HC Deb 09 August 1966 vol 733 cc1515-25
Mr. Lubbock

I beg to move Amendment No. 62, in page 6, line 40, at the end to insert: and charges by college authorities for board and lodging or for tuition fees". We are making very good progress and I do not want to delay the House too long on the Amendment, but, before I come to its terms, I must once again protest strongly on behalf of my hon. Friends at the speed with which the Bill is being pushed through, because it does not allow us enough time to prepare our case on the very important Amendments we would have sought to table had we had the opportunity.

The Amendment is a perfect illustration of this, because I received a letter only yesterday afternoon from a student drawing my attention to one aspect of the Government's prices and incomes policy which was sufficiently important to cause me immediately to table an Amendment so as to ensure that the discussion could take place on the Floor of the House. I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would tell me if he knows of any other financial burdens which will be placed on students and against which they will have no protection under the prices and incomes policy as it is outlined in the Bill. The Amendment may be clarificatory in nature. The subsection refers to … charges for the performance of services.

Not being a lawyer I cannot say with certainty whether the charges covered by the Amendment are included in the Clause as it stands. I have looked up the proceedings of the Standing Committee but the matter was not discussed.

The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the colleges have been sending out notices of increased charges to their students. My correspondent has sent me a notice he has received from the Bursar of Pembroke College. It is dated 1st August, which is after the date mentioned in the Prices and Incomes White Paper. The notice states that increases in the college's domestic expenditure—it particularly mentions the increase in rates resulting from the loss of rating relief by the Oxford and Cambridge colleges—make it necessary to increase college charges by £5 per term with effect from Michaelmas Term, 1966, and in addition notification is given of an increase in the tuition fees for undergraduates of £2 a term resulting from the 5 per cent. national increase in academic salaries.

I have consulted the education authority in Bromley about the incidence of these additional charges and am informed by the officer in charge of higher education that the £5 college dues will fall on my correspondent or, as the case may be, on his parents if they are assisting him to carry out his studies. The £2 tuition fee increase may be recovered from the local education authority in most circumstances except, I understand, where the student is getting only a minimum of grant from the authority, when he may have to pay the £2 extra as well. But I direct the hon. Gentleman's mind purely to the board and lodging charge I mentioned first.

Mr. Gower

I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's case but has he any reason for deeming it to be a stronger case than that of the nurses, who have to pay for board and lodging in hospital? Does his case have peculiar characteristics?

Mr. Lubbock

The hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely good point. I wish that I had thought of it so that I could have tabled an Amendment on that subject as well, because there might be interesting discussions about whether these charges on nurses are also included in the wording of the Clause. If such charges are included—and I shall be happy if the hon. Gentleman were to tell me so—I will be prepared to withdraw my Amendment even though I think that it would be useful for the sake of the students who have expressed anxiety to include the Amendment for purposes of clarification. No doubt the same consideration would apply if we chose to include words which covered the case of the nurses.

9.30 p.m.

I have only had today to make these inquiries. I have ascertained from the Union of Liberal Students and the National Union of Students that the notice from Pembroke College is not an isolated instance and that the increases being demanded are pretty general not only to Oxford and Cambridge but to provincial universities for board and lodging in hostels under their control. It is a general phenomenon which students have found, that whenever their grants are increased, then the board and lodging charges levied on them are increased to the same extent. A survey was carried out on this by the National Union of Students and presented to the Secretary of State for Education and Science in December, 1965. This survey showed the relationship between the increase in grants received by students earlier that year and the increase in the charges levied on them, to take effect from the Michaelmas Term of 1965. I am told that in general the survey showed that the increase in grants was almost entirely swallowed up by the increase in charges made on the students. There were examples of cases when a student was worse off than before.

Since the example relates to Oxford and Cambridge I should point out that the Oxford and Cambridge colleges were not at all helpful toward the National Union of Students when it was making its survey. The colleges seemed to have a prejudice against the Union and some of the figures supplied by them in connection with the survey were inaccurate.

I hope that in view of what I have said I shall have the support of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. This is not a party political matter but one concerning many of our constituents very closely. It is a matter affecting a section of the community which is not, by any means, well off. If we are to insulate anyone from the effects of the economic situation, I should have thought that this House would have recognised that the students have as deserving a case as any section of the community.

Mr. William Rodgers

I have been very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said. May I make it clear that we deplore any increase in prices and charges of any kind which is not covered by the tightly-drawn qualifications in paragraph 4 of the White Paper. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we make it clear that whereas we expect all those involved generally to absorb additional costs, as far as possible, we recognise that there will be some additional costs, due to action by the Government, such as increased taxation, which it will not be possible to absorb altogther. Insofar as any increase in charges proposed by Pembroke and other colleges is due to increases in rates we would regard that as coming within paragraph 4 of the White Paper.

Having said that, I hope that all bodies, including universities and colleges, will scrutinise increases that they have in mind in the light of the policy as it now stands. We are working in a voluntary period, and we hope that those who carry responsibilities in other directions will show a proper responsibility here, to act in the spirit of the White Paper and of the legislation that we have before us.

Mr. Lubbock

In connection with the increases in rates, which the hon. Gentleman says that the college is entitled to pass on to the students, I am sure that he will agree that on the arithmetic it is impossible for the whole of the £5 to be accounted for by this item because, assuming there were 400 students at Pembroke College, each paying £5 a term more, it would mean that the rates have increased by no less than £6,000. That must be impossible.

Mr. Rodgers

I did not say that a body was entitled to pass on increases in rates. I said that we acknowledged the fact that in certain circumstances it might not be possible to absorb charges of this kind and they might have to be reflected in this way. I would not wish to encourage anyone in the belief that it is simply a matter of passing on a cost which is covered by the exceptions mentioned in paragraph 4. It would be wrong for me to pursue this in detail now, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to send me full details I shall be glad to examine them. Beyond that, it would be unreasonable for me to comment. It might be unfair to Pembroke College and other institutions, because I am not in full possession of the facts and can only rely upon the helpful information given to me this evening by the hon. Gentleman.

The Amendment is unnecessary because lump sums charged for board and lodging and tuition fees are regarded as charges for services and, as such, are fully within the scope of the Clause. The hon. Member very fairly said that he was not a lawyer and, therefore, he was not sure whether those items were covered. I can give him the answer, and therefore, I hope, curtail further discussion, by saying that they are covered by the Clause as it stands.

Mr. Lubbock

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In view of what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move Amendment No. 80, in page 7, line 18, after "until", to insert "thirty days after".

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment we will discuss the similar Amendment No. 81, in Clause 15, page 16, line 26.

Mr. Pardoe

When I first read the Bill, or its predecessor, on the train to Carmarthen, I thought that it was fairly wet. That was probably the universal feeling of most hon. Members who read it. Since then it has been hotted up somewhat, and one might say that it has been hard-boiled. I suppose that we all have a love-hate relationship with the Bill. We are not sure whether we want it strengthened, which would have the effect of making idiocies even more idiotic, or whether we want it weakened.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not the Third Reading of the Bill. The hon. Member must come to the Amendment.

Mr. Pardoe

My point, Mr. Speaker, is that the Amendment strengthens the Bill. I was trying to make the point that the Bill needs strengthening. I am sorry if that was out of order and I will come straight to the point.

The point about the Amendment is, what happens after the freeze? My view is that nothing happens after the freeze. When we have got to the end of the six or the 12 months, there will then be what is left of an incomes policy as laid out in the early stages of the Bill. Let us suppose for a moment, however, that the Incomes Board, after its three-month sojourn in the wilderness, comes out with a report which states that a certain price or wage increase which has been referred to it is the most monstrous inflationary increase, is totally against the national interest and should in no circumstances be allowed. On the very day that that report is published, the increase will take place. At least, that is the position under the Bill as it stands. This is absolutely crazy.

We do not envisage that the Board should have statutory powers to enforce its decisions after the 12-month period. What, I imagine, the Government are saying is that these increases will not take place if the Board condemns them, because the full panoply of public opinion will be brought into play and no monopolist or trade union leader could be quite such a dirty dog as to go ahead and do it when he had been told by the Board that it was against the national interest and that the increase would not take place because he would not dare to do it. My answer is that I believe that he would dare.

I am asking for a period of 30 days from the publication of the report when the full implications of the Report can be assessed by Parliament, if necessary. There is no reason why we should not have an opportunity in this Chamber to discuss a decision or a report of the Board. In the 30 days, it could be weighed up by the rather mysterious forces of public opinion that form opinions all over the country. Tempers on both sides should have a chance to cool. After all, if a trade union has put in for a wage increase or an industrialist has made a bid for a price increase and he is told by the Board that he cannot have it and that it is against the national interest, naturally his temper will become a little frayed.

I am asking for this 30-day period after publication of the report so that everything can cool down, and so that the forces of public opinion can be brought into play, the House can have a chance to discuss it if necessary, the newspaper editorials and letters to the newspapers can be written, and the whole burden of public opinion can have its effect. If at the end of the 30 days the trade unionists or industrialists decide that they are still going to fly in the face of public opinion and the decision of the Board, that, of course, will be up to them.

I know that the Amendment is no very great change; it is not going to cause a revolution; it will not even make this a good Bill. I would not claim that, but I think it would improve the Bill. There may be those who think that it would toughen the Bill. I think that if we are to have an incomes policy we had better have one which will work. My view is that the moment the six months or 12 months are up, the moment we are back to the incomes policy in the early part of the Bill, we shall have no powers whatever, and the incomes policy will, from that moment on, be a dead duck. We have seen this happen before. We have had a wages freeze, and at the end the dykes went up and everybody shot through and we had inflation all over again. The Bill is asking for an incomes policy, and I happen to believe in having an incomes policy, but if we are asking for an incomes policy we must have a long-term one which will work, and this Amendment would at least go some way towards strengthening the Bill and the position after the period of the freeze.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the Amendment as a fairly reasonable measure—in no way a very dramatic or revolutionary one, but a reasonable one to strengthen the Bill after the period of the freeze.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I should like to support the points which have been put forward in support of this Amendment, and I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) refer to his acceptance of a prices and incomes policy and his desire to have an efficient policy. If hon. Members have noticed the immediately previous Amendment on the Paper they will have seen that that, too, as this Amendment does, tries to bring the same kind of equality, the same kind of social justice, into the same kind of balance and impartiality between, the attitudes which, because of the Bill, may be taken towards wages and towards prices.

Wages are subject to a very long period of delay through negotiations, and sometimes arbitration, and may sometimes last over several months. Prices are very often put up very rapidly, and the proposal for the 30 days would, of course, go a little way towards bringing some kind of equality in the application of the time factor, as it will apply to wages. I regret that my Amendment was not called.

Secondly, I think that it should be supported because it will subject prices to the same kind of pressures which take place when wages negotiations are going on, when people know how much is being asked, and when wages negotiations are taking place and there is discussion——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must not speak to his own Amendment, which has not been selected.

Mr. Buchan

I am aware of that, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to explain that this particular Amendment would have certain merits in the circumstances which occur in relation to wages, and it was to the merits of this Amendment that I was referring, and not to wages themselves, except by analogy. Since, implicit in the Bill, is the question of social justice, and that equality should be seen to be impartial on both sides, it seems by analogy to be relevant. It would mean that the scrutiny of the public gaze would be brought to bear on prices, rather than the dark and sometimes sinister forces of the boardroom where decisions are taken unilaterally. During the period of 30 days, public gaze and public discussion could be brought to bear upon prices, as happens at present with regard to wages, and I would therefore ask the Government Front Bench to look at this matter sympathetically.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. William Rodgers

This is a virtuous Amendment, which has been moved in an admirable speech by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) who, from his broad general sentiments, I took to be on our side, because he talked a great deal of good sense. In particular, he draw attention to the need for a long-term policy, and the problem which would arise in a year's time at the end of the present standstill period. In a year's time we shall be faced by some testing decisions, and a great deal of thought will have to be given to how to deal with the situation.

I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), who said that prices should be subject to public discussion. It is now understood that prices are not determined by some sort of mystical calculus but are matters which ought to be discussed in the light of trying to absorb costs and raise productivity while holding and even trying to reduce prices. The whole spirit of all that has been said is welcome on this side of the House.

However, there is an obstacle to acceptance of the Amendment, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North will feel on reflection that it is a justified and reasonable one and not one that I am putting up merely for the sake of objecting. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be able to accept some Amendment some time. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been extensive discussions with both sides of industry and we have gained a great deal by establishing an understanding which involves, in the case of prices or incomes referred to the Board, a total standstill of a maximum of four months—a month while we consider whether reference should be made, and a further three months while the Board is making its inquiries and publishing its report.

Four months is quite a long time and, after discussions with the C.B.I. and T.U.C., we have felt that it would be unreasonable to seek to prolong the statutory

delay beyond the four-month period. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the desirability of employers or unions who have been involved in a reference to the Board taking time, once the Board has reported, to consider fully the recommendations which have been made. We do not want any precipitate action. To be fair, our experience has shown that in most cases precipitate action is not taken.

The interested parties are prepared to discuss the Board's reports with the Government and, on many occasions, to go as far as they can to carry out the recommendations which have been made. In practice, it has worked very well and we have not found ourselves put in difficulties by undue time for reflection not having been taken.

In view of the fact that we have discussed it elaborately with the T.U.C. and the C.B.I. and they have agreed reasonably that a four-month standstill is something which they are prepared to accede to, and in view of the fact that those who have been referred to the Board have generally been reasonable by not acting too quickly upon the recommendations, I would suggest that it is better left as it is, especially as we are still talking of a voluntary system.

The hon. Gentleman was trying to be helpful, and he said many things with which I agree. I hope very much that he will feel that my reasonable and, I hope, friendly remarks will provide him with a reason why he should not press this further.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 225.

Division No. 165.] AYES [9.50 p.m.
Bessell, Peter Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Thorpe, Jeremy TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hooson, Emlyn Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley) Mr. Lubbock and Mr. Pardoe
Albu, Austen Baxter, William Boston, Terence
Allian, Frank (Salford, E.) Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
Alldritt, Walter Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert
Allen, Scholefield Bidwell, Sydney Boyden, James
Anderson, Donald Binns, John Braddock, Mrs. E. M.
Armstrong, Ernest Bishop, E. S. Bray, Dr. Jeremy
Ashley, Jack Blackburn, F. Brooks, Edwin
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Blenkinsop, Arthur Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Boardman, H. Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)
Barnes, Michael Booth, Albert Brown, R. W. (Shored itch & F'bury)
Buchan, Norman Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Pavitt, Laurence
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hughes, Roy (Newport) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Cant, R. B. Hunter, Adam Pentland, Norman
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hynd, John Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Coleman, Donald Janner, Sir Barnett Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Conlan, Bernard Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Crawshaw, Richard Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P' cras, S.) Probert, Arthur
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Randall, Harry
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Redhead, Edward
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Rees, Merlyn
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rhodes, Geoffrey
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kelley, Richard Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey Kenyon, Clifford Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)
Delargy, Hugh Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Dell, Edmund Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Dewar, Donald Leadbitter, Ted Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Ledger, Ron Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Dickens, James Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Ryan, John
Doig, Peter Lestor, Miss Joan Sheldon, Robert
Donnelly, Desmond Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Driberg, Tom Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton. N. E.)
Dunnett, Jack Lomas, Kenneth Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Loughlin, Charles Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Luard, Evan Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Skeffington, Arthur
Ellis, John Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Slater, Joseph
English, Michael McCann, John Small, William
Ennals, David MacColl, James Snow, Julian
Ensor, David Macdonald, A. H. Spriggs, Leslie
Faulds, Andrew McKay, Mrs. Margaret Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mackie, John Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackintosh, John P. Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maclennan, Robert Symonds, J. B.
Floud, Bernard McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Taverne, Dick
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McNamara, J. Kevin Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Ford, Ben Mallalieu, J. P. W.(Hudderefield, E.) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Forrester, John Manuel, Archie Thornton, Ernest
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mapp, Charles Tinn, James
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton) Marquand, David Tomney, Frank
Freeson, Reginald Mayhew, Christopher Urwin, T. W.
Galpern, Sir Myer Mendelson, J. J. Varley, Eric G.
Garrett, W. E. Mikardo, Ian Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Garrow, Alex Millan, Bruce Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C. Molloy, William Watkins, David (Consett)
Gourlay, Harry Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman, David
Gregory, Arnold Morris, John (Aberavon) Wellbeloved, James
Grey, Charles (Durham) Moyle, Roland Whitaker, Ben
Griffiths, David (Pother Valley) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick White, Mrs. Eirene
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Newens, Stan Whitlock, William
Hannan, William Norwood, Christopher Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Harper, Joseph Oakes, Gordon Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ogden, Eric Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Hart, Mrs. Judith O'Malley, Brian Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Haseldine, Norman Oram, Albert E. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Hazell, Bert Orbach, Maurice Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Heffer, Eric S. Orme, Stanley Woof, Robert
Henig, Stanley Oswald, Thomas Wyatt, Woodrow
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Owen, Will (Morpeth) Yates, Victor
Horner, John Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Panned, Rt. Hn. Charles TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Park, Trevor Mr. Ioan L. Evans and
Mr. McBride

It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned. Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Prices and Incomes Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[The Prime Minister.]