Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday 29th July, do adjourn until Wednesday 19th October, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 29th July until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Durant.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer).
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
It must have been the expectation of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that, in a Session that commenced over 12 months ago, there would have been less unfinished Government business this July than in previous years. The backlog is, of course, a tribute to the Government's critics on both sides of the House and in all parts of another place. Of course, we all know that the last edition of Hansard before the recess will be fat with written replies to ministerially inspired questions, which the Government have been too shy, or too fly, to give while the House is still here to hold them to account.
The issue that I want briefly to raise, as the Leader of the House may have anticipated, is one of the first importance to millions of disabled people and their families; and at the outset I acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman is not unfamiliar with some of the more daunting trials of disability.
My concern in this debate is about information that Ministers have now withheld from Parliament for over two months and which, on present plans, will not be published even tomorrow. By any reckoning, it must be totally unpardonable for the Government to scuttle into the recess without a debate on the long-awaited results— known to have been with Ministers since May—of a new and definitive survey of Britain's disabled population by the Office of Population Censuses, and Surveys. It is, by common consent outside this House, quite disgraceful that we have been unable to debate the OPCS's findings and have not even been told officially what they are.
Rumours abound that the results fully vindicate the charge, long made by voluntary organisations, that Whitehall has been grossly understating both the number of disabled people and the scale of deprivation among them. Nor is there simply rumour. "Whitehall sources" who have seen the OPCS's findings say that they show there are now more than 6 million people with disabilities in the United Kingdom, large numbers of them pensioners who live in poverty.
That is double the figure given by the Amelia Harris report, commissioned by the then Labour Government 20 years ago, and Whitehall sources are said to have told parliamentary journalists that the new findings are seen as "disastrous" by Ministers in their implications for public spending.
We never truly knew what the numbers were until now",one senior journalist has been told,but we do now and there's no going back.His source went on:We now know who these people are. We almost know their names.The OPCS's report is said to give special emphasis to the problems facing elderly people with severe disabilities, 567 who are excluded from the Government's official estimates of losers from this year's social security changes. Many of them suffer multiple deprivation and the Government are said to be delaying publication of the new survey's findings in an attempt to find ways of disguising their significance. They are in no doubt that, if Ministers had published the OPCS's findings when they first became available in May, the public would already have demanded urgent action to relieve the suffering they reveal.
The Government's only recent initiative to help people with severe disabilities has been to set up the Independent Living Fund at a cost of £5 million. That was done a full two months after the Social Security Act 1986 came into force and two years after the Government had been told unequivocally what its effects would be for severely disabled people, old and young alike, striving to sustain their independence on inadequate incomes. They are people whose claim, and compelling need, was for benefits as of right.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)
Would my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the important point that he is making, it is astonishing that we are almost at the end of the second Session of Parliament after the Royal Assent was given to the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act in 1986, yet the Government still do not have proposals for its full implementation? The fact that the Government have dealt so inadequately with the Griffiths report suggests that— alas—these matters are not given the priority that my right hon. Friend would have given them.
§ Mr. Morris
I utterly agree. Moreover, I take this opportunity to pay further tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for his work in piloting that important piece of legislation to the statute book. He has support from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and it is grossly unacceptable that there should still be delay in implementing legislation of such importance to disabled people, their carers and their families.
The Independent Living Fund is a sticking plaster if ever there was one and, unless there is rapid action to translate the OPCS's data into social security benefits and the report by Sir Roy Griffiths into a coherent policy for community care, more and more disabled people will be consigned to the fringes of society. Sadly the OPCS's findings are already outdated by the punitive effects of the Social Security Act for very large numbers of the most needful disabled people and their families.
The Amelia Harris survey in the late 1960s, now reported to be extensively revised by the new OPCS report, found that two thirds of all people with an appreciable or severe disability were over pension age. On that basis, of the new figure of 6 million there must now be some 4 million disabled pensioners. Yet the Government's estimate of disabled losers from this year's social security changes left out disabled pensioners, as well as disabled children and people with disabilities who are unemployed. That is why the Government's estimate of 80,000 disabled losers so sharply contrasts with that of around 1 million made by the Disability Alliance, which represents over 100 voluntary organisations of and for disabled people.
When the Secretary of State for Employment, then the Secretary of State for Social Services, commissioned the OPCS's survey, the impression was given that the incomes 568 of disabled people would be protected until its findings became known and a full review of current benefits had taken place. Whenever MPs pressed for improvements in benefits they were told to await the OPCS's findings, while the Government perfected their plans to make some 1 million disabled people worse off last April.
In a recent letter to the then Minister for Social Security and the Disabled, the Disability Alliance wrote:We believe that the proposed publication of the OPCS's survey in September, in a manner apparently designed to stifle public debate, is demeaning to millions of people with disabilities. We urge you most strongly to make the survey's results available immediately so that they can be fully discussed before Parliament goes into Recess.But the Government are packing us off tomorrow having resisted every parliamentary attempt to secure publication of a social document which, if it appears in September, will no doubt do so under the guidance of "news management" specialists of the highest skill.
That is seen outside the House as an inexcusable case of deliberately avoiding parliamentary scrutiny and debate. Many will think it demeaning and contemptuous not only of disabled people but also of Parliament itself. If the Government still refuse at least to publish the findings they received from the OPCS in May—there is still time to do so before we rise for the summer recess—we must hope that news editors, now forewarned, will prove more than a match for the "news managers" when the OPCS's disturbing revelations finally see the full light of day.
It is no exaggeration to say that people with disabilities have been thrown into more confusion and despair by the Government's legislative programme for this Session than I can remember for 20 years. In almost every policy area, the Government either ignore them or positively harm them. As the Leader of the House knows from our debate on 20 July, there is deep concern among disabled people about the poll tax. In education, representations in both Houses on behalf of children with special educational needs have been swept aside; in housing, Shelter has reported both that the number of new houses built by local authorities and housing associations has declined and that most of the housing stock suitable for adaptation has been lost to local authorities; in the inner cities programme, the access needs of disabled people are apparently being left to chance.
Throughout the last Parliament, the Government seemed committed to driving people into residential care by ensuring that the money available from supplementary benefit was vastly greater in private residential homes than for disabled people living in their own homes. So towards the end of 1986, Sir Roy Griffiths was asked to investigate and to recommend a solution.
At least the Government have published the Griffiths report but, unlike others by the same author, it is gathering dust because its findings and suggestions do not fit in with the prevailing ideology of bashing local authorities. That too is indefensible and we need to know the Government's response to the Griffiths report before the House rises tomorrow.
The argument about the deeply harmful effects of the Government's legislative programme for disabled people is not only one between Ministers and the Opposition parties in this House. It is an argument, indeed a fierce clash, between the Government and all the major voluntary organisations of and for disabled people. They deserve a definitive response to the concerns they are expressing, before this House rises for the recess tomorrow.
§ Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant)
I shall not follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) in the subject that he knows so well and on which he speaks with such great authority. However, I am equally concerned about the public scrutiny of decisions of great importance and relevance to public policy. I wish to refer to two in particular which I think we should know more about. I refer first to the decision not to fund in full, or at least on the previous scale, the fast breeder reactor development in the United Kingdom and, secondly, to the decision effectively to cancel the extremely ingenious and promising British technological development known as HOTOL, the spacecraft which will apply new British technology to the conquest of space.
The relationship between the two projects will interest the House. In a sense, both have been either curtailed or placed on the slow burner for very much the same reason. In the case of the fast breeder reactor, the Government's reason is that they can see no particular requirement for the fast breeder reactor for 30 to 40 years. In the case of HOTOL, the main reason given was that there was no foreseeable market requirement for space launchers well beyond the end of the century. I believe that the phrase was "no foreseeable need".
Why are those two decisions important? I am raising the question of the fast breeder reactor this afternoon not because I am well known as a pro-nuclear buff, although I believe that the nuclear contribution to our civilisation in the civil sector is of immense importance, that it will grow in importance and that it is indispensable—I am raising this issue for a much more basic reason.
I refer the House to the international conference which took place in Toronto two or three weeks ago on the crisis of atmospheric pollution in our civilisation. I draw the House's attention to one of the principal conclusions reached by that conference:Humanity is conducting an enormous, unintended, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.The conference warned:without rapid remedial action, the world's temperature will rise by between 1.5 and 4.5 °C before the middle of the next century.… That would devastate coastal areas and islands by flooding, contamination of water supplies by salty waters, loss of farmland, and a dramatic increase in the number of tropical cyclones.I will not develop that point further, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to some of the conclusions which the scientific journal Atomhas reached on very much the same subject. It has pointed out that there are two consequences of what is happening, one of which is already accepted because we could not possibly stop it—it will probably inevitably take place over 10 to 20 years; the other is possibly within the limits of control, but both have substantial and devastating effects on the atmosphere. The article points out:A warming of 4.9 °C would be comparable to that which occurred between the coldest period of the last ice age 18,000 years ago and the present interglacial—all within the next 100 years! … in a mere 42 years, the world would be warmer, on average, than at any time within the recorded history of mankind … It is therefore crucial that science receives the support it requires to sharpen our understanding of the greenhouse effect"—for that is what the phenomenon is—and its potential impacts on environment and society. The longer we wait, the larger will be the climatic change to which we are committed.570 In what way can we contribute to that scientific understanding? As I understand it, the main way is by enlarging the present generation's scientific knowledge of the atmosphere, and of inner and outer space. In what way do we do that? We do it best by increasing our potential for placing scientific instruments in space. How can we best do that? By developing what are known as spacecraft—and the most eligible spacecraft available to the United Kingdom is HOTOL. So, where do we go from there? What judgment has been reached on HOTOL?
I can do no better—the House can do no better—than refer to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, and to some of its principal conclusions on space, which I believe are of outstanding importance. The Committee took evidence from the director general of the space agency in France, who reached an interesting, if Gallic conclusion, which is nevertheless relevant. For France,man in space … was simply a matter of sovereignty, 'like the sea around the United Kingdom'",and therefore seen as a matter of immense and overriding importance.
British Aerospace, in its evidence to the Select Committee, said:Between now and the end of the century there will be a dramatic acceleration in space exploitation in line with the growing realisation by the civil and military communities of the substantial benefits that it offers".The judgment of British Aerospace should not be lightly overridden, however biased or interested it may be. Another example is the recent decision of a major United States firm voluntarily and on its own account to reinstate the Atlas-Centaur production line to produce launch vehicles for commercial availability.
Other interesting and important conclusions of the House of Lords Select Committee include the following from the university of Southampton:Few of the potential benefits from space activities will be fully realised until a routine, low cost, re-usable launcher with simplified logistics is developed.The United Kingdom Industrial Space Committee regarded this as an "over-riding priority", and British Aerospace stated:Many people believe that space is the key to national security and economic well-being. But the key to space itself is the launcher.Superficial and rather glib comparisons have been made with Concorde, but the university of Bristol makes the following comment:Unlike Concorde, there seems to be every prospect of a genuine economic return because the basic cost of launch is massively reduced.The House of Lords Committee itself then makes the interesting statement:Opting out is not an option … The Committee recommend that the United Kingdom play a visible and effective part in the exploration and exploitation of space.At this point, the following recommendations fully serve my purpose. The Select Committee states:keeping the space budget fixed at about £112 million, has got the level wrong. This level of spending gets the worst of all worlds—too much for real savings, too little for lasting achievements. If the budget is to stay at this figure, the United Kingdom might as well bow out of space now.It concludes:the Committee do not find it reasonable to suggest that it is for private industry to step in where Government itself has declined to act. The Committee have argued repeatedly that British industry should spend substantially more on R & D, especially on D. They have also welcomed the systematic 571 efforts now being made to capitalise upon exploitable areas of science. But they do not look to private industry, in space or any other field"—and nor, for all my political philosophy, do I in this context, because it is totally unrealistic—
to be the major source of funds for activities where the commercial returns, even if they were assured, lie well outside normal commercial timescales.The word "timescales" brings me to the essence of what I have to say. I say it with the greatest reluctance, but it seems to me that in both these contexts the Government's policy is unimaginative, short-sighted and dangerous when considered in the fundamental context of the national interest. I ask myself, because I must, why that is so. Why have we spent only three hours in the past year or so debating fundamental scientific policy matters of this kind? Why do highly responsible and senior Ministers, whom I greatly respect in every other sense and who have before them the evidence that I have cited today, reach the decisions that they do? Can it be purely a matter of finance? Is it because they see a figure such as £5 billion and react—understandably, after the long history of uncontrollable subsidy—by saying that we must have no more of this? I entirely agree with that judgment, but there are areas in which the time scale is so long that it is entirely unreasonable to expect the private sector to undertake the risks inevitably involved. That is where a mistaken judgment has been made.
A sum of £5 billion is the kind of amount that has been bandied about in relation to HOTOL, but it is £5 billion over 10 to 20 years, and thus involves a maximum of £500 million or a minimum of £250 million per annum. Even then, I agree with the House of Lords judgment that this must be shared with Europe as a whole, because it is a project best brought to fruition on a European basis, with a major British contribution, but I cannot see such a contribution being based on the present arrangements or the judgments on which they are founded.
Those sums should be compared with the £2 billion per annum allocated by the Government for subsidy to the coal industry and other global budgets of that magnitude. In that context, £250 million does not frighten me. We must look critically at the balance of all these matters and if it means a little more stringency elsewhere, I would support such stringency so that resources can be released for major efforts in this direction.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Apart from blindess and apparent ignorance, is not the problem the lack of any forum in this House such as the old Select Committee on Science and Technology whereby my hon. Friend and others with great expertise in these matters can bring that expertise to bear and enlighten and advise Ministers? Does my hon. Friend agree that the HOTOL project required only £4 million to £5 million per annum for the next three or four years until project definition was completed? If that had been successful, more would then have had to be spent for development. Nevertheless, we are talking about tiny sums compared with the £50,000 million per annum that we spend on social security.
§ Sir Ian Lloyd
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend on both points. This House is enormously indebted to the other place for taking up the gauntlet that we flung down and establishing its own Select Committee on Science and Technology. We have certainly missed the contribution that such a Committee could make. The establishment of 572 a parliamentary office for science and technology may in due course make a modest contribution, but it is no substitute for a House of Commons Select Committee.
To my mind, the situation reflects a fundamental weakness in the organisation of the whole scientific community within the total community of the United Kingdom. When I say that that is a criticism of my party's Government, I hope that the Opposition will not gloat, as they made the same mistake. That failing has been a feature of both major parties throughout all the years that I have been in the House, and it will not be put right until the lack of balance is properly recognised at the very top. So far, it has not been recognised and there is no sign that it will be.
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to urge his colleagues to consider most carefully not just what I have said today but the evidence on which my comments have been based. That evidence is of profound importance, and I have seen no convincing arguments to refute it. Until I hear or read these arguments, I cannot support my right hon Friends in their decision to curtail the development of the fast breeder reactor or to reduce substantially—virtually to abolish—support for HOTOL.
If the greenhouse effect which I have described proves to be a major environmental phenomenon that successive Governments will have to address towards and beyond the end of the century, and if as a result—this is conceivable, although not yet proven—there has to be a dramatic and major reduction in the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, there will be only one alternative. By "major reduction" I mean thousands of millions of tonnes. All the fashionable alternative energies will not bridge the gap that will be opened when it is ordered that thousands of millions of tonnes of fossil fuels will not be burned. At the most, the fashionable alternative energies will produce 20 per cent. of our energy requirement. There would remain, of course, 80 per cent. If we have to reduce 80 per cent. to 40 per cent., the gap, as it were, of 40 per cent. can be filled only by nuclear power.
Will the gap have to be filled by nuclear power worldwide? I remind the House that the Chinese are now burning 1 billion tonnes of coal a year. Indeed, they take first place in the worldwide league table of coal burners. If nuclear power has to be generated on such a scale, it can be done with safety for our civilisation over a prolonged period only if we use fast breeder technology, which burns uranium 10 times more efficiently than the pressurised water reactor.
These are the perspectives that I believe the Government have neglected. If they have not, I should be delighted to know why and how.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
It is always a pleasure to participate in a debate after the hon. Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) have contributed to it. The hon. Member for Havant, in speaking of science and technology, and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, in talking of disability, have raised important and urgent aspects of public policy. They are right to argue that the Government should bend their mind to these considerations before the House rises for the summer recess.
573 I crave the indulgence of the House to raise a more human, more urgent and more current issue, which is the conditions that prevail in the prisons of the United Kingdom generally and particularly, because it is the area that I know best, in Scotland. I am not sure of the proprieties, but it occurs to me that I have not yet advised the hon. Member who represents the constituency in which Glenochil prison is to be found——
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Perhaps it is right that I should do so. If I should have informed the hon. Member concerned —I want to refer to Glenochil—I apologise in advance to whoever it might be.
There is deep and widespread anxiety in Scotland about what is going on in Glenochil. The general public are perplexed. Trouble is brewing, and I believe that it will continue to brew over the summer months. That belief is shared generally by the public in Scotland. If some of the worst predictions and fears are fulfilled, we may find that during the summer additional damage will be done to the fabric of the prison building. There is the danger that injuries will be sustained by prisoners, prison staff and the officers and wardens who look after the staff. The disturbances could easily get out of hand. There is a potential crisis in Scottish prisons generally, and in Glenochil especially.
Glenochil has been the subject of great controversy over recent years because of fatalities and other incidents. The prison authorities in Scotland decided to make Glenochil a full-blown prison in its own right earlier this year. A riot started on 4 May, which lasted on and off for nearly five days. Since then there has been what can be described only as a war of attrition between the prison management and the prisoners. My information comes from press reports. It is only through these reports that I and the general public can learn of anything that is going on in the prison.
Press reports suggest that the riot was caused by a lock-down after an assault on a prison warden. Following that assault, every prisoner was locked up and all visits were cancelled. An open day was allowed, and press reports suggest that it showed a great sense of hopelessness. There were allegations of brutality and of continuing and persistent degradation. The authorities allowed the open day to take place, but when the members of the press asked to cross-examine some of the inmates who were involved in the original fracas which caused the riots, they were told that they were not available. If prisoners are locked up for 23 hours out of every 24, I fail to see how inmates can be described as not available.
There are more than 400 prisoners, and they have in various ways made allegations. These include having to strip naked before they are fed. It is said that they have to hang from cell bars before they receive their food. The prisoners are locked up for 23 hours of every 24. They have no toilet facilities and none of them has any bedding facilities. If my memory serves me right, a 27 -year-old hanged himself in the prison in June.
The press reports and the other pieces of information that are available to me are extremely disturbing and worrying. The management say that the trouble has been 574 caused by a hard core of difficult and intractable recidivist prisoners who are not responding to reasonable attempts to compromise. It is alleged that they are leading a revolt and are responsible primarily for the trouble.
I was prompted to raise this issue this afternoon when I read a letter printed in the Glasgow Herald. It caused me a great deal of deep concern. The letter was written by Stephen Small from Her Majesty's prison, Peterhead. He explains in his letter—I think that the Glasgow Herald was right to publish it—that he was a prisoner in Glenochil until recently. He was there until he committed an offence, after which he was taken to Peterhead so that the matter could be investigated.
In a disturbing letter, he states:There were a few minor incidents between Christmas and May. Then on May 4, at 4.30 pm in D hall, an officer offered a prisoner a 'square go during an argument. The prisoner overcame the officer but was then attacked by another officer. The fuse was lit.There was a very heavy Mexican stand-off and everyone was locked up until the police came in to take statements, which they did that night. We were told we would be locked up that night and told the reason.There was no trouble that night. The following day everyone was expecting to get back to normal. We didn't. We got no slop-out, no exercise, no visits and late, cold meals. By teatime, people started smashing their cells. We weren't told anything about what was happening. The following day things got worse. Again, no slop-out or exercise or visits or hot food. The whole prison erupted.This prisoner argues that there wasno small core of hard men. Instead, there were 200 very disgruntled inmates who had up to that time done absolutely nothing wrong.His conclusion is:The reason it has continued so long"—that is, the riot—is that the Governor … has taken it upon himself to ride roughshod over the regulations contained in the Prison Scotland Act 1952. No less than 25 regulations are being broken … every day.That contradicts and refutes the allegation that a small hard core of difficult prisoners is causing the problem.
I do not blame the warders or the staff, however. I think that the filthy conditions are a direct result of the prisoners' activity. Prison officers can now patrol A hall only in full riot gear, and live in constant fear of being taken hostage. According to the press reports, they are pelted with urine and human excrement every time they enter A hall, and there have been three reported attempts at snatching officers and 12 alleged assaults.
There has been much talk of prison management breaking prisoners, or trying to bend them to their will. If the press allegations are true—they are the only information available to me; I have not visited the prison, and am not even an expert on the penal system—the management must be held at least partly responsible. I certainly think that there can be little excuse for denying prisoners slop-out rights for so long, and for denying them exercise rights for a total of 432 hours since the problem blew up in May.
I should like to call for an urgent independent inquiry, into Glenochil in the first instance but also into the general position, taken against the background of the recent difficulties and disturbances in Peterhead, Barlinnie and Perth in Scotland, not to mention Haverigg and Lindholme in England. This is a matter of public concern which requires urgent attention from the Government if we are to avoid trouble over the summer months.
575 My constituents, and other people in Scotland, are concerned to see in television sequences drugs being handed from cell to cell by inmates. It is also worrying that warders and staff are taking such long spells of sick leave. That, I believe, is symptomatic of the pressure under which they are working. It is also a disgrace and a scandal that some 5,588 prisoners are locked up in Scotland, which is a much larger proportion per thousand head of population than in any other civilised country on the continent.
The problem needs both urgent short-term action and longer-term investigation. There are long-term solutions to be found without much difficulty, including better access to parole. Only violent criminals really need to be gaoled. Far too many people are now in prison for defaulting on fines, for instance, and the number on remand—although the problem is worse in England and Wales than in Scotland—is also far too large. I was impressed by the recent report by the Church of Scotland, which advocated a wide range of non-custodial options. A number of other regimes are available to the Government, and could be made available in turn to the courts to accommodate and lessen the problem. The report also mentioned the probation service, which is woefully underdeveloped and under-resourced at present.
We were expecting a Government White Paper about the prison service with reference to Scotland. It should have been published by now, but the most recent news is that we must wait until September for this important document. Nor has the parole review yet been published which was to examine the Scottish position with a view to bringing the qualifying period for parole in Scotland into line with that in England. That too should be done as a matter of urgency.
There is a legal fiction in this country that we imprison people not for purposes of retribution, but to try to rehabilitate them. That has been blown out of the water by the disturbances that we see from day to day in our prisons, particularly in Scotland. Of course no hon. Member would or should condone violence or vandalism in prisons. It is a matter for the courts in the first instance to decide how crimes should be punished and dispose sentences. The Government, however, have a responsibility to provide public policy, resources and organisation to meet the needs of the day, and I do not think that that duty is being discharged.
The Government should immediately close A hall in Glenochil and relocate the prisoners until the problem can be investigated by an independent inquiry. They should then set up a wide-ranging inquiry into the state of the prisons in the United Kingdom. If they do not do that over the summer, I fear that the consequences may be not just more damage to the fabric of our prisons, but injury and loss of life to prison inmates, warders and staff.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Clwyd, North-West)
I shall be a good deal briefer than any hon. Member who has spoken so far.
There is a matter that I would have wished to raise if the House had not been about to disperse, and which may develop rather too swiftly during the recess. The "bed and breakfast" racket has been with us for some time now, but there is an ingredient which, if not new, is becoming increasingly prominent.
576 The seaside resort of Rhyl in my constituency is a very pleasant place to be. For a long time now, the advantages of being unemployed in Rhyl rather than in Manchester or Liverpool have been sufficiently manifest to attract to Rhyl people with little chance of finding a proper job there, other than the briefest of seasonal employment at. the most down-market end of the tourist trade. As a consequence, the level of unemployment there appears to be scandalously high for about nine months in the year.
Now, however, the nuisance is becoming something rather worse. A number of rather dubious firms have begun to realise that a steady and lucrative business can be built up not just by providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation for those with no job and nowhere to live, but by attracting people to such accommodation from far afield. What is more, the profits are so substantial and so certain that the firms are now in the market to buy up property for that purpose.
The profits are substantial because the scale of lodging allowance paid by the DHSS for this so-called hostel accommodation is higher than the level of housing benefit that would be paid by the council—which would, of course, have asked the rent officer to fix a reasonable rent. Such firms are making a fat and assured profit, and they are making it entirely at the taxpayers' expense.
Recently, the YMCA building in Rhyl came on the market. The council, in pursuance of the Government's intention that it should act as enabler rather than provider of housing, invited the Clwyd Alyn housing association to buy it, and to convert it to sheltered housing as part of the much-needed housing improvement in this rather rundown part of the town. The housing association, however, was easily outbid by a speculator, who then resold the YMCA premises to a company called Bideawhile, which has converted it into what it openly describes as a DHSS hostel.
Let me quote from a letter that I have received from Rhuddlan council's housing director:If this property was providing for a local need, then, no doubt, we would not have the same concern, but it would appear that the premises are filling up with families who are being encouraged to move here from other areas by press advertisements. The Area Office of the Clwyd Social Service Department is particularly concerned at the increasing workload that is being placed upon them, as already they have been consulted by 13 famities who arrived at the former YMCA building, and have subsequently approached the Social Service Department with their problems, and some of these families are already known to have serious problems. Examples of places from where they have come include Trafford, Salford, Halifax, Winsford, Preston and Blackpool. As a result of contact with Social Service staff in their home towns, it is known that a family from Trafford and a family from Halifax both voluntarily walked out of secure Council housing accommodation in those areas to move to this new accommodation in Rhyl.The following example of a press advertisement was spotted in the Manchester Evening News on the 22nd June, 1988 and read as follows:—'SINGLE MOTHERS/PARENTSand children. Secure accommodation offered. DHSS welcome. Telephone Rhyl 4201 (Office Hours).'That is the number of the YMCA building in Rhyl.
The housing director continues:I have had discussion with the Deputy Manager of DHSS in Rhyl who advised that they have no power to prevent this type of situation arising or increasing. He advised that provided his staff were satisfied the claimants were genuinely in residence in this type of accommodation and were not here on holiday, then the claimants were entitled to board and 577 lodging payments, up to the maximum set down in DHSS regulations … The only limitation on payments of this nature would be to single persons under the age of 26.That process is also damaging the efforts of the council and others to improve the West End of Rhyl, which is a rundown housing area.
As the housing director puts it:Rhyl West End is considered a stress area by Community Agencies as a result of the high levels of unemployment … anti-social behaviour, drugs and a general high demand being made upon various agencies, particularly Social Services. It has also been our housing stress area … with the high concentration of houses in multiple occupation. In a determined effort to reverse the decline of the Rhyl West End, the Council has adopted a housing strategy involving the declaration of Housing Action Areas, and with the support of the Welsh Office has either completed, or work is in progress on, six Envelope Schemes involving some 250 properties.All that good work is liable to be undone if more and more properties in the area are snapped up by unscrupulous operators who will then scour the country for problem families with the promise of seaside accommodation paid for by the DHSS, and pour them into this most unsuitable accommodation, lining their pockets nicely at the taxpayers' expense.
It is easy to diagnose the problem; it is a lot harder to suggest a solution. There is an obvious racket, and an obvious discrepancy between the money that can be provided by way of housing benefit and what the DHSS can pay for bed and breakfast—and it is usually the sketchiest of breakfasts.
One thing is clear. This is a problem which calls for the tightest possible co-operation between the Department of Social Security, the Department of the Environment and the local authorities. I am not sure that the present arrangements have resulted from such tight co-operation, and I hope that during the 10 weeks of the recess those Departments and local authorities will put their heads together to good effect.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
I want to touch on another housing scandal, which also results directly from the Government's policies and shows the unacceptable face of the so-called enterprise economy. I want to challenge the Government on a matter of vital and urgent importance to millions of people which is given fresh impetus and urgency by the Prime Minister's shocking and uncaring reply in the House this afternoon.
The Prime Minister was asked about problems with house prices and she said that that should be left to action by the voluntary sector. The Leader of the House said the same. They meant that they do not care and will not act. I warn the Prime Minister and other Ministers that they cannot sweep aside the scandals of gazumping and the house price spiral so easily. Many right hon. and hon. Members have demonstrated that by signing early-day motion 1311 tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) a couple of weeks ago. Many people outside the House applauded its terms. Let me briefly remind the House of what it says.
The motion suggests that we should regard a decent standard of housing for all as a minimum objective in a civilised society, and notes the appalling effects of the present spiral in house prices, particularly on young couples and other first-time buyers. It deplores the way in 578 which gazumping can, at the last minute, snatch security from people who thought that they had reached agreement on a price for a home of their own. It calls on the Government to introduce emergency legislation for England and Wales, including the Scottish system for registering price agreements, at an early stage in order to achieve fairness for buyers and sellers alike, and to curb the excesses created by the pressures of the present over-free housing market. We hoped that that gentle appeal to common sense might receive a response from the Government, or perhaps a promise of emergency legislation, or at least a statement.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that any such legislation should also apply to Northern Ireland, because exactly the same thing is happening there?
§ Mr. Michael
I hesitate to suggest that something should be introduced for Northern Ireland, but I would happily endorse representations from Northern Ireland Members who sought the same end that I do in respect of England and Wales. There is a clear need for emergency legislation, and if the situation is the same in Northern Ireland I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will support my point this afternoon.
We expected some action from the Government— perhaps a promise of emergency legislation. After all, many hon. Members have illustrated the problem. We expected at least a statement, but at first there was nothing. Then, the weekend before last, it seemed that the Government had decided to respond to our plea and to do something. In a number of television and radio interviews, we saw and heard the then Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs talking of action to end gazumping and the house price spiral.
What a welcome and refreshing piece of news that was. The Minister specifically mentioned gazumping and the Scottish law, so we were pleased to have some reaction. We were a little perturbed at the suggestion that a voluntary code of practice for estate agents was all that was needed, but at least there seemed to be something on which we could comment; something on which a debate could be founded.
However, when we asked for details the following week, a mystery seemed to shroud the whole affair. There was no statement in the House of Commons. No consultative document was produced. There was not even a press release, although, as I have said, there was media discussion. When I contacted the Minister's private office, his staff could give no information.
Therefore, I tabled a series of written questions to Minister's from the Department of Trade and Industry asking for details of the proposals on which they intended to consult. The reaction has been simply to deflect those questions to the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State for the Environment, or whoever they could think of, exposing the fact that there was never any intention to tackle the problem of the house price spiral. There are no proposals. The announcement of consultations was clearly a sham and a piece of media hype. Instead, we have a shoddy case of buck-passing.
In my string of questions came the honesty of an answer from the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. When I asked what proposals he had under consideration to end 579 the practice known as gazumping in Wales and to slow house price rises, and what consultations he intended to undertake, he answered:I do not consider that Government intervention in the market for owner-occupation would improve the situation.To say that that is an honest answer is to highlight its only virtue. Like the answers given by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House this afternoon, it exposes the Government's callous indifference to a real problem. It exposes the Government's intention to run away from the scandal of house prices. It exposes the cynicism of a Government who want to look as if they are listening when they have in fact closed their minds to all pleas.
The Attorney-General and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment have also given stonewalling responses which confirm that from the Welsh Office. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) told my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling):House prices are determined by individual buyers and sellers, and the Government do not propose to intervene in private negotiations."—[Official Report,4 November 1987; Vol. 121, c. 725.]What an appalling and heartless response that is. Anyone—that must include most hon. Members—who has sought a first home or to move house will know that that is a traumatic and difficult process, governed by forces far outside the control of the individual buyer or the individual seller. Those answers expose the narrowness and bigotry of Ministers. The media hype of the Department of Trade and Industry appeared to offer care and humanity for a brief moment, but even that is being snatched away from us. Let me make it clear that, in his non-statement, the Minister was offering us very litfle in the first place. To suggest that a voluntary code for estate agents would solve the problem is manifest nonsense.
Rather than inaction or a voluntary code, the Government should bring in the best aspects of the Scottish legislation—it does not have to be the complete system—as quickly as possible, so that everyone is protected within a framework of law. There would be no need to bring in all aspects of the Scottish system. All that is needed is that element of certainty by which a price can be agreed and remain certain before all the legal niceties have been worked through.
At the moment, uncertainty is damaging to everyone. Those of us with homes do not gain, because if we sell our house it will have gone up just as much. Those without a home have the horror of seeing prices escalate beyond their reach. It is the young couples starting out in life and the elderly who want security in their old age who are most damaged by that situation.
The Government should come clean. If, as the Minister seemed to suggest on radio and television, the Government consult on the matter, they should set out the basis of consultation. Certainly a large number of people have a great deal of experience to recount because they have suffered personal loss in recent weeks and months. Talk of a voluntary code is a diversion. If the Government do nothing, they should say so clearly, and explain to people their reasons for that extraordinary and callous neglect. They should either give us the basis of the negotiation or say that they will do nothing before the recess so that we know where we stand.
Without an immediate and positive response now, before the recess, the Government must stand exposed by the answers of Ministers, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister. They must stand guilty of failing to act, 580 they must stand guilty of a cover-up, and they must be exposed as guilty of running away from the house price scandal and abandoning millions of ordinary people who need a simple framework of legal protection as they undertake the single most important financial transaction of their lives, to put roofs over their heads.
§ Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise three issues before we adjourn for the summer recess.
In 1984, the Government were so concerned about advances in medical science relating to research projects involving the human embryo that they established a special committee of inquiry under the chairmanship of Lady Warnock. That report, which was far from unanimous, was subsequently debated in Parliament and it was clear that there was general opposition to the use of the human embryo for the purposes of research Mr. Enoch Powell, who at that time was a Member of Parliament, chose to use his place in the private Members' ballot to introduce a Bill—the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill—to prevent the use of the human embryo for experimental purposes.
When that Bill was debated in Parliament, it received an overwhelming majority on Second Reading, but it failed to make progress due to the vagaries of our private Members Bill procedure, which make it possible for a small but determined handful of hon. Members to block progress on any Bill, no matter how great the support it enjoys in the House.
In the next Session, the Bill was again given a substantial majority when it was reintroduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves). Again, a majority blocked its progress. In the ensuing Session, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) made an unavailing attempt to get the Bill through, and in the current Session, the Bill has been picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind).
I should have thought that it was obvious that the House wanted to legislate on that subject. Recognising that, the Government produced a consultation document, and after receiving evidence, last year published a White Paper setting out their plans for legislation which would involve bringing forward a Bill with alternative clauses —one allowing embryo experimentation and one preventing such experimentation. Indeed, during the last general election, they gave a commitment that legislation would be brought forward as soon as practicable.
Therefore, I hope that the inclusion of such proposals will appear in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. But there are disturbing rumours that the Government have no intention of taking action on that important issue. I do not believe that the House should rise for the summer recess until we have had an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that he accepts that failure to legislate would be greeted with profound disappointment by many hon. Members and by millions of people in the country.
Similarly, we cannot go into recess with clear consciences until we have reached a decision on abortion law reform. I have raised that issue before, and I make no apology for raising it again.
581 It was clear from the repeated majorities in favour of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that the House believes that the time is long overdue for the reform of our too-liberal abortion laws. The Abortion (Amendment) Bill was a limited measure and would have allowed the House to reach a decision on this important issue. However, the Bill was lost because a small but determined group of opponents used the procedures of the House to prevent the necessary votes from being taken. All that was needed was a little extra time. All the arguments had been made and people outside Parliament could not understand why, having debated the issue, Parliament was prevented from expressing its will.
I hope that, before we rise, we can receive from my right hon. Friend an assurance that in the near future the Government will find some way for the House to reach a conclusion. I warn my right hon. Friend that the problem will not go away. If no action is taken, similar Bills will continue to appear, and the more that opponents of abortion reform do to prevent a decision being reached, the more the House will be brought in disrepute.
Unless those matters are dealt with before the House rises, many right hon. and hon. Members will not be able to start the recess with easy minds, and we will join that other large group of deeply troubled people—the Barlow Clowes investors, some of whom, through the collapse of the Barlow Clowes companies, have lost their entire life savings. Those people were not greedy, and they were not speculators; they are ordinary retired people, some of whom invested their redundancy payments in that unfortunate venture. They have in common a sense of disbelief and shock at what has happened to them.
I am always wary of giving publicity to constituents' private problems, and many constituents have told me about their heavy losses over this fiasco. However, a church in Altrincham has been hit by that debacle. A recent article in the Manchester Evening News stated:An Altrincham vicar fears his church has lost £42,500 invested in the crashed £190 million empire of Cheshire tycoon Peter Clowes.Building work at St. John the Evangelist, in St. John's Road, Altrincham, has been left unfinished after construction of a parish and community centre in the west end of the Victorian building stopped days after the crash.It went on to say:they went ahead with the investment on the advice of 'a practising Christian', Mr. Gordon Pettie. His Poynton-based Gordon Pettie Investment Services was last week suspended by Fimbra, the watchdog for financial intermediaries.The money came from the sale of the church hall alongside St. John's, which is a landmark in the Altrincham area.Later in the article the vicar stated:'"What really sold us on this investment was that the brochure for BCI portfolio 68 implied that all the money would be invested in gilts.'In the event, when the liquidators moved in they discovered that out of £138 million invested in the offshore BCI fund only £2 million had been placed in gilts, and there was only a further £24 million in bank accounts.I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry set up an urgent inquiry by Sir Godfray Le Quesne, and we can expect a report in mid-October. I went to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on behalf of my constituents. He told me that he had read every letter that had been sent to the Department of Trade and Industry by Barlow Clowes 582 investors. He had been saddened and upset by some of the letters; he promised that the report would not be a whitewash and that it would get at the truth.
However, I was disturbed to read in the Daily Mail on 25 July:A battle between Trade Secretary Lord Young and virtually the entire Tory party is boiling up over the Barlow Clowes financial scandal.He has told MPs he will vigorously oppose Whitehall compensation for about 17,000 small investors.It continues:But Lord Young, fully backed by the Treasury, is digging in hard. It is not so much the money as the principle. If the Government is found to have been negligent, the Barlow Clowes affair could become the benchmark for other cash claims on Whitehall when other firms crash on the Stock Exchange.That is not good enough. If the report proves that there were faults in the Department of Trade and Industry, then some compensation must be paid.
Many of my constituents have told me that they invested in Barlow Clowes because it had the stamp of approval from the Department of Trade and Industry. Many investors feel that they should have been alerted long before the crash.
Therefore, before the House rises, there should be a statement that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not set his face against compensation, if it is proved that there is culpability at the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope that justice will be done for the 18,000 unfortunate investors.
I hope that we can have a statement on those three important subjects—the protection of the human embryo against experimentation, abortion law reform and the need to reassure the Barlow Clowes investors—before the House rises for the summer Adjournment.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
I want to follow the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), although I hasten to add that there was no collusion between us.
Before the House rises, I wanted to consider the stress that is caused by the shortage of affordable housing to rent and to buy, which is at its worst in East Anglia, and worst of all in my constituency. The problem is reaching crisis proportions, and is a result of Government policies, high mortgage rates, uncontrolled house prices and a virtual end to house building by local authorities.
I shall exemplify what I have to say by showing the extent of stress caused by these factors in my constituency. In Norwich, a small terraced house costs about £45,000 —although it may have gone up while I am speaking. It is not unusual for the price of a house like that to rise by £1,000 overnight. Gazumping is rife. Many of my constituents have complained to me that they wish that the Government would follow through an ostensible promise made by a Minister last week to do something about gazumping, if only by moving to an approximation of the Scottish system.
Norwich has the highest rate of house price increases in the country. Last year, house prices in the city rose by 40 per cent., and in the last quarter by 25 per cent. I do not know whether the changes in the Finance (No. 2) Bill will make any difference from the end of this month, but at the 583 moment it looks as if house prices are rising geometrically, with about 50 per cent. increases every half year, as against 40 per cent. in the whole of last year.
East Anglia in general, and Norwich in particular, have traditionally been low-wage areas. Many people there work in occupations with an average wage of £6,000 a year. So even if a building society or insurance company is willing to offer a multiple of three times a person's income, the cheapest house is still out of reach. If a person and his partner can raise between them three times the former's income and one and half times the latter's, the smallest terraced house will still be out of their reach.
The council's waiting list contains 5,000 applicants— the highest number ever—of whom 3,500 are now in shared accommodation. Five hundred elderly or disabled people are on the waiting list for sheltered accommodation, of which the city has 170 units. The waiting list for such accommodation can be imagined. A typical elderly person waiting for transfer to more suitable accommodation—typically from a house on an estate into a ground-floor flat, sheltered accommodation or a bungalow —has a wait of four and a half to five and a half years. Many of them die while on the waiting list.
A single person's average wait on the list is five years or more, so many single people end up sharing accommodation in houses in multiple occupation. The number of such houses in the city has risen dramatically in recent years. Many of them are overcrowded and unsatisfactory, with poor facilities and inadequate fire safety standards. The council's programme of inspection has been put under pressure by the sheer number of properties to be visited, and it is not even known for certain how many there are.
Many families with children in upper flats are in desperate need of suitable accommodation. There are 1,700 such people on the waiting list with 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. priority. Not one of my surgeries goes by without a couple or a single parent being reduced to tears by the fact that they are stuck in an upper flat with no prospects for years to come of moving themselves and their children into a more appropriate property with a garden and a space to play in which the children can be supervised.
Norwich city council used to have one of the finest housing records in the country, with 25,000 council houses under its control. Ten years ago it built 528 in one year; in 1988 the prospect is that it will build 76, of which 20 or 30 will be sheltered accommodation. It will take 20 years to clear the backlog of private house owners who are waiting for home improvement grants under present Government allocations.
The city of Norwich housing committee's annual report shows the financial contribution that the city can make to decent housing. Like any other district, it draws up an annual housing investment programme for new housebuilding, improvements and modernisations. This year's bid was for £22 million, part of which would be met by borrowing. However, borrowing for housing investment by local authorities must be approved by the Government, who have consistently refused to allow Norwich to invest in local housing. The amount approved was £5 million. As a result of being able to keep 20 per cent. of the funds realised from the sale of council houses, the final outturn was £12 million. Local freedom to set a realistic and responsible budget for housing investment has all but disappeared.
584 To summarise: extraordinary market forces in the private sector have driven owner-occupation beyond the means of many local people—particularly young people setting out on an independent life, and newly married people. These forces have created a shortage of rented accommodation too. Government policies on housing investment mean that the council is trying to meet the need for affordable rented property without adequate resources, which are continually refused by the Government. As a result, housing waiting lists are longer and longer, there are new levels of homelessness and more people are being forced to live in overcrowded and unsatisfactory conditions.
As I said before, Norwich has an exceptional record for good housing. I am pleased to say that it has been under Labour control for 55 years. It now has the largest Labour majority in its history and I have no doubt that it will be under Labour control for the rest of my lifetime.
Given the opportunity, the council could provide the decent housing for which it was famed until the onset of this Government. Government policies have forced all this housing stress on my constituents, and that is a matter that should be drawn to the Government's attention before the House rises.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me, as the first non-knight to speak from the Conservative Benches in the debate.
I agree with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) about Barlow Clowes. I raised this subject with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in business questions this afternoon: it is a matter of the greatest importance. If, when the report appears during the recess—as presumably it will—it blames the Department of Trade and Industry directly or indirectly, many hon. Members will expect immediate action to be taken to compensate those who have been left in a distraught state.
There is no point in shirking this. We must ask ourselves, in the event that the DTI is blamed, who takes the responsibility? If nothing happens and we go on as before, we shall have to conclude that ministerial responsibility no longer counts for anything in this country. I shall expect something to be done immediately if blame is apportioned to the DTI—and so will my constituents who have been affected. I cannot say this too strongly to my right hon. Friend.
A few days ago, a disturbing report appeared recommending that the Government should consider abandoning the formula of the resource allocation working party—the so-called RAWP formula—which was first put in place by the last Labour Government, specifically by the then Minister of State responsible for the Health Service, Roland Moyle.
I first entered the House as a Member representing Leicestershire in 1974. At that time the Leicestershire health authority—or its predecessor, the area health authority—received only 75 per cent of average National Health Service funding. Largely as a result of the RAWP formula, it is now up to 96 per cent., but I stress that we are still 4 per cent. below the average. The RAWP formula should not be taken away from Leicestershire. Further, it should not be taken away from the whole Trent region, 585 which, as the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) knows only too well, is poorly funded. It is essential to the Trent region and Leicestershire district health authority. I entirely understand why Ministers want to help London hospitals, but they must not do so by messing around with the RAWP.
We must give more attention—I know that we had a debate on this subject on Tuesday—to the state of our roads, especially our motorways and the need for more bypasses. The M1 and M25 are an absolute scandal. It is disgraceful that deplorable forecasts were made years ago, yet we are still building new roads that will be over capacity before they are even opened.
When Ministers bring forward the transport policy programme allocations to local authorities later this year, money should be found for essential bypasses. Traffic is fast grinding to a halt in Oakham in my constituency. We must have a bypass, but it appears that it could be 10 years or more before anything is done. As a modern industrial country, we should be ashamed of the state of the M25 and M1 and of the delay and inconvenience that they are causing motorists and lorries taking essential exports abroad.
Please will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as a matter of urgency when we return after the recess, arrange for the annual debate on the reports of the Public Accounts Committee? There is an essential wealth of material to be brought to the attention of the House about gross waste of money by one Department after another, especially the Ministry of Defence. We need to hear how Ministers will respond to the reports of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. Apart from my constituency work, I regard serving on the Public Accounts Committee as the most important and constructive work that I do in the House.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I welcome this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House a problem about which I feel as strongly as hon. Members do about the problems in their constituencies—the Government's privatisation proposals for Northern Ireland.
It has already been said that the Northern Ireland electricity service will be privatised. An announcement has been made about Harland and Wolff, and, to top it all, Short Brothers plc is to be privatised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will address these problems later, but I express my views in the hope that the Government will respond positively to our joint appeals.
Today, a group of responsible trade unionists from Belfast came to London to express to hon. Members their concerns about the disasters that they perceive of massive job losses and irreparable damage being done to the Northern Ireland economy at a time when we need evidence of continuing good will and support. I sincerely hope that the Government will not try to provoke confrontation and industrial conflict, because it can and should be avoided at all costs.
Ulster Unionist Members do not dogmatically support nationalisation or privatisation. We recognise the merits of privately managed industry, and, in certain circumstances, 586 further privatisation of industry in Northern lreland may gain acceptance and support, but the time and circumstances are not right for wholesale privatisation. It is being done for the worst possible reason—to gain the Prime Minister's approval by implementing her policies regardless of the consequences for Northern Ireland. To some, that would seem the only possible reason for the lemming-like rush to privatisation.
The Shorts sell-off will be regarded as sounding the death knell for Ulster industry. Following the proposals for Harland and Wolff and the Northern Ireland electricity service, it shatters confidence in our fragile economy and will produce uncertainty across our weak manufacturing base.
As elected representatives, we cannot condone complacency or inefficiency. Evidence of industrial co-operation between trade unions and management has shown a commitment to higher productivity, greater efficiency and a desire to give value for money. Our recent experience is a catalogue of collapse among major industries. Private sector companies such as ICI, Courtaulds, Klingers, British Enkalon and Careeras in Carrickfergus—which for several years received Queen's awards for exports—have all closed down, despite their efficiency and productivity. Confidence is therefore not inspired by claims that private sector industry will secure long-term employment.
Jobs at Shorts can be sustained until it is profitable. Jobs in all sectors could be secured if assistance were given through public funding. The current spate of privatisation proposals do nothing to give hope to young graduates, school leavers, the long-term unemployed, those undergoing retraining or those whose jobs are threatened.
Privatisation could result in more damage to our industrial base than the sustained terrorist campaign of the past 20 years. If there is a withdrawal of support for large industries, terrorists will claim success and say that they have had a further victory in their "Brits Out" campaign.
Hundreds of companies take sub-contract work from large firms, thus providing employment throughout the Province, in which people from all sectors can share. The whole industrial community, because of the position at Shorts, feel threatened. Managers employed in the public sector foresee an opportunity for greater reward in private industry. Their interest in, and judgment of, privatisation is coloured by the salary increases that have occurred after denationalisation.
As elected representatives, my colleagues and I continue to support the public funding of industries in Northern Ireland. Since direct rule was imposed, the policies pursued by successive Governments have not produced peace, security or prosperity. We are tempted to ask whether privatisation is the final sabotage. When will the Government listen and respond positively to Northern Ireland's representatives?
Shorts is recognised internationally, and operates at the frontier of modern technology. We want it to remain a single entity. We accept responsibility for the allocation of necessary funding from the Northern Ireland block grant to sustain existing industries until there are other employment alternatives for our people. The credibility gap between the ordinary people of Northern Ireland and the Government is growing and becoming more difficult to bridge.
587 We appeal to the Government to recognise the special difficulties of Northern Ireland, such as high unemployment, which at current job-creation rates, will not be significantly reduced for nearly 20 years. There are more people unemployed than there are employed in our wealth-creating manufacturing sector. We have still to benefit from the boom in British business that is so often referred to. Government support for our large industries is needed to maintain progress, to maintain the confidence of existing investors and to encourage potential overseas investment in Northern Ireland.
I am tempted to ask whether there is a deliberate policy to secure equal unemployment for everyone in Northern Ireland. The privatisation proposals could achieve just that. We ask for an opportunity to get Northern Ireland manufacturing industry on a sound base before any decision on privatisation is taken. Her Majesty's Government could prove that there is no economic withdrawal by withdrawing the proposals to privatise Shorts.
I appeal to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his Ministers to undertake to support the management and trade unions at Shorts with an imaginative investment policy, to modernise facilities and machinery and support development projects that will ensure the continuation of Shorts as a design/engineering aircraft manufacturer. That is a much better option than a sell-off, with all its dangers for future employment. I hope that there will be a positive response before the House adjourns.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
As I said yesterday in the debate on immigration, in global terms we are a small island with a large population. It is vital that we should consider in detail the structural and physical development of our country so that sensible, enlightened and protective systems are in place at the beginning of the next century.
With some glaring exceptions, our record on planning and protection has been fairly good, particularly when compared with continental countries. It has been better than large city reconstruction, where architects and builders have effectively ruined so many city centres. The pressures for expansive further development appear to be irresistible—some of them have been mentioned today by Opposition Members—and it is essential that we should adopt a fresh and refined approach.
For years I have been saying that we must guard against the ultimate concrete jungle running from the Trent all the way to Brighton. However, every generation and every decade brings with it more building and a worrying diminution of the countryside. There are new pressures, for a variety of reasons. The chief reason is the need for less land for agricultural purposes, and there is the question of what use should now be made of it. More and more people want to live in the south-east—in London, the home counties and the southern part of the west midlands.
§ Sir Dudley Smith
Usually I would willingly give way, but I wish to be brief because many colleagues want to take part in the debate. I intend no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will understand.
588 My concern has been stimulated by developments in my immediate area. The probable opening of the M40 motorway next autumn has turned mid-Warwickshire into a gold-rush area. Everything is booming. The value of many houses has doubled in a short time. With the coming of the motorway, people, companies and national organisations are discovering that mid-Warwickshire is the heart of England and that it has excellent communications, is pleasant and desirable, with a good infrastructure and atmosphere. The result is escalating house prices, almost on a par with London, and the inevitable pressures for much more building.
The extraordinary thing is that our population has increased far less than was anticipated 30 years ago and will show only modest increases for the foreseeable future; yet we have a vast concentration of population in the south-east and it is now beginning to spill over into the west midlands. The penalties are over-priced property, traffic snarl-ups of horrendous proportions, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), and a general environment that is far less attractive than it used to be.
It is opportune that this week the Countryside Commission produced a discussion paper entitled "Planning for change: Development in a green country-side". That should be debated in the House and I hope that we will have an opportunity to do that when we return in the autumn. After reading the excellent report, which is still in its draft discussion stage, and listening to the debate in my area on the intensifying pressures, I am convinced that we need to embark on some essential courses.
We must maintain the integrity of the green belt and the continued separation of urban and rural areas. There must be a much more determined bid to convert derelict, vacant and available land in towns and cities into housing areas. I know that there are already rules on that, but they do not appear to be effective enough. We need a latter-day Domesday Book survey, a veritable crusade by the Department of the Environment, to achieve an impact. We must retain the integrity of attractive and well-developed communities, such as those in mid-Warwickshire, despite the calls for considerable expansion due to population pressures.
We need new villages, attractively and imaginatively developed on suitable sites, with housing of an expensive and modest type, which is compatible with a village atmosphere and which does not look as if it had been transported from an urban housing estate. We need to revise our planning laws, particularly the appeals procedures, which at present enable many developers to press and press until finally they overthrow the decisions of elected councillors and the wishes of the local residents.
Those are vital and substantial matters for the future. They certainly need to be discussed, and I commend a reading of the report to all hon. Members who are interested in the future of our country. It is our responsibility, and we must discharge it properly.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
The motion we are discussing says:the House shall not adjourn on Friday 29th July until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.I do not know whether there are any outstanding Acts or whether the poll tax Bill has yet returned for its Royal 589 Assent. If it has not, I would gladly see it lost until the next general election rather than put such a constitutional and democratic monstrosity on the statute book.
We are about to move into recess for almost three months. That harms considerably our constituents' interests. Hon. Members have no parliamentary avenues for the redress of grievances on behalf of constituents. There are no parliamentary questions, written or oral, no petitions can be presented, no early-day motions can be presented for Departments to read, no Adjournment debates and no interventions or contributions in debate. There is one value in Parliament going into recess for three months, and that is that no fresh legislation can be put on the statute book in that time.
The position for constituents is serious. The only avenues that remain open to hon. Members are to write letters to Ministers, many of which take a considerable time to be answered during the recess, or engaging in publicity. The chances for publicity are greater for some hon. Members than for others. As an honest tradesman and a new Member, I am wedged between my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Their avenues for publicity may be somewhat greater than mine, However, if the House is sitting, I can follow parliamentary avenues.
I grant that it has been a long slog since Christmas and that the House has examined a vast amount of legislation. Hon. Members are ready for a meaningful break. I suggest that we develop different working patterns, and I am glad that the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) are present to hear my suggestion. I believe that we should operate in three or four-week cycles and then have a week off from parliamentary duties so that we can concentrate on constituency work and catch up on correspondence. We could then limit ourselves to a six-week summer break which would be concentrated more clearly on holiday periods and party conferences. In that way, our constituents would not lose their avenues of redress. Our constituents' interests dictate the introduction of such a working pattern, and it would allow constituency and parliamentary matters to be dealt with fully and properly.
A delegation from Derbyshire county council has just visited the Department of Trade and Industry. The council wants intermediate status to be given to the Chesterfield travel-to-work area. To make the sort of speech that I should make about the proposal will mean a wait of three months, but perhaps I may mention it briefly today. The criteria for determining the map of assisted areas were set out by the former Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)—when the review of regional policy was presented to the House on 28 November 1984. He said:The map has been drawn on the basis of objective criteria, and unemployment, long-term unemployment, job oppor-tunities, industrial structure and peripherality, have all been taken into account.Earlier, he said:In redrawing the map we considered the present and future employment patterns of each area, along with other factors, including the risk of distortions where non-assisted areas are adjacent to assisted areas."—[Official Report, 28 November 1984; Vol. 68, c.936–42.]590 If I had time, I would establish why those criteria mean that the Chesterfield travel-to-work area, which covers Chesterfield constituency, sections of Bolsover con-stituency and the great bulk of my constituency, should be considered for intermediate status. The area has suffered tremendously from cuts in the coal industry and its future is unsure. It requires Government assistance, and certainly intermediate status.
An area that retains an element of coal mining and coal dependency will have tremendous problems when electricity is privatised, with all that that entails for the competitiveness of coal. The ports Bills that are proceeding through the House—my district council has laid objections to the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill and the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill—will allow cheap coal from overseas to flood into Britain, and we know that South African and Colombian coal is produced in circumstances of great exploitation. A map given to me by the Opencast Executive of British Coal shows its interests in the constituency. Opencast developments would turn the area into a dustbowl. They will produce some jobs, but they will not be permanent and they will not replace the jobs lost in the deep mines.
Another problem in the area is the non-development of the east midlands railway line. The east coast line is being electrified, and the danger facing Derbyshire is that places such as Sheffield will be linked to the east coast line, so that passenger and goods development will be maintained in the north while the east midlands will be unable to compete. It could lead to a decline in goods services in the east midlands. In that context, there is a clear case for granting intermediate status, as one method of Government assistance, to the Chesterfield travel-to-work area.
Much more could be said about that, and I hope to do so in the House in the future. If we had more sensible working practices, that opportunity would come sooner rather than later.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I hope that the House will not rise for the recess until the Government have made a statement on the reasons why they decided not to support further the HOTOL project. It would have been even better if the Government had allowed parliamentary time to debate an issue of such magnitude. It was an abuse of the House that my right hon. and learned Friend the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced in a written answer that the Government would withhold further funding for the project.
There is no project of comparable significance for the future of space development in Britain, and experts much wiser than I have commented that the project offered immense hope for the future. Conventional launchers, such as Ariane, the Atlas Centaur and the shuttle, will prove far too costly in the future, and when horizontally launched reusable space vehicles become available, projects such as HOTOL will become the norm because they will be infinitely cheaper than conventional systems for putting payloads into space.
In November last year the Government were in a minority of one in dissociating themselves from the European Space Agency's long-term space programme. The Government decided not to support the optional 591 programme, Ariane 5—a man-rated heavy launch vehicle —secondly, not to support Hermes—a re-usable minishuttle—and, thirdly, probably not to support Columbus —a manned module—although they withheld their decision on this. I am glad to learn that the United Kingdom will participate in a platform associated with Columbus, which is of the greatest importance because it is Europe's contribution to the international space station project that is being led by the United States.
Space stations are the building blocks for future space activities. The Soviets know it well and have concentrated on ambitious programmes. For example, they are developing a very heavy launcher—Energiya—which will form the basis of a shuttle system. They have a somewhat less powerful launcher, the HL16, which will carry a space plane rather like Hermes. They have had Salyut and Mir space stations in orbit for protracted periods. They intend to send probes to Phobos, and eventually they will send their space vehicles to Mars and beyond.
In short, what is at stake is of the greatest strategic, as well as commercial and technical, importance, yet my right hon. and learned Friend the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster thought it appropriate to fob off Parliament with a curt written answer.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will have found me repetitious and boring in the past, because for week after week and month after month before the ESA ministerial Council meeting last November I suggested that the Government should find time to debate space policy. It seems to have been impossible for them to do so, so it is not surprising that they were at odds with expert opinion. In that sense, in this country we are somewhat poorly provided in Parliament. In the United States, in Congress there are Senators Glenn of Ohio and Jake Garn of Utah and a former senator of New Mexico, all of whom have been astronauts. Congressman Nelson, the chairman of the present House of Representatives space committee is also an astronaut. In the United States, space is a normal activity. It is a totally everyday activity whose commercial potential and strategic significance are understood.
In this country, we believe that space is weird and wonderful, out and beyond and fantastically expensive. Are we to suggest that our people in future will not be able to play a part in space activities commensurate with their technical competence and their undoubted innovative genius? The Government have been woefully shortsighted.
My emotions have alternated between fury and sorrow. To be candid, sorrow has predominated. I do not particularly blame my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Young, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He does not have experience of international collaboration. My right hon. and learned Friend the former Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster similarly lacks such experience. Collaboration is the name of the game. Space is a totally international business. We have had a meaningful, worthwhile space programme in Europe because we have collaborated and worked together with partner nations.
By opting out of the European space plan in November, the Government have put themselves at a disadvantage. If we hope to attract partners for HOTOL, it would have helped if we had supported other programmes in the European Space Agency's overall strategic programme. International collaboration is a game of quid pro quo. We enter some programmes which do not appear to have 592 short-term national interest to us and support programmes which may be of benefit to other partners. Overall, however, the benefit to all partners is indubitable and must be recognised.
I know that the Government judge these matters by short-term commercial criteria. We opted out of the launcher business deliberately when we allowed the Blue Streak launcher, which became Europa I, to be cancelled. Fortunately, the French pursued the Ariane series of rockets. Arianespace, the commercial launch company, is now making extremely good profits. It has a large order book and with the temporary failure of the shuttle programme it offers great potential for the future. Had the French not shown their strategic vision, Europe would be out of the space business in any significant sense.
The Government said that the European Space Agency was an expensive club. They said so out of sheer prejudice and blind ignorance. With its Ariane series of launchers, the Spacelab, the meteosat series of remote-sensing satellites and with ERS1 in the future and other new programmes, not to mention scientific programmes like Giotto and others, ESA has shown that Europe, for a relatively small investment, can offer a capability fully comparable with the United States of America and the Soviet Union, although on a smaller scale.
I do not want to see this country relegated to the third eleven. It is not worthy of the United Kingdom. In the technical area within Europe, we should be playing a leading role. We have the capacity to do so. When Ministers and others say that we cannot afford it, I ask, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd): if we can somehow find £50,000 million per annum for social security, why cannot Ministers find £4 million in the next four years to continue the project definition of HOTOL? Ministers' statements are not true. They do not make sense and the Government are shortsighted. I am very sad and particularly regret that the Government did not act in the proper parliamentary way and allow us a debate or at least make a statement to the House so that we could question Ministers on what appears to be a quite extraordinary decision.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
We should have at least two debates before we adjourn. The first should be on the Committee stage of the European Communities Finance Bill whereby the House is asked to vote £800 million extra to the European Community. We understand that that may be paid before Royal Assent. Although that may be just legal, it is dodgy.
The second debate that we should have is even more important, not in procedural terms, but in current terms. We should debate the appointment of commissioners to the European Economic Community. There have been acres of space and comment in the press and commentary in the news media on that subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has raised questions germane to that matter relating to the Westland affair. The new appointments risk weakening our interests in Europe.
§ Mr. Spearing
If my hon. Friend will excuse me, time is of the essence and I want to make as brief a speech as possible.
593 One of those to be appointed as a commissioner has a questionable track record and we do not know the other. The latter will be a novice and less experienced than the former Member of this House, Mr. Clinton Davis. Lord Cockfield did his job too well. He spilt the beans and said what it was all about. It is wrong, therefore, for the Prime Minister to attach M. Delors. Anyone who knows anything about European legislation and the speed with which it is now coming out of Brussels will be aware that 80 per cent. of the legislation will come from Brussels in a few years time is a very reasonable estimate from M. Delors and reflects the degree to which the House will lose power.
We should not expect any of our commissioners to do anything about that. They take a treaty oath and one of the major objectives of the treaty of Rome is European union. Two rookie novice commissioners can at best only affect the speed and possible terms of the movement; they cannot question the principles.
Recently the Prime Minister covered up the embarrassment of the appointment with her reshuffle and by banging the nationalist drum. I agree with the objectives of that in terms of her approach to the EEC, but she does that on entirely the wrong basis. She does it from a basis of certain ignorance. That ignorance was also shown by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) about 14 years ago. He said that the powers of the Queen would not be affected. He did not realise that this legislation reaches the citizens of this country direct without requiring Royal Assent or Her Majesty's signature.
I want to raise the question of ignorance by referring to what the Prime Minister said in an article in the Sunday Express last Sunday. She was talking about power and Parliaments and said:When Europeans start talking about European union and this, that, and the other, I always say: 'What do you really mean? I can't see any of you going home and saying to your Parliaments: 'Look, I've taken away all your rights to do anything about what happens in this country; it's all going to Europe.'They are not going to do it, however much they talk. I wouldn't be prepared to do it anyway.The Prime Minister has done that. However, I must be careful. She used that little word "all". That is the way the Prime Minister goes about her work. She will include a little word which qualifies quite a lot.
We have given that power away. The Prime Minister has done that perhaps unwillingly. We have the Single European Act, which neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary signed. In fact, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office was sent off to sign it before she was a Privy Councillor.
That Act is still not properly printed in this country in terms of the new treaty of Rome. That says:Resolved to implement this European Union.Note the capital E and the capital U. That is not economic and monetary union, because the last line of the preamble to the single European Treaty says:approved the objective of the progressive realization of Economic and Monetary Union.There are two different things. The European Union is in the treaty of Rome to which the Government have given their assent.
Article 8A of the Single European Act provides: 594The Community shall adopt measures with the aim of progressively establishing the internal market over a period expiring on 31 December 1992".It says "expiring" and not "starting".
Article 100A, which is important, says:The following provisions shall apply for the achievement of the objectives set out in Article 8A. The Council shall, acting by a qualified majority on a proposal from the Commission in co-operation with the European Parliament".In other words, anything to do with the realisation of that market in 1992 can be achieved by the majority vote of the Council of Ministers, even against the will of the Government and possibly against the will of the House.
Yet the Prime Minister says that she has not given power away. She implies that she has by the use of that misleading word "all". When talking on the Jimmy Young show she gave the impression that in future she will be able to hold the line, but that is not true because the Single European Act was put through the House in the summer of 1986. However, the small print was not understood by Conservative Members.
The Prime Minister wants the fruits of European union, or at least economic and monetary union, but the means by which it will be achieved are, of course, ill based. It is not a co-operative organisation, such as GATT or the European Free Trade Association or any of those things that hon. Members think it may be. The EEC is coercive and autocratic. The power is in Brussels. It is arbitrary political power, and we are told that it can be controlled in one of two ways: by the House taking power to control what our Ministers do there—and if the Prime Minister is concerned about parliamentary power, that is something to which she would agree and which she would implement —or by all the power going to Strasbourg and there being some sort of European Parliament, which would be a united states of Europe without the states, because there is no power for national assemblies in the treaty of Rome. The Prime Minister cannot bluster and fluster, because it is in the treaty and she has done what she told Jimmy Young she would never do.
I turn briefly to the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), because they are important and they have not been properly answered. We must remember that terrible weekend when there was the official leak of the letter of the Solicitor-General, which was clearly solicited with a view to it being leaked before 4 pm on Monday 13 December 1986. It was only by getting it out at that time that the views of the then Secretary of State for Defence could be put into question with the imprimatur of the Solicitor-General. That letter contained many qualifications that were not part of the leak, so it was clear what was intended. It is a matter of evidence that the Prime Minister not only knew of it, but she condoned it; indeed, some people believe that she may have suggested it.
In paragraph 183 of its fourth report 1985–86, HC 519, the Select Committee on Defence said:In replying to a supplementary question after her statement in the House on 23 January the Prime Minister said of the extract from the Solicitor-General's letter: 'It was to get that accurate information to the public domain that I gave my consent'. In her statement the Prime Minister had said that her office did not seek her agreement, and later in answer to supplementary questions she said 'I have said that I was not consulted at the time' and 'I say again that I was not consulted'. In confirmation of this Sir Robert Armstrong told us that he asked both Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell whether they sought clearance from the Prime Minister and they told him they did not. Sir Robert understood from the Prime Minister that her words in column 455 of 23 January, quoted 595 above, were a slip of the tongue. When questioned on the point on 27 January the Prime Minister explained that she had given her consent to an inquiry but did not give her consent to the disclosure.It continues in bold print:The evidence is that the action of the Prime Minister's office on 6 January in relation to the disclosure was without her direct authority. She has stated that she had no knowledge on 6 January of what was taking place. We accept this.The Prime Minister may not have had any knowledge on 6 January. She said that she was not consulted at the time, but she may have been consulted before.
On 23 January 1986, the Prime Minister said:In so far as what my office said to the Department of Trade and Industry was based on the belief that I should have taken that view, had I been consulted, it was right.In other words, she said that they had acted in line with what she would have done had she been consulted. However, they would not have done that without knowledge of what was in her mind.
On the same occasion, the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) asked the right hon. Lady a friendly question and she hit out from the boundary. She walked down the crease. She said, "We must get this into the public domain." She further said:It was to get that accurate information to the public domain that I gave my consent."—[Official Report, 23 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 450 and 455.]That was quoted by the Select Committee.
How did she get out of it? That could not have been the consent to the inquiry, because the question of the right hon. Member for Woking was not about that. The Select Committee took up that matter and asked questions of that economist of the truth, Sir Robert Armstrong. It was followed up in questions 1251 and 1252.1252. You have not taken any opportunity to clear that up yourself in the post facto of your inquiry? (Sir Robert Armstrong.) I gather from the Prime Minister it was a slip of the tongue.A slip of the tongue, which we all sometimes make, is when we say something that is not true. I suggest that this was not one of those at all. It was something that was only too true and something that the Prime Minister wished she had not said, which was consistent with the slip of the tongue phrase.
It also explains that enigmatic point that she made in a television interview. The interviewer asked:But why on that date, though, January the 27th, were you so down that you said, 'I may not be Prime Minister by six o'clock tonight' after the Westland debate?The Prime Minister replied:You suddenly come out with these things.I suggest that she said it for the reasons stated in the Select Committee report and Hansard, which I have quoted. The Prime Minister was being quite honest—"Yes, I did give my consent." Of course, it could have been given some time before that weekend.
The Select Committee then made some remarks about the behaviour of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan). It said at paragraph 177:Although those involved must carry blame for what occurred, what seems especially reprehensible is a manner of doing business where the direct and honourable course does not present itself to the exclusion of all else.It continues at paragraph 179:This was an outrageous way in which to treat a Law Officer of the Crown".They solicited an opinion, which was immediate and conditional, and then used it for purposes of civil war inside the Government.
596 Having studied the texts that I have quoted, I suggest that the culpability for that unfortunate incident in which the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks —now the commissioner-elect—was involved is to be shared in equal measure by the Prime Minister. If by any chance she did not know that it was going on, what sort of Government are they and what sort of Prime Minister is she? What sort of political integrity is it that allows a Government to be run on that basis? She cannot have it both ways. She either knew or, if she did not, she was running a Government which had run amok through civil war.
We should have a debate on this matter before we adjourn. I shall briefly put to the House the questions which the Prime Minister should answer, and they are the questions which should be debated.
First, is it not a fact that the Government resisted the drafting and method of introduction of the Single European Act but nevertheless introduced it to the House against the initial desires of the Government?
Secondly, does not majority voting deny the Government and Parliament power over large areas of legislation, and is that not contrary to the spirit of what the Prime Minister declared on the Jimmy Young show she would never do?
Thirdly, was not the Prime Minister's slip of the tongue on 23 January 1986 in fact a correct statement and the "slip" arose only because she said something true which she would have preferred not to have said?
Fourthly, as all the evidence and what the Prime Minister said about her wishes shows that she approved the principle of disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter, should she not share the strictures of the Defence Select Committee? Should she not appoint the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks to the Commission of the EEC? Should she not share to some extent the fate that befell that right hon. and learned Member, and should she not consider whether she should remain as Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. There is very little time left and several hon. Members still wish to speak.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has chosen to speak at some length, thus taking up precious time available before the House rises for the summer recess, on a subject which has already been debated many times.
There are many reasons why we should not adjourn tomorrow and there are many subjects which we ought to discuss, but there is one which I venture to suggest we must debate before the House rises as it involves a matter which will have to be adjudicated on by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury before we resume in the autumn. I refer to the entitlement of colonial service pensioners to war service being counted towards their pension entitlement.
Do you realise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that all public servants in Britain are entitled to count war scrvice—either the whole of it or half of it, depending on whether their pension is contributory or non-contributory—towards 597 their pension, but that that is not true for those whose service was overseas? This is a curious anomaly which affects a branch of the public service which has rendered signal, loyal and devoted service to the country in tropical climes, often in adverse, primitive and distressing circumstances.
About 4,500 people are involved, and they are retired and mostly in their seventies. The number is therefore diminishing yearly. Why are they not entitled to count their war service towards their pensions? The answer is that, although they are all British citizens who, apart from their service abroad, have always been resident in Britain, they were employed and paid by the colonial Governments they served. That is despite the fact that the Secretary of State recruited and trained them and sent them out to our colonial empire to do service for the Crown.
Because these people were not employed by the British Government, they were told that they could not count their pre-appointment war service towards their pension entitlement. Teachers, local government officers, policemen and other civil servants are entitled to count such service. Colonial service officers are the only exception.
This is a great injustice, and it ought to be remedied. Not many people are involved, and not much money is involved. I must say that I would be a beneficiary if any such claim were granted, but it is such a stark injustice that I feel obliged to draw attention to it. I understand that, in the next few days, presumably, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will again consider what claims to make by way of its estimates for the coming year.
If the Treasury does not agree to a Department's claim, after negotiation, the matter is referred to a thing called the Court of Star Chamber. At one time, I understood from reading the newspapers—I know that I should not have done it—that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would be chairman of the Court of Star Chamber. I understand, however, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy has been appointed to that function. That is a pity, because I have been asking my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about this matter for weeks in the hope that he would remember it when he came to help adjudicate on this small claim on public expenditure.
I have just discovered that if the Department concerned does not include a claim in its preliminary Estimates, the claim gets nowhere. How, therefore, am I to ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office puts this entirely just, overdue and well-merited claim to the Treasury in the first place? There is provision for superannuation payments to overseas service officers, but how do I know that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will include this extra item so that it might be considered by the Treasury? I am sure that the Treasury would agree to the claim if it considered the merits of the case, but if the Foreign and Commonwealth Office does not put it forward, the claim can get nowhere.
I am therefore forced to raise the matter now. There is overwhelming support in the House for the claim to be met. Early in this Session I tabled an early-day motion commending the claim to the Government. No fewer than 260 hon. Members signed it in its original form. Another 88 signed an amendment suggesting that the claim should 598 be met immediately. That means that some 348 hon. Members support the claim. That is an absolute majority in the House.
What more does one have to say to persuade the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to put the claim before the Treasury, for the Treasury, having considered it on its merits, is bound to grant it? We are talking about a budget of thousands of millions of pounds. There must be an order of priorities. No doubt there are other considerations which must be taken into account, but an exception or anomaly which is an injustice, and which involves a debt of honour which should be paid, should be put at the top of that list of priorities.
The claim should be met before other and more substantial new claims are met. I hope that, as a result of my raising the matter today, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will include the claim in its draft estimates which are to be put to the Treasury in the next few weeks, and that the Treasury will see the merit of the case. If it does, it will at last have brought some justice justice to a small and dwindling group of people who have devoted their entire lives to the service of this country abroad. They deserve to have this injustice remedied. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will, in so far as he has influence in the matter, support it.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
The House should not rise for the recess until we have thoroughly discussed the Government's claims that savings released through competitive tendering for hospital services have in any way contributed to improved patient care. I challenge that claim with the full backing of the victims of this policy, who include patients, workers and users of the Health Service. When the savings—£106 million at the last DHSS estimate—are claimed, they do not account for the full costs of abandoning workers to the dole queue and of further reducing low-paid workers' wages. They certainly do not take account of the reduced services to patients and the increased stress on other workers left to pick up the burden of extra work.
I worked for many years in the National Health Service and later as a member of my local health authority. I voted and campaigned against the privatisation of the local laundry and domestic services. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to hear that, because of the way in which the Government have packed district health authorities with their supporters, I lost the vote. In my authority, 250 workers, most of whom were women, lost their jobs when Mediclean gained the contract. By any standards that has been a failure. Initially, the contractors thought that only half the hours needed to clean our hospitals was necessary. Those who stayed to work for Mediclean lost their bonus, holiday pay, sickness benefit and holiday entitlements, and were expected to work twice as hard as previously. After 12 months there had been a 100 per cent. staff turnover and a report from the local infection control committee which warned that unhygienic conditions were prevailing. That pattern has been repeated across the country. Since then, complaint after complaint has been ignored and if people visit my local hospitals they will see that they are dirtier than previously.
Many low-paid workers lost their jobs and many remain unemployed, but unemployment statistics do not show that. It is well known that part-time women workers 599 often do not have any entitlement to benefit in their own right. Mediclean has failed on six of the 37 contracts that it is known to have held since 1983, which is a failure rate of 15 per cent. But in my book it has failed the NHS, because the in-house staff offered a much better service.
When staff are sacked to make way for private operators, redundancy costs are not systematically accounted for in the savings figures, but the financial and human costs are undoubtedly high. Health authorities are expected to recoup redundancy costs against savings over the period of the contract, but if a contractor is sacked or pulls out, as often happens, the authority must carry the whole cost itself and that is not accounted for.
I challenge head on the claim that savings have been made for taxpayers. Ninety-two thousand ancillary workers have lost their jobs, which is 30 per cent. of all ancillary staff in the NHS, since contracting out began. When people are thrown on to the dole or forced to claim other benefits, it is at a great cost to taxpayers. Moreover, it is immoral to throw people out of work just to save money. Many of those jobs provided secure and regular work for thousands of people and even if we thought that they were low paid—for many years I was a shop steward working on their behalf—they at least had a secure income. We have lost national insurance contributions and taxes to the public purse because of this policy. If I had more time, I would detail exactly how much we have lost.
Even the National Audit Office, which does not normally side with low-paid workers, has admitted that savings from privatisation have arisen from less favourable conditions for workers. These people take home only £70 a week. We are witnessing an increased casualised work force replacing a stable established one. As wages and conditions deteriorate, so do standards in the Health Service.
I dispute for other reasons the Government's claims about savings from competitive tendering. The exercise has never been properly examined. Staff time, preparing timetables, specifications, evaluating bids and monitoring contracts involve enormous costs which are not easily measured. The Government have not taken them into account. They have never tried to quantify that aspect of this costly experiment, in which public money, standards and livelihoods are at stake. nor have many district health authorities, although individual managers have recently said that 80 per cent. of their time is spent on competitive tendering.
I cannot conclude without talking about my experience of the laundry services in Halifax. The new Secretary of State for Health was the Minister for Health when we were forced to privatise our laundry services. Although we twice won the in-house tender—the second time by a margin of £250,000—after the 1983 election we were instructed to go out to tender and we are now putting out our laundry services. I shall invite the Secretary of State to come and see the disaster that he has created for us in Calderdale. We have no new linen for new babies, surgeons are complaining that there is no linen in the theatre and elderly patients are having to sit without underwear. That is disgraceful.
Privatisation in the Health Service has meant selling NHS workers' jobs to the lowest bidder. The only real savings come from job losses, cuts in wages and service standards, and poorer working conditions. One central point which is all too often passed over in debates about Health Service funding needs to be reinforced. It is that as 600 the largest employer in western Europe there is nothing outdated or imprudent about the NHS recognising its responsibilities to its work force. A civilised society has a duty to care not only for its sick and elderly, but for its carers. A system which sacrifices people to the demands and dictates of a market which has nothing to do with quality or caring and everything to do with shortchanging the workforce and patients on jobs and services is not only inhuman but inefficient, as the limited experience of introducing competition into the Health Service has shown. It is vital that we have a statement from the Government before the House goes into recess.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I welcome the arrival of the recess, because it gives Ministers time to relax and ponder objectively what they have done, what they have not done, what they intend to do and what they should do. If they do all that, they should have a full and mentally exciting recess.
Foremost in the matters that Ministers should consider, particularly in the Treasury, the Department of Education and Science and the various Departments directly concerned, is the state of British scientific research and the research councils. It is extremely worrying that I should have read in an article in The Independent recently:Britain is shutting down its science".It is worrying to learn that already proposed cuts amount to almost £20 million for arable, horticultural and poultry research. It is worrying to learn that the Institute for Marine Biochemistry at Aberdeen faces outright closure and that the Institute for Oceanographic Sciences and Terrestrial Ecology may lose a quarter of its scientific staff. Those examples cover only a small area of science. There are many other research councils and establishments which are also facing considerable cuts.
The achievements of British scientists are remarkable, but if investment in research is cut, their ability and chances of maintaining that record of achievement in future will be enormously reduced. I understand that total expenditure on research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product has remained at its 1964 level in Britain, while in other countries, such as France, Germany, Japan and the United States, there has been a steady increase to the extent that the United Kingdom has now been overtaken.
Naturally, industry has a part to play, but industry-sponsored research is likely to be mostly market-orientated. In a science-based world, the Government have a growing responsibility to finance fundamental research. That may be relatively remote from the market and may not always produce results, but the benefits of fundamental research today will provide the basis for market-orientated research tomorrow and a new product for consumers the day after.
In his Dimbleby lecture this year, the president of the Royal Society, Sir George Porter, said:There are no obvious limits to the advancement of knowledge or to the practical application of this knowledge to improving our health. wealth and happiness. In health, medical research has still much to do to reduce the suffering still with us. In wealth, rich as most of us are in material things compared with our ancestors, we have seen only the beginning of what will be available to us.It is my sincere hope that a high proportion of what will be available will have been British-researched, British-developed and British-made. If it is so produced, 601 we shall be able to take pride in it. It will be good for exports, it will save imports and it will be good for the balance of payments. My brief plea to the Government tonight is that they should make available more money for research. The Government now claim that Britain is a rich country and becoming even richer. Our investment in science is a measure by which to judge that claim.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
A number of interesting and important matters have been raised in the debate. I shall confine my remarks to three of them and, briefly, to the matter to which the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) referred—the Government's lack of investment in research.
Britain used to be renowned for inventing things that British industry was then extremely poor at developing. It appears that the Government have applied some Right-wing think tank to the task of eliminating that embarrassment and that its answer is not to do more to develop inventions but to cut research and thereby to stop the inventions occurring in the first place. That does not seem to be the most sensible way of developing a modern economy.
My second topic, housing, was referred to by Conservative and Opposition Members. The housing situation in this country is quite deplorable. We should remember one or two basic facts. In 1979, the year the Government came to power, 240,000 new homes were completed. Last year, only 202,000 new homes were completed. In the public sector—that is, council housing and housing association housing—104,000 homes were completed in 1979, compared to just 30,000 last year. It comes as no surprise to anybody with sense that one of the results of that has been a massive increase in homelessness. The figure was a little more than 50,000; it is now 112,000.
It is a sobering thought for all of us tonight that within a mile or two of the House more than 7,000 parents are trying to settle their children down for the night in bed-and-breakfast hotels, where all the members of a family are expected to live, wash, cook and eat in one room. It is a disgrace and a shame on all of us that that is happening. It is a shame on the Government, who produced a White Paper about the future of homelessness that did not even mention the word "homeless" or "homelessness".
All over the country tens of thousands of people are living in ever more crowded conditions because they cannot move out of their parental homes. Many newly married couples have to live with their parents and couples with children have to bring them up in their parents' homes. That is not a sound way to begin married life or to try to bring up children.
All over the country—I emphasise that—people who are not well-off are finding it more and more difficult to find somewhere to live at a price that they can afford. That is not a characteristic that is confined to the inner cities. Some of the greatest difficulties are to be found in rural areas, where massive house price increases combined with the sale of council housing are causing many villages— particularly attractive villages—to become no-go areas for 602 farm workers, for people who deliver the milk, for people who deliver the post, for the local bobby and for the local primary school teacher.
All over rural Britain, large numbers of people who are absolutely vital to the continuing organisation of the local community are finding it impossible to get anywhere to live because places to rent have disappeared and places for sale are priced far beyond their reach. Nowhere is that more true than in East Anglia, where there have been staggering increases in house prices. Under this Government, house prices have doubled in the country as a whole, and in East Anglia, London and the south-east they have more than trebled. While that remains the case, large numbers of the less well-off will find it more and more difficult to find somewhere to live.
I agree with the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) that our people have a right to the benefits of science and space, but they have rights more basic than that. They have a right to a decent home, and we should meet that basic need before we even start talking about science and space.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to the appointment and dismissal of British members of the European Commission. The Prime Minister, who originally chose Lord Cockfield, has decided to dump him. In view of his opinions, I cannot say that I blame her, although it causes me to have doubts about her judgment in appointing him in the first place.
However, I unreservedly deplore the right hon. Lady's decision to dump Stanley Clinton Davis, the Labour nominee, who has served the country and the Community well since he was appointed three and a half years ago. He was fit to be appointed originally, and he is fit to continue in office. He has been caught between the upper millstone of the Prime Minister's spite against anyone who is not a member of the Tory party and the nether millstone of her desire to appoint her right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) as the senior British commissioner.
§ Mr. Cryer
Does my hon. Friend agree that if my amendment had been selected, we could have had a statement from the Prime Minister explaining the criteria on which she has based her decision to hand this soft job, involving loyalty to the Common Market and not to this place, to her crony the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) at a salary of £90,000 a year and probably double that in expenses?
§ Mr. Dobson
I accept what my hon. Friend has said. Anything that would get the Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box to explain what went on and why she made the appointments would be a step forward. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks as "an excellent nomination". After paeans of praise that beggared belief, she challenged the Labour partyto put up names that are as distinguished."—[Official Report, 26 July 1988; Vol.138, c. 251.]The word "distinguished" has several meanings. It can be used to describe something of conspicuous excellence but it can also be used to describe something that is differentiated from others by character. I can only believe that the Prime Minister was referring to the latter meaning.
In the light of the character and record of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, no one could 603 justify his appointment. He resigned from the Cabinet in disgrace during the Westland scandal. The actions for which he was responsible were described as "outrageous" and "reprehensible" by the Select Committee on Defence, on which the Conservative majority believed its duty to Parliament and the people to be above its duty to its party.
The Select Committee's report said:The disclosure of the Solicitor-General's letter without his permission was an improper act.That was a charge of impropriety. The report said:Mr. Brittan, a Queen's Counsel, would have been aware of the … confidentiality of Law Officers' advice".That was a charge of unprofessional conduct.
The Select Committee said:Only by releasing the information unattributably could the disclosure be limited to those parts of the letter that damaged Mr. Heseltine.That was a charge, it would appear, of deception.
When asked by the Select Committee about all those things, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks refused to answer. The Committee was referring to the partial disclosure of information of the same degree of security confidentiality as that released by Mr. Clive Ponting. For that, Mr. Ponting fetched up at the Old Bailey. It now appears that for the same action the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks has fetched up in Brussels on £95,000 per year. There seems some difference in the treatment given to those people.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does my hon. Friend remember that Mr. Ponting sent his piece of paper to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who then passed it on to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs—it did not go outside those circles—whereas the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) was responsible for authorising his press secretary to ring the Press Association?
§ Mr. Dobson
As ever, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) behaved as we all should, honourably.
If the Prime Minister challenges the Labour party to produce someone with that sort of record as the Labour nominee, I am afraid that we will be unable to meet her challenge. We do not have anyone with such a scandalous record in public office. We do not have anyone on our side who has been so comprehensively described, one might almost say blackguarded, by a Select Committee.
However, the members of the Select Committee were decent and careful people, and stated in the last paragraph of their report:As far as individuals are concerned, we have made our best judgments on the evidence before us. If anyone feels himself or herself to have been traduced by our findings, we are prepared at any stage to take oral or written evidence, in public or in private, from anyone involved in the events we have examined. If that evidence leads us to modify our conclusions, we will of course make a further report to the House.I understand from the Clerk to the Select Committee on Defence that no person asked to be heard further or asked that further evidence should be considered either in public or in private. Presumably the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks accepts as reasonable the charges levelled against him by the Select Committee.
There are those who say that it was not the fault of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks and that in a sense he was behaving decently because he was, in the American phrase, "taking the rap". But who was he 604 taking the rap for? If one reads the Select Committee's report, the answer appears to be, for the person in charge of the Prime Minister's office. I know that some of my hon. Friends have suggested that that is Mr. Bernard Ingham, but I do not think that he is that important. I think that the Prime Minister is in charge of the Prime Minister's office.
The fact is that the Prime Minister was responsible for all the wrongdoing listed in that report and that she remains personally responsible. That is why many people is this country, a large number of Opposition Members in public and a substantial number of Conservative Members in private will say that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks is getting his money and has got his appointment because he agreed to pay, and has paid, the price of covering up the Prime Minister's involvement in all those disgraceful events.
In those circumstances, what can we say? One thing that we can say is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is either the fall guy or that he is wicked because what is outlined in the report is wickedness in public life by any standards. We do not think that somebody who can reasonably be described a wicked and who has not disputed that should be appointed; nor do we think that somebody who has been a fall guy for the Prime Minister should be appointed.
§ Mr. Latham
Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that before he made that personal attack on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) who is a Back Bencher, and called him "wicked", he gave him notice that he was going to do so?
§ Mr. Dobson
No, I did not do that just before my speech. I put a note on the board this morning in Norman Shaw north.
§ Mr. Deputy Speakcr
I have been reflecting carefully on the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If he is saying that the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is wicked, that is an expression which Mr. Speaker would not accept. The hon. Gentleman should withdraw it and think carefully of an alternative form of words.
§ Mr. Dobson
If "wicked" is out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, behaviour which is "outrageous" and "re-prehensible"—that is a quotation from the Select Committee on Defence—must be in order, because I am entitled to quote from the Select Committee on Defence. I will stick by that. Either the behaviour was "outrageous" and "reprehensible" and the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks should not be appointed, or he was covering up for the Prime Minister and she should not stay in office.
If we are to have a reputable Parliament, we must have people who report and explain themselves to this Parliament. Perhaps the best development that could come out of this whole affair would be for us to adopt the procedures and attitudes of the American Congress and ensure that any further nominees for important public office would have to appear before Select Committees of this House at which both the Government and they themselves would have to justify their appointment.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
Having added up, I find that I am the 18th speaker in this relatively short debate. We have had many speeches and nobody seems to be very much against the idea of a holiday, although one or two do. I think that we have earned a holiday and I wish everybody in the House a good holiday when we rise.
I shall do my best to answer the points that have been raised, but I must deal with each one briefly and I must go at a pretty fast pace if I am to do so.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who courteously sent me a note because he thought that he might not be back—I am delighted to see him in his place—is a great and internationally recognised expert on disabled people. I think that he would be the first to admit that the Government's record of increasing assistance to disabled people by over 80 per cent. in real terms is a pretty good record by any standards.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me specifically about the disability study carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. I have checked, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that study was sent to the printers as soon as it was ready. It will be published in early September. There has been no unnecessary delay on it.
We are making good progress in the staged implementation of the Disabled Services, Consultation and Representation Act 1986, and have already implemented sections 4, 5, 6, 8(1), 9 and 10 and are currently addressing section 7.
My hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Sir I. Lloyd), for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), and for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) all raised in their different ways the Government's commitment to research. I shall make some general remarks about that, but will deal first with the fast breeder reactor and the HOTOL project. I recognise the considerable knowledge of my hon. Friend the Member for Havant in these matters. It is greater than mine. In the relatively short time when I was junior Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry and took part in some of the decisions on our research projects, I found them some of the most difficult decisions because in the end they are always decisions about priorities and about choosing between one thing and another. From my experience, it is sometimes very difficult to make that choice.
The Governmnt's decision to cut the funding for the fast breeder reactor programme was based on the fact that the commercial requirement for fast reactors in the United Kingdom is likely to be some decades way. The Government's aim was to obtain a position in that technology for this country, but at an economic cost.
The Government have concluded that any further development of HOTOL must take place on the basis of international collaboration. We will support efforts by United Kingdom companies to find suitable collaborators, but will not provide further financial support in the foreseeable future. A memorandum has been sent to their Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology in response to its report on United Kingdom space policy. Copies of that memorandum have been placed in the Library today.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I cannot possibly give way to anyone, as I have only just enough time to finish.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) rightly raised the subject of prisons, especially Glenochil. It is regrettable that a small number of inmates continue to behave in a disruptive manner in a modern establishment with good facilities. The governor is moving fast towards normalising the regime for the large majority of inmates, but control must remain firmly in the hands of the governor and staff. There are 600 new prison places in Scotland and more staff have been and continue to be recruited. The White Paper, "Custody and Care", published in March, highlights the importance of security and control as well as the positive opportunities for inmates, and points the way forward to improvements in the running of Scottish penal establishments for the benefit of both staff and inmates. Nevertheless, I recognise that this is a matter of great concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clywd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) referred to abuses of bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Rhyl. The Government are especially worried about the excessive and increasing cost of the use of such accommodation. We recognise the problems of seaside resorts where accommodation is used by non-local people, and we shall consider that aspect as part of the review of legislation on homelessness.
The hon. Members for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) and for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) both referred to gazumping, an important problem which causes great concern but which it less easy of solution than the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth suggested. All the expert bodies that have examined the matter—the Law Commission in 1975, the Conveyancing Committee in 1985 and the Conveyancing Standing Committee in recent reports—have agreed that legislation is not the answer. The answer lies in changes in practices and attitudes.
The Conveyancing Standing Committee has suggested ways in which practices could be changed so as to lessen or eliminate the risk of gazumping. The Government hope that buyers and sellers of houses and those advising them will give careful consideration to the suggestion made by the standing committee. That is why we believe that a voluntary approach is best, certainly in present circumstances. As the Member for Norwich, South pointed out, the practice in Scotland could be adopted on a voluntary basis in England and Wales and would make the problem less difficult than it otherwise might be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised a number of issues. The Government's proposals for legislation in relation to artificial reproduction and the use of human embryos are set out in the White Paper published last November, which was fully debated in both Houses earlier this year. We have made clear our intention to legislate in this Parliament, although my hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech, so I cannot say any more than that.
I said something about the Barlow Clowes affair during business questions. We are determined that the matter should be examined fully and as quickly as is consistent with thoroughness. The Government are fully aware of the distress and hardship caused, and have great sympathy with those who have suffered. While so many issues are 607 unresolved, however, I must emphasise that the Government do not take it for granted that they will have to accept any liability to investors.
The hon. Member for Norwich, South also referred to the shortage of housing in Norwich and East Anglia. The Government fully share the concern for the homeless, and have made an extra £74 million available since last November, targeted on authorities bearing the brunt of the problem. Our concern is compounded by the number of empty properties. Authorities have more than 112,000 empty properties, 28,000, or 25 per cent., of which have been unoccupied for more than a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) raised some important questions about the Barlow Clowes affair, to which I have already referred. He also spoke of the roads programme. I appreciate the frustration of being stuck in a traffic jam and assuming that it is all the fault of the Government. Nevertheless, we have some 350 schemes in the present programme with a total value of more than £5 billion and the roads vote provision is more than than £1 billion for the first time. For new construction, our aim is to start within the year all the planned schemes that are now ready. We hope to keep motorway delays to a minimum by careful planning, the use of lane rental contracts and mobile lane closures.
As my hon. Friend knows, the aim of the RAWP formula is to allocate resources in such a way as to ensure, over time, equal opportunity of access to health care for people in equal need by reducing historical disparities and responding to population changes. The National Health Service Management Board has explored the scope for improving the way in which the current formula measures relative need across the country. The Government will consider the resulting recommendations in the context of the wider review of the National Health Service. I assure my hon. Friend that his comments will be drawn to the attention of the Minister, as I appreciate the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) was courteous enough to tell me that he had to leave for Northern Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman and the leader of his party will know, the debate following this one will deal in more detail with industry in Northern Ireland, so I shall not say anything further at this stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith), in a commendably brief speech which was nevertheless important and worthy of consideration by an audience wider than that in the House today, described problems of development in and around his constituency. The Government fully recognise the difficulties to which he referred. He was wise to raise the subject of the green belt. The Government are determined to keep the green belt, so there is no change of policy in that regard. Government policy is to encourage development wherever possible in the inner cities and on recycled land, which is an increasing part of the development pattern in this country, although there are still difficulties.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) was among those who were not keen to have a long recess. I appreciate his view and I assure him that Ministers do not have anything like the whole period in recess.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I fully recognise that, although I see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) sitting on the Opposition Front Bench in a very relaxed manner and wish him a happy holiday.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East referred to practices in the House. I can only say that the current practices seem generally acceptable, although not entirely so. The Select Committee on Procedure could consider the matter again if necessary.
The decision to electrify the east midlands line is a commercial one for British Rail. Electrification would not make the service faster, but British Rail is continuing to improve the high-speed diesel service on that line.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) raised a number of issues, originally with a European flavour but going on to wider matters. The hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for getting on with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill makes me somewhat cautious and leads me to believe that I was right to put that into the programme for the overspill Session, although I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be ingenious enough to find ways to raise most of the issues that he wishes to explore.
The hon. Member for Newham, South and others talked about the European commissioners and asked whether there would be a debate on the subject. There is plenty of time for such a debate. If the Opposition want to debate the matter, various courses are available to them. The new commissioners will not take office until 1 January 1989.
The hon. Member for Newham, South referred also to matters of significance and importance at the beginning of 1986. He knows perfectly well what I am about to say. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said repeatedly, she gave a full account of the events surrounding the disclosure of the then Solicitor-General's letter on 6 January 1986, in her statement on 23 January and in her speech on 27 January. We have nothing to add to that except to deplore in the strongest terms the unwarranted attacks on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) and on civil servants who cannot reply. The hon. Gentleman would be well advised during the recess to read the statements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to come better informed to debates on the next occasion.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 29th July, do adjourn until Wednesday 19th October.