HC Deb 17 May 1984 vol 60 cc572-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising on Friday 25th May do adjourn until Monday 4th June.—[Mr. Biffen.]

8.3 pm

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

This evening provides an opportunity to raise important local, national and international issues. I wish to deal with issues of crucial importance to Stoke-on-Trent.

The House should not rise for the spring Adjournment until we have discussed the way in which the Government are discriminating unfairly against Stoke-on-Trent, their failure to deal with the city's special problems, and the need for urgent action. On 7 March the city presented the Secretary of State for the Environment with a powerful case for inner area status. It was warmly praised by the Minister of State, but he gave a negative answer. That was wholly unacceptable to Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke-on-Trent has a stronger case for designation for inner area status than many of those areas currently being assisted. Such areas are assisted mainly on the basis of signs of deprivation. The extent of the problems facing Stoke-on-Trent, on calculations based on the Department's use of census information, places the city at the top of the list of designated districts — yet it is excluded. That is outrageous discrimination.

Of 48 designated districts, Stoke-on-Trent has the 13th highest rate of households lacking basic amenities. It has the same unlucky number and position for mortality. Compared with towns and cities in other regions, Stoke-on-Trent has greater urban deprivation than virtually any of the designated authorities in the north, Yorkshire, Humberside and the north-west.

None of those outrageous facts is disputed by the Government. They cannot dispute them because we have our facts right about their indefensible discrimination. The Government appear to accept that we have an unanswerable case for help allocated on the basis of deprivation—yet they refuse to give us that help. That is defiance of logic and a perpetuation of injustice. The Minister unblushingly admits to apparent anomalies, which is a diplomatic confession that Stoke-on-Trent is being cheated of its right to Government help. I emphasise that we are using the Government's own statistics and criteria for the allocation of that help.

The Minister tries to excuse that gross injustice by explaining that no districts are removed from designated status because they require sustained and substantial help to counter urban deprivation. Of course, that part of the argument is correct—but he omits the other part, which is that the Government have a direct responsibility to find the money to help towns and cities such as Stoke-on-Trent, which have a greater qualification for aid than some of those areas receiving it.

The Government must face reality rather than impose arbitrary penalties on cities. Do they intend at some time to remove the names of those designated districts whose level of deprivation is less than that in the areas that are refused help? If so, when and on what criteria? What is the policy on new admissions to the list? The Government cannot evade this issue. It is clear that the Minister is wriggling. I hope that tonight the Leader of the House will give some semblance of Government thinking in the matter.

The Government should be left in no doubt about how much damage to Stoke-on-Trent they are causing by refusing aid. The city has had one of the biggest rates of increase in unemployment of any area, from 4.4 per cent. in 1979 to 12.3 per cent. today. I appreciate that other areas have higher levels of unemployment, but the rate of increase in Stoke-on-Trent is menacing. The city is heavily dependent on a handful of industries, the main three of which — pottery, coal mining and tyres — have been badly hit. In pottery, once a world-beater and record exporter, 20,000 jobs have been lost. No city can continue to decline at that rate and we badly need diversification of our industrial base.

We are asking for an end to discrimination and injustice by the Government. The figures and facts prove conclusively that there is discrimination and injustice against this major city. Other areas with fewer problems are receiving aid, while we are not. I am not criticising other cities; I wish them good luck. But Stoke-on-Trent must have its entitlement. We are not simply asking to have the city propped up. The object is to seek Government help to enable us to help ourselves.

Stoke-on-Trent has a proud tradition of industrial, economic and civic progress. It already has a co-ordinated programme of projects to revitalise the city, and needs only the backing of inner area status. If it gets that direct help, and the indirect help which would flow from the EEC as a concomitant, the future of the city could be transformed. It has the expertise and will to improve factory premises, rejuvenate the environment and renew the physical infrastructure.

We are seeking to regenerate the city and give it fresh hope for the future. If the Government will listen and act, Stoke-on-Trent will be treated fairly and will move forward to a better and more prosperous future. I hope that these facts will be taken into account before the House adjourns.

8.14 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

I welcome this opportunity before the House adjourns to raise two subjects of great concern to my constituents and, above all, to the future of their livelihood.

The first is the miners' strike, now in its 10th week with no end in sight. The Leader of the House participated in some lively exchanges at business questions today on the subject of the lack of parliamentary debating opportunities on this issue. Like my right hon. Friend, I deplore the Leader of the Opposition's uncharacteristic transformation into a Trappist monk who has taken a vow of silence on this important subject. Unlike the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who raised the matter so vocally this afternoon, I am taking the hint which my right hon. Friend gave and making use of this opportunity to voice the concern that is deeply felt by many of my constituents and the whole nation.

For the 2,400 Kent miners, one quarter of whom live in my constituency, this strike is now unfolding with all the impending doom of a Greek tragedy. Before the strike began, the three pits in east Kent were in a precarious, though far from hopeless, position. It is true that they were losing money at the rate of £22 million a year. On the other hand, they were not on any real or imagined closure list, first because east Kent coalfield still produces some of the highest quality coking coal in Britain from a coalfield area potentially larger than the Leicester coalfield.

Secondly, the National Coal Board is now investing new Government money at the rate of £1 million a year because it believes that once the deeper seams, particularly in the Snowdown colliery, are reached, there is every prospect that the Kent coalfield can be a viable part of the industry.

Those facts were true before the strike began. We are in for a long and protracted strike, the duration of which has been gravely underestimated. A long strike has two potentially tragic aspects, one of them geological. There can be no doubt that when pits are closed for long periods that brings into question the possibility that for geological reasons they may not be reopened. There have been reports in the Dover Express to the effect that grave geological faults are emerging in the Tilmanstone colliery. I believe that so far these reports are unjustified by the facts. Nevertheless, that question must be raised the longer the strike goes on.

Secondly, there are worrying, if not tragic, financial implications to a strike. Already, after 10 weeks, miners' families in my constituency are undoubtedly being afflicted by increasing financial hardship. It is ridiculous to talk of starvation, but it is clear that times are hard for mining families and will get harder the longer the strike goes on. The fact that these are self-inflicted, or, to be more precise, Scargill-inflicted, hardships does not prevent me from having feelings of human sympathy towards any family being moved uncomfortably towards the breadline by these events.

The time has come for the Kent miners, like miners throughout the country, to consider the reality of the position, which is quite different from the position as described by Mr. Arthur Scargill. Every miner should consider that coal stocks will last for a long time yet. Mr. Scargill authoritatively claimed about 10 weeks ago that coal stocks would run out within eight weeks. That was the first of his many big lies on this issue. In fact, there are now at least 22 more weeks of coal supplies at power stations—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

How does the hon. Gentleman know that?

Mr. Aitken

—and these will be increased to at least 30 weeks of energy supplies by extra production from oil and nuclear power stations during the summer.

Mr. Skinner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when I asked a parliamentary question last week about the exact coal stocks available in Britain—a question which has always been answered by Ministers, whatever the complexion of the Government in power, certainly in the 14 years during which I have been in the House—the Government, at this important time, refused to say how much coal was available at power stations?

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Why should they?

Mr. Skinner

Because they did in 1972. When Arthur Scargill said that there were eight or 10 weeks' supply, at that time the power stations were eating up coal three times faster than later, at Easter, when the weather was much warmer. He was, therefore, correct in his forecast at that time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that eight weeks' supply at one rate of consumption can be totally different compared with consumption at a different rate, with much depending on the weather.

Mr. Aitken

Not for the first time the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. Ten weeks ago, Arthur Scargill said that only eight weeks of coal supplies remained. That has turned out to be, like so many of Scargill's claims, fantasy and nonsense.

The hon. Member for Bolsover need not, as a result, turn to Ministers, whose integrity he clearly doubts on this and many other issues. I suggest that he turns to perhaps the most authoritative source of reporting today on this issue, The Economist, which said that, unless the CEGB, the NCB, the Government, British Rail and everyone else were lying through their teeth, there were at least 22 weeks of coal supplies left at the power stations.

Mr. Skinner

Like when the hon. Gentleman sacked Anna Ford and had a glass of wine poured over him.

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman, falling back on a bad case, must resort to personal abuse. Let him listen to a little more truth.

I said that I thought that existing coal supplies, with 22 weeks of life, would be expanded into at least 30 weeks of energy supplies at the power stations by extra production from oil and nuclear power stations during the summer. My constituents, Kent miners, need only look at the vast chimneys of the oil-fired Richborough power station near Sandwich and see those chimneys burning at full power throughout the night to realise that existing coal supplies are visibly being extended. If one adds to that the effect of Nottinghamshire's coal production — some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents are working in those pits—who are producing coal—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman is wrong again.

Mr. Aitken

—at a rate of some 300,000 tonnes a week, then even the hon. Gentleman should realise that this is a strike which, although it is biting on miners' families, will not bite on industry until the early months of 1985 at the earliest.

What is this long struggle really for? I suggest that every miner, in Kent or anywhere else, should study the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy on 16 March, when he said: Not one single miner who wishes to continue working as a miner will be prevented from doing so. He went on to explain that, although the closure of uneconomic pits will reduce manpower, nevertheless those reductions will be taken in volunteers. There are plenty of volunteers.

Mr. Skinner

He was lying.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should know that such language should not be used about an hon. Member.

Mr. Skinner

I am talking about Ian MacGregor. He is a liar and he has been lying through his teeth ever since he got the £1.5 million job on the taxpayer, and the Government lied about that.

Mr. Aitken

Repeat that outside.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. A number of hon. Members have strong views about issues that they want to raise tonight and the cross talk merely delays my opportunity to call hon. Members.

Mr. Aitken

I am sorry that the representation of crucial facts should provoke the hon. Gentleman so seriously.

Mr. Skinner

I am just telling the truth.

Mr. Aitken

That is the last thing that the hon. Gentleman is telling.

Voluntary reductions in this industry are occurring. Miners are voting with their feet. One has only to look at the number of applications and the amount of interest in the very generous redundancy arrangements that are available. The hon. Member for Bolsover might also like to know that some 30 miners in Kent have opted for new jobs without even applying for redundancy, so already there is a movement in this direction. The hon. Gentleman must not repeat the stale accusation that Mr. MacGregor and the Government are in some way intent on butchering the industry.

Mr. Skinner

Of course they are.

Mr. Aitken

In fact, the Government have been investing £2 million a day, and are continuing to do so, and they have made a pay offer that is higher than that which has been available to many workers in other industries.

We have seen Mr. Scargill playing the role of the Grand Old Duke of York—he has marched his men up to the top of the hill and he will have to march them down again, and in the process miner has been set against miner, and a proud union has been divided within itself, and as a result thousands of jobs will be unnecessarily lost. I want to see a strong viable coal industry in Kent as in the rest of the country. The time has come when miners have to choose between saving their families' finances and their livelihoods and saving Mr. Scargill's political face. I know what I would rather choose.

Unfortunately, the miners' strike is not the only threat to livelihoods in my constituency. I wish also to raise the subject of the highly damaging consequences of the French Government's ban on no-passport trips to France. This was announced last week and will come into effect in July. The present no-passport excursion arrangements have been in existence for nearly 30 years. They have worked satisfactorily and well and have given a great deal of pleasure to people who travel on low-cost fares to France. Last year more than 1.5 million British travellers, many of them pensioners and schoolchildren, made no-passport trips.

A considerable industry has grown up around these arrangements. That industry and the jobs that go with it are in peril. For example, the Sally Line, in my constituency, the principal shipping company for the Channel port of Ramsgate, last year carried 300,000 day trippers without passports to France. They paid between £7 and £9, depending on which time of the year they travelled, and that revenue counted for nearly one third of the Sally Line's total income. Some cross-channel operators depend for nearly 50 per cent. of their income on such day trip excursions. They will be hit, and hit hard, by the French Government's change of policy.

It is not just the shipping companies that will be hit. At least three travel agents in my constituency specialise in these no-passport travel arrangements and they, together with hotels, coach operators, shops and traders, will be savagely hit. Throughout the channel ports, hundreds of jobs are at risk.

Two questions need to be asked. The first is why the French have done it, and the second is whether there is any chance that the French Government will change their mind. There is a third question, which can be quickly disposed of—can we issue a different kind of identity card for these travel purposes? The answer to that is no, or not without disproportionate cost, because an identity card such as that which the French are suggesting would cost at least £2 and possibly £3, which on top of the low cost price would be damaging to the chances of any business.

Why have the French done it? The unilateral suspension of these no-passport arrangements is an unreasonable and insensitive move by the French Government that cannot be justified by any logical or rational explanation. The proof of this lies in the fact that the French Government have so far failed dismally to justify their actions, despite repeated requests from British diplomats and Ministers. Not one iota of evidence has been produced by the French to substantiate the theory that no-passport trippers from the United Kingdom are the source of black illegal immigrants.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments, and they are valid. Is he aware that many of us, irrespective of which side of the Chamber we sit on, who represent black and Asian constituents realise that the attitude of the French has been a source of great embarrassment? The French have been refusing black and Asian citizens of this country entry. That degrades the whole system.

Mr. Aitken

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In the absence of any evidence to substantiate the theory that the French interior Minister has voiced, the French attitude must stand condemned as a policy displaying primitive racial prejudice. That is intolerable in itself, but it is doubly intolerable in that it is now destroying jobs and livelihoods in our shipping and travel industries.

The Government need to make some firm diplomatic response. To date, the Foreign Office reaction to the French ban is low key, if not feeble. There has been no reciprocal retaliation and as yet no formal diplomatic protest. We are supposed to have some muscle with President Mitterrand over deals with the EEC budget, but that muscle has not yet been twitched. Why not? Surely our diplomacy has not been reduced to the wringing of hands and shrugging our shoulders and saying that nothing can be done when a unilateral decision to suspend arrangements that have lasted for nearly 30 years is made.

I seek an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the Government will not sit by and see 1.5 million British citizens a year deprived of the advantage of low—passport trips to France, and an assurance that the Government will fight for the hundreds of jobs of the people affected.

8.27 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I welcome the opportunity given to me by this spring Adjournment debate to bring to the attention of hon. Members before the House adjourns the need for progress to be made by the Government in establishing in Northern Ireland democratic institutions that provide an opportunity for elected representatives there to have a meaningful and responsible role in decision making and in shaping the future of the Province.

As a councillor in Northern Ireland I point out that the interest in our local government by those who have professional training and commercial expertise is fast disappearing. One wonders which skills, if any, some of the next generation of councillors will have. The reason for this is the limited responsibility and duties of councillors. They are responsible only for such things as street cleaning, burying the dead, collecting and disposing of domestic waste, providing leisure facilities for the people, many of whom cannot afford to use them, dog licensing, dog catching, some influence in promotion of the council area, public health matters, building control and striking of the local rate.

Those are not very inspiring or demanding duties and they result in fewer and fewer good calibre candidates coming forward. There are nominated boards composed mainly of non-elected, non-accountable members with a small percentage of elected representatives. In other words, wholly undemocratic bodies control and make decisions on health, education and so on. Roads, planning, housing, water and sewerage are all controlled by professional civil servants and Ministers, many of whom are on short-term commissions to Northern Ireland.

It is complete nonsense to continue to believe that pandering to criminals, gunmen and bombers, or those who claim to represent them politically, could bring about peace. Progress in Northern Ireland can be achieved only by the complete defeat of terrorists and criminals of whatever persuasion and by demonstrating with determination that terrorism will not succeed.

Unionists representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland are opposed to violence and want to achieve peace and prosperity for the good of all. Unionists from both communities have shown clearly in election after election and through a recent referendum their complete opposition to becoming absorbed into a united Ireland or anything which could in future lead in that direction. Ulster Unionists are committed to maintaining the union. Unionists recognised that there is a need and desire for greater co-operation and participation within Northern Ireland by all decent citizens who cherish their British heritage.

There is now an opportunity to build for the future. The way forward can be found. That way forward is contained in the discussion paper presented by the Ulster Unionist Assembly party's report committee. I urge hon. Members to consider it carefully and to recognise that the solution is only to be found for Northern Ireland by Nothern. Ireland elected representatives coming together and genuinely working together to resolve the present difficulties. I trust that the Leader of the House will commend the document "The Way Forward" to the Government and support the Secretary of State in granting administrative devolution at this time to the Northern Ireland Assembly and so start devolution rolling.

As Unionists we are aware of the problems. We accept the responsibility and challenge. The support of the House could produce the result which we all desire. We shall not abuse trust placed in us and shall continue to take account of and make provision for all citizens, respecting the aspirations and principles of others without sacrificing our own.

I sincerely hope that the House will lead the way forward and encourage the Secretary of State to make progress possible for the benefit of all law—abiding citizens in Northern Ireland when he addresses the House early in June after the recess.

In Northern Ireland presently some see the candidature of the present Speaker of the Assembly in the European election as recognition of fears realised and expressed by him in the House in 1982 when he saw that in its present form the Northern Ireland Assembly is a dodo. It is threatening him with future redundancy, hence his need to seek alternative employment.

I look forward to witnessing the leadership which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should display on our return when I hope that he will inject new life into the stillborn Assembly and transform it by devolving responsibility to it.

8.33 pm
Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)

I echo the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) about the need for administrative devolution in the Province. I commend to the Government for recess reading the excellent Ulster Unionists' document, "The Way Forward".

Before the House rises for the spring recess it is most important that it should consider its approach to law and order with special reference to young people. Of particular and growing concern to all, which I wish to emphasise, must be the soaring level of violence and the increasing incidence of youth involvement in such appalling activity.

Whether we talk about hooligans or vandals or whether we prefer the modern term "yobboes" to the archaic "hobbledehoys", the conclusions can only be the same. There is a developing fear among ordinary law-abiding citizens for the future of a decent and respectable society.

The street scene of today is becoming a daunting prospect for many people, especially the elderly and those unaccompanied. The soccer match is becoming the battlefield for mindless attacks on rival so-called supporters. The shopping centre is becoming the focal point for the display of obscene graffiti. The housing estate is becoming the playground for the wilful wreckers and destroyers of public and private property.

Let me give but one example of that violence and refer to the problems of vandalism. In my constituency in the Welwyn and Hatfield police area the figure jumped by over 50 per cent. during the previous month. There were 96 offences of criminal damage costing £7,243 compared with 56 offences costing £4,692 the month before. It is an example such as that which, hardly surprisingly, brings forth the response, "What are the Government doing about it?"

The Government have rightly and constantly been a proponent of firmer measures on law and order and they have both toughened sentences and strengthened the police. But clearly even more determined action is unfortunately called for and there can be no delay. A greater sense of responsibility inculcated in children and parents alike is also needed. Deterrence, too, is vital if this outrage is to be conquered. All those require the Government to give a positive lead in the interest and protection of the people we seek to serve.

Not so long ago a slogan was devised for publicity material which said, "Stamp out vandalism"—literally, a step in the right direction. As we consider whether the House should rise for the spring recess many hon. Members will be contemplating, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, the action that they should take with regard to their lawn. Stamping on weeds may do great damage but they have an all too familiar tendency to root deeper and to grow again the stronger, so more is required. Violent behaviour, of whatever type, appears to follow a similar growth pattern. The only answer for both is complete eradication.

8.38 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

A number of topics should be discussed before we go into the recess. One is undoubtedly the mining dispute. I shall not speak on that topic tonight, but I know that some of my hon. Friends will. However, I strongly disagree with the remarks on the dispute made by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). I should far rather listen to the views of those involved in the mining dispute in his area. They know far more about the industry than he does. I am not quite sure whether he is speaking from all the experience that he has gained in industrial relations in various enterprises. However, as I say, I am sure that my hon. Friends will wish to deal with that topic.

Opposition Members are concerned about the continued imprisonment of Sarah Tisdall. We argue that she should never have been sent to prison in the first place, and the sooner that she is released the better.

There needs to be a debate, as indicated at Question Time by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs), on the New Ireland Forum. I trust that that debate will take place as soon as possible after the recess.

The topic with which I wish to deal is the forthcoming visit to this country of the South African Prime Minister at the invitation of the Prime Minister. I believe that such an invitation humiliates this country. A South African Prime Minister last came to Britain in 1961 at the time of the Heads of Commonwealth meetings, and I well remember demonstrating then. Conservative Members seem not to realise the seriousness of the situation. In 1961, the Commonwealth understood only too well the position.

At that time, we were saying that South Africa should not be in the Commonwealth. In 1961, during the time that the then South African Prime Minister was in this country, he came to the conclusion that it was better to withdraw his country rather than that it should be expelled. We were delighted that the apartheid regime was no longer represented in the multiracial Commonwealth. I doubt whether even those Conservative Members who are so keen on links with South Africa would advocate that South Africa should come back into the Commonwealth.

There is no doubt that the major prize for Botha in coming here is the respectability and acceptance for which the apartheid regime has craved. The Prime Minister can go on about her opposition to apartheid in South Africa. The South African leaders are not particularly worried about such remarks. They expect it from her. They and we know that it is the kind of ritual condemnation that even the most Right—wing members of the Tory party voice.

Inviting Botha to this country is evidence enough that the present British Government have no real commitment to opposing the South African regime and isolating what can only be described as a notorious racist and repressive tyranny. Today, in The Times, one reads that some 2 million black people in South Africa have been what is described as "re-allocated" since 1960 in pursuit of some racist idea that dominates, and has dominated, South Africa since the late 1940s.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)


Mr. Winnick

We know that basic human rights and liberties do not exist in that country for the large majority of people. I may be anticipating the intervention of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) who will perhaps say that surely there are other tyrannies and oppressive regimes in the world. Of course there are. I would be the last to be the apologist for such regimes. The difference in the case of South Africa, as has been recognised time and again by the international community, is that it is the only regime in the world that penalises and differentiates, not because of people's ideas and activities, which is bad enough, but because of the colour of a person's skin. That is why South Africa has been isolated, and why I believe that it is such a humiliation for Britain to have invited the South African Prime Minister to this country.

Mr. Stanbrook

I thank the hon. Gentleman for having anticipated my question. Would he welcome Mr. Chernenko if he wished to come to this country?

Mr. Winnick

I think that my remarks answer the hon. Gentleman. I have stated the difference. What some Conservative Members seem not to understand even now is the difference in the case of South Africa and its obnoxious regime, which to a large extent is based on the same type of ideology that dominated Nazi Germany from 1933 to when the Third Reich was destroyed.

Institutionalised violence and state repression have continued to increase in South Africa. Any changes that have taken place in that country in more recent times have been of a purely cosmetic nature. It is simply to try to improve the image of South Africa to people overseas.

It is well to bear in mind that for over 20 years Nelson Mandela and others like him have been in prison. It would be far better if the British Government were demanding at the United Nations and elsewhere that Nelson Mandela be released. Of course, he should never have been put in prison. He represents the views of the large majority in South Africa. The ideas that Madela stands for will never be extinguished in that country, however long he remains in prison. As we know, the South African authorities also wage war against neighbouring states. They continue in illegal occupation of Namibia. Those are the facts of the external scene there.

A television programme in this country only last week showed the extent of the illegal activities carried out by the South African secret police, BOSS, from the embassy in London. Burglaries, arson and arms deals of an illegal nature are the kind of activities that have been carried out in which, as was seen in the programme, former agents of the regime admitted their past involvement. It would do no harm if the British Government showed concern about the illegal activities carried out by the South African embassy in this country.

One of the aims—apart from the respectability and the respect that Botha desperately wants, and hence his pleasure at being invited to this country—is an attempt to gag the South African opponents of the South African regime from being active in this country. No doubt he will be pressing the British Government for the closure of the offices of the African National Congress.

I maintain, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the visit should be cancelled. If it goes ahead, there will be a massive demonstration on 2 June. There will be the opportunity for many people of different political opinions, affiliations and persuasions who despise apartheid to show their solidarity with Nelson Mandela and with the victims of apartheid by demonstrating on that day.

The great majority of the British people are on the side of those in South Africa who are opposed to that tyranny. The job of Labour Members is to make sure tonight, on 2 June and thereafter, that that voice is clearly heard in every way.

8.47 pm
Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) should ask his Marxist friends in Mozambique about the importance of maintaining contact with the South African Prime Minister. They realise the value of doing so. Our own Prime Minister sensibly has decided that it will be a good idea for the South African Prime Minister to come here, and I am sure that a warm welcome will be extended to him.

Mr. Winnick

By the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Dudley Smith

And by thousands of other people. I shall discuss the matter 'with the hon. Gentleman on another occasion.

I am a representative of this Parliament at the Council of Europe, and I note that at least two of my colleagues in the Council of Europe are present in the Chamber. Two subjects which the Council of Europe has discussed extensively in the last two weeks, and which I think should commend themselves to the House, are important and of concern to this country. They are possibly the two most dangerous matters that could undermine civilised society, with the exception of nuclear war, which would end civilisation.

I am referring to the growth of international terrorism and to the growth of drug addiction, particularly in this country. I know that from time to time we have discussed these two matters in the House, but, alas, all too often, we discuss the former only after the latest outrage has occurred. I am afraid that it is a spot reaction, and we rarely have the opportunity to discuss such issues in detail. My plea to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is that we should discuss both these subjects at more regular intervals than at present. By doing so we can manifest our concern to those whom we represent and show our determination to improve the fight against both of those evils, for which, admittedly, there are no easy counters and probably no complete solutions.

Although there is international co-ordination and consultation on terrorism, it must be refined and improved more successfully than has so far been the case. Terrorists must be hunted down relentlessly, and in every country their punishment must be of an exemplary nature. Recently, following Council of Europe moves on this subject, I was interviewed by a representative of the New York Times, who said, "Ah, yes, but you politicians must have difficulty in deciding when terrorists cease being terrorists and become freedom fighters". Such warped thinking must be countered at every turn. Terrorism can never be justified in a democracy. On the whole, it cannot be justified in countries even where standards are less democratic than our own in northern Europe. The killing and maiming of innocent people, either as a gesture or in the course of a particular enterprise, is a crime against humanity itself. Until we start winning the fight against terrorism, its continued growth will be depressingly predictable.

I shall now deal briefly with the vexed subject of drugs. I dislike emotive phrases, because they are usually exaggerated, but I do not think that it is going too far to suggest that drug addiction in Britain today is reaching epidemic proportions. Successive Governments have done much to counter the worrying trend that has developed, but much more needs to be done. Hard drugs such as heroin are being smuggled into the country at an alarming rate so successfully that I understand the street price is now only a few pounds for what is colloquially known as a "fix", whereas just a few years ago the price was prohibitive.

Inevitably that widens the market, and those responsible for the dissemination of such drugs, who are known as "pushers", have a vested interest in extending the availability of the drugs and their clientele. I believe that the official figures for addiction given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and which appear in the press bear little relation to the truth. All official sources seriously underestimate them.

The problem is very deep, and many points could be made, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will refer two particular points to those responsible. First, the public, and particularly young people, have no idea how difficult it is permanently to cure a drug addict. There are all too many people who presume that it is rather like alcoholism, or even smoking, and that with a good deal of strong will on the part of the individual, and a certain amount of attention from the medical fraternity, he can be cured and be able to walk away. That is not so. It is very difficult indeed to wean someone off hard drugs and there is a much greater danger of recidivism than there is with, for example, alcoholism. There is a great need for publicity, particularly for the young, about the dangers of hard drug addiction and the almost inevitable course to the grave if it is pursued for any length of time.

Secondly, we should emphasise the need to check the flow of such drugs into the country. These days it is unfashionable to call for more officials. Indeed, I completely support the Government in their determination to reduce the number of civil servants and officials, but there are some circumstances in which we need to increase them. At present there is a very strong case—because of the epidemic—for expanding the Customs service. For every person caught illegally bringing in a bottle of gin or whisky at an airport or port, there are probably two or three who go undetected smuggling in hard drugs.

I think that all hon. Members will agree that the Customs do a good job against the odds. It is very much a hit or miss affair whether they detect those bringing in these vile concoctions. As we probably all know from our own experience, the vast majority of travellers are not checked when they come into the country. I recommend that we now go over to a system of full checks on a random basis, so that for a period of time on any given day every traveller coming through is checked. Other countries in Europe do that, and it proves fairly effective. It also means less predictability, so that travellers can never be sure whether there will be a full-scale check and they will be stopped and examined. In that way, the villains can be detected.

I read this week that legislation to strengthen the power of the courts to deprive drug traffickers and other criminals of their ill-gotten gains is unlikely now to be brought forward in the next Session of Parliament. I hope that that is not true. The party promised that measure, and it should be given reasonable priority. Most people are affronted by the idea that those convicted of such vile crimes can still profit from them in the long run.

For the reasons which I have stated, I hope that my right hon. Friend will look favourably on the idea of returning to those two subjects at more regular intervals than at present. There is intense public interest in them.

8.56 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I very much welcome the opportunity to raise the case of Barry Arthur Foster. It involves the gravest miscarriage of justice in at least a decade. It also involves the culpability of the Home Office, and is so serious that the facts should be given to the House. The Minister has effectively disclaimed responsibility

On 30 April 1977, at about 3.15 pm, two police officers from the Nottingham force called at the home in Nottingham of Barry Arthur Foster. Mr. Foster, who was then aged 31 and had no previous convictions, was severely subnormal with an IQ of 63. He had spent a considerable proportion of his life in mental hospitals.

His mental condition was clear to the two officers, since in their statements they both referred to the fact that he appeared to be mentally retarded. In spite of that, they spoke to Foster on his own before his mother returned to the house. They asked him about serious sex offences against 10-year-old girls committed in the area. Before the mother returned a quarter of an hour later Foster had made admissions regarding the attack on one of the girls.

Shortly after his mother returned to the house she and Barry Foster went to the local police station with the two officers. They arrived at about 3.45 pm. On the way there Foster is alleged by the police to have pointed out the places where the attacks on that girl and another girl had taken place.

At the police station he was interviewed on different occasions by different officers. At 6 pm he was seen again by the two detective constables. At 6.45 pm he was seen by two other officers who said that he would be interviewed again when a social worker was present. That interview, attended by a Mr. Fred Wright, a social worker at the mental hospital where Foster had most recently been a patient, lasted from 7.28 pm to 8.14 pm on the same evening.

According to police statements, during each of the interviews Foster made damaging admissions about attacks on two 10-year-old girls. That was independently confirmed in the case of the interview attended by Mr. Wright. He signed a lengthy statement setting out the exchanges between the police and Mr. Foster from which it is clear that Foster admitted responsibility for the attacks. Mr. Wright has since stated that he had no doubt at the time that the admissions were genuine.

On 2 May Foster was interviewed on his own by different officers about an attack on a third 10-year-old girl. Again, he confessed to the attack. He was then charged with rape of the first girl, attempted rape of the second child and attempted buggery and indecent assault on the third child.

When the case came to trial on 7 November 1977, Foster pleaded guilty to the charges of rape and attempted rape. The charges of attempted buggery and indecent assault in respect of the third child were not proceeded with.

In February 1978 Mr. Justice Stephen Brown sentenced Foster to be detained indefinitely at Rampton hospital. In July 1981 police in Accrington, Lancashire, apprehended another man, Denzil Pearce, who in the course of being interviewed said that he had committed sexual offences against children in many parts of the country, including Nottingham. He was handed over to the police in Nottingham and took them to the places where the offences to which he had confessed had been committed.

The Nottingham police became satisfied from the circumstantial detail in Pearce's statement that he and not Foster had committed the offences against the first and third child. Pearce did not confess to the attempted rape of the second child.

In December 1981, Pearce pleaded guilty at Preston Crown Court to the first and third attacks referred to in the Foster case. He asked for 70 similar offences to be taken into account. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

It was, therefore, clear to the Nottingham police from July 1981 that Barry Foster had confessed to two serious sex attacks which he did not commit. It seems that at some point after Pearce's trial the police drew the Director of Public Prosecution's attention to the matter and he made representations to the Home Office. As a result, in March 1982 Mr. Foster was granted a royal pardon on the rape charge, but he stayed in Rampton because the Home Office saw no reason to act in relation to the second charge to which Pearce had not confessed. They did nothing about the charges in relation to the third girl.

Fortunately for Mr. Foster, in 1983 the case was referred to the mental health tribunal under the provisions of the Mental Health (Amendment) Act 1982 which requires an automatic review of such cases every three years. The solicitor in the case saw from the papers at the tribunal hearing that the Home Office was still treating Foster as basically guilty. He asked the Home Office to take another look at the case. As a result, the Home Office completely changed its attitude.

On 26 March this year an application was made on behalf of Mr. Foster to have his two convictions quashed and to have the charges in relation to the third girl, which has not been proceeded with, brought forward and dismissed. The DPP and the Home Office supported the application. The Court of Appeal held that the royal pardon did not quash a conviction, that only the court could do that, and it granted all Mr. Foster's applications. He therefore left the court without a stain on his character.

By then, however, he had spent about seven years in custody, including over six years at Rampton hospital for the criminally insane. Hon. Members will not need me to spell out what is implied by that appalling fact.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Select Committee on Social Services is currently taking evidence on the treatment of mentally handicapped and mentally ill people who are leaving hospital and that, on several occasions, it has been drawn to our attention that people outside, such as the police, do not know how to handle mentally handicapped people and have a tendency to pick them up when cases of this type have occurred? I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that some aspects of the case to which he referred, and which I have been following with great interest, might be referred to the Select Committee.

Mr. Maclennan

I am aware of the consideration being given to this matter by the Select Committee, and I have no doubt that the details of the case will be of interest to it. My criticisms of the police are perhaps less than my criticisms of the Home Office, although it seems clear from the evidence that in this case the police did not follow the judges' rules.

The case raises the following extremely serious questions: how did Barry Foster come to confess to offences that he did not commit? The details of his admissions must have come from the police officers—there is no other explanation of how he came to know of the facts.

It is not suggested that the police officers concerned knowingly got an innocent man who was mentally subnormal to confess, but that is, in fact, what happened. Possibly this would not have happened if they had complied with the requirements in the judges' rules that a person who is mentally handicapped should not be interviewed unless a responsible adult is present. Foster made his first admission during the first interview on that fatal day in April 1977 when he was seen by the two officers with no one else present.

Why was Foster never put on an identification parade? He is short, whereas Pearce is very tall. Foster wears spectacles, whereas Pearce does not. It is unlikely that Foster would have been picked out by any of the three girls.

It appears that there has been no inquiry by the Nottingham police as to what went wrong. A statement made on behalf of the Nottingham police at the beginning of April 1984 stated that the reason for this was that the case was sub judice and that the papers were with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Apparently, the Director of Public Prosecutions has denied that. He has said that his office is not and has not been considering any possible action against the police officers concerned and that it has been making no inquiry into this case. One should have thought that the police or police authority would have been anxious to investigate how such a grievous miscarriage of justice came to occur and what lessons could he learnt from it for the future.

How was it that the Home Office took several years to respond appropriately to the fact that Denzil Pearce confessed to two of the three charges against Barry Foster? The royal pardon granted in March 1982 should plainly have applied also to the charges that had not been proceeded with arising out of the attack on the third girl. It is difficult to understand how this obvious point could have been overlooked. If it had been seen, it must surely have occurred also to the officials dealing with the case that the guilty plea in relation to the second charge was, to say the least, highly suspect. If two of the three confessions were shown to have been wholly false, how could any reliance be placed on the third?

Either the royal pardon should have been given for all three attacks or, at the very least, the attack to which Pearce had not confessed should have been referred to the Court of Appeal. When the case did, in fact, reach the Court of Appeal in March 1984, the Home Office agreed that all the charges should be cancelled. It was gross negligence on the part of the Home Office that it took from late 1981 or early 1982 to spring 1984 to reach this conclusion. Barry Foster spent an extra two years in Rampton simply and solely because of bungling incompetence in the Home Office.

The Home Office has so far responded to the case only by a written answer to me from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State on 11 April 1984 to the effect that the case of Barry Foster had been "fully and promptly" investigated after the Director of Public Prosecutions had told the Home Office in 1981 that Denzil Pearce had confessed to crimes for which Barry Foster had pleaded guilty. This is manifestly untrue. The case was not investigated "fully" or "promptly". If it had been, Foster would have been released then instead of more than two years later. On any view, therefore, the Home Office response has been wholly inadequate.

The case is perhaps the clearest in recent years for a substantial payment of ex gratia compensation. I believe that it calls also for a public judicial inquiry. When a gross miscarriage of justice takes place, caused apparently by the culpability of both the police and Home Office officials, an inquiry is essential to demonstrate that there has been no attempt to avoid acknowledgement of wrongdoing and to consider what may be done to avoid the danger that such tragedies will recur.

I understand that Mr. Foster is a constituent of the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway). The hon. Gentleman has said that he wishes to associate himself with the concern which I have expressed this evening. He too considers the matter to be of the greatest importance. I have raised the matter as The spokesman on home affairs of the Social Democratic party, but I have no doubt that when the facts become known it will be a matter of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to announce that the Home Office will study the facts again carefully and consider the establishment of a judicial inquiry, as I have suggested.

9.12 pm
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

It is unfair of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) to raise an alleged case of miscarriage of justice on the motion before the House, which is intended to provide an opportunity for those of us who wish to continue the sittings of the House to discuss various matters before the House rises.

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland advanced his case in the absence of any Home Office Ministers. He has made an attack on the Home Office in the most violent terms, and apparently he did not warn the Home Office of his intention to do so. He could easily have raised the matter on an Adjournment debate. There are plenty of opportunities for raising such a matter on the Adjournment at the end of the term and he could do so before the House rises for the Whitsun recess. On the final sitting before we adjourn there will be an opportunity for timed Adjournment debates, when subjects precisely akin to the one that he has raised can be ventilated. On such an occasion he can notify the Home Office in detail of the accusations that he wishes to make. As it is, he has taken advantage of an opportunity in the House to enjoy immunity while making allegations against those who he claims to be responsible for the miscarriage of justice. It was an abuse of the House, but I appreciate that once having started on his course he had to continue.

Mr. Maclennan

I informed the office of the Leader of the House of my intention to raise the matter so that he could—I assume that he has—consult his Home Office colleagues. Secondly, this is not the first occasion on which I have raised the matter in the House. I raised it in an oral question to the Home Secretary some weeks ago and I believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is fully apprised of my concern and is in a better position to know the facts than I am.

Mr. Stanbrook

As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is incapable of replying to the accusations that he has made. He is not provided with a brief and he has no pre-knowledge of the accusations or how to reply to them. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know the proper way of raising these matters, but he has chosen to do so in a thoroughly reprehensible way.

I suggest to the House that it should not rise before we have considered and had a chance of discussing recent reports on the constitutional progress in Northern Ireland which have been made by Unionist parties in Northern Ireland.

Any indigenous effort to begin political progress in Northern Ireland should be warmly welcomed. There have been many solutions proposed to the constitutional problems of Northern Ireland, some of them by foreign Governments or foreign institutions, and some by British Ministers including Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland. The solution which has been proposed by the Ulster Unionist party, called "The Way Ahead", is particularly worthy of consideration by the House. It is modest and because of its source as coming from Unionists it is a precious document which deserves our consideration. It is a discussion paper which was produced by the Ulster Unionist Assembly Party's Report Committee and it is entitled "Devolution and the Northern Ireland Assembly, The Way Forward".

I do not care for the word "devolution"; I am not keen on the idea at all. However, the report makes a constructive contribution to the discussion of the possible solution for the constitutional dilemma in Northern Ireland. We do not need foreign Governments and foreign political parties to lecture us on what to do with part of the United Kingdom. In one such instance an outside body has had the effrontery to suggest that the Republic should absorb Northern Ireland under cover of a specious constitutional formula. What we need are ideas for progressively easing the friction which undoubtedly exists between people in Northern Ireland. Whatever others may say about a solution to the problems, unless an end is brought to the violence by such solutions we should not give them serious consideration.

We should be directing ourselves towards conciliation between the various elements in the Province. I warmly welcome, as I suggest that the House should warmly welcome, the proposals in the report. Briefly, it proposes that the so-called "Macrory gap" can be closed by the implementation of the rest of the Macrory proposals.

The House will know that county councils and county borough councils in Northern Ireland were abolished in 1970 on the report's recommendation. Their functions were to be transferred, according to the report, to the old Stormont Assembly. Those councils were abolished. Since then, there has been no upper tier of local government in Northern Ireland. Local councils having been abolished, so, too, was the Stormont Assembly. Direct rule ensued not only for those functions previously exercised by the Stormont Assembly but also for those formerly exercised by local authorities in the Province.

Ulster Unionists say in the report that those functions and powers which county councils formerly exercised before their abolition should be given to the present Ulster Assembly in Belfast. It should be allowed to have them. This is a most constructive contribution to come from the Ulster Unionist party about the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly because of the checks and balances that were so carefully written into the constitution of the present Assembly at the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. All that is part of the existing system and constitution of the Assembly in Northern Ireland, so it is possible for those extra powers deriving from local government to be conferred upon the Assembly.

In addition to that very useful and interesting suggestion, the report goes on to recommend the institution of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, so that the minorities there, especially those who claim that they are discriminated against on account of religion or national affiliation, can be given the assurance that they have the same rights as all citizens of Northern Ireland or, indeed, of the United Kingdom.

The suggestions are modest and simple. I believe that the Government should eschew the flirtation with a foreign power and its suggestions for the incorporation of a part of the United Kingdom into their territory and should eagerly adopt the suggestion made by Ulster Unionists. For that reason, we should not adjourn the House until we have had a chance to discuss this important and valuable document.

9.19 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I wish to raise the question of Cyprus because I believe that it is the duty of Members to keep that issue alive and to remind the Government, as one of the guarantor powers, of their responsibilities to that island.

I am sure that many hon. Members are fully aware of the tragic events in Cyprus—the invasion by Turkey some 10 years ago and the sad events since then. Equally, I am sure that many hon. Members are aware that for many years we were told that inter-communal talks offered hopes for a solution. There was a time when those talks seemed to offer hope for the island's future, but as they dragged on I am sure that many hon. Members and, indeed, the people of Cyprus themselves realised that the talks had become meaningless.

I wish to refer to events in Cyprus since the unilateral declaration of independence by the Denktash regime in the occupied northern part of Cyprus in November 1983. Six months have passed since that declaration and there is a feeling of hopelessness in Cyprus about the prospect of reunification of the island. Although many countries condemned UDI—this country, to its credit, was one of the first — there seems to be no meaningful action against the Denktash regime to call upon it, first, to renounce its declaration and, secondly, to enter into meaningful talks.

Let us consider the discussions that have taken place at the United Nations, not since 1974 but since November last year. The Secretary-General has made meaningful attempts with regard to the Famagusta question and trying to stop the Turkish administration seeking to consolidate what it now proudly describes as its "state" in the occupied north. Sadly, as any hon. Member can see from the record, as in the past, Mr. Denktash has deliberately done nothing. Although firm proposals were put to him by the Secretary-General in January this year, Mr. Denktash was claiming in March that he had only just heard of the proposals and that he needed time to consider them, question their meaning, and so on. As so often in the past, he is simply stalling for time.

Against that background and the condemnation throughout the world of his action last November, we now hear that Mr. Denktash intends to call for a referendum in August this year based on the illegal declaration and that in November this year there will be a general election in the northern occupied part of Cyprus. Are those really the actions of someone who claims to be a leader and to want a meaningful, honourable settlement to the tragic situation that has existed in Cyprus for the past 10 years?

There are other factors with which the House should be acquainted. It will be interesting if the Leader of the House is able to comment on them. If he cannot, perhaps he will kindly convey them to his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

In April this year Turkey accredited a Turkish ambassador to the northern occupied part of Cyprus, followed rapidly by an ambassador from the occupied north being accredited to Ankara. Again, one must ask whether those are the actions of someone who seeks a meaningful solution to the events that have taken place in Cyprus.

The record of Mr. Denktash over the years can be summed up not so much by what I or any other hon. Member says but by the attitude taken by the United States House of Representatives where in a recent debate the attitude of Mr. Denktash to the supposed peace talks in which he claims to be involved was described as "a tired charade". That sums up the sadness of the events.

I have often referred to the tragedy of the 2,000 missing men, women and children. For years Mr. Denktash told us that no one was missing. After pressure was exerted on him, he claimed that there might be people missing but did not know how many. Whatever his attitude, the sad fact is that the regime provides no information about the tragic happenings of the people who disappeared following the invasion.

There is also the question of the freedom of movement. We are told repeatedly that the Denktash regime is peaceable, yet it refuses to allow those people who were forced from their homes in the north to return to the occupied areas to visit their property and land. We must question what his real attitude is.

The problem is urgent. Recently we discussed the events in the middle east, where tragically there is continuous conflict. Cyprus could become part of that tragedy. Sadly—this often hinders meaningful progress —many people say, "Nothing really bad is happening in Cyprus. Why should we get involved?" Cyprus could be dragged into the middle east conflict easily and quickly, and so could we.

We have military bases in Cyprus. Successive Governments seem to have thought that, although we have those bases, there is no need to worry about them because nothing will happen to them. However, events change. If we do not settle the problems quickly, especially the problem of UDI, the Cypriot people will increasingly feel that they cannot look to the guarantor powers, such as the United Kingdom, to help them, and that we have no right to have bases there.

Can the Leader of the House tell us — the Prime Minister tells us repeatedly of her personal relationship with the President of the United States—what pressure the United States is putting on Ankara? None of us is in doubt that the Turkish administration survives because of financial and military aid from the United States. Is the United States putting pressure on Mr. Denktash and the administration in Ankara to sit round the table and discuss these events?

In all my speeches about Cyprus I have claimed that I do not distinguish between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. They are the people who live in Cyprus, whether in the north or in the south, and they should be encouraged to live together. Whatever their differences, Cyprus is their homeland and they do not wish to live anywhere else.

Unless there is some meaningful action in the near future, the events that have dragged on for the past 10 years will not, I fear, continue to drag on in that way. I ask the Leader of the House to convey to the Prime Minister the urgency of this problem. The British have a responsibility. Britain, Greece and Turkey are the three guarantor powers for Cyprus. But under Labour and Conservative Governments we have not faced our responsibility. It is time to do so now, and I hope that the Government will give the lead in it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that this debate must end at three minutes past 11 o'clock and that 10 hon. Members still wish to take part. Perhaps they would bear that in mind when making their speeches.

9.30 pm
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

The House should not adjourn for the spring recess until it has had an opportunity to debate the consequences of the Government's strategy of insisting on considerable commercial and residential development in the south-east, which is to the grave detriment of the environment in that area, and equally detrimental to employment in the more depressed regions and to the Government's extremely popular and forward-looking inner city policy.

If I can illustrate from my county and constituency of east Berkshire the complete opposition to the Government's policy in this respect, that will provide a suitable microcosm for the south-east. When the central Berkshire structure plan was produced, it ensured that each planning authority in the area had five years' supply of building land. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, now my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, insisted through his Department that land should be found for 8,000 extra houses. In my local authority area of Bracknell, 5,150 houses had to be found, and in the little village of Warfield, which has no more than 850 homes, 4,000 extra houses were to be foisted upon the community. It is no exaggeration to say that that community is being completely swamped. The area is used to massive development with the successful implementation of the policy for new towns, leading to the most successful of new towns — Bracknell. The area is blessed by being within the so—called golden triangle of the M3, the M4 and Heathrow airport, and it is therefore attractive to national and international companies that wish to set up or expand business in Britain.

However, we develop such areas at our peril. East Berkshire is being completely desecrated and the heritage of attractive countryside that we wish to pass to our children will perish for ever. The local people do not want large-scale development. Luckily, it is a prosperous area with low unemployment, at about 7 per cent. When I tell the House that in my heavy daily postbag it has been five months since I received a letter about unemployment, that will put matters in perspective. I am aware that for many hon. Members unemployment is a constant problem at their advice bureaux, in their constituencies and in their postbags. The foisting of this extra development on the south-east will be to the detriment of many areas that would welcome extra industry and development, which could alleviate their high unemployment.

In a free society which believes in local democracy we elect local councillors to the planning authority. If they represent an area with a low level of unemployment and if they want to maintain the environment they will allow only modest development. On the other hand, if those local councillors represent an area with a high level of unemployment and industrial degeneration they will go out of their way to encourage industry and developers and they will do everything possible to ensure that planning applications are successful. That is a far more realistic regional policy than spending vast sums of taxpayers' money trying to persuade companies to move to the regions. That policy would have a great deal of merit because it would please my constituents greatly and equally it would help many in the regions.

When he replies, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may well argue, as my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have argued previously, that in a free market we should within reason allow industrialists to set up wherever they want and that if we do not allow them to move to the golden triangle in the south-east national and international companies will set up abroad. I do not believe that argument. The very large number of multinationals in my constituency confirm to me that decisions as to whether they should set up in the United Kingdom or in other parts of Europe are made on a different basis. If they have decided that they will invest in the United Kingdom, they will go wherever they can easily get planning permission and where there is a ready supply of labour. Of course they will take account of the infrastructure, the motorway system, local airports, and so on.

The regeneration of inner cities, a policy approved of by all hon. Members, will not take place if developers are allowed to build on greenfield sites in the shire counties. In that case they will not build on inner city sites which cost more to develop and which will not be so saleable later. The money that we are rightly putting into the inner cities is not being fully effective because there is much dereliction on large areas of inner city land. If we are allowed to refuse massive development in the shires, far more houses will be built in the inner cities.

We have a most unusual policy that is acting not only against the interests of the majority of the people who live in the south-east and who want to protect the small areas of countryside that are left, but also against many regions, one of which I used to represent and of which I had firsthand experience, where unemployment has risen rapidly and old industries have died. Those are the areas to which we should be encouraging the new multinationals and high technology companies to go. That same policy is acting against inner city development.

I do not want to be unduly critical of the Government or of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), but if this policy reaches its logical conclusion I can foresee the time when there will be one long urban sprawl from London to Reading and almost to Bristol; there will be no countryside in the south and presumably there will be industrial wastelands in the midlands and in the north. That is not what Conservative philosophy is about. That is not in the best interests of our economy, our employment prospects or our environment. I have often pressed my right hon. Friend on this matter, and have always been encouraged to raise it on the Adjournment. I hope that he will take note of what I have said and will pass on my message to his colleagues in the Cabinet so that before it is too late the strategy is changed in the interests of the nation.

9.40 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I shall try to be as brief as possible in raising a point about the mining dispute so that other hon. Members have the opportunity to speak in the debate.

The hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) spoke of the urban sprawl between Birmingham and London. If market forces dictate urban sprawls, the Government should not intervene. That is monetarism, market forces and the philosophical creed of the Tory party —

Mr. Andrew MacKay


Mr. Skinner

If I am wrong, the hon. Gentleman should tell the Prime Minister to do a U-turn—

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Wrong again.

Mr. Skinner

Tory Members cannot stand it when someone tells them the truth.

I took offence at what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said to the Leader of the House—although I am not here to defend that bloke. Indeed, he does not need that. However, when the hon. Gentleman says that the Leader of the House is not as competent as the Home Secretary or some other Minister to answer his question, that is stretching things too far. The Home Secretary compared with the Leader of the House is only a selling plater— [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] That is racing parlance. I thought Tories knew all about horse racing—

Mr. Bowen Wells

Wrong again.

Mr. Skinner

—and that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should tell us why he believes the House should not adjourn.

Mr. Skinner

It is not about selling plates, I can tell you that for sure, Mr. Speaker. I was simply picking up a couple of points made earlier—perhaps before you took the Chair. Some Tories are tipping the Leader of the House as the Crown prince to follow the Prime Minister when she decides to pack her bags in a couple of years or less—

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

What are the odds?

Mr. Skinner

The price on victory is odds-on and coming down quickly.

I want to fulfill my promise to the leader of the House and raise the question of the mining dispute. He encouraged me to raise it on the Adjournment. Another reason for raising the issue is that my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), the leader of the Labour party, has not been altogether keen to obtain a debate. He has assured me that he has other irons in the fire—or some other appropriate clichéto deal with the matter. Roughly, that adds up to the possibility that serious initiatives are taking place behind the scenes, up the stairs or wherever. I am pleased that at long last something is being done to ensure that the Government—not for the first time—intervene in the matter.

It is not correct to say that the Government have hot intervened in the mining dispute. The Government started it by setting on MacGregor and giving him his terms of reference. That was clear intervention. They then sent 12,000 police to the coalfields. When people ask whether the Government will intervene, they should really ask whether they will intervene on the other side. They have already intervened to try to smash the National Union of Mineworkers.

I am fairly convinced that, as a result of the 10-week strike—and it looks as though it will continue for some considerable time yet, from my experience of rallies which I have addressed in areas where the strike is particularly strong — the Government should understand —[Interruption.] I accept that there are some black spots. We do not have them all out yet, but we will.

I hope that the Government do not think that they can build up confidence by saying that there is a six-months' stock and that that will defeat the NUM. Simple arithmetic shows that during the 19-week overtime ban that began last autumn between 8 million and 10 million tonnes of production were lost.

We have had 10 weeks of strike—some of Yorkshire has been out for 14 weeks — and whereas in normal times each week more than 2 million tonnes of coal are produced, production is now down to 400,000 tonnes a week. A rough calculation shows that we have between 26 million and 28 million tonnes of coal out of this year's annual production. That means that even if the strike ends tomorrow, which it will not, the NCB will start next winter with less coal than in most of the years since 1974. If the Tories do not understand what that means, they have not learnt any lessons since 1974.

I believe that the Government thought, as MacGregor thought, that the miners would last about three weeks and that the strike would splutter to a halt. Indeed, some of my hon. Friends probably felt the same. It has not happened like that, and now the situation has changed dramatically on the question of stocks.

Some hon. Members have chided Arthur Scargill about his forecast some time ago of there being eight to 10 weeks' stocks. The rate of depletion at the time when he made that forecast—indeed, I made similar comments—was tremendous compared with the rate over the Easter period, when the temperature rose to 65 degrees. One must also remember what Sir Walter Marshall, chairman of the CEGB, said when addressing the energy committee of the parliamentary Labour party on Tuesday night. He explained that the Government could claim that coal stocks were greater than Arthur Scargill had forecast, first because the rate of depletion was not so strong in the summer, and secondly because the Government were spending an additional £20 million a week of taxpayers' money on importing dear oil to bolster stocks of coal. If the Government think that they can continue on that road and convince the British people that they are on the right track, they have another think coming.

The strike has already cost the British taxpayer £1.4 billion, not only in lost coal, but in the overhead costs of keeping the pits in being. Even in Nottinghamshire, with only half production, the total overheads of all the pits must continue to be met. I hope that the British taxpayers appreciate that Mrs. Thatcher — [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]— is prepared to spend that amount of their money on an exercise in revenge.

In 1981 she had to do a U-turn on her policy of shutting pits. She waited, and then she cut up one industry after another in salami fashion, picking them off one by one, including trying to smash the trade unions here, there and everywhere, and to some extent she got away with it. The miners decided that they would try to put a stop to it—[Interruption.]—by fighting for their jobs. This strike is not about politics. It is an honourable attempt to avoid more people being thrown on to the scrap heap.

I tabled a parliamentary question recently seeking information about the number of youths employed in the pits in the last five years. In 1979, the number of youngsters starting work for the first time in the mines was 6,320. Last year, fewer than 1,800 young lads started work in the pits. In five years the Prime Minister and her cohorts have brought about that massive reduction in opportunities for youngsters in the pits. That has happened before MacGregor's plan has started to take effect. When it does it will carve away another 20,000 jobs this year, and another 20,000 after that.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) should not try to kid the Kent miners into believing that they have a rosy future under MacGregor. It has been made clear by MacGregor and by those who run the gravy trains in the Common Market just what is likely to happen. The hon. Gentleman is not too happy about the EEC nowadays, although he was at one time. I have always been against it, as was the Leader of the House at one time. The EEC Commission made it clear some time ago that it wanted to cut out the peripheral coalfields in Britain, which means Kent, South Wales and Scotland. That is what it means, with probably the north-east brought in as well. That is what they are up to.

The other day I met some Kent coal miners down at West Drayton coal depot, where they have been successful in stopping coal from being moved— a victory which was not reported in the Tory press. They told me that they realised that if the strike was lost, all the three pits in Kent would go as a result of the MacGregor axe being wielded.

Mr. Aitken

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on only one thing. The EEC has no bearing on the future of Kent or any other pits, and that is an irrelevancy. He said that the Kent pits were threatened, but will he accept—he should do so because this is the truth—that the Kent pits are not, and never have been, on any closure list, real or imaginary? However, the Kent pits will be closed if miners continue to inflict self-made wounds by continuing the strike.

Mr. Skinner

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, it was only a few months ago that the Kent miners had to put up a fight to save one of their pits, when Snowdown was threatened by the NCB. It was not the management but the NUM which put forward proposals to ensure the survival of Snowdown. As a result of the NUM efforts—it was nothing to do with the Government or the NCB—that pit was not closed. The miners know, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that if the closure policy were based on sheer economics and the accountancy of the NCB, the Kent coalfield would be threatened. I do not want to go any further than that, but I think the hon. Gentleman knows what I am talking about.

I am confident of victory, because the Government are now panicking. They are introducing new DHSS guidelines to try to starve the miners' kids. Every voucher or every little bit of food that the kids get from friends and families or from the hardship funds will be taken into account when the DHSS calculates how much money the families should get. At the current rate, according to my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who went to see the Minister for Social Security, families of miners on strike are being paid £30 a week less than the families of those who are unemployed and £40 a week less than families of murderers in prison.

It is a sign of panic and frenzy when the Government get down to the vicious and vindictive level of attacking little kids and trying to take the bread out of their mouths. They have another think coming, because such behaviour only solidifies the attitudes of those on strike. The Government are also showing signs of panic by tipping off the chief constable of Nottingham to enforce feudal riot laws which have hardly ever been used before. That shows that the Government are trying desperately, through these various ways, to attack the miners to try to stop them in their honourable desire to save jobs.

The DHSS guidelines are being used to attack families, but upstairs at this moment, on the Finance Bill Committee, hon. Members are discussing a proposal by which the Tory Government will allow those who send their kids to Eton to get £20,000 tax free from their employers to pay for their education. That is the kind of contrast and double standards that the Government operate.

The hon. Member for Thanet, South spoke about pit deterioration. He is on to a point, but he did not quite finish it. In 1974, the miners won a historic victory, about which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will know as he was not always with the Prime Minister of the day at that time, but I shall not go into that. One reason why that victory was secured was that all the equipment below the ground belonged to other people, not to the miners. Many years after the long hot summer of 1926 my father told me that the miners lost because all the equipment down the pits—the hammers, shovels, picks and so on—belonged to the miners, not to the private owners. Now, as in 1972, all that expensive equipment belongs to the companies who supply the mining equipment and the NCB, and some of it is insured heavily by various insurance companies in Britain. It is they who are squealing because they fear the risk to their precious possessions from the deterioration in the pits.

What is more, the management also knows that their jobs are on the line. They are fighting for their jobs. When jobs are worth more than £20,000 a year, people are prepared to fight for them. That is why they are running to MacGregor and asking him to call the dogs off and saying, "Let us have a halt to it. Let us start with a fresh sheet of paper." That is what they said down at Hobart house the other day. The management there have a job to keep behind the desks. They do not want to lose them.

I am confident, because I know what happened in 1972. The Government can make up their minds about whether they move MacGregor this week, next week or in a months' time, but one thing is certain. We will win this battle, just as we won in 1972 and 1974. We shall pave the way for a victory so that the nurses get a better deal, as will the teachers and all the other groups that have been hammered unmercifully by the Government. It will be a victory for the unemployed as well.

9.56 Pm

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

Let me alter the tempo of the debate slightly. I want to mention the inspector's report into the inquiries into Stansted airport and terminal 5 at Heathrow which is due to be presented to Ministers in the summer, according to a recent parliamentary answer which I received. I am not quite sure what is meant by the summer, but it is obviously fairly soon now.

The House is entitled to know how the Government intend to handle that important report. We are entitled to ask when the House will see the report and whether there will be a debate. It is reasonable that we should know whether the debate will be on the report or on a Government decision relating to the report.

Let me remind the House of what was said at the outset of the whole procedure. On 21 February 1980 the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said: We intend the public inquiry to be wide-ranging and to give objectors an opportunity not only to expand on their objections to the Stansted proposal but also to question the need for a major airport expansion anywhere and to put forward alternative sites. — [Official Report, 21 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 701.]

That remark implied that the inquiry would go far wider than the scope of a normal planning inquiry; and, in practice, it did so. The inspector was quite explicitly given far wider terms of reference than is normally done—in fact, words such as width, breadth, and scope were used. Every evocative word imaginable was used to assure us at the outset about the openness, fairness and wide range of the inquiry. Not even the colour of my grandmother's old tin trunk was excluded if it could be shown to be relevant.

Those assurances were reinforced time and time again in the inquiry. For example, on day 41 when Mr. T. G. Harris of the Department of Trade was being cross-examined by the inspector the inspector asked: There is a difference, though, is there not, between my situation here and the situation of the Inspectors at Heathrow and Gatwick in that the major potential policy implications are the more present here? Mr. Harris replied: That is perfectly true, and I think that was in the nature of the Government's original statement on this issue, when the Government said it would arrange a wide-ranging public inquiry and it made it very clear at the outset that alternatives could be put forward and the way in which that has developed at this particular inquiry so that you have very clearly defined alternatives which are put before you does make it of a different order of public inquiry from those two. I contend that this inquiry is almost specially unique. Bearing that in mind, and the feelings of my constituents, who have twice been put through the hoop of public inquiries, and the principle of open government, to which I am sure we all subscribe, I asked the Government recently for an assurance that the report would be published before a decision was made on it. I am afraid that that has caused the smiles to fade from those reassuring ministerial faces that one saw in 1979 and 1980. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) said to me in a letter of 17 February: These inquiries are being dealt with on the basis of standard planning procedures. This is a different tack. The procedures provide for the publication of the Inspector's report at the same time as the decision letter is sent out (as embodied in the Inquiries Procedure Rules). This timing reflects the need to ensure that there is no discussion of the report prior to the"—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Back to