that we are deliberately suppressing figures. May I take it that the essence of the hon. Gentleman's case is that the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation are conspiring with Conservative politicians to produce a definition specifically to enable Britain's employment figures to be fiddled? Is that the hon. Gentleman's ludicrous statement?
Mr. Lloyd : The Minister is on rather dangerous ground in praying in aid the ILO. Will the Minister discuss, for example, the fact that the ILO has condemned unconditionally the Government's ban on trade unions at Government communications headquarters, and that it has described that employment practice as an outrage against the employment rights of people at work? That is what the ILO says about the Government. The ILO unemployment figures are certainly worth discussing.
Column 899We will take up the Minister's offer, but only on condition that we examine in particular the 125,000 missing 16 and 17-year-olds whom the Government betrayed when they promised training which they did not undertake either through the CITB or any other training mechanism. That must be the starting point.
Let us consider the Government's record on training and the particular role of training boards. Department of Employment spending specifically on the now disbanded employment training and youth training schemes dropped between 1987 and 1992 by £3 billion a year down to £1.7 billion, when unemployment and the number of people who needed training to put them back into work had increased massively. But the Government's record becomes a little worse. We know that, since that time, there have been further real cuts in the training budget. Training and enterprise councils have had their budgets cut, so in real terms less money is devoted to training and considerably less money is devoted to individual training, with the result that training for work and youth training are particularly shoddy little schemes.
For example, we know that, as a result of the training for work scheme and its predecessors, only one third of the people obtained work. The remarkable statistic--it would be amusing if it were not so very sad--is that unemployed adults have virtually the same chance of obtaining work if they do not go on a Government scheme as they would if they did. That must be the biggest indictment of the Mickey Mouse training schemes that the Government have made available through the CITB and, indeed, elsewhere through employment training and now training for work.
Mr. Lloyd : If we want to pursue this matter, I invite the Minister to begin to answer questions which would allow us to answer her question. The Department of Employment has stopped publishing figures that enable people to track what has happened to the unemployed. I would be delighted if the Minister returned to the Dispatch Box--of course, I would do her the courtesy of giving way again and said that she will answer questions which relate specifically to what has happened to the long-term unemployed. If she does not have the information at hand, which is the usual departmental response, I hope that she will undertake that the Department will set up precise mechanisms to track the unemployed so that we can begin to talk seriously about what has happened to them. Does she want me to give way on that matter, or was she simply introducing a bit of Dispatch Box rhetoric?
It is a serious point. We need to know what happened to the long-term unemployed. I shall tell the Minister what has happened to them. They live in poverty ; their families suffer ; they have greater health problems ; they have greater marital breakdown ; they have greater stress ; and they die younger. In the end, their children are more likely to be involved in crime and drugs. That is a tragedy.
Long-term unemployment blights our society and the lives of our constituents. It is a direct result of the mass unemployment policy that the Government have pursued.
Column 900Therefore, to some extent, we know what happens to the long-term unemployed, and we know what the Government have not done for them. They do not provide training for people to go back to work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) says, the bottom line is that they simply do not care.
Miss Widdecombe : In view of the hon. Gentleman's deep concern for the long-term unemployed, which I share, will he now welcome the 1.5 million training opportunities that the Government have created for that category of people?
Mr. Lloyd : No. I am sorry, but I will not welcome the Mickey Mouse schemes set up by the Government, because they do not any good. They keep the unemployed off the streets, if that is what the Minister means, and out of the statistics. If that is the objective, of course we understand why the Government welcome the schemes.
[Interruption.] They are fiddlers on the Bench--that is absolutely right.
Miss Widdecombe : The main intention of our training schemes is not simply to equip people with the right skills as determined locally but, more importantly, to keep the long-term unemployed in touch with work- related training. One of the things we found--the Labour Government found exactly the same thing--is that employers are reluctant to take on people who have been unemployed for any length of time. Therefore, it is crucial that the long-term unemployed have training which is linked directly to employment and the labour market so that they at least keep in touch with work-related activity. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that that is the basis of our training schemes, and will he welcome it?
Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) says that there is one vacancy for every person out of work and for every 20 people on the dole. That is the tragedy of what the Minister is saying. There is no easy path for people to return to work when there is no work to which they can return. That is the tragedy of the employment schemes that the Government have made available.
The schemes do not work. They do not create work ; they do not up-skill people ; they do not help the nation ; and they do not help individuals. The bottom line is that it is a political game. We saw the same game as each Secretary of State was trundled out to pasture and a new one was wheeled in. The Government reinvented the wheel. What is worse, sometimes they have broken the wheel.
I shall refer specifically to construction skills because the Minister has tried to divert me from that matter on occasions. Recently, the Secretary of State launched the Government's new apprenticeship schemes with a lot of fireworks. He said that it was a magnificent opportunity and there was a vast marketplace for the United Kingdom to compete in, but in order to do so successfully, we needed to ensure that our work force had all the skills they need. The Secretary of State has also said that he wants to build up vocational training and qualifictions. If he were serious about that, he would get the support of Opposition Members. He had the nerve to ask whether somebody would want their house rewired by an electrician who had demonstrated skills by rewiring other houses, or by someone who had passed an exam in solid state physics. Is
Column 901the Secretary of State saying that decent education is the privilege of people like him? I believe that the Secretary of State went to public school, and his children may also go to public school. The Under-Secretary herself may have gone to public school. The reality for many thousands of our fellow citizens is that they do not have an opportunity to go to such schools, but they are entitled to the best quality education. To sideline them and to say that all that is wanted is people who have basic rewiring skills is to insult them and to denigrate their abilities.
Miss Widdecombe : The hon. Gentleman makes my point exactly. When the figures were announced, all that Opposition Members did was to cry out that it was because there were no jobs. In other words, education is the second-best choice.
If the hon. Gentleman is so keen that education be made available to all-- that is an ambition that I share--why does he put it down as second-best to getting a job and leaving young people low paid, untrained and poorly educated at the age of 16?
Mr. Lloyd : Perhaps we need to engage in a little systematic teaching in the Chamber. Let me teach the Minister about what happens in our further education colleges. It is true that the Opposition welcome the increasing numbers of young people who are staying on in education.
Mr. Lloyd : We welcome it where that education is of their choice and is meaningful. It would be simply ridiculous to do anything else. Like many of my generation, I was lucky enough to pass through the state system at a time when the state system was able to transport people from areas where education opportunities had not existed previously.
Of course I welcome the increase in figures, and further education ought to be a right. Let me tell the Minister what happens in the underfunded system which she and her colleagues have created during the past 15 years. At the age of 18, there is a massive decline in the figures so that Britain has a far smaller proportion of its young people in full-time education than in most other parts of western Europe. That is the case when we compare ourselves with France and Germany--the nations which we like to compete with.
If the Minister wants to say that we are doing a little better than Morocco on that scale, I would not want to dispute that. However, that is not the reference point to which I or the people I represent aspire. We can do a little better than that.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : The hon. Gentleman said that he would inform the House of what is going on in our further education colleges. May I invite him to come to the Lancaster and Morecambe college of further education? He could not find a more admirable institution than that. The college provides the most superb
Column 902training and it turns out people who get jobs. Places at the college are sought after, and the people it turns out are sought after. Would the hon. Gentleman care to visit, so that he will be in touch with what is happening in a part of the world which he ought to know?
Mr. Lloyd : With the respect that I have for the hon. Lady, of course I will accept her invitation. However, there is a proviso. A year or two ago, when I spoke for the Opposition on health and safety, I wrote to a lot of hospitals and health authorities regarding the position of health and safety in those areas. I specifically wrote to the chairman of the health authority in the area which the hon. Lady represents. The hon. Lady raised a point of order in the House and condemned me for interfering in her constituency. I trust that, if I accept her invitation, it will not lead to the same hysteria and shenanigans which occurred on that occasion.
I would also say to the hon. Lady that I would be delighted to come up to that area, which I visit from time to time. She knows that her seat is one which the Labour party would expect to win at the next election, and she will have a considerable number of visits by Labour Members during the coming months. If I agree to come to see the hon. Lady's college of further education, will she come with me to the jobcentre, where perhaps we will talk to those in the dole queue who number about three times as many as there were when the Government took power in 1979? It would make an interesting joint focus--the failure of the Government represented by the dole queues and the paltry effort that they have put into further education.
I wish to talk specifically about the construction industry and the Construction Industry Training Board. I welcome the Secretary of State to the Chamber. He will be interested to know that not so many minutes ago the Minister was berating the House for the limited number of people interested in training who have bothered to turn up for the debate. I can tell the Secretary of State that it will not take him long to read the Under- Secretary's speech, because there was very little in it. However, he may be a little more interested in the speech that she has made since then in interventions in my speech. We are ever willing to help the Government. We should develop our interest in training and I welcome the Secretary of State to the debate.
I have just referred to something that the Secretary of State said. I did not complete the point that I wanted to make, because I gave way to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). Given the Secretary of State's educational background and the opportunities that it gave him, he has something of a cheek to denigrate ordinary people in the way that he did when he spoke at the national training awards ceremony at which he launched his plans for vocational training.
I have said to the Secretary of State privately and I repeat it publicly that we shall support a properly structured, properly funded approach to vocational training, as long as it provides proper, quality education which is genuinely aimed at uplifting the skill level of our young people. We need to uplift the skill level of not only our young people. The Secretary of State should recognise that the position in Germany is very different. Many of those who enter vocational training do so having already received a first-class education to a high standard through the ordinary academic system. If the Secretary of State is prepared to put the money into such a scheme, he will receive a welcome from the