HC Deb 25 March 1986 vol 94 cc840-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 27th March, do adjourn until Tuesday 8th April and, at its rising on Friday 2nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 6th May; and the House shall not adjourn on Thursday 27th March until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Durant.]

7.14 pm
Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)

I do not wish the Adjournment motion to pass without a protest from the Opposition Benches on behalf of those whose views ought to be heeded by the Government but whom the Government choose to ignore. I am talking about those who are not able to make the tax-free gains from shares that the Chancellor envisages, because neither the Budget nor their employers provide them with enough money to be able to purchase shares in the first place.

There are two early-day motions on the Order Paper, Nos. 204 and 217, about speech therapists, and they are signed by hon. Members from both major political parties. I should like to speak about speech therapists and to quote from a letter from a constituent of mine who is a speech therapist. She says:

I am the only speech therapist at the hospital and have sole responsibility for the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and discharge of all cases requiring speech therapy. The caseload comprises mainly stroke patients and head injuries, but also voice cases, including laryngectomies, and patients suffering from progressing disorders. The hospital houses a stroke unit where patients are offered intensive treatment. I am responsible for training and liaison with all other relevant staff, including lecturing to doctors, nurses and physiotherapists. I am required to advise, inform and assist relatives and patients in dealing with the emotional trauma which inevitably accompanies stroke or head injury. Other responsibilities include clinical training of final year speech therapy students (for which I receive extra payment) and organising and running a stroke club (a voluntary evening activity without payment or time in lieu). I have worked for 12 years in the NHS following a three-year training course and also hold a first-class honours degree in psychology, and this year will be earning £9,175. Until recently, speech therapy was an all-female profession, and is still more than 99 per cent. female.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

That is why they receive such low pay.

Mr. Silkin

As my hon. Friend rightly says, that is why they receive such low pay. However, it is not only the 99-plus per cent. women who are badly paid. Men are only marginally better paid.

Another constituent of mine is a speech therapist, and after five years of study and four years work in the service he earns £10,033 a year. He is marginally better off than my woman constituent, but for a responsible job like that such low pay is a scandal and a disgrace. It is made worse by the fact that speech therapists are now required to undergo a four-year degree course before they can practise. That helps them and it helps the patients, but it does not help the salaries. It is not that the Government have wrong priorities: they have no priorities at all.

If we examine the record of the National Health Service, we see that in a week's time there will be a rise in prescription charges. When Labour left office in 1979 the prescription charge was 20p, and it will go up to £2.20 next week. That is 1,100 per cent. inflation in the cost of treatment under this Government. In addition, the Government have deliberately forced the authorities to give contracts for cleaning and laundry to private individuals at bargain basement rates. They are proposing to sell nurses' homes.

When only those who administer direct help and those who suffer are penalised, it is time to wonder what is happening to the National Health Service. When the NHS has increased its bureaucracy by about 68,000 to a record of nearly 800,000 people—68,000 more than in 1979—we are entitled to wonder what priorities, if any, the Government have. When the payment of speech therapists is an affront, not just to their professional qualifications, but to the hopes and aspirations of their patients, we should query that.

I talked about the profession being badly paid, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) rightly said that that was because speech therapy was entirely a female profession. There had been a promise to discuss equal pay. The management side on the Whitley council agreed to do so a few months ago, but I am told that only yesterday the management side of the Whitley council, I suspect encouraged by the Government, said that it would not discuss that matter.

One understands that there are precedents to be created. There is an overall issue, that perhaps the Government do not wish to see go beyond speech therapists into the NHS and Government service generally, but in this case, if in no other—it should be in all other cases as well—there is more than a reason why, if we are to keep our speech therapists and see that the patients benefit, that question should be dealt with immediately.

I do not want to detain the House any longer than is necessary, but if we do not deal with the matter now it will not be raised in the usual conflict between the parties—the right and proper conflict that there should be. The matter will simply be ignored and forgotten, as always happens when a small group of people, however intelligent and articulate, are far fewer in number that the general mass about whom we talk.

I hope that the Leader of the House will, as he has always done in the past when I have raised questions with him, make the necessary inquiries of the Department, and perhaps even write to me in due course, to see whether we can do something to assist those who, according to the two early-day motions about which I spoke, 160 right hon. and hon. Members feel should get a far better deal than they are getting at the moment.

7.22 pm
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

I have some sympathy with the point raised by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin). I have been approached by speech therapists in my constituency, and I know what a marvellous job they do because I have seen examples of their work.

I want to refer to another medical matter today. I do not want the House to adjourn without my having the opportunity to draw the attention of the House and Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security to the growing public disquiet over the powers of the General Medical Council to discipline doctors. That disquiet has been heightened by the tragic case of Harriet English from my constituency.

We are all too familiar with the widely reported and lasciviously read cases of doctors' sexual activities with patients, but rather more rarely do we read of cases of doctors' incompetence, although such cases are often of far greater importance and have far more dangerous consequences than the lurid cases that attract the popular press.

The powers of the GMC derive from the Medical Act 1983. Under section 36 no sanctions or remedies are available unless the conduct of the practitioner concerned is judged to be "serious professional misconduct".

At this stage I want to refer to the tragic case of Harriet English, the daughter of my agent in Cambridgeshire, South-West. I raised the matter in the House last July. Briefly, Harriet, aged 22, a perfectly fit and athletic girl, felt tired after playing badminton and taking other exercise and she later complained of a pain in the shoulder. General practitioner Dr. Barretto was consulted. He diagnosed a torn ligament and administered an injection of cortisone. He did not inquire whether Harriet was right or left-handed, which was relevant, he did not take her temperature, and he did not take her blood pressure. Later, in his absence, Harriet was similarly treated by his partners, Dr. Ryan and Dr. Page. She became extremely ill during the subsequent four days and was rushed to the London clinic, where, in agonising circumstances, she died of septicemia which had at no time previously been diagnosed.

I shall not weary the House with the details of the inquest and the complex subsequent investigations by medical experts. Suffice it to say that ultimately a case alleging serious professional misconduct was brought against Dr. Barretto and Dr. Ryan and it was heard by the GMC disciplinary committee on 18 March 1986. Learned counsel were involved and experts were called on both sides. Not surprisingly, they expressed differing views. But one expert, Dr. Martin Wood, attested that Harriet's symptoms should have alerted Dr. Barretto to the fact that she was suffering from something more than a torn ligament.

However, the GMC's decision—from which I understand there is no appeal, except on a point of law to the Privy Council—was that serious professional misconduct was not proved and the doctors were cleared. Nevertheless, the case left unanswered questions of competence and acceptability of conduct. No alternative charge is available to the GMC under the Medical Act. Where medical conduct is "unacceptable"—to use a phrase of the GMC in its handbook—no remedy or penalty is provided.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), whom I am pleased to see in his place, is a leading campaigner on the issue and has a private Member's Bill which seeks to amend section 36 of the Medical Act 1983 so as to provide that unacceptable professional conduct can be brought in as an alternative. He can cite a number of cases to support the argument, as can other hon. Members, in particular the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Abse). The GMC maintains that the additional powers proposed in the Bill would not be helpful.

I must quote from a letter that the hon. Member for Newham, South has given to me, which he received from the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security on 12 March 1986. It says: The Council"— the General Medical Council— maintains that the additional power that you propose"— in the hon. Gentleman's Bill—

would not be helpful because it might lead to a tendency to substitute the lesser for the more serious finding which in the longer term would be likely to weaken rather than strengthen the public's confidence in the Council's disciplinary powers. That is an extremely curious argument. It is rather like saying that the only motoring offence should be dangerous driving, without the alternative offence of driving without due care and attention; or, indeed, that the only charge for causing death should be murder, with no charge of manslaughter or unlawful homicide.

All this basically stems from the Merrison report in 1975, Cmnd. 6018, from which the constitutional powers of the GMC derive. Paragraph 10 states: It is important to understand in this context that the GMC is merely the instrument for the proper supervision of this contract"— that is, between the public and the profession— and that it derives its authority, and indeed its being, from legislation. The report goes on: The legislature"— that is, Parliament—

acts in this context for the public, and it is for Parliament to decide the nature of the contract and the way it is be executed. Therefore, this matter to which I draw attention is essentially for Parliament.

Of course, we all know that the overwhelming majority of doctors do their duty supremely well. Only a tiny minority are guilty of serious professional misconduct. A slightly larger minority, but still a minority, indulge in professional conduct that is "unacceptable", in GMC terms. Nevertheless, I believe that there is growing public anxiety, which my case illustrates, which would be relieved by the reform that I have described and that is contained in the private Member's Bill to which I have referred.

As I said in the House last year, my constituents Richard and Ann English know that nothing can bring back their beloved daughter, but they hope, as I do, that others may be spared Harriet's tragic fate. I ask the Ministers concerned to give this whole matter their most careful and sympathetic consideration.

7.31 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I am sure that all hon. Members wish the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) good fortune in pursuing the case of Harriet English, which is clearly worthy of the attention of those on the Treasury Bench and all hon. Members of the House. I hope, too, that when the chance comes to debate the private Member's Bill it will be given widespread support.

Tonight I should like to widen the debate to the question of Nepalese Christians, which is perhaps especially topical in view of the recent visits to Nepal by Her Majesty the Queen and our Foreign Secretary.

Just after Christmas, an Anglo-American human rights team which included myself and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) travelled to Nepal to examine allegations of torture and brutality against the small Christian minority there. Our objectives included the following: first, nationwide tolerance for Christians accused of violating the constitution as it relates to their religion at every level of the judicial system; secondly, an end to the arbitrary harassment of accused Christians during the judicial process; thirdly, recognition of the right to reasonable and judicious bail; fourthly, equal protection under the law for the Christian population; fifthly, an end to the confiscation of bibles; and, sixthly, movement towards changing Nepalese law to conform to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, to which Nepal subscribes.

During our delegation's visit to Nepal we travelled over 1,000 miles in six days and took evidence from many people. In remote villages and towns and in the capital, Kathmandu, we met hundreds of people and, in subsequent interviews with the Law and Justice Secretary and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Ranodhir Subbha, we instanced many examples of human rights violations. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and I subsequently presented the Nepalese Government and the Nepalese ambassador here in London with transcripts corroborating our findings.

Before her Majesty the Queen and the Foreign Secretary went to Nepal, we met the latter and outlined our concerns. I regret that the Under-Secretary, in his reply on 31 January to a question that I tabled, said that he had virtually no power to intervene and thought it really not appropriate for the British Government to monitor the situation in Nepal. He said: Allegations about the treatment of Nepalese citizens in Nepal are an internal matter for the Government of that country. We have no locus standi to intervene."—[Official Report, 31 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 646.]: He went on to say that Her Majesty's embassy at Kathmandu was in regular contact with Christian leaders and missionary societies in Nepal.

Certainly, when I met Ambassador Hurrell in Nepal he was in contact with Christian leaders, particularly the Rev. Charles Mendies, and he had heard from them first hand of some of the allegations which we have instanced both to the Nepalese authorities and to the Foreign Office.

While I was disappointed at that reply, I was pleased that, following the interview with the Foreign Secretary, he took the opportunity when in Nepal to raise these important matters with his opposite number, and in a letter which was sent subsequently he said:

During the visit I took the opportunity to raise informally with the Nepalese Foreign Minister the alleged persecution of Christians in Nepal. Mr. Subbha said that he understood our concern. He was very concerned about the allegations of torture, and told me that these were being investigated. I was also able to speak to a number of missionaries working in Nepal and to tell them of our interest in their situation. I can assure you that the treatment of Christians in Nepal is a matter which we shall continue to monitor closely. While I am grateful for that change of attitude on the part of the Foreign Office, I still believe that there is a deal of misapprehension both by Members of the House and by people from the journalists' corps, who constantly present Nepal as some sort of romantic Arcadia, infinitely tolerant in its treatment of minorities. This simply does not square with reality.

If, without going into great detail on the report, I give two quotations to the Leader of the House, he will get the general thrust of the statements which were made to us when we visited Nepal. The first says: they beat our brother and he was hung up and beat and kept at night in stocks. And then he became very sick and after he was released a few days later he passed away. And still in that particular village there is intensified persecution of the Christians. The second quotation says:

the four of us who were in a separate group were kept in a separate jail, and all night we were beaten by the police. Our feet were kept in stocks and we were beaten on the soles of our feet … And even after three months when we were released we were not able to walk properly. In a letter to The Times, the Nepalese ambassador to the Court of St. James, Mr. Ishwari Pandey, stated: an individual can freely practise his faith and may "change his faith". Regrettably, that is not true. By law, citizens may not evangelise, nor may they convert to Christianity. If this law is transgressed, they face up to six years in jail. In 1985 alone, over 80 people were charged with "preaching Christianity" and causing a "disturbance to Hinduism."

Mr. Pandey has also strongly asserted on more than one occasion that

not a single drop of blood has ever been shed in the name of religion". During the time that we were taking evidence, especially in the east Nepalese town of Dahran, witness after witness described beatings and acts of brutality meted out by local officials—incidents which are hardly consistent with the ambassador's claim.

Mr. Subbha, the Nepalese Foreign Minister and a most gracious man, is a strong advocate of King Birendra's foreign affairs initiative to create a zone of peace in the region. He is also totally committed to his country's participation in international organisations such as the United Nations. But a failure by his Government to curb the excesses of fanatical local zealots can only undermine Nepal's reputation and bring his laudable attempts to create a zone of peace into ridicule. Nor will the West be able to take seriously a country whose code of law directly contradicts article 18 of the United Nations convention on human rights:

Everyone should have the right to freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. Not only are Nepal's 35,000 Christians denied this right, but they are subject to arbitrary harassment, humiliation and persecution. Once they are charged, cases are postponed, and bail is set at ludicrously high levels. Sometimes bail is used punitively, and we found examples of the bail of Christians being confiscated even on acquittal.

There is also clearly one law for foreigners and another for the indigenous Nepalese. Last March 14 members of a group called YWAM—Youth With a Mission—were arrested in a town called Dahding for staging a puppet show illustrating gospel stories. The 14 were held for seven days in a cell measuring 9 ft by 12 ft. The conditions were indescribably bad. The charges against the foreign contingent were dropped, but the five young Nepalese in the group face up to six years in prison.

Other Christians told us of obstacles placed in their path. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and I saw a Bible school which had been closed. We heard how Mother Teresa's nuns have a centre for the destitute and dying in the shadow of Kathmandu's Pashupatinath Hindu temple, but the authorities have refused them permission to open a leprosarium.

The Jesuits operated a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts under the supervision of Father Tom Gafrey. Heroin addiction, one of the more malign western influences, has reached epidemic proportions there. Yet Mr.Tek Bahadur Thapa, of the Nepalese narcotic drug control office, refused to extend visas for the Christians who manned the centre. So Nepal's only drug rehabilitation centre was forced to close last August.

Nepal is understandably worried about western influences, and some humility is required of the heirs of "rice Christianity". But past excesses do not excuse present intolerance. Nor do they exonerate gross distortions by the Nepalese Government-controlled press. The comments of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East were grossly distorted and deftly turned around to give entirely the opposite meaning. Our findings were completely suppressed and the only story that appeared carried the headline: Christian delegation satisfied with community's lot. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Since our visit, matters have not improved. Two more people have been arrested to join the over 80 others who were arrested last year. Secondly, evidence has been given to us about discrimination against Christians in the Gurkha regiments. This has been provided by Mr.Byatt, former civilian lecturer in English in the Brigade of Gurkhas training depot.

Mr. Byatt worked from January 1980 to the end of February 1984 in the training depot. He noted that the Christians in the depot were not given the opportunity to worship. He also discovered actual discrimination against those who wanted to change their documents to declare the fact that they had become Christians. In the brigade, recruits have their forms automatically stamped "Hindu" to ease the flow of registration.

New recruits are not permitted to leave the depot during the first nine months of their training. In consequence, Christians are not permitted to attend the church services. The Anglican church of St.Martin's is in the next-door depot, but it remains out of bounds to recruits. The anomaly arises because recruits are obliged to attend Hindu temple service. Recruits may also go swimming, under supervision, in the next-door camp, in the pool that is next to the church.

The recruits are billeted in a camp called Malaga Lines, and this is separated from the other depot, called Borneo Lines, by an air strip. One Christian Gurkha wanted to attend church, but was not permitted to do so under camp regulations although he desperately wanted to go. He told his mother that the hardest part of serving in the Gurkhas was not being allowed to go to church.

The second major act of discrimination is more serious. In 1972, one Gurkha soldier wanted to change his documents to register the fact that he had become a Christian. He was unsuccessful, and had to recant in the face of dismissal. That is unacceptable.

Nepal is a beautiful country and the Nepalese have much to be proud of, but it still has grievous economic and social problems. Some 77 per cent. are illiterate, life expectancy is only 45 years and there is an infant mortality rate of 150 deaths out of every 1,000 live births. There is an annual average per capita income of only £100 a year, with an inflation rate of 14 per cent. and a recent devaluation of 20 per cent. Britain should boost its meagre £10 million aid programme to help to combat the unrelieved endemic poverty.

There are many other ways in which our two countries could help each other, and much that we could teach each other. Inevitably, a prerequisite of closer relations is mutual tolerance of each other's minorities. Her Majesty's Government should not turn a blind eye to the plight of Nepalese Christians. I hope that, when the Leader of the House replies, he will be able to give an assurance that continual monitoring of the condition of Christians in Nepal will be undertaken by Her Majesty's representatives there.

7.42 pm
Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

The House listened with concern to the speech made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I know nothing of the details of what he describes, but Nepal is a country with which we have always had close relations, and in particular the Gurhkas stand high in the admiration of the British people. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said will be considered closely by Ministers.

I shall raise three important matters, of which the first is agriculture. It is important that we should have a clear statement from the Government—whether it comes before the House rises for the Easter recess or shortly afterwards—of their overall strategy for agriculture. I can remember sitting where the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr.Brown)is sitting under the five years of Labour Government, and listening to Lord Peart, as he now is, and the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr.Silkin) producing White Papers for the expansion of agriculture. I can remember my right hon. Friend the member for Worcester (Mr.Walker)doing the same thing for a Conservative Government.

Clearly the rules and realities have changed. We all accept that surpluses must be controlled. The problem must be tackled, but it is essential that we do something to restore the morale of agriculture, because it does not know where it is supposed to be going, nor what it is supposed to do instead of growing unwanted surpluses. I strongly emphasise to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I should like him to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prepare a White Paper setting out a strategy for agriculture in the new reality of a time of surplus, in which production must be restrained. Whether we address problems such as "set-aside", or other techniques of dealing with such problems, we must set a new strategy.

The second matter is a constituency issue, but one of considerable importance to my constituents concerning the Ministry of Defence. At the moment, the Ministry has a mania of trying to merge service institutions. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I am partly responsible for the recent report which showed the ridiculous nonsense over the proposed joint music school. I hope that Ministers will take that report seriously.

A similar move is being contemplated in my constituency. There is an inquiry into a proposal to close RAF North Luffenham. This would mean the movement of up to 930 RAF personnel, the loss of 150 civilian jobs and the loss of £250,000 worth of rate income to the local authority. Such a move would be extremely unwelcome in my constituency. I have made it clear to Lord Trefgarne that if he proceeds with these proposals he can expect my strongest possible opposition, and I am bringing a delegation from the local council to see him next month.

Lord Trefgame is also proposing to close the dog school at the Royal Army Veterinary Corps at Melton Mowbray, and move that to RAF Newton in Nottinghamshire. Both of these schemes are extremely poorly thought out. The costings have been far from adequately done, and I make it clear to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and Lord Trefgame that the latter can expect much trouble from me if these suggestions are carried out. I sincerely hope that they will not be. My right hon. Friend knows me well enough to know that that is not necessarily an idle threat.

The third matter is one on which I have recently made myself a pain in the neck to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—the Shops Bill. My right hon. Friend would be doing the House and the Conservative party a service if he said in advance what concessions the Government are willing to make on the Bill. It would be difficult if the Government tried to proceed in this House in the same way as they proceeded in the other place—that is, by rejecting every amendment in unequivocal terms. This is a matter on which many Conservative Members feel strongly. For example, many of us have long been concerned about the situation that pertains on Good Friday, which is now becoming an ordinary working day for a great many people. This is unacceptable to Christians, and I do not want to see it happening to Sundays.

My right hon. Friend and I had a semi-joking exchange on this matter last Thursday, during business questions. I hope that he will use the recess to consult his colleagues and consider what can be done to meet the real concerns of many hon. Members on both sides of the House and large numbers of people outside, and to try to get a sensible and workable measure on the statute books, and one that will not offend large numbers of people.

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

I hope that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) will not mind if I do not follow him in detail, although I shall speak about the Ministry of Defence.

I hope that the House will not adjourn for the Easter recess until we have considered the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, section 10. This section deprived service men and ex-service men of the right to sue for negligence, no matter how gravely or seriously disabled they may be. It also deprives the families of service men who have been killed by negligence of the right to sue. Not only that, but it deprives them of the information—to which they are entitled—about what happened. In talking to many of the families involved, and certainly many of the ex-service men involved, one finds a deep feeling about the lack of information—information to which they have been refused access by the Ministry of Defence.

The Ministry of Defence has an appalling record when it comes to discussing the rights of service men and ex-service men which are relevant to section 10. The Ministry of Defence says that they are public servants, but other public servants have the right to sue when they are damaged by negligence or their dependants have the right to sue if they are killed by negligence. Police and firemen have that right but apparently service men must be denied it. It is wrong to deprive service men, or their dependants when they are killed, of that right.

What are the arguments of the Ministry of Defence for keeping this outrageous anachronism? First, it says that there is no easy dividing line between military and other action. That is nonsense. Any service man or anyone who has been in the firing line can soon put it right about what is military action and what is not. Therefore, there is no problem of definition.

Secondly, the Ministry of Defence says that discipline would be affected if service men or ex-service men were given that right. Of course, that is nonsense. Legal redress has nothing to do with discipline. The Ministry of Defence cannot use that bogus argument. Thirdly, it says that negligence is hard to prove. Of course it is hard to prove, but it is also hard to prove in civil cases. The proof should be decided not by the Minister or his civil servants but by a court of law. If a claim is to be made it should be decided upon by the courts, so there is no argument for saying that it is hard to prove.

Fourthly, the Minister says—Ministers have said this in parliamentary answers—that section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 has existed for 38 years and therefore it must be pretty good. There could not be a more bogus argument than that. In fact, the existence of that section for 38 years has outraged service men and ex-service men over the years. It has caused very great distress to them. Simply because it has existed for so long does not mean that it is satisfactory. When section 10 was introduced in 1947 by a Labour Government—this is a non-party political matter—the then Attomey-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, gave a clear impression that, even though the section must be brought in, the awards of compensation would not in any way be diminished. He was not speaking of any specific award but he said that, overall, service men would be entitled to the same kind of pension as other people would get, or would have got if they had recourse to law. Experience proves that that is quite wrong. Service men are now deprived of adequate compensation, even though they may be severely damaged by negligence.

An organisation has now been set up called the Section Ten Abolition Group, STAG for short. It is a group of ex-service men who are deeply angered and embittered by the attitude of the Ministry of Defence over the years. Its chairman is Mrs. Carol Mills and she is doing a marvellous job in combining and unifying the people who are involved.

Mrs. Mills and her husband lost their son in especially tragic circumstances. He was burnt to death when a missile backfired. The family have been deprived of the right to information about the death of their son. I think that they are entitled to it. They have certainly been deprived of the right to sue for damages. They are not after the money; it is the principle involved.

Mrs. Mills and her husband came with me to see the Secretary of State for Defence on a deputation a few weeks ago. They are parents whose son had been appallingly burned and died and they think that it was due to negligence. Also on that deputation was one of my constituents, Martin Ketterick. He is now paralysed from the waist down and is appallingly disabled. The accident occurred when a rope was cut as he was abseiling down a cliff. He thinks that that was due to negligence. Those are clearly very sad and tragic cases and those people presented their case to the Secretary of State.

Let me place it on record that the Secretary of State listened carefully to what we all had to say and gave us a very good reception and response. I pay tribute to him for the way in which he received that deputation. It was a splendid response. He did not commit himself, he could not commit himself, and I did not expect him to. However, I am making these remarks now because I want to press the Ministry of Defence, including the Secretary of State. I have no confidence in the Ministry of Defence, as distinct from the Secretary of State, because the same civil servants are advising this Secretary of State as have advised successive Secretaries of State for years. They have badly advised Ministers and they have given all the excuses that I have presented to the House.

I hope that the Secretary of State will bring forward legislation. I hope that he will abolish section 10 of the Act. If he does—or whatever he does—I hope that there will be retrospective provisions. If there is not, Mr. and Mrs. Mills, Martin Ketterick and all the service men who attended the inaugural meeting which I set up in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons will be deprived of the rights which I hope will be given to service men and women in the future. It would be quite wrong to exclude them after all their campaigning.

If the Secretary of State feels unable to help, these ex-service men and the relatives of those who have died under what we think are circumstances of negligence, may find it necessary to parade outside the Ministry of Defence and outside recruiting offices to let potential recruits know that they are denied the right to sue for negligence which is given to all public servants. We hope that it will not be necessary. I do not think that it will be necessary because of the way in which the Secretary of State received us and responded to us. I hope that in his response he will show that there is no justification for depriving service men of this basic right and that he will act accordingly as soon as possible.

7.58 pm
Sir Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity of saying how disappointed I was to read the announcement in The Daily Telegraph today that a House of Commons written answer yesterday said that an early Bill will be introduced, presumably in the next Queen's Speech, to transfer pilots to the control of harbour authorities. It also said that Trinity House is to lose its responsibility as the principal pilotage authority of Britain's harbours after almost 500 years.

I have been doing my best to prevent the need for that legislation over the past 15 months. For that work and the help that I have given to pilots over the years as the Member for Harwich, a few weeks ago I received an honorary pilot's licence from the Deputy Master of Trinity House. I feel that I should declare that interest.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), because when he was Under-Secretary of State for Transport he took great care and trouble to bring all the interested parties together. If he had stayed in that post and the Department had not been so hopelessly overworked, I believe that he would have succeeded. But I still believe that it is possible to proceed without legislation.

I am glad to have had this opportunity to appeal over the head of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I appeal to her to find time to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as soon as possible, to make one more effort to reach agreement between the parties concerned. The proposal for legislation is that pilotage should be placed under the port authorities, and pilots should give up their fee-earning, self-employed status and become the employees of the port authorities. Indeed, the very same proposal came from a report chaired by the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr.Mikardo) in 1966.

Now port authorities are local authorities, and have the same behaviour patterns, both managerial and fiscal, as other local authorities. At a time when the Government are seeking to curb the power of local authorities and to privatise services within them, is it not an anachronism and an anomaly that a group of self-employed, fee-earning people should face with being taken over by such a group? Do we really want to take the control of pilots away from Trinity House after 500 years? I have yet to find a good reason for doing so. Do we really want to weaken the authority of an institution that has been doing its job for so long?

For my part, I could not support such legislation, and I know that many of my hon. Friends feel very strongly about the issue. That is why I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to tell the Secretary of State to make one more effort to reach agreement, and that is why I am grateful to you, Mr.Deputy Speaker, for calling me and enabling me to make this eleventh hour appeal to prevent such legislation. It does not in any way follow the political principles in which I or many of my hon. Friends, believe.

8.2 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir J. Ridsdale) because, like him, I shall raise a maritime matter. I hope that he will find it interesting. It involves a defence issue, and I know he has a special interest in defence matters.

I urge hon. Members not to agree to adjourn for the recess until we have discussed the impending decision on the auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel. The issue is of enormous importance to my constituents, to the north-east and to our national defence. I shall briefly outline the background to it.

In 1979, Swan Hunter was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to carry out a feasibility study for a new generation of fleet replenishment vessels called AORs. The AOR is designed to complement the type 23 frigate, providing fuel, provisions, maintenance, and extra helicopters, as well as its own defence systems. It operates at a speed compatible with the type 23 frigate, and without the AOR the type 23 frigate programme makes no sense.

When Swan Hunter, the major shipyard in my constituency, was privatised, it was sold as a supplier of warships, in particular of fleet auxiliaries, to the Royal Navy. Over the past 25 years Swan Hunter has supplied the Royal Navy with 32 per cent. of all the Royal Navy's surface warships, 39 per cent. of all its amphibious vessels and, most importantly, 84 per cent. of all major royal fleet auxiliaries.

The importance of major royal fleet auxiliaries as a source of work for Swan Hunter was stressed a year or two years ago when I met the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), who was then a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. He emphasised that Swan Hunter should look to that area for its future. Unfortunately, times have changed. Yet it is significant that the only AOR vessel to be built in the United Kingdom is the Kharg, which was built at Swan Hunter.

Although Swan Hunter is a shadow of its former self, it is still the country's premier shipbuilder. The AOR order is crucial to its survival as a major shipbuilder, so I am sure that hon. Members will readily understand my feelings and those of other Members of Parliament for the north-east, when we learned last week, through press leaks, that the order for the AORs was to be placed with Harland and Wolff. That is a devastating blow to the north-east of England and to the shipbuilding community that I represent. Perhaps more importantly, such a decision would be wrong and irrational on almost every single possible criterion.

I readily understand that to this Government cost is the most important criterion. Swan Hunter is a private sector company. It wins orders with competitive prices. Harland and Wolff uses public subsidies. It is important to remember that we are discussing pricing for a market that Harland and Wolff has not been in for 20 years, but Swan Hunter gets the majority of its business from that market.

It is widely rumoured that Harland and Wolff's bid for the AOR is below that of Swan Hunter. I fear that Harland and Wolff has been able to reduce its price because of cross-subsidy. Last year, Harland and Wolff received £37 million from the British taxpayer, and I fear that that financial assistance could give it the competitive edge. We are assured that there is no cross-subsidy, but it is impossible to tell until after the event. If there is no cross-subsidy, we may have an independent inquiry, conducted by Mr.Graham Day, or some other shipbuilder of national repute, into the state of affairs at Harland and Wolff. I understand from Swan Hunter that it would be only too willing to have a similar inquiry into its circumstances. Of course, Swan Hunter is privately owned, and there can be no question of cross-subsidy, and so on.

What will happen if price drift occurs afterwards? If Swan Hunter wins the order and there is price drift, the cost will be borne by the management. Their homes and private assets are on the line. But if Harland and Wolff has the order and there is price drift, the British taxpayer will have to pay. If John Parker, the chairman of Harland and Wolff, is so sure that there will be no price drift and is not just kidding the Prime Minister, let him and his management team put their homes and private assets on the line. I challenge him to do that. Last year, his wages rose to £67,000, which represented a rise of 45 per cent. That was not quite in line with Harland and Wolff's losses, which rose by only 20 per cent. to £36 million. I challenge him to put his assets on the line and to guarantee that he will personally take up any losses occasioned by price rises. But that will be too late for Swan Hunter, because it will be in extraordinarily dire straits if it does not get the order.

The argument about sub-contractors affecting the overall tender is sometimes advanced. Swan Hunter has allowed for that, but last year Harland and Wolff complained that the losses on its sub-contractors accounted for a substantial part of its overall losses. What guarantee is there that that will not happen again, and that the taxpayer will not have to pick up the bill? If that happens at Swan Hunter, the management and owners will have to pick up the bill. Is it fair that a company in the private sector, with only private resources, should be invited to tender for an order for which the Government originally said the private sector should fight, only to find itself fighting against a company that the Government own?

The AOR vessel is crucial to the type 23 programme. Without it, the type 23 programme is nonsense. It must be delivered on time if the very first of the type 23 frigates are to play the part that they are designed to play in our defence.

Let us consider Swan Hunter's delivery record. HMS Ark Royal, York, Illustrious and Exeter were all delivered ahead of schedule and within budget. That should be compared with the abysmal and lamentable record of Harland and Wolff.

The very first AOR—the lead vessel—must be there on time, yet, if the press leaks are correct, it is to be entrusted to the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff. What a weapon for those in that community who wish to make political mischief. They would have a chance to undermine the main thrust of the Royal Navy's defence towards the end of this century.

What will be the effects on our community if we do not obtain the order? There will be 2,000 redundancies at Swan Hunter, reducing the work force to just over 2,000. We have just endured 2,800 redundancies in a community that already has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country. With those further redundancies, unemployment in Newcastle upon Tyne, East would be the highest in the country, including Northem Ireland. That is something that our community could not endure.

The design team at Swan Hunter is a national asset. Swan Hunter had hoped that it would help the company to win orders. It is one of the aspects of the business that gives the company a competitive edge. That team will be broken up, and it will be impossible to reassemble it.

Having outlined the depressing effects on our community, I should like to urge the Government to consider a compromise. It would be possible to share the work between Harland and Wolff and Swan Hunter. If the first lead vessel were given to Swan Hunter, the second could be placed with Harland and Wolff. Swan Hunter needs the work immediately. The redundancies will be declared as soon as it is announced that the work is to go to Harland and Wolff. At Harland and Wolff there is sufficient work until 1987, when the second vessel would come on stream. The two yards could co-operate to their mutual benefit, and the Ministry of Defence would share that advantage.

I ask the Government to consider factors other than price. If that is held to be an unreasonable demand in this era of competition and free markets, may I say that the last time the Ministry of Defence was ordering frigates, the previous Secretary of State felt quite free to place a type 22 frigate, which Swan Hunter had won in competitive tender, with Cammell Laird instead at an extra cost to the British taxpayer of £9 million. He made a decision on social grounds. It may have been perfectly proper to do so, but our community paid the price; and it seems that we are to pay the price on the AOR, too.

I conclude on two points of principle. First, can it be right for a privatised company, trying to fight in a difficult market, to be forced to compete with a state-subsidised enterprise? Like is not being compared with like. The owners, management and work force of Swan Hunter are 100 per cent. behind the company. The energy and effort that the directors and owners of Swan Hunter put into the bids made over the weekend in trying to achieve the reversal of what was understood to be an inevitable decision—trying to make an eleventh hour appeal to the Government to reconsider the position—is testament to their will to survive and to the will of the community that shipbuilding should survive on Tyneside. They deserve credit for that.

Secondly, there is the broader politics of the situation. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister courteously received me and my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett). The right hon. Lady took an interest in the situation, and I am grateful to her for that. But I must emphasise that Tyneside fears that it will be paying the price for the Anglo-Irish agreement. If so, that would be grotesquely unfair. It would not be in the national interest, and it would certainly not be in the interests of the community that I represent.

8.16 pm
Mr.Greg Knight (Derby, North)

I wish to raise one local and one national matter. I am sure that the problems of itinerants or gipsies have from time to time concerned most hon. Members. There is currently a problem in Derby over a specific site, and the matter has been referred to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

A dispute has arisen between two local authorities over the suitability of land at Chequers lane in my constituency as a site for itinerants. Both the authorities are controlled by the Labour party. Derby city council takes the view that the land is inappropriate for that purpose, and I concur with that view. The county council takes a different view. In my view the county council is wrong, for a number of reasons. First, valid objections and public opinion on the matter appear to have been disregarded. A petition has been signed by 1,495 people and presented to me, and a delegation went to the county offices at Matlock, but so far it appears that the views expressed have been dismissed by the county councillors.

There is an alternative use for the site—an industrial use. The land is ideal for industrial development, and in my view should be so used. I feel that any other development of the Chequers lane site would be detrimental to, or at any rate not harmonious with, adjoining industry.

I should like to read brief extracts from two of a number of letters that I have received. The first is from the chief executive of Bemrose Corporation, who says: We genuinely believe that location of a permanent gipsy site at Chequers Lane could seriously damage our security business and jeopardise employment prospects in this part of Derby. This view is shared by adjacent employers and in particular by Joseph Mason plc and Sawley Packaging which is owned by Rolls Royce … Bemrose does support the alternative proposal for development of the site for industrial purposes. The writer makes a number of other comments.

I have also had a letter from the managing director of Joseph Mason, paint manufacturers, who says:

We are not against the principle of provision of a gipsy site, but we can see no merit whatsoever in immersing such a site in the centre of such a vital and sensitive industrial area … The site is also bounded by the very busy A52 arterial road. This stretch of A52 has already resulted in the loss of life of children without, at present, any adjacent dwellings. To place a gipsy site within throwing distance of this road appears madness. The proximity of the A52 to the site presents a potential danger to children. I am also not happy about the fact that the site is adjacent to a large cemetery. There is a far more suitable site to the north of the city, just outside the city boundary. I ask the Minister to convey my comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There are serious objections to the proposed use of the site, and I hope that they will be passed on.

The other matter is of national importance. I am referring to the dangerous and growing use and abuse of crossbows in Britain. An item in today's Daily Telegraph is typical of many news reports of the past couple of years. It is headed: Probation for Crossbow Attack Man". The report begins:

A man who fired a crossbow bolt through a neighbour's leg in a row over water dripping from a balcony in a block of flats was placed on probation for two years and ordered to live in a special hostel by Bromley magistrates yesterday. That shows the growing menace that innocent people face from the misuse of crossbows. People, pets and animals up and down the country are being injured and are at risk. It was reported to me that a shopkeeper who sells these items made the comment that restrictions are unnecessary because we are talking only about bows and arrows. We are not talking only about bows and arrows. We are talking about a highly sophisticated weapon that is based on a metal frame. In some instances, it can cause damage up to a quarter of a mile away.

It may be said that the misuse of crossbows is to some extent covered by the present law. I accept that the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, for example, makes it an offence to possess any offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Furthermore, in many areas local byelaws prohibit the discharge of missiles in a street or public place.

The existing law is attempting to tackle the problem after an offence has been committed. Our law does not always follow this principle. For example, the view is taken that shotguns are so dangerous that the law should seek to prevent offences from being committed by the restriction of ownership. The time has come when the House ought to consider adopting similar measures for crossbows. It is a growing problem.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to urge the Home Secretary to treat crossbows in the same manner as shotguns and introduce a licensing system. I accept that a licensing system would impose additional duties on the police and that it would cost money, but a licensing system would do something else. At the very least, it would reduce injury and suffering both to animals and to man. In my view, new restrictions would do more. They would probably save lives.

8.21 pm
Mrs.Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I do not believe that it can altogether be an accident that so many of the subjects that have been raised in this debate relate to the Ministry of Defence. The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) referred to crossbows. That is an important matter, with which we should be concerned.

I do not think that the House should adjourn without discussing what is happening to the royal ordnance factories. The royal ordnance factory Radway Green was in my constituency until the boundaries were redrawn. It now lies in the constituency of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton). That factory has just announced over 600 redundancies. It would be helpful if we could look briefly at what has happened to this factory. It raises a number of very worrying national issues.

The royal ordnance factories were given the impression by the Government before they were privatised that the relationship that existed between them and the Ministry of Defence would be continued. The royal ordnance factory Radway Green, which is in the small arms division but which produces large amounts of ammunition, worked very hard to replace the ammunition stores of the British Army after the Falklands war. Last year it worked extremely hard, including much overtime, which resulted in a considerable amount of stress on its staff, to replace those ammunition stocks. However, it has become very clear in the last few months that the Ministry of Defence has moved away from its previous relationship with the royal ordnance factories in more senses than one.

Three years ago, hardly any orders for bullets or rounds of ammunition were placed outside Britain. However, since then there has been a radical change. Last year very large orders were placed with a number of foreign companies. Doubtless the Ministry of Defence would say that this is because NATO has standardised its ammunition and that value for money can be demonstrated by making purchases abroad. The difficulty about that argument is that the orders have been placed almost entirely—in four out of five cases—with nationalised ammunition factories. For example, orders have been placed with factories in Belgium and Norway which are owned by the Governments of those countries.

When I asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he was convinced about the accuracy of the price for ammunition I was told that it was a very difficult question and that it was one for the individual companies to decide because they are very much concerned with their own intemal pricing mechanism.

We are now facing a very dangerous situation. Radway Green is an example of what is happening throughout the royal ordnance factories. For the last two months it has had no orders for ammunition on its order books. The Ministry of Defence ceased negotiations with Radway Green about its new demands for the coming season, with the result that immediately there were 600 redundancies. Unless there is a rapid improvement, Radway Green may face increasing problems. The Ministry of Defence has placed orders in Norway and Belgium and with a private company in Germany that has direct connections with the Flick empire.

When I questioned the Secretary of State about the political thinking behind this policy, he said that this would happen only if British factories were incapable of supplying the ammunition. He also said that the national interest would always be taken into consideration before orders were placed abroad. However, it is clear from the dates on which the orders were signed that this did not apply to the ammunition that was bought from foreign countries.

It will be very dangerous if the royal ordnance factories are being deprived of orders by the Ministry of Defence for political reasons—perhaps to drive down the price before they come on to the market, in order to ensure that when they are sold there will be ready buyers, because they contain a great deal of expensive and efficient machinery that has been paid for by the taxpayer. On a previous occasion the United Kingdom allowed its munitions factories to be run down disastrously while other countries, often using City of London money, financed their burgeoning munitions factories. The result was a world war which Britain had to fight very hard to win.

I want the Secretary of State to come to the House and make it clear that when he says that he will not regard the royal ordnance factories as commercial units he is sincere. If the deals that he does with the royal ordnance factories are not sufficient to keep the factories viable, Britain will soon be incapable of supplying her own conventional arms needs. Those who do not believe in nuclear weapons have a strong responsibility to make it clear that we believe in the provision of conventional arms to protect this country.

It is ironic that this Government, who refer frequently to their commitment to defence, are apparently prepared to destroy the efficient royal ordnance factories without having any very clear idea of why they are doing so. Hon. Members know that the Leader of the House is a very responsible person and a very honest politician. This is not simply a party political matter. It relates to the provision of proper means of defence for the United Kingdom. If the royal ordnance factories are allowed to go into disuse, or are allowed to become incapable of supplying the British forces with the ammunition that they need, the only conclusion that we shall be able to draw is that the much vaunted patriotism of this Government ends when the quick sale of any asset is involved. That is the danger which we face.

In the future I do not want to come to the House to ask how we will create a system of royal ordnance factories to supply conventional arms to the British forces because so much of the ammunition is made abroad and we no longer control the market or have any efficient or viable way of maintaining our own factories. That is the danger. If the Secretary of State is not aware of it, he should be. He should answer to the House for his present behaviour.

8.30 pm
Mr.John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I am sure the House will listen carefully to the serious matters concerning the royal ordnance factories which were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I hope that the Ministry of Defence will give her a full reply.

I do not think the House should adjourn for the Easter recess until it has had an opportunity to debate the appointment of a Committee of both Houses to consider ways of celebrating the tercentenary of the 1688 revolution. I think few people would deny that the revolution which turned James II off the throne and brought in William of Orange and subsequent political changes, including the Bill of Rights, are historical events of first-rate importance which should be suitably commemorated.

No doubt the Committee will raise all kinds of suggestions to celebrate the event. I would suggest that a banquet of both Houses should be held in Westminster Hall. That has not occurred since the coronation of George IV and it would be a much more jolly event than a series of rather ponderous speeches. It is important that we should, from time to time, remember the great events of our history and refresh ourselves from our roots. I shall return to this point later in my speech.

It is important that we should commemorate the events of 1688 in a calm and dispassionate way. We do not want a Whig interpretation of those events, as outlined in Macaulay's history. For a Tory there is a good deal to be sad about what happened in 1688. The legitimate royal line was overthrown in favour of a Dutchman, even though his Stuart wife ruled in name equally with him. A number of the great magnates of the country turned traitor to their king. John Churchill, who later became the Duke of Marlborough, was in charge of the king's army to fight William but then went over to William's side.

On the other hand, we should remember some of the bishops of the Church of England who emerged with great credit, as they refused to swear an oath to William, having sworn an oath of allegiance to James. They were called the non-jurors and they have an honoured place in Anglican history. The main trouble about James II was his fanatical attraction to Roman Catholicism. That led him into all his errors. The rebellion was not, in any sense, the introduction of democracy into these islands.

Indeed, after 1688, the government became more and more of an oligarchy and the power of the Crown to intervene if necessary to protect the poor, as Strafford and Laud had done, was permanently crippled. Disraeli was fond of referring to this aspect of the rebellion. Nevertheless, the rebellion brought to an end the struggle for power between king and Parliament. The monarch remained the chief executive until 1714 when the Hanoverians came here but could not speak English.

Fortunately, the Church of England did not suffer. Although William was a Calvinist, Mary was a keen and devout Anglican, as was her sister, Queen Anne. Even at the time of George II, the Prime Minister, Walpole, was careful not to upset the Tory squires and clergy with regard to the Church by his policy of quieta non movere. Loosely translated, that means, let sleeping dogs lie.

It is important that we should remember these things. The constitution as it developed from 1688, with all its imperfections, and with its basis in the rights of property, was the foundation for Burke's attack, a century later, on the principles of the French revolution, which was based on the absurd notion of abstract rights. Since Burke's time, democracy has been fully developed in our constitution, although whether it has improved the quality of either this House or the other place is a moot point.

It is most important that we should remember that this country has a long and glorious history. We should nurture that and it should inspire us in all that we try to do here. This magnificent building, put up at the height of our power and influence in the 19th century, reminds us of our great past. It is important that we should never forget that past. We are not a new nation, as Germany and Italy are, but an old one. Our long history no doubt gives us that tolerance and poise which foreigners notice as the hallmark of our political stability. To listen to some people talk one would imagine that the political life of the country started only with the Beveridge report or with the Labour Government of 1945. We go back rather longer than that.

The idea of constitutional monarchy has developed in a marvellous way. All executive acts are done in the sovereign's name, but always with a Minister responsible to Parliament. The Queen also represents everybody from the highest to the lowest. That is a powerful force in the cohesion of the nation.

The hereditary peers have also survived, and long may they do so. They represent splendour, ceremony, tradition and, of course, independence. I only wish that in this House we had more representation of the landed interest. We need more squires and fewer lawyers, accountants, bankers, and book-keepers.

What a fortunate nation we are. We should be ever thankful for our constitution. We often need reminding of the pleasure that it brings to us. The celebrations will be extremely valuable. I am sure the Committee will do a good job. I am not in the least put off by the fact that a Pym is chairman, as the earlier Pym is, I gather, only a collateral ancestor. I am sure the present Pym is as good a royalist as any of us here.

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) will have to curb his affection for the Levellers and the Diggers but I am sure that he will also contribute a great deal because of his love of English history. I wish the Committee well and if it wants any help or guidance I am always ready to oblige.

8.38 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I am sure the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr Stokes) will accept my apologies for not following him in his line of thought. I am sure the House found his speech an entertaining interlude.

I support the pleas of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) that something should be done about crossbows and it should be done quickly. I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on the question of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 and Crown immunity. I also support my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) in his plea for some justice for speech therapists.

There are two matters on which I wish to address the Leader of the House. First, during the recess, the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education will announce the closure or proposal to close about 9,000 places in polytechnics and colleges of higher education. I believe that that will cause great consternation. People like myself believe that the Government should not be contemplating reducing places at higher education, that they should be expanding the places in higher education and that there ought to be an early opportunity for this House to debate these proposals.

I am also certain that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to make strong pleas about particular courses which are under attack. Therefore, I plead with the Leader of the House, if we cannot have a shorter recess to allow for a debate about the proposals to close places in higher education equivalent to the closure of one substantial polytechnic, to arrange either a statement or a debate as soon as we return after the Easter recess. Many hon. Members will wish to press the principle that there should be no closures, and even more hon. Members, especially Tory Members, will wish to plead that an institution in their constituency or their area should not close.

Some proposals have already leaked out and started to cause constemation. At Wolverhampton polytechnic, there is talk of closing the whole of the engineering course. My hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) and for Wolverhampton South-East (Mr. Edwards) are making strong representations about that. Some people argue that, as the Government have closed so many engineering firms in the midlands, it is logical to close places on courses. However, the whole House will hope that we can rebuild the engineering industry of the west midlands and other areas, and that in the next 20 years we shall need more rather than fewer engineers. I hope that that proposal will be hotly debated, and that the Government can soon announce that it will not go through.

There are proposals to close fine arts courses, which, again, have been serving the nation well recently. It would not be fair to list all the places that are at present threatened, because the proposals will be announced on 4 April, and some of the rumours may be inaccurate. When we return on Tuesday, we shall have education questions, following which I hope that there may be a statement from the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the NAB proposals, so that individual Members can make representations about the principle and particular closures that affect their constituencies.

If the Leader of the House does not make that opportunity available, the Government will probably be pressed for a series of Adjournment debates, and through other procedures of the House. Therefore, it would be for the good order of the House if the Leader of the House could find an opportunity for an early statement on those NAB closures, and a chance for hon. Members to express their complete opposition to the loss of 9,000 places in higher education in 1987–88.

The second topic that I wish to raise relates to a firm in the Stockport area. It is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold), who shares my concern. He was certainly spending a great deal of time yesterday and today trying to talk to the people involved to ensure that the jobs are not lost from his constituency.

As the people who work at Cableform Electrical Engineering of Romiley come from the whole of the Stockport area, I am sure that the Leader of the House will appreciate my concern about the matter. It is particularly alarming that this seems to be another example of financial manipulation, which has nothing to do with the genuine efforts of either the local management or work force. Cableform has been a successful firm in recent years. It has a good profit record, and good employee relations and, until last week, any hon. Member would have been pleased to have the firm in his constituency. Certainly, the people of Stockport were pleased that it offered such good job opportunities.

It appears that the parent company, Contech, got into financial difficulties because of its activities connected with technology in the North sea, and decided to put Cableform up for sale. Last week, assurances were given that a series of bidders would be considered, including a management buy-out bid. It was understood that the bids had to be in by yesterday. People are alarmed and upset because on Friday Contech announced that Fisher Karpark Electrical Engineers from Sowerby Bridge had concluded a preliminary deal, without the other bids being considered, and that a contract of sale to that company would be signed tomorrow. Not only would the sale go ahead without the consideration of the other bids, but it would result in the loss of all the jobs at Romiley, the closure of the factory and the transfer of the work to Sowerby Bridge.

I appreciate that the people in Sowerby Bridge would like to have those jobs, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will appreciate the considerable concern of the people in Stockport that, as a result of financial dealings, a successful company can be plucked from Stockport and moved elsewhere. Certainly all the hon. Members for the Stockport area are extremely alarmed at that proposal going ahead, especially in view of the fact that the directors of Contech seem to have neglected their duties under the Companies Acts at least to take employees into account. Indeed, some would argue that they have failed to take into account even shareholders' genuine interests in quickly concluding a deal with Fisher Karpark Ltd. without waiting, as they had originally intended, to consider alternative bids.

I hope that the Leader of the House can give us assurances that the Department of Trade and Industry will look carefully at the matter, to see whether the Companies Acts have been observed. I hope that the Department of Employment will consider the implications of the sale, since I understand that notices of redundancy have been issued, and there should now be 90 days of discussion. It appears that those 90 days will be a complete farce because I am assured that in the agreement between Contech and Fisher Karpark it is proposed that, once the factory is empty of work, it could be sold back to Contech for some other activity.

I am sure that the Leader of the House will wish to consider the matter carefully. I assure him that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove and I are anxious to meet the management of Fisher Karpark and Contech to ensure that the jobs remain in Stockport, and that the people who have been working efficiently and loyally for the company are not thrown onto the scrap heap and the work transferred elsewhere.

8.47 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I hope that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) will forgive me if I do not comment on or follow what he said. He will appreciate that he has been making some constituency points, and I intend to do likewise.

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House because I am aware that this is the third occasion on which I have raised a particular constituency matter—that is, the NIREX proposal to site a nuclear waste dump in my constituency. You will recall that I had the opportunity to speak to the House during the Consolidated Fund debate, when I made it clear that my constituents are implacably opposed to the proposal. They are opposed on three grounds, and I shall summarise them briefly, because I have elaborated on them previously.

First, we do not believe that it is right, proper, safe or appropriate to dispose of intermediate-level nuclear waste, albeit of the short-life type, in a near-surface disposal facility. Secondly, we do not believe that the geological and hydrological properties to be found at Fulbeck make the site appropriate. Thirdly, we believe that the road network will make the safe transport of the material impossible.

I have made those points before and I should like to emphasise them tonight. I know that a similar approach is adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) who shares my views on this matter. I should not be in the least surprised if my hon. Friend sought to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make his observations.

Since I had the opportunity of speaking about this matter during the Consolidated Fund debate, two particular points have arisen which require some consideration. The first is financial loss. It is important to realise that my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes are suffering real financial loss. When a person seeks to sell a property he may find that, as a direct result of the NIREX announcement, he is unable to sell that property at all or at its full price. My constituents and those of my hon. Friend are therefore suffering substantial financial loss. Society has no policy to deal with that loss, as NIREX is not under a statutory duty to compensate, and there is no other authority to which my constituents can go.

My constituents are suffering financial loss through no fault of their own, and the House must, as a matter of urgency, discuss what can be done to help people suffering in these circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and I are corresponding with the chairman of NIREX in an attempt to agree upon compensation schemes. I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that that is an inadequate approach, and we will in due time be pressing for a proper compensation scheme, if necessary backed by the authority of the House.

My other point is a more narrow one. The spokesman for NIREX has made it clear that the road transport communications for Fulbeck are inadequate and that, unless a great deal of public money is spent on upgrading those roads, there is no possibility of NIREX using Fulbeck. My constituents and I are extremely angry to learn that intense anxiety, concern and fear have been caused, when it now seems that the road transport system is inadequate even in the view of NIREX. I wonder whether NIREX is behaving in a responsible fashion. The hostility to these proposals in Lincolnshire is intense, it spans all parties, and it is implacable, and I hope that it succeeds in defeating the proposals.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to help me on one or two matters. As he will know, about three weeks ago the Select Committee on the Environment published a report on the disposal of nuclear waste. There were a number of conclusions in that report, some of which do not directly touch on the matter that I am raising. Some, however, do.

First, the Select Committee reports that there is no urgency for a new facility. We know that the low-level material can continue to be disposed of at Drigg at least until the turn of the century, and probably beyond, especially if the modem technologies of incineration and compaction are more widely used. Moreover, the intermediate-level waste can continue to be stored where it is—on the stations and plants which produce it. There is, therefore no urgency.

Secondly, and perhaps most important, the Select Committee states in terms that a near-surface disposal facility—or if I may call it this, a dump—is not an appropriate way of disposing of intermediate-level waste, whether short-lived or long-lived. Yet NIREX is proposing to dispose of intermediate level waste in such a facility. NIREX is going in the face of the recommendations of the Select Committee report in the central feature of its policy.

The Select Committee makes it clear that the nuclear industry has not pursued a policy of sustained research into methods of disposing of these classes of material. That is one of the most serious criticisms of the industry that I have yet heard in a responsible publication.

We all know, and the Select Committee revealed, that there are other viable altemative methods of disposing of such material, notably in deep geological sites on land or in the sea bed. I should like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to help me at this point. On any view of the matter, the Select Committee has produced a report which contains conclusions which require and demand a detailed considered response. It seems to all of us concerned to be wrong that we should contemplate the possibility of having to debate the special development order before we have had an opportunity to debate the Select Committee's findings.

I would put it more strongly than that. This country, my constituents and the House will not understand how we can properly debate the special development order until the Select Committee report has been considered in detail by the Government, the Department and the nuclear industry, or before the House has considered, not just the report but the Government's and the industry's response to it. We could not justify such a course of action to our constituents. How can I tell my constituents that we are right to debate a special development order before we have considered the Select Committee's report? That is not possible, it would not be right, and my constituents would be right not to accept that.

It is imperative to a proper discussion of these special developments orders—should we reach that stage; on other occasions I shall seek to persuade my right hon. Friend not to reach that point—that we leave ample time to debate the Select Committee report in the context of a full and reasoned response by the Government, Departments and the nuclear industry. That is the request that I make to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House tonight.

8.58 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Deus ex machina, the Leader of the House should go to the Ministry of Defence tomorrow morning, judging by the number of contributions pertaining to that Department. If he is the senior Cabinet Minister in the pecking order, he should summon the Secretary of State for Defence to his room.

The first defence issue can be dealt with rapidly, because it was covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). Like him, I have been in contact with Mr. and Mrs. Mills. The tragic death of their son in possibly negligent circumstances in the Falklands makes revision of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 imperative. I leave it at that, because my right hon. Friend put the case eloquently.

On a second topic, I make no apology for returning to the case of Mr. Clarence Robinson, which I raised after 1 am in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and to the strategic defence initiative research.

First, what is the Government's view of the activities of Clarence Robinson, whose visit to Britain at the beginning of March was discussed on the Floor of the House, and especially of his attempt to suggest that his stay here was sponsored by British Aerospace? Secondly, what do the Government think in the light of Clarence Robinson's apparent duplicity in using the hospitality of British Aerospace to suggest that this lent him the necessary credibility to visit other firms, such as GEC-Marconi, to discuss classified research work which had already been denied to him? Those are not the actions of a simple innocent tourist. Mr. Clarence Robinson has a relationship with the Pentagon and the Government of the United States.

Thirdly, was Mr. George Gallagher-Daggitt, as the director with responsibility for university and research councils in the SDI organisation, correct in stating that academics taking part in the SDI innovative science and technology programme would retain the freedom to publish their research and that the opening exchange of scientific views would continue? Alternatively, was the spokesman for the United States embassy correct in describing the classification process, based on military critical review technology, as one which would deny freedom to publish research and would preclude the free and open exchange of scientific ideas? Both could not be right. Either the United States embassy or the senior official attached to both the Ministry of Defence and to the Department of Education and Science, presumably speaking for the British Government, was correct.

How much money can British academics hope to obtain from the United States SDIO's innovative science technology programme? Is it a little, as stated by George Gallagher-Daggitt, or is it a lot, as our leading universities appear to imagine?

Fourthly, does the deal between Westland Helicopters and United Technologies allow for the world-leading technology of Westland's research into composite materials to be permanently removed from the United Kingdom for the sole use of United Technologies to further its aspirations to secure SDI research contracts with that same technology?

Fifthly, were the Prime Minister and the Government informed and has approval been given for discussion of the detailed and classified items from the memorandum of understanding by the strategic defence initiative organisation meeting in Washington today on Tuesday 25 March? Was permission sought from the Secretary of State for Defence by the Government or by the United States to discuss the contents of the memorandum of understanding at that seminar in Washington today?

Sixthly, what practical reason can the Secretary of State for Defence now provide for not publishing the memorandum of understanding and for not allowing a full and proper debate on the commercial, legal and diplomatic issues which it raises, now that the SDIO has taken a unilateral decision to discuss the contents of that agreement and what purports to be a private meeting with British companies in Washington—the terms under the export of goods control order and extra-territoriality?

Seventhly, will the Secretary of State for Defence eventually tell the House what are the specific arrangements outlined in the memorandum of understanding which cover the following issues, all of which I understand are being discussed in Washington at the meeting today: first, the security procedure; secondly, the administration of contracts; thirdly, the limitations of the memorandum of understanding; fourthly, the right for Anglo-American partners within the SDI programme to attend conferences together; fifthly, the arrangements which must be made for face-to-face meetings; sixthly, any other administrative procedures with a bearing on security or on the classification of research and development work; seventhly, the intellectual property rights; eighthly, the national and international trade laws; ninthly, the requirement for Government guarantees to underwrite SDI research; and, tenthly, any penalty clauses attendant on the award of SDI research contracts.

Eighthly, will the Secretary of State for Defence say whether he has taken any action, and what was that action, to quell the fears of the British research community that participation in SDI will in the near future have detrimental effects on the free access to scientific research and collaboration in development, free trade in high technology products and the freedom of individuals to discuss scientific and technical ideas?

Ninthly, does the Ministry of Defence have any plans to publish parts of the memorandum of understanding in the form of a commercial guide for British firms participating in SDI?

I have been very precise and very detailed. I do not apologise to the House at all, because this is a matter of gargantuan importance. I am glad that the Leader of the House is nodding in agreement, because, whatever may be the differences between the Government and their critics, of whom I am one, I do not think that either of us would in any way underestimate the vast importance of what is loosely called star wars, although I prefer to stick to technical terms.

I wish to raise another matter which I first raised in the form of a parliamentary question on 18 December 1985. I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what financial payment his Department is making to Mr. Jim Smith following disclosures by him to the Department which led to £400,000 excess profits being recovered by the Department in respect of defence contracts placed with his then employer; and if he will make a statement."—[Official Report, 18 December 1985; Vol. 89, c. 215.] To save time, I shall not go over the detailed answers.

The issue here is: what are the Government's obligations to what are loosely called whistle blowers? I refer to a number of press cuttings to establish the view that this is not an esoteric interest. On 16 December 1985 Mr. Richard Norton-Taylor, writing in The Guardian, said:

The principle that whistle-blowers should be compensated is recognised in some cases by the Inland Revenue, which can reward people for information about companies or other individuals. Mr. Stephen Bates, writing in the Daily Telegraph two days before Christmas, on 23 December, said of Mr. Jim Smith:

The Ministry praised him for his 'public spirited co-operation' in its post-costing operation with Aish, which has repaid £421,000 but has refused to consider compensating Mr. Smith for the loss of his job. He is on the dole and is having to sell his house in Camford Cliffs, Dorset. On 30 November, an article in The Economist, under the heading Thanks ever so, Mr. Smith", ended by saying:

The Ministry's policy is not likely to win over many other prospective whistle blowers. If it wants people to risk their jobs to safeguard the public purse it had better stand ready to compensate those who lose thereby with something more than hot air. Again in The Guardian, on 21 December, it was reported that Sir Gordon Downey, the Comptroller and Auditor General—as a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, I always take Comptrollers and Auditors General seriously—told the Committee:

Mr.Smith's allegations clearly had a significant impact on the volume and effectiveness of the MoD's post-costing activity with this firm. The basic story is that Jim Smith tried to stop Aish bluntly ripping off the Ministry of Defence by subtle accounting methods introduced to the company by a new executive. Jim Smith was sacked in the middle of a board meeting when he refused to agree to what looked like being a fiddle of accounts. The next day he passed to the Ministry of Defence all the information about what he saw as a racket. He sued for unfair dismissal and lost in a nasty case of miscarriage of justice. The tribunal made it clear that it found against him because there was no evidence, so it said, of excess profits. But at the same time the Ministry of Defence accountants, who had been helped by Jim Smith, had exposed huge excess profits. Later, £400,000 was paid back by the company and it agreed not to charge another £350,000 which it had originally asked for. Now, almost every week more slabs of money are being paid back to the taxpayer.

Meanwhile, Jim Smith, who brought the situation about, found his business collapsing. He worked as a consultant in a close-knit circle of people who understand defence accounting. One by one, for their own reasons, they started to desert him. Work from the Ministry and from the defence industry around the Ministry dried up. Almost at once he found himself without an income. He had been used to a high income and had a big mortgage which he could not pay. Now he faces eviction and all sons of illness and family problems.

I come to a matter which should, I think, concern colleagues of all parties. I am informed that the Treasury has said that it would consider a recommendation for compensation if it came from the Ministry of Defence. No one knows better than the Leader of the House how careful the Treasury can be. Will he find out from the Treasury—I shall put down a parliamentary question to establish it—whether my information is correct and precisely the terms in which the Treasury has said, or has been alleged to say, to the Ministry of Defence that it would consider a recommendation for compensation?

I understand that the Ministry of Defence absolutely refuses to pay a penny. It now claims that Jim Smith did not tell it at once about the excess profits and is producing all sorts of things—the worst is lies—from Ministry officials to substantiate its claim. I put against that what is in public print from the Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir Gordon Downey. Why should the Ministry be so uncharitable to a man who has saved it £1 million or more and in the process has exposed the way in which other contractors may well be fiddling their profits?

Will the Leader of the House tackle the Secretary of State for Defence about the actions in this matter of his Ministry's arms sales directorate and the way it has worked on the key contracts committee of the Defence Manufacturers Association? On that association, was there any director of Aish? Bluntly, could it be that the arms sales directorate is in some way protecting its friends and an industry which would be heavily exposed if people like Jim Smith were encouraged to come forward? While Smith is in the mire, others like him might be discouraged and malpractices would go on.

I recollect that in 1974 Alan Grimshaw came to Parliament to tell us about malpractice in the National Coal Board, then under the chairmanship of Lord Robens. His information was certainly used to save the board about £7 million, but the coal board sacked Grimshaw and he died a few years later in poverty and bitterness. He was a decent man and the way he was treated was a disgrace to Parliament. Parliament owes something to Jim Smith and to those who are prepared to stand up for the public interest.

Mr. Paul Foot writes: Jim Smith is a brilliant and honest accountant. He helped to save the taxpayer three quarters of a million pounds by telling the truth about the company he worked for. He's been rewarded with an offer of supplementary benefit, and is being forced to sell his house. In The Mirror of 6 February the story was repeated.

I must tell the Leader of the House that I have been rather careful about this matter. In making a speech of this kind one does not simply rely on one, two or even three sources of information. I have been worried about the matter for some time, ever since before Christmas, when I started putting questions. It raises a broader question about the way in which civil servants and those who work for the public service and are concerned with the public interest are treated by this House.

This is neither the time nor the place to go into all the lessons of the trial at the Old Bailey 13 months ago of Clive Ponting. One of the lessons I learned from it is that there should be some board outside the Civil Service to which those who are either in the Civil Service or have relations in it can go. One step would be to make the head of the Civil Service rather different from the Cabinet Secretary, because the juxtaposition of those two jobs is deeply unsatisfactory.

In the absence of a really independent head of the Home Civil Service there ought to be some board organisation—all right, consisting of retired mandarins or people who know—to which someone in difficulty, like Jim Smith or Clive Ponting, could go to explain his side of the story. The Labour party is now committed to such a board or organisation. I want to know tonight and in the coming weeks whether the Leader of the House thinks that the House of Commons has given proper treatment to Jim Smith in the light of the service that he performed for this nation.

9.18 pm
Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

I listened riveted to the story of Jim Smith told by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is slightly within my knowledge, because I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I wish him well in his pursuit of the case.

I want to raise another matter which, like that raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), arises in a neighbouring constituency but which is now of major concern to all the members of the local authority, in my case in Manchester, not Stockport. The matter has now become one of national concern. I refer to the situation at the Poundswick school in Manchester.

Let me refresh the memory of the House. Hon. Members will simply know of this matter as the graffiti case. The trouble with this case, like so many, is that it hit the headlines and then disappeared. Such cases are a matter of interest for a few moments. People take a glancing interest, make a few speeches, have a demonstration and then the matter goes away. But the people who are affected have to go on and bear the burden. In this case that burden is still being borne to this day.

I wish to bring the matter to the attention of the House before we rise because it is rather urgent and Easter is crucial in the story. The story began on 18 June last year when there was some grossly obscene graffiti, so obscene that it has never been published and is simply passed around from hand to hand, that made remarks about members of staff and their families. It was carefully planned, some of it being written backwards so that it would be seen through the windows outside, and most of it was of enormous size.

Five pupils admitted to the headmaster that they were responsible. The governors of the school investigated the matter and agreed with the headmaster that the pupils should be sent away. The local authority overturned that decision. As a result of the local authority's decision, teachers refused to teach the five pupils. That was the beginning of a long-running dispute.

It is impossible to describe to the House the effect that that has had on the school. The school has been totally ruined. The boys concerned were in the fifth year and the latest data that I have, which are from March, show that the number of pupils attending in the fifth year is 6 per cent. of the total. But the effect goes throughout the school. Fifteen per cent. of the fourth year are attending; 36 per cent. or one third, of the third year; 58 per cent. of the second year; and only 71 per cent. of the first year. It can be seen that the effect of the dispute has ricocheted throughout the school and has had a devastating effect.

Alas, there is more to it than that. The local authority caused this trouble. I make no bones about saying that there is a strong political element in it. Leaving that on one side, it made its position known and that was the bed that it had to lie on. For a long time, the battle raged and the unions refused to allow the teachers to teach. At the end of last year an agreement was reached with the National Union of Teachers and one of the other unions that the teachers would go back. The condition on which they were to go back was that they would not have to teach the five boys.

That sounds wonderful, until it is realised that the five boys were sitting in the classroom with a number of other children. The local authority was signing an agreement with its own teachers saying that the pupils in their care were no longer, by remit of the local authority, to be taught by their own teachers. In other words, because the five boys were going to turn up—nine councillors turned up at the gates to make sure that they did turn up—the other pupils in the classes were not to be taught. That, by any standards—I am delighted to see that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has joined us—is disgraceful.

I urge the House to consider where we go from here. I put down a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, which he answered on Monday, asking him to intervene or to do something to put the matter right. His reply, which I half expected, was that it is a local authority matter and he cannot intervene. I would question that, and the matter is now extremely urgent. I would question it because a local authority has the duty to provide education for the pupils in its area.

Of course, we all know that if there is a normal dispute certain circumstances will arise. But this is not a normal industrial dispute. It is a situation in which the local authority itself has put its hand to an agreement by which it deliberately excludes certain of its pupils from proper teaching.

A number of suggestions have been made: that the boys should be taught elsewhere; that special private tuition should be given to them. Obstinately, they refuse to consider them. They say that they wish to go to the school and to hell with the other pupils who are left outside. They say that the other union, which is the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, which has refused to go along with this agreement, should go along with it. If it did, the net effect would be that 177 of Manchester's pupils in the fifth year would not be receiving full-time education, by a ruling of their own local authority.

This is a matter of grave concern not only to Manchester, but to the whole of the education service. The Secretary of State has a duty to ensure that the local authority does not operate in this manner. It is particularly urgent and particularly sad because, as my hon. Friend will recognise, the fifth year is the most crucial for many schoolchildren. They will be taking their examinations this year.

Two things happen between now and the examination period. One is that, on 23 May, it is usual for fifth formers to leave school. That is quite normal, but they have the right to stay on until the end of July. So far, the local authority has refused to make any statement as to whether it will enforce the 23 May date. The effect will be that those teachers who are now out will not be able to take part in the planning for next year, so that the effects of this dispute will go on not only through the current academic year but into next year as well.

More important—I urge my hon. Friend, if he possibly can, to use his good offices to solve this problem—if those children in the fifth year, despite all the problems that they have had and all the efforts at studying at home and in other ways, turn up for those examinations and one of the five boys appears in the same room, all the teachers invigilating—not only members of the NAS/UWT, but all of them—will leave and the examinations for all those pupils will not take place.

There has to be a way of solving that, if nothing else, and I urge my right hon. Friend, before we rise for Easter, to have a word with his right hon. Friend so that something is done about it.

9.28 pm
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr.Silvester) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks, but of course the issue that he has raised is one that has hit the national headlines and we are all deeply concerned, like him, that there should be a solution to that very difficult problem.

I want, to follow the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), because he and I, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham) have had a bombshell dropped upon our constituents in the form of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 25 February that we were to be the subject of a special development order to be laid before the House after the Easter recess which would foreshadow the possibility of our four constituencies being subjected to test drilling with a view to finding out whether one of them would be suitable for the dumping of nuclear waste.

In the case of my own constituency, the bombshell was dropped somewhat earlier than 25 February, because I found out in May last year that it was the intention of NIREX to recommend to the Secretary of State that my constituency should be included in that list.

I was not idle between last May and 25 February last year. I made several attempts to find out from my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment whether the rumour that we had heard last May was true, but they refused to confirm or deny that rumour. The rumour became fact. I have to say that when I hear rumours about possible action to be taken by the Government or Government agencies in my constituency that is likely adversely to affect it, whereas in the past I was prepared to dismiss such rumours as idle speculation, I shall err on the side of believing them.

The argument against South Killingholme being chosen as a nuclear dump is similar to the argument aganst the use of Fulbeck, Colchester, South and Maldon and Mid-Bedfordshire. All those sites have good reasons for not being a nuclear dump. They all have special characteristics. I know three of the sites well for the simple reason, as I have said before, that when I make my weekly return journey from my house to this House, I pass through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and within a mile of the village of Fulbeck. I am usually on side roads and going slowly, and I take the point that my hon. Friend made about the roads in his constituency. I drive through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire, and he is right to draw attention to the density of population there.

I draw the attention of Ministers in the Department of Environment to the fact that South Killingholme has two oil refineries, is already housing, below ground, some several thousand gallons of liquid petroleum gas and is a village alongside the Humber bank that has more than its fair share of hazardous industries. I know that it could be said by Department of the Environment Ministers and NIREX—not publicly but privately—that as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has a constituency that is already a rubbish dump for the dangerous and hazardous materials produced in it, and he has already had the misfortune to represent, in his former constituency, the village of Flixborough, he can jolly well put up with the naming of the site.

The naming of South Killingholme as a site was based not on any reasons of geology or logic, but on one fact. The Central Electricity Generating Board happens to own a piece of dead land in my constituency for which it has no other use. It happens to be, by coincidence, a major shareholder in NIREX. It intimated to NIREX that it had no other use for the land, and that it would make a good rubbish dump for nuclear waste.

Rehearsing constituency points is for another occasion, but I wish to concentrate the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham, that since the statement of 25 February there have been developments in the House with the publication of the report of the Select Committee on the Environment. My right hon. Friend shares a concern and responsibility for the Select Committee system. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham said that it would not be understood in our four constituencies how it could be possible, at the end of April, for a special development order to be laid before the House, before the conclusions of the report have been considered by Ministers, NIREX, hon. Members and our constituents. It would make a mockery of the whole Select Committee procedure. It is a major report, very highly regarded on both sides of the House and chaired by an hon. Member who is well regarded by everybody. When he puts his name to a report of this kind it carries a certain honour and integrity.

Therefore, it is not simply a Select Committee report attacking the Government for party political purposes, to be tossed on one side; it is a report that concerns every hon. Member because the constituency of every hon. Member could have been a target. I am sure that every hon. Member, if the chips were down, would not be able to recommend to his constituents the dumping of nuclear waste in his constituency.

The Select Committee report cuts across all party lines and brings to the House and the country certain very important conclusions. I want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to some of the conclusions in the report, specifically paragraph 280, where the report states:

We therefore recommend that site selection criteria should be established in advance and published for each type of waste disposal route likely to be developed. Thereafter, the Department of the Environment should ensure that any possible future disposal sites identified by NIREX should satisfy the site selection criteria for that disposal option. Thus responsibility for final 'short-listing' of possible future sites should effectively rest with the Department of the Environment rather than NIREX". My argument with my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of the Environment is that they constantly tell me that the selection of my constituency was nothing to do with them and that it was a matter for NIREX. However, the Select Committee report states that it is the Department of the Environment which should take the responsibility for site selection.

I think that it would be wholly reprehensible for our Select Committee system if we were to have a special development order laid before the House which flies in the face of the evidence and recommendations made in the Select Committee report.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to respond not to passion—although we can adduce, and have adduced, passion—but to the cold logic put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and supported by myself. The case against a special development order for our four constituencies is arguable and we shall argue against it. However, the case against laying the special development order before the House before Ministers have had time to consider the report and their response to it is unanswerable.

9.38 Pm

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will experience, as I once did, the tremendous relief of learning that NIREX is no longer interested in his constituency. I say that not only because of my concern for his constituents—although if not his constituents, inevitably somebody else's, would suffer—but because my hon. Friend has made such a signal contribution to our debates on many subjects and it would be a real tragedy to lose him, for however brief a time.

I seek to stop the rising of the House before a commitment by the Government—either before the Easter recess, or we may be able to delay it until the recess on 5 May—to more flexible licensing hours and a commitment to action in the next Session of Parliament. The present law was designed to meet social and economic conditions during the first world war and shortly afterwards. That was in the days of the horse and cart: a time of war, when work patterns were quite different from those of today. Public attitudes and desires were then very different, but we are now in the 1980s.

As time is short, I shall make two brief but important points in explaining why the time for change has come. First, there is now too much unemployment. More flexible licensing hours would lead to the creation of more jobs in, for example, the brewing industry, restaurants, public houses and hotels, and in the tourist industry generally. After all, if we had more reasonable licensing laws—foreigners and many of us see them as unreasonable—many more people would be attracted to this country. We do not need to gaze into any crystal balls, because we actually liberated the Scots in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. That Act introduced wide flexibility. It is interesting to note that as a result, one in three public houses has taken on extra staff, and 1,500 more people have been employed.

If the same pattern was followed in England and Wales, we could be reasonably sure that at least 15,000 new jobs would be created, together with a further 5,000 new jobs in restaurants. There would be increased capital investment, which would lead, in turn, to more equipment and services. As a result, more people would be employed in producing those services. In Scotland, the services have improved through, and since, that legislation. More food is provided in Scottish public houses and other tourist spots. There are better amenities too. Such facilities would provide, of course, more work in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Secondly, more flexible licensing hours would reduce drunkenness, and therefore crime. The figures published by the Scottish Office and the Home Office in 1984 show that, in Scotland, offences of drunkenness fell by 41 per cent. during the past five years for all age groups, compared with a fall of only 9 per cent. in England and Wales. For the younger age groups, the under-21s, where the greatest problem exists, offences of drunkenness in Scotland were down by 49 per cent.—almost a half—while in England they fell by only 12 per cent. Of course, that is not solely due to licensing changes. Many other factors were involved, including the slight depression in the economy in that part of the world, which cannot be gainsaid.

However, it is clear that, since the Licensing (Scotland) Act and the abolition of strict licensing controls in Scotland, there has been no deterioration in that great country's moral fibre, and no increase in crime. That is why many chief constables now support the view that flexible licensing hours would help to reduce public order problems. For a Government who are so concerned about public order and respect for the law, that must be a very telling point.

I will not delay the House, which is anxious for the next business, with my formula for reform. However, the Brewers' Society has proposed a very reasonable formula which retains complete control by the licensing justices, as everyone of good sense would wish. I call only for a commitment in principle. A commitment would be popular not just with brewers, licensees, managers, the British Tourist Authority and the English tourist board but with the people in this country. It would be in line wth the recommendation made by the Erroll committee 14 years ago. It would be in accord with modern social requirements. It would provide jobs and reduce crime. It would be consistent with the Conservative party's principle of restoring freedom with responsibility where we can. Because of all this, it would find support in the whole House.

In the past, a very small number of hon. Members resisted such changes because they believed that any relaxation in the law would lead us into the arms of the demon drink himself. Governments have not had the courage to face up to that minority, and the law has not been changed. Now, at last, we have a Government full of conservative principles, good sense and courage. I call for a commitment that will put cheer into the glasses of most of us in this country this Easter adjournment, and especially of those who will be drinking cheerfully in the public houses and the businesses of Burton on Trent—the brewing centre of England.

9.47 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I thank the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) for the punctual conclusion to his speech. He spoke with a consuming and, I suspect, a consumer's passion. He seems to see flexible licensing rules as a social panacea. It seems that there is no problem facing this country that would not be resolved at a stroke and I am sure, therefore, that suggestion was noted with great interest by the Leader of the House. However, being of a mildly cynical disposition I am forced to note that we in the House already enjoy that privilege. The trouble is that I am not sure that our example convinces any of the doubters, inside or outside the House.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke with an understandable passion that would have been shared by any hon. Member who found himself confronted by what the hon. Gentleman rightly described as the bombshell that he and his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and others had to face in the recent announcement. The easy energy source of the nuclear world is another panacea, but there is a tendency to overlook the inconvenient fact that the resulting waste is slightly different from coal ash or the residue from oil-burning. The hon. Member for Grantham outlined the problem of housing blight. Although a real problem, it is, sadly, probably one of the least of the problems besetting all our constituents.

Most hon. Members probably share the hon. Gentleman feelings, because we could all be in the same position. The hon. Gentleman made the point that it would be an abuse of logic for us to debate the special development order before debating the report of the Select Committee and hearing the Government's response to that report. I hope that the Leader of the House will feel able to accept that clear and overwhelming case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), with his innate capability for asking searching questions—I doubt whether there is any other hon. Member who researches his speeches in more detail than does he—referred to Mr. Jim Smith. He made sure of his facts. He not only checked his facts; he double-checked and treble-checked as many sources as possible. If I understood the reactions of hon. Members, there was a general feeling in the House that he has drawn attention yet again to a case where there has been real abuse.

When somebody has saved the Ministry of Defence between £420,000 and £1 million, it is something of an ingratitude for the Ministry to sit back and let the man lose his job. He is on the dole and he has been forced to sell his house, but the Ministry refuses to offer any compensation to him, despite the fact that the Comptroller and Auditor General appears to have substantiated my hon. Friend's points. This is a positive deterrent to similar disclosures and therefore to similar savings of public money in the future. The whole House ought to want to ensure that this matter is properly investigated.

My hon. Friend also asked questions about past and present events relating to the strategic defence initiative. I have little doubt that in the time that is available to him the Leader of the House will ensure that all my hon. Friend's questions are fully and adequately answered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) referred, rightly, to the fact that, when all our competitors realise the importance of education and training in this age of high technology, we are, unbelievably, cutting back on the resources that we are willing to devote to education and training. The Confederation of British Industry and industry generally are pleading with the Government and saying that there is a desperate shortage of skills, but in 1987–88 the Government intend to reduce the number of places in higher education by 9,000. They are also abandoning the Robbins principle.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) who was in his place a moment ago but who has now left the Chamber, although he is normally punctilious about being in the House for wind-up speeches, referred to the establishment of a Committee for the tercentenary celebrations of the events of 1688. I noted that his adulation of the hereditary peerage savoured of the defence of illegitimate legitimacy. That marked his analysis of the development of the great families of this country.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who apologises for the fact that he is unable to be here at this stage, raised an important point which had considerable support on all sides of the House—the fact that service men cannot sue for negligence. Most hon. Members will have had experience of cases of this kind. My right hon. Friend asked me to make it clear to the House that he was not referring to negligence during wartime. In many of his speeches, including the speech on his early-day motion, he made it clear that he was referring to non-combatant duties. He understands the difficulties that would arise in wartime. However, he rightly ridiculed the pathetic arguments that have been raised by the Ministry of Defence against the abolition of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) is aware of the very deep and genuine anxieties, on both sides of the House, about the future of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill. Would it not be quite wrong for us to approve this motion before hearing from the Leader of the House about the Government's intentions as to that Bill? My right hon. Friend appreciates that I did not hear most of the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) on a matter that directly concerns me. As my right hon. Friend appreciates, I have been frequently in touch with the Secretary of State on the matter about which I have also tabled parliamentary questions. I saw the deputation from Poundswick when they came to Parliament, but I understand that no Minister from the Department of Education and Science was able to do so.

Mr. Williams

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). On the last point, it is normal courtesy in the House to notify an hon. Member if an issue is raised which relates to his constituency. That is obviously a matter for my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Withington. That courtesy is normally extended by hon. Members to one another and I am sure it was an inadvertent oversight on the part of the hon. Member for Withington.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe raised the question of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill. There is grave disquiet in the country about the Government's intentions, especially among those organisations which represent disabled people. The Leader of the House should accept that we should see it as unacceptable for the Government not to announce what their intentions are at this stage in relation to the legislation. It is legislation which all those organisations which are involved with disabled people and those who have disabled people in their families, recognise as timely, humane and much needed.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) presented a case, with substantial evidence to support it, of the persecution of 35,000 Nepalese Christians. The House would always condemn intolerance, inhumanity and untruths of the type described, as we would condemn them anywhere they occur. The House looks with particular affection to Nepal because of the debt of gratitude that we have always felt and owed to the Gurkhas for the support they have given us in many campaigns for many years. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mossley Hill for giving us the opportunity to learn about this case.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) touched on an infuriating situation—the inadequacy of disciplinary procedures within all the professions, but in this particular case in relation to the medical profession. He pinpointed the General Medical Council's limited powers of discipline. He pointed to the need for wider powers and for intermediary powers and sanctions to deal with a wider range of cases than can be dealt with at present. I share his sense of the preposterous with regard to the arguments that were advanced by the GMC against the private Member's Bill which is coming forward. The Council's argument was nonsense and the hon. Gentleman has done a service in focusing attention on it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) opened the debate and dealt with the case of speech therapists. I am sure most Members have received representations on this issue and most of us recognise the dedication and ability of this specialist group within the National Health Service. We feel it is appalling that they are rewarded so inadequately for their critical and demanding work.

I am not sure whether I want this particular term to end. It has been a rather entertaining couple of weeks. The Government started back from Christmas still in the pantomime mood. Even in the weeks before we started back, they were leaking letters left, right and centre. We had the entertaining back-stabbing camaraderie of the Cabinet room. We had resignations, protestations and denials. We had "hunt the letter" and all manner of amusing, entertaining festive games, here on the Floor of the House.

In keeping with this atmosphere of buffoonery we had the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Transport. He is always good at joining in a situation of that sort and he gives value in that context. Therefore, understandably, he also popped up halfway through the period to be found guilty in the courts on a third occasion of abusing the laws and imposing illegal tolls on those of us who must use the Severn bridge.

To ensure that no Government foot remained uninjured, we have had several weeks of the British Leyland saga—the Government's attempt to sell to the very American companies which since 1978 have contributed to nearly all the extra import penetration that our car industry has faced—

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

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