§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That this House at its rising on Friday 19th December do adjourn until Monday 12th January, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 19th December until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Biffen.]
§ 7 pm
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Whether or not it is getting near Christmas, the House of Commons likes to forget about Ulster, to which our country owes its survival. For one thing, the obsession with devolved government drives a wedge of difference between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and cuts the Province adrift, as it were, from our party politics, especially because the historic Tory-Ulster Unionist alliance has become so tenuous.
We all deplore the absence from their places of Northern Ireland Members, but it would be wrong to adjourn without the House being given up-to-date knowledge of a situation that might be described as creeping anarchy. Despite the courage, efficiency and diligence of the security forces, and, indeed, their successes, and despite the efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Northern Ireland Office and the large investment by our taxpayers in an ailing economy, the majority in Northern Ireland are embittered and estranged and, largely in consequence, the minority are afraid.
Bishop Daly of Down and Connor, speaking at the funeral of a victim of the UVF, said:the Sectarian blood-lust of the 1970s might return.Sometimes the security forces find themselves between two fires. Public representatives, including those who sit for Northern Ireland constituencies, refuse to meet and to work with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. Before we rise for the recess, we should have at least an assurance from those Ministers that they are taking stock of what has gone wrong and what they should do now.
The situation was summarised by the distinguished chairman of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, Sir Charles Carter, in an article that he wrote in The Times of 20 August. He said:
Many responsible people in the province feel that the government has allowed itself to assume a quite unacceptable risk and that, if nothing is done, there could be a spiral of further depression and violence until Ulster really does become ungovernable except by a massive military effort, which would consume even greater amounts of public resources.How could the agreement not be destabilising when the offending Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, established under the agreement, was commended to the Republic by Dr. FitzGerald as being "as near joint authority" as can be? The House will remember that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister roundly rejected joint authority for Northern Ireland in a memorable press conference. I wish that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) were here to tell us of his American conspiracy. If there is not an American conspiracy, the two Governments have made it appear as if there were. There was a Congressional chorus hymning the signature of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough castle. The agreement has been accompanied by international aid, primarily United States dollar aid, which Her Majesty's Government should not have stooped to accept. I ask my 830 right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to tell us when we may debate and even reject the International Fund for Ireland in respect of Northern Ireland.
The Anglo-Irish Agreement has thrust Northern Ireland still further away from us. If it has driven Ulster mad, it is all the easier to say, "Those people over there are mad, and the sooner we have nothing more to do with them, the better." That appears to be a conspiracy to some people. Thus, the idea of an independent Ulster, paradoxically advocated by some Loyalists, an idea that received official sympathy when the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, gains ground. The despair of British intentions strengthens it. It is as though the Province and its people were being softened for separation.
When I criticise the Anglo-Irish Agreement and its consequences, people are inclined to say, "What would you do?" I could reply as the Irish peasant did and say that I would not have started from here. However, I should like to be constructive and make two suggestions, one concerning the administration of the Province and the other concerning the future of the agreement. I suggest to my right hon. Friends that they should not rule out so contemptuously the full integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the United Kingdom. They are inclined to say, "Never can this happen." I remind them that the use of the word "never" destroyed the career of a distinguished Minister of the Crown, the predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann). He is now Lord Colyton, happily still with us. He used the word "never" in connection with Cyprus. I ask Ministers not to say never will they ever consider full integration or administrative devolution, call it what one will. That brings me to my second point, on the future of the agreement.
If one can make sure of the union and convince the Unionist majority that one has made sure of the union, they will feel free to stretch out their hands, as they have often in the past, to the minority in the Province and to the Republic to the south. It would be nice, but I do not expect to hear from the Government that they propose to rescind the agreement or even seek its abrogation with Dublin. But my proposal is to replace or supplement it with a larger agreement—not an unequal agreement but an equal treaty—covering not only the security of these islands but all the aspects of common concern in our unique relationship.
That relationship came about, and that phrase came into use when Mr. Haughey was Taoiseach. I do not know what will happen in the election shortly to take place in the Republic. It is not my business to comment on it—
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
But it is noteworthy that, when Mr. Haughey was Taoiseach, the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council—not to be confused with the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference—was instituted. That institution, the secretariat that accompanied it and even the idea of a parliamentary tier were acceptable. They were on the right lines. But the intergovernmental conference is not.
Ulster is not England. When Ulster says no, it means no. I invite Ministers to take to heart the words of Lord Salisbury in 1878, because I believe that there is no health or life left in the agreement. He said: 831The commonest error in politics is sticking to the carcases of dead policies.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
I shall not detain the House long. I think that the motion for the Adjournment is a little premature. There are still a couple of days before Christmas that could be utilised to discuss other matters, especially a constituency point—the activities of the Hanson Trust and Lord Hanson. I shall eschew references to Lord Hanson's previous activities and not make any of the possibly rather cheap points that might be made. I ask the Government to consider whether Lord Hanson and his operatives could give much greater information to the workers involved in the takeovers which are following his activities. He has succeeded in making the phrase "asset stripping" one which is in common usage by the general public and which is now understood in a completely new way.
In Bristol the Imperial Group was taken over. The great factory in East street, Bedminster, which stood for many years, has been demolished. There is great concern about the new factory, which was built at Hartcliffe not long ago. The tobacco industry is and will continue to be under siege, not only from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) but from cheap imports from the continent. The Government could well consider this aspect, because those imports are undermining the interests of my constituents.
The problem has been reflected in a number of recent redundancies at the factory. Rumours are rife that the factory is to be closed. It was purpose built some years ago, and it is known that it is suitable for conversion to other uses. I make this plea to the Government: although it may not be easy to restrain Lord Hanson's commercial activities, he could be asked to give much more information to the workers who are affected by his activities. There is nothing so destructive to a man's morale and his family as uncertainty about job prospects. If an assurance were given that, as long as there is a demand, tobacco will continue to be manufactured at Hartcliffe, the Government could be helpful in persuading Lord Hanson to remove the uncertainty that dogs so many people.
I ask the Leader of the House to note my points and to pass them on to his colleagues to ascertain whether uncertainty can be lifted by discussion with Lord Hanson so that his intentions become clearer. That is what is needed—not his making a cheap buck from flogging off parts of the companies that he takes over.
§ Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
I shall not follow the interesting speech by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks), but I thoroughly agree that the House should not adjourn until it has had the opportunity to debate the defence scandal over the demountable rack offloading and pick-up system. The Government have agreed to set up an independent inquiry into the whole seedy affair.
DROPS is equipment for transporting ammunition to the battlefield. I know something about these matters because I was the Minister who set up the procurement executive and was in charge of it in its various 832 manifestations during the first few years. The concept of DROPS was very largely that of a firm in my constituency, Boughton. It pressed the concept on the Army for many years. So confident was Boughton of its ideas that it built the equipment at its own expense and sold it to four foreign armies. Its equipment was in existence by 1975, and the Ministry of Defence could have bought it then. The equipment that was available to the Ministry of Defence is substantially the same as that which, after years of incompetence, duplicity and cover up, the Army will eventually receive in 1989.
However, there is a great deal more to it than mere incompetence in this disgraceful and scandalous affair. Indeed, the House will probably find the story scarcely credible as I briefly tell it. As I said, the concept is largely Boughton's, although I am sorry that my right hon. and hon. Friends have sought to deny that and have said—no doubt in good faith—that other firms were very much involved and that it was not Boughton's concept.
In 1978, the chief of staff, British Army of the Rhine, said:During the last two years the MOD have been examining the various systems used by commercial operators in the UK to allow one vehicle to perform two or more functions. The examination concluded that only one, the Ampliroll"—that is, Boughton's—possessed sufficient potential to warrant trials being carried out".In September 1981, the defence sales section of the procurement executive wrote to the vice chief of the general staff, saying:The Boughton Group have promoted the concept to DGTM since 1974 and developed most of the equipment which is central to it. They are the principal authority in what is technically feasible.That should be borne in mind when the Ministry of Defence is attempting to say that Boughton was not the leader in this development. However, Boughton pressed this equipment on the Ministry of Defence and eventually convinced it. The Ministry issued a statement of requirements and invited Boughton to tender for a feasibility study.
Boughton was clearly better qualified than any other competitor. Above all, it was the only company that had a complete working system in existence. All the others were still at the drawing board. Boughton had fully fledged equipment in existence. Boughton's design was wholly British. I know that the Ministry of Defence does not seem to be attached to British equipment these days, but to most people it is surely a considerable advantage. Furthermore, Boughton met all the specifications better than its competitors, and it was cheapest. The Ministry tries to blur that inconvenient fact by weasel words.
For the feasibility study vehicles, competitors were asked to produce prices backed by detailed documentation. Boughton was easily the cheapest—sometimes by up to 80 per cent. Competitors were asked to produce production estimates for 2,000 vehicles—just a one-line estimate backed by no evidence. Boughton produced its actual production costs—because it was the only company that produced the equipment, it knew the costs—and the others produced estimates bristling with hedges and caveats. In any case, for what Boughton was asked to do, it was the cheapest. The independent assessors, who were used on the "Panorama" programme 833 and were recommended by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers as being the best in that business, supported Boughton.
To sum up, Boughton offered the most for the least, yet, incredibly, it was excluded from the trial. That was a shameful and improper decision. That is the most scandalous feature of the affair. One of the reasons for it was, I think, that the people in the procurement executive were so besotted with their own ideas and estimates of their abilities that they preferred a design which Boughton had many years before shown not to work.
The procurement executive then wasted much time and money proving that its ideas did not work—which we knew already—and, since then, it has been drawn back to Boughton's ideas and equipment while trying to conceal that it has done so. That is the second scandalous feature of this affair.
The third scandalous feature is the cover up that has gone on and the fatuous nature of the explanation that the procurement executive has attempted to make for its exclusion of Boughton from the competition. If anybody was in any serious doubt that there was a scandal here, he would only have to read the attempted explanation of it by the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, when "Panorama" was thinking of doing a programme, because it thought that there was something seriously wrong, it became fully convinced of that fact only when it had listened to a major presentation of the Ministry of Defence's case.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is by nature very sceptical, but if he gets any briefing from the Ministry of Defence I strongly advise him to treat it with even more than his usual scepticism because, on all previous form, it is highly unlikely to be anywhere near true. Some of our right hon. Friends have suffered because of that already.
When I first raised this matter in July 1983, it took the Ministry of Defence six and a half months to give me a substantive reply. It is true that during that period my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), then the Secretary of State, was courteous enough to see me. Nevertheless, it took six and a half months to get a reply, and then it was so staggeringly thin and unconvincing that, as I stated in my rejection of it, I would have regarded it as gravely inadequate if it had been sent to me the previous July. Put forward as an attempted justification of the Ministry of Defence's conduct six and a half months later, it was little more than a plea of guilty.
Not only does the Ministry of Defence's attempted replies starkly reveal the poverty of its case, but so bad is that case that it attempts to shut its opponents up. We all know of the intimidation of an hon. Member, but, on more than one occasion, people in the Ministry tried to intimidate the firm. That is not the behaviour of people who possess confidence in a just case; it is the frightened and guilty behaviour of people who know that their case is bad and is not defensible by decent methods. That is not so, of course, of all at the Ministry. People change so quickly in the Ministry of Defence that few of those who were responsible for this blunder or crime are still in the same spots. I think that some of their successors do not know what happened then and are acting in good faith. Others, out of misplaced feelings of solidarity, are just determined to cover up.
I have always refused to ascribe motives for what was done because the facts are enough in themselves. The reasons may have been personal animosity, blind 834 dogmatism, sheer dismal ineptitude or something more sinister. General Mans, when he looked at the matter in 1984, thought that the unfair and improper exclusion of Boughton had been influenced by personal considerations. That is certainly true, but I do not exclude additional motives.
Like others, I have a high regard for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. We were Ministers together in the Ministry of Defence many years ago. He has a great deal to do and a great deal on his mind. Here he has made a natural but, in this case, disastrous mistake of believing what he has been told by his advisers. That has already involved him in some embarrassment because what he said—on Ministry advice, of course—about Boughton not being intimidated turned out to be wrong. Although I understand his difficulties, I find his refusal of any inquiry, at least up to now, indefensible.
It is true that the Comptroller and Auditor General is interested in this contract. Indeed, we drew his office's attention to it last August. That should be a useful inquiry, but everybody knows that the Comptroller and Auditor General is concerned with financial irregularity and the spending of public money. He looks at the Ministry's documents and examines civil servants. He does not hear outside evidence. Welcome as his researches are, they should be in addition to, not a substitute for, an independent inquiry.
I shall summarise the case. In 1983, the Ministry of Defence selected equipment which was of a lower specification than Boughton's, offered at much higher prices than Boughton's—some were 80 per cent. higher—in virtually every respect inferior to Boughton's in its compliance with the stated requirements, and years behind Boughton's in development. In making this selection, the Ministry neglected to verify compliance with the stated requirements, introduced new and arbitrary requirements which were designed to favour systems other than Boughton's, were irrelevant or wrong, were at variance with previous trials experience, Ministry policy or the majority of "expert opinion" in the Ministry, and are now seen to be incompatible with achieving the stated requirements for DROPS.
When dealing with complaints and inquiries since 1983, the Minstry of Defence has lied about the relative prices of competing equipment, lied about that lie about prices, intimidated Boughton to suppress its legitimate complaints, lied to hon. Members about that intimidation and attempted to suppress legitimate and proper inquiries in private by an hon. Member.
How can anybody now have any confidence in the procurement process for any other equipment if the procurement executive is allowed to get away with such behaviour and nobody is punished for it? Unless the Government want us to believe that this sort of behaviour in the procurement executive is quite normal, they have a clear duty to set up an independent inquiry. Unless they think that injustice, incompetence, dissembling and deceit are fine and proper as well as normal, the case for an inquiry is overwhelming. Unless the Government believe that the right response to a scandal is to attempt to hush it up, they should order an inquiry now.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) spoke in forthright terms on an important issue 835 and I am sure that the House is grateful to him. He can expect the full support of this Bench for the independent inquiry that he seeks.
If time permits, I also would want to raise issues concerning defence procurement—the supply of arms by the United Kingdom to Iran and the Government's choice of an airborne early warning system. They are separate issues, but both raise important questions which require a full Government response before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess.
The Government's stance on the supply of arms to Iran was set out by the Foreign Secretary in a written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Etterick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) on 29 October 1985. He said that the following guidelines would apply:
That seems reasonable, but closer examination reveals that it might not amount to all that much. Contractual obligations entered into with the pre-revolutionary Government cannot readily be set aside, but it is some time since they were entered into, and the implications of the supply of spare parts or the assistance with maintenance of equipment cannot be ignored when the recipient country is engaged in armed conflict which has already claimed many lives.
- (i) We should maintain our consistent refusal to supply any lethal equipment to either side;
- (ii) Subject to that overriding consideration, we should attempt to fulfil existing contracts and obligations;
- (iii) We should not, in future, approve orders for any defence equipment which, in our view, would significantly enhance the capability of either side to prolong or exacerbate the conflict;
- (iv) In the line with this policy, we should continue to scrutinise rigorously all applications for export licences for the supply of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq.—[Official Report, 29 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 450.]
Fulfilling contractual obligations is, of course, subject to the overriding consideration that we should refuse to supply lethal equipment. That also seems reasonable until we ask what is the distinction between "lethal" and "non-lethal". I am not aware of the Government publicising a difference, but the sensible approach is that any equipment which keeps the war machine going is ultimately lethal as it will help to prolong or exacerbate the conflict. Indeed, the absurdity of trying to distinguish between lethal and non-lethal equipment was exposed by Mr. Colin Chandler, the head of the Ministry of Defence defence export services organisations, when he spoke earlier this year at the British Army equipment exhibition at Aldershot. He said:there is no such thing as a 'non-lethal' weapon.When one considers the reports in yesterday's The Observer, the applicability of the Government's criteria, particularly as to what is "non-lethal", seems to come into question. The newspaper stated:
Fifty Chieftain tank engines together with spares for Scorpion armoured cars and radar equipment worth a total of £35 million were shipped to Iran from Liverpool last month…The equipment was trucked to Liverpool from warehouses in the Midlands after a final inspection by an Iranian official …Despite Government claims that no British military spares have been shipped for 18 months, The Observer has evidence that the trade is being continued with official knowledge, through a series of British middlemen.Whatever the Government's position, important questions arise. If the Government did not know that such 836 shipments were being made, what sort of policing operation is being mounted to ensure that regulations on export licences for the sale of defence equipment are not being circumvented? In recent weeks concern has been expressed from several sources that London is being used as a trading centre for arms deals with Iran. There is little or no evidence that the Government have appeared worried about that, which begs the question whether the Government did not know or did not want to know about direct shipments from the United Kingdom.
If the Government knew that the shipments were being made, it calls into question the assurances that have been given on many occasions recently from the Dispatch Box that the Government are resolutely abiding by their declared policy in respect of these arms sales. Are Ministers trying to maintain the integrity of their answers by allowing either a wide definition of "non-lethal" or a limited view of what would prolong or exacerbate the conflict, so that almost anything goes and any shipment can slip through?
In a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale about a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister claimed that the United Kingdom's policy on arms sales to Iran and Iraq wasone of the strictest in Europeand thatthe policy has been maintained scrupulously and consistently.Surely, having staked out for themselves a position on such high moral ground, the Government have a duty to be more open and forthcoming than they have been until now on reports about arms shipments and sales to Iran.
Increasingly questions are being asked in the House and the press about whether the Government are living up to their declared position. There have been reports of negotiations between Iranian officials and representatives of International Military Sales—a company fully owned by the Ministry of Defence. Those negotiations are alleged to have taken place between 20 and 31 October. In recent weeks the Government have confirmed that they intend to keep open the office of the IMS in Teheran. Last week there were newspaper reports of a multi-million pound order for Plessey to supply a radar system to Iran. In the past two days there has been a report of a shipment of equipment worth £35 million from Liverpool.
All those reports call into question the scrupulousness and consistency with which the Government are applying their declared policy. In recent weeks we have seen on the other side of the Atlantic the consequences of trying to keep arms sales to Iran in the dark. Before the House adjourns for the recess, it should be incumbent on Ministers in the Ministry of Defence to come to the House and declare with greater frankness than before precisely what has been going on regarding the shipment of arms to Iran.
My second issue relates to defence procurement and the controversial choice of an airborne early warning system for the United Kingdom. It is a complex issue, and I certainly do not envy the Secretary of State his decision.
My right hon. and hon. Friends believe that, all other things being equal and both systems being able to come up to the Royal Air Force specific performance requirements, there is no question but that the Government should choose GEC Nimrod.
§ Mr. Wallace
I have made it perfectly clear that we would choose the GEC Nimrod. [Interruption.] Ceteris paribus.
Two major considerations weigh with us in reaching that conclusion. The first reason concerns jobs. The employment prospects of many people employed by GEC Avionics and its sub-contractors are involved and a decision not to proceed with Nimrod would doom many of those jobs. Those jobs already exist and are not merely a declared intention. Many of them are for highly qualified technical staff. The great fear is that, even if the offset jobs proposed by Boeing come to pass, they would not be of the same high technical quality of the existing jobs. The offset proposal is, on the face of it, attractive and one would hope that if the Government opted for the AWACs system—which from all press accounts seems to be the course which they are about to take—they would use their strong bargaining power to ensure that a belt-and-braces job is done in any contract to make absolutely certain of the 130 per cent. offset.
The second reason is closely related to employment. It is that we should maintain a high-tech base and expertise in Britain and keep the design teams together. Last year on a parliamentary visit to Japan we discussed the fact that often Britain seems to produce Nobel prize winners but does not fare well compared with our Japanese competitors in taking original inventions through to development. There would be serious consequences for our avionics industry if we lost those highly qualified teams and could not keep that expertise together. That would be a grave loss for the United Kingdom, and I fear that we would rapidly become a simple assembly line, putting together other countries' technical achievements.
The proviso I gave was if both systems matched up to performance requirements. If one system is head and shoulders above the other, the overriding principle must be to secure the nation's defence. We should not dodge that issue. In the long term many fundamental questions will be asked about the project. In July the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General criticised the contract management of the project and no doubt in the long term the Public Accounts Committee and the Defence Select Committee will do the House the service of probing the development of the project and discovering whether GEC had one hand tied behind its back because of the refusal of the Ministry of Defence to co-operate, as was suggested in The Independent on Saturday.
In the short term, if a decision is to be made before the Christmas recess we shall expect the Government to be franker than they have been and to come forward with comparative performances of the two systems. If the Government opt for the Boeing system, they know that the House will need a great deal of convincing that it is far superior to Nimrod and that there is no question that, if GEC were allowed a little extra time, there would be no chance of GEC bringing it up to the standard required by the RAF. Clearly, in the past six months GEC has made tremendous strides in developing and improving the system.
Also, in the light of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), we shall further 838 have to be satisfied that there has been no question of the Royal Air Force moving the goal posts in recent months and imposing unfair competition.
Hon. Members will wish to be satisfied on these many points and will demand answers to those questions before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
Before the House rises for the Christmas recess, hon. Members should consider the privacy of sound, and not just not in terms of an absence of sleigh bells or carol singers! Following an initiative generated by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as part of European Music Year, there appears to be a requirement for the public to be better informed of the positive and negative effects of music and noise. To encapsulate the problem—people need to learn to master their soundscape.
Music can be described, technically, as a biological pacemaker with therapeutic effect or, untechnically, as a pleasant collection of notes. Whatever the definition, there is a general acceptance now that sound is part of the social environment. However, inherent in that acceptance are certain negatives, for there are direct physiologically harmful effects, especially in exposure to over-amplified music; and possible psychological damage of unwanted music resulting in nuisance. The positives can come about only as a consequence of the individual being aware of the quality of his soundscape and its effects on others. Obvious examples of the pluses and the minuses are the delights of a concert hall versus a television transmission from a neighbouring house, the pleasures of a good recording at leisure versus the musak of the supermarket, the peace and tranquility of the countryside versus the shattering impact of a transistor radio, the quiet meditation versus the half-heard so-called personal stereo.
Conservative Members are especially anxious to increase the individual's freedom and his choice, but, as we know only too well, such freedoms also demand responsibilities, and such responsibilities would be enhanced by the Government assisting in the—dare I say it—broadcasting of the facts and consequences.
The privacy of sound is often considered to include the right of silence. I shall now exercise such a right and fall silent, no doubt, with the Christmas recess before us, to the strains of Silent Night!
§ Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) will forgive me if I do not take up his comments. I share the view already expressed by Labour Members that the House should not adjourn for Christmas yet awhile, and certainly not until we have considered the deteriorating employment position in Scotland, and not least in my constituency.
During the past few weeks 1,600 jobs on the lower Clyde have disappeared. Today it has been announced that hundreds of jobs are to go from the power generation construction industry in Scotland. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) had the problem of Buchanan whisky closing at Stepps. Now Burroughs Machines at Cumbernauld in my constituency has decided to close its entire operation by June 1987. That same area has seen the closure of Gartcosh steel works and the collieries at Cardowan and 839 Bedlay. This is happening at a time when nearly 16 per cent. of Scottish workers are unemployed. Indeed, in my constituency 18.3 per cent. are unemployed. Traditional industries such as coal, shipbuilding, steel, and heavy engineering are vanishing. It is especially worrying that the industry that is disappearing from my constituency is not a traditional or sunset industry. It is supposed to be a sunrise industry in the so-called silicon glen.
Burroughs Machines opened in Cumbernauld in 1958, a year before the new town was inaugurated. Once it employed 3,500 people. Last February it ended its manufacturing in Cumbernauld. Now as a result of a merger with an organisation called Sperry Ltd. to form a new organisation called Unisys, Cumbernauld has been sacrificed as part of an 8 per cent. reduction in its worldwide work force.
Early this year the elected representatives of the new town fought the loss of jobs. We met members of the Burroughs board, the Detroit management, the United Kingdom management and the European management, but all to no avail. We met the Secretary of State for Scotland. In pleading the case for the new town and for Burroughs, we laid claim to Scotland's place in high tech industry.
I know that the Government sought to retain the company by grants. It is known that in the last quarter of 1984 the Government gave £1.2 million to Burroughs in grant aid and selective assistance. The Government have recovered £750,000 of that because of the closure. Those figures have not been confirmed yet, of course, because of what the Scottish Office calls commercial confidentiality, but I hope that we shall obtain the facts. Conservative Governments are fond of telling us that Governments have no money except for that which they collect from other people. If that is so, I hope that they will put the record straight for us as regards the public money that has been spent on that company. Moreover, Unisys continues to hold considerable assets in my constituency. It has 460,000 sq ft of factory space and 70 acres of land.
Scotland's industry is dying by instalments. The hopes placed in the high tech electronic industries have yet to be confirmed. The notion that high tech Scottish industries are really brand or subsidiary activities of north Atlantic or Asian based multinationals in not set aside by events such as the Burroughs closure. The sunset of a major multinational which is a giant in the computer industry fills Scotland with foreboding for the future of its high tech plants. What is to be done about it?
Certainly the Cumbernauld development corporation has done everything possible in the past 12 months and earlier to attract new jobs. This year 50 new companies—many of them very small—came to the new town, most notably Isola Werke, Store Shield, Seaboard Lloyd, Allivane International and Gateway Superstores. They are important, but they do not take the place of major manufacturing industries such as Burroughs Machines. This tragic business must be compensated for in some way.
The community that I represent gave Burroughs Machines of its best in its commitment to its products and in the skills of the work force. Burroughs once enjoyed a great reputation in the computer industry, certainly in Europe. The people of Cumbernauld made that possible. 840 That commitment, those skills and that reputation are not transient but are a continuing part of the new company of Unisys.
I hope that Unisys will show its gratitude to Cumbernauld and that it will donate its factory, offices and land to the new town so that those who continue to serve the town—in Government Departments, in the Cumbernauld development corporation and in the local authorities—may put the facilities to good use in the creation of jobs. Likewise, I hope that the company will maintain its commitment to Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Enterprise Trust. I also hope that the Government will assist me in those objectives. It is the least that the people of Cumbernauld can expect of Unisys given the tragic events of recent weeks and years.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
Before the House rises for the feast of Christmas, in particular, we should spare a thought for all those who will not be spending Christmas with their families because they are in gulag labour camps for being Christians, for being far too active in their faith for the Soviet state to tolerate. As we know from experience, the more often that their names are mentioned in free Parliaments, and in the free press and media throughout the world, the more effective the pressure is for their release. The House was reminded of that last month, when the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) raised, not for the first time, the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union—the refuseniks for whom emigration today is down to nil.
In my Adjournment debate last month, on the third Helsinki review conference that recently commenced in Vienna, I referred to Irina Ratushinskaya, the Russian Orthodox poetess, who in 1983 became the first woman in the Soviet Union to be sentenced to the maximum imprisonment of seven years in a gulag labour camp, plus five more years of internal exile for the crime of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda for writing her poems.
Earlier this year, fears grew for Irina's health when her appalling prison conditions became known. That led to a campaign on her behalf throughout the free world, including the presentation of 31 petitions by right hon. and hon. Members. I have no doubt that it was because of that pressure that Irina was released on the eve of the Reykjavik summit. From today's edition of The Times we learn that, after 16 visits to the emigration authorities since her release, she has now been told that she and her husband will be allowed to come to Britain for health treatment, although she wants to return to Russia to continue her struggle for human rights.
Once again, we learn the lesson to persevere and never to give up on behalf of these courageous people. It is for that reason that I want to draw the attention of the House to the particularly tragic case of Alexander Ogorodnikov, whose situation is now becoming acute. At the age of 22, because he abandoned Marxism for Christianity, he was expelled from the Soviet education system, lost his job, was turned out of several apartments and was always kept under surveillance. In 1974, he helped to found a Christian discussion group called the Seminar. Two years later, several of his colleagues were arrested and interned in psychiatric hospitals.
In 1978, Ogorodnikov was himself arrested and was sentenced to one year in a labour camp on the charge of parasitism. In 1980, he was tried again, charged with the 841 usual all-purpose crime of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, and was sentenced to six years in a gulag labour camp, to be followed by a further five years in internal exile.
We have a number of horrific reports from Ogorodnikov's friends of the appallingly inhumane conditions that he is having to endure, of ill treatment to break his spirit, and of a number of hunger strikes because he is denied a Bible and not allowed to wear a cross. In April of this year, despite his ill health, the loss of his teeth and the growing loss of much of his eyesight, and shortly before he was to be taken to his place of exile after serving six years in a labour camp, he was re-arrested in the camp and sentenced to a further three years imprisonment. There are reports of a file of materials that the KGB is putting together for further charges against him.
It is little wonder that, in the belief that he has now been forgotten by his friends and the rest of the world, Ogorodnikov has apparently attempted suicide three times, and in a letter has asked his mother to appeal to the authorities to execute him by firing squad. He is reported to have said:
Only the full glare of publicity can alter my fate, and those of others in the same situation".We who are about to celebrate Christmas in freedom must not ignore the fate of Christians like Ogorodnikov who cannot speak for themselves. As a result of what he has heard, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will see that Alexander Ogorodnikov's case is raised at Vienna, along with an urgent appeal for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I rarely participate in these debates because, like most hon. Members who try to do a solid job of work, I am ready by this time of the year to be released from the pressure cooker atmosphere that embraces most of us.
However, I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) and other hon. Members in saying to the Leader of the House that there are important issues that deserve replies from the Ministers concerned. Those replies can be obtained only by allocating time on Monday or Tuesday of next week. That would enable the respective Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and to argue against the cases made so eloquently by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I shall raise a point of local concern, but it has national implications. I am concerned about what is happening to the Health Service in my district. I care passionately for the NHS, and have spent most of my time in the House trying to improve and secure its operation for the benefit of the sick and disabled and for the prevention of illness.
After a year of struggle, Neasden hospital, which is a hospital for geriatrics, has been closed. It is the second geriatric hospital in my district to close. The other hospital had 94 beds. I am adventurous enough to ask for this matter to be considered because of its impact on the areas represented by other hon. Members. There should be a full debate on this issue.
Neasden provides us with a classic example of mismanagement, because it will in turn reflect the management of 191 district health authorities. It reveals the reality of implementing the Griffiths report — a 842 blueprint for management that looked extremely good on paper. However, it has now been put into operation, and every hon. Member knows the reality. That is why the House should have an opportunity to debate this issue and why the Minister for Health should answer that debate. People with management expertise may be brought in from outside, but they have no knowledge of people or of the realities of the Health Service.
Neasden hospital was closed last week. The ambulance personnel protested so strongly that the management decided to hire coaches to move the 68 patients. I cannot go into that now, but the shifting and breaking up of a community of 68 elderly people has already had disastrous consequences.
Unusually for me I feel bitter and angry, because an arrogant management has ridden roughshod over the interests of all those who were trying to participate in the decisions made about their families and community. I accuse the district manager, Mr. Lorne Williamson, of arrogantly riding roughshod over the possibility of any compromise or constructive alternative to his own blueprint for managerial decisions. He has even used his managerial expertise to nullify the decisions of his own district health authority committee.
I have been engaged in this campaign since the announcement was made in November 1985, and I made my submissions in February when the time came for consultation. This has been a long and wearisome process in which I have tried to find a compromise. I do not like confrontation between health authorities, local authorities and community health councils. I worked very hard in an attempt to reach a compromise, and that has become known as the "Pavitt plan."
At the last meeting of the district health authority, before the closure took effect, agreement was reached that a working party, consisting of representatives from the local authority, should consider social services, education, under-fives provision and other housing needs in conjunction with the health authority. I pleaded with Mr. Lorne Williamson for that working party meeting to be held before the elderly people were taken away. However, Mr. Williamson managed to close the hospital on 5 December, the meeting having been called for Thursday 11 December. The meeting was called in such a way that it overrode the health authority's intentions. The idea was that there should be joint consultation between the health authority and the local authority on matters of mutual concern and would include from the local authority the directors of development and finance, together with the health authority officers in these fields. The working party, actually convened, consisted of myself as an observer, members of the district health authority, and only one member from social services and one from education from the borough.
Last February, in order to be constructive, I demanded the full figures in order to consider possible ways in which the hospital could be saved. I even wrote to Mr. Speaker and claimed a breach of privilege when I could not get the figures. I also raised questions with the Secretary of State. Finally, on 20 November—too late—I was able to get the full figures for my hospital area. When a Member of Parliament does not receive the same rights as a member of the local authority serving on a district health authority, the House is falling by the wayside.
The technical management skills applied in reaching the decision show no understanding of the community 843 context. Neasden hospital is in a highly populated area where most people come from the black community. There are high rise blocks and urban sprawl. However, at Neasden there is a small oasis of health care. The object of the closure exercise was to sell the site for £3.7 million and, laudably, to use the money for projects for which I would give my utmost approval. However, the way in which the object was achieved—the managerial inefficiency and bungling—has entirely obviated the goodwill that could have been engendered by the excellent projects for which that money was supposed to be used.
There are two principal areas involved—Willesden and Wembley. Wembley is an affluent area and Willesden is an urban-aided, deprived inner city area. Neasden hospital is in Willesden, yet the money from the closure will be used in Wembley. That is a complete mess-up on the part of the management. The management should realise that and understand the pressures within the areas in which it is working. The management has shown a misunderstanding of human nature by taking money from the black community and spending it in an affluent white area.
The whole purpose of the exercise is finance. I have already mentioned the fact that a 94-bed hospital was closed four years ago. I received an answer from the Under-Secretary of State about the proceeds of that sale that were intended to help my district. Although the patients were removed four years ago, the answer stated:An offer for the former Leamington Park hospital conditional on the granting of planning permission has been accepted, and the parties concerned are in discussion … The sale price, and the amount accruing to the Brent health authority, will not be known until the planning situation is resolved.Therefore, money is supposed to arrive from the Neasden sale but it may not arrive for another four years.
The management failed to explore another possibility for finance revealed in the recent autumn statement. Much to my joy, the autumn statement said that £600 million was to be put into health and social security for new projects. I asked the Department whether the projects for which the hospital was being sold, and for which the old people had been turfed out, could have been financed out of the money set aside in the autumn statement. The Minister replied:It will be for the North-West Thames regional health authority to decide on allocations to its districts when it receives its regional allocation."—[Official Report, 2 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 621–22.]That was a possibility for alternative finance, but the management did not explore it. It was determined to close the hospital.
I am irate not only because of the way in which people have been treated. Perhaps Mr. Lorne Williamson deserves the title "Bulldozer", because he has bulldozed his way through to the closure. The little oasis to which I have referred in my area has gardens and trees. The old people were able, in summer time, to get out of their geriatric wards. A geriatric ward is a place in which people die. However, the ambience of living in a community promotes longer life. If the site is sold, the area will be bulldozed. The hospital, which was built nearly 100 years ago, consists of lovely red brick Victorian buildings. The whole area is so different from the 20-storey high rise blocks.
844 It is important that the National Health Service should realise that it is making the same mistake that was made 20 years ago in relation to housing. We tore down solid buildings to erect modern, concrete jungle blocks. In every area, the National Health Service is tearing down good, solid buildings with character in order to put up characterless blocks.
Recently, the Minister announced that he wanted to sell nurses' homes and that no nurses would be evicted. I must tell the House that 30 nurses and other staff were evicted from Neasden hospital last week. On 25 November they were told that they had to be out by 27 November. They were finally allowed to stay until 2 December and then allowed half a day off to move their goods and chattels somewhere else. The nurses are now scattered over the whole district.
The problems of management are continuing because there is a proposal to close two acute wards at Central Middlesex hospital. That hospital is my pride and joy. I served on its committee for several years. It is one of the finest hospitals in the country. However, I have watched it being salami-sliced, piece by piece. The latest cut is being made at a time when there are too many acute operations waiting to be performed. Two wards are to be axed to fit in with the straitjacket of cash limits.
Mr. "Bulldozer" Williamson has ignored the Royal College of Nursing, the unions and the borough council. They have said that they do not want the hospital to close and that they will oppose the closure. He has also shown a great deal of contempt for the North-West Thames region and the Minister. Although the Minister agreed to approve the closure on 12 November—he and I discussed the matter at a long session—I believe that he may have had further thoughts on the matter. However, he was pre-empted because, even before the decision was taken, the management spent £350,000 on refurbishing two wards on the assumption that the decision to close would be approved.
I apologise for the fact that I am really angry and bitter. However, last night I had the privilege of listening to "Songs of Praise." Last night's programme was devoted to the care of the elderly and to Age Concern. Time and again it was made clear that the most important factor for the health of the elderly was their ability to be able to deal with loneliness.
I came across a quotation the other day, which states:Solitude is a self-imposed loneliness, and a loneliness which can be ended when it becomes a burden. But loneliness is loneliness and can never be mistaken for solitude because true loneliness is without end and without beauty.There was an opportunity for real co-ordinated planning between the old people in the community with warden-assisted care and the possibility of the basis in the middle of an urban sprawl and high rise blocks being used as a beautiful centre where elderly patients, inside and outside institutional care, could be looked after. I have been fighting against that for 12 months. It is time that the House looked at the way in which the management of the National Health Service has been eroded over the past few years.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) in his remarks on the Health Service. I share his concern for the Health Service, although perhaps not always his 845 recipe for how to achieve the goal we all want: to meet the evolving health needs of our nation. I was pleased to hear him suggest that the needs of the elderly are not, in many cases, primarily a question of resources but frequently a question of social needs, isolation and loneliness. I agree with the hon. Gentleman there.
I should like to take this opportunity to raise two matters. The first, is the Lord Chancellor's consultation document the "Interdepartmental Review of Family and Domestic Jurisdiction". The reason for some urgency is that the consultation document took a long time to arrive and the closing date for submissions has already been reached. I know that my right hon. and noble Friend will be in a hurry to meet the wishes of all those impatient Members who feel that the time has come to move towards a family court. Until now I have had the opportunity of referring to family courts only in the context of the Australian model. I want to take this opportunity to talk more about the way it affects us.
We now have approaching 160,000 divorces a year. That figure was around 30,000 in 1954. It is inappropriate to believe that the legal mechanisms that we had for dealing with 30,000 divorces a year can possibly cope with the demand that we now see without causing suffering to the victims of divorce, the children whom my right hon. and noble Friend described asinnocent, silent, inarticulate, and almost unrepresented".—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 November 1983; V61: 445, c. 30.]He referred to children in that way during the debate on the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Bill. The interdepartmental review follows the DHSS review of child care law published last year. It is essential to move towards legislation that can integrate the shambles of the different routes by which children enter local authority care—about 20 different routes—together with the incoherent and disintegrated means of obtaining a divorce.
The National Children's Home, in its Christmas campaign, has worked hard to draw public attention to the fact that in every divorce it is the children who are often the victims and who are often most vulnerable. It is too easy for adults to fail to recognise the interests and needs of the children in their desire to desensitise themselves from the pain of the situation.
A family court essentially requires a unified court system, trained and experienced judges and lay people, accessibility by families and their representatives and, above all, a proper forum for dealing with the sensitive area of care proceedings and child abuse, providing a proper focus for the development of specialist welfare services and conciliation. Many have felt disappointed with the Lord Chancellor's consultation document in that it has inappropriately concentrated on the administrative convenience of judges and civil servants and seems to take less account of the users of the court system. Above all, there is some scepticism about his commitment towards moving urgently in the direction of vital reform.
The major strength of a family court lies in procedure. Currently, there are no less than three different family jurisdictions—the High Court, the county court and magistrates courts—each with different powers of procedure, with overlaps, gaps, fragmentations and anomalies. It is fair to say that since Finer legislation has been modified and many of the differences between the substantive law administered by the magistrates and the law applied in the High Court has been reformed. Many 846 other changes have taken place. Divorce has been simplified and conciliation is more widely available. However, it is still remarkably ad hoc, with different courts providing conciliation and regional variations tending to develop. Some cases are held in private and there is great informality. Some judges have a reputation for expertise and sensitivity but there is no overall comprehensive and understandable service.
There have been many sensible piecemeal reforms but they are no substitute for a comprehensive, integrated, legal system for dealing with the tragedy and trauma of divorce as fairly as possible, not denying the pain involved but not, as at present, all too frequently exacerbating the stress and inflaming the hostility felt by the partners and generally being almost incomprehensible to the lay public. The time has come for action not words on family courts. I hope that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will take the opportunity of the Christmas recess to consider the responses to his consultation document and to take steps towards concrete action.
The other matter I wish to raise also affects families, especially children. Christmas for too many is hardly a religious festival any more. It has become an orgy of television viewing. Last Christmas, out of a television population of 51.3 million in Britain, over 32 million were viewing. I wish to refer to the impact on our young people of violence on television. I recognise that there is some irony in politicians making allegations about the impact of television. Of all groups, we are otherwise occupied during peak viewing periods and I am sure that the programmes we tend to watch are scarcely typical. However, there is a need to focus on what many increasingly regard as the damaging and cumulative effects of gratuitous violence in fictional programmes. We live in a turbulent, stressful and difficult world. Individuals face contridictory and perplexing choices. Whereas television was once a luxury of the few, it is now only a few who do not possess one or more television sets.
On a recent visit to a school in my constituency, I asked the children between the ages of five and eight whether they owned a set. A substantial number had three television sets at home and about one quarter had a set in their own room. When television programmes appear in colour, by the fireside or in the bedroom we have to reevaluate the potency of the message of that remarkable medium. It is a medium that can be used to such staggering and good effect—for example, the coverage of the Ethiopian famine, opening the doors to China and involving each family in the Reykjavik summit.
Advertisers have little difficulty in convincing the commercial world of the effectiveness of a few minutes on the screen: that it can undoubtedly influence adults' behaviour. I should like to draw the House's attention to recent material produced by Yorkshire Television. It gives an account of a publicity campaign on behalf of the Flowers and Plants Association. It had two bursts of advertising in May and June and September and October 1985. We are told that it achieved 937 housewide ratings—that is, over 87 per cent. coverage. On average, the advertisement, persuading people to buy house plants or cut flowers, was seen five times a day. What was the result? Yorkshire Television's advisers on research, distribution and promotion said that viewers saw the advertisement five times on average. Further research showed that during the test period sales rose by 43 per cent. over the previous year, in May, and by 86 per cent. in October when there 847 was a second burst of advertising. Furthermore, expenditure rose by 50 per cent. on the first occasion and by 127 per cent. on the second.
Yorkshire Television is equally keen to inform us of its effectiveness in persuading people by the use of its advertising to buy Crosse and Blackwell's Spaghetti-Saurus. This advertisement was shown 36 times and achieved 650 housewife and children ratings. It resulted in the brand share by Spaghetti-Saurus in Yorkshire reaching 6 per cent.
It is incomprehensible to me that television companies that have little difficulty in persuading advertisers that time on television affects people's behaviour are then at great pains to tell us that to show 200,000 violent incidents during an average lifetime has an unproven or a negligible effect. Advertisers are only too keen to spend money on this medium. Television accounts for approximately 40 per cent. of all display advertising. The top 20 brands spend nearly 60 per cent. of their advertising budget on television. British Telecom, Tesco, Nescafé, the Halifax Building Society, Whiskas, Bold and Asda all figure large in the advertising. Similarly, a major part of the advertising expenditure on the Trustee Savings bank's share promotion and on the British Gas share promotion was by means of television.
Advertisers like television because it is intrusive and catches the complete attention of its audience when it is in a relaxed and receptive mood. It involves its audience emotionally and it communicates directly and memorably. The power of television advertising has been recognised since its inception by commercial television. For that reason, it is not allowed to promote cigarettes or full strength spirits. It is told that it must not prey on the fears of its audience and that it must be especially careful regarding children. It is incomprehensible that independent television companies, which are at such pains to claim that their television commercials have no damaging effects and which believe that they have such a powerful effect on human behaviour, then deny the effect of hours of television viewing upon young, impressionable minds or upon vulnerable or unstable individuals.
Similarly, there has been a spate of video learning packages. "Sight and Sound" shows what can be achieved by using a visual and verbal message. Why then deny the effects of the television visual message? Children learn consciously and unconsciously by audio-visual experiences. For many, especially for the pre-school age group, their attachment to television characters may be as great as their awareness, for example, of a distant grandmother whom they hardly see.
The causation of human behaviour is not an exact science, but our knowledge of human psychology recognises the profound influence of early experiences in the development of a personality. A child growing up in a stable home may be protected, but a child who grows up in a more turbulent, unstable setting is especially vulnerable to the impact of violent models.
It is estimated that schoolchildren watch about three hours of television each day. The evidence of psychologists suggests that the more a fictional situation approximates to the viewer's own position the greater the impact. "Cowboys and Indians", "Popeye" and "Tom and Jerry" may be violent but they are pretty remote from the life style of an individual who lives in an inner city area. 848 However, persistent exposure to individuals like oneself who solve their problems by resorting to violence is a source of profound concern. Recent analysis of an American programme, "Miami Vice", found that the two policemen in the programme killed four times as many people as the entire Miami police force killed in a year. They killed at 12,000 times the rate at which the average American policeman kills. If all American policemen killed at the same rate as the two policemen in "Miami Vice", they would kill off the entire population of America within two years.
It is also estimated that by the age of 16 the average American sees on television 200,000 acts of violence and 50,000 attempted murders.
Television violence has particular dangers for the isolated and the elderly, often living alone, who fear violent assault. In my constituency, where fortunately there is little violent assault, the chances of an old lady being attacked in the street are only a little greater than the chances of her being hit by a flying saucer, but the fact is that many old people live in fear because of the frightening films and programmes that they see on television. Much more serious is the cumulative effect that a constant diet of violent television can have on an individual's perception of normality and its influence on standards of acceptable behaviour. This desensitising effect results in individuals becoming more tolerant of violence. Only recently a youth was publicly stabbed at the Embankment tube station while bystanders took no notice.
What is even more serious is the proposition that television actually evokes a violent response. The figures are powerful. In 1955, there were 7,884 crimes of violence. In 1982, there were over 105,000. I do not suggest for a moment that the cause of this violence is simply television viewing, but the increase in violence coincides with the dramatic increase in television ownership. To disregard the influence of a constant stream of violent models is to disregard a significant and important factor. There is evidence of imitation from various sources. When "The Deerhunter" was shown on television in America, there was a spate of suicides by Russian roulette. In Britain there was a significant increase in attempted suicide, following the example of Angie in "EastEnders".
Television owes its potency to the fact that it comes right into the home. Most other forms are distanced from the individual by a journey to the cinema or the theatre or by the written word or a picture. Television is irresistibly lifelike. Some would extend the argument to cover news programmes. In South Africa, the danger of stirring up unrest and causing copycat incidents is given as the justification for censorship. I understand the argument, but I dismiss it. While I believe that this necessitates sensitive and responsible handling of news stories and the avoidance of provocation by news reporters, it does not lead me to the conclusion that we should operate an oppressive news censorship.
We should study productively the development of the link between smoking and cancer. Ten years ago, tobacco companies argued that the case was unproven. Now, many deaths later, the connection is accepted as a fact.
There was a series of splendid guidelines on violence in 1972, 1977, 1978 and 1979. One said:There should in all cases be a proper reason for the inclusion of violence in the script of any piece of violent dramatic writing. It is inexcusable to include it if the reason is merely to bring excitement to a dull piece of writing.849 However, it is remarkable that 200,000 such proper reasons can be found in the lifetime of an average American. The 1978 guideline said:The only safe course is for broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges.I agree; so do many others. However, there is remarkably little to show for it. Legislation is not an ideal solution, but there is a growing body of opinion that action has to be taken to reassure the public. We should look again at the suggestion that a broadcasting council should be established, whose report the House could debate annually. It is difficult for the BBC governors or for the IBA to distinguish between their roles as guardians of the public and also as broadcasting authorities which engage in a ratings war.
We should review the 9 pm threshold. It is frequently alleged that 9 pm is somehow a watershed. On every occasion that research has been undertaken, it has been shown that many hundreds of thousands of children view television after 9 pm. If the broadcasting authorities wish to continue the 9 pm threshold, they should take further steps to draw it to the attention of the public. It is by no means fully understood as a watershed. This should not be done by the gimmick used by Channel 4. Its red and white triangle inevitably draws greater attention to the particular programmes involved.
Above all, we deserve more research and openness. There should be further research with the sort of investment to which I referred earlier in establishing the effectiveness of advertising. Much of this is appropriate to this discussion. There should above all be more openness. The Wyatt committee—in its last report for the BBC—suggested that the number of violent incidents should be reported to the governors quarterly. I understand that that happens, but it is not made public. We have had a further set of guidelines from the BBC in recent weeks. Once more there have been pious thoughts and ideas with which it is difficult to disagree, but until there is a greater openness and a real commitment to discuss the influence of violence on our young, we shall continue at Christmas to see many of our youngsters watching endless episodes of mindless violence.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
The word "sceptical" is not one which initially comes into my mind when I think of the Leader of the House. I prefer to think that he is a sensitive man, and I do not think that he would object if hon. Members thought it right at this stage of the year to remind him to remind the Government that the Disabled Persons Services, Consultation and Representation Act 1986, which was given so much support, has not yet been implemented.
On Third Reading of that Bill on 11 April the House was at its best. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, being very much a House of Commons man, has not overlooked the fact that the Act was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House from various parts of Britain and from almost every political group that might be envisaged. Because the Act was given so much support in the House and in the country, it would be a mass betrayal of millions of people, with which the Leader of the House would not wish to be associated, if the present departmental lethargy were allowed to continue and that Act were not implemented in a meaningful way.
850 The Bill, which in due course became an Act, witnessed a major contribution from civil servants, local authority associations and, above all, voluntary organisations. For a Government who, we are told, believe in voluntaryism, it is appalling that they are paying such little regard to organisations such as Mencap, the Spastics Society, the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped and many more which gave such support, thought and consideration to the Act and the problems of the disabled.
Because of the concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House about the delay in implementing the Act, I tabled several parliamentary questions—more than a dozen— to various Ministers which recieved replies on 4 December—almost all of them, I regret to say, profoundly disappointing. Let me give just a few examples.
I questioned the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland because the Government, despite the views of the House and of another place, and despite the promises which were given in the House and in anothere place, still have not said whether the Act should apply to Northern Ireland as well as to the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) told me in his reply that the Government were consulting interested Government Departments in Northern Ireland. There was nothing about other voluntary organisations, disabled persons in Northern Ireland, or those who live day after day with the problems of disability. That aspect of the Government's approach is extremely disappointing.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), replying for the Department of Health and Social Security, said that consultations with voluntary organisations would take place only under section 1. It would be a major pity if the voluntary organisations, which have shown such an awareness of the problem and how keen they are, were not emulated by the Government. The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the National Association for Mental Health, influenced by such excellent men as John Healey, Peter Mitchell and William Bingley, have published a plain person's guide—the kind of document that I invited the Government to produce, but I had no response. It explains to all who want to know what the Act means and how best it might be applied to their particular circumstances.
The House will remember that sections 5 and 6 were on the crucial question of school leavers. That is a traumatic age for young persons leaving special school and for the parents who find that circumstances have completely changed and who have to meet a huge number of problems, domestic as well as educational. We were told by the Minister that, having consulted local authorities, it was thought that the resource implications were greater than those that were originally envisaged. The House is entitled to know what was said during those discussions. Certainly the local authority associations gave excellent support to the Bill as it made its way through both Houses, and they were aware, and said so openly and honestly, that there would be resource implications. Nobody on either side of the House, including those hon. Members who spoke during the many debates, was in any doubt that there would be resource implications. Therefore, it is not enough for the Treasury to influence the Government to the point where the will of Parliament is being undermined because it thinks that the time is not right to give local authorities the resources that are necessary to give the Act true meaning.
851 On the specific problem of school leavers it should be said that a failure to implement the Act immediately will prevent the identification of 14-year-olds and thus endanger school leavers in 1988 and those leaving further education in 1991. We are falling behind even in terms of planning for the future and I am sure that most hon. Members would regard such lethargy as deplorable.
On 4 July, when we were considering Lords amendments, we were promised that a number of sections within the Act would be implemented in April next year. There is little sign of that and much time has been lost. Orders would have to be introduced well in advance of that time, but they have not been. Circulars would have to be prepared to go out in January, and that is clearly not in the Government's mind.
I hope that the Leader of the House, with his commitment to Parliament and to the disabled, will feel that the 5.5 million disabled persons in Britain and their carers—those who took part in a big lobby of Parliament and influenced our decisions on the matter—will consider that, whereas it was right that this long overdue and comprehensive legislation should have been carried by both Houses, it would be an act of utter cynicism, if not betrayal, if the Government sat aside and did nothing and failed to implement the main provisions of that Act.
We approach Christmas in the knowledge that many disabled people and their carers will have a miserable Christmas because, alas, for them Christmas day is not all that different from other days. It would be a tragedy if the House, having committed itself to this measure, did not encourage the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to apply themselves urgently to the problems that this legislation highlights.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
In the second speech in the debate the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) said that he wanted a debate about uncertainty and for that purpose he asked for the Adjournment of the House to be postponed. If there is such an opportunity, I should like to raise two matters about uncertainty to which I hope the Government can give their attention. The first is about the Health Service in Southend. Like many areas in Southend, my constituency suffers from the consequences of a review of our radiotherapy or cancer treatment services. The same thing is happening throughout Britain, and our regional health authority, although recommended by officials to retain Southend as a centre for radiotherapy, opted by a majority to go for a new unit in Harold Wood in Essex which will cost an additional £4.5 million.
This is a matter about which people can argue and about which my constituents have strong views. This recommendation was made in July and cannot come into effect or be rejected until the Secretary of State for Social Services makes his decision. We have been told that under the existing procedures it will not be possible for the Government to come to a decision until about July or August.
I and my colleagues will be seeking to persuade the Minister to make what we regard as the right decision, but it would be quite wrong to take up time in a debate like this on arguments about the merits. Because of this 852 procedure, my constituents, the doctors in my constituency and all the people who work in Southend general hospital face more than a year of uncertainty, delay and distress. The uncertainty certainly causes distress, bearing in mind that we have about 1,600 new patients every year in our hospital. Is it possible for the Government to take steps to ensure that decisions on vital services are made within a reasonable time? I accept that if the decision goes the wrong way for Southend it will cause great grief, anxiety and hardship, but unnecessary further distress is caused by the delays in decision making.
I should like to raise on the same basis the matter of uncertainty in education. We have in our area Essex county council, one of those rather unusual bodies which is extremely good at interfering with things that are working well but not good at sorting out real problems. In Southend we have a rather excellent education service which appears to command general acceptance and appreciation. About a year ago Essex county council published a green paper proposing that sixth forms should be taken from my comprehensive secondary schools to create a new sixth form college, and that a substantial number of our excellent Southend grammar schools should be closed or fundamentally changed.
On the basis of the Government's excellent policy statements, I take the view that there is not the slightest chance of these rather unusual proposals being approved by the Government. However, there has been uncertainty for at least a year and it seems that we shall have uncertainty for at least another year. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State for Education has clear powers of decision making about accepting or rejecting a major reorganisation, might there not be a case for him laying down clear guidelines about his policies in order to deter county councils from putting forward plans which have little, if any, chance of acceptance?
If we had a Labour or a Liberal Government, obviously the criteria would be totally different from those of a Conservative Government, but the same argument applies irrespective of which party is in power. A huge amount of uncertainty among parents, teachers and children in secondary schools would be avoided if we had clear guidelines from Ministers about the attitudes they adopt to proposals for reorganisation. I have been in the House for some time and believe that uncertainty and delay can cause as much distress and hardship as bad decisions.
I know that, traditionally, the Leader of the House has taken an interest in the rights of the House. Would it be possible to have just an extra half day to discuss the various crises in the EEC? We know that there is a cash crisis which is probably more serious now than it has ever been. We thought we had it under control because of Fontainebleau but, sadly, we heard the other day from the Prime Minister that there seems to be some kind of fault in the Fontainebleau mechanism and that if we want our rebates we will have to give even more money.
We know that there is a crisis in agriculture and that more than £100 million is being spent every week on dumping and storing food surpluses. However, the Leader of the House will be more anxious about the effect of the EEC on our parliamentary sovereignty. I have been summoned to attend a Committee of the House on Wednesday morning to discuss a provisional statutory instrument called the Lawnmowers (Harmonisation of Noise Emission Standards) Regulations. These are remarkable regulations and the Government have said in 853 parliamentary answers that they would prefer them not to happen at all. But we have to apply them and that means that we have to set up nine testing stations throughout the United Kingdom for the sole purpose of testing lawnmowers. It is also provided that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will appoint a group of inspectors whose task it will be to go around the country to test the noise of lawnmowers.
People may think that this is a good thing if it curbs the noise made by lawnmowers, but of course it does not do that. That is done by the Noise Abatement Act which is properly implemented by our local authorities. These regulations will ensure that all lawnmowers, from John O'Groats to Salonica, will make the same Euro noise. The job of the inspectors will be to go around testing to make sure that lawnmowers all make the same sweet sound. Although I know that the Committee will look at this matter carefully, urgently and properly, even if the Committee members all decide that the regulations are a load of rubbish that, unfortunately, will have no effect whatever because the regulations are now the law of the land.
The other place is currently discussing the Consumer Protection Bill which is shortly to come to this House. That will make it unlawful for the Government to demand that traders should display on goods whether the goods are made in Britain, Japan, Turkey or Taiwan or anywhere else. The Government's power to do that is being abolished or has been abolished by a decision of the European Commission which we have to implement. Once again, we have no powers because we are told that we have not a hope if the matter goes to the European Court. In about March, we will hear the results of the case in which Britain is being taken to court for the great crime that we do not charge VAT on new house building, on gas or electricity or on industrial clothing.
As the Leader of the House well knows, whatever the court decides we will have to do. Irrespective of whether or not hon. Members think that there are great advantages in having harmonised lawnmower noise throughout the European Community, or whether they think it is a bad thing that people should be deprived of the right to buy British goods if they want them or might think it is a good thing to have VAT on new houses, our powers of decision making have been taken away in these and in many other areas and I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that it would be wise and prudent if we were to delay our recess for half a day to discuss these rather important points.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
The subject that I want to raise has a bearing on the Government, and it is to the Government that I want to address my remarks. My speech is about matters that are happening far away from us in Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
Last week a delegation of representatives of the Amazon Indians visited Britain. The delegation was led by Evaristo Aguaruna, a Peruvian Indian and a recipient of the 1986 alternative Nobel Peace Prize with which he received a $25,000 cheque in Scandanavia and which will be used to benefit his people. The other delegates were Jose Narciso Jamioey, the secretary of Colombia's principal Indian organisation, Alvaro Tukano from Brazil and Jose Uranavi, the president of the Indian organisation of Bolivia. Their purpose in coming to this country was to 854 seek support from people in Britain and, indeed, throughout Europe for a meeting that they are holding with the president of the World Bank on Wednesday morning. On Saturday afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting them and addressing a meeting with them in my borough of Islington. They were describing a process of destruction of their people, their homelands, their lives and the tropical rain forest that they have inhabited for centuries. They were pleading for some understanding and help from people in western Europe of the indignities and humiliations that they have suffered for a long time.
Seventy-five years ago, a young traveller, Mr. W. E. Hardenburg, who had visited Brazil and the Amazon rain forest region, came back to the House of Commons and in a meeting room described and levelled charges against the British Peruvian Rubber Company for what it was doing at that time in the Amazon rain forest. He said:The agents of the company force the … Indians … to work day and night… without the slightest remuneration except the food necessary to keep them alive. They are robbed of their crops, their women, and their children to satisfy the voracity, lasciviousness, and avarice of this company and its employees, who live on their food and violate their women. They are flogged inhumanely until their bones are laid bare … they are left to die, eaten by maggots, when they serve as food for … dogs. They are castrated and mutilated, and their ears, fingers, arms and legs are cut off. They are tortured by … tying them up, crucified head down.Mr. Hardenburg went on with a description of so many other things that happened to people at that time.
If that was merely a horrific tale of what was happening 75 years ago, it would be an important point of historical document. The tragedy is that the indignities that the Indian people suffered at that time and throughout the rubber boom are continuing. Indeed, from the time that history began in the Amazon rain forest area the Indian population reached a maximum of 6 million and it has been cut to 200,000, most of the loss of population occurring during the past 100 years. People in Britain, Brazil and world wide must understand that the Amazon rain forest is not a place for agricultural colonisation. It cannot support an agricultural system in the way that lands in Europe or America can support it. Nor can it be used merely as a basis for exploitation by multinational mining corporations, which are destroying the lives of the indigenous people of that region.
If the world allows the tropical rain forest, be it in the Amazon, Indonesia or anywhere else, to be destroyed at the rate at which it is being destroyed, the consequences for the world ecosystem are very serious. The Governments of the world must address themselves to this. The illegal gangs that maraud round the rain forests in Brazil and other countries in the Amazon basin, driving people from their land, and murdering people wholesale to make way for the roads, railways and mining companies, are working on behalf of the world's Governments, who choose to do nothing about them. One could quote many examples of what is going on.
Those who have examined and studied the area very closely recognise the danger of destruction of the tropical rain forests. They also recognise that the imperial attitude that Europe and North America have taken towards the rain forest in the past has been a central part of the problem. Claude Levi-Strauss, the distinguished anthropologist, describedthat monstrous and incomprehensible cataclysim which the development of Western civilisation was for so large and innocent a part of humanity.855 He was describing the way in which the lives of the Indian people throughout the Amazon rain forest have been destroyed.
My purpose in raising the matter tonight is partly because it should be raised in Parliaments throughout the world, and this is an opportunity to raise it. I also raise it because the Governments of the world have chosen to turn their backs on what they call the forgotten peoples of the Amazon region, as they have the peoples of other rain forest areas, because in the drive to get raw materials for the industrial world, it means riding roughshod over the lives of people who happen to inhabit land under which there is iron ore, coal, any sort of mineral, oil or whatever else; and also because, despite agreements that have been reached in the past with the representatives of the Indian peoples of the Amazon region, the World Bank and the European Economic Community are still going ahead with funding programmes and projects which are entirely detrimental to the immediate interests of the Indian peoples of that region, and detrimental in the long term to the interests of the whole world.
We must not continue to destroy tropical rain forests at the speed at which they are being destroyed and laying waste the Amazon basin so that it becomes a desert. I visited the Amazon basin long before I came into the House. There is something frightening about seeing a road driven through what one believes is a lush and rich rain forest. Because that vegetation is removed and because of the high rainfall, there is huge erosion and run-off and in a very short time a desert is created in an area of very high rainfall which, traditionally, people would say was impossible to achieve.
The two projects that I wish to draw to the attention of the House are funded by the European Economic Community and by the World Bank. Before I do that, I shall quote something that the World Bank wrote to Survival International in 1981 in response to that excellent organisation's pressure on it to act more responsibly in giving loans to the countries of the Amazon region to ensure the rights of the Amerindian people. The World Bank states:The Bank is seeking meaningful agreements with the Brazilian government for the protection of the Amerindians' rights as part of its discussions on lending for the development of the Polonoroeste region. It has carefully reviewed FUNAI's 'Projeto de Apoio as Comunidades Indigenas da Area de Influencia da Rodovia Cuiaba Porto Velho', the contents of which are part of the ongoing dialogue between the government and the Bank. This dialogue has already yielded positive results thanks to the confidentiality of the conversations and we hope that it is not your intention to undermine this progress.I am not sure what is meant by "this progress", but after some discussion and debate the World Bank adopted a set of criteria for lending money to the Amazon region, which included respect for tribal lands, the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples in that region and an undertaking that medical facilities would be provided for them where developments took place. Specifically and crucially, it included the rights of Amazon peoples to have their lands demarcated and the protection of the indigenous way of life in that region. They are key components to any agreement.
The first of the two projects that I wish to bring to the attention of the House—I trust that the Leader of the House will pass this on to British Government 856 representatives dealing with these matters in the World Bank and at the United Nations—is the Grande Carajas programme in Brazil. Its total cost is enormous. I wish to concentrate on the EEC loan in 1982 of $600 million to this programme. The reason for that loan lies in the importance of the project to future deliveries of iron ore to the EEC steel industries. The contracts contain favourable pricing conditions to the EEC and will help to preserve the competitiveness of the European steel industry. But the hidden costs of the programme have not been given so much attention.
There are land conflicts and wild land speculation. Gangs of pistoleiros are active in the area, evicting peasants from their homelands. About 5,000 Indians are at particular risk. If one dam construction takes place 3,600 Indians' lives will be severely damaged, if not destroyed. One completed dam will flood an area of about 100,000 hectares belonging to one Indian tribe. That will lead to the removal of the Indians from the region and the destruction of their lifestyle, with no compensation.
If the loan is going ahead, I want the Government to ask the EEC Commissioner why and what will be done to protect the lives of Indian people in the region. Equally importantly, what will be done to protect the ecosystem of the Amazon rain forest? Is British taxpayers' money being used through the EEC in the shortsighted and brutal destruction of these people's lives?
The second development that I want to mention is the Polonoroeste development programe in western Amazonia. The project is funded by the World Bank, which at one stage held up funding because it was concerned about the plight of the Indian people in the region. Funding was subsequently reinstated, and that is why a delegation is to see the president of the World Bank on Wednesday morning. The World Bank is continuing to support this notorious scheme despite the death of Indians and despite the fact that funding was suspended because of pressure in the United States that that should happen. It is ironic that these Indian people have lived peaceably and effectively in the region for centuries. They have protected the ecosystem of the river basin; they have protected the forest because they understand it and know how to manage it. There is to be a meeting on Wednesday morning of the representatives of the Indian people of the Amazonia region and the president of the World Bank, and the president, who works in the interests of national Governments and multinational corporations, should understand that the Indian people probably know far more about the Amazon rain forest and protecting the ecology of the area than he will ever learn. He should give them a fair hearing.
Above all, the British Government should understand the depth of destruction and murder that is taking place in the name of Britain because we are hoping to fund the programme. As the settlers, loggers and mining companies move in, the Indian people have been given so-called reserves which have been violated time after time. This has been done by the mining companies which wish to take over the land. Murder takes place on a huge scale along with other illegal activities.
When representatives of the Indian people are prepared to travel to Europe to seek our help, the least that we can do is listen to them and demand that European national Governments pay some heed to what is going on. If these matters were given the publicity that they deserve, there would be considerable support for the case that 857 Amerindians are advancing to the World Bank and enormous pressure on national Governments to make the World Bank work in the interests of the people in the region rather than destroy their lives.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) will forgive me if I do not take up his remarks. I want to bring the attention of the House to a serious matter which is close to home.
I do not believe that the House should rise for the Christmas recess until the case of my constituent, Miss Maureen McGoldrick, has been debated and the House is of a mind to protect this gallant and wonderful teacher from continuing persecution by the Brent Labour council.
The Brent council must be spending large sums on advertising for teachers. I have an example in which it gaily says in a teachers' publication that teachers should go to Brent. The advertisement reads:Brent Education: come and join us. Brent offers a wide range of advantages to teachers. It is a small, friendly and exciting borough that will give every assistance to teachers.If we consider its actions, the position is very different from this picture. It is not surprising that there is an absence of head teachers in the borough at a number of schools. There is a drain of assistant teachers from other schools and an increasingly serious education position for the children.
I want to ask the House to consider the case of Miss McGoldrick. It is well established that she was accused of racism by the Brent education committee, it being said that she had made a racist remark. The case was considered by her school board of governors, which found her not guilty. The High Court heard the case and found Miss McGoldrick not guilty. It found that the governors were correct in finding her not guilty originally. Brent council then sought to establish in the courts that it had the right to discipline a teacher, and it did so. That right was established.
Although the courts had asked that Miss McGoldrick should be left alone, Brent council returned to the case and said that she would face further disciplinary proceedings. The present position is that she has today been before the courts once more. Brent education committee has been told that, for the moment, it cannot proceed against her, but it said that it will not drop its case, whatever that case may be. It has still not specified its case but it is accepted that it is not one of racism.
Miss McGoldrick, who has been on the line since June this year, continues to be in a state of agony and tension caused by the hard Left Labour authority. It is good that the leader of the Labour party should offer support to Miss McGoldrick and try to dissuade the Brent Labour council from its behaviour against her. It is typical that the Socialists in Brent council have told the national executive of the Labour party that they are not in the least interested in its views. It is additionally bad that it took the leadership of the Labour party some four or five months to get off its hands and support Miss McGoldrick. If the leadership had acted earlier and had supported me and others—the National Union of Teachers among them—who have been working hard on Miss McGoldrick's behalf, the matter might not have reached the present point.
858 How far should the Brent education committee be allowed to go? The committee continues to persecute Miss McGoldrick, in defiance of public opinion, and in defiance of opinion across the gamut of politics. That persecution is damaging to the lady involved, her school, the children, the parents, the school governors, the community that the school serves, and the concept of a board of governors. It is also enormously damaging to race relations. Still it goes on. I see Miss McGoldrick from time to time. I see the effect that that persecution is having upon her.
The House cannot stand by any longer. We need to have a debate. Hon. Members must urge the Secretary of State for Education and Science to use his powers under section 68 of the Education Act 1944. He must intervene and tell Brent education committee that it must not proceed against Miss McGoldrick and that she must be free to continue to run her school, free of the pressure that the committee had brought against her. There is no reason why that should not be done immediately. If that were to happen, the effect upon Miss McGoldrick would be enormous. At last, she would be relieved of the heavy persecuting hand of an evil Left Labour authority that seems to be prepared to stop at nothing in its harassment of her. That great gain is needed.
The scars that this action has inflicted upon Miss McGoldrick will never be removed. She has said that she will always be scarred by what has happened. She has resolution and a love of her profession, her job and the children in her school. She has the will to serve the community and to do a professional job as a head teacher. Those qualities will combine to sustain her in continuing in her post to the best of her ability. That shows how great a lady is Miss McGoldrick and how small is the Brent education authority.
In calling for a debate about Miss McGoldrick and about the need for the Secretary of State to intervene in the way I have suggested, I hope that we shall see a compromise in the teachers' pay and conditions dispute. A compromise is not only possible but essential. The teaching profession is seriously divided and cannot agree on the offer made by the local education authorities. Unions are divided against unions, and, within unions, teachers are divided against teachers. It happened in 1963, when the then Minister of Education imposed a settlement. I hope that there will not be imposition this time. Unless there is a compromise between the deal put forward by local education authorities and the Secretary of State's proposals, grave difficulties will remain, and the profession will not settle down. There needs to be a compromise between the number of promotional opportunities suggested by the local education authorities and those suggested by the Secretary of State. Between the two, there is room for compromise, and I hope that that will come about.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
The House should not adjourn until we have discussed the scandal of poverty pay. Low incomes will mar many a merry Christmas this year and, indeed, in future years under this Government. They will also blight many a happy new year. We should discuss that serious problem.
The trouble is that the Government see low pay not as a problem but as a solution to the country's economic ills. They have deliberately engineered lower pay, for example, by shackling the trade unions and curbing their bargaining 859 rights. They have brought in new laws and used the courts. It is no accident that pay is 10 per cent. lower on average in non-unionised firms than in those with trade unions.
The Government have scrapped the Clegg comparability commission, which compared equal pay for equal work in the public and private sectors. The Government repealed schedule 2 of the Employment Protection Act 1975, which provided for a fair rate for the job. They cut maternity and unfair dismissal rights. They changed the national insurance scales to encourage employers to pay low wages. They abolished the wages councils, which protected 3 million low-paid workers, 2.25 million of whom were women. The Government cut the wages inspectorate by 40 per cent. They have brought in privatisation, which has resulted in low-wage employees having their wages undercut by private firms paying lower wages.
The result of those changes has been a huge rise in poverty. Low pay is now the single biggest cause of poverty. A parliamentary answer that the Government sneaked out just before the end of the summer recess showed that 16.3 million people are living below the poverty level, and that 8.5 million, or one third of the total work force, earn less than the EEC decency threshold of £115 a week. Some 3 million full-time workers earn less than £100 a week and 1 million less than £80 a week.
Women are particularly hard hit by low pay, with half of all those who work full time earning less than the EEC decency threshold. Three quarters of all women in manual jobs earn less than that. The number of men earning wages below the threshold has doubled since 1979 from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. Young people's pay has fallen by almost one third, while youth unemployment has doubled in that time. An increasing proportion of young workers are forced into part-time work, which they do not want because they want full-time jobs. The Government's own so-called training schemes are the worst of the payers, denying those youngsters the opportunity to build independent lives.
The number of families on low pay, who rely on family income supplement to top up their earnings, has more than trebled since 1979. I and many other Members of Parliament see the consequences at our constituency advice surgeries. There is increasing indebtedness, eviction, fuel cut-offs and poor health. There are crises with the Department of Health and Social Security in ever-increasing numbers.
It is the children who suffer most from the effects of those policies. The Government have been trying to justify them with a series of myths and lies, the two biggest ones being that they are creating the conditions for a recovery and that people are pricing themselves out of jobs.
Recovery is nowhere in sight, unemployment is steadily increasing and interest rates are still through the roof. But company profits have risen three times faster than personal income. The hulk has been invested abroad—some £96 million since 1979. The recovery argument is a myth.
As for people pricing themselves out of jobs, that is a falsehood as well. No evidence has been produced that lower wages result in more jobs. The United Kingdom's wage levels are below those of our main competitors, yet we have far and away the worst unemployment problem.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way at this point in his interesting speech. Does he accept that, in the area which I represent compared with the rest of London and the south-east, wage levels are low, yet unemployment has always been twice the regional average and is now well above the national average? This seems to disprove the idea that if people accept low wages the jobs automatically follow.
§ Mr. Cohen
That is a key point which I want to make. Unemployment is highest in the regions. In areas such as my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, unemployment is high but we face the severest low-pay problem.
Low-paid workers are customers, so keeping their wages low makes matters worse, because they have less money to spend. If the Government believe that lower pay creates more jobs, why have they not applied that idea to the wages of the high paid? They have done the opposite.
The London Evening Standard of 6 November contained a list of those people whose pay had increased enormously. For example, Sir John Nott, chairman of the merchant bank of Lazards, doubled his salary to £366,436 last year. As the article said:He was among hundreds of top City staff earning six-figure pay packets even before the Big Bang.The article continued:
24 directors and nine employees earn more than £250,000 a year.Another 361 directors and 667 employees in 42 companies earned more than £100,000 prior to the summer round of recruitment.The article continued:'Golden Hellos' of more than £100,000 have become commonplace among merchant banks buying stockbrokers, jobbers and other staff".Compare that to the wage slips of my constituents in Whipps Cross hospital. Mr. Poole, a district transport driver, worked 40 hours plus 41 hours overtime on Saturday morning for £85.90. Compare that with Sir John Nott's salary.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is it right that Sir John Nott is earning £1,000 a day? If so, he had better be doing better for that than he did as Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. Cohen
I endorse those comments.
Mr. Jenkins, a stores porter, worked 40 hours in a five-day week for £70.30 a week. It will hardly be a merry Christmas for a family man. That type of inequality is the Tory Government's hallmark.
Tackling unemployment and low pay must be the foremost priority of the next Labour Government, because the Tory Government have failed miserably on both counts. As well as modernising British industry and investing for jobs, the Government must apply measures that will eliminate poverty pay. To do that, we must recognise the reasons for low pay. They include the lack of skills, the fact that those skills that do exist are systematically undervalued, and the lack of trade unions to resist unscrupulous employers. To tackle the lack of skills, we need a programme of real training which uses our colleges—instead of applying financial cuts to them—and encourages apprenticeships.
The systematic undervaluing of skills applies to many women and black workers. We must tackle discrimination in that regard. There should be equal pay for work of equal value and fair work and promotion opportunities. As for the unscrupulous employers, Labour must encourage 861 trade union protection and collective bargaining. We must strengthen employment protection, not weaken it. There should be an increase in the number of staff in the wages inspectorate, and wages councils should be established with real powers. The enforcement powers of both should be strengthened.
We should work for the replacement of overtime with a higher level of basic pay. With such a level, statutory limits on overtime might be appropriate. It is crazy that, because of low pay, people should have to work long hours when 4 million others have no work at all. The key to those proposals to tackle low pay must be a statutory minimum wage. That represents a massive advance in Labour's programme. The figure must be significant. I should like it to be in three figures, but £80 has been mooted. I believe that that is too low, but even it would benefit 1 million workers. The wage should be uprated annually and apply pro rata to part-time workers. It would have a knock-on effect with those who are paid above the minimum but still well below average earnings.
Labour has made great strides and its proposals will be immensely popular with the public, especially the low-paid. We must make this into an election issue because the comparison between the two major parties could not be more stark.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak as I was unlucky enough to be drawn 35th out of 35 in the ballot for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate later tonight, when I would have spoken on trunk road designation for the Blackburn road bypass in Bolton.
I should like time for a full debate on this matter, which is of great importance to my constituents who have been denied this much-needed road by the council's failure to give the case proper consideration. I have applied each week for an Adjournment debate, and I look forward to debating the matter if the House should sit for longer.
Plans for the bypass were laid many years ago. Indeed, the council has owned the land for more than 10 years. Conservative councillors have consistently pressed for this much needed road, and it was the Labour-controlled Greater Manchester council which first shelved the plans. Now that we have abolished the GMC, the opportunity has returned to Bolton council to go ahead with the long delayed plan for a road which is needed much more today than it was 10 years ago.
The proposed new road would help motorists who use the A667 and the A666 north of the town and pedestrians who live near them. It has been estimated that those two roads—Tonge Moor road and Blackburn road—carry 15 per cent. more traffic than the nearby M61. Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister visited my constituency and was a most welcome guest at the Astley Bridge Conservative club, which lies close to Blackburn road where it intercepts the ring road. After leaving the club, I understand, she was delayed by the traffic jam on Blackburn road. I am sorry that that happened, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend now appreciates the problems that my constituents face every day when they are trying to get to work.
Over a year ago I had occasion to present my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with a petition signed by 3,500 constituents, protesting at the granting of planning permission to build 500 houses on Birtenshaw farm. The 862 principal objection was the extra traffic which would be created, causing the present jams at Bradshaw Brow and elsewhere to become intolerable. I have already mentioned the problems of pedestrians, but I should add that over 700 constituents have petitioned for a pedestrian crossing at Bradshaw Brow where they have to take their life into their hands each time they cross the road. The traffic engineers tell me that there is no easy answer, owing to the extent of the existing traffic congestion.
I have applied to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make the proposed new road a trunk road and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said that he will consider the case for trunking the road to see if it fits the necessary criteria. Whether it does or does not, the decision at present rests with Bolton council. The chamber of commerce has made representations to the council about the economic importance of the road and if the council were prepared to do more than pay lip service to creating jobs, it would not hesitate to go ahead with the road, instead of wasting money on lunatic schemes to display the unemployment total on the town hall.
I am amazed that the Labour council should have turned down the bypass plans on the grounds that the road would serve only the Conservative dormatories on the north of the town. In doing so it seems blind to the need to improve the quality of life of all who live on Tonge Moor road and Blackburn road and of all those who risk injury on the present roads, which have the worst accident record of any roads in Bolton.
How much longer must this carnage persist? One of my constituents has been evicted from his home as a result of losing his livelihood from a serious accident earlier this year. He and his family have no certainty of compensation for his injuries.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said that Bolton is historically deprived of trunk roads. I should like the opportunity for more parliamentary time to debate the need for this road to be improved, and I trust that time can be made available for this debate.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I have a simple request: that the Leader of the House takes a little time to read the speech which I made earlier this evening on four issues.
First, there is a need for the Security Commission to convert itself into a tribunal to consider who in Government authorises house-breaking to gain intelligence. I referred to the break-in at Sidgwick and Jackson and to the break-in for information about Anthony Blunt's testimony. We have heard a great deal about telephone tapping, but house-breaking is parallel, if not more serious. The matter affects Governments, and some statement should be made before we go into recess.
The second issue relates to telephone tapping. On 8 December, Mr. Speaker, you kindly wrote to me enclosing an answer from the Prime Minister to you, in which she stated the policy in parliamentary answers. Since then I have read out a long script which I ask the Leader of the House to look at tomorrow. Mr. Speaker and the Clerks are not a detective agency. It is unreasonable—I flatter you not, Sir—to suggest that you can answer the questions asked. It is incumbent on the Leader of the House to give some explanations about potential interference with the telephones of Members of Parliament.
863 Thirdly, I came 24th in the ballot, which will have no greater effect than coming 35th, as the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) did, and intended to raise the question of the role of the Attorney-General in the Westland affair. We are coming to the first anniversary of those events. Does the Leader of the House not think that the Attorney-General owes us an explanation why he felt it necessary to threaten the Cabinet Secretary with the prospect of action by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the police if an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the leaking of the Solicitor-General's letter was not authorised? It is no good the Government saying that those matters will go away. The role of the Law Officers in Westland, and in the Peter Wright case, must be discussed, together with the fact that it took 10 days between 27 November when the Leader of the Opposition first asked about what the Attorney-General had or had not done and whether he had been present, and Sir Robert Armstrong's apology in court. It is high time that hon. Members had more than 10 minutes in which to cross question the Attorney-General. I shall sit down at 9.30 pm as promised.
Fourthly, as a new year resolution, will the Leader of the House prevail on the Prime Minister, when she answers questions referring to previous questions, to give the column and date for them in Hansard? The practice has developed of the Prime Minister referring hon. Members to previous questions, when in reality the question that has been put has not been answered. That is a parliamentary sleight of hand of which we should be ashamed.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
These Adjournment debates provide an opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to raise matters of great concern to their constituents or to them. The speeches made were very worth while. Indeed, no fewer than 16 right hon. and hon. Members managed to fit their speeches into the time available and the Leader of the House will have quite a problem to reply to all the many and valid points that were made.
Opposition Members have, almost inevitably, concentrated on matters of the greatest concern, such as unemployment. That was the first topic mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) when he spoke about the impact of the takeover of Imperial Tobacco plc and the possible closure of the Hartcliffe tobacco factory in his constituency. Those are obviously matters of great concern. I take notice especially of his point about the growing number of imports of cigarettes from Europe. That is a most unwelcome development at a time when cigarette smoking generally is in retreat—a fact which most people would welcome on larger grounds. But it is very unwelcome for our industry to be faced with the further unexpected pressure of continental imports.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) again spoke of unemployment in Scotland, especially in his constituency, where it has reached the appalling level of 18 per cent. It is indeed disturbing to hear that not just the older industries are suffering from contraction and unemployment, but that, as he put it, the sunrise industries, of which Burroughs Machines is a typical example, are facing closure. That is 864 a tragic warning for the future and a terrible indictment of the conduct of economic affairs in Britain in recent years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) spoke with his usual eloquence and great feeling about the prospect of the closure of Neasden geriatric hospital in his constituency. As an inner London Member of Parliament, I have a fellow feeling and share his concern. Many parts of the country have suffered from cuts in the Health Service, but I am conscious of the special impact that has been experienced in inner London. There appears to be no end in sight, despite the apparent allocation of additional funds in this year's autumn statement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) drew attention to the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, which he piloted through the House. He properly asked whether that Act was simply being shelved or, alternatively, when the first steps towards implementation would be announced. I hope that the Leader of the House will give us the answer tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) took an unusual but very proper subject for his speech when he spoke about the destruction of the rain forests in the Amazon and the effect of the appalling continued exploitation of the Amazonian Indians and the whole ecosystem of the planet. The example he gave of the folly of certain developments proposed by the World Bank and the EEC should be taken seriously into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) rightly drew attention to the great problem of low pay. As he said, not only do the Government not deplore low pay, but they actively encourage it, because they believe in this nonsense of people pricing themselves into jobs by taking ever smaller wages and salaries. As my hon. Friend said, the proper answer is a statutory minimum wage. I very much hope that we shall see that with the arrival of a new Labour Government.
Proper concerns were also expressed by Conservative Members. I very much agreed with what was said by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) when he spoke about the continued erosion of parliamentary sovereignty by the European Court and Commission not just in almost ludicrous matters, such as the harmonisation of lawnmower noises, but, more importantly, in prohibiting the labelling of British-made goods and introducing the harmonisation of VAT on new house building and many other things.
In case the hon. Gentleman gets no other mention, I must congratulate the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) on drawing our attention to the plight of those victims of repression in the Soviet Union who have spoken out for human rights. We at least hope to spend Christmas in freedom in this country. It is disgraceful that people should be sent to gulags for pursuing their religious beliefs or simply for being poets. I am certainly glad that the hon. Gentleman drew attention to that matter.
The debate was opened by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). I cannot give him any comfort, as he is a deeply pessimistic man, and perhaps rightly so, about the future of Northern Ireland. As far as I am concerned, the Taoiseach's claim to be exerting joint authority with the United Kingdom over Northern Ireland does not hold. We do not accept that the agreement gives 865 joint authority. We accept it as giving the Irish Government an input, but that is a very different matter from joint authority.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) justifiably used very strong language when he spoke about the DROPS scandal and the Boughton group. He is right to press for an independent inquiry into what happened.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) spoke about the Government's policy on the sale of arms to Iran, and that certainly needs clarifying. It is not easy to draw a sensible distinction betwen lethal and non-lethal, but in my book 50 Chieftain tank engines are lethal, and that is that.
I want to consider a subject of strong concern not only to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House but to Britain's high technology industry. I refer to the Government's forthcoming decision and choice between the airborne early warning radar system provided by Britain's Nimrod and that on offer from the American Boeing Westinghouse AWACS. That matter, which has already featured in two applications for emergency debates under Standing Order No. 20 this afternoon, was raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. It is also the subject of early-day motion 91 signed by no fewer than 78 right hon. and hon. Members from all parties.
It is clear from information leaked to the press at the weekend that the Ministry of Defence technical committee has recommended the American AWACS and that the Secretary of State for Defence will support the recommendation at Wednesday's meeting of the overseas policy and defence committee. A decision will then be ratified at Thursday's Cabinet meeting and announced to the House that afternoon.
I strongly share the concerns expressed in the Chamber today. On the question of cost, it is hardly contested that Nimrod is now the cheaper option. A total of £1 billion has already been spent on its development, and completion is estimated to be less than £500 million. To switch to AWACS at this stage will cost at least another £1 billion. There is also the question of timing. We all know that the Shackletons are an aging flight and should be replaced at the earliest possible opportunity. Eleven aircraft adapted to take the Nimrod system have already been built and will be in service just as soon as the GEC system is developed. Against that, it will be at least three years before Boeing can deliver its AWACS aircraft. To cancel Nimrod after eight years of development would be a body blow not just to GEC but to the reputation of British high technology.
The year that began with the American takeover of Westland, and in which the General Motors takeover of British Leyland and Land Rover was only narrowly averted, should not be allowed to close with a further blow to one of the most advanced sectors of British industry.
I press the Leader of the House to convey to his Cabinet colleagues the fact that it would be unacceptable to announce a decision—a fait accompli—in favour of AWACS on the eve of the recess. There should be a debate this week, before the Government take a decision, in which the whole argument, for and against, can be presented to the House. The Government should defer any decision and listen first to what the House has to say. I have no doubt that in such a debate the case for an independent appraisal of the merits of the rival systems would be urged, as the 866 chairman of GEC, the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), recommended in his statements at the weekend.
I cannot say whether the Royal Air Force, as the right hon. Member for Waveney has alleged, has shown a continuing bias in favour of AWACS. However, we are told that the RAF failed to provide detailed specifications until 1980, and in 1982 changed its requirements in one key aspect when it demanded that Nimrod perform as well over land as over sea. It was only in March this year that GEC was given responsibility for managing the whole contract. No one disputes that progress since then has been rapid and marked. GEC has not been blameless, but the MOD is certainly not the body that should sit in judgment on the two projects. The Financial Times reports today that the Ministry of Defence decided last month to ask CAP Scientific—a United Kingdom electronics software house, which conducted a technical audit of the Nimrod programme in 1985—to undertake an independent inquiry. That was cancelled a few days later.
I contend that the House should be given a proper opportunity to debate these complex matters before a Government decision is made. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to respond postively when he replies to the debate.
Finally, will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that during this week, before the recess, there will be a proper rate support grant statement for Wales? I understand that it is ready. It would be wrong if, contrary to the normal practice, it was smuggled away into a written answer to a planted question.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has reminded us that these are variegated debates and that they cover the most extraordinarily wide range of topics. His own speech demonstrated that, as did the debate itself. I shall try to cover the points that have been raised, and I shall do so in the sequence in which they were made. I shall, of course, refer all the contributions to the relevant Departments so that they can be properly considered.
The debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) with a plea that he makes with eloquence from time to time on the situation in Northern Ireland and the consequence, as he sees it, of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I note what he argues. I am sure that he will agree that it is not the first time that he has made the point, but it never loses any of its force or eloquence. It is to be regretted that we do not have with us the elected Members from Northern Ireland. They may think that they are making a point more effectively by their absence. I rather doubt it. I know that the House loses by their absence, for if ever a part of the United Kingdom is under direct military assault the proper place for the anxieties and apprehensions to be heard are from those directly affected in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
May I make the strongest protest at the proposal of the Secretary of State for Wales not to make an oral statement on rate support grant for Wales concerning figures well in excess of £1 billion annually. I am told that the excuse given is that there is parliamentary congestion. Releasing the statement 867 by a written answer is unacceptable. I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that there will be an oral statement for Welsh Members to ask questions on.
§ Mr. Biffen
The hon. Gentleman makes his point forcefully. He knows that such matters are normally considered through the usual channels. I take account of his anxieties and promise that they will be considered through the usual channels. He, likewise, will appreciate that I can give no undertaking from the Dispatch Box this evening.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) raised the issue of the activities of the Hanson Trust. I thought that it was a trailer for his debate later on the Office of Fair Trading. I shall convey his points to the appropriate Department. I know, too, that the question of the pension funds from Courage Barclay has excited a certain amount of general comment. It is appropriate that those matters should be further considered by the House and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) made a serious challenge and accusation against the activities of the Ministry of Defence and, particularly, the procurement executive. Clearly he does not expect it to be cleared up this side of Christmas, although I think that that was his original suggestion. I have studied the Order Paper and noted that he has a fair number of questions for answer in early January. Therefore, it is a continuing development and I shall pass on his anxieties to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I shall also pass on the forceful and formidable way in which he put his case.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) raised an issue which I think properly concerns the House—arms shipments to countries that are combatants. He mentioned the shipments to Iran, but I am sure that he will agree that what he said could apply equally to Iraq. Throughout the Government have tried to make clear their judgment and the criteria by which they operate the export of equipment to such countries. In no sense have we sought to keep this topic "in the dark", to use the hon. Gentleman's words, but I shall pass on his points to my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Trade and Industry.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland also referred to the airborne early warning system and expressed his clear preference. I accept that judgments have to be made. However, the most crucial point in any decision will be what is deemed to be most appropriate for the proper defence of this country. There are many other tests, because it is a complex subject. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that there will have to be a proper evaluation of the technical committee's recommendations. That will take place this week and the matter is expected to be the subject of a statement later this week.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to set aside the planned order of business so that there could be a debate on the matter. I have no plans to do so, but there are, of course, the usual channels through which such a request can be made. Nevertheless, I should mislead the House if I were to give the impression that that door will respond to a gentle tap.
868 The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on European Music Year stood in charming distinction from the weighty AWACS issue.
§ Mr. Biffen
Yes. I thought that he was in cahoots with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), who referred to lawnmowers. I am wondering whether, between them, they can find some common absurdity between European Music Year and the European regulation relating to lawnmower noise. I have taken on board my hon. Friend's anxieties about the danger of overamplified music and other noises generally. With great delicacy, I think that he was trying to tell me something about Prime Minister's Question Time.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) referred to the serious unemployment in his constituency and the impending closure of Burroughs. He fairly conceded that that company has not been bereft of direct Government support, but anybody who has any understanding of a Member of Parliament's association with his constituency will understand clearly the point that the hon. Gentleman made.
A more general point that bolsters my case is that for six years in succession there has been economic growth and an expansion of the gross domestic product. However, unemployment remains high, notwithstanding the fact that 1 million new jobs have been created since 1983. That illustrates how uphill a struggle it is to bring about a reverse in unemployment, as long as the working population continues to expand as rapidly as it has expanded in the recent past. However, it will be possible to reverse that trend in the next two or three years. I hope that future Adjournment debate motions will not have to include this topic.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) referred in a restrained but effective manner to the sad plight of Russian Christian dissidents, and in particular to Alexander Ogorodnikov. His contribution brought home to us that so many of the things that we take for granted in our political system are not automatically enjoyed elsewhere.
The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) characteristically played the role that he has played with such distinction throughout the decades as champion of the hospital service, particularly the hospital service in his own area of Willesden, and referred to the proposed closure of the Neasden hospital. My experience in Shropshire of the management that has accompanied the Griffiths report is that it has not been detrimental, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have had that experience. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the points that he has made this evening with such great effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) talked about family courts in the context of the recent consultation document. I have noted her words that it is time for action, not words, and I shall ensure that they are conveyed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. I am sure that she will realise that this will become an extremely contentious topic. It is one of those areas of supposed non-party political controversy which has the capacity to embroil this place infinitely more effectively than some of our more conventional debates.
869 I was fascinated when my hon. Friend then talked about television violence. The House would probably accept the general proposition that she put forward, but when it came to identifying the particular forms of television which my hon. Friend would wish to be subject to some constraint, we would soon part company. I would certainly not accept that "EastEnders" would require any of the censorship that I thought was implicit in her comments.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), as the author of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, knows perfectly well that in some weeks or months he will leave this place, alas for ever, but, none the less, leave for posterity something by which he will he remembered. I understand that that being the case he is rather worried about the lethargy—[Interruption.] I travel with complete optimism in these matters. It is part of the psychological warfare.
If the hon. Gentleman is finding the Treasury somewhat lacking in social sensitivity in these matters, he is not alone. This is not the only area where one discovers that. However, I shall pass on all the points that he wished me to make.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
I had expected a serious reply, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for me to withdraw my description of the right hon. Gentleman as a person who exercises great sensitivity when he makes such electoral predictions?
§ Mr. Biffen
The hon. Gentleman has my unconditional acquiescence to the withdrawal of the description of me as a person of exceptional sensitivity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East talked about radiotherapy at Southend. I shall ensure that his points are understood by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services where there is a need for an early decision. I understand that he would like ministerial guidelines from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science which would cut short any protracted and misguided debate about the reorganisation of grammar schools in Southend. I am not quite so optimistic as my hon. Friend that I can get the answers he seeks because it implies a rather brisker approach to these affairs by my right hon. Friend than he would generally wish to possess. My hon. Friend is shown to be ever the most persuasive spokesman in that he asks for a mere half a day to deal with about 45 deficiencies of the European Community and the way that we have been practically stripped to our ankles of any sovereignty or self-respect. I have not been equipped with the usual Foreign Office brief, but I understand that the cases are well argued and deeply felt and go much wider than my hon. Friend thinks. I shall see that my hon. Friend's points are passed on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary in exactly those terms and with good Christmas wishes.
The House will have listened with great interest to the plea of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for the Amerindians. I suspect that the whole question of the rain forests and the attempt to have some 870 policy of global ecology has caught the imagination of the west more than practically any other single topic. I shall pass on his points, as he requests.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is concerned about the case of Miss McGoldrick, and I am sure that he is right in saying that her behaviour and conduct generally have excited great admiration in the House. I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said that he is studying the papers with a view to the use of section 68 powers and he should shortly be making known his decision.
The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) gave a robust exposition of the difficulties of low pay. If he thinks that he can cure those difficulties by a substantial increase without raising the whole question of differentials in working class pay, he is underestimating the task that he takes on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) spoke eloquently about the Blackburn road bypass and his speech was heard by the Minister responsible.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked me to take to heart his four points. I certainly shall.
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic adjournments).
That this House at its rising on Friday 19th December do adjourn until Monday 12th January, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 19th December until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.
§ Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the exchange of views earlier between my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) and the Leader of the House when my hon. Friend pressed the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether there would be a Welsh rate support grant statement tomorrow. It is my understanding that thus far the Government have not said that such a statement will be forthcoming, and the reason they have given for that is that there is congestion of parliamentary business.
I know that Welsh Members and you, Mr. Speaker, have had a long, honourable and traditionally warm relationship, and I am sure that none of us would want to prejudice that. Will you confirm that, if we do not have a Welsh rate support grant statement tomorrow, there is little that you can do other than accept points of order from Welsh hon. Members who wish to press the Government on the matter tomorrow? If that is the case, will not parliamentary business become even more congested if we do not get a statement tomorrow?
§ Mr. Speaker
I hope that we do not have points of order on this matter. I listened carefully to the Leader of the House and I understood him to say that this matter could properly be discussed through the usual channels. There is business not only tomorrow but on three days after that.