HL Deb 26 May 1977 vol 383 cc1469-501

1.35 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR rose to move, That this House takes note of the Eleventh Report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Social Policy (R/1031/76, R/1306/76, R/2037/76 and R/2967/76).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, beg to move that this House takes note of the Eleventh Report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Social Policy. My Lords, I would contend that this is no routine report to the House of the activities of one of the sub-committees of the European Communities Committee recommending your Lordships to take note of the report on social policy.

It so happens that we are reporting it to your Lordships' House at a time when the European Review of Social Policy has come from the Commission to the Economic and Social Committee and also to the European Parliament, and comment on this review is, of course, part of today's report. But the reason why this is something more than just a normal report of activity is that in that review lies the potential—not the certainty, but the potential—for a very important change in direction in social policy in the EEC. I would also be so bold as to argue that if there were a real change of direction in social policy in the EEC, this might well be the advent of a new phase in EEC development generally and in the view of the public in this country, and no doubt in many of the other EEC countries, as to what the EEC is in fact doing.

My Lords, over the months the subcommittee has been reviewing the various documents which have come from the EEC covering a number of matters of some importance, though not of major importance in the vast majority of cases. These are useful measures of value, sometimes of very great value, to sections of the Community. We have also looked at the proposals of the review of the social fund, and we have formed opinions as to how we should like to see that policy develop and what we had hoped to see in the review of the social fund. We now know what form that review is going to take, and we have comments to make on the way in which it appears to be developing and how we hope it may develop in the future. If we are to understand social policy in the EEC context, it is necessary to look at the way in which it has developed from its origins in the Treaty of Rome, and at the stages of development that have taken place since then. It may be that perhaps your Lordships are much better informed in this matter than I was, but until the work that we on the committee did I was not myself fully aware of how much social policy in the EEC was confined by the fact that the Treaty of Rome is, after all, an economic treaty. Therefore, social policy developed as a by-product of economic policy, rather than as an area of development in its own right. This is understandable when one thinks of the initial objectives of the Treaty of Rome, of the terms of the treaty and of the articles in the treaty to which social policy was related.

The fact that it has this origin has been the reason, I think, for a certain feeling of disappointment and inadequacy in the social interventions of the EEC up to the present time. That initial absence of activity was to some extent corrected, but only partially corrected, in 1970–71, with the new European social fund. The social fund, which had really two major responsibilities, two major areas for intervention, can clearly be connected with the economic development of the Community. The social fund was to be used for assistance in employment matters where an action of the Community has had a disruptive effect on the economy in a particular area, or where a particular region or industry was seriously affected, such as in the case of textiles.

The work of the social fund, to a very large extent, has been limited to matters of training and vocational guidance with some other minor activity added to that. It has been in this direction in the main that the work has developed. This has been of value. We in this country have benefited from it. If I can draw your Lordships' attention to page 7 of the Report, the United Kingdom has benefited in 1975, for example, to the extent of £24.7 million for training and resettlement schemes for workers in the assisted areas of Great Britain. There has been in the same year similar provision in Northern Ireland of £4.8 million. For schemes to help unemployed young people at a time of high unemployment, the figure is £5.7 million. These are useful additions to the work going on in this country to deal with these problems, but the scale, as your Lordships will have noticed—and I picked the higher figures from the list—is, of course, slight and the scope has been limited. This is not to say that we are not glad it has been there and it is not to say that it has not been useful; but in relation to the kind of problems that we have been facing, for the social contribution to dealing with social problems of the Community as a whole. this kind of development, of contribution and of activity, has been on a small and limited scale.

In reviewing the past work and in looking at the various particular schemes which have come before your sub-committee, we had come to certain conclusions before we began to study the review of social policy which is now very much to the forefront. Some of the points we wish to make are largely of an administrative kind, although highly relevant, and some deal with the scope and content and are of an altogether different order. The social fund contributions have been on a basis of 50 per cent. of what is being contributed by the home country, the applicant country. There has been some feeling in this country and in the EEC that the Government have not always played cricket in relation to the way in which this EEC contribution has been handled. There are very unpleasant terms being developed called the "principle of additionality" which it is wished the Government would observe. In plain language, this means that when the EEC make a contribution we do wish that the Government would not reduce their contribution by a similar amount. I know that the defence that the Government will no doubt give us for this is that this has to do with the delay of the EEC in making payments. But since the payments have been on a somewhat small scale and since the intention of the EEC has been to enhance the activity in the country to which these payments are made. we hope that in future the Government will support the principle of additionality, if this is what we must call it, and will not take away with one hand what the EEC has given in its turn.

The other administrative point which we hoped would find a place in the review is that the monies devoted for regional policy and the monies devoted for social policy should be more interchangeable than they have been in the past and that this rigid distinction between regional policy and social policy should be ended to give greater flexibility. Those are the administrative points, but as we looked at the documents coming from the EEC we felt that there are areas of social activity of prime importance for the development of the European Community and the peoples in it to which it would be highly desirable that the promoters of the social fund, in terms of European social policy, should pay more attention. We believe—and when the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was the chairman of the sub-committee he worked very hard to draw attention to this point—that there should be a great deal more education on the European level. This should be something which should be promoted at a European level. We believe that, if Europe is really to develop as a Community, it is essential that there should be more bringing together of young people at the formative stage, particularly at the undergraduate stage for that section of the community which becomes undergraduates, so that they can learn together, think together and grow up together in a European context in a European environment.

One of the objectives of the social policy should be to promote a more truly European person than we have had in the past, to counter the tendency, which is marked inside the EEC and in this country, to think of ourselves as a separate unit inside the EEC rather than to think of ourselves as partners in a Community so that the whole development of educational policy which comes under the heading of social policy in this context, is something that we should like to see developed far more fully than in the past.

We also believe that at the present time it is of the greatest possible importance that what is becoming a social problem of horrific dimensions in almost all European countries should, wherever possible, be tackled on a European basis. I refer to the problem of youth unemployment. We have been making in the social subcommittee a special study of the problems of youth unemployment on the basis of the memorandum on the subjects which has come out from the EEC. We propose to give a full report on this to your Lordships' House at a later date. I shall not say more about it today other than to say that this is not only an immediate problem calling for all the help we can get, including all the help at the European level, but it is also typical of the kind of problem, the scale and scope of activity, which should be going on if social policy in the EEC is to become a reality and to deal with something other than the fringe matters derived from the residue of the economic issues, which is what, to a large extent, it has been up to now.

This brings me to the question of the review of the social fund which has been going on inside the Commission and which, as I have said, has been published and gone to the Economic and Social Committee and also to the European Parliament. The social fund does not go as far in some directions as many of us hoped that it would. The regional fund and the social fund are still separate. There is, however, an increase for certain of the payments to 65 per cent. of expenditure rather than 50 per cent. which has been the limit up to now; but there is certainly running through the review a recognition of the need for greater flexibility, and we are delighted to see an emphasis on the need to concentrate on the problems of unemployment as being social problem number one throughout the Community.

So, my Lords, it is clear that the kind of thoughts that we have been thinking in our sub-committee are also being thought inside the Commission and in other parts of the EEC. The new proposals under the review do not, perhaps, take us a very long way but there are the pointers there. There are the foundations for a possible real growth in social policy; and although it is true that we are tied by the Treaty of Rome, there are clauses in the Treaty of Rome which make it possible to take new initiatives if we wish to take on new tasks.

In an annexe to the review, it makes it clear that such new decisions can be taken and, it is suggested, should be taken, in future. What we have to decide in this country and why I could have wished that we could have had a rather larger scale debate than it is possible on the last day of term, or than it is likely ever to get on the last day of term, is that it is very important that Her Majesty's Government should make up their mind as to where it is going to throw its weight in relation to the development of social policy. Enthusiastic support for a quite different approach, a vastly more large-scale approach, has come from both the Commission, the Economic and Social Committee and the Parliament.

The Social Affairs Council are to consider this document on 28th June. Are Her Majesty's Government going to say that we are wholeheartedly behind a far more vigorous development of social policies than we have had in the past on a European scale? Are they going to weigh in at the Council and put their weight behind this kind of new development or are they going to go little by little, keeping it very much within the confines in which it has operated in the past? As I see the review, it makes it possible to go either way. It could be little more than an extension of what we have had in the past; it could be a bold assumption of new tasks.

If the EEC is to be real and valuable in the eyes of ordinary people in this country, it will be so because it will be seen to be dealing effectively, and making a real contribution to the problems that they care about. Therefore, it is of the greatest importance that the Government should commit themselves to the most forward-looking social policy in the EEC that it is possible to have. The opening is there. We have not gone through that opening yet; but surely Her Majesty's Government will see that they lead in the right direction. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Eleventh Report of the European Communities Committee on EEC Social Policy (R/1031/76, R/1306/76, R/2037/76 and R/2967/76).—(Baroness Seear.)

1.52 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing this important subject—albeit on the last day of the term, as the noble Baroness has said—because we believe that although the contrast between the theory and practice has been so unfortunate in this particular field, perseverance must be the watchword in handling the situation from now on. We are looking at the very valuable report of the Select Committee on European Social policy, and how right the noble Baroness was when she said: "The scale has been slight and the scope limited". This is a paradox between the theory and practice. The very great desire for many people who support the European idea is to ensure, in the words of Mr. Tindemans, that the man in the street can identify with it and the whole idea will catch fire in the public mind.

The Tindemans' Report, coming as it did approximately at the 20th anniversary of the European Economic Community, laid stress on many of these difficulties. One of the first things that we must realise—as indeed the noble Baroness realises—is the sketchy base which social policy has in the Treaty of Rome. There are only two articles which can conceivably be referred to; one is Article 100 on which nearly all the instruments for the social programme are based; and the other is Article 235 which enables the Council of Ministers to take action.

I looked with great interest through this report. Perhaps one of the witnesses, Professor Ralf Dahrendorf, put his finger on the really vital issue from the historic point of view, of which I was unaware, when he said on page 28 of the Report: It is very important indeed at this point to remember that whatever there is of Community regional policy was really considered to be a part, an essential part, of economic and monetary union, not a policy in its own right". This is the essential point. It relates to both regional policy and social policy. The starting point was the Customs Union. The social policy was a by-product of it. We tend as latecomers to the EEC with our colleagues in Denmark and Ireland to realise that the developments have taken place at a steady pace from a different base altogether.

The review of the social policy takes place at a particularly difficult time, and of course as my particular brief relates almost specifically to the social security field, I was very much interested in the rate of progress on the matter of social security benefits. It is a melancholy story, but there is much to learn from it because the Council of Ministers resolved on 21st January 1974 to set about measures for a progressive introduction of machinery for adapting the social security benefits to a situation which increased prosperity.

This may sound a little antique in the world of 1977. Three and a half years ago, the very first effects of the oil embargo were being felt in Europe, and European hands were busily engaged in turning off central heating. Figures were collected as a result of this instruction and a whole battery of expertise was marshalled to an aim which this resolution set out. Unfortunately, the figures collected in 1974 which have been laboriously processed and discussed, we have three years later in the document which was published in January 1977. The document to which I refer is COM (76)719.

We found the inevitable situation: (1) the priorities have changed; and (2) the means of realisation have changed at the same time. The Draft Directive on Standardisation of Benefits still lies on the table before the Council. This is an exceptional document because it has taken time—notably, three years—to examine the position. But surely the message here is the extraordinary difficulty of reaching a totally satisfactory interchangeability. Perhaps our targets should be less ambitious in future or perhaps they should be more pointed in their approach to particular problems. Nevertheless, I feel that we should approach this in a sceptical frame of mind but not, as the noble Baroness referred in one of her early speeches, in a cynical frame of mind. In our whole approach to Europe we should be trying constantly to improve the situation, especially in regard to the bureaucratic procedures.

Another field is somewhat similar. Here I refer to the Draft European Convention on the Legal Status of Migrant Workers. Once again, after several years of detailed preparation and expert work, a draft Convention was submitted to the Council of Ministers in 1971. No less than five years later, in 1976, no decision had been reached upon it. These are very complicated and detailed positions. Since it takes a very long time for all the signatories to the Treaty of Rome to finally agree upon an issue, once again here in the specialised field there are other bodies promoting resolutions—and of course I refer to the International Labour Conference—on this particular issue of migrant workers.

I should like to ask the Minister whether, in his reply, he would answer one particular point. I regret that I have not been able to give him advance notice of it. This is in regard to British participation in this field. I refer to ICEM, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration. During the 1960s there was direct British participation in this body. Latterly, the British interest has somewhat diminished, and I understand that we have an observer status rather than having full status. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, will be able to tell the House whether the British approach to ICEM is in any way being revised at the present time or whether a decision is likely to be reached.

I turn now from the question of migration to the situation referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in regard to the problems of employment and vocational training. Once again, this has quite a long history and, I think, a much more encouraging one. I feel that the enthusiasm of the noble Baroness lies very much in this field, as indeed does mine, because of course the problems involved here are so very much on the front pages today, when no fewer than 15 million Europeans are unemployed at the present time, with special emphasis on young people, and this country. Once again, the record of progress has been slow but in this case steady, because in 1966 the Commission recommended action in this field. However, it was not until 1974 that a full-blown European vocational training centre was set up and a common vocational training policy proposed.

This seems to be the basis of really fruitful future activity, under the Social Policy Review. I think it is significant that pilot projects can be taken on as Community projects and funded from central Community funds. Of course there is a snag, because those funds are small and there must be quite a considerable queue of pilot projects to be considered. Nevertheless, this is a field where new ideas can act as "a sparking plug" to the main engine of the social services, which is, of course, on the test-bed.

I should like to refer particularly to the situation in regard to the Job Creation Programme. Your Lordships will have seen in the Upper Waiting Hall in the past week that there has been an exhibition for both Houses of Parliament. The story of Job Creation Programme started in October 1975, and up to date 78,715 temporary jobs have been accommodated within 8,063 separate projects. The Job Creation Programme has been severely criticised in regard to particulars—and I think rightly so—but undoubtedly others have proved successful. I think that one should refer to a document entitled Young People and Workpublished quite recently by the Manpower Services Commission. Page 28 of that document says this: Above all, it has to be remembered that unemployment amongst young people would be significantly worse were it not for the Job Creation Programme". I think one must recognise that although the plans after August are going to be varied slightly, it seems a little unlikely at this stage whether the new terms of the Job Creation Programme will be able to qualify for a grant from central funds. Nevertheless, it would be particularly helpful if we could hear from the Government whether or not that was going to be so.

I think that one principal area in which everyone is particularly interested refers to the interchangeability of social security benefits and also long-term benefits; that is to say, pension rights. At the present moment, pension rights are not transferable from one European country to another, whereas short-term social security benefits are so transferable. It may be interesting to know that, for instance, benefits are transferable from Germany to Turkey, a country with Associate status within the European Community. Nevertheless, it was the plea of the noble Baroness that the Social Fund at present was too rigid and that it would be much better to make it possible to have greater flexibility. I read with special interest the Hansard report of the debate in the European Parliament on 12th May. I do not know whether I am permitted to quote from a speech made there, as we have not evolved our rules of procedure in your Lordships' House with regard to quotations; but on this occasion I will chance my arm and quote Mrs. Kellett-Bowman in this regard, because she laid emphasis on this particular matter. I will quote from page 256: I particularly welcome the decision to introduce a variable rate of intervention from 50 per cent. to 65 per cent., but I cannot quite understand why the step is so small. Would it not be possible to vary the rate further, to perhaps 90 per cent. if necessary, in the worst-hit regions? My Lords, how desirable it would be to look upon the Social Fund's applicability to certain projects in a different light from the standard 50/50 rate support.

Finally, I turn to the field of mutual recognition of university degrees. It is a matter of congratulation to all those who have been involved that, for the first time in 1976, mutual recognition of university degrees has been applied throughout the EEC to doctors, dentists and lawyers. Of course, there are still many professions which remain unrecognised. Perhaps I might lay particular emphasis on one of them: that of nurses, which is a subject which occupied your Lordships' House over the first Question we dealt with this morning. Nurses who are qualified as SRN in Britain are not recognised in Europe. May I quote a typical example which concerns a husband and wife. The husband, who is a doctor, practising in Belgium, is married to a qualified SRN. She wishes to practise in Belgium but is not allowed to do so. She would very much like to do so if the rules were changed.

Such a situation applies to other European countries and I think the noble Baroness referred to the momentum which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, gave to the education programme—in other words, to try to persuade students and school-children from a very early age to believe themselves to be Europeans, would have a profound influence on the whole movement in the education field and indeed on the speed at which interchangeability and mutual recognition takes place.

There are potential dangers in this field should the process go too slowly and should the Social Fund cause anxiety so that the frustration builds up to such an extent that the fund becomes almost abortive. I think it is a stage-by-stage development and that we shall see evolving in the new Social Fund particular assistance which will help us in the very difficult unemployment problems.

2.9 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

My Lords, after thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for her very clear exposition of this report, I think perhaps I ought to declare an interest, or at least explain an interest, in this matter. It may be of some slight interest to your Lordships to know that, among all the many different commissions and committees connected with the EEC, is a Churches commission to the EEC, which includes representative leaders of most of the Churches in the Nine countries. We meet in the EEC buildings twice a year. We are given every courtesy and have a translation service, and our meetings are very often graced by very leading members of the Commission. Naturally, we are dealing with those matters which concern moral and social aspects of human life.

I happen to be the representative of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on that Commission, and it has been a little frustrating for me in that we have given meeting after meeting to the subject of migrant workers. That is, of course, a matter of very great importance but it is one with which we in this country are concerned only peripherally, because we do not use the system of migrant workers in the way that many European countries do. When people come here, they mostly come to stay, apart from au pair girls, a few Spanish waiters and things of that kind. But we have considered other matters, especially the regional policy of the social fund, so I have gradually become acquainted with some of these subjects.

I must say that I did not find it particularly easy when I studied this report, to get a rapid and clear grasp of all the issues. found the Report on the Development of the Social Situation in the Communities in 1976 more helpful. I am sure that this document, which has appeared since the report of our Select Committee, will be known to some of your Lordships. It is printed in very much larger type and is much easier to read. It has one very useful feature, which is that it describes the progress that has been made in each country under the various headings of unemployment, youth training, living conditions and so on. It is an extremely valuable document. Mention should also be made here—


My Lords, will the right reverend Prelate say whether he is referring to a Commission document?

The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER

Yes, it is, my Lords. I was also going to mention this document, which is not without interest to us. This is a paper on the future of social policy in the European Communities, and it is produced by the international side of our National Council of Social Service. It is very interesting as a social study to see the way in which the National Council of Social Service, with its long traditions of voluntary work, is trying, as it were, to graft into the social policy of Europe and the Community the traditions that have prevailed in the relationship between voluntary effort and national responsibility in our own country, in times gone by and up to the present time.

One thing which stands out very prominently in my mind, after trying to study these documents, is the need in the United Kingdom for a very much greater knowledge of those benefits which have accrued to our own country, and our own people, through the operations of the social fund and similar activities in the European Community. I am far from thinking that to look at it from this point of view is, in any way, a mature or satisfying and, still less, a Christian way of approaching this matter. But, at a time when the media are simply regaling our people almost every day with questions about butter, pigmeat, fish and things of that kind, it is very necessary that somebody should make it abundantly plain to our people that there is another side to the coin. As some of your Lordships will have seen, this point was made in a letter in The Times today from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth.

I am getting very nervous about the effect that these continual economic quarrels are likely to have, because it seems to me that public opinion now has a way of congealing, as it were, around some emotive issue. I am sure that I shall very quickly get my metaphors mixed, but your Lordships will understand what I am trying to get across. People seize on to something which their minds are capable of grasping, such as the fact that every farmer is losing£4 on every pig that he rears. That is the kind of fact that, once you have heard it, you do not forget. But unless it is balanced by information on the other side, people will get a very false, irrational and unbalanced view. So I have put down a few figures, in the same way as the noble Baroness did. I do not know whether they are any better. They are meant to be the same as hers, but they are "jazzed up" a little, if I may use that term.

I notice that the Social Budget doubled in three years to£183 million, and that the United Kingdom's allocation of that sum in 1975 was£45 million. That was something less than one-third of the total amount. Also, I was not very thrilled to see under nearly every one of these tables of figures that the United Kingdom was one of the principal recipients. It is not a very inspiring thought to be reminded that we always have our hand out for more, but there it is. As we are receiving it, people might as well know about it. They might as well also know that, whereas we received 31 per cent, of the total, we gave only 13 per cent. So, as the document quite rightly says, we were a net beneficiary of that Fund.

As has been said already, a lot of money has been poured into the training and resettlement of employees, with £5 million going to the problems of the youthful unemployed. Of course, I entirely agree with everything that has been said about the enormous importance of that. For social protection of various kinds, we have received something like £500,000, and under our miners' resettlement scheme we are helped to the extent of 50 per cent. of the cost for two years. I am slightly summarising and generalising, but the figures are not too far from the truth.

Incidentally, I did not think it was a very happy expression, on the very first page of the report of the Select Committee, to say on the statistics about the social fund that "Many of the figures are inaccurate". I did not think that that gave very much confidence as one looked at the rest of the report. But it was very easy to see why, in a complicated situation of this kind, there would be different methods of calculating which would lead to various inaccuracies of one kind or another. These facts ought to be put across in some way or other. However, what is more important, as has come out already in this short debate, is that we should begin to clear our minds about which developments in social policy we want to encourage in the Community.

The difficulty that arises all the time is that of holding together an increasing sense of European citizenship alongside the inevitable remaining autonomy which belongs to each Government. I think that Professor Dahrendorf put it rather well in his evidence to the Committee. He said that the problem is how to achieve equality of opportunity without destroying that diversity between the nations which is our principal European heritage. This can be seen very clearly in university education.

As many noble Lords will know, the Continental tradition is for undergraduates to move freely from one university to another on their path to graduation, whereas the normal tradition in this country is still for people to stay at one university. We may arrange for them to spend a term or a year in another country if they happen to be studying a foreign language, but in the ordinary way they play out time at their own university until perhaps they become research students, in which case they may travel more widely.

It is not easy to adapt the British system of university education so that it merges naturally with the Continental system. However, I agree very much with what has been said by both of the previous speakers: that we could relax our rather rigid traditions of the past. It would be for us to learn from them. It would not be conceivably possible to thrust our tradition upon them. I hope that throws a little light on the way in which we ought to approach all these questions.

The only way to look at the problem is to realise that one country will have made the chief advance in certain areas, while in others the chief advance will have been made by somebody else. I speak subject to correction, but perhaps our National Health Service is one of the best, despite all the criticisms. I think we are fairly well forward in the National Health Service, whereas my guess is that Germany is ahead of us when it comes to industrial democracy. I think that social policy is going to be given a European slant not by a formal harmonisation of all the laws in all countries—we shall have to wait for Utopia if we think we can achieve it in that way—but by providing an arena or forum in which the attack of every country upon these problems will be seen, known, tabulated and listed—as in this pink report which I have mentioned. I believe that this would act as a stimulus.

The National Council for Social Service is very anxious that private agencies should have direct access to the social fund, although it says that Governments would be consulted. That may be right. I attach great value to the tradition of the National Council for Social Service, although I fear that the officials of the social fund will be deluged with all kinds of suggestions, projects and applications for help from a vast number of individual private voluntary agencies in every country and will have to sort them out. I believe that national Governments ought to retain the responsibility for doing the first sifting.

I do not think that I need to detain your Lordships for more than a moment longer. It is very easy to say that there ought to be more money in the social fund. Obviously it would be useful if there were, but it is a much more healthy test of feeling if we ask how much more money we are ready to give to the social fund. There is nowhere for the money to come from except from the wealth that is generated by the countries of the Nine. In situations of this kind there is always the temptation to think that "they" have plenty of money, and why should not we have more of it. We must look at it the other way round. We must envisage the ideal of producing a social climate in all the countries of the Nine that is of such quality that other parts of the world will be attracted by it. Then we must ask ourselves how much it is worth our while to help that process.

2.26 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, first may I pay a tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for her excellent chairmanship of the committee and also for arranging the two-day tour to Brussels. Speaking for myself, I have a far better understanding now of the whole conception than I had before. I should like to pay tribute to the many officials who gave up their time to answer our questions, to tell us about their problems and to exchange views.

It is very difficult to speak about a social policy. It is very much easier to speak about an economic policy. Then we all speak in the same technical language. Here, though, we are thinking about human problems, and about different cultures and different languages. Although I am sure that it was a slip of the tongue by the right reverend Prelate, I noticed that he referred to au pairs and "things of this kind". This probably slipped out as a technical expression.

The harmonisation point is recognised in paragraph 46 on page 13 of the 11th Report. It says that standards vary because of the present divergence in economic prosperity. I hope that this will be recognised. Certainly it was recognised by Professor Dahrendorf who said on page 28: The whole point of 'harmonisation' is that it is supposed to assist in the creation of a common market. The whole point of some sort of educational policy, the recognition of professional qualifications, for example, is that it is supposed to help in the creation of the customs union. Everything the Community was able to do in the past was related to that overriding objective". This is one of our great difficulties.

I was very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned the question of education which is dealt with in paragraph 47 of the 11th Report. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, the report deals mainly with the provision of education for migrants. It is essential that we should get a better understanding of education. However, one has to realise that every country has very strong cultural links with its own schools. Therefore this is not going to be an easy problem to solve, and I should like to back what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said regarding the future. We must learn to speak languages. One of my regrets is that the educational programme cutbacks involve a cut in the teaching of languages. I do my best to help. Every year I give a prize of £100 to the students in all the schools in Plymouth who learn to speak French and German. This prize has been given for about five years now, with great success, and has helped to forward interchange with other countries.

I agree that it would be helpful if the social and regional funds could be amalgamated. However, I should like to point out that there has been a considerable improvement since the setting up of the European Regional Development Fund in March 1975. The zonings of the priority areas for aid, for example, are those established by Member States and this will help them in applying their own systems.

The worrying question regarding young people is the increasing help from the social action programme, which is really not carrying out what we hoped it would do and the the number of young people (as mentioned in Paragraph 43) has risen from 30.7 per cent. of the total unemployed in 1974 to 35 per cent. in 1975. As the right reverend Prelate said, not all those figures are accurate but, even so, they give a most unhelpful and unfortunate picture of the situation in seven and in six of the countries. Also the equality of men and women in employment has not progressed in regard to the original programme, adopted in 1961, for reducing the differential between the pay of men and of women. In this country to a great extent we have fulfilled this obligation. We now have equal treatment in employment, training and promotion. This does not comply with the 1976 Directive, although in the United Kingdom we have the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Employment Protection Act 1975. Although these are not entirely satisfactory they are beginning to work, but we are still waiting for some fulfilment of the draft Directive with regard to social security which was published in January of this year.

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, will be able to tell us, as a result of trade union pressure in June 1976, at the two special tripartite conferences, which I understand were to be held in conjunction with the Employment and Finance Ministers, what suggestions were put forward and what progress has been made. In the Committee we were delighted to be able to question Mr. Michael Shanks, who gave a most interesting insight into the entire working of the section. We are only sorry that he has left this job and we should like to wish him success in whatever he does in the future. We also had a very clear exposition of the various problems from Professor Dahrendorf.

One of the worrying factors is the question of apprentices. There is a shortage of apprentices, not only in this country but in other countries. I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to a passage in the Social Fund Regulations which says that assistance from the fund may not be granted to finance the initial training of young people immediately after the completion of their term of schooling. Does it not seem to your Lordships that this is the right moment to start, when they leave school, because if they have a year or two of unemployment, or just doing odd jobs, it is most depressing. I suggest that we might try to get that situation changed.

On 10th November 1976 I asked a question of the witnesses—which appears at page 45, paragraph 67, of the Select Committee Report—in regard to the £2.75 million which is provided towards the training of national newspaper workers in new technology. Apparently this was backed by the Government and by the trade unions, and I have mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, that I should like him to tell us what action has been taken up to date. I should also like to know if there are still long delays in the payments by the social fund to the various departments making application, because at Brussels we were rather disturbed to hear that there were these long delays. I should like to know whether there has been any improvement since November 1976.

Finally, I should like to mention the draft Directive dealing with the main breadwinner. At the present time if the husband cannot work the wife does not get the same supplementary benefit or help with her income through the family income supplement, and I should like to know whether anything has been done in regard to that problem. If this Committee can contribute to the future happiness of people and to lessening poverty and helping to create a better understanding between the peoples of the world, then I think it is well worth while carrying on with this work.

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting though short debate and I agree that it is rather unfortunate that the debate should take place on a day when most of the students are preparing to get away for their holidays. However, it has been a valuable debate. First, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, both for her work on the Committee and also for her speech today. I should also like to express the thanks of the Government, and indeed the House as a whole, to the Committee for the extremely valuable and timely report they have issued. I do not know whether it has been said before, but I want to say that in this Sub-Committee, as with others of a similar nature in the House, we have an example set by people of distinction and experience in public service, working on a committee. giving their services and a great deal of their valuable time as voluntary workers. Members of your Lordships' House give this voluntary service in the interests of the community and the nation as a whole. That is not overstating the position and, quite frankly, I think it is about time it was said.

Before I get to my main speech—which will take a little time, but in view of the importance of the report and the importance that the Government put on it and the proceedings which will be taking place very shortly, I think it is right that I should take some time—may I refer to one or two points made in the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made a remark about education at European level and the bringing together of European young people. I was attracted by this. I have done a little work for the Education Interchange Council and I can appreciate the value of this ideal. I am very much taken by it and I want to follow it through. I will make further inquiries to see whether anything is being done at official level, because I think it would be very worth while indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, shot me down with an unexpected bullet because the legal status of migrant workers is not mentioned in the report and therefore quite naturally I was not prepared for it. That also applies to the question of British participation. However, the point has been taken, it will be followed through, and I will see that the noble Lord gets up-to-date information, which will be valuable not only to him but to myself as well.

On the interchangeability of social security pension rights, this is a matter that is still being followed through. I have a certain amount of information on it. The EEC Social Security Regulations constitute a multilateral reciprocal agreement to allow persons moving between the Member States to take with them acquired rights to social security benefits. However, they cover—and this is very important—only workers, formerly employed pensioners, members of their families and their survivors. From the time of the United Kingdom accession we have been pressing for similar rights to be extended to nationals and their families who were either self-employed or not employed.

In particular there is pressure for United Kingdom nationals in this category to be able to receive urgent medical treatment in the case of sickness or accident in another Member State on the same terms as nationals in that country. Largely at the instigation of the United Kingdom, a Working Party was set up to consider the whole question. Its proposals are now with the EEC Commission and after consideration they will be submitted to the Council. So at least we are working forward to that, and it is a fact that so far as pension rights are concerned Britain has a large number of reciprocal agreements with many countries, so that people can go abroad and enjoy their pension although the enjoyment is somewhat marred by exchange rate fluctuations, which is a point we should recognise.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, in a very interesting speech, rightly said that there was another side to the coin of the EEC and stressed the advantages, financial particularly, of the social policy. It is true that it is not widely known. The report itself and this debate, to a great extent, is giving an answer. One can only hope that it will receive the publicity that it deserves; of course, if, unfortunately, somebody is murdered, that will take precedence over the very valuable information given in the report and the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, raised the question of the training of newspaper workers in particular. She also, inevitably, as I expected, raised the position of women. So far as the training of newspaper workers is concerned, I can give this information, that an allocation of £2¾million has been made to cover the retraining of workers in the national newspaper industry during 1976, 1977 and 1978, consequent on the proposed introduction of new technology in the production of newspapers. It is entirely up to the workers in the industry whether they agree to participate in the introduction of these new processes, et cetera.

So far as the position of women is concerned, the EEC are paying great attention to the training of women and unemployment among women. An original suggestion was that the training of women should be for those of 35 and over. The British Government do not take too keenly to that, and there are suggestions now that the matter should be modified.

My Lords, I think I can now proceed to the main part of what I want to say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. There is no doubt about it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has already so rightly said, that this is a most opportune moment to have a debate on EEC social policy. We are still in the period of the United Kingdom Presidency of the Cornmunity in which the United Kingdom is trying to help forward a balanced programme for consideration by the Council of Social Affairs Ministers in June. The Commission proposals for the review of the rules governing the European Social Fund, the centrepiece of this programme, are now under discussion in Brussels; so that the opinions expressed by your Lordships can be taken into account, and I can assure your Lordships that the Hansard report of this debate and the Committee's report will be very carefully studied indeed.

Following the discussion last December by the Council of Ministers of the aidememoire on the social action programme (one of the documents considered by the Select Committee), the Commission is understood to be preparing some guidelines for future social policy. This debate affords your Lordships an opportunity of expressing your views on the shape of these guidelines, as the Select Committee itself has suggested in its report.

My Lords, I feel that I should concentrate on the main points made by the Select Committee in the section of its report giving its "Opinion" (paragraphs 41 to 52). These concern policies to deal with unemployment; the Social Fund; and the problems of education and health, age and preparation for retirement, and the transition from school to work. The Select Committee is of the opinion that present policies are unable to meet the challenge of unemployment in Europe. It has suggested not only that the size of the Social Fund should be increased to provide more aid for retraining and resettlement schemes, but that there should be co-operation in a programme of industrial investment on a considerable scale throughout the Community, with special emphasis on the regions with high levels of unemployment. ft considers that in particular more decisive initiatives should be taken at Community level to deal with youth unemployment, for example, by exploring international schemes of youth service for school-leavers.

There is no doubt whatever that for some time past unemployment has been regarded as the major social problem facing Europe. This is illustrated by the range of discussions it has provoked. After a speech by the then British Foreign Secretary in January 1976, calling on the Community to give special study and attention to the unemployment problem, the subject was discussed in a number of Community bodies, including the Economic and Social Committee and the European Assembly. In June 1976 it was taken up as the central theme of a tripartite conference attended by the Finance/Economic Ministers as well as Employment Ministers. The conference produced an agreed resolution on targets for growth, price stability and a return to full employment, and provided for a close follow-up through tripartite discussions involving Governments, the Commission and both sides of industry.

Last December the Standing Committee on Employment, which brings together Employment and Social Affairs Ministers with the social partners, met to discuss a Commission Paper on youth employment and a Paper from the European Trade Union Confederation on the Co-ordination of Community financial instruments and their relevance to unemployment. Earlier this month the Committee met again, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Employment, to consider a Commission Paper on employment prospects to 1980, to discuss the Social Fund proposals, and to hear further from the Commission about its plans to co-ordinate Community financial instruments.

The importance of the problem of unemployment was fully endorsed at the meeting of the European Council in Rome in March. As shown by the Prime Minister's subsequent Statement about this meeting. the dominant theme of the talks was the need to find more effective ways to tackle the serious economic problems confronting the world, and to ensure that the Community itself responds positively to the challenge of unemployment and inflation. The Heads of Government asked the Commission and the European Investment Bank to focus particular attention on measures in three areas: first, to deal with specific employment problems, especially among young people and women, secondly, to encourage higher levels of investment; and thirdly, to pull the economic performances of Member States closer together. The Commission made clear that it would be ready to respond with positive ideas. The European Council emphasised the importance of co-operation between the social partners in these matters and agreed to the holding of a further tripartite conference in the first half of the year to review progress and possibilities. This conference will now take place on 27th June, under United Kingdom chairmanship, on the theme of "Growth, Stability and Employment: a stocktaking and prospects". In addition, at its meeting on 29th June the European Council will carry out a review of progress on these problems in the fields of employment policy, investment and "convergence"; this could well lead to co-operation of the kind envisaged by the Select Committee.

There has, of course, been considerable disappointment that the targets set for growth and employment last year are proving so difficult of achievement in most Member States. Most of the blame must be placed on the continuing delay in the development of world economic recovery; on the weakness of some economics in the face of commodity prices and exchange rate problems; and on the possible existence of some structural as well as cyclical aspects of the current unemployment. It is generally accepted that there is no single measure by which the pace of recovery can be speeded up. However, the first task is still seen to be the need to hasten the cyclical recovery of world economic activity, particularly through the expansion of the stronger economies; and your Lordships will have noted the decision taken at the Summit in London earlier this month, that undertakings were given by the strongest world economies to maintain their stated growth targets and to adopt further policies to achieve them if the results fell short.

During our Presidency of the Community we have been seeking to promote useful action on unemployment in three ways: one, by keeping and fostering cooperation of the social partners in the overall economic strategy; two, by attempting to establish which are the most effective specific measures to deal with employment problems; and, three, by examining the relevance to the promotion of employment of the various Community instruments in totality.

Mention has already been made of the extent to which both sides of industry have been involved in discussions at Community level—through the Standing Employment Committee and the tripartite conferences. As regards specific employment measures, we in the United Kingdom have urged the Commission to make a comparative evaluation of such measures. We believe the Commission are responding with a work programme which should throw light on the most effective forms of assistance for unemployed people in a range of circumstances. The Select Committee has—quite rightly—expressed particular concern at the growth in youth unemployment. It drew attention in its report to the resolution already passed by the Council of Ministers on measures to facilitate the transition from school to work, with an action programme for national and Community initiatives up to 1980, including a series of pilot projects. The Council also took note last December of a Commission communication—now being translated into a recommendation—on vocational preparation for young people who are unemployed or threatened with unemployment. The measures proposed in this are compatible with United Kingdom initiatives, such as the Work Experience Scheme and the short industrial and occupational selection courses operated by the Manpower Services Commission.

The main effort which the European Community is at present making on behalf of young people is through Social Fund schemes for assisting the training of unemployed young people under the age of 25, particularly first job seekers. They have set aside £71.7 million for the current year which is nearly 30 per cent. of the total Fund expenditure. This has stimulated training and vocational preparation schemes for young people throughout the Community and has been a factor which Governments have taken into account in developing their own schemes to relieve youth unemployment. Last year the United Kingdom made applications for £36.2 million under this scheme, and was allocated £10.6 million. This year we have put in total applications amounting to £57.2 million on which, however, decisions have not yet been taken.

The House will be aware that the Manpower Services Commission has recently published proposals of a Working Party which they set up, which included representatives of the CBI, TUC, education departments and the Careers Service, recommending that current employment and training measures for young people should be further developed to form an integrated and enlarged programme of opportunities for young people. These proposals are now under active consideration.


My Lords, the noble Lord has quoted the authorities represented on the Committee which produced the report of the Manpower Services Commission. However, the report does not give the names of the people concerned. It struck me as being very unusual in a report of such great importance that it should not cite the people who were involved. I realise that this immediate question is one which the noble Lord cannot possibly answer at present. Perhaps he could inquire into why the individuals sheltered behind the organisations which they represented?


My Lords, the answer is quite simple. We are not discussing the Manpower Services Commission's report as such. That report is with the Government and will be available. In due course, the Government will give their recommendations and we shall have a debate on it. The members of the Commission involved in the report can easily be ascertained by inquiry. Offhand, I cannot give the names of those involved. I have given the names of the organisations, but obviously the names of those on the Committee could easily be obtained. However, at present I am not in a position to give the full details because that has nothing to do with the EEC debate. I was simply making a passing reference to the report of the Manpower Services Commission.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord might like to take up the point and ask the Manpower Services Commission who the people were. It would be much more helpful to the public, who already have the document as it has been released. It seemed to me that not to mention those who were on the special committee which produced this important report is a new departure.


My Lords, I shall certainly do that and see what can he done to publicise the report. However, this information can be obtained by the noble Lord tabling a Written Question. We are now at the end of a term and, therefore, he will have to wait until mid-June before he can put down such a Question. I suggest that the noble Lord should table a Question for Written Answer and then we can give the information. I now turn to the Social Fund. In its report the Select Committee suggested that the size of the Fund should be increased to help deal with the problems of unemployment; that the arrangements for payments from the Fund should be improved and that the Social and Regional Funds should be amalgamated.

The Government are not entirely convinced that a significant increase in the size of the Social Fund to cover a whole range of new activities would be desirable. It has to be borne in mind that any such increase would have to be provided by the Member States including the United Kingdom. We do, however, fully share the Select Committee's views about the unsatisfactory system of payments from the Fund, and welcome the administrative improvements contained in the Commission's proposals. The intention is to make an initial advance of 30 per cent. of the amount allocated on receipt of a request from a Member State certifying that an operation has begun; to make a second advance of 30 per cent. half way through; and to pay the balance after the submission of final accounts.

As to the amalgamation of the Regional and Social Funds, there are certain technical problems to be overcome before this could be done. The Social Fund is established in the Treaty of Rome, Article 123. The Regional Fund is a discretionary instrument that has only comparatively recently been introduced under Article 235 of the Treaty. An amendment of the Treaty would probably therefore be necessary before amalgamation of the two Funds could be brought about. Apart from this intrinsic difficulty, we believe that, while both have an important part to play in assisting regions facing employment difficulties because of structural changes in industry, the fundamental differences between the activities of the Funds must be recognised. It is true, as the Select Committee says, that both apply the same criteria for regions eligible for assistance and that a substantial proportion of the Social Fund is already devoted to operations in such regions—and we should certainly wish this to continue. But grants from the Regional Fund are subsidies for capital expenditure on industrial development or infrastructure projects, whereas Social Fund grants are subsidies for current expenditure mainly on training courses or allowances to trainees. Only a small percentage of the Social Fund could be spent on training schemes directly linked to industrial development projects aided by the Regional Fund. If the Social Fund gave priority to such schemes, Member States, which mount ad hoc operations to deal with particular employment problems, might enjoy an unfair advantage over those like ourselves which have well-established national schemes of retraining and resettlement able to respond quickly and effectively to a changing pattern of need.

However, all this does not mean that the Government are opposed to any link between the two Funds. As already mentioned, the whole question of coordinating Community financial instruments is now rightly a major priority of the Commission and the subject has been given enhanced importance by being made a specific responsibility of one of the Commissioners, Mr. Giolitti. We believe that in studying this question it is important, on the one hand, to bear in mind the particular aims and methods of each Fund, and on the other, to ensure that in the administration of each, policies are not pursued which appear to be inconsistent or to conflict with overall Community policy. However, there is no reason why the new arrangements for the Social Fund, like the present one, should not be sufficiently flexible to allow for reasonable co-ordination with other instruments.

The Select Committee suggests that amalgamation of the Regional and Social Funds might provide an opportunity for more flexible rules so that the Social Fund could itself initiate action instead of merely responding to applications from Member States. But it is unrealistic to suppose that the major part of the Social Fund—even though it may be small in relation to the problems of unemployment with which the Community is grappling—could be devoted to innovatory or experimental schemes. It is bound to have to work through national schemes. A Fund of a size that it is, even now, is bound to influence national Governments to shape their schemes in such a way as to enable them to qualify for Fund assistance.

This brings me to the further point made in the Select Committee's report, that they would like aid from the Fund to be seen to be extra to Government expenditure that would in any case have taken place. But, as the Committee themselves recognise, this is very difficult as far as major national programmes are concerned because of the way in which the Fund works. For example, I have already mentioned that no decision has yet been given on any of the applications which the United Kingdom has submitted for assistance towards our schemes for the training of unemployed young people in the current year. While we have good hopes that some assistance will be forthcoming, we know that as the young people's scheme is heavily oversubscribed the Commission will have to adopt priorities and that not all our applications will be met in full.

We have to go ahead with the measures we think are necessary to meet the unemployment situation in this country, taking account of help we are likely to get from the Fund, without waiting for final decisions; otherwise there will be no programmes at all. It remains true that when levels of expenditure are being decided possibilities of assistance from the Fund are taken into account. We hope that the current review of the Fund will lead to better arrangements under which there is more certainty about the availability of Fund assistance. This would give the Fund more scope to influence the range and size of national programmes, including those in this country.

There are a number of other points in the report on which I would offer some comment. We agree with the view that there are limits to the extent of harmonisation likely to be achieved in the social fields. The way in which each country allocates its resources and the priority which it attaches to specific types of provision should, in our view, remain in the control of individual Governments.

We also share the Select Committee's views on the desirability of reinforcing existing co-operation in education, although we are not entirely clear what is meant by "other sectors of educational training". As the Committee has acknowledged, the Education Ministers have agreed a Resolution on the preparation of young people for working life. It should also be borne in mind that their Resolution of 9th February 1976 launched an "action programme" in the field of education which provided the framework for educational co-operation in the EEC. Through these developments new opportunities will be created to enhance the quality of educational contact and its continuity. We note the Select Committee's views on the European Social Budget and its desire for greater comparability of statistical material. The Budget brings together a body of information to assist policy-making but its forecasts are not intended to have a direct effect on the policies developed by individual Member States. However, the Government are concerned that there should be agreement on clear objectives, and we have stressed the importance of this to our partners.

As to the development of social policy in the future, we have suggested that the Commission might come forward with a rather shorter document than the three year action programme as adopted by the Council Resolution in 1974. We hope they will look ahead, but not too far. We have stressed the need for continuing close consultation between Governments, the Commission and the two sides of industry. In particular fields there may well be scope for Community initiatives on the problems of retirement and old age and in the field of public health. But there are already other international bodies active in the health field, such as the World Health Organisation and the Council of Europe, and it would be undesirable merely to duplicate their activities. I wish we had more time in this debate. My personal experience of working as a member of the Social and Health Questions Com mittee of the Council of Europe has indicated to me quite clearly the tremendous value of the work of the Council of Europe, which has not received its proper recognition.

As far as the EEC is concerned, it may be that advances in the social field will have to continue to take place outside the scope of the Treaty of Rome, in view of the very limited legal base for social policy in the Treaty. However, the Government are firmly committed to maintaining the momentum of social progress and will do their best to ensure that a sensible and realistic set of guidelines are produced for European social policy over the next year or two.

3.6 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, this has been an interesting and, I think your Lordships will agree, a worthwhile debate. It remains only for me to thank those noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have taken part in the debate and the Minister for what he has said in his reply. I must confess a certain measure of disappointment in his very conservative speech, which left me with the feeling that we should go on much as we have gone on before. I wonder whether the Minister is really quite right in implying that we are as circumscribed by the Treaty as he has suggested. It has been pointed out that it is possible to give the Fund new tasks, that this is within the Treaty, and that Article 235 makes it possible to give the Fund new tasks of this kind. If we really wanted to develop a dynamic social policy for the EEC, I do not believe that we should find the Treaty puts too much of a straitwaistcoat upon us. I can only believe that there is in fact a lack of will to develop in this area.

Of course it means that if we develop social policy the money must be found from other sources. Perhaps some of those sources can be found from within, from other areas in which money is being spent inside the EEC Budget. At present this is not the place to elaborate on what they might be. It might well be that money would be better spent in this way than it is being spent in certain directions at the present time by some national Governments.

I do not propose to make a second speech this afternoon. But I should like to ask—and I have not asked the Minister this in advance—whether, in view of the importance that many of us attach to this matter (and I think it is impressive that on this particular afternoon the House now has present so many noble Lords) it would he unreasonable to ask the Minister whether, after this very important meeting of the Social Affairs Council, we could have a Statement in the House telling us what in fact has taken place. It would be useful if more information about meetings of this kind could he given to the House so that we might have the opportunity to consider the matter further in the light of the deliberations of such meetings.


My Lords, I take note of the point made by the noble Baroness and assure her that I will put it forward as quickly as possible I do not myself have power to make such a Statement, but I will see that those with that power give her suggestion very careful consideration.

Baroness SEEAR

I am grateful for that assurance, my Lords.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed by the Lord Chancellor.