Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Friday 20th December do adjourn until Monday 13th January, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 20th December until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Biffen.]
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I must put it very strongly to the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons at the very outset of tonight's debate that this House should not adjourn until such time as the Secretary of State for Transport has made a definitive oral statement on the future control and operation of Manchester international airport. It is an extremely urgent matter which has been under consideration by the Department of Transport for many months.
Manchester airport, which is in my constituency, is of paramount importance to my constituents. It is by far the largest employer. The airport's future is, as the House knows, also profoundly important to the north-west region as a whole. It is the major British airport outside London and one of the fastest growing in Europe. Its achievements as a public enterprise for more than 40 years are, by any standards and by common consent, an outstanding success story. That success is now jeopardised by what is widely regarded in Manchester as a most scandalous abuse of political power. It is essential that the House should be put in the picture before we rise for the Christmas recess on Friday.
Earlier this year, Manchester city council, which owns and controls the airport in partnership with Greater Manchester county council, had to face the prospect of losing its partner because of the Local Government Act 1985. The city was not convinced that the airport's best interests would be served by either of the options covered in section 40 of the Act. A joint committee involving 10 local authorities would be unwieldy and unsatisfactory and the transfer of the, county's interest in the airport to the passenger transport authority posed even greater problems. The objectives of the airport and the PTA were seen by people of all persuasions to be incompatible.
A concern common to both options was finance. Manchester airport, if it is to consolidate and develop the significant gains that it has made over recent years, must spend many millions of pounds further to develop and enhance its facilities. Neither a local authority nor a PTA-funded structure offered any scope for that crucial commitment to be met.
At the time that the city was considering those options, the Secretary of State for Transport introduced his White Paper on airports policy. It confirmed that the Government's intention was to introduce legislation to enforce the restructuring of local authority airports into Companies Act companies. Paragraph 9.15 of the White Paper confirmed that shares in such companies could be held, initially at least, by their local authority owners. Manchester recognised the undesirability of seeking to restructure the airport twice in little more than 12 months, and so produced proposals to create a public limited company with effect from 1 April 1986.
The proposals had overwhelming advantages: the ability to secure funding on the open market, the involvement of all the district councils in the company's 351 affairs, the opportunity both further to underline the commercial orientation of the airport and to place the day-to-day management of the company firmly in the hands of the airport's senior management, and leaving the responsibility for strategy and policy development where it would rightly belong—with the shareholders. All the shares were to be held by local authorities, with Manchester city council as the majority shareholder. If the case for that is fairly examined, it will be seen to be wholly reasonable in terms at once of equity, of current law and of the Government's proposals.
The PLC proposals were subsequently agreed by all the district councils in October and they were seconded by the Conservative-controlled Trafford borough council. Yet before the ink on that agreement was dry, a campaign began that is said to have involved the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), to overturn the agreement. The aim was to deny the people of Manchester their undoubted rights in relation to the airport.
Recognising that they had little or no power to intervene, the Government embarked upon a campaign to undermine the proposals that were unanimously agreed by the district councils last October. I am reliably informed that the Under-Secretary of State spoke to Councillor Warbrick, the leader of Trafford borough council, to point out the error of his ways in having backed the October proposals. If the Under-Secretary did so, it was a most scandalous abuse of his office as a Minister, and one for which he must be made to account before the House goes into recess.
§ Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a Trafford ratepayer, I approached the district auditor and asked him to look into the behaviour of Trafford council in forgoing the asset values that it clearly wants to give to the private sector? Is he further aware that when charges are levelled about a conspiracy reaching ministerial level, that conspiracy actually goes much further—indeed, as high as the Prime Minister, who has been involved in the campaign. The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) wrote a letter, a copy of which is in my possession, in which he said:The PLC cannot proceed without Ridley's report. Ridley must refuse to approve the present scheme and wait until he has powers under the proposed Bill.There was never any intention of allowing Manchester city council and the district councils to go ahead with the scheme. It was always planned to sabotage it—the question was: who would sabotage it?
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend makes an important intervention. I hope that the Leader of the House will examine the document to which he referred. There is a smell of scandal. I have not myself seen all the documents. However, I know that in Greater Manchester there is strong feeling that there must now be an urgent inquiry into a matter which is of the first importance for ratepayers throughout the conurbation. My hon. Friend mentioned his approach to the district auditor, which emphasises the importance of the matter for Trafford ratepayers. I hope that the Leader of the House will not minimise the importance of this very serious matter for Greater Manchester ratepayers as a whole.
§ Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)
This is an important issue. I make the special plea that my right hon. 352 Friend impresses upon the Leader of the House that when we speak about the high finances and the high investment of Manchester airport, the lion's share of the investment surely can be claimed to belong to the city of Manchester. It was only in 1974, during the reorganisation, that one tenth was apportioned to Trafford. Is it not important to recognise that, because of the very high investment of the city of Manchester, it would be a travesty of justice if the Government went against the wishes of the Greater Manchester area?
§ Mr. Morris
My hon. Friend speaks with considerable authority on this matter. For many years before coming to the House he was a distinguished member of Manchester city council. As he said, the airport was conceived and founded by the city council. We owned it and controlled it. We lost half of our property when the Greater Manchester council came into existence. As my hon. Friend said, it would be a travesty of justice if the people of Manchester were to be denied their rightful stake in the premier asset of the region.
Either the Under-Secretary spoke to Councillor Warbrick behind the backs of everyone involved in the matter, or he did not. After the Under-Secretary spoke, as I am informed, to the Trafford leader, the Department of Transport, which hitherto had adopted a constructive approach to the proposals, suddenly became hostile. There is no doubt that the Department's change of approach clearly reflected the Minister's opposition to what had been unanimously agreed by the district councils last October.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the original proposals were, in fact, seconded by the representative of the Trafford borough council, the authority which is now refusing to ratify them? The pressure to refuse to ratify undoubtedly came both from the Under-Secretary responsible for aviation matters and from Back-Bench Conservative Members, none of whom are present this evening. By behaving in such a way, they are directly prejudicing the future of Britain's premier regional airport. Their action is that habitual mixture of spivvery and ideology that typifies the Government's approach to aviation and other matters.
§ Mr. Morris
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend who is extremely well-informed on such matters. It is eminently true that the Tory leader of Trafford council seconded the proposal that was agreed unanimously by the district councils in October. After the Department of Transport's change of approach, it became clear that Trafford, which had seconded the proposals, wanted to appease the Minister. Trafford council then described the proposals as a sham and demanded that the airport be privatised.
That was the attitude of a council which had seconded the proposals, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, as recently as October. Its change of attitude shows the extent to which the authority's leadership was pressurised by senior Conservatives. That must have happened; otherwise why did Councillor Warbrick originally second the proposals in October?
I must point out to Councillor Warbrick and his colleagues on Trafford council, and to the House as a whole, that the only sham is the Government's White 353 Paper on airports policy. The Government are being grossly misleading when they say that there is no compulsion on local authorities to sell shares in airport companies. Local public representatives took that statement as being honourable and they genuinely tried to put together a package acceptable to all the parties. They now appear to have failed in that attempt, because the Government reneged on their commitment.
Manchester produced a reasoned response, backed wherever possible by expert independent advice, to each of the points raised by the Secretary of State for Transport about the October proposals. The response was intended to secure the best interests of the airport, and the reward has been political manoeuvring of the most odious kind.
There is now nothing but anger and frustration in Greater Manchester about the position in which the airport may find itself as a result of the Government's political intervention. The airport may be forced to work with an organisation which has motivations and concerns which differ fundamentally from its own. There is no certainty that the airport's growth will not be hindered, because the PTA will be severely cash limited. All the districts will also be prevented from participating in the airport. That will be the end result of all the manoeuvring that has taken place behind the scenes. Those who intervened to undermine the unanimous decision of the district councils last October may feel that it is a job well done. The people of Greater Manchester, however, will not forgive them for jeopardising the future of our region's most important asset.
I ask the Leader of the House for a clear undertaking that there will be an oral statement by the Secretary of State on the future control and operation of Manchester international airport, either later today or, having regard to the commitments of northern hon. Members, at the very least tomorrow.
§ 6.4 pm
§ Sir Philip Holland (Gedling)
You may, Mr. Deputy Speaker, find it difficult to believe that I have a very charming eight-year-old granddaughter named Claire. Last summer for her birthday she expressed a wish to see me at work, so my son brought her along one evening to the Strangers' Gallery and I dutifully took my seat in the Chamber.
The business of the House on that occasion was, as I recall, the Report stage of a non-controversial Scottish Bill. I must confess to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the strictest confidence, that I found the proceedings dull and almost entirely incomprehensible. That may have shown on my face because after five minutes in the Gallery my granddaughter said to her father, "Well, I can see him sitting there, but what is he doing?" Her father, accustomed to her penetrating questions, promptly replied, "He is listening to what they are saying so that he will know what to do." That is precisely what I hope my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is doing at the moment.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider not pressing his motion today and will bring back a slightly revised one tomorrow that would allow time for a full day's debate—in addition to the business already planned—on the subject of non-departmental public bodies or, to put it another way, quangos. The House 354 would not be entirely hostile to curtailing the Christmas recess by one day so that we might have a full day's discussion on that important subject. We could then formulate a plan for a new initiatitve to provide fresh impetus to the quango cull which presently has all the appearance of running out of steam.
In an effort to persuade the Leader of the House to consider modifying the Christmas recess dates, I should like briefly to explain why the time is ripe for such a debate and why it is of sufficient urgency to justify delaying the rising of the House.
As my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members may have noticed, I have for 10 years enjoyed participating in the sport of hunting that wily, sleekit and sometimes timrous beastie the quango. For the first four years I made little headway, but I occupied my time usefully in studying its habitat, its nature and its psychology. That bore fruit during the next five years. Steady progress was made in reducing the total—
§ Sir Philip Holland
If the hon. Gentleman will have patience, he may learn the true figure.
Steady progress was made between 1979 and 1984 in reducing the total by more than 700, in spite of the birth of nearly 100 new quangos. The new willingness on the part of Government to open up to public and parliamentary scrutiny the numbers, nature and cost of those bodies was of great importance in that period.
First the Civil Service Department, and later the Management and Personnel Office, published an annual list of public bodies, giving details of revenue from the main sources, the number of appointed "Quangurus" and the emoluments paid to each. That has now become an established annual practice; the latest publication for 1985 was published yesterday and is an excellent report.
More quangos have become subject to the attention of the Comptroller and Auditor General and I welcome that. All quangos are now open to investigation by the departmental Select Committees—though I fear that by and large those Committees seem to have little time to consider such matters as they perhaps do not have sufficient publicity value.
A most important innovation was introduced on 20 October 1981 when the Civil Service Department issued a code of practice entitled "Non-Departmental Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments". That publication was concise and succinct and it gave clear, simple and unequivocal directions and guidelines to Departments and opened up the whole subject to more detailed probing in the House than had previously been possible.
In November 1984, the Cabinet Office, in collaboration with the Treasury financial management unit, published a report called "Financial Management Initiative: Non-Departmental Public Bodies". In announcing that publication, my right hon[...] Friend the Prime Minister said:Over the next two years, therefore, Departments will be looking, in collaboration with the management of their sponsored bodies, at the scope for improving management and control systems and practices, with the aim of producing progressive improvements in performance."—[Official Report, 19 November 1984; Vol. 68, c. 58.]
My right hon. Friend also said that some bodies needed better systems for setting targets and assessing achievements.
355 The main programme is due for completion in April 1987. Last year I understood that that would be monitored by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Since then there has been a Government reshuffle and both the Chief Secretary and the Minister in the Cabinet Office have been transmogrified. I fear that such monitoring of the programme as may have been in progress in the spring and early summer may have become lost as a result of the change.
During the past year there has been a marked change of tempo in the quango cull. Apart from a welcome cull of the nationalised industry boards, some lassitude seems to be besetting the Departments in their attitude to and enthusiasm for slimming and trimming the quangos and their numbers. There is also, to put it mildly, an increasing danger of Ministers being beguiled into creating new ones.
After a crescendo of activity for five years from 1979 to 1984, there has ensued a mere trickle of 28 abolitions during the past year. That has been recognised to some extent by the Management and Personnel Office, which produced a much larger edition of the code of practice three months ago. However, with my suspicious nature, I believe that in that context a larger code of practice might just mean a more verbose one. My cynicism tells me that it could just possibly be a great Whitehall ploy to smother its objectives under such a cloak of verbiage as to dilute and diffuse the guidelines so that the discretion of those whose task it is to interpret them may become unlimited.
Therefore, the appearance of waning enthusiasm for the quango cull, suspicions about the long-term aspirations of Ministers and their Whitehall advisers and what seems to be a growing threat of a return to the old order—that is to say, a reversion to the 1978 status quo—create the need for early consideration of those matters by the House.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to think carefully before he seeks the approval of the House for the motion. If he cannot find time for an early debate on quangos, I hope that he will seriously consider reducing our Christmas recess to make such time available.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
I should like to use this opportunity, which is made available by this semi-unique occasion, to draw to the attention of the House a tragedy that is developing in my county. I believe that I should be failing in my duty if I did not raise the matter on the Floor of the House before it goes into recess. The subject is the great difficulties faced by the Cornish tin industry.
Some 3,000 families in my county will have their Christmas ruined because of the doubt, anguish, fear, worry and speculation created by the current situation. I should like to put a simple question to the Government. In the final analysis, will they offer financial support to the Cornish tin industry? I am not pushing for specific details tonight of any particular scheme, but pleasure could be restored in many households if the Government said tonight, or at least before the recess, that assistance was forthcoming. Alternatively, will the Government take the risk of seeing the end of 2,000 years of extracting tin from my county? Will the only tin industry in the world to be shut down be the one in Cornwall? Are the Government willing to take that risk? That is the scale of the risk, and of the fear and despair in our county.
When one considers what has happened, one can understand the amazement of some people at how the 356 situation has arisen. Just seven weeks ago, tin was being freely traded on the London metal exchange for £8,500 a tonne. At the turn of the year, it was being traded at prices that were sometimes over £10,000 a tonne. The industry announced its largest output this century in terms of quantity of minerals, not cash value. Various mires were developing their facilities or seeking planning consent to develop new mines. In my constituency, Concorde and Cligga are both in various stages—one is developing and the other is seeking consent to develop.
The prediction in my part of the country that the world demand for raw materials must lead to a redevelopment of hard rock mining in Cornwall seems to be coming true after a decade of steady and apparently never-ending progress. Tin, silver, zinc and lead are mined in large quantities, and the county is likely to produce tungsten in the not too distant future. The key to all those minerals is tin, because it is the most valuable mineral, and in every mine tin is a part of what is produced. If the tin goes, the rest of the industry goes as well.
To date, the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry has met two delegations, in which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and myself took part. Neither of us would complain about his attitude. He listened with interest to our account of the peculiarities of the mining industry in the far south-west. I do not think that the Minister would complain if I paraphrased his reply to us. Basically, he said that the Government were actively trying to sort out the international tin agreement in the International Tin Council and trying to get people involved, so that they faced their debts and responsibilities. He said that when the Government had done that, they would try to look at the situation in Cornwall.
Trading ceased at the end of October. It might start again in early January, but it will not start before then. People to whom I talk in the industry believe that a much more likely date for tin trading to start is early in February, which represents three or four months' uncertainty. When the trading restarts, there will be another three or four months' uncertainty until the price settles down to a price that is likely to be sustained for a substantial period. If nothing more than that happens, substantial parts of the industry will be eradicated by that time. Not many in the industry would doubt that. Geevor mine in the constituency of the hon. Member for St. Ives has given four fifths of its employees provisional notification of redundancy. Other mines—Wheal Jane, Pendarves and South Crofty—are big and play a major part in the local economy. They are currently taking decisions and wondering what will happen.
Mining is not a lame duck industry in my county—far from it. Last week ECLP, a china clay company in my constituency, declared a profit of £75 million this year. I estimate that about £50 million of that profit was made by exploiting the clay deposits in my constituency. If other extractive industries in Britain had the record of mining that my county has, we would have fewer financial difficulties.
The tin industry is in an area of endemic unemployment. I do not want to bore the House with figures, but I shall reel out the male unemployment figures in the travel-to-work areas most affected, so that one gets the feel of the local situation. In Falmouth, the figure is 24.9 per cent. in St. Ives and Penzance 26.1 per cent., in Redruth 22.8 per cent. and in Helston 23.6 per cent. 357 Virtually one quarter of the male population is unemployed. If the mines go, the figure will be substantially more than that.
§ Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Geevor in my constituency. Does he agree that the situation there is particularly desperate, in that the economy of the St. Just and Pendeen area is almost totally dependent on that mine? There is tourism and agriculture, but the livelihood of those villages and the one town is dependent on that mine.
§ Mr. Penhaligon
I confirm that that is correct.
I should like to make this rather urban House aware of the distances involved. St. Just is six or seven miles from the nearest town of any size, and real employment opportunities are 40 or 50 miles away. Three hundred jobs might not sound much to the House, but in a remote part of Britain they are the keystone of the local economy.
The industry is not a lame duck. It is in difficulties now, but it has been making profits over a sustained period, and most people believe that it can again, with assistance. The industry pushes some £27 million into the local economy, through pay and services. When trading ceased the value of the tin sold was £52 million a year, not including the other minerals, which are also valuable.
We want to know whether help will be forthcoming. We are not expecting details, but there is a great deal to be said in discussing the best ways to help. There could be some help towards capital investment to enable the industry to improve efficiency and to produce this valuable mineral at a competitive price. The Government could give some assistance in the development of new ore bodies. Hard rock mining is a two-stage process. One half of the mine takes the ore out to the mill to be crushed and processed, and the other half of the mine opens shafts, drives and stopes to mine the tin. The Government could offer some medium-term price support mechanism against the value of tin.
The real question tonight—for peace of mind at Christmas and in the new year—is: will the Government help? It seems inconceivable to those involved in the industry that Thailand, Malaysia, Bolivia or Brazil will allow their industries to be wrapped up and put into the history books. There is some risk that our Government will allow Europe's only supply of this mineral to close permanently. If a mine is closed and it floods, there is no future for that mine. The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) will be glad to confirm that.
Recently, at Prime Minister's Question Time I asked two questions: will the Government assist, and will the Prime Minister receive a delegation? The answer was not unexpected. The Prime Minister, once again, said that the Government were trying to encourage the Tin Council to find a sensible settlement of the difficulty in which it finds itself. That is a strategy to save the London metal exchange, and is of no help to those who live in Cornwall. It may well help to keep the London metal exchange within London, but it will certainly not help the industry within my constituency. Surely the Government are not saying that traders in tin are more important than those who produce the mineral.
I wish to seek from the Minister a broad-based assurance that some assistance will be given to the Cornish 358 tin mining industry in its present difficulties. If the Minister can give the assurance that the situation is not terminal, people in Cornwall will have a much happier Christmas.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
I followed the speech of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) with interest. I know that his concern is shared throughout the House, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not take up his points.
I urge that the House should not rise for the Christmas recess until we have had a further opportunity to consider the threat to the position of young people and the family. I wish to illustrate my point with a true story which I was told last Friday at my constituency surgery. I was consulted by considerate, caring, responsible parents who, a year ago, had a 16-year-old son whom we shall call David. Their son was an intelligent boy who had O-levels and was working in a multiple store as a trainee. His parents expressed concern that he was attracted by the fact that he could, if he wished, leave home and gain board and lodging allowance of £55 a week plus £9 pocket money. That caused some mild family disharmony—not at all unusual in a family with teenage children. The parents found this carrot, in the form of a Department of Health and Social Security allowance, to be the cause of great difficulties since their son was tempted to leave home.
A year ago the parents' worst fears were realised, and the boy left home. The parents were concerned that he should wish to do so but, as they were caring and responsible, they took him to the hostel where he was to stay. Arrangements were made by the boy to receive DHSS payments. When the 16-year-old lad left home the DHSS made no effort to establish whether he needed to leave home or whether he had a home in which he could stay. A 16-year-old is entitled to benefits and it is none of the parents' business.
A few weeks passed and the boy, now 17, went missing from the hostel where he had been staying. The parents, who had been maintaining a tenuous contact with him, were distraught. They attempted to find out from the lodging house the whereabouts of their son, but the lodging house did not care. The DHSS may well be paying the lad for staying in a hostel elsewhere, but it would not tell the parents anything. For three weeks the parents were faced with this distressing situation. They were then contacted by the police, who had found their son's bag which had their address inside it. The police attempted to reassure the parents, despite the fact that they did not know his whereabouts. Imagine the parents' feelings when their son's bag had been found, but he was still missing and the police did not know his whereabouts.
Later the parents discovered—I use the word "discovered" advisedly—that their son, aged 17, had been charged with a criminal offence. They were not told this by the police, by the probation service, the court or by any other authorities. They had to find out for themselves. In Britain someone aged 17 is deemed, in the criminal courts, to be an adult. If a person aged 17 is in trouble with the law and tells the police that he does not wish his parents to be consulted, the police will abide by that wish.
§ Mr. Kilroy-Silk
It is not just that the parents are not consulted: they do not have to be informed.
§ Mr. Viggers
As the hon. Gentleman says, they will not be informed. If parents make inquiries they will not be told when their son will appear in court or even the exact nature of the offence.
At present David's parents do not know where he is living. The DHSS may know where he is staying, but will not say; the police may know where he is, but they will not say. Thus, the parents, the two people in the world who care most about this boy, cannot discover where he is and cannot do anything to help him.
How did we get ourselves into this situation? The DHSS and the police—they serve us very well in south Hampshire—are obeying the restrictions and rules laid down by this House. How is it that Parliament can be responsible for this framework of regulations against which this tragedy has been played out?
The first problem is that a person aged 16 is regarded as independent for DHSS benefit purposes. In Germany, someone aged between 16 and 18 can go into lodgings and apply for benefit. However, the authorities make sure that the parents are informed of his whereabouts because the authorities will recover the cost of the benefit from the parents. In Britain, a 17-year-old is regarded as an adult under criminal law. A probation officer in my area said that, if a 17-year-old does not wish his parents to be informed of his whereabouts,We have to respect his wishes.
In the Gillick case, it was laid down that the rights of parents dwindle as offspring approach the age of maturity. I am not concerned with the rights of parents because the parents in question are not trying to assert any rights. They are trying to fulfil their duty. It is insane that we should prevent parents from exercising their duty. We have gone collectively mad.
I am horrified by the facts in this case and by the light they throw on Parliament's attitude to the family as the basic unit of society. Current social and legal practice seems designed not so much to undermine the family as to deny its very existence. As the family festival of Christmas approaches, we should resolve to give more support to the family so that the members of a family give more support to each other.
§ Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)
I should very much like to follow what the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) has said as he dealt with an interesting and important subject, but instead I shall protest that the House should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until we have had an opportunity to debate the continuing and appalling unemployment on Merseyside, not least in my constituency.
The two subjects are not unrelated as many young people are unemployed and an increasing number of them have to leave home to get the financial benefits that are available from the state. The result is the break-up of families, which is manifest in Merseyside and my constituency. What the hon. Gentleman complained of is happening on an ever larger scale because of the economic policies of the Government that he supports.
I do not have to remind the House of the scale of unemployment on Merseyside. Nor do I have to catalogue the factories that have closed in the past six years or state the number of redundancies or job losses. The facts should be familiar. I hope that I do not have to remind hon. Members that 140,000 people are now unemployed on 360 Merseyside. That represents 20 per cent. of the population. I remember when I and my right hon. and hon. Friends complained bitterly when unemployment on Merseyside was as low—as it now seems—as 70,000. No fewer than 20,000 people are unemployed in the small two-Member borough of Knowsley. There are 10,000 unemployed in my extremely small constituency and more than 1,600 of them have been unemployed for more than five years.
On Merseyside, and especially in my constituency, we have road after road, industrial estates, old industrial areas and factories which were once occupied and productive standing empty, vandalised, derelict and, in many cases, razed to the ground. Whole areas such as Kirkby have multi-storey blocks of flats in which no one has a full-time job. There are streets—indeed virtually whole areas—where not one person is earning a living. That is appalling. I know that all this has been said before, but there are still many hon. Members, not least Conservative Members, who, through no fault of their own, represent much snore prosperous constituencies. They have no conception of the long-term, grinding poverty that is to be found in many parts of Merseyside, Liverpool and my constituency.
For example, 96 per cent. of people leaving school this year did not find a job. Only 4 per cent. went into a full-time job. That does not include the more than 5,000 in Knowsley who are in temporary employment schemes. Such levels of unemployment and such long-term unemployment leads to the winding down of whole areas. It manifests itself in shops closing. Even food shops that belong to major chains cannot sustain a profitable existence in my constituency. We have come to a sorry pass when people cannot buy enough food to sustain a food shop in a large town such as Kirkby.
This cannot go on. Why should my constituents be deprived of the opportunities that are available to others who, through accident, live in more fortunate parts of the country? Why should young people in my area suffer the injustice of their lives being destroyed or blighted? Why should they have to go straight on the dole having left school, get married on the dole, have children on the dole and face living permanently on the dole? That should not happen, and they know that it need not happen. It is not as though we are foisting inequities, inequalities and injustices only on certain parts of the community. If we continue like this, the social problems that we have witnessed will be as nothing to those that we are likely to experience in the future.
My constituents know that they do not have to be unemployed. They are not stupid. Indeed, some are very well educated. They know that the provision of jobs is a matter of Government will. They look around them and see inadequate housing. They see the paucity of social, welfare and health services. They see empty hospitals and unemployed doctors and nurses in dole queues, while in their neighbourhood people are dying in agony or distress on the waiting list. They see unemployed building workers, electricians and plumbers. They see old, inadequate and vandalised housing in need of repair. They know that it is possible to match the needs to the resources and that the result would be an improvement in the quality of life in the area and permanent jobs for them, their family and friends. That is possible, and they know it.
My constituents see evidence of a much more prosperous and materialistic southern part of the country. They see it every night on the television. They see it on 361 television advertising. They see a Martini style of life which is available to the vast majority of the country but not to them. Nobody can be subjected to grinding poverty, humiliation, indignity, loss of self-respect and no prospect of employment, while the aspirations that others take for granted are held up to them, without feeling bitter and resentful. There is such a dichotomy and of course they are deeply bitter and deeply resentful.
The surprise is not that we have had riots or disturbances. They happen much more frequently than we know. They might not be a nightly occurrence in my constituency, but it is not far off. They might not be on the scale of Toxteth or Tottenham, but they are serious and people are constantly being injured. We cannot create the circumstances that I have described and imagine that people will not react. We are storing up enormous trouble by creating a large pool of unemployed young people who know that things do not have to be so bad, have no stake in the country's future, no hope of a job and the dignity and self-respect that comes with it, and no hope of being able to lead a life such as their compatriots take for granted. That is wrong and will lead us into a great deal of trouble.
On those grounds alone it is incumbent on the House to have an informed and sensible discussion of the scale of unemployment and the poverty which accompanies it on Merseyside and in my constituency. We must come forward with practical and positive proposals to deal with the problem now—it can be dealt with now—and to give my constituents some hope. If we do not give them hope and the feeling that they belong to our community and that it cares about them, they will take their revenge. When their revenge comes, it will be horrendous.
§ Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)
In many ways the subject that I raise for consideration this evening is the most important one on which I have ever addressed the House. It relates to the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents.
That relationship has long been nurtured, protected and valued. It has grown substantially in the volume of work during the past 15 years, to the point where hon. Members are often effectively ombudsmen between powerful institutions, such as the boroughs, which in many cases have burgeoned in size and power on the one hand, and constituents on the other. Anything that threatens that relationship should receive the urgent consideration of the House and a full day's debate before the Adjournment.
To assist the House, I shall place on record the series of events that have led to the blacking of correspondence between Lewisham council and me, when I write to it on behalf of constituents. That action is carried out by NALGO members working for the council. Such trade union action is neither legitimate nor constitutionally acceptable.
During the past year I have had cause to bring to the attention of the council housing department its substantial delays in answering correspondence from my constituents who have written to me requesting information. If one assumes a week's turnround for answering a letter, the 10-strong member support group are 3,000 working days 362 overdue to date with my inquiries alone if one adds together the number of days overdue for each letter. They are important inquiries.
On 16 July I soughta full reply as soon as possibleabout a case concerning a couple. On 21 October I sent a letter relating toobvious stress with four children in one bedroom.On 16 October I requested a reply about eight people in a two-bedroomed house which I described asa serious and urgent case.On 20 December 1984 I reported "major problems" of a constituent. In all cases I requested information, but received no reply.
It is wrong when a Member of Parliament, in confidential dealings with a constituent, cannot take the case further either with the constituent or, with his permission, the press, or, at his request, in Parliament, for lack of information. The substantial delays led me last Thursday to telephone the council housing department about yet another long-overdue case. When my office contacted the allocation officer—one of the housing managers—she informed my secretary that she was instructed to transfer any calls from me to the NALGO shop steward for the support group. My office was informed that since 13 November—more than a month before—a motion had been passed to black all my correspondence, subject to decisions being taken at shop level. That had taken place in the members' support group. For more than a month neither NALGO nor any of the officers of the council informed me of that decision.
When I telephoned the NALGO shop steward, he said that because of mysupposed business dealings with South Africa",the local NALGO branch had decided that my mail to the council was to be intercepted, a mailing list drawn up, and a reply sent direct to the constituent concerned, without my knowledge or permission. Such a reply would include NALGO's reasons for blacking my correspondence. Such a process had already been partly implemented without NALGO, the council officers or the chief executive, who was also aware of this. informing me either verbally or in writing of their action.
That is a gross abuse of the correspondence of the man in the street, and, for my part, it is a gross interference in the relationship between a Member of Parliament and his constituents. I would make no distinction in my condemnation and anxiety should such action be taken by a council against a Labour Member because of his personal or political views. That is a matter for the electorate, not NALGO shop stewards.
For a month, many written representations to the council housing department have, without my knowledge, continued to be misappropriated, as the housing department has never sought to obtain my permission to use correspondence for any purpose other than to reply direct to me, as I have outlined in my written requests to them.
The weakness and temerity of council officers in the face of NALGO's grip on Lewisham council are regrettably self-evident. The fact that the chief executive was seen to take action only yesterday after I had insisted that a written undertaking be given to me that no employee of the council would be allowed to make use of any information obtained from correspondence in the way set out in the NALGO draft, the fact that his action is limited 363 to that, and not to the central point about blacking correspondence, the fact that the allocations officer could not speak to my secretary, but had to pass the call on to the NALGO shop steward, and the fact that an important meeting scheduled for today to discuss urgent cases, some of which I have alluded to indirectly, was called off by the housing manager because NALGO refused to give her the necessary files, make it clear that NALGO runs Lewisham council. Regrettably, come May of next year in the borough elections the electorate of Lewisham will have a clear choice—Conservative or NALGO.
It is only fair to place on record NALGO's anxieties. The only public record of its anxieties was expressed in a document published on 27 November, entitled "Viewpoint Lewisham Nalgo." It stated that its actions were part of apolicy of non-co-operation with individuals who are helping to prop up the racist regime"—I certainly have not—by having investment in South Africa"—which I certainly have not. The document continues:One such individual is local Tory MP for Lewisham, East, Colin Moynihan.That is not true.He is Chairman of Ridgway's Tea"—that is not true—a holding company for Tate and Lyle"—that is not true—which is South African based.That is not true. It is pitiful that NALGO can use my constituents as political pawns and not even get its case right. Not one phrase of that document is right. I regret that NALGO cannot even spell my name correctly in correspondence.
I have declared an interest in the House regarding Ridgeways and Tate and Lyle, but never in its 150-year history has Ridgway had business dealings in South Africa. Of the five companies which I am informed have business activities in South Africa under Tate and Lyle, four were sold more than six years ago, and the fifth, a small company in Durban, handles molasses, as much for South Africa as for Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Does Lewisham NALGO know better about southern African politics than Mr. Mugabe does?
All hon. Members know that any accusations directed to me of racism, of propping up the apartheid regime or of supporting South Africa, are wholly inaccurate. I abhor apartheid and reject racism completely. I have views which may differ from those of hon. Members who might prefer an extremist resort to armed struggle, combined with a complete imposition of sanctions, which is the declared aim of NALGO in Lewisham. If that is their view, I respect the fact that it is different from mine. Equally, in our system of representative government, NALGO should respect freedom of speech, the rule of law, and the will of the people expressed through Parliament, and, in particular, through the ballot box.
Of far greater significance than the political or personal differences of opinion that separate a union or a far Left councillor from a Member of Parliament is the future relationship between an elected Member of Parliament and his constituents. Community politics is a growing phenomenon. Hon. Members differ in how far they should be involved in local issues. Some leave local matters exclusively to local councillors. If the local council is effective, that is fine. Others, like myself, believe that in an inner-city constituency, such as Lewisham, it is incumbent on the hon. Member to turn every paving stone, 364 to take up personally every justified case and to do as much helpful work as possible on housing and other problems, irrespective of the personal and political views of the constituent.
That fundamental tenet of representative government is now jeopardised by union action. It is the constituents who will suffer. NALGO would do well to recognise that constituents who come to me about housing matters do so because they fail to get satisfaction from the housing department. They come to me as a last resort, often distressed and in need of moral and practical support. Because they are upset and frustrated by the combination of rudeness and inefficiency of the housing department, they seek my assistance. When I have had the opportunity to help, many cases have been successfully resolved. Many have not, but we must try equally on everyone's behalf. Many of those successful outcomes are now denied because constituents do not have the benefit of answers to my correspondence with the council. Without that knowledge, I cannot reply to the constituent to advise him.
Unless the problem is tackled now, for the benefit of both sides of the House, the constituents will suffer. What is worse is that the problem could increase, which would threaten our role as Members of Parliament. Is it right that we should have a political system under which the electorate expresses its view through the ballot box, but the local trade union can veto such an opinion? Is it right that the council should decide whether a policy is satisfactory to the Member of Parliament, whether it is satisfactory to NALGO and whether to employ a veto? Is it right to deny a Member of Parliament access to the information that he needs at his fingertips? I believe that it is not. I firmly believe in taking up constituents' cases and moving round the constituency to try to help. We are restricted greatly in what we can do, but we should at least attempt to solve, to the best of our ability, any constituent's problem, especially in the inner cities, where housing problems constitute over 90 per cent. of my cases.
§ Mr. Moynihan
Some individuals have come to see me about problems arising from a lack of resources for housing. That shortage can be attributed to money being siphoned off by the council and not used in the best interests of constituents. That is a political point, and is not the reason for my asking the House to consider the implication of the principle. The principle is whether a Member of Parliament should be allowed access to a council's information to assist his constituents.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
My hon. Friend makes a proper point. It is not a matter of cheap political points or whether Government money is available for one area or another. It is a matter of whether a Member of Parliament is impeded in his duties because somebody else wishes to use political means to stop him serving his constituents. My hon. Friend is right to press the point that he serves his constituents more than he serves an esoteric interest abroad.
§ Mr. Moynihan
I hope that I have made that point clear to the House. The issue does not rest on political grounds. The matter should now receive the closest attention and consideration of the House. I look to the Opposition and the Government to recognise the implications of my remarks.
365 I intend to explore every avenue available to serve once again my constituents to the best of my ability. If I do not succeed, the House must consider the implications that blacking an hon. Member's work have for the future working of this House.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
I submit that this House should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until it has had the chance to debate the important question of corruption in small charities in the London area, especially the St. Olave, St. Thomas and St. John United Charities, to which I shall subsequently refer as St. Olave. This is an ancient charity in south London. In its current form it was established from an amalgamation of three Bermondsey parish charities in May 1939 with the purpose of helping the poor and elderly of Bermondsey. It has recently been seeking to sell property in my constituency.
I first drew attention to the activities of this charity in February 1985 when members of Vauxhall Labour party discovered that a block of flats had been advertised for sale in Kennington in the South London Press. On further investigation the flats were found to be offered for sale by the charity. It soon became apparent that none of the tenants in St. Olave's mansions knew that their homes were to be sold. Many were elderly and concerned for their future. Many had been bombed out during the blitz in Bermondsey and had lived in St. Olave's mansions all their lives. On meeting them it was quite clear that the charity had been a very poor landlord. Very few repairs were being done and the flats were run down. Contact with the charity proved difficult, if not impossible, for the tenants. All inquiries were handled by the clerk of the charity, Mr. Phillip Pollock—a name that will recur in what I have to say. It is to his misconduct and not to that of the trustees—several of whom, I stress, are blameless—that much of my speech will be addressed.
At the same time as secretly selling St. Olave's mansions, the charity was engaged in a peculiar exercise of preventing legally appointed trustees from Southwark council from participating in its affairs. St. Olave, in the memorandum of association 1939, had 13 trustees: eight appointed by the local authority, four co-opted by the trustees themselves and one ex officio.
In November 1984 Southwark appointed five new representative trustees to serve a five-year term of office from December of that year. The majority of the existing trustees refused to accept them. No explanation was given for this refusal, and the five new trustees were prevented from attending any meeting of the charity.
At that stage, I contacted the Charity Commissioner to express my concern regarding the activities of the charity and suggested that he investigate its affairs. I wrote to him in February of this year and had a meeting with Mr. Denis Peach, one of the chief Charity Commissioners. Mr. Peach seemed blithely unconcerned about this particular charity. On 1 March this year he informed me:in our dealings with the Charities (St. Olave's) Trustees over many years we have found them fully alive to their responsibilities and to the need to take expert advice in relation to sales of trust property.That reply certainly did not resolve my suspicions, particularly after I had the opportunity to examine the accounts of the charity for the year ending 31 March 1984 366 —the latest available. From an income of £160,000 the charity had spent£51,000, or 31 per cent. of its income, on management expenses. The poor and elderly of Bermondsey, for whom the charity was originally established, received in the same year less than £15,000, or only 9 per cent. of its income.
Meanwhile, the five new local authority nominated trustees were still trying to attend meetings and were still being denied access. On 18 March this year I went with them to the offices of the charity at Druid street, SE1, when four of the five new trustees attempted to sign the record book of the charity and become accepted as trustees. Mr. Pollock, the clerk, refused to let any of these legally appointed trustees sign the record book, despite an assurance from a Southwark councillor, John Fowler, and myself that all five trustees had been legally nominated by Southwark council. It was only in April 1985, after a threatened court injunction by Southwark council, that the charity finally accepted those new trustees. But it soon became clear why there was so much resistance from Mr. Pollock to their appointment.
As well as owning property in Kennington in my constituency, the charity owned a substantial amount of property in Fairlawn park, Sydenham. There, too, there have been many complaints about its record as a landlord. With the assistance of the South West Law Project and Paul Foot of The Mirror, the tenants of Fairlawn park found that the company responsible for carrying out all the repair work for the charity was called Flowerbrook Ltd. That company, established in June 1984, had only three directors—a Mr. Brian Glen, Mr. Barry Rosomon and the clerk to the St. Olave charity, Mr. Phillip Pollock. Mr. Pollock had failed to inform the trustees that he was a director of the company responsible for the repair and maintenance of the charity's property, yet in 1983 and 1984—in the latter year I restate that the charity had disbursed less than 10 per cent. of its income to its alleged beneficiaries—it spent more than £120,000 with Flowerbrook in the project on Fairlawn park alone.
The charity was also trying to sell the properties in Fairlawn park, and the trustees were informed that only one bid had been received, of £432,000—or £11,000 1,000 a house—from Silvercount Ltd. The tenants, informed of the sale only at the last minute, were willing to pay up to £17,000 a house. The directors of Silvercount were Mr. Brian Glen and Mr. Barry Rosomon. As well as being a co-director of Mr. Pollock in Flowerbrook Ltd., Mr. Rosomon had other connections with the charity. Until 1984, his father was a trustee of the charity and his mother was assistant clerk to Mr. Pollock.
Increasingly alarmed at the activities of Mr. Pollock and the inaction of the Charity Commissioner, I tabled a parliamentary question to the Attorney-General on 25 July, requesting him to instruct the Charity Commissioners to conduct an inquiry into the charity under section 6 of the Charities Act 1960. My request was refused.
Since the arrival of the new trustees in April this year, the charity has elected a new chairman, Mr. John Thomas. He replaced the previous chairman of several years, Miss Lucy Brown. Miss Brown has ably served the people of Bermondsey as a councillor, especially—I understand—in the 1920s. But at the age of 92, I would suggest she was not the most suitable choice to be chairman of a charity with an estimated million worth of assets, which were being stripped off by its clerk.
367 The new chairman, supported strongly by some of the former trustees, ordered an immediate inquiry into the sale of all property by the charity during the past five years, which produced some extremely interesting results. As well as owning St. Olave's mansions, the charity owned a large number of handsome Georgian houses along Kennington road and Walnut Tree walk in my constituency. The internal inquiry revealed that, in January 1985, 13 of those houses were sold to an Isle of Man registered company called Kindrid for a total of £52,000. Thus, 13 large, four-storey houses in Kennington were sold at an average price of £4,000 each. Incredibly, the Charity Commission approved that sale as the best deal possible for the charity—a point to which I shall return shortly.
This sale of the century was stongly urged by a so-called surveyor, Mr. Benjamin Gurvitz of Benjamin Glen and Company, Godalming, Surrey. Mr. Gurvitz was also strongly urging the charity to sell its property in Fairlawn park to Silvercount Ltd. Mr. Gurvitz is not a qualified surveyor. He was appointed by Mr. Pollock without any reference to the trustees, and in 1984 he received £31,000—three times what the beneficiaries of the charity received that year—for his services to the charity. His reports on the condition of the property in Kennington road and Walnut Tree walk were completely fallacious. He referred to derelict property, when in fact most of the houses were tenanted and in the last two years had more than £70,000 spent on them, including new roofs. An independent assessment by a local estate agent reckoned that each house was worth at least £40,000–10 times what the charity sold them for, with the approval of the Charity Commission.
Kindrid Property, a faceless corporation registered in the Isle of Man, immediately resold two of its newly acquired properties to Apton Properties in January 1985. The directors of Apton Properties Ltd. are names which will be familiar to us—Mr. Barry Rosoman and Mr. Brian Glen. Just one of those properties is now back on sale for more than £110,000.
Apart from these sales to Kindred and Apton, other property owned by the charity was being acquired at knockdown prices—all with the approval of the Charity Commission. No. 126 Kennington road, a large five-storey house, was bought by a Mrs. Robinson for less than £17,000 in late 1984. No such person existed. The house was actually bought by Mr. Brian Clifford, a well-known criminal who was killed in Kennington in a gangland murder on 28 September. The police are currently investigating the connection between Mr. Clifford and the activities of the St. Olave charity. In all, it is estimated that the St. Olave charity has lost well in excess of £1 million in fraudulent property deals in 1984–85 alone; or, more precisely, the poor and elderly of Bermondsey and Kennington have lost more than £1 million.
The internal inquiry, following the appointment of Southwark council's new trustees, into the operations of the St. Olave charity included a report produced by its auditors Ball, Baker and Leake. It became apparent that Mr. Pollock had complete and total control over the charity. He authorised payments to the beneficiaries of the charity, he allocated empty property, and he authorised payment of all invoices, including those to Flowerbrook, the building company of which he was a director. None of this was referred to the trustees, and with respect to the allocation of empty properties, it is clear that he broke the 368 allocation policy of the charity and simply favoured his friends and acquaintances. He even employed his father-in-law and a previous clerk to the charity as a consultant.
On further investigation it soon became apparent that there was a close and direct connection between Kindrid Property Company and Mr. Pollock. The Isle of Man is not renowned for the level of company information available to the public, but it was clear that Kindred was a shell company aimed to disguise ownership. More investigations revealed that the two signatories to the company's bank account were Mr. Barry Rosomon and Mr. Phillip Pollock. At this stage, the new trustees called in the fraud squad and Mr. Pollock was sacked as clerk in September 1985. Further proceedings now depend on the progress of fraud squad investigations.
The scandal surrounding, the affairs of the St. Olave charity is an example of appalling personal greed and misconduct. It is also an indictment of, at best, complacency and, at worst, misconduct within the Charity Commission. That St. Olave's mansions and Fairlawn park did not follow the rest of the property of the charity into dubious ownership is entirely due to the efforts and hard work of the tenants, combined with members of the local community and Labour party, and assisted by the publicity given in The Mirror and in the South London Press.
Even now, many of those in the Charity Commission refuse to accept that they acted wrongly in allowing the charity to dispose of its assets—after I had made representations to and had meetings with Mr. Peach—on the basis of inaccurate statements from an unqualified surveyor. I accept that, under this Administration, the Charity Commission may lack the means fully to monitor the activities of charities. However, the suspicion surrounding St. Olave was first brought to its attention in February 1985 and it has consistently refused to investigate it throughout the year.
What is even more alarming is that the case of St. Olave is not the first of a major London charity being involved in fraudulent property deals. In the case of the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust, a charity well known to some members of the House, the trust's agent, Ronald O'Dell, disposed of 24 prime Hampstead properties for an average of £54,000 between 1979 and 1983. He was gaoled for fraud at the Old Bailey in February this year, for four months, with 11 months suspended.
There are three key questions now to be asked on the operation of key officials in the Charity Commission, and professional advisers in the asset stripping of the St. Olave charity. First, there is the role of the charity's solicitor, a Mr. Boodle, of George Carter and Co. It was Mr. Boodle who gave the advice to the charity to block the appointment of the new trustees nominated by Southwark in December 1984. It was Mr. Boodle again who, at the crucial meeting in November last year, approved the sale of the properties in Walnut Tree walk for £4,000 each, when any responsible solicitor would have challenged such a sale in such a location at such a price.
Again, it was Mr. Boodle who failed to take appropriate action to stop the sale of 126 Kennington road to the now deceased Mr. Clifford, who had applied to purchase it under a false name, following an evaluation by the unqualified surveyor, Mr. Gurvitz. Moreover, the same Mr. Boodle is failing to co-operate fully with the independent inquiry into the sale of properties by the St. Olave charity instigated by Southwark council. In my 369 view, had the Charity Commissioner, Mr. Peach, been adequate for his job, Mr. Boodle's activities should already have been the subject of an inquiry by the commissioners themselves.
Secondly, there is the role of the accountants to the St. Olave charity, Ball, Baker and Leake. They produced a report on 29 August 1985, indicating clear evidence of maladministration and admitting that they were unable to confirm that theyhave reviewed all relevant documentation, since the adequacy of the filing of information is insufficient to enable us to conclude with full confidence in this matter.Yet despite this, Ball Baker and Leake made no recommendation concerning action to remedy the inadequacy of the information, and ended by thanking the clerk to the charity—the now sacked Mr. Pollock—for his co-operation.
Thirdly, and most important, there is the role of the Charity Commission in the approval of sales below market value to and through those who have been asset-stripping the St. Olave charity. The key here is the meeting that took place in the Charity Commission in November last year between Mr. Pollock and Mr. Rosomon and a member of staff of the Charity Commission. At this meeting, approval was given for the sale of properties belonging to St. Olave on the Fairlawn park estate in Sydenham at £11,000 each when the tenants of those properties were prepared to offer £17,000.
This situation demands answers to three questions. First, why was the sale approved at a price so clearly below value, and below what the tenants were prepared to pay? Secondly, why was there a change of policy by the Charity Commission or by someone in it within the half hour in which this meeting took place, granted that for months the commission had refused to agree to the sale? Thirdly, who in the Charity Commission approved such a sale during that meeting in November? Was it Mr. McManus, who also appears to have been involved in the approval of the sale of properties by Mr. O'Dell of the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust, which led to Mr. O'Dell being arraigned before the High Court and pleading guilty to fraud? If so, on what grounds did Mr. McManus come to such a change of mind so quickly on the matter of the sale? Was he offered and did he accept payment for such a change of mind?
It is clear that the matter must now be investigated at the highest level, since all the important prima facie evidence shows that corruption involving the asset-stripping of properties is not simply a matter of the abuse of a small charity such as St. Olave or the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust, but appears to extend into the Charity Commission itself. Let us by all means find that this is not the case and that individuals such as Mr. McManus can clear their names. Let it be a judicial inquiry instigated at the highest level, by the Home Office or the Solicitor-General rather than by the Charity Commission whose commissioner has proved utterly inadequate in his response to the grave charges brought now for nearly a year concerning the activities of St. Olave, just as it was for a longer period to the charges of corruption in the case of the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust.
Not least, let us, in such a judicial inquiry, have the full co-operation of hon. Members who have been associated with such charities, including the hon. Member for 370 Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg). He is, and for some years has been, a trustee of the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust, while Lady Pamela Finsberg was, until allegations of criminal activity were made, chair of the estates committee of that trust during the time of the offences for which the managing agent—Mr. O'Dell—of the trust was subsequently gaoled. I alerted the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate that I would seek to raise the matter of this trust. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. Granted the hon. Gentleman's experience, and the direct parallels between the offences that have occurred in both St. Olave and the Hampstead, Wells and Camden Trust charities, the hon. Gentleman is admirably placed to be able to co-operate with and aid the public interest in giving evidence to such a judicial inquiry.
In particular, in relation to both trusts, the following questions should be investigated, and their results made public. First, when was the attention of the trustees first brought to the fraudulent sales? Secondly, why did the trustees wait for several months in both cases before seeking advice from the Charity Commission? Thirdly, why did the trust not bring the matters concerned to the attention of police at an earlier date? Fourthly, what business dealings has any member or trustee of either trust had with any property company, estate agent or developer and what has been the nature of those dealings, with what remuneration, at what times and on what terms? The Register of Members' Interests is quite inadequate in this respect. Whose fingers were in the till? Were they those of Mr. Pollock and Mr. O'Dell alone? Or was Mr. O'Dell, who has been given a sentence of only four months, the volunteer fallguy for bigger names to escape the courts?
Why did Mr. O'Dell get off with so light a sentence and the obligation to repay only £65,000 to the beneficiaries of the trust, having sold 24 prime properties in Hampstead, when this represented only a fraction of the value of the properties that he had sold to his advantage? Is the House to tolerate a situation in which, with millions of pounds of such asset-stripping, it may pay some individuals to go to jail for four months and then retire abroad on gains made—but unreclaimed—through tax havens, for the rest of their natural lives? Is this to be tolerated by the Charity Commission or the Government in the case of the St. Olave charity and its operations in my constituency?
The present procedure operated by the Charity Commission in regard to the sale of charitable land and property has shown itself open to gross manipulation and abuse. But in 1984 the Charity Commission gave nearly 2,000 orders authorising charity trustees to sell property. Given what has happened in these two individual charities in London, how can the public, the Government and the House be confident that other such sales among small charities are not similarly subject to peculation and fraud?
There is one final and outrageous twist to the role of the Charity Commission in the whole sorry saga of the St. Olave case. The new trustees, recognising the legitimate fears of the tenants of St. Olave's mansions, have agreed that the property should be acquired only by a socially responsible landlord, such as a housing association. They have now entered into negotiations with the London and Quadrant Housing Trust for the sale of St. Olave's mansions at a fair and independent price as determined by the district valuer. However, the Charity Commission has now intervened and insisted that the new trustees must sell to a property company at the highest possible price regardless of the future of the tenants. Having allowed 371 most of the charity's property to be ripped off for a song, the Charity Commission's only action over all these months has been to prevent the new trustees from protecting the interests of its tenants and gaining a fair and independently assessed price for the sale of its assets to a housing trust.
The support and monitoring available to protect the beneficiaries of small charities need to be increased. If the Charity Commission is not up to the job, local authorities could and should be involved in the arrangement. Many trustees of charities are well-intentioned volunteers who are unaware of the full extent of their powers and responsibilities. They need support and training to ensure that their charities are properly administered. On the specific point of disposal of property and land, the present arrangements are patently quite inadequate. The whole concept of sale to the highest bidder, particularly in relation to tenanted property, forces charities into the uncharitable hands of property speculators and worse. The recent experience of the Church Commissioners with the sale of their tenanted property in Maida Vale is but one example of this.
Charities should be encouraged to dispose of their properties to other socially responsible landlords rather than to property speculators whose main interest is to secure vacant possession of property and make a quick profit. This could be achieved if charities were allowed to sell their properties at an independently assessed price determined by the district valuer, rather than open-market valuations which preclude all but property speculators from purchasing. That principle has been accepted by the Government in regard to council houses and it should surely apply to the sale of any property owned by charities.
The Charities Bill, which is awaiting Royal Assent, does not, unfortunately, address itself to these problems, as it is primarily concerned with charities having an annual income of £200 or less. St. Olave had an annual income in excess of £160,000, very little of which actually went to help its original beneficiaries.
The judicial inquiry for which I have called should produce recommendations for effective monitoring, support for trustees and guidelines for the disposal of land and property which should be incorporated into the amendments of the Charities Act 1960.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Mr. William Powell (Corby)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I seek to urge on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that our Adjournment be delayed, if only by a short time. Having heard the speeches in the debate, it is my earnest hope that we shall seek to adjourn the House more frequently than we do because we have had the opportunity to listen to a number of important speeches. One of the great advantages of a debate such as this over an ordinary Adjournment debate is that many hon. Members are present to hear what is said and all of those present in the Chamber for the debate have been educated and moved by what they have heard.
I have not the slightest doubt that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Williams) will take advantage of the opportunity that he will have to comment critically upon the conduct which has taken place in Lewisham and which has led my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) to make his allegations. Equally, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. 372 Holland) has brought before the House a series of matters of the utmost importance which it is entirely right that the House should debate.
As I am rather an old-fashioned kind of person, when the hon. Member for Vauxhall asked for a judicial inquiry, my mind turned to the device that was used very effectively by the House in days of old, which was to set up a Select Committee to investigate particular abuses and to make recommendations to the House. However, the hon. Member for Vauxhall is not the first person to make such allegations against the conduct of the Charity Commissioners, though it is exactly the kind of matter which, it seems to me, should properly be investigated by the House.
I want to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) who, as always, spoke very movingly about the plight of the unemployed in his constituency and the horrendous problems with which he is faced in representing a constituency where 10,000 people are out of work and where there appears to be no prospect of work for them. I take advantage of this opportunity because, as a Conservative Member of Parliament, I have some qualifications for speaking on the subject of unemployment.
When I was elected a Member of Parliament two and a half years ago, I was the Conservative Member of Parliament with the highest level of unemployment in his constituency. At that time about 7,000 to 7,500 people were unemployed. That is a horrendous enough figure, but it is not as high as the unemployment in the constituency of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North. But he is not alone. Many Opposition Members represent constituencies where there is five-figure unemployment. There are no constituencies represented by Conservative Members of Parliament, thank goodness, with five-figure unemployment. We should not turn a deaf ear to the pleas that are made, even if the solutions that are brought forward, during the period of either the present Administration or a changed Administration, make only limited progress towards dealing with the problem.
I am blessed further because, although the hon. Member for Knowsley, North sees unemployment in his constituency rising inexorably and quite hopelessly—I accept his analysis—fortunately, unemployment in my constituency has fallen further and faster since the general election in June 1983 than in any other constituency in the country. I was representing just over 7,000 unemployed persons in 1983, but that figure has now dropped to under 5,500. Furthermore, I can Look forward to a continuing and substantial reduction in unemployment. It is therefore a racing certainty, if ever there was one, that by the next general election unemployment in my constituency will have been cut by, at the very least, more than half.
Let me reflect for a moment upon why that should be so. There are two aspects to it, neither of which should be overlooked by right hon. and hon. Members. First, a responsibility lies upon the Treasury Bench. My criticism of the analysis put forward by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North—I regret that he is not in the Chamber—is that he concentrates too much upon a public sector solution to his problems. My contention is that the public sector has an important role to play. There is no running away from that fact. I want that fact to be understood by my hon. Friends, the Opposition and the alliance. Let us not forget that overwhelmingly, except in two cases, the alliance represents constituencies where 373 there is extremely low unemployment. The two exceptions are the inner city constituencies of Southwark and Bermondsey and Liverpool, Mossley Hill.
The public sector has a very important pump-priming role to play, but on the back of that pump-priming role the private sector must come in. That is exactly what has happened to a huge extent in my constituency.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is always helpful. He says that that would be the policy of a Labour Government. I accept that that is their ambition, but another factor has to be considered. Not all the hon. Gentleman's friends are as assiduous about this point as they ought to be in the interests of their constituents. If the private sector is to come in on the back of public sector pump priming, it is vital that the reputation of the communities where that is to happen should be as sky high as it can possibly be. If private sector finance is to be attracted, it is vital that the private sector companies that one seeks to attract to one's community should be encouraged to come in because of the good reputation of that place.
An unfortunate fact of life—although it may not be welcomed by all right hon. and hon. Members if I spell it out as clearly as this—is that not all areas of this country enjoy a high reputation not only in the rest of this country but in the rest of the world. When there is competition for private sector investment, it is always a handicap when the private sector says that it does not like the reputation of a particular place. I stress that it may be a false reputation, but it is the duty of local communities, if people have a false and misconceived view of their community, to do everything that they possibly can to dispel it. That message is not coming through as loudly and as clearly as it ought to do from some of the places where unemployment is very high. I make that point not as a general, sweeping criticism but as a fact of life. It is well known in the rest of this country. It is also well known to international investors.
Let us not forget that all the time we are travelling through time. I was born and brought up in rural Suffolk. Today it is a boom area, but 100 years ago it was not. The villages of rural Suffolk were then being depopulated. The best of the local population frequently went to the large towns, among which were Merseyside, Manchester and London, to find prosperity and work. Many of them, though not all, found exactly that. The reason that they went in particular to Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow was that those port cities were geographically in the correct place at that time in history for the role that they had to play. The ports of Liverpool, Glasgow and Bristol were servicing our empire. Therein lay their prosperity.
Today the role of history has changed the geographical axis of this country. We are living in an age in which increasingly the bulk of our trade is exported through our eastern ports to Europe. It is not exported westwards, via the Atlantic ocean, to the empire. Our trade goes to the European Community and to other European countries. That is simply a fact of life in the age in which we live. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that every 374 community on the western side of this country is geographically at a disadvantage compared with every community on the eastern side.
The public sector undoubtedly has an important role to play. It has to do what it can to compensate for this very substantial geographical handicap. Nobody would be more pleased than I, except possibly the hon. Member for Workington, if unemployment in his constituency, on the western side of this country, were to be reduced to zero. However, because of the location of his constituency, he faces a very considerable handicap compared with mine where unemployment is falling substantially. It is on the eastern side of the country. It is two hours from the port of Felixstowe to which so much of its trade comes and from which so much of its trade is exported.
We have to face up to the many unfortunate, unpleasant and debilitating facts of life about the unemployed. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North for his contribution. However, we do not say enough about one other aspect of unemployment. I admit that unemployment in my constituency was high at the time of the last election. It is still very high, although it is falling.
One feature of the unemployment statistics in my constituency stands out. It is that the bulk of unemployed people there are middle aged. Middle age begins at a depressingly young age. At 30 years of age people are told that they will never work again. People aged 16, 17 or 18 have no difficulty in finding work, but at 30 finding work is difficult and it is even more difficult for the 35 and 40-year-olds. They are the forgotten unemployed. Yet the effect on people of that age is greatest because they usually have children.
A person of 30 is likely to have a young family. It is almost certain that the wife will be unable to work because of the responsibilities and demands of young children. The tax and social security systems act as a massive disincentive to work and that creates the grinding, deplorable, debilitating problem of family poverty.
I urge the Minister to counsel his colleagues on the Treasury Bench and in the Cabinet to do everything that they can, beyond the call of duty, to ease the effects of our social security and tax systems on young families when the husband is out of work and considered too old, the wife is unable to work and young children are growing up and imposing huge demands. The social security system does not provide sufficient for such families. The tax system bites too heavily and too low on the scale so that the disincentive to work is considerable. It is important to ensure that the thresholds are raised so that there is no disincentive to work if and when such people find work.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) spoke about the difficulties in the western part of Britain. I want to refer to the difficulties facing one of the traditional industries in my constituency. It is an industry which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know well and to which you made a significant contribution when you were a Minister. You are perhaps the Minister who has made the most significant contribution to that industry because you introduced the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme which has benefited many slate workers and their families.
I want to highlight publicly the long dispute in three slate quarries in my constituency in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. The House cannot take much action in the 375 dispute, but it is incumbent on me to exert as much influence and moral pressure as I can on the directors of the companies concerned so that a negotiated settlement is reached. To that end, I placed on the Order Paper this week an early-day motion which seeks to put pressure on the companies to refer the long-standing dispute to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
I do not want to take advantage of my privileged position to go into detail about the causes of the dispute; that is not my role. I want to stress that this has been a long-running dispute for four months. It began during the summer recess.
The dispute is over a bonus payment scheme. The workers have been working to rule and some have been dismissed. The directors of the companies involved have not been prepared to refer this official dispute to conciliation. I pay tribute to the attempts that have been made by individuals, by the town council, by the official shadow spokesman for Wales who has visited the area, and by ACAS officials who have sought informally to persuade the managements to agree to further negotiations.
Unfortunately, at least one of the directors is not prepared to communicate with me. That director has not answered a succession of letters that I have sent to him. He is not prepared to meet me to discuss the issue. He is not willing to meet the regional secretary for Wales of the Transport and General Workers Union, Mr. George Wright. It is clear that the dispute will continue well beyond Christmas unless the managements of the companies are prepared to negotiate.
The dispute is dividing a community. It is creating bitterness. That seems to be part of the legacy of the slate industry's industrial relations. We have experienced long lockouts before. We experienced long disputes, known in Wales as streic fawr, in the slate industry at the turn of the century. I regret that small local companies, owned by local Welsh people, are behaving in a way which is reminiscent of the behaviour of the landlords and quarry owners of a bygone era.
I want not to recriminate but to stress that employers in a small community have a social obligation. One of those obligations is a willingness always to communicate with the work force. They must be willing to negotiate with the official spokespersons of the work force. I pay tribute to the way in which the lodge and the trade union official responsible for the area, Mr. Tom Jones, have conducted themselves during the dispute.
Picketing has not occurred as it did in another dispute in the mining industry. The conduct of those concerned has been restrained. Throughout the dispute the community has supported the workers, and support has come from beyond Wales. The quarry workers face a Christmas on a reduced income and are much concerned about their jobs. I am worried that the quarry owners will seek to recruit other workers and will not reinstate those dismissed during the dispute.
I hope that the companies will take heed of my request that they meet ACAS officials so that a peaceful solution to the dispute can be found. I urge other hon. Members, either in this debate or by other means, to join me in exerting pressure on the companies so that good industrial relations can be restored to the slate industry.
When personal relationships break down, the emphasis is on the need for conciliation, or even compulsory conciliation. Perhaps we should re-examine our industrial relations legislation and find ways to make conciliation 376 procedures compulsory when relations break down. I hope that as a result of the publicity that the issue has attracted throughout Britain the companies will respond to our request for negotiations.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the Christmas recess it should consider afresh three aspects of reforming zeal affecting local, national and international policies, all of which are of interest to my constituents.
The first aspect is rating reform and its special local significance. Having for long advocated the abolition of domestic rates, I welcome the renewed Government commitment to action—better late than never, as may have been feared at one time. Although I favour a system based on a poll tax, I recognise that many gaily bedecked and bewitching paths may lead to the ultimate Christmas box desired by many, but let us venture at last along one of these tinselled ways.
The current system adds additional problems to the evident and inbuilt one of unfairness. The rate support grant formula inadequately reflects the needs of shire counties such as Hertfordshire, as I have drawn to the attention of the House in the past. I will only say, to avoid rehearsing my lines again, that this pantomime must be taken off and restaged, for as it currently performs—bearing in mind also the requirements of districts such as Welwyn Hatfield—it fails to persuade me to vote for such settlements.
Indeed, in consequence of today's announcement, regarding the district council, it is literally a case of "thanks for nothing," and, from the point of view of the county council, "thanks for very little", as the rate support grant has been significantly reduced despite adherence to Government guidelines.
I continue with shop hour reform, which is of national importance. I have never opposed a voluntary approach to Sunday trading, but have always opposed any compulsory element. A previous attempt via a private Member's Bill to overcome the present anomalous situation was something that I could support, but now we are faced with a Government measure which goes far further, in that people's employment is also being tackled in a way that creates potential new anomalies, which I could not support.
It must be appropriate, as we approach the eve of Christmas, to consider such matters from a Christian and committed viewpoint. I urge the Government to reconsider the matter and to agree that to sell the Bible on Sunday is no crime, but that nobody should have to work against his or her conscience on that day.
I conclude with Northern Ireland constitutional reform and its international dimension. The Anglo-Irish agreement is in danger of becoming a donkey from two thoroughbred stables—I am keeping to the Christmas theme—and I fear that no amount of coaxing will achieve the necessary movement. All men of goodwill must want the Nationalist as well as the Unionist view to be represented, but that should not be by proxy via the Dublin Government with no democratic mandate. Rather, it should be by way of full and fair local government, and that is sadly lacking in the Province.
I wish to see an end to the bloodshed, and that is why I favour the closest possible co-operation with the Republic to defeat terrorism from whatever source. Such 377 co-operation should be freely given, without any need to accept an erosion of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom or a weakening of the commitment of remaining British while the majority wish it—hence my opposition to the accord.
To satisfy the angelic choirs that he has heard this evening, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will need all the sagacity of the three wise men. I wish him well.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
In some quarters this is regarded as the hypocrites' debate. I hasten to assure the Leader of the House that I want my Christmas break and I am taking the opportunity of the debate to raise a constituency matter, though it has considerable health implications for Glasgow and the west of Scotland.
It concerns the proposed closure of the infectious diseases ward, No. 12, at Ruchill hospital in Glasgow. This proposal by the Greater Glasgow health board arises out of the serious financial situation facing the board, both in the current year 1985–86 and in 1986–87. I am optimistic enough to believe that the Leader of the House, being a man of some influence in the Cabinet, will have a word in the ear of his colleague who is responsible for health in Scotland, because I am anxious to see some Government follow-up to the points that I am raising about the recommended closure of the ward.
It is an 18-bed adult ward and it is estimated that £300,000 would be saved by its closure. The implication, however, is that 25 per cent. of all the adult cubicles in the infectious diseases unit, or two fifths of the support beds that are currently available, would be lost.
I need hardly remind the Leader of the House that Glasgow recently experienced some disturbing cases of legionnaire's disease and that there has been an increase in the number of hepatitis cases. The new Minister for Health has been making it clear that the Government are keen to do more to assist the prevention of AIDS. In these days of greater international travel, the incidence of tropical diseases is also on the increase.
I am raising this issue because the main areas of work done at Ruchill merit close examination by the Scottish Office. Legionnaire's disease has become far more common. Indeed, it is now one of the more common causes of pneumonia, and a number of recent cases admitted to Ruchill have been of legionnaire's disease.
The incidence of AIDS is causing that disease to have a higher political profile. We cannot underestimate the interrelationship between AIDS and the growing problem of drug abuse. I shall not bore the House with the figures, but I gather from them that many youngsters are becoming involved in this horrendous area because of the effects of drug abuse.
About 8 per cent. of cases admitted to the unit at Ruchill arise from tropical diseases and fevers, and the World Health Organisation recently pointed to the growing number of new viruses which the medical profession is having to combat.
The Ruchill unit deals with a broad range of referrals. In this area of health, all admissions are, by their nature, emergency admissions; one cannot have an appointments system when coping with infectious diseases. Some patients are admitted and found subsequently not to have 378 infectious and communicable diseases, but 93 per cent. of cases are confirmed, so facilities must be available for early investigation and medical treatment.
In 1980 the Belvedere hospital unit in Glasgow closed and its infectious diseases facilities were integrated and concentrated at Ruchill, which now has a wide reputation in Scotland for the work that it does. We have two paediatric wards. Originally we had four adult wards, but one was closed, and now the Greater Glasgow health board is proposing that ward 12 should close in order to save £300,000 because of the board's terrible financial position, which has arisen from the mean-mindedness of the Scottish Office in not realistically appraising the health needs within the Greater Glasgow area.
An audit on bed utilisation recently showed that if ward 12 were to close, on one day in three no isolation cubicles would be available for any cases that may occur. I need hardly tell the Leader of the House that the attendant risks to the community at large do not bear examination. What seems to be an economy may prove to be an expensive cut in public expenditure. All too often trying to save a penny or two here leads to spending a pound or two somewhere else because of the consequential effects.
I hope that the Leader of the House will use his good offices to impress on the Scottish Office the need to examine the position at Ruchill in relation to some of the wider problems that arise from infectious diseases, not only in Glasgow, but in the west of Scotland, which the unit presently serves.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
Before the House adjourns for what I trust will be an enjoyable Christmas recess for us all, we should consider the future of hospital radio broadcasting and certain anxieties about community radio. I have the privilege to speak in this place—I hasten to add, in an unpaid capacity—for the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations. Those unsung heroes and heroines are unique in that they are all unpaid, yet it is an extremely large charity. I should particularly like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the hard work of the executive committee.
I should say at the outset that my career as a hospital radio broadcaster has been extremely short. Some years ago I volunteered my services to Radio St. Andrews in Bow which used to operate in a cupboard underneath the stairs. After just three weeks the lady in charge of the station diplomatically told me that my services were no longer required. She implied that I did not have quite the sort of voice that they were looking for. Some other far less diplomatic person told me that I was just not cut out to be a disc jockey and that my voice was not altogether conducive to the recovery of patients. However, I did not take offence and I do not apologise to the House for having to suffer me at the moment.
The importance of hospital radio cannot be over-stressed. There is an argument, backed by respected members of the psychiatric profession, that the therapeutic value of hospital radio contributes to the speeding of patients' recovery. People often come into hospital lonely and afraid. With the best will in the world, one's family, where there is a family, is not in a position to appreciate the problems. No one can be there all the time. The mental pain can be more traumatic than the physical pain which put the patient into hospital in the first place.
379 Hospital radio supplies a friendly voice, somebody who is of the local community and yet with the patient, somebody aware of the difficulties of that specific hospital. Indeed, the patient is likely to meet the radio voice as the person travels round the wards. That friendly voice takes the mind off the loneliness and pain, and that can only contribute to a successful discharge from hospital. As Seneca said over 2,000 years ago, the desire to be healed has always been part of health. Hospital radio assists in that desire to be healed by keeping a person in touch with the immediate outside world and away from the pain he experiences.
Practically all hon. Members will have some form of radio in hospitals in their constituencies. There are about 300 hospital broadcasting organisations which provide a service, in addition to that of relayed BBC and IBA stations, to their audience of over 217,000 patients. All hon. Members will have some of the 10,000 volunteers working in hospitals in their constituencies. We have 70 such people in Basildon, and I am delighted to say that a few weeks ago I opened the first television network in a hospital in my constituency.
I want the House to consider a fair charter for hospital radio. We are not asking for grants or funds, and we wish to retain our independence. Fund raising goes on through the year in order to keep items such as equipment up to date. However, hospital broadcasting organisations still meet opposition from within administrations. Each organisation is dependent for its existence on the attitude prevailing in each individual hospital. Many administrators are helpful and co-operative, but there are still some who are obstructive and unhelpful. One organisation was kept out of a hospital by a senior nursing officer who felt that the project was not worth while. Another had to argue for eight years to have the facility afforded to it.
Most stations can operate within a single room, 10 ft by 10 ft—the size of many hon. Members' offices. Many hospital radios interconnect with small hospitals in the same area. For some years they relied on telephone landlines whose price remained stable. Eventually, British Telecom had to bring prices into line with other charges to prevent large losses. BT co-operated to the fullest extent with NAHBO in trying to cost the alternative of using the private landlines of the hospital system. It was estimated that the use of such lines could produce savings of up to 80 per cent. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Social Security wrote to NAHBO and put the entire burden back on to individual administrators, from which the organisation sought to remove the difficulty.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the implementation of community radio. I know that he has received my representations and those of the society on that subject. All the arguments that I have researched on the use of internal hospital radio apply with more vigour to the use of a low-powered radio frequency transmitter. Broadcasting to several hospitals would be enormously simplified. Initially, there would be no need to use the internal telecommunications system of the hospital network. Nor would there be any need to spend recurring amounts on British Telecom landlines. The transmitter would be relatively expensive but would probably pay for itself in a few years. It would also be non-recurrent capital expenditure, towards which fund-raising could be directed.
As headsets take such a low priority nowadays, many patients are encouraged to bring their own headsets and 380 transistor radios with them into hospital. That tends to lead to them becoming out of touch with the local community and to miss the personal service of hospital radio. A transmitter, even on a time-sharing basis, would put patients back in touch. As most organisations intend running some kind of two-way family favourites programme, the implementation of community radio would result in a much closer, more supportive relationship between the patient and his family—the kind of relationship which sustains and encourages the fight against illness and for which the DHSS laid down guidelines when referring to children. Adults become as lonely and afraid as children, especially when faced with the unknown. The provision of low-power transmitters would undoubtedly assist in the crucial area of patient recovery.
In all those problems there can be seen one common denominator. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services does not issue guidelines to district health authorities on their attitude towards hospital radio. Indeed, the message from the Department is that the matter is for the individual hospital administrator. The association agrees that decision-making should be left to individual administrators. It is in favour of local autonomy. Nevertheless, it looks to the Department to provide some kind of leadership.
I urge my right hon. Friend to look again at the difficulties facing hospital radio; at the marvellous efforts of so many voluntary workers; and at the worth of their contribution to the healing process. He will find the case for guidelines overwhelming, and I ask him to issue a circular placing hospital radio in context for the busy administrators of hospitals in Britain today. Let us never again take hospital radio for granted, but give it the support and encouragement that it fully deserves.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
Before we adjourn for Christmas we should have a proper debate on Britain's nuclear policy and the need for nuclear disarmament.
Yesterday I visited Greenham Common and met the brave women in the peace camps. They endure much in the protest against cruise missiles and against nuclear annihilation of Britain that the use of such missiles would mean. Theirs is a peaceful protest. They totally renounce violence to the police or to anyone else on the base, but the converse is not the case. Yesterday an elderly woman, Sarah Hipperson, was savagely thrown into a 12 ft ditch by the police because she was standing in front of a tree in which another woman was perched. Miss Hipperson suffered severe injuries and shock, but it could have been worse. There is a continuous history of such violence against the women and it has been increasing. I am told that in August Ms. Ann Harrower was knocked down by a United States road patrol vehicle which deliberately swerved to hit her—a clear case of reckless and attempted deadly dangerous driving. I believe that the vehicle had a Royal Air Force police escort who just left Ms. Harrower lying in the road. If thuggish behaviour of that kind by police and military authorities is allowed to continue unabated, one of those peaceful women protesters will die. If that happens, the Government will be responsible.
The principal purpose of my speech, however, is not to prevent deaths of that kind, although that is clearly vital, but to prevent the millions of deaths to which Britain's 381 current nuclear policy is leading. The House, to its shame, provides scant opportunity to argue the matter. I intend today to show that Britain's nuclear policy is morally and militarily indefensible.
Of course Britain must defend itself. That is a straightforward moral and military stance which I accept, but our defence should be non-nuclear. Britain's long and unique history has always hinged on our ability to defend this sceptred isle. The history of the 20th century has brought home forcefully the moral and military imperative of protecting the people and boundaries of our nation from attack. Of course it was right to take up arms against Fascism in the second world war. Since then, however, there has been an immense break with our previous historic notions of defence—the development, proliferation and sale of nuclear armaments.
The scale of the current nuclear arsenal is monstrous compared with any previous arms accumulation. All the bombs dropped in the second world war amounted to about 3 megatonnes. The present nuclear capacity in the world is 15,000 megatonnes and rising. Our defence policies are now not just militarily but morally indefensible. They are indefensible, first, because they fail in their intended purpose of defending our nation state. In other words, they are dishonest and immoral in their own terms.
One of the best-kept secrets from the British people is that nuclear weapons are first and foremost weapons of attack. They are offensive, not defensive. They have never been developed as weapons of defence and star wars is no exception, despite the Government's shameful support of that policy. They may splutter, like President Reagan, about defensive umbrellas, but, as I discovered in the United States recently, the Pentagon makes no secret of the fact that if the Russians attempted to put a similar umbrella over the United States it would be interpreted as an offensive act. Essentially, the strategic defence initiative is a massive first strike capability. Nuclear weapons will be used to strike first or to counter-attack. Either way, there is no defence.
What possible defence of our nation state is envisaged in which there will be few, if any, survivors? Protection, in human terms, does not dispense with the population in favour of strategic war games designed to ensure that space weapons and ballistic weapons long outlive us. Yet the Pentagon's massive research programme into what it calls "survivability" is devoted entirely to arms survival, not to human survival.
Will civil defence come to the rescue? What have the Government planned for us in that respect? The Conservatives have decided on their own open-market, individualistic approach. At the top of the social scale, the stockbroker bunker will provide cramped accommodation with a chemical toilet for two weeks before jettisoning its occupants into the nuclear winter. For do-it-yourself addicts, the Government advise urine-soaked sheets, upturned mattresses and plenty of white paint. For those caught outside, in the words of City Limits magazine, the advice is tolay face down and kiss your arse goodbye.That is a direct quotation, but the sensitive reader of Hansard may insert the word "backside"—same difference. That is hardly a serious protection strategy for the people of Britain.
382 When one looks more closely at the civil defence plans, it is clear that they are irrelevant to the real protection that the population will need in a nuclear war. Drastic powers are given to the armed forces. They are to control movement on main roads from our cities, preventing civilian evacuation and keeping the way clear for the police and the military. They are to cut off our phones, isolating families, relatives and friends. The plans provide for arrest and internment of anyone opposing moves towards nuclear war. Indeed, summary executions were part of the "Brave Defender" plans. The plans further provide for the takeover of stocks of food, petrol and drugs and the movement of Ministers, officials and military commanders to protected bunkers.
In short, the Government's civil defence plans are for our own armed forces to be used against our own people, the very people whom they are supposed to be defending. Such strategies are morally indefensible in purporting to meet the needs of people suffering the physical, medical and biological effects of a nuclear blast. The Government's message is clear: "Stay at home and die at home if you don't want to be shot in your own streets."
It is hard to see what protection there is for Britain in our current alliance with the United States. We have given away our national sovereignty by allowing American nuclear bases and weapons to be sited here. It is Reagan's finger that is on the trigger ready to fire cruise missiles. British military personnel are relegated to patrolling the perimeter fences and subjecting peaceful women protesters to the thuggish tactics that I have described. By amassing our own and an American nuclear arsenal on our soil, we have become a major strike target for an attack against which no defence can be mounted. This country has become the unwilling site of a European nuclear theatre so that the super-powers can keep the nuclear fight out of their own back yards. That is scarcely a list of morally edifying examples to give people faith in the protection offered by the United States.
Why do we not take the protection of our nation state seriously, and without delay get rid of all nuclear weapons? We should begin to build nuclear shelters on the Swiss model designed for all the population in the event of our not becoming direct targets, and we should become allies with those nations that are taking a moral lead against the nuclear madness.
Our nuclear arms system is an indefensible corruption and waste of human resources. In human terms, it is a depraved use of labour power. What can be more alienating than to work on a nuclear production line? What moral ideas of human dignity, creativity and self-worth are extinguished during such work when the unanswerable necessity of the wage packet drives out higher considerations of the genocidal consequences of this macabre production? What kind of morality places a higher priority on nuclear arms at the expense of the wilful neglect of useful production and research to meet human needs in Britain? There is ample evidence to show that our high levels of nuclear defence spending have played a significant part in Britain's economic decline.
But there is a practical, moral alternative called arms conversion, whereby resources misused on nuclear production could be redirected to civil markets to secure real jobs and to meet our obvious needs. That arms conversion programme should be massively expanded.
Furthermore, it is a scandal that more than 50 per cent. of Government-financed research is for military purposes. 383 This deprives research funding of projects that are attempting to solve a wide variety of real problems that face ordinary people. How contemptible is the Chancellor's cry that we cannot afford the welfare state when he rubber-stamps a 29 per cent. real increase in defence spending between 1979 and 1984.
The misuse of nuclear arms resources is at its most wicked when we count the cost of human suffering and misery in the Third world. No amount of Band Aid can stick over the shameful cracks in Government policy. With redirection, the scale of help towards global sufficiency would be remarkable. The cost of nuclear arms expenditure for two weeks would rid the world of infected water—a glorious prospect that is miles beyond the shabby vision of nuclear arms pedlars such as Reagan, Weinberger, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Front Bench.
The final thrust of my argument is to point to the global havoc caused by our needless rush to nuclear power. Communities throughout the world have unknowingly been exposed to the awful effects of nuclear testing and production. The extent of genetic damage, environmental pollution, radiation sickness and death following Britain's nuclear testing in Australia 30 years ago is only just emerging. The Government's response is to equivocate on their responsibility lest compensation proves costly and widespread.
Meanwhile, nuclear trains, with their deadly load, still trundle through many built-up areas every day, including my constituency of Leyton, and all that the Government can offer is public relations. That is their main plank of action. They rename areas to banish their radioactive connotation—for example, Windscale to Sellafield. Is anyone fooled or impressed? Is it any safer for children to play on those beaches? Is this the extent of the Government's moral responsibility to our land and people, including the military personnel engaged for our defence who are so casually subjected to radiation?
Even these shameful practices pale into insignificance when we consider the prospects unleashed for the entire world following a nuclear exchange. After deaths from burns, blasts and fall-out, the short-term aftermath would involve the collapse of food supplies, contamination of the water supply, the threat of fire, disease and pests, and the destruction of farm animals. The environmental devastation that that would entail would begin to upset the entire balance of the world's ecological structure, hurling us into a nuclear winter for generations to come. What a price to pay for moral disregard on this scale! We would have a world without hope, life and a future.
I urge the House to heed the words of Martin Luther King:We must either learn to live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools".
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)
I must say immediately that I do not agree with a single word of what the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) has said. I believe very strongly in a nuclear deterrent.
There are three important matters that I should like to raise prior to the House going into recess. First, too many of our children are going missing each year, and I again make the plea for a central computer to record the details of the circumstances in which these children go missing.
384 Last year 20,000 children disappeared, although most were found. What my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) said was perfectly correct. At the end of last year 4,500 children had still not been found, and 45 had been abducted, including two from my own constituency. I therefore call on my right hon. Friend to introduce a central computer to ensure that all the circumstances surrounding these missing children can be properly recorded. I congratulate and compliment the National Children's Home on what it is trying to do with limited resources.
My second point concerns motorway lighting. There are only 376 miles of lighted motorway, leaving 1,100 miles unlighted. It would cost £9 million to light the rest of the M1, and £81 million to light the entire motorway system. The Select Committee on Transport called for all motorways to be lighted. It said that lighting motorways at night reduced accidents by 60 per cent. As a fatality at night costs £205,460, that seems a reasonable amount to spend. According to column 112 of the Official Report of 17 December 1985, which lists motorway fatalities by lighting conditions, on motorways unlighted, at night, there were 62 fatalities in 1982, 54 in 1983 and 61 in 1984, on motorways lighted, at night, there were 40 fatalities in 1982, 24 in 1983 and 33 in 1984; and in the daytime there were 104 fatalities in 1982, 109 in 1983 and 117 in 1984.
Lives could be saved. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has confirmed, if a serious night-time problem develops on a particular length of road, lighting is automatically considered. That should be done. My hon. Friend stated that she waskeeping under review the need to provide additional lighting on the remaining unlit stretches of the M1."—[Official Report, 12 December 1984; Vol 69, c. 532.]The Transport Select Committee stated:We recommend the gradual installation of overhead lighting on existing motorways.
If there is a serious night accident problem which cannot be solved by other measures, lighting must be considered. That proposal has the support of the Royal Automobile Club, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The evidence shows that during the hours of darkness the accident rate is worse than during daylight. The time is right and the money is well worth spending. The Department of Transport has promised to provide a cost-benefit policy for allocating lighting on our motorways.
My third point concerns drinking and driving. Drinking and driving kills, yet the campaigns that the Department of Transport regularly puts forward never seem to get the message across. Last year's campaign at Christmas was "Stay low". It wrongly seemed to suggest that we should not drink too much before we drive. That campaign cost £880,000. My hon. Friend the Minister of State made it clear that she was against drinking and then driving. Unfortunately, the campaign's message did not get through completely. It is wrong to have a campaign only at Christmas. I ask everyone to be careful when drinking if he or she intends driving. I believe that the campaign should operate throughout the year.
As my hon. Friend the Minister of State said when launching her campaign on 9 December 1985, "Don't drink and drive." However, she went on to say, "If you think that you can drink and drive, think again." It is clear that that is not the right policy.
385 Alcohol affects the performance of any driver, so drivers should desist from drinking. This is one of the most serious road safety problems. With RoSPA making it clear that mixing drinking and driving causes 1,200 deaths a year—one fifth of all deaths on the road—it is clear that there should be no drinking and then driving.
The police have unrestricted powers to stop all motorists if they suspect that a driver has consumed alcohol. I urge them to do so, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. I would prefer random breath tests, but the Transport Select Committee opposes them. I believe that random breath testing would be welcomed, because it would save lives. I should like an increase in the level of enforcement generally—north and south of the border—throughout the year. As drinking and driving is a problem throughout the year, the introduction of random breath testing would be a deterrent.
The numbers of deaths in drinking and driving accidents in which a driver was positively breath tested were as follows: 451 in 1982, 340 in 1983 and 338 in 1984. There is no doubt that fatal accidents are caused by excessive drinking. The numbers of people disqualified from driving because of offences involving driving after consuming alcohol or taking drugs were as follows: 64,000 in 1982, 86,000 in 1983 and 89,000 in 1984. I urge the House to give this policy the maximum support.
The policy will be effective. It will stop drivers taking the risk, especially at Christmas. We should take licences away immediately and not allow offenders to continue driving until their court appearance. That would have a deterrent effect. I want to see heavy fines imposed. The maximum should be at least £5,000, and not the present £2,000. If someone causes death by drinking and driving, he or she should go to prison for a minimum of 10 years. I want to see a Christmas clampdown on drinking and driving, and one that will continue throughout the year.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
The House should not adjourn until we discuss some elements of the Government's defence procurement policy. The elements with which I am concerned are of deep concern to my constituency. I refer to the placement of orders for conventional diesel electric submarines.
Last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House whether he would ask the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement in the next few days on the placement of these orders. The Leader of the House replied:I shall certainly convey that request."—[Official Report, 12 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 1073.]I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman conveyed my request to his right hon. Friend and, if so, the answer that he received.
In a letter of 28 November, the Prime Minister wrote:I understand that the competing tenders are still being assessed, but that Michael Heseltine intends to make an announcement on the placing of the order later this month.I presume the right hon. Lady meant in December, before the House adjourned. A great deal of press speculation surrounds what appears to be a long-delayed decision.
I accept that I should not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, and that was pointed out to me by the Secretary of State for Scotland when I asked him to comment on his failure to persuade his ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Defence to place these orders 386 with Scottish yards. His press report suggested that the orders for all three submarines would be awarded to Vickers-Cammell Laird. I fully expect the Secretary of State for Defence to confirm that speculation. I say that with some confidence as the Minister of State for Defence Procurement stated on 26 November that the Government believed that there should be a number of submarine builders in the United Kingdom. He said:It is the Government's intention that there should be a number of submarine builders in this country, just as there are at present. Vickers has a monopoly not of conventional but of nuclear submarines. We envisage that there will be plenty of competition for conventional submarines".—[Official Report, 26 November; Vol. 87, c. 735.]
Much of the press speculation suggests that the orders are heading in precisely the direction of Vickers-Cammell Laird. If that is so, the statement which I have quoted is worthless. Two Scottish yards have tendered for the orders and I wish to confine my remarks—this should surprise no one in the House—to Scott Lithgow.
I was quoted recently in Lloyd's List as having said:there have been so many marked improvements in the yard that he"—that is, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement—can be confident that any defence or offshore orders would not only be built to the high standards expected, but would be delivered on or before the specified delivery.".
Following that quotation in Lloyd's List, I received a letter from a consultant naval architect, who had this to say about Scott Lithgow:at the time of the 'Ocean Alliance' cancellation in 1983 and subsequently on four occasions since then I have been commissioned by Britoil to make a 'completely independent' evaluation of Scott Lithgow's performance.It is my belief that your view is fully supportable. If you think I can be of any help, even at this late hour, I shall be very happy to do so.He has helped me by sending me that letter.
If the Minister's words are to be believed, one of the three orders for SKK2400 diesel electric submarines should go either to Yarrows or to Scott Lithgow. All three should not go to Vickers because that would create a monopoly in conventional submarine building. Vickers already has a monopoly in nuclear submarine building. In fairness to Scott Lithgow, one of the orders should be given to that yard.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) for being so punctual in concluding his remarks on a matter about which he feels very strongly.
As the Leader of the House will appreciate, Back Benchers highly value both the time available to them on the Adjournment following the passing of the Consolidated Fund Bill and the opportunities that are provided by this motion to raise matters of concern to them. Therefore, it is to be regretted that today there were three statements before the debate on the motion for the Christmas recess. I cannot remember the Consolidated Fund debate starting so late. After all, the House made a concession to the Government by limiting the finishing time of the Consolidated Fund debate rather than it being open-ended as it was previously. In exchange, the Government owe it to the House to ensure that they do not hi-jack the time that legitimately belongs to Back Benchers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will ensure that it does not happen again.
387 My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) raised the critical issue of Manchester airport. I know of the local bitterness over this issue. It is frustrating that, when local authorities have reached an agreement, as a result of doctrinaire pressures by local Conservative Members of Parliament the local authority which seconded the original proposal has about turned and is trying to frustrate the objectives of the people of the area.
We are even more cynical about the matter, having read the memo from a local Conservative Member of Parliament advising his colleagues not to pursue privatisation at this time because it might divert attention from the more important objective initially of separating management from the city. It is clear what the second objective would be. It is a clear case of doctrine having preference over local interest.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) pursued a subject which I know he has promoted over the years—the need to contract the number of quangos. He must feel rather bitter about the loss of momentum in that campaign when, at one stage, he appeared to have virtually succeeded in his aims. I find it poetic that the party that is committed to the ending of quangos should give the right to fluoridate to quangos scattered throughout the country, regardless of the wishes of the local people.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) spoke of the problems of the tin industry in his area. I appreciate those problems, because, as he said, it is a saga that we experienced when I was the Minister of State, Department of Industry. I provided the finance that helped to save Wheal Jane at that time. I am sorry that the area is now going through the same torture of uncertainty. I hope that the Government will do everything possible to support and sustain that exceptionally important local industry. This industry is not just important in job terms, but is of symbolic and historical importance to the people of that area.
My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) and the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) both spoke movingly and with conviction on the problems of unemployment. I can think of no hon. Member in the House who has campaigned more vigorously on behalf of his constituents over the years, under any Administration, than my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North. I can imagine my hon. Friend's bitterness at seeing his area so deprived of hope.
The hon. Member for Corby referred to the locational advantages that the east of the country has over the west. That was a generous statement to make in view of the problems that his area has experienced. It underlines the Opposition's argument that there is a need for a strong regional policy. The Opposition bitterly regret the fact that regional aid has now been cut to 35 per cent. of the figure when the Government came to office.
I read the reaction of hon. Members as they listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan). All hon. Members were disturbed by the hon. Gentleman's speech, and it must be clearly understood that no one has a right to interfere with a Member of Parliament's correspondence. No one has a right to refuse a Member of Parliament in his duty to fulfil his obligations to his constituents. I hope that that point will be fully understood and appreciated by those who, for reasons 388 which seem to them to be valid, interfere with the duties of an hon. Member. They should realise that that will inevitably lead to a clash with the House of Commons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) made a staggering exposition of detailed research. I congratulate him on that. At the end of his speech I concluded that there must be something wrong with the Charity Commission. As my hon. Friend said, there must be a proper inquiry.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas)—he has apologised for his absence—made a reasoned speech about a delicate situation in his constituency in Blaenau Ffestiniog. That area has been dominated for decades by the slate industry. A local employer is refusing to go to arbitration by ACAS, and one of the local directors refuses even to reply to the local Member of Parliament in writing or in person. That savours of stupidity as well as insensitivity. I know that area slightly, and the thought that the firm might recruit labour into the area to take over the jobs of local people is an unbelievably inflammatory thought and is absurd. I congratulate the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy on the delicate tone in which he presented his points.
I should like to make my own bid as to why the House should not adjourn for the Christmas recess on the proposed dates. We should not adjourn until the House has received an apology from the Liberals. Earlier this afternoon I brought to the House a document which detailed double standards in connection with the House. The document was a press release issued by the Leader of the Opposition—I am doing it again. Today would seem to be my day for errors. Of course I meant to say, "the leader of the opposition to everyone", the permanent antis, the Liberals. It is the leader of the Liberal party's document which contains the double standards.
Let us look at double standards and the Liberals. I have some extracts from the document which the Association of Liberal Councillors is sending to Liberal campaigners. It is entitled "Responding to the Competition".
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman says that it has been withdrawn.
That document urges Liberal campaigners to "Appeal to people's prejudices"—hon. Members should note that they do not appeal to people's common sense or to people's sense of right and wrong, but to their prejudices—and encourage them to think (a) you are on their side, and (b) those attacking you are by implication attacking ordinary people as well.The Liberals are not ordinary people. We all know that they are different from everybody else and hon. Members have permanent experience of that in this place.
The document continues:Make full use of your 'good guy' image".At least the Liberals have the grace to recognise that they are pure image and front and very little substance. The document goes on to say:Find out where your opponents' supporters are: you may wish to feed them certain information to mislead your opponent.That is what the Liberals call political integrity. It continues:It might be worth encouraging attacks especially if you are up against numerically superior opponents.That means, "if, democratically, you are outvoted." 389 It continues:The British love an underdog, especially one who tearfully tells the press he was 'only trying to stand up for local interests' against a seemingly hostile … majority.It sounds like a seminar in cynicism. That comes from the party that was lecturing us on observng the correct standards in public life. The document continues:Be more clever, perhaps by phoning the Tory/Labour agent to say how impressed you were with their production, offer to help deliver the next one, etc.Where are the good guys? People can pick up a 'phone, lie, cheat and mislead, and it is all for a good, moral objective.
I have seen such cynicism in my constituency. My local Liberal candidate, presenting himself as a Life candidate, came to my surgery to raise an animals issue and told me that he thought experiments should be carried out on subnormal humans rather than on animals. He is now circulating leaflets, again presenting himself as the Life candidate, saying that everyone else is in favour of abortion, but overlooking the fact that the Bill for abortion reform owes its origin to the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). On Second Reading, 10 of the 11 Liberals voted in support of the Bill. That is the quality of life under the morality that the leader of the Liberal party would impose upon us. I should like to hear the views of the Leader of the House on that.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I shall start by being remorseless and realistic: I stand entirely by my motion. The only thing that might be questioned is whether we are not staying here too late and coming back too early. Therefore, I say at once to all those who have impressed upon me that we should have a shorter recess than I have planned that I shall resist and, if there is a vote, I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote against them.
Hon. Members referred to the shortness of the debates following the passage of the Consolidated Fund Bill. That is not unprecedented. Of course it is not ideal, but it would have been more of a revolution if we had not had the statements on the rate support grant. We have to look at such matters and see whether we can order our affairs with a touch more brevity to protect the business for individual Members that lies ahead. No one can claim that my speech was too long.
I do not wish to be sidetracked by the extraordinary pamphlet prayed in aid to keep us here until Boxing day. It is a disagreeable combination of Machiavelli and Horatio Bottomley. There must be a better way than that of maintaining the moral and intellectual standards of our discussions.
Let me answer the points that were raised in the debate, which was opened by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who was a powerful advocate on behalf of his hon. Friends of the most important institution of the provinces, Manchester airport. I shall of course report what he said to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am sure that the right hon. Gentlman will appreciate that I cannot go beyond that at this juncture.
I say fraternally to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), in case he thinks that I am ambivalent about 390 the Liberal party, that he and my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) have argued their case in measured, eloquent, restrained and therefore much more effective terms, saying what the tin industry means for Cornwall. As the hon. Member for Truro knows, there will be a debate upon that later this evening and clearly a ministerial statement would be appropriate on that occasion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) talked about unemployment, and both spoke with the passion that comes from direct constituency interests in these affairs. I was attracted by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Corby about the need to raise tax thresholds. It is a part of the debate that continues. Tax cuts are as often as not used merely as a headline to confuse rather than to clarify the nature of the debate. Most people do not think of raising the threshold which, in reality, is the most substantial tax cut and which has considerable potential economic consequences.
I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North who has explained his absence. There is deep concern in all parts of the House about the continuing high unemployment. I do not wish to elevate the controversy except to say that I believe that there is emerging evidence that at least the phase of the relentless rise is over and we are getting some stability in the national figures. It is true, as we move into a happier phase, that it will be partial in its application across the country.
To follow the practice of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), I couple the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) and the speech of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland). I listened with deep concern to the points that were made by my hon. Friend, who has explained that he cannot be here for the end of the debate because he has gone to his constituency to deal specifically with this issue.
I do not know what possible distinction can be drawn between the work of an MP in his constituency and the work of an MP in the House of Commons. The work of an MP within the House of Commons is something we are concerned to protect. In all parts of the House—I welcome the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West—there is concern that this matter should be resolved in a way consistent with the responsibilities of Members and their ability to discharge responsibilities without let or hindrance.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall elaborated a breathtaking state of affairs. I used to live in Vauxhall, and indeed the streets he mentioned were all familiar, but I had no idea that I was living so close to this extraordinary development. In my innocence, I used to pass by the Duchy of Cornwall property—which was absolutely blameless. I take his claim that there should be interest shown on the part of the Home Office and the Solicitor-General, and I shall ensure that his remarks are reported to my right hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas), like the hon. Member for Truro, raised, with great charm, a most difficult constituency case. All those who know north Wales understand and feel for a region that has its roots, history, culture and economy related to the slate industry. Those who have seen the decline of that industry over the decades would be immensely saddened 391 if it were further debilitated by industrial action, which would proceed to some gloomy and inexorable consequence.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) drew attention to the inherent difficulties of the closure of an 18-bed ward at Ruchill hospital. I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the anxieties that have been expressed.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) on raising the question of hospital radio broadcasting. It was a happy circumstance that no Government involvement seemed to be implied and no public expenditure involved. I wish my hon. Friend many more crusades of a similar nature.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) raised the question of defence procurement and the three submarines. My information from the Ministry of Defence is that it hopes that an announcement will be made shortly. I am aware of the deep and proper constituency concern entertained by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall do my utmost to see that he is correspondingly informed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Sir P. Holland) reminded us that he has lost none of his skill, passion and advocacy in regard to quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organisations. I shall report this rather daunting news to my colleagues. It means that they will have to be that much more alert as 1986 proceeds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) most effectively used an example from his constituency to demonstrate a great many of the problems which relate to parents and their children, given the contrasting and often overlapping responsibilities of public authorities, and the need for the House to turn its attention to that in as much an administrative fashion as any other and to realise that this is a tangible way in which we can confer support on the family as the natural social unit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) did a great tour d'horizon. I note his continued interest for a central computer to trace absent children. I also note his tempered involvement in public expenditure restraint when it comes to motorway lighting. I believe that £80 million was put into the kitty, which is not bad for a few minutes in the closing stages of this debate. He nevertheless made an extremely effective case because there are offsetting considerations. I wish him every success, without necessarily endorsing his campaign on drinking and driving.
§ Mr. Biffen
Many others have campaigned. The hon. Gentleman must not get so excited. We are in the closing minutes of Christmas spirit. I am saying that from the great Plimsoll in the last century, who did a great deal for marine safety, hon. Members have campaigned on these issues. "Keep going" is my message.
My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) told me that he favours a poll tax, that he does not favour the rate support grant as it applies to Hertfordshire, that he is unhappy about the Government's Sunday shopping legislation and that he has views on the Anglo-Irish accord which are roughly in line with those of the Unionist parties. I shall convey all of those sentiments to my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary.
I come finally to the debate that we would all love to have about Government defence policy, nuclear policy and, above all, the delightful way—I accept his candour and sincerity—in which the hon. Member for Leyton. (Mr. Cohen) says that we must disavow our reliance on nuclear weapons. Does that mean that we have to disavow any alliance which relies on nuclear weapons? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, I see. We disavow nuclear weapons ourselves. I do not think that the Liberal party should laugh too soon because we shall examine such issues more and more as 1986 proceeds. It is no good believing that we can approach the matter on the basis of the bun and the penny. It is one or the other. Either we are involved with a reliance on nuclear weapons or we are not. To suppose that we can wash our hands but depend on the Americans is the most unseemly stance of all.
I realise that all that now stands before the next debate in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will raise the problems of driver psychology associated with alternative crossing modes of the Channel. The hon. Member gave us Aldabra, Belgrano and the West Lothian question. It looks as though this evening we shall see another great parliamentary saga opening up—and what a glorious way to end this part of the Session.
Question put and agreed to.
Resolved,That this House at its rising on Friday 20th December do adjourn until Monday 13th January, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 20th December until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.