§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Monday 16 January.—[Mr. Major.]4.15 pm
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
There are a number of subjects competing for discussion, and inevitably we shall run out of time before they are all considered. A number of these subjects have been mentioned during the proceedings this afternoon, but I believe that before the House adjourns for Christmas, or by means of a slightly earlier return, we should consider the two important foreign affairs subjects which need discussing and which recently have not had much exposure in the House. I refer to what is virtually the Turkish-Cypriot unilateral declaration of independence in Cyprus and the growing pressure on south-west Africa and Namibia to hold so-called independent elections.
During the last parliamentary recess I was fortunate to visit, by invitation, both Cyprus and Namibia on fact-finding tours, and I have recorded these trips in the Register of Members' Activities. I emphasise, however, that I have no financial interest or stake in either country.
Recently I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary a parliamentary question about the efforts being made to assist with the situation that had arisen in Cyprus at the latter end of last summer. He replied that the Governmentremain in close consultation with interested Governments and with the United Nations Secretary General. We have made clear that we shall support his efforts and stand ready to help him". —[Official Report, 7 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 170.]That is good, and I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has taken that attitude.
Having been to Turkish Cyprus before UDI, and having interviewed most of the leading members of the Turkish-Cypriot regime—I had two illuminating discussions with the President, Mr. Denktash—I suggest that we would be deluding ourselves if we thought that what has happened is other than merely an acknowledgment of what has been the situation for a long time. My investigations led me firmly to the belief that the Cyprus Government have in effect represented only the Greek Cypriots and that a bi-zonal federal state on the island is the only practical answer for progress and peace.
I emphasise that I do not dislike the Greek Cypriots or, for that matter, the Greeks. In the past, I have visited the Greek part of Cyprus. I have no doubt that the Turkish Cypriots have not had a fair deal and that their people lived in real fear before the arrival of the Turkish troops. Significantly, since that time there has been no bloodshed, whereas for many years before there had been bloodshed and mayhem. On the contrary, now it is a case of live and let live.
Bearing in mind the histories of those people, it would be a brave man who would suggest that Greeks and Turks stand a good change of living harmoniously together. History is against that, and, in the circumstances, a divided island is, in my reluctant view, the only practical solution to the problem. The Turkish Cypriots are poor in comparison with their fellow islanders, and they lack resources, especially for water and irrigation projects. They badly need international understanding and recognition. In this respect, the United Nations could have helped far more than it has. All too typically, it seems to 34 be backing one side—not the Turkish Cypriots. The British Government must take a far more robust and realistic attitude to a matter for which we still have a considerable moral responsibility.
My second brief point concerns Namibia. As a member of a small parliamentary delegation from both main parties which visited Namibia towards the end of the summer, I am convinced that progress there will never be achieved fairly without the removal of the threat of Cuban troops within the Angolan border. I went into that area with my colleagues, and it is one of the less healthy places in the world.
When our report was published it received a fair amount of exposure. There was some condemnation, but also, I am glad to say, some praise. 'That report, which all members of the delegation signed, described the United Nations decision to grant exclusive recognition to SWAPO, which is carrying out a guerrilla war from bases within Angolan territory, as irresponsible. I go further. I regard it as utterly unacceptable. How can a United Nations agency uphold any form of terrorism of that kind? We had a statement in the House today about terrorism and a number of hon. Members said that murder and mayhem must be condemned whatever the circumstances. That should apply wherever in the world such activity takes place.
If the United Nations cannot see that, it will dimish still further its standing as a supposedly impartial body with worldwide responsibilities to be carried out on an even-handed basis. The United Nations well knows that SWAPO is directly supported and financed by the Soviets and is Marxist in its ambitions. The United Nations should now take a far more even-handed role in the proceedings.
As we said in our report, if so-called independence is thrust on Namibia in existing circumstances it will be a disaster for all its inhabitants. It is not a realistic option at present and we should do well to recognise that. I hope that the Government will take a firmer, more decisive line in helping south-west Africa towards true democracy. As we know all too well to our cost, most of the vast continent of Africa is not represented by true democracies. Here is an opportunity to help in its development.
I hope, therefore, that especially on Turkish Cyprus and Namibia there will be a more positive approach by the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)
The House should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until there has been a comprehensive statement by the Government about pit closures. At Question Time last week, I told the Prime Minister that a massive campaign was being launched in my constituency to try to prevent further pit closures solely on economic grounds. That campaign involved not only the trade unions and the Labour party but the local authorities, the chamber of trade, industrialists and many other local organisations. That wide involvement is highly significant, as it shows that pit closures affect not just miners and their families but almost everyone in the community, not least the local business men whose trade suffers from the loss of purchasing power of hundreds of miners. In Easington district, more than 30 per cent. of the work force depends directly or indirectly on the National Coal Board for employment. That is a measure of the crucial importance of pit closures to people in areas such as mine.
35 There is another side of the argument. For those who have never lived in a pit village, it is almost impossible to appreciate the extent to which the pit dominates the community. To destroy the pit is to destroy much of the life of the village, its activities and even its conversation, as well as its pride and spirit.
The economics of coal mining cannot, of course, be ignored, and we have never sought to do so, but the Government have not even proved an economic case for closure. The present massive stocks of coal are the direct result of the Government's disastrous industrial policies, which are destroying the manufacturing sector of this country. We keep hoping that the much-predicted upturn in the economy will materialise one of these days. That will certainly require a fundamental change in Government policy, but if it happens most of the coal stocks will rapidly disappear.
In considering the economics of coal mining, I challenge the Government to examine the whole picture. Research suggests that the total claims on the social services resulting from the unemployment caused are greater than the financial loss incurred by a pit losing money. In June 1982, the Government estimated that the cost to public funds for each unemployed miner was £7,188 in the first year and £6,326 in the second year. On those figures, the cost of closures over a 10-year period would be £4.5 billion compared with a saving to the NCB of £2.36 billion. In other words, the cost of closure is £3 per tonne greater than the subsidy required to keep the pits breaking even. No one suggests that uneconomic pits should be kept open for their own sake, but the totality of the local situation must be taken into consideration before a pit is closed.
I make no apology for mentioning, although not in detail, the other factors which unnecessarily contribute to pit closures, such as the increase in nuclear-generated electricity, the importing of coal and the far greater financial assistance given by other EEC countries to their coal industries. According to the European Commission's statistics, last year the United Kingdom Government spent £3.48 per tonne to support its coal production whereas average spending in the Community was £5.57 per tonne, topped by France at £21.84 per tonne and Belgium at £19 per tonne. Those substantial differences in support show clearly the extent to which our coal industry labours under a considerable handicap compared with its counterparts in the EEC.
There is also a complete lack of dynamism in promoting the use of coal, a feeble export drive and a lack of commitment to the Venice agreement — from a Government who almost daily preach about the sanctity of international agreement. All of this takes place against a background of coal reserves which will last for centuries and which some nations would do almost anything to possess.
The trauma of pit closures in mining communities would be bearable if alternative employment were available, but I know of no coalfield in which such a smooth transition is possible. In my constituency, the Government propose to scale new heights of lunacy. There is not only the danger of pit closures. In 1985 the Government intend to abolish the Peterlee new town development corporation, which is the chief job-finding agency in the area. The corporation, with its dedication 36 and expertise, is second to none in the country. Its record speaks for itself. It attracts more than half of the jobs that come into County Durham each year, many of them from overseas. I have raised this matter many times with the Government and failed each time to obtain a reply which even begins to make sense. I beg the Government to think again on this issue.
Last week we debated the Government's White Paper, "Regional Industrial Development". It is not possible to go into detail on those proposals in a debate such as this. Nevertheless, almost everything in that White Paper will militate against development in areas such as mine. I and my colleagues from the north will return to the subject time and again. The Government have carried out some of the most disastrous policies pursued by any Administration this century. No policy is more crazy than closing pits solely on economic grounds and against the background which I have described. There is neither economic nor social justification for such a policy. I hope that the Government will begin to change their mind with regard to pit closures, which deeply affect the lives of thousands of men, women and children throughout Britain's coalfields.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
There are several vitally serious matters which I wish to raise today as being worthy of debate before we adjourn for the Christmas recess.
One concerns the extraordinary circumstances of the women at Greenham common, about whom we heard a short while ago. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said, those women continue to misbehave, sometimes violently, at great cost to the public. They cause injury to the police, upset the local inhabitants and are a great shame to this civilised country which has kept the peace in these islands for more than 1,000 years. It is incredible that neither the Government nor the local authority can remove those people. They will be a continuing shame until they are removed.
Another subject which is in all of our minds, especially since the dreadful outrage in London on Saturday, is the continuing action of the IRA. The great majority of the nation expects that those criminals, whose crimes are worse than any others known to man, should suffer the death penalty when they are caught and convicted. I shall not dwell on that topic, however, as I wish to refer to another danger which is much further away.
The House should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until it has debated the urgent issue of the safety of British troops in Beirut and the effect of United States policies in the middle east on the Western Alliance. I naturally agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that we cannot withdraw our contingent from Beirut at this moment, but I hope that the circumstances of our troops there will be considered daily. It is vital that we try to exercise maximum influence on President Reagan. The only person who can do that is the Prime Minister with her strong character and record of backing the American alliance.
§ Mr. Stokes
The position of the peace-keeping force in the Lebanon has changed since President Reagan 37 announced his alliance with Israel. The force can no longer be considered as neutral. That puts the United Kingdom and its troops in the most difficult circumstances. The Syrians are most unlikely to withdraw from Lebanon unless there are real signs that the Israelis will also withdraw from the south. Unfortunately, the Americans are now most unlikely to put pressure on the Israelis to do that.
There was no need for the United States Government to pick a quarrel with Syria and to drive it unwillingly into the arms of the Soviets. The Syrians, whom I know well, are a xenophobic people and they do not dislike the Americans any more than anyone else. A more intelligent American foreign policy could have detached the Syrians from the Russians and thus paved the way for a settlement in Lebanon.
§ Mr. Stokes
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not. The hon. Gentleman speaks a great deal and at some length.
I know Lebanon and its people well and I like them. They are basically traders and are not really interested in politics. However, the country is now in absolute chaos. The President and his forces control only about five square miles in the city of Beirut. I strongly doubt whether Lebanon as we know it will become a viable state again.
For centuries under the Turks, Lebanon was part of a greater Syria. Syria must have a powerful say in Lebanon's future. That need not be in the least disastrous for the West, provided that we play our cards properly with Syria. It is absurd to say that the conflict in Lebanon is part of the great East-West struggle. It probably has far more to do with the next American presidential election and the colossal power of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. What happens in the Gulf is far more important for Western interests than what happens in Lebanon.
What concerns me, and what should concern the House before we adjourn for the Christmas recess, is the effect that American policy in the middle east will have on moderate Arab states, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and on the NATO Alliance in Europe. Every 16-inch shell that is fired from the USS New Jersey reminds us of the dangers to the Western Alliance.
My previous speech in the House on 31 October was a passionate defence of the American alliance. As an English patriot I have to admit that that alliance is essential to our safety and future. However, unless President Reagan thinks again about his policies in the middle east, anti-American feeling here, which is never far below the surface — especially, I am afraid, among some Opposition Members — will continue to grow. That would cause more trouble about the siting of cruise missiles here and about the alliance in general.
Meanwhile, our 100 soldiers in Beirut, who are so well led and respected, each day face the risk of shells starting to fall on their compound. No British interests whatever are involved there. If any of our soldiers are killed, what will they have died for?
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Two weeks ago I drew the attention of the House to the intended closure of Hadfields in my constituency. I pointed out that 38 for a century the name of the firm had been a byword for excellence in steelmaking. It had been the nation's smithy in two world wars. It was private and was still making a profit, but it was to be killed off by the Government-sponsored Phoenix 2 joint venture. Since then my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and I have tabled early-day motion 353 on Hadfields and, therefore, I believe that before the House adjourns it should at least take note of what is happening to Hadfields.
Phoenix 2 represents a further stage in the Government's strategy to slash by nearly one third steelmaking capacity in Britain's special steels sector. Their ultimate aim is to bring the country's special steels producers within a single private sector monopoly producer. Only last week the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry made a speech which was quoted in the Financial Times on 16 December. The report said that the Ministerreiterated his view that ultimately there was 'no part of BSC that could not be privatised.'John Pennington of the BSC special steels section has gone on record as saying that Hadfields may not be the last steel plant to close because of the Phoenix 2 project.
The British Independent Steel Producers Association estimates that about 20 per cent. of BSC's output directly overlaps that of the private sector and should be rationalised. It was to this association that the Minister was speaking in my earlier quotation. Phoenix 2 will still leave 10 per cent. of BSC's products competing with the private sector. The question arises: where will the axe fall next? It is believed that the future of British engineering steels will be geared to tight manning levels and the best use of high technology. This may mean that continuous casting could form the linchpin of Phoenix 2, although the high technology steel-making method has still to win over some customers who prefer the conventional methods.
Nevertheless, there is speculation and profound concern that the Tinsley park works, also located in my constituency, may be affected by the Phoenix plan. The Tinsley park plant has a proven track record of efficiency in cost per tonne of steel, even without the major investment boosts that have given continuous casting to other BSC special steels plants in south Yorkshire. However, the spectre of Phoenix 2 has cast a shadow over the 1,300-strong work force at Tinsley park. Only yesterday morning I had a meeting with the Tinsley park and district joint committee of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation and I was told that the men it represents are angry about the way in which workers have been kept in the dark about the Phoenix scheme.
Hon. Members may not know that the Phoenix 2 project was discussed for two and a half years before the announcement this surruner and that when those discussions came to a conclusion the decision was conveyed to the House on a Friday afternoon through a planted question by a Government Back Bencher. Since then there have been no further details, and hon. Members on both sides of the House can imagine the state of mind of the workers in the industry. They have seen one plant go and know that another will probably go, and perhaps it will be theirs. They do riot know whether they will be affected. The jobs of other BSC workers in south Yorkshire are not under immediate threat, but they may, as a result of Phoenix 2, lie outside the BSC. They fear particularly that pension rights and other long-established conditions of employment may be changed for the worse.
39 The Minister of State said something else when he was lunching last week with the association. He said that the Phoenix 2 project would be settledvery shortly, and I mean 'very'.However, Mr. Brian Insch, the GKN director responsible for the group's steel business—GKN is an active party to the joint venture known as Phoenix 2—said:I don't think an agreeent is as close as Mr. Lamont is suggesting.When will BSC and GKN present the Phoenix plan to the Government? What will be their respective stakes in the venture? What plants will be closed? What will be the amount of financial assistance needed from the Government?
The trade unions see Phoenix 2 as a blatant handover of state assets to the private sector at a nominal price bearing little relation to the estimated £700 million in assets that BSC has in south Yorkshire. Union officials at affected plants in north Wales as well as south Yorkshire plan industrial action unless the management reveals more details and has more open talks. Roy Bishop, the divisional officer of the ISTC in south Yorkshire, warns that Phoenix 2 could lead to a 70,000-tonnes-a-year increase in imports of engineering steels. He has said that steelworkers would be presenting an alternative strategy to management aimed at boosting demand for steel. He also said:We believe there is sufficient work for all of us and we ought to be planning for that. If we don't do something, unemployment will go on escalating.The Labour movement in south Yorkshire will see it as an unforgivable betrayal of an industry into which so much dedicated effort and public money have been invested if it is sold off at give-away prices to private buyers. British Steel has many important achievements to its credit and all fair-minded people will acknowledge that its present plight is due almost entirely to world economic problems beyond national control. Britain needs British steel, and if the industry is to survive it will need far more investment than the private sector is likely to provide.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
We should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until we have given fuller consideration to the problems that arise out of Irish terrorism, in the light of the outrage on Saturday at Harrods. The problem of terrorism seems to strike the Government as being essentially one of crime — the apprehension and punishment of criminals in a special type of criminal category. As a result, when I suggested to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary earlier today that we should hit the IRA by making its cause suffer for its outrages, he replied with the customary response that no amount of violence used by the IRA will change the Government's policy.
However, it is possible for British Government policy to affect violence and the IRA's policy with regard to violence, and inadequate consideration has been given to that. We must, through Government policy, make it more difficult for the IRA to achieve its purposes. Of course, we must apprehend and convict those responsible for these outrages, but unless we get at the deep-rooted causes of the problems of Northern Ireland and, in particular, at what inspires the IRA to carry on its campaign of violence, we shall not see an end to the terror.
40 Having said that, one must say straight away that many people talk like this. They say that the answer must be political, but they have only one political answer. That is, to suspend democracy in Northern Ireland because we cannot agree with the majority dominating the minority. Therefore, we must make an exception of Northern Ireland and provide a constitutional framework in which the minority shares power with the majority. That is an honourable aim, and in the exceptional circumstances of Northern Ireland one can understand why successive Secretaries of State and Governments have attempted to get at the political problem of Irish terrorism through this sort of rearrangement of the constitution of Northern Ireland.
As a result, we have the present Assembly, which is moribund by the failure of the parties to co-operate in developing the powers conferred upon it by statute, and we have other constitutional forums that are designed to ensure power sharing — that is to say, giving the minority a share in the decisions taken by the majority. The big disadvantage of this approach is that we are giving the political arm of the violent extremists a cloak of respectibility by allowing it to appear as if it is a legitimate political force. One allows it both the bomb and the ballot box, and in the process, in Northern Ireland, we are witnessing the destruction of the only legitimate democratic representative of the Northern Ireland Catholic minority, the Social Democratic and Labour party. The SDLP has been destroyed because of the democratic opportunities that we have deliberately given to the men of violence and their political representatives in Sinn Fein.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for so courteously giving way. I know that one of the things he is saying is that the way to deal with terrorism politically is to make its political objectives even less attainable than they might be at the moment, but is not the only sure way of dealing with terrorism selective and responsible counter-terrorism? Is it not the case that many hon. Members and many people outside will be wishing the SAS not only a happy Christmas but good shooting as well?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I often agree with him, but not on this occasion. He is imbued with the idea that many people hold about defeating crime through punishment. It is not only punishment that is necessarily appropriate for defeating crime. If one gets at the seat of the causes of the crime and violence, it is possible to dissipate it and remove it without bothering too much about the various forms of punishment.
I believe that we are on the wrong course in Northern Ireland. The request earlier today by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), as the only representative in the House of the Social Democratic and Labour party, that the British Government should get together with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to find a solution is, unfortunately, quite pathetic. For years and years everyone has known that if such a solution were available it could have been produced by those two democratic Governments, who both want an end to violence in Ireland and in Nothern Ireland. That way offers no hope for the future.
However, it is possible to adopt a more radical policy, if only we had the courage to pursue it. I refer to the 41 possibility of redrawing the boundaries of Northern Ireland to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland consist of the British people who wish to stay British and who intend to be loyal subjects of Her Majesty the Queen for ever. In that situation, it would be possible for a democratic solution to be applied in Northern Ireland. We could redraw the boundaries of Northern Ireland to exclude all those areas that are contiguous to the Irish Republic where there was a majority of Republicans by expressed wish, and provide generous rehabilitation grants for those displaced and for those who now regard themselves as part of the Republican minority in Northern Ireland, in Belfast and elsewhere, to go to the Republic, set up their homes and buy land there. If we then said, "This is the part of the United Kingdom —Northern Ireland—which we will hold and maintain steadfastly", that would be a permanent solution to the problem. We would, at a stroke, destroy the case of those who seek to change the constitutional position in Northern Ireland by violence.
We need to do something else as well—something which, at present, is all the more difficult because of the accidental nature of the boundaries of Northern Ireland: we must have non-sectarian parties in Northern Ireland. We must give the ordinary British citizens of Northern Ireland the opportunity to vote for people who would represent them on the local council, county council, regional assembly and in this place, completely without regard to their church or religious affiliations of any kind. At present, such is the emotional drive of both republicanism and unionism that it is impossible for political parties on the United Kingdom model to develop and increase their strength.
Once we sorted out the problem of the boundaries and the problem of those people who do not regard themselves as British and would rather regard themselves as citizens of the Irish Republic, we could allow them, if they wished, to move south of the frontier. I believe that it would then be possible to develop a system similar to that applying in the rest of the United Kingdom, whereby the Conservative party, the Labour party, the Liberal party, the SDP or other parties could recruit and organise in that part of the United Kingdom where good, loyal and true British people live and desperately need a solution to their problem. They need a proper channel for their democratic aspirations within a non-sectarian United Kingdom.
I suggest that such policies would be fruitful and would help to solve the problem, if only we could grasp them. The tragedy that occurred last Saturday, and the emotion and anger that we all feel about it, should give us at least an opportunity to look afresh at what might be done to bring peace to Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government will consider what I have said.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
I shall be brief. I could make the traditional appeal that the House should not go into recess for a number of reasons.
I could start by saying that the disposition of radioactive materials in a disused anhydrite mine in Billingham is causing such public concern that property values in the area are dropping catastrophically. The property market has already been greatly undermined. I could point to the great public anxiety and the reports of mining specialists in the area who are greatly worried. I could give the 42 Government a fair warning that the opposition campaign has been mounted by all political parties. In fact, it is nonparty political.
Some of the people taking an active part in the campaign have never been interested in anything political before. I could say that the campaign has become ecumenical. Franciscan monks from Northumberland, monks from Germany and a Roman Catholic nun from Canada are already actively engaged in mounting opposition to the Government's proposals. I could say that we have an international campaign, because we are getting information not only from the continent, the United States and Canada but now from the Soviet Union. I could warn the Government that we should have a debate on radioactive waste in Billingham before the recess. However, I shall not do that, because I know that it is pointless.
The House will recall that in my intervention in the Adjournment debate for the summer recess I summoned the spirit of Keir Hardie and his expressions of resentment in his maiden speech of 7 February 1893. He said that 4 million people were unemployed at that time through no fault of their own. That situation is chillingly parallel with the situation today. Keir Hardy and I spoke as one. We deplored the Government turning their back on enforced idleness. Our plea, not unexpectedly, was heard by the Leader of the House but not heeded. The House rose for 12 weeks. Those 12 weeks were a period of covert and surreptitious government by fear, as measure after measure was introduced in a manner that was calculated to evade any question or criticism in this Chamber from Her Majesty's Opposition.
I note with concern the Government's tendency to opt for a recess somewhat longer than is usual for a Christmas or new year break. While I wish all right hon. and hon. Members a happy Christmas and the most prosperous new year, I appeal to the Leader of the House for an assurance that this extended recess will not be used for the introduction of measures that are just as covert and surreptitious as those that were brought in during the summer recess.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the Christmas recess I believe that it should consider certain aspects of future funding for the National Health Sevice. I shall put the position in terms of the good news and the bad.
First, here is the good news. Since 1979 spending in the NHS has doubled and continuing growth in the resources available is planned. The Government's commitment to the NHS — which I share — has been continually emphasised, as has the realistic requirement to ensure value for money.
Now I come to the bad news. Since 1979 East Hertfordshire district, in which most of my constituency is situated, has experienced a rapidly growing elderly population without sufficient facilities to accommodate all geriatric and psycho-geriatric patients. The Government have backed the use of the resource allocation working party formula for the distribution of resources to regions, but this unfortunately seems not to adapt successfully to a district when used within a region.
The resultant current news is that there have been disagreements between the authorities about whether East Hertfordshire is under-funded or over-funded. However, 43 there now appears to be a developing consensus both inside and outside the NHS that East Hertfordshire is under-provided in certain respects.
The resultant future news will be shaped by a number of special problems, such as the requirements of an ageing population to an extent the result of the development of first-generation new towns such as Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City. It is vital that such difficulties are accurately reflected in the services available if the best possible health care provision is to be offered.
What will be newsworthy for my constituency, because of budgetary decisions which must be reached, are the consequences which may affect whether local hospitals, such as Welfield, Queen Victoria memorial and Danesbury, can continue to care for the increasing needs of older and long-term patients and can expand to meet demand. Such decisions may also have implications for whether the Queen Elizabeth II hospital can operate fully and effectively and for the maintenance and improvement of other facilities.
The best news for my constituents who may become patients is that the Government, in consultation with regional health authorities, will recognise the specific and individual situations faced by district health authorities. Such an assurance before the House rises for the Christmas recess will bring encouragement to the North-West Thames region and East Hertfordshire district.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The House may recall my exchanges in the House at Question Time on 29 November with the Minister of State for the Armed Forces over an article in The Observer on 13 November about the colossal waste of public money at the Ministry of Defence. The article gave many examples, of which I shall mention just one. I refer to a huge underground bunker being built in north London for the Navy. The article said that by the spring of 1981, within two years of the work starting, the cost had risen by over 500 per cent., from about £30 million to £168 million. The Navy's reaction to that was to try to keep the matter quiet. The article said:Ministry officials have devised a number of ways of ensuring that auditors do not see potentially embarrassing documents.There was a massive cover-up of a massive waste of taxpayers' money.
When I asked the Minister of State about that article, he said thatthere were a great many inaccuracies in the article". —[Official Report, 29 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 752.]I presume that the answer had been carefully prepared by the Ministry and that therefore the article had been gone through with a fine toothcomb to pinpoint the inaccuracies. On the following day, 30 November, I wrote to the Minister of State asking him to detail the inaccuracies. Today, 19 days later, I have received no reply. Why the delay? If the Minister was able to say with authority that there were great inaccuracies, he should have been able to give me a specific answer to my question.
I wish to discuss another important matter. The House and the country are sick and tired of hearing the Prime Minister and other Ministers repeat ad nauseam how important it is for everybody to obey the rule of law. Of 44 course, we all accept that. Or do we? The law says that companies must file their annual accounts with the Companies Registration Office. At the very time when the Prime Minister was hectoring others and preaching about the need to obey the law, her son was disobeying it. Only the threat of prosecution caused him to comply with the law. The weekend's newspapers revealed that only the threat of prosecution compelled Mark Thatcher to put in the annual accounts of his company.
Is the Prime Minister so busy hectoring others in the community that she forgets to lecture her own family on the need to obey the law? Not only Mark Thatcher is involved. I have been in contact with the relevant bodies. I have been making inquiries about the Prime Minister's law-abiding friends in the City and in the business world.
Bob Cryer, the hon. Member who lost his Keighley seat at the last election, asked the Minister of State for Trade last year how many companies were disobeying the law. The Minister told him thaton 4 October, there were 402,004 companies in default of their obligations to deliver accounts, and 363,430 in default in respect of annual returns."—[Official Report, 22 October 1982, Vol. 29, c. 237.]The Minister added that because of that refusal to obey the law by his friends—he did not use those words, but that is the implication, because those companies are the Tory party's friends—30 temporary clerks had been recruited to deal with the law-breakers. It is clear that the recruitment of those 30 clerks has not led to any success. The latest figures show that 383,682 companies are still breaking the law by being in default of their obligation to deliver their accounts and that 350,044 are in default in respect of their annual returns.
May we have an assurance that when the Prime Minister or any other Minister lectures trade unions or anybody else about the importance of obeying the law their speeches will be directed to the hundred of thousands of law-breakers in the City who break company law every year? I hope that they will balance their speeches a little more in the future than they have done in the past. Everyone must obey the law, but these hundreds of thousands of companies are regularly in default. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind in future statements on these matters.
§ 5.9 pm
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Hon. Members have been putting important issues before the House. That which I wish briefly to put before the House is a fundamental constitutional issue and I believe that it would be inappropriate for the House to adjourn before this matter has been properly addressed.
One of the most important, if not the most important, powers and rights possessed by the House from time virtually immemorial—if my history is correct I think that it is one of the most significant matters with which Simon de Montfort was concerned—is the control of this House over the taxation of our peoples. Last week, this was severely threatened, if not overruled.
In our relationships with the European Community there are, of course, funds which flow to and from ourselves and the Community. But they flow on the basis of agreements entered into by the House. The Community's own resources are made up of a calculated 1 per cent. of VAT revenues, of import duties and of levies on agricultural produce. It has been agreed in advance by 45 the House that the Community can have money up to that value and worth. The expenditure of that money is agreed by the Council of Ministers. Our Ministers are there and participate in that agreement on a year-by-year basis. Our Ministers are able, if they so wish, to veto any particular arrangement, and our Ministers are accountable to the House.
Last week, in a move, I believe, of contended legality, the European Assembly at Strasbourg saw fit to visit taxation on the peoples of this country by withholding money which it had been agreed that we should receive, which is rightfully ours and which has been agreed by the constitutional processes of the European Community to the extent of some £457 million. The European Assembly in effect sought to tax every single member of every single family in the United Kingdom to the extent of some £8 to £9. This is a serious and fundamental constitutional issue and I believe that the House would be wrong to adjourn before the matter has been properly addressed.
The institution of the European Assembly is made up of contingents from the various Community countries. What in effect has happened is that the majority of foreigners in that Assembly have decided against the representatives of the United Kingdom to visit this penalty on the people of the United Kingdom. They have voted —their intention is that we should pay. I cannot be too forthright in my condemnation of such activity.
The Assembly had three choices available to it. It could have let the budget go as it was. It could have thrown the whole Budget out. Wherever one stands on the spectrum of British association with the other countries of the European Community, there is a case for throwing the whole budget out. There are problems in the Community. We are combined and arranged on a selection of policies, some of which are wrong, where we do not have common interests. The common agricultural policy is a scandal. It is distorting the European Community. The budgetary system is a scandal and is distorting the European Community. There is a fair argument for throwing out the whole budget to create an impasse with regard to all these burdens which are weighing down the Community and preventing positive agreed policies from going forward.
There is a real purpose in throwing out the budget, in bringing about a crisis and allowing us to sit down and settle our disputes and come together on common policies. That was not the course that the Assembly took. Instead, it decided to victimise and pick on the Federal German Republic and ourselves. It was a cowardly act; it was an unnecessary act; it was a damaging act; and it was an act about which we in the House must urgently do something.
I know that the Government, quite rightly, put great store on legality. I entirely agree with that. I am not suggesting that we should do anything illegal, but what I do suggest is that we should, without delay, pass a Bill which would enable this House, should the Government feel the time was due, and should the circumstances make it necessary, to withhold future contributions from the European Community. In that way we would be enabled to retrieve and retain our £457 million of taxation which the Assembly attempted to visit on us last week.
We decide taxation here. If ever we should agree not to decide taxation here, we will have forsaken our control and our sovereignty. It is fundamental that we restore that power without delay. We should not break Community law or do that which is illegal until such time as money 46 which is rightfully ours is taken from us, and then, with the power at the Government's immediate disposal, that action should be taken immediately.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
It would be wholly inappropriate for the House to adjourn without hearing a ministerial statement on an announcement made about two hours ago of the cancellation by Britoil of a contract with Scott Lithgow Ltd. for a semi-submersible drilling rig. I believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland is at this moment taking part in a television interview in Scotland about this dreadful announcement by Britoil. The right hon. Gentleman should be here with his colleagues from the Department of Industry to give us the Government's views on the effect of the failure to negotiate an acceptable contract. I made a decision to be here so that I could raise this matter with Ministers and with right hon. and hon. Members.
The cancellation of the order brings Scott Lithgow, an old shipbuilding firm, to the brink of disaster. I do not think that by saying that I am indulging in hyperbole. It is a disaster for Scott Lithgow and a disaster for the community. I sincerely believe that the decision should be reversed. The closure of the yard would have a devastating impact on Greenock and Port Glasgow, proud towns with a proud history in shipbuilding and marine engineering.
It would be a tragedy also for the United Kingdom to lose this reservoir of skills in offshore technology —technology that has a growing future for both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. It would be nothing less than a lamentable admission of failure and a national humiliation if Britoil were to get away with this and then go to south-east Asia for a replacement rig. The rig at Scott Lithgow is now 30 per cent. under way. It is nonsense to claim that Ministers have no power to influence the events surrounding this decision. The state owns 48 per cent. of Britoil, and British Shipbuilders, as a nationalised industry, has its external financing limits set by Ministers. Its deficit is funded by the Exchequer. The state, in the form of the Government, can play a major role.
This crisis cannot be shrugged off. At the least, the Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry should call the twc sides together, discover why negotiations have failed and get the parties talking again. If Government help is needed to take the financial strain, Ministers should make it clear that such help will be available. If heads must be knocked together or chief executives called back from their Christmas holidays, so be it. The alternative is unthinkable.
More than 4,000 jobs are at risk and the knock-on effect would devastate the whole area. Indeed, the knock-on effect would go beyond the lower Clyde and even beyond the Strathclyde region. Not only is Scott Lithgow a major employer but it is a major purchaser of goods and services outwith Inverclyde. For example, in 1982–83, in direct purchases from suppliers, Scott Lithgow spent £67 million, 56 per cent. of it in the Strathclyde region.
Its importance goes further, however — throughout mainland Scotland. If 4,000 jobs were lost at Scott Lithgow, that figure could be doubled in terms of ancillary industries and major suppliers. If the yard were to close, the economic and social effects on the local community would be devastating. Male unemployment now stands 47 slightly in excess of 20 per cent. In Port Glasgow, one-third of the community is dependent, directly or indirectly, on social security income. The closure of Scott Lithgow would in itself increase the unemployment figure of the area from its present 20 per cent. to about 40 per cent.
There is no need for this community to suffer such a catastrophic event. The Scott Lithgow work force has been badly maligned by the media, and by others who should know better, in terms of its industrial relations record. The time is past for squabbling over past incidents. The Scott Lithgow work force today is, as it has been always, a mature group of people capable of producing technologically advanced offshore engineering structures. Inverclyde, Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole cannot afford to put that work force into the dole queue.
I hope that a ministerial statement will be made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or by the Secretary of State for Scotland about this tragic turn of events. Renegotiation is essential. Scott Lithgow cannot be allowed to disappear, not only because of its importance as a major employer but because of its importance to the continuing development of the United Kingdom's offshore engineering industry.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
It was a curious experience for me to return yesterday from the crisis-ridden middle east to the Harrods bombing in which, among others, Phillip Geddes, a friend of my family, was killed. The House must not adjourn until the Leader of the House gives an assurance of a full debate on the Northern Ireland situation on our return in which English, Scottish and Welsh hon. Members can take their full part.
The policy, the alternatives, relations with the Republic, the fight against terrorism, the Northern Ireland economy and society and the future are as much the responsibility and concern of hon. Members who do not represent Northern Ireland constituencies as they are of those who do. Our debates on Northern Ireland usually take place at a late hour, are notoriously parochial and are bitter and utterly unconstructive. There is no future in continuing like that.
The voice of the representatives of the other people of Britain must now be heard. We owe at least that to those who have suffered and are suffering and others who may suffer in the future. Let the House of Commons as a whole debate the matter, give its judgment and exert its influence.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)
One matter that I wish to raise before the House adjourns for Christmas concerns last week's statement about regional policy. As an hon. Member who represents a north-west constituency, I put a question—the Leader of the House may be aware of it, because I think that he was present at the time—to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry following last Tuesday's statement. I referred to the disadvantage at which the north-west region finds itself—a disadvantage that will be perpetuated—and I have since obtained figures to supplement what I said then.
I pointed out that under the new proposals, as outlined in the White Paper, there would be no regional agencies in the English regions. The north-west has about the same 48 population as Scotland and Wales combined. The Scottish development agency in 1983–84 received £93 million of public money to help it do its job, which is to attract industry to Scotland. The Welsh development agency received £49 million. But NWIDA—which is, so to speak, a poor equivalent because it is not a development agency; it is an association in the north-west—received £260,000.
I have no doubt that my colleagues from the northern and other regions will speak of the disparity affecting their regions. I am not competent to speak on their behalf, nor do I wish to do so. As I see present many of my distinguished colleagues from those areas, I shall leave it to them to deal with that matter should they be fortunate enough to be called to speak in the debate.
It is not true to say that the purpose of these agencies—I include such organisations as NWIDA—is to fight for jobs in the United Kingdom. That just achieves the shifting around of jobs from one region to another, with the regions that get them boasting about it and those that lose them lamenting their loss. The Scottish and Welsh development agencies, with huge funds at their disposal compared with NWIDA, can mount successful campaigns overseas. They can properly boast about their efforts in that respect and take full-page advertisements in the national newspapers explaining how firms in the new technologies are developing in Scotland, and I do not complain. They can rightly boast about their achievements.
My complaint is that the north-west region is disadvantaged because we cannot mount such campaigns. We do not want to pinch jobs from other regions. We want the resources at our command to mount similar campaigns overseas to bring jobs to our region. Apart from sporadic missions that go from our region once or twice a year to foreign parts—they are not well-funded and they do the best that they can—we lack the ability to launch the sort of drives in which we need to engage. If we had the funds, we, too, could go to Japan, America, Canada and elsewhere to bring jobs to the north-west.
§ Mr. McGuire
No, I will not. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think me lacking in Christmas spirit, but this is a short debate and I do not want to lengthen it. I normally give way to interventions, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I represent a constituency within the Wigan area. We have about 20 per cent. male unemployment. No one knows how much female unemployment there is, because many women do not bother to register. The Labour party has a programme for putting many people back to work, but we shall never return to full employment. Neither the present Government nor my party believe that there is any magic wand to be waved. We can argue about the number of people that we can get back to work, but we know that there will be no return to full employment.
Employment prospects must not continue to be a lottery. The other week, I talked to a young person who had secured a job. She had had a university education. She told me that when she went to sign on for the last time, to get the documentation which all young people starting work need, the room had been full of other young people who were filled with despair and hopelessness. "They are 49 not all layabouts or deadbeats," she said to me. "They simply want a chance." Some of those young people have been out of a job for three or four years, and their prospects of getting a job and gaining some experience are receding all the time. We are still losing about 20,000 jobs a month and adding them to the unofficial unemployment total, which I believe to be about 4 million. We must rethink the system. At present, it is simply a lottery: some will get a job, and others will not.
There is supposed to be a think tank. I hope that that think tank will think up some ways of tackling this great scourge. Some of our constituents have suffered from the cruel lash of unemployment for 18 months or two years and have no prospect of a job. No Christmas message that we can send them will relieve them of the deep foreboding that things will be no better next Christmas and that they may be worse. We have a duty to think about that problem. Some other countries are doing so. The West Germans are considering how to adjust the retirement age.
I do not pretend to have any solutions. I ask only that people with better brains than mine and with more resources — people who appreciate the demographic position and who understand what the real prospects are, economically and otherwise, for the next few years—should think about it. We cannot tackle the problem by creating a few jobs here and a few jobs there. We need a massive re-think. I hope that the Government can reassure me that their thoughts are tending in the same direction. I hope that they can offer our young people some hope.
Recently, one of my constituents brought to me a problem which I did not believe could exist. He came to one of my constituency interviews about a fortnight ago. He is drawing unemployment benefit and he told me that his wife has a weekly pension of the magnificent sum of 51p. The man would have been a couple of years away to retirement when, very recently, he was made redundant. He has not yet recovered from the shock. He knows that he has no hope of getting a job.
He told me that his wife's 51p is deducted from his unemployment benefit and that what rubs salt into the wound is the fact that, for administrative purposes, his wife's pension is only given to her annually, but he loses 51p every week. I did not believe him. Sometimes, constituents get the facts rather muddled. However, I told him that I would make inquiries. I did so, and the reply that I received confirmed that what my constituent had told me was true.
I hope that the Leader of the House will pass on the message to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister rejoices in the sobriquet of the Iron Lady, and my hon. Friends and I believe her to be an iron lady with an iron heart. To humiliate a man on unemployment benefit in this way is not just laughable in a curious way, it is obscene. It should not happen. The 51p should not be taken into account. No pension not exceeding, say, £5 a week should be taken into account. To take into account a pension of 51p, paid annually, is not good enough. If the Leader of the House cannot tell me that that position will be altered soon, I hope that he will convey to those responsible that this is obscene nonsense. The sooner we get rid of it, the better. Furthermore, I hope that we shall soon be given a statement that any pension of less than £4 or £5 a week will not be taken into account in this ridiculous way.
I hope that the Government will respond to my speech in the way that people of this country would wish.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I am sure that every hon. Member in the House shares the deep concern of the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) about unemployment throughout the country and about the needs of pensioners, but I hope that I will be forgiven for not speaking again on those subjects.
This is the season of good will and I hope that before we rise for the recess the Government will offer a little good will towards Chile. No doubt my suggestion will set off a spontaneous reaction of apoplexy in some Opposition Members, because the international Left has never forgiven the army for bringing down the Marxist Allende, and the Left's endless capacity for self-delusion has prevented it from understanding why that happened. It happened because Marxism has never worked in practice in government, because Marxism was destroying Chile, and the Chilean people besought the army to put an end to it.
I have recently returned from a visit to Chile with the Bow Group, at the invitation and as the guest of the university of Chile.
§ Mr. Lawrence
First-hand observation, as opposed to the Tea Room chair observation of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), suggests that things are getting better in Chile. There is an atmosphere of greater freedom.
§ Mr. Lawrence
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken too much this Session. There are serious human rights violations, but they are decreasing, and democracy is in the air. I ask the Government to do what they can to encourage that progress and to assure us now that they will do so.
The Bow Group was invited, apparently, because the Government of Chile are reaching out to find friends in Europe in the run-up to their return to democracy. We were not brainwashed. Our reception was, frankly, surprising. We were given every opportunity over a 10-day visit to meet and question not just General Pinochet and his Right-wing regime but everyone in non-terrorist political life who is strongly opposed to the regime. We saw the main political opposition and trade union leaders, Left-wing academics, the editorial staff of Left-wing political journals, human rights activist organisations and even displaced and jobless people in their temporary camps who are from time to time the target of police repression. In what Communist dictatorship would such freedom be allowed to us?
Chile is a long way from Europe. Few Europeans go to learn the facts. Stories about Chile tend to be exaggerated and such improvements as there have been tend to be ignored. Of course, there has been considerable bloodshed, torture, police repression and censorship. There always is with the dictatorships. But the worst estimate of the numbers of those who died in the coup 10 years ago and after hardly registers on the counter of man's bestiality to man compared with the millions slaughtered under Stalin and Mao Tse-tung, in Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Ethiopia and goodness knows where else where the iron curtain dominates the scene.
§ Mr. Lawrence
We have forgotten that all the democratic political parties on the Left and Right invited the army to take over. Where has such a genuine invitation from the whole spectrum of political views ever taken place in a Communist coup?
Chile still does not have complete press freedom, but the several television channels, newspapers and periodicals were free to publish our doubts and criticisms, as they daily publish the speeches of political leaders against the Pinochet regime. Torture, deplorably, still continues. It is probably endemic in South America. One reason for that is that the civil courts have little or no effective control over the military. Even then, the Archbishop of Santiago and human rights agencies told us of about 30 to 60 cases currently causing anxiety, which, although appalling, was nothing like the figures which we were expecting when we arrived.
Although internal and external exiles have been increasing, President Pinochet has allowed 2,000 to return home and there have been no disappearances since 1977. Last month, for the first time, a judge in Valparaiso took action against illegal detentions and Chilean lawyers began to speak out publicly on certain civil and human rights abuses.
After months of regular demonstrations against the constitution, which promises democracy by 1989—although it keeps President Pinochet in power until then—and 40 deaths at those demonstrations, the latest demonstration of 250,000 people passed off without military repression or serious disturbance. The thaw is undoubtedly beginning to spread.
The difficulty about a return to democracy is that there are 62 political groupings and the political parties in Chile seem, unfortunately, to be in confusion and disarray. Also, President Pinochet is backed by a traditionally loyal, well-disciplined and powerful army. He can, I believe, also count on the support of the majority of an unusually large middle class, as a 67 per cent. backing for his constitution shows. Despite their economic problems, women and business men fear instability above all else. In such circumstances, democracy may be a little longer returning than any Democrat would wish, which is why any help that the British Government can give would be greatly welcomed.
Anyone who speaks well of Chile is likely to be accused of being an apologist for the regime, which I am not, but if there is any improvement these things should be said.
Argentina has just returned to democracy, and I hope that its human rights abuses, which were worse than those of Chile, will have ceased. It provides an example to Chile on its own doorstep. The provision of arms from the United States to Argentina will make the Chilean Government want the same facilities, which will possibly be made available to them only if there is a dramatic improvement in human rights.
Chile has acute economic problems, but British business men there seem optimistic. If we in Great Britain were to take off our blinkers, we might be able to help Chile with the extra private investment necessary to help stabilise and develop its economy. By a revival of our historic friendship with Chile, whose founder was called O'Higgins, whose navy was created by Lord Cochrane, and whose generals even today bear such names as Sinclair and Gordon, we might be able to encourage the restoration 52 of human rights and help speed the return to democracy which Chile enjoyed for 175 years. In the last resort, Chile is a bulwark against the spread of Communism in a vulnerable continent. We cannot afford to forget that.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I wish to raise again the subject of the Severn bridge and express my disappointment and concern that there has been no statement about such a vital issue before the Christmas recess. It illustrates yet again that the Secretary of State for Transport fails to grasp the importance of the issue. During an Adjournment debate on 28 October I revealed how lax the Department of Transport had been about this serious matter.
I quoted then large sections of the Mott, Hay and Anderson report and independent assessment, which was written in language that ordinary people could understand. The report was about the bridge's substructure and revealed a serious position. Husband and Company has been commissioned by the Flint and Neill partnership, through the Department of Transport, to assess the bridge's substructure. On 7 November the Secretary of State said that a summary of the report had been placed in the Library. That took the form of a one-page letter dated 10 November to the Flint and Neill partnership and pointed to certain difficulties with the substructure. What about the full report? Why is there a delay in publishing it? One does not wish to impugn anyone's integrity, but the delay can only arouse suspicion about what is happening.
I wish to deal with the maintenance of the bridge. A major resurfacing problem will arise which will have to be tackled one day. One finds from talking to road engineers that the resurfacing of a bridge of the Severn design is one of the hardest that they could be given. The reasons for that have been given to me on good authority. First, the tolerance and bridge strength are so fine that the thickness and weight of the road surface material is critical. An extra few millimetres of thickness would impose many extra tonnes on the hangers and cause major safety problems. It is impossible to resurface by putting a new layer of material on to the existing road surface. The surface has to be stripped and a new surface laid. That means closures for long periods. That has serious implications. And I wonder whether that aspect has been considered by the Secretary of State.
There is a danger that that process could damage the bridge's structure because of its design. The road is laid on the upper deck plate direct and therefore scrubbing it off can weaken the deck plate and the bridge. Secondly, the material used to surface the bridge must be exceptionally strong and durable because the thickness of the material must be kept to a minimum. The material also has to be exceptionally flexible because the bridge expands and contracts with the temperature more than other road surfaces and because it flexes with traffic much more than rigid roads.
Thirdly, the material must be exceptionally weather-resistant. The major damage to roads is caused by the freeze-thaw cycle, in which ice forms in cracks in the road surface and forces small fissures open and thaws wash out small pieces of dislodged surface material. The cycle affects all roads but normally is worse on the surface. The substrata are less affected because of the natural insulation of the ground. Frost rarely penetrates more than a few 53 millimetres. However, on the Severn bridge and other similar bridges, frost is more of a problem because the road freezes from above and below because the cold air circulates around the bridge.
That means that the road material not only freezes thoughout but also freezes more frequently, because even a relatively short cold snap can freeze the road more fully when it is surrounded top and bottom by air than when most of it is buried in the ground. Furthermore, the exposed nature of a cross-water bridge high in the air makes it more subject to icy wind than surfaces at ground level and, therefore, more prone to freezing conditions.
The road surface on the bridge is the original one, made in 1966. It has been extensively patched and repaired and has been rutted many times. It cannot last for ever. I have no evidence of a contract to renew the road surface of the bridge. I can only ask again whether the Secretary of State is aware of the serious problem, because when such an operation is eventually decided upon it could have serious implications.
Another vexed question is tolls. On 20 September, the Minister of State, Department of Transport proposed that tolls on cars should rise from 20p to 50p and on buses and lorries from 40p to £1—an increase of no less than 150 per cent. Under the Severn Bridge Tolls Act 1965, a proposed increase must be advertised either in the London Gazette or in the local press. Six weeks are allowed for objections and then a public inquiry can be held if a representative objector or a local authority wishes it. In this case Gwent county council has decided to object and an inquiry is to be held.
Tolls are an irksome obligation on motorists and cause horrendous queues at peak periods. This year, drivers' contributions in motoring taxation have burst the £10,000 million barrier. Tolls on top of that are highway robbery. Even more significant, this is a pointless exercise. The debt on major bridges and other estuarial crossings now totals £450 million, whereas their initial construction cost, including that of the Humber bridge, was only £260 million. Over £200 million has already been collected in tolls. This year, the extra £300 million which the Chancellor is taking from the motorist would go a long way to repay outstanding debts.
The immediate impetus for the proposed increase was repair work, which was estimated at the time to cost £33 million.
The fact that a relatively new bridge should need such extensive work so early in its life means that someone got it wrong. There must have been faults in design, in construction and certainly in the estimating of traffic flows. Why should the motorist pay for those mistakes? Parliament never contemplated imposing such penalties on law-abiding motorists—people who are already paying hand over fist for the privilege of driving. In view now of the extenuating circumstances relating to the bridge, I should have thought that tolls would be not increased but scrapped.
The position was summed up for me by Mrs. Shelagh Salter, chairman of the Welsh consumer council, in a letter to the South Wales Argus in the middle of last month. She said:Welsh consumers pay every day and have been paying every day, for the past 16 years, to 'buy' the Severn Bridge. Yet have consumers got value for money? The Welsh Consumer Council says No. If the Sale of Goods Act applied to the Severn Bridge we would be entitled to get our money back. It's neither fit for the purpose, nor of merchantable quality.54 The Secretary of State should take heed of those words.
The fact that the Secretary of State does not propose to make a statement on the Severn bridge is a dereliction of duty. He should have ensured that the Husband report was published before the Christmas recess, and he should have sought powers to scrap tolls on the bridge. Good reasons are available for that. Above all, he should have put forward plans for a second crossing. I am well aware that imaginative plans are available to him. On 28 November the CBI in Wales held a highly successful conference on this important subject, where unanimity of purpose was displayed, but regrettably no Department of Transport representative was present. On 9 January 1984 Gwent county council will hold a similar conference, to which the Secretary of State is invited. I hope that he will accept the invitation and see for himself the strength of feeling on this matter.
The Secretary of State is a brilliant watercolour artist, and he often portrays bridges. I mention this now to urge upon him the fact that on 'the border of Wales we need a second crossing of the Severn without further delay.
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I am glad that I was able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I believe that the House should consider the problem in Cyprus before the Christmas recess. One must examine the history of the problem before one makes a judgment about the recent declaration of independence by President Denktash on behalf of the Turkish community in northern Cyprus.
Since 1957—and even long before then—it has been the aim of the Greek community in Cyprus and of successive Greek Governments to achieve enosis or union between Greece and Cyprus. The EOKA movement—the terrorist movement—that began in 1957 was not an independence movement but a terrorist campaign directed towards achieving the union of Cyprus with Greece.
Two communities live on the island of Cyprus—the Turkish community and the Greek community. In the whole of its history Cyprus has never been an independent nation state. It has been part of the Venetian empire, the Byzantine empire, the Ottoman empire and the British empire, amongst others. Throughout the period from 1957 to date the Turkish community has rightly been concerned at the prospect of union with Greece. It is my view, reinforced when I visited Cyprus as a guest of the Turkish-Cypriot Government this summer, that the root cause of the problems of that troubled island stem from that fact.
The 1960 constitution of Cyprus, negotiated under the auspices of the United Kingdom Government, the Greek Government and the Turkish Government, provided for safeguards for the Turkish community. In 1963 Archbishop Makarios and his Government officers unilaterally tore up the constitution and withdrew from the Turkish community its rights and representation in the legislature—in effect, safeguards and rights under the constitution in respect of taxation and various other matters. From 1963 to 1974 the Turkish community was subject to oppression, economic embargo and a denial of human rights, about which Opposition Members who frequently profess the rights of the individual and natural justice should know. If they do not, they should be ashamed.
In 1974 Mr. Nicos Sampson, who was formerly deputy shotgun rider for Grivas the EOKA leader, overthrew 55 President Makarios, who went to the United Nations and complained at the actions of the Greek junta in fostering that coup d'etat on the island of Cyprus. The prospect of a murderer such as Nicos Sampson being let loose on the Turkish community was horrific. One of the most articulate men on the international scene in those days, Dr. Bulent Ecevit, the Prime Minister of Turkey, came to this country and begged the then Foreign Secretary to intervene, using the rights of guarantee that Britain had as a guarantor power of that constitution. Britain declined to intervene. The Turkish army intervened and probably saved the lives of a considerable number of the Turkish population of more than 180,000 in Cyprus.
From 1974 to date, one person has been killed in border incidents along the green line between northern and southern Cyprus. If one asks the Turks, who are going through the most extreme economic deprivation, what they think of their situation, they say that they are alive, that they have freedom under the law and that they have the right to elect their own representatives.
It is unsatisfactory that our Foreign Secretary, who stands at the Dispatch Box and speaks with all the authority and weight of a British Foreign Secretary in the international forum, should deplore the declaration of independence of President Denktash. From 1974 to date, negotiations have taken place in an attempt to resolve the issues. The Turks require freedom, security and the right to life itself. The Turks have proposed a bi-communal, bizonal federated state. Under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary-General, soundings were drawn up, which were issued in September and which produced a framework in which negotiations could take place. These soundings recognised the principles which the Turks were trying to establish. The Greek-Cypriot Foreign Secretary Rolandis resigned as a result of President Kyprianou's failure to negotiate within those soundings. As night is bound to follow day, a declaration of independence then took place.
International pressure has been exercised by the Western countries to prevent any other nation, whether Pakistan, Bangladesh or any of the Moslem middle east states, from recognising Turkish Cyprus. In my respectful submission, the conduct by our Foreign Secretary in his response to the Turkish community's problems was deplorable. The reason is that there are wider issues at stake, which are known to the Foreign Office, such as sovereign bases on Cyprus, Cyprus's strategic position, facing Lebanon, 40 miles south of Turkey and adjacent to Syria, the desire not to antagonise the Greek lobby and Greece's important position in the European Community.
I remind the House that the Republic of Turkey has faced west for 60 years since 1923. A critical situation exists in the eastern Mediterranean. Many of the Aegean islands have been militarised. There is a claim by the Greeks to a 12-mile territorial zone around those islands, which the Turkish Republic has said, if declared, will be considered a casus belli by Turkey. Turkey has a large Aegean army based on Izmir. Cyprus could be a flashpoint in the middle east. It behoves the British Foreign Secretary and the Government to adopt a more even-handed approach to the problems of Cyprus and of Turkish Cypriots.
§ 6.7 pm
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
Like nearly every hon. Member, I suffer from mild schizophrenia. It is never so apparent as when we approach a recess. On the one hand, hon. Members are more than ready for a break from their heavy responsibilities, yet, on the other hand, they plead that they should not go away at all so that an important matter may be discussed.
I raise the matter that I wish to discuss on the basis of Standing Order No. 10. It is not right for an hon. Member to enter the debate unless the matter is urgent and important and unless action on it would be possible should the House decide not to rise on Thursday. I plead for 1,800 people who are unnecessarily suffering pain and will have a bad Christmas. If I thought that the Leader of the House would give time for a debate, I should be only too pleased to come to the House on Christmas day, Boxing day and the next day to fight this cause.
The House will know that I am interested and have always been very much involved in the National Health Service. In consequence, I have made many speeches on the cuts that have been made. I should like to make many more such speeches, in the hope that the Government will change their mind. I shall not do so now, as I shall have other opportunities.
On this matter, money is not being withheld. The Brent health authority has lost £250,000. Some 300 staff, including many nurses, are fighting to retain their jobs. Even if we meet on Christmas day, we shall not be able to solve those problems immediately. However, we could solve this problem.
Last April the North West Thames regional health authority designated £1.2 million capital expenditure for one of the finest hospitals in London — the Central Middlesex hospital in my constituency. The expenditure was to be used to refurbish four wards. The reason for refurbishment is that the hospital building began its life as the North-West London workhouse. It has taken many years to get the hospital into its present condition to provide services. The closure of the four wards means that about 1,800 of my constituents are awaiting admission.
The Minister frequently tells the House that the Government are spending more money on the NHS. However, all hon. Members face the same problem. According to national statistics, the NHS is doing marvellously well, but when hon. Members examine the position in their constituencies, they discover problems. The 1,634 persons awaiting admission to the Central Middlesex hospital can be broken down into 140 cases of general surgery, 249 ear, nose and throat, 243 traumatic and orthopaedic, 242 ophthalmology, 377 urology, 236 dental surgery and 147 gynaecology.
My constituency is also affected by the closure of Wembley hospital, which has served my constituents for a century. In a few weeks' time the casualty department will close. To open the remaining wards in the new year will be a struggle. The allocation of money to the hospital has been withheld for nine months. The money could be released if the Minister for Social Security spoke to the relevant person. That is my plea. Will the Leader of the House speak to the Minister or the Secretary of State about the matter? We are dealing not with cuts but with money already allocated and not given. Hospitals are being divided against each other. Medical staff are saying that if one ward is closed, perhaps another will remain open.
57 I received a letter from the chairman of the hospital medical staff committee of the Brent health authority, stating:The consultant medical staff are united in their view that there is an urgent need to increase the number of beds available … Already the duty medical and surgical registrars are under great pressure to conserve emergency beds and the risk that a patient will be sent home who should have been admitted is very real.The risk will increase as the winter proceeds.In addition to the problem of emergency admissions, the other major consequence of having insufficient beds to cope with the work load is that the waiting list for non-emergency surgical cases is increasing. In the period from December 1982 to September 1983 the waiting list has risen from 1,634 to 1,939. Patients are being sent for from the waiting list in good faith and are then refusedbecause there is no room at the inn.This happened to no fewer than 500 patients in a three-month period during the summer. There is a real risk".Now that the winter is setting in, should an epidemic occur, the hospital would be in an emergency red-light situation.
The money should be released and the wards opened. The skills exist to do the work. Yet, during the Christmas period, about 1,800 people, who are suffering pain and needing urgent treatment, will continue to suffer as a result of a bureaucratic device whereby money allocated in April has not been received by December.
I hope that the Leader of the House will convey with the utmost urgency the message that this matter should not wait for the House to resume its business after the recess. I urge the Minister to pick up the phone and contact the regional health authority chairman, Dame Betty Paterson. My constituents will then have the best Christmas present that they could receive.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I wish to raise a local and a national matter. However, first I want to deal with the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who defended the regime in Chile. His speech reflected no credit on himself or on the House. I become nauseated when I hear hon. Members trying to find some justification for dictatorships, especially when it is such a repressive dictatorship as in Chile. I can imagine the reaction on the Conservative Benches to a speech about Poland. The hon. and learned Member for Burton made an extremely unfortunate speech.
I, like my hon. Friends, remember what happened earlier in the year when the Chilean authorities reacted in such a ferocious way to demonstrations. Many people were killed, including children. I find it difficult to understand how the hon. and learned Gentleman can have a good word to say for the notorious and brutal regime in Chile. I do not wish to be personal, but it is relevant to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who paid for his trip to Chile. Was it paid for by the Chilean authorities? The hon. and learned Gentleman has, I think, an obligation to tell us.
The local matter to which I wish to refer involves the decision by the Secretary of State for Education and Science to accept the recommendation of the National Advisory Body for Local Authority Higher Education that the diversified courses at the West Midlands college of higher education should come to an end.
The decision will undoubtedly come as a heavy blow in the area. On 8 November a deputation from Walsall and 58 Sandwell council met the Under-Secretary of State at the Department to argue and plead for the courses to be retained. The college is highly thought of in the area and has won much praise for its work by Her Majesty's inspectors and the Council for National and Academic Awards. Honours status was granted to the three diversified courses.
Walsall has no tradition of pupils entering higher education, and a major breakthrough began with the opening of the West Midlands college. A growing number of sixth-formers and potential mature students could have their needs met locally. The deputation on 8 November explained that the likelihood was that several of those who would find places at the local college might be unable to attend at other colleges in the west midlands.
The college has two main areas of work—teacher training and diversified courses. The obvious danger, as we explained to the Minister, is that without the diversified courses, which are coming to an end, it might he argued that the teacher-training course should also cease, the result being that the college will be closed. The college has an excellent record of endeavour, achievement and flexibility. It has a major role to play in the provision of higher education in Walsall and Sandwell.
The latest development, apart from the decision of the Secretary of State, is that the director of education for Walsall has written to the Secretary of State about proposals for a federation between the colleges of Walsall and Sandwell. The director has put it to the Secretary of State that the decision involving the West Midlands college should be deferred so that firm proposals can be made by the two boroughs. I plead for such a decision. I shall write to the Secretary of State enclosing my remarks. I shall also send him copies of the letters that I received today from the director of education.
The other matter that should be dealt with before the House rises is of a more national character. It concerns the possibility that electricity prices will rise early next year — and we already know that gas prices will be increased. Any increase in gas and electricity prices will cause great hardship throughout the country. Even those on average incomes must often face some difficulties with fuel bills. If, for example, some members of the household are at home during the day, they will need to keep the heat turned on in cold weather. Such families will not find it easy to meet their fuel bills at the end of each quarter.
The position is so much more difficult for those on limited incomes and supplementary benefit and the unemployed. There is a great deal of fuel poverty in Britain. The House has been told on many occasions that many elderly people deliberately do not turn on their heating during the day, despite the cold, because they are terrified that they will not be able to meet their fuel bills. It is possible that some elderly people may die, arid we know of the number of cases of hypothermia during the winter months.
Information that I was given last month shows that the increase in retail prices since the Government took office is almost 58 per cent. However, a different picture emerges on increases in fuel prices. During the same period gas prices have risen by over 112 per cent. and electricity prices by 82.5 per cent. That is why so many people are finding it difficult adequately to heat their homes.
The Government's argument, so often reiterated from the Dispatch Box, is that some assistance is available. I 59 accept that that is true in some cases—for example, for those on supplementary benefit—but it is not generous assistance, and others not in receipt of supplementary benefit, but on limited incomes, receive no assistance at all. Two million pensioners receive rent or rate rebates — or both — because of their limited incomes, but because they are not in receipt of supplementary benefit they do not receive a single penny in assistance with their fuel bills.
The defeat in the Cabinet of the wish of the Secretary of State for Energy that there should be no increase in electricity prices will cause a great deal of hardship for electricity users. We must remember what I have just said about the increase in gas prices and the profits that have been made. It is difficult to see any justification for further increases in the price of gas during the next six, 12 or 18 months.
I hope that the Cabinet will think again and recognise the amount of acute hardship that will be caused to so many who cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. If, at the end of the day, the increases go ahead, the Government have a duty to ensure that those who cannot afford them are properly protected. I again remind Ministers that those who do not receive supplementary benefit do not receive assistance with their fuel bills in winter, no matter how small their income.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
As I listened to the remarks of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I reminded myself of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy during Question Time this afternoon. He pointed out that the possible increase in electricity prices will mean an increase of 2 per cent. over two years rather than the increases every six weeks under the Labour Government. I know that that took place before 1979, so the hon. Member for Walsall, North was not in the House and is perhaps unaware of the figures. However, I hope that he listened to my right hon. Friend's remarks this afternoon.
Whatever the arguments, we are discussing whether electricity prices should be increased by 2 per cent. over two years. That is a sign of success, which should be welcomed by all hon. Members. We have moved away from the days when the discussions were about increasing prices by 10 per cent. a year. I do not believe that all the credit should go to the Government for that move, but, whatever the disputes and arguments, we are discussing a small increase that will come more than 12 months after the last increase.
I wish to speak briefly about two subjects. First, I want to draw attention to the welcome support given by hon. Members on both sides of the House to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary following his statement this afternoon about the tragic bomb incident at Harrods. I did not mention the Woolwich bomb a week ago because the view of the people in Woolwich is that we should not play into the hands of the IRA and raise every incident in the House. However, it was clearly right to raise the Harrods bomb incident this afternoon.
There was a tragic large-scale loss of life and injury in Knightsbridge on Saturday. I very much welcome the comments of hon. Members on both sides of the House but wish to give special credit to the right hon. Member for 60 Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for his comments. There are many occasions on which people can give leadership. I hope that, at certain times, my hon. Friends will fall into line with the national mood, even if that means not exploiting a political advantage.
If we again see such disgraceful scenes as those at the Brent council or outside the Stockport Messenger office, I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will take a lead from his right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and say openly in the House what he apparently says late at night in a press release that often misses the morning papers —that he condemns such actions.
I shall not try to equate such behaviour with the IRA outrage. I simply try to make a point about the bipartisan way in which the Leader of the Opposition can speak and its effect on the national mood. Such an approach should spread beyond the tragic events of last Saturday.
The second issue concerns Conservative Members and the Government. The rate-capping proposals are important, and I should hesitate to think that my right hon. Friends will take the attitude adopted by some of my hon. Friends who are opposed to them. If county and district councils keep their spending in line and consistent with Government policy, they have nothing to fear from the rate-capping proposals. The councils that risk having their plans interfered with—and their ratepayers who will not benefit from the rate-capping proposals—are the high-spending councils such as the GLC, the ILEA and the London borough of Greenwich.
Opposition Members are opposed to a possible 2 per cent. increase in electricity prices. I remind them and the House of the effects of rate increases. For example, an elderly widow in my constituency, which is part of Greenwich, has had her rates raised from less than £200 a year to more than £600 a year—an increase of £8 a week or more than £400 a year. That has nothing to do with the Government—
§ Mr. Bottomley
I ask the hon. Gentleman to keep quiet for a short time. I did not interrupt his speech, and I hope that he will not interrupt mine.
Last year Greenwich council raised its rate demand by 59 per cent. to finance an increase in spending of less than half that amount. If it had been moderate and increased its spending by only 15 per cent., there would have been no need for any rate increase at all because of the generous way that it would have been treated under the rate support grant settlement. To argue that a 15 per cent. increase in spending is too little is to go totally in the face of reality.
The rate-capping proposals are essential, and many business and domestic ratepayers in my constituency look forward to the time when no council will be able to put such an impost on them that they are hit as badly as they have been by successive increases by the Greater London council, the ILEA and the Greenwich borough council.
I ask the Government to listen courteously to Conservative Members who ask them to think again. I and many of my constituents ask the Government to stay firm and to bring the proposals forward so that ratepayers no longer have to finance the extravagances of high-spending councils.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
The House should not adjourn but should stay to consider an urgent matter 61 affecting my constituency of Ogmore. In the Ogmore valley there is only one colliery left—the Wyndham Western colliery, which employs 550 miners and provides employment for about 200 to 300 more people who service that colliery.
For the past 12 months, as the secretary of the Welsh parliamentary Labour party, I have been conducting meetings with Phillip Weeks, with the retired chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Siddall, the Council for the Principality, the district councils, the Wales TUC, the Wales CBI and a number of other organisations. In June of this year we negotiated with the Secretary of State for Energy a date for a meeting in July to discuss the crisis in the Welsh coalfields.
It is important for my constituents that we put pressure on the present chairman of the NCB to allow the Wyndham Western colliery to continue in production, to open new seams on the south side of the colliery and to keep both that colliery and the jobs of about 500 miners alive. We want to keep mining in the Ogmore valley alive because it has no other industry and there are no other prospects of work.
In the Port Talbot travel-to-work area, of which the Ogmore constituency is a part, 8,000 people are unemployed, and at the Bridgend jobcentre there are 100 vacancies. If a further 550 miners, plus 200 or 300 more who will also be affected, go on the dole, unemployment in the Ogmore area will rocket from about 18 to about 45 per cent. The House should not adjourn until it has resolved that problem.
Earlier today, at Question Time, the Secretary of State for Energy stated that he wanted to introduce some type of Christmas cheer. I do not know whether he thought about doing that because of the debacle at the weekend in the Cabinet over whether to increase or reduce electricity and gas prices, but I assure him that we want some joy in the valleys of south Wales and some positive action from the Government.
Recently we had a debate on the Coal Industry Bill. It is simplistic for the Government to say that decisions are to be left to the NCB. The NCB operated under directives from the Government on which pits closed and which did not. Previously good procedures in south Wales between the miners and management began to break down as the area failed to get the help and recognition that it needed.
The subject of colliery closures is not new to me. Twelve months ago, on 9 December 1982, I asked for the leave of the House, under Standing Order No. 9—it is now Standing Order No. 10—to move the Adjournment of the House to discussa specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, 'the decision by the South Wales National Union of Mineworkers delegate conference yesterday to call for strike action on 17 January'."—[Official Report, 9 December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 987.]My request did not receive approval and debate did not take place. The strike also did not take place, for a number of reasons, but the seething anxiety and discontent remained and have grown considerably during the past year.
Since the meeting in July with the Secretary of State for Energy, a new chairman of the NCB has been appointed. I remember reading that Arthur Scargill said that if Ian MacGregor was appointed there would be an escalation of pit closures. He listed a number of collieries on the danger list, and the Wyndham Western colliery in the Ogmore 62 valley was not on the top of the list but tenth. Since then it has moved up the list, and it is the first colliery to be closed in Wales.
Since 1970, 14,000 jobs have been lost and 16 pits have been closed in Wales. That has created a climate of fear of mass unemployment in the Welsh coalfields. Most of the Welsh coalfields and communities are dependent on the coal industry, and the need for investment is paramount. We suggest that, to help the Welsh miners, trade unions and the TUC, the Minister should look closely at the development as quickly as possible of the new mine at Margam.
Some people in Wales are perturbed when they read articles such as that by Garrod Whatley in the Western Mail of Wednesday 9 November 1983, which said:South Wales miners say they have evidence that the Government is blocking plans for a new superpit at Margam—so the project can be sold off to private enterprise.That underlines the Government's neglect in proceeding with the development of the new mine at Margam.
The energy needs of the whole country have been reduced by the Government's actions and policies which have brought massive unemployment throughout the country and created a lesser demand for energy and energy supplies. Emlyn Williams, the president of the South Wales National Union of Mineworkers, said at the last ministerial conference that the local coal industry needed a surgical operation both nationally and in Wales, not the massive butchery that will be introduced by Mr. MacGregor.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I wish to draw attention to the fact that the Department of the Environment is refusing to obey the law and a High Court judgment in relation to regulations to amend the Greater London development plan. That may not seem a matter of momentous public concern, but the Government's refusal to obey the courts after their own pronouncements to trade unionists on the subject in the past month is blatant hypocrisy.
The Greater London development plan was prepared more than a decade ago and for the past two years the, GLC has been trying to make amendments to update it. It now has the support of almost all the London boroughs, the London Boroughs Association and a wide range of commercial, industrial and professional organisations. Until the general election it also had the support of the Department of the Environment. Since the general election, however, the Department has done a U-turn and is now refusing to make the regulations to permit the amendments to the development plan. Incidentally, equivalent regulations exist for local councils elsewhere.
The GLC took the Department to the High Court, before Mr. Justice Hodgson, and on 1 December the Department was roundly defeated. The court had before it the Department's assurance of 15 February 1983 when the Department wrote:We have Ministerial agreement to the printing of the Alteration Regulations and, as requested, I attach a copy of the current draft. Progress has unfortunately been held up by pressure of work on our lawyers and we are trying to do something about this. However I can assure you that the Regulations will be available when they are needed.63 The judge commented that the draft enclosed was "simplicity itself' and that it was difficult to see how any competent draftsman could not have produced it in a matter of hours.
On 2 August the Department informed the GLC:Ministers have now decided that to give the GLC statutory power to amend the GLDP would, in the present circumstances, be inappropriate.The Department has now admitted that that letter was written without legal advice and was wrong in law.
The court then heard of the Department's letter of 27 September, which stated that Ministers still considered that regulations should not be made, in the light of their intention to put legislation before Parliament to abolish the GLC on 1 April 1986. They did not consider that the alteration process could be completed by then. They took the view thatan uncompleted and abortive review of the GLDP would be a wasteful extravaganceand that the making of regulations would be seen as encouraging the GLCto embark on the preparation of proposals".The judge commented that the use of the word "embark" with reference to a process that had been going on for two years did not inspire confidence in the care with which this important decision was being made.
The judge summed up by saying that Parliament was supreme, the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 was an Act of Parliament and until Parliament amended or repealed it, it remained the will of Parliament. The fact that the Executive of the day did not wish to do something that it was required to do by an Act of Parliament was nothing to do with the question. If that Executive, for no other reason than its own political posture, exercised its discretion in a way contrary to the intention of Parliament as expressed in the legislation, the courts could and would intervene.
Since then the GLC has twice written to the Department to get that judgment implemented, but the replies have brought only further delay and a refusal to implement the court's ruling. The Department of the Environment is cocking a snook at the High Court. The Government have been shouting about law and order for the past month, yet they disobey the law themselves. It is like a fire and brimstone preacher being found in a brothel. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that the Government obey the law and allow the GLC to get on with its planning job.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
I shall be very brief. I trust that Members on both sides are appalled at the savage sentences meted out to the Turkish Peace Association executive. I wish to draw attention to an advertisement in the New Statesman for 16 to 23 December, which, under the heading "Turkey's Peace Prisoners", states:We, the undersigned, are appalled by the savage sentences inflicted upon the executive of the Turkish Peace Association (TPA). Eighteen of the defendants received sentences of eight years' hard labour plus 32 months' internal exile for doing no more than campaign for peace in the same way as CND in Britain. The TPA executive reads like a Who's Who of Turkey's intellectual establishment. The country's best-known lawyers, professors, journalists, painters, poets and former social democratic MPs have been penned up in one cell measuring 20 square metres. Their average age is 50. They have jointly served the Turkish state in top jobs for a total of 406 years. For the 64 President of the TPA, former ambassador Dikerdem, this is an effective death sentence since he is 68 and suffering from cancer. Turkey is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe and an associate of the EEC. Turkey has signed the European Convention of Human Rights and the UN Declaration.The signatories to the advertisment include Professor David Beetham, Professor Tom Bottomore, Professor Geraint Parry, Edward P. Thompson, Professor Alan Wilson and Professor Peter Worsley, as well as politicians, represenatives of the peace movement, actors, and so on.
There is nothing dishonourable in fighting for peace in one's country. It is the highest thing that a person can do, but the people who did just that in Turkey are now serving savage prison terms. Recent reports from Turkey tell us that if someone visits a prisoner the only communication allowed is by telephone from the other side of a thick wall with bars and glass and for no more than 15 minutes. Moreover, a prison guard listens in on an extension and if a question is asked which he regards as unsuitable—for example, "What is it like in prison?" — all communication is immediately cut off. That is unacceptable.
The British Government could play a vital role in helping to free those people, as we provide economic and, worst of all, military aid to Turkey. As a matter of urgency, Turkey should be expelled from the Council of Europe and the British Government should cut off all military and economic aid until all members of the Turkish Peace Association executive have been released from gaol.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I shall speak for no more than 60 seconds. The Government's master plan to create in my constituency the first employment-free zone in the west midlands is proceeding very well. There was a small setback in the past two months, when unemployment fell slightly, but I am sure that things will get back to normal in the near future.
When Conservative Members disappear to wanner climes, perhaps they will spare a thought for the 18 per cent. of my constituents who are now unemployed. The true figure is much higher. The latest body blow is today's announcement that three courses at the West Midlands college are to close. It may be thought that three courses are expendable, but my great anxiety is that in a year's time the Government will review what is left of the college's activities—teacher training—and say that it is no longer viable. In other words, I fear that it is not just a decision to discontinue three very good courses but a notice of extinction for a very good college of higher education.
At a time when we should be expanding higher education to meet the challenges facing this country, it is deplorable that the Government should take such a shortsighted decision. I hope that the Leader of the House will convey my repugnance for the decision to the Secretary of State for Education and Science and that the Secretary of State will now make a decision offering to me, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) an assurance that teacher training will survive in our area and that this excellent college will not face progressive extinction as a result of today's decision.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
Anyone who has sat here through most of the afternoon will acknowledge the considerable value of these Adjournment debates. To have crowded no fewer than 22 speeches in rather less than three hours speaks well of the self-discipline of hon. Members and of the pointedness of their remarks. I hope that in the few minutes that I shall allow myself I shall not fall out of line or below the standard of brevity that has been set.
The tone of the debate has been rather sombre. That is not in the least surprising, as it was preceded by the Home Secretary's statement. Several hon. Members, such as the hon. Members for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), whose comments about the statement which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made on behalf of the Opposition I welcome and appreciate, touched on Northern Ireland affairs, the underlying intractable problem of terrorism and the need to find a political and security solution. I shall leave it to the Leader of the House to answer those points.
The other main subjects of debate were also somewhat sombre. For the most part, Conservative Members have spoken about international problems. Some of them offered rather bad advice. I certainly hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not take any notice of the advice to recognise the newly proclaimed independent Turkish state in Cyprus which was recommended by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet).
I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not accept what the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said in a rather squalid speech. I shall help him to refresh his mind as to why most hon. Members strongly object to the events in Chile of 10 years ago. It was the end of what had been one of the few successful democracies in Latin America. Just as most of us rejoiced at the return of democracy in Argentina, we shall look forward to its return in Chile. There is no point in trying to encourage the existing extraordinary repressive regime. If the hon. and learned Member for Burton has any doubt about that, he should examine some of the documents issued by the United Nations Commission on Human rights.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that he meant no personal offence and that he was merely making a political point. I dealt with that in my speech. Has he visited Chile recently, or at all, to see whether there has been any improvement?
§ Mr. Shore
However, I have what I believe to be reasonably accurate information about the internal policies of those countries.
I shall now deal with the major theme that was advanced by many of my hon. Friends. Some spoke about pensions, others about electricity, the National Health Service and education, but the major theme concerned employment and jobs. My hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Dormand) and for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) spoke about the coal industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) spoke about the steel industry and others of Ely hon. Friends spoke about employment problems in their areas.
We are approaching the fifth Conservative Christmas. It would be as well for the Leader of the House to understand why the theme of employment has been a consistent refrain of Opposition Members and why Conservative Members have not alluded to it once today. At the first Conservative Christmas, unemployment in Britain stood at 1,258,000. In 1980, the second Conservative Christmas, was 2,016,000. In 1981, the third Conservative Christmas, it was 2,769,000. In 1982, the fourth Conservative Christmas, it was 3,063,000. Today, the fifth Conservative Christmas, it is 3,246,000. I hope that the Leader of the House will understand that that is why Opposition Members plead for action to deal with the problem. There have been suggestions as to how we might deal with some of the specific uncertainties. The Leader of the House should treat them with the seriousness that they deserve.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to respond to three requests. First, I hope that he will answer, or favourably respond to, the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), who has merely asked for the release of moneys which have already been voted to his health authority. Secondly, I hope that the Leader of the House will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport to the plea which was made astonishingly expertly by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) about the need for another statement on the Severn bridge. Thirdly, I should especially like the right hon. Gentleman to respond favourably to the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) as the Scott Lithgow problem is acute and urgent.
I have set the Leader of the House a few minor points to which he can respond. 1 hope that he is in a generous mood and that we shall be able to feel that the debate has not been wasted.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
These debates are never wasted, because, although we have settled to the new routine of the three-hour time limit, they enable the House to have a productive period of short speeches during which hon. Members are able most effectively to make points which are of major constituency or general concern.
I shall, of course, refer to all of the relevant Government Departments the points that have been raised. The points raised by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) about hospital allocations and by the hon. 67 Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) about the Severn bridge will be transmitted immediately to the relevant Government Departments.
Although we have evolved a pattern for this debate, it is just occasionally not entirely pedantic to remind ourselves of the motion which gives rise to it. We are invited to resolveThat this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Monday 16 January.The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) has explained to me why he cannot be present for the wind-up. He suggested that this was a rather generous holiday and was consistent with his view—he has the conspiratorial idea of politics — that Governments go in for long recesses during which they get away with administrative actions that they would not be able to undertake if Parliament were in session. That is not true as regards the length of the recess, which will be 24 clear days. That compares with 25 in 1981–82 and 23 in 1980–81 and in 1979–80. When I first announced that I intended that the House should go into recess for these dates, the Leader of the Opposition suggested that we should have to hold ourselves in readiness to return if the international situation should deteriorate in some unexpected and highly undesirable fashion. I put on record that that provision exists in Standing Order No. 143, although I am sure that every hon. Member will hope that we can have our recess without the requirement to return.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) spoke of the difficulties that he saw implicit in Phoenix 2 and what it would mean for steel-making in the constituency and wider afield. He argued that more details were required to help sustain confidence. I am sure that he would agree that that part of the steel industry has problems of capacity that have become almost endemic in recent years. I take the point that this decision has serious implications for steel-making generally and I shall see that his arguments are referred to the Department of Trade and Industry.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) made a point to which the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) referred, concerning the prospective cancellation of the drilling rig for Britoil. I understand that discussions are already under way through the usual channels, and I hope that it will be possible to meet the points that he raised about there being the chance of a statement.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney also referred to what I accept was a most persuasive speech by the hon. Member for Newport, East about the Severn bridge. As he will know, at the moment an assessment is being made with a view to a decision on strengthening it. Also, a review has been undertaken to consider whether the systems of traffic control can be more effectively related to the conditions. Studies are being undertaken with a view to reaching a judgment on a second crossing. The points that the hon. Gentleman contributed to the knowledge of the House can be contained in those three broad objectives and undertaken by the Government. I feel that he has the House in his debt for his contribution today.
The hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and Walsall, South (Mr. George) spoke about the recent decision concerning the West Midlands college. I appreciate that this college is in special favour in the west 68 midlands, and I am not unaware of this because of my role as a constituency Member of Parliament. The decision to terminate some courses, which has been taken in the light of the National Advisory Board for Higher Education recommendation, is disappointing, but it has been endorsed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Again, I undertake that the matter will be referred to the Department so that my right hon. Friend can take account of the points argued so strongly by both hon. Gentlemen.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) argued about the GLC development plan under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. He invited me to take on the herculean task of passing judgment on a fairly complex legal matter concerning the Department of the Environment. I shall pass the matter on to those far better qualified than myself to give him the answer that he deserves.
Other hon. Members made speeches on issues of a more general economic nature, such as that on pit closures by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) earlier in the debate this afternoon and that made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). I appreciate the deep concern and the constituency interest that promoted their speeches and, above all, the fact that the coal industry, perhaps more than any other such activity, is highly concentrated. Therefore, whole communities are prejudiced by the misfortunes of the coal industry in a way that is not true, for example, of the service industries and some other manufacturing activities.
I welcome the spirit of what the hon. Member for Easington said—that it would be wrong to ignore the economies of coal mining and that uneconomic pits should not be kept open for their own sake. I welcome that disavowal of the common agricultural policy approach to the industry, and in that context we can have a proper and constructive debate.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke about Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said, our proceedings have been conducted in the shadow of the solemn statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and the sense of deep unease and sadness that infected the House. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I welcome the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) and the praise that he offered to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) for the way that he enabled the House to debate the matter this afternoon in a constructive and relatively unemotional fashion.
I concur with the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) that we should have a full debate on these affairs in such terms and at such a time that would enable the widest possible participation of the House. Being a most distinguished 19th century historian, he will recollect that the debates on Ireland convulsed the House in prime time and embraced every hon. Member week in, week out. I am sure that he would not wish us to go back to such a situation, but he is right to remind us that this is a topic that is truly in the possession of the House. Having said that, I cannot guarantee that immediately on the return of the House his wish will be granted, but my heart is with him. [Interruption.] Over the years, I have learnt to recognise the shampooed crouch that means that my hon. Friend is 69 about to spring forward, and I was prepared to give way, but I am grateful to know that I can proceed without any impediment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) gave a lively preview of what his distinctive contribution to our debate might be, which would be designed to remove the political conditions for an alteration in the constitutional arrangement and thereby enable the present pattern to have a reasonable chance of adapting and developing without violence. I note that, as I noted that my hon. Friend wanted to redraw the boundaries with the Irish Republic. I do not think that I am answering for the Government when I stand at the Dispatch Box for these few seconds, so if I make an unintended lapse I apologise and hope that it will be struck out of the record. It occurred to me when I listened to him that it takes two to tango. I have never heard on the part of the Irish Government much enthusiasm for redrawing the boundary, because the moment that they do that they will legitimise the boundary. I eye the hon. Member for Attercliffe, who is the expert, to get confirmation on that point. However, there are all the makings of a first-class debate.
The hon. Member for Brent, South has explained why he is unable to be here for the wind-up, and I have already said that I shall take up the point that he raised. As to the other National Health Service problems, I shall take up the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) about his constituency. I hope that his request will be assisted by the fulsome praise that he gave to the national conduct of the policy, even though it had a few shortcomings at regional level.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) complained about the great length of time that it took for him to secure from the Ministry of Defence a reply to a letter. I shall see that the matter is attended to immediately. He referred to company accounts, in the context not of the Ministry of Defence but of the wider issue of lawlessness. I am glad that the issue continues to be raised, because during the period of the previous Government it was a great favourite with Arthur Lewis, whom we greatly miss. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I therefore hastily tried to obtain some reassuring information, instead of leaving the hon. Gentleman to wait the normal bureaucratic time to get his reply. I hope he will be pleased to know that the Government accept that many companies are in default. The Government have been concerned with the problem for some time. The Companies Registration Office in Cardiff was reinforced last year by 30 staff, in an attempt to reduce the number of companies in default. However, the Government are looking at the organisation of the Companies Registration Office to see whether more fundamental changes would be appropriate to deal with the matter in the longer term.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McGuire) spoke about regional policy. He contrasted the advantages that he believed were enjoyed by the Welsh development agency and the Scottish development agency with the advantages of those who have to shoulder those responsibilities in England. This issue is well known and 70 full of such horrendous booby traps that, in this pre-Christmas season, I shall content myself with saying that I have noted it. I shall take further what the hon. Member said about pensions.
A few speeches, which featured prominently in the debate, were on the subject of international affairs. My hon. Friends the Members for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) and Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) spoke about Cyprus and, in particular, the Turkish community there. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe spoke eloquently in favour of the Turkish attitude. However, I cannot encourage him to think that his speech would be immediately echoed in the Foreign Office. The British Government remain ready to enter into consultations whenever the Greek or Turkish Governments are prepared to do so. We must be clear that our powers of any effective authority are limited in these matters, and we must therefore measure our words accordingly.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) referred to Chile. His was a contentious speech. I want to get out of the Chamber alive, but say that it would be a poor day when no contentious subjects were debated contentiously, because that is what the Chamber is all about.
The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) raised the subject of the Turkish Peace Association. I, too, read the article in the New Statesman, and I am certain that this issue will feature greatly as a matter of public concern.
Then we heard the fascinating speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), in which he gave a measured representation of the anxieties that I know are widely felt in this country about the safety of our forces attached to the multinational force and, in particular, the political objectives to which they are effectively consigned. If we have the chance to debate this matter again in the near future, I hope that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to expand on it.
I conclude with the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) about what he believed to be the ambitions of the European Assembly concerning the £457 million refund. I was not sure whether his contribution was one that the Opposition would commend or whether he spoke in his old role or as a born-again Front-Bencher. Last time, we succeeded in obtaining the refunds. I have no doubt that this is a high-risk game of poker in which these matters are conducted in a way that is advantageous to ourselves. However, no one can have any doubts about the Government's will to secure an equitable financial arrangement with their European—
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Periodic Adjournments).
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House at its rising on Thursday do adjourn till Monday 16 January.