HC Deb 25 March 1988 vol 130 cc632-73

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 31st March, do adjourn until Tuesday 12th April and, at its rising on Friday 29th April, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd May; and the House shall not adjourn on Thursday 31st March until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

9.36 am
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

This is only the second time in 27 years when I have spoken on the motion for the Easter Adjournment. I assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that I do not intend to take the steps that I took exactly 20 years ago when Mr. Peter Mills, as he then was, and I divided the House against the Adjournment because adequate provision had not been made to debate the problems of the west country. Also, I do not intend to petition for a debate on the procedure reports, although my right hon. Friend might expect me to do so. In the past few months I have made my position absolutely clear about that matter. I reinforce the need, however, for those reports to be considered on the Floor of the House as soon as possible.

Specifically, I wish to discuss the aspects and amount of Government financial participation in space research and development. It is important to discuss this matter now because decisions will be taken during the Easter recess and if the subject is not considered fully by Ministers before the return of the House it will be too late for the House to influence the Government's decisions. Certain approaches have already been made whereby Great Britain will not participate in the European Space Agency optional programmes. I believe that that could be terribly damaging both industrially and with regard to the role that we can play in space research.

I believe that it is essential for Great Britain to make a worthwhile contribution in developing the application of space research. Indeed, we led in the past when we made it clear that no European nation could participate properly in such research entirely on its own and that there should be amalgamation and co-operation between European countries. For that reason, we led in the formation of the European Space Agency. Only three years ago, we were responsible for much of the reorganisation in the agency, which was carried out very much to our wishes.

Five optional programmes are now being put forward for British participation. I am not suggesting that we should participate in one of those options, Hermes. The broad capability which already exists in the United Kingdom in earth observation can be applied profitably to a development market which will reach maturity within the mid-term future and has significant export potential for this country. The United Kingdom has a competitive advantage in space-borne radar and it is through development of that all-weather technology that the United Kingdom has the best prospects of successful commercial and defence exploitation of earth observation.

The Government's decision to fund the Data Centre to process data from the ERS 1 satellite is welcomed. That facility will be a cornerstone in achieving the future commercial exploitation of earth observation data and will be the first to attract private investment. It must be developed with that commercial objective in mind.

It is, therefore, an essential ingredient of commercialisation that the United Kingdom has a significant say in the shape and size of the space segment to meet its commercial requirements. Consequently, the United Kingdom must participate at a sufficient level to influence the spacecraft platform design to ensure that those designs are capable of carrying the relevant services, especially radar sensors, essential for commercial exploitation. If we do not participate in the ESA's optional programmes and leave it to our European competitors alone, we are sunk.

Ultimately, commercial viability depends on assured continuity of data from space. It also depends on continuing development of data quality to meet user needs. For the United Kingdom to have the right of access to relevant data at competitive prices, it must participate in the earth observation spacecraft and payload sensor programmes being put forward by the European Space Agency. Industry cannot do that on its own. It can be done only with Government participation. Without that participation, the United Kingdom will not be able to continue even as an intelligent user of earth observation data because it will be increasingly at the mercy of foreign operators of earth observation systems and suppliers of data, who will control the information and prices and inhibit the United Kingdom's access to data to exert commercial leverage, which would benefit their countries.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

There will always be a debate about whether we should manufacture our own facilities or use the facilities of others. My hon. Friend touches on a crucial point. If we do not keep up with the highly sophisticated technology, we shall quickly fall behind and be unable to re-enter those markets. If we do not have our own manufacturing capability, we shall have to queue up constantly behind others to use the facilities. In the following years, we shall find that increasingly disadvantageous. I very much support what my hon. Friend says on this matter.

Sir Peter Emery

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I could not have done better. He has underlined a major aspect of the argument that I wish to make.

One could give a catalogue of events since The Hague conference last November. It is important that the European Space Agency and NASA have now agreed on arrangements for European participation in the international space station and the ESA is committed to providing a polar platform. There is no doubt, therefore, that the European Space Agency will develop a polar platform as part of the Columbus programme and that this platform will be used for all its subsequent polar earth observation missions.

The position taken by the United Kingdom at The Hague has encouraged the ESA to continue with the polar platform and to reduce its carrying capacity from 3.5 tonnes payload, serviced, to about 2 tonnes payload, non-serviced, thus approximately halving the cost and reducing the risk. The platform will be acceptable to the United States. It will be about two or three times more cost-effective to the users than existing spacecraft and, consequently, will be a good basis for commercial operation. Both the commercial and research aspects must have a considerable influence on the Government's decision.

I believe that the director general of the European Space Agency has persuaded other member countries to keep open until early April the United Kingdom's option to join the Columbus project. Initially, the decision had to be made by mid-March, so we have been given a reprieve.

Alternative proposals from the French on the polar platform are already threatening Britain's ability to influence the ESA's earth observation activities. The United Kingdom's first priority should thus be to join the Columbus programme and to reassert our leadership on the polar platform.

In addition, in the light of uncertainty about the United Kingdom position on space, apparent since The Hague conference, the Canadians have taken steps on the Radarsat programme to establish a possible bilateral alternative with the United States to their present situation and intend to choose between that collaboration and collaboration with Great Britain in their final submission to the Canadian Government in April. Therefore, the decision point for the United Kingdom is immediate.

In principle, the United Kingdom's objectives could be met either by co-operating in Europe or by a national bilateral programme. The former is the less expensive and avoids leaving a vacuum for the French to fill. The latter could perhaps be considered simpler from a commercial point of view, but we would not have the European cooperation that I wish to see, and it must be more expensive.

However, taking note of the activities and decisions since the Ministers' meeting in The Hague, the common view of industry and of the less biased Government advisers is that participation in the European Space Agency polar platform related programmes is essential as a first priority.

Having sketched the background, I wish to make clear one or two points. We already participate in the European Space Agency and, at present, that costs £80 million. That is the basic price of our membership of the space agency. However, the optional programmes will dominate what happens in the space agency and in future space research and development. The Government have objected to making further funds available for those alternative programmes over and above our original £80 million membership on two counts. They considered, first, that it was too costly and without assured returns for the United Kingdom, and, secondly, that British industry was not willing to put its hand into its pocket to assist in obtaining those commercial advantages.

I am raising this matter today because, as of the latter part of the week, British industry is putting new proposals to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Minister responsible for these matters at the Department of Trade and Industry. I understand that those new proposals do two things. First, they make it clear that, for an additional expenditure of between £10 million and £15 million per annum, we would be able to participate in the schemes that I have outlined and others with which industry is so concerned. It would allow Britain to play a part in ESA and therefore make a contribution which industry is willing to put up money to meet. If the Government were willing to fix a contribution, industry could well be persuaded to contribute between £3 and £4 million towards the £10 or £15 million which it is suggested the Government should provide.

It is clear, therefore, that certain figures that have been bandied about, at levels even as high as the Prime Minister, suggesting that our participation would cost £400 million to £800 million are just not correct. Moreover, we can now counter the argument that is being put to Ministers that industry is not willing to put up the money to participate. Those two shibboleths can now be put to rest.

Can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House give me an assurance that the responsible Minister, and, if necessary, the Prime Minister, will consider these proposals, as this is the very last moment when a decision can be made? If we contract out of these optional programmes, we shall hand over research and development of outer space to the French and Germans, who will dominate ESA. I say that not just as an hon. Member of this House, but as a representative of this House in the North Atlantic Assembly, of which I am the chairman of the Science and Technical Committee. That committee is concerned with some of these matters. We see the enthusiasm of the French and Germans. Some French parliamentarians want us to stay in ESA, but many would be delighted to see us out and cannot believe that we should inflict such an injury on ourselves. They know they could not have made the same decision.

This is our last opportunity for us to stay in the ESA new programmes for space research and development for the next 15 years. If we do not take the opportunity, the consequences will be disastrous for Britain and British industry. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ensure that Ministers consider industry's new approach, as this matter is essential to our continued participation in space.

9.53 am
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Before the House rises for the Easter recess, we should debate the Jarvis plc report on the Settle to Carlisle railway.

I hope that my short speech will not be taken for a substitute for a properly organised and full debate, which I hope the Leader of the House will substitute for the Scottish housing Bill or some other wretched piece of legislation that the Government are pushing through. There are several options, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will cast his eye over them.

The Jarvis report was commissioned by the Government and cost the taxpayer a minimum of £5,000. It concerns a line that has been the subject of unprecedented objections to closure, and therefore represents a watershed in the nation's view of our railway network. Many closures have been made, but they should go no further.

I also speak as the hon. Member who, in 1974, obtained consent from the Department of Transport for reuse of the smaller stations on the line for the Dales rail service which was initiated by the Yorkshire Dales national park. I am also the first chairman and founder of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society, a driver on that line for many years and one who is extremely familiar with the operation and maintenance of railways, locomotives and rolling stock. The relevance of that experience is important in view of the Secretary of State for the Environment's remark about finding "a private sector solution."

The report is thorough, imaginative and well written and researched. It suggests using Hellifield station as a gateway to the Settle-Carlisle railway corridor. Retention and development of the line would be of enormous benefit to the people of Bradford, including those in my constituency, because it would provide them with a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales using a method of transport which would not destroy the grandeur of the Dales. We could avoid huge traffic jams on all the roads to the Dales and the resulting car parking problem. The report links road transport to use of the railway in several ways.

The report suggests Manpower Services Commission funding. It lists several projects that have been MSC funded and have been completed successfully. It also says that there is private sector support. The Government attach great importance to that. Included in the report are letters from several sources, including the Great Scottish and Western Railway Company Limited, which provides a private hotel train in Scotland. It says that, in spite of gloomy predictions, the service is doing very well.

The company also says that investing £1.5 million in a new train would be justified if the Settle-Carlisle line were retained and the 80 miles of this beautiful railway were available to the public in ordinary trains and the special, expensive train. The private sector feels that there is potential, but it all depends on the railway being retained.

On page 58, the Jarvis plc report says: However as stated at the outset of this study, the corridor is ineluctably linked to the future of the Settle-Carlisle railway, and closure of the line would in our view jeopardise large sections of the proposal and probably call the whole concept into question. The closure issue has generated tremendous energy in opposition to a proposal we would now like to see such energy and enthusiasm metamorphosed to emerge as a proactive commitment to support the corridor proposal. It is our belief that the opportunities presented by this study are unparalleled, and must not be missed. The opportunities include retention of a beautiful railway and important parts of our industrial heritage, a means o f getting into some fine country, the creation of a large number of jobs and development of the tourist industry —exactly what the Government claim they support.

It is therefore with some dismay that we read in the Yorkshire Post on 23 March—the matter was reported more widely — that the Secretary of State for the Environment, in a leaked letter which the Opposition spokesman on transport published, said: I am sorry that we have not yet found a private organisation or trust able to take on the line. I do feel that we must continue to work for this—could we perhaps also give the Railway Heritage Trust the job of identifying, or if need be, assembling the private solution?

The Secretary of State for the Environment is well known for nourishing a number of foolish illusions, and this is undoubtedly one of them. One of the McAlpine family — a firm not entirely unconnected with massive civil engineering works — has, over a period, been in negotiation with British Rail at Preston. Those negotiations have not reached a successful conclusion. A private-sector solution to take over an 80-mile railway with a huge viaduct at Ribblehead and several others at Arten Gill and Dent therefore does not seem particularly likely.

Five years ago or more, the then Secretary of State for Transport — the self same right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), now Secretary of State for the Environment—called in a number of railway preservation societies, and discussed with them the possibility of taking over sections of BR-operated line. I was not present at the meeting, but I understand that the societies made it clear that they could not manage that. Operating a railway is a very difficult task. There are statutory obligations; the maintaining of the fencing at: each side of the track, and rnaintaining the platforms, signalling and track, are very expensive. It cannot be done for 86 miles on the basis of a few of the lads going out with a few keying hammers and seeing whether anything is loose.

There is a strong argument for the Government to face up to their responsibilities and ensure that British Rail has sufficient funds to restore the Ribblehead viaduct. The viaduct has deteriorated purely because of lack of maintenance by British Rail, dating from the mid-1970s when it failed to renew the damp-proof coursing, allowing frost to penetrate and start the erosion that is now at the centre of the issue.

Most people who view the matter reasonably objectively want the Settle-Carlisle line to remain as part of the British Rail national network. The line operates an important diesel multiple-unit service which is financed by local authorities. That service is now covering its costs—despite, I might add, the gloomy predictions of many potential critics of its introduction. The loco-hauled service that operates from Leeds and Hull up to Carlisle should be extended back to Glasgow, where British Rail originally curtailed it. I think it extremely unfair of the Department of Transport to put such pressure on hard-pressed local authorities to provide finance for the reconstruction of Ribblehead viaduct and other major civil engineering works on the line. For that is what they are doing. In effect, they are saying to local authorities, "The decision is yours. If you back out of providing financial support, we are afraid that the closure decision is inevitable, and it will be your responsibility."

It is not the responsibility of local authorities. They desperately want the railway to remain open, but they want it to remain open in the context of a British Rail railway that is part of the inter-city network. While they are prepared to make a contribution, I feel that the entire burden should not be placed on their shoulders, and that British Rail, with Government assistance, should support the necessary expenditure.

The subject is important, because it is a magnificent railway. Some 30,000 objections were made to its closure. The transport users' consultative committees for both Yorkshire and the north-west concluded unanimously that it should be retained. The chairman of the Yorkshire committee, Mr. James Towler, was particularly eager and convinced that the line should remain open, and particularly erudite in his knowledge of the improvements that could be made to the deficiencies of British Rail's operation, because he travelled frequently on trains. Naturally, there was only one solution to that: the Government arranged his sacking, because he had been a bit too diligent on behalf of the passengers.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that, on a number of occasions in the past year, owing to either accidents or major emergency work on the west coast line, major inter-city trains from Glasgow to the midlands and south of England have been forced to use the Settle-Carlisle railway. It is obvious that, if the railway were closed, it would not only mean a further curtailment of the main BR network, but, in the event of major engineering works or accidents on the west coast line, cause the service to stop altogether, because there would be no alternative route.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is quite right. I was coming to that. I do not wish to go into too much historical background, but hon. Members will no doubt be aware that the railway was built by the Midland railway because Midland railway trains were being slowed down by the London North Western railway — in that glorious competitive spirit that prevailed in Victorian values—and passengers were made to get out at Ingleton and walk across Greta viaduct to join a meandering LNWR train to the end of the line.

The route from Clapham junction has now been closed, so that is no diversion. Trains up the west coast route on the electrified section have no other reasonable diversion if that route is blocked—as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned—except the Settle-Carlisle line.

To increase the costs of maintaining the line and reduce the revenue, British Rail decided several months ago to remove all freight traffic from the Settle-Carlisle line. It then decided that it was no longer possible to use it as a diversionary route. Unfortunately, the realities of operating the railway having escaped the board, BR found that diversions are necessary on the line. Since the original decision, there have been hundreds of diversions, and on one glorious day — the day on which British Rail announced the closure proposal—there was a blockage on the west coast route causing all the trains to be diverted over the Settle-Carlisle line. I cannot name the precise day, because British Rail, in its administrative supremacy, had about half a dozen goes at producing a correct closure notice before it was able to do the thing properly and conform to the law. However, the line is certainly used for diversions, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to the House's attention. It emphasises that the line is part of the national network, and that the notion of a preservation group or trust operating it as a separate entity simply is not on.

I hope that the Government will realise the importance of the issue and come forward. They will desperately and bitterly disappoint thousands, if not millions, of their supporters if they allow the line to wither away, or allow British Rail to close it on the instructions of the Secretary of State. My few remarks are no substitute for a detailed debate about the Jarvis plc report, but they are a guide to the Government and the Leader of the House to tell the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House that the railway is to be saved. Between central Government and the local authorities — which have demonstrated over several years by their commitment of cash that they want the railway to function and the passenger service to be retained—a solution can surely he found that does not squeeze local authorities, but puts some Government cash to excellent use. If the Jarvis plc report is brought into operation, jobs and enhancement will be provided on one of the finest and most beautiful railways in our country.

10 am

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I should also like to intercede with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to take up another point with his Department. I hope that not all hon. Members in this debate will raise questions with which the Department of Transport must deal.

Many hon. Members shared the Department of Transport's deep concern at the consequences of increased congestion in the air space over the south-east of England and the implications for air safety and the environment. Those points caused enormous concern in the House at that time. The Minister therefore received wide support when he expressed the hope that future licence applications to serve Manchester and the regional airports would assist in relieving further pressure on the already over-congested south-east.

Those comments were seen by many hon. Members on both sides of the House as further emphasis on the need to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the negotiations that took place at the Department of Transport last week between the United Kingdom and the United States. The negotiations were conducted to review the specific applications for air traffic licences to serve Manchester by three United States airlines—American Airlines, North-West Airlines and Pan American— and to provide enhanced opportunities for British airlines to provide direct services to the United States from Manchester.

I do not have to remind transport Ministers that during 1986, the last year for which the Department of Employment statistics are available, 900,000 passengers to the United States from the catchment area of Manchester airport travelled via London or other European airports while only 80,000 were served by direct flights from Manchester. If my arithmetic is correct, that means that less than 10 per cent. of the people from the Greater Manchester area, the areas surrounding Manchester airport, who wanted to fly to the United States, could have flown direct.

The negotiations last week were seen by hon. Members to provide a great opportunity to assist the business and leisure demands of the north of Britain, and to provide considerable relief to the congestion in the south-east through the removal of the completely unnecessary diversion of traffic to the south-east airports. The dismay and disbelief which followed the announcement that the negotiations had failed to reach any conclusion are therefore entirely understandable.

There was a bitter reaction in the north which was not simply confined to the business community, to the environmental and safety lobby in the south, to the tourist industry outside London, to the weary jostled passenger at the London airports, to the unemployed seeking an opportunity in the north or those who suffer from over-full employment in the south-east. It was felt by everyone who recalls the Government's commitment to make better use of Manchester and the regional airports to provide a greatly enhanced service to the passengers and cargo industry and a major stimulus to the economy in the regions.

I pay tribute to what has been done for Manchester airport since the Conservative party was elected in 1979. Anyone who considers the number of flights into and out of Manchester since 1979 and the number of passengers through Manchester over the period will be amazed at the enormous advance that has been made. I pay tribute to what successive Secretaries of State for Transport have done for Manchester airport since 1979. However, I want my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to bear in mind the fact that the 1985 White Paper on airports policy acknowledged that more than 12 per cent. of the traffic through London airports would be better served by Manchester airport, yet when the opportunity is clearly available the negotiations fail— unbelievably— because of an attempt to trade a request for increased rights into Manchester by United States airlines against further rights of British airlines out of London. I find that completely incomprehensible.

It is widely acknowledged that it is easier for a British airline to fill a plane from Heathrow than it is to fill a new service from Manchester. However, that attitude results in a major distortion in air traffic flows. The fact that 21 per cent. of the United Kingdom's international charter traffic flies from Manchester but only 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom's international scheduled traffic flies from Manchester owes a great deal to a previous era of air travel.

At one time the volume of international air travel was so low that services from Manchester were not viable and it made good economic sense then to feed all United Kingdom passengers into one service from Heathrow. The situation is now different as there are much higher demand levels from all around the country. The fact that six major United States passenger airlines and the two largest United States cargo operators sought to play a role in the negotiation of rights to fly into Manchester is undeniable testimony to the general acknowledgement of frustrated demand.

Why, when more than 20 per cent. of all air passengers to the United States originate in Manchester's catchment area, are there only sufficient services for 2 per cent. to fly direct? I have done a little work on this and I find it quite astounding that there are 360 flights a week from London to the United States, but only 13 from Manchester. Why are so many visitors to the United Kingdom forced to use London as a point of entry when the Department of Employment statistics show that one in three of those visitors do not spend a night in the London area? More fundamentally, why do we forsake the opportunity of an immediate stimulus to the economy of the north of Britain in excess of £100 million a year from the new services requested by United States airlines?

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will ask his colleagues why we cannot do something positive to alleviate the north-south divide. Things are improving dramatically in the north and more inter-continental flights would give us a tremendous boost. I believe that the answer is that the negotiations focus exclusively on a balance of aviation rights between what United States airlines and British airlines choose to focus their attention on. Surely the overwhelming case for ancillary, economic, environmental and social benefits is such that the Government must act now to bring about an early resumption of the negotiations which will progress the Government's stated objectives to develop Manchester airport in accordance with their commitment outlined in the 1985 White Paper.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my hon. Friend urge the Government to recognise that the statistic of one in three visitors not spending a night in London is caused by the fact that those people often travel to other parts of Europe? Therefore, Manchester must be able to coordinate inward flights from the United States with onward flights linking with other European capitals. That would greatly assist my hon. Friend's constituency and those concerned with the problems of the north-west.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We both became hon. Members at the same time, perhaps more years ago than we care to remember. I am grateful for his support for Manchester airport. Manchester airport is the largest single employer in my constituency, and I feel very strongly about this issue.

What must 20 million people in Manchester airport's catchment area do to enjoy the same travel rights as people living in the London area? All they seek, like Londoners, is the right to fly from their airport direct to their destination. Unless we redress the intolerable imbalance in air services between the south-east airports and Manchester, we can rightly be accused of discrimination and perpetuating the alleged two-nation concept. I understand that a meeting will take place in Washington on 25 April. I understand that the meeting will consist only of officials of the Transport department in the United States and the Department of Transport in this country. I understand that no Ministers will be present. I hope that the issues that were discussed during the negotiations last week will be opened up again and that the case for Manchester airport will be stressed as strongly as possible.

I received a letter this morning from a business man in my constituency which states: For many years I have had to visit North America at least once a year. British Airways and it's predecessors have provided from Manchester a stop/go/seasonal service to New York and also to Montreal and Toronto. I suspect that they really want businessmen to fly from London on their main services. In the last year, American Airlines have run a daily flight throughout the year to Chicago which is ideal for any businessman wanting to visit that area and which provides convenient connections to all towns in central, south western and western U.S.A. A.A. and other U.S. airlines have recently applied for permission to fly similar flights to east coast destinations and these have been refused. B.A. has meanwhile kindly arranged for a flight from Gatwick to call at Manchester, and are alleged to have said that they would withdraw this if they were to have any competition on the run, see attached press cutting. I suggest that Britain invites A.A. or some other U.S. airline to fly this route as our own national airline has shown so little interest over the last two decades. Could you please show this letter to the Government Department concerned and let me have any comments, bearing in mind that customer should be king? A newspaper cutting from the Manchester Evening News of 19 March states: some of the US observers at the talks were dismayed by the evident reluctance of British airlines to actively seek more flying rights out of Manchester. British Airways chief executive Sir Colin Marshall told Department of Transport negotiators that if American Airlines and Pan Am were allowed to start direct services from Ringway to New York, he would scrap his proposed daily service and the run to Orlando.

I have great respect for Lord King and Sir Colin Marshall. They have done an enormous amount for British Airways, but I remind them that, not so many years ago, the Civil Aviation Authority put forward proposals that would have pushed British Airways out of Manchester. At that time, British Airways was agitated and enlisted the support of Members of Parliament from the north. Northern Members rallied together and fought and won that battle, and British Airways expressed its gratitude to us. I can only hope now that in the north we shall get the support of British Airways in achieving more intercontinental flights in and out of Manchester airport.

Before we adjourn for the Easter recess, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give me an assurance that officials from the Department of Transport who go to Washington in April will push as hard as they can the case for the north and for Manchester airport to ensure that Manchester airport continues to flourish.

10.21 am
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)

The Government have made a highly irregular decision in announcing recently a further substantial cut of £5 million from the Northern Ireland housing budget for 1988–89. From time to time we come to the House to hear about the appropriation of moneys for various Departments of Government in relation to the needs of the community. Various amounts are read out for us and that information is given whether we like it or not. We must accept that information without proper debate or allowance for amendment.

The dictatorial decision to reduce further an already under-funded budget is to be deplored. It appears that the Housing Executive is considered to be a soft touch when money is needed. It is important that the House is acquainted with the hardship that the long-suffering people of the Province are forced to suffer because of this callous decision to deny the means whereby the deprivation caused by years of neglect in the provision of much-needed housing can be redressed.

At the end of November 1987 the Government announced the levels of public expenditure on housing over the next three years. In overall cash terms the shortfalls in gross expenditure levels proposed by the Housing Executive for each of the next three financial years are as follows: 1988–89, £24 million; 1988–90, £46 million; and 1990–91, £48 million. After allowance for a £7 million increase in rental income, this represents a £31 million, £53 million and £55 million loss in Government funding. Although the Housing Executive had decided on a rent increase of 4 per cent. in accordance with the Government's gross domestic product deflator in its bid for funds, the Government have proposed, and now assume, an increase of 9.2 per cent. in line with the increase being discussed with the local authority associations in England and Wales.

Normally, Northern Ireland has followed decisions taken on the mainland, if the Government have thought it appropriate, by the making of iniquitous Orders in Council. It seems strange and somewhat sinister that the Government are proposing this rent increase, which is more than double inflation, before it is decided over here. It appears that this is another convenient ploy to extract the maximum from the most deprived in an exercise in figure juggling. The severity of the reduction has meant that housing programmes planned for the next three years have had to be critically reassessed.

During the autumn of 1987 the Housing Executive published its Province-wide housing strategy for 1988–91. Under this strategy the executive had hoped to sustain a yearly new build programme of 1,650 dwellings. It proposed also a rolling improvement programme for Housing Executive-owned dwellings over a 12-year period and to maintain a renovation grants scheme for private home owners at a relatively high level. The executive's preferred strategy would have been a yearly new build programme of 1,750 dwellings, improvements for Housing Executive-owned dwellings over a 10-year period and grant-aid to the private sector comprising some 4,000 improvement grants and 6,000 repair grants per annum.

The housing Executive has now been forced radically to reassess its planned programmes. This will have the effect of limiting even further its ability to meet housing need and reduce housing unfitness. In general, the main effects will be a reduction in the planned new build programme from 1,650 to 1,500 dwellings annually, a slowing down of the modernisation programme, which will now be phased over 16 years instead of the planned 12, and substantially less funding for renovation grants to privately owned homes.

This will mean that, rather than starting improvement work on an average of 8,330 Housing Executive homes a year, the executive will be able to start only some 6,250. In addition, only 3,500 improvement grants and 3,000 repair grants will be available each year to home owners, rather than the 4,000 and 6,000 respectively which the Housing Executive had hoped to provide. It is inevitable that the effects will be felt not only by tenants but in employment terms in the construction industry and by those supplying the Housing Executive with goods and services.

This further substantial cut of £5 million has brought feelings of disgust and revulsion, especially when one considers the circumstances whereby the Government deliberately denude one of their Departments to support another. If financial planning is so poor as to involve this sort of last minute change, I can only assume that there is incompetence at a high level somewhere within the Government.

In terms of activity, £5 million represents about 200 new houses or, alternatively, major improvements to 500 houses, such as installation of central heating, with rewiring or other refurbishments. This means that tenants or new applicants will now be left on the waiting list for a much longer period. When the Housing Defects Act 1984 (Commencement) Order was considered by the House some years ago, it was decided that system-built houses using pre-stressed reinforced concrete would gradually be replaced because of structural defects. There are many such houses in Northern Ireland. A significant number of them are owned by the Housing Executive. I now understand that because of these iniquitous and swingeing cuts the Housing Executive has been forced to abandon its plan to replace considerable numbers of those unsound houses. Naturally, I am concerned at this turn of events, especially in view of the extreme level of unfitness of houses in the Province, which is almost double that on the mainland.

The board of the Housing Executive met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 16 March. During that meeting the chairman emphasised that a strategy had been agreed with the Government as long ago as 1983. That effectively translated the measured housing need into levels of activities and housing programmes. However, increasingly, the Government have failed to fund those levels of activity, and in the published figures for funding for the years 1988 to 1991 there appeared to be no change in the downward trend.

As a result, the Housing Executive was faced with a continuing decline in the rate of progress in meeting the jointly agreed housing needs for Northern Ireland. In fact, improvement work was having to be placed on such an extended time scale as to raise the question whether disrepair and need would begin to rise at a faster rate than the executive could carry out remedial work. That suggested the completely unacceptable prospect for the executive of presiding over a gradually worsening situation.

It was pointed out that if the situation were not to deteriorate in that way, it was essential that the funding promised by the Government should be regarded as an irreducible core that should riot be raided repeatedly for other purposes. It was also stressed that the Government should act with consistency and continuity in the treatment of Housing Executive funding.

I understand that the Secretary of State listened sympathetically to the plea by the Housing Executive board. I hope and trust that he will now take such steps as are necessary to galvanise the Government into effective action to reduce the terrible housing deprivation in the Province.

10.31 am
Mr. David Porter (Waveney)

The prospect of the Easter Adjournment is very welcome to us all. It allows us to go back to our constituencies, in my case to remind my wife and children that they are not a single parent family, to recharge my batteries, to breathe some proper fresh air coming off the sea and to bring all the good news about the measures that we have been taking during the past two months.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

That will not take long.

Mr. Porter

It will take some time. More immediate than that, I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise some east coast problems. By east coast I mean part of East Anglia. To a true East Anglian that means only Suffolk and Norfolk. I am concerned about that part of Suffolk and Norfolk which is Waveney and Great Yarmouth. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) is not here to support me, but he is toiling on behalf of his constituents in Norfolk.

I was going to call my remarks "East of Norwich" to place it geographically, but that smacks of East of Suez, which implies pulling out or, "No one goes there." East of Eden might be more appropriate. I am talking about an area that includes the magnificent town of Great Yarmouth and the town of Lowestoft, the premier fishing port of England.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) could substantiate that bogus claim. He will know that in recent months the port of Newlyn in my constituency has topped the league in regard to the value of fishing landings.

Mr. Porter

That may be so. Obviously my figures are not up to date, so I shall reserve my judgment until I have checked those figures.

I wish to raise problems about East Anglia, which is the second fastest growing region in the United Kingdom—and the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys estimates that births and people moving into East Anglia will make it the fastest growing region in the next 12 years. The average cost of housing is going up £30 per day and unemployment in Waveney is down from 17 per cent. 18 months ago to 11.5 per cent. today. So why are there problems?

The problems are, to some extent, those of East Anglia's success generally, moving across from the midlands and up from London. Milton Keynes, Peterborough, the west of East Anglia and the FelixstoweIpswich-Cambridge corridor have excellent roads, but as yet Waveney and Great Yarmouth do not. A joint representation from the two local authorities will soon be treading a path to the door of the Minister for roads, my hon. Friend the member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). Notwithstanding his best efforts recently on the Halesworth relief road and the recent recognition by the county council of Waveney as the poor relation in Suffolk, it can still take more than three and a half hours to drive or to travel by train from my constituency to London—a mere 119 miles.

One of the best hopes for our economic well-being in Waveney and Great Yarmouth is welcoming more tourists. Every effort has been made to speed tourists into the west country to enjoy the quaintness of the country lanes for a fortnight or so. However, sometimes visitors to the eastern part of East Anglia feel that it takes them a fortnight to get there.

Not unnaturally, visitors to our area occasionally have to use the Health Service. There is a formula for taking account of that in the funding of family practitioner services and hospital services. The Government are undertaking a fundamental review of Health Service funding and organisation, and the East Anglian regional health authority has volunteered itself as a pilot area for an internal market experiment. I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to bear in mind that if health planning is to be effective it should move the resources with the people or allow the people to move them themselves, as well as taking account of resourcing in the sparser areas of population.

Equally, in regard to schools, a declining rural population and school roll decline nationally are partly offset by an increase in growth in parts of Waveney, and a decision on the closure of the Reydon high school and two primary schools is with my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), the Minister with responsibility for schools. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has no say in that, but he should remember how important are our rural areas, how vital is space and how essential are parental and community choices.

A maternity unit in my constituency is threatened with closure, as is an old people's home 100 yards outside my constituency in the Suffolk, Coastal constituency of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Of course, services must change, update, modernise and be cost-effective, but let us be sure that we carry the people with us. If a ward, a hospital, three schools, the fire engine cover, the police station cover, and local council depots are all modernised, changed and updated within a few months and within a few square miles, people feel under threat, and the best intentions of the Government are undermined.

Locals and tourists alike come to Great Yarmouth and Waveney and other places to enjoy the coastline. Cleaning up the beaches is under way, but is it urgent enough? Is our attitude to re-education as a nation urgent enough? I have discussed the protection of our coasts against the ravages of the sea with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We have been extremely lucky this winter.

I have said that local authorities should not have to put up swimming pools or sea defences in a capital programme, because one can choose to have a swimming pool, but one cannot choose whether to protect the coast. That is a departmental matter, but I say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if we do not regard coast protection as a national battle, we could have the seaside resort of Birmingham by the year 2050.

I shall not detain the House on the problems of freezing the allocation of non-precious stock fishing licences, or the problems of the pig farmers or those who are worried about VAT on books, newspapers and children's clothes, or anything else from my post bag. I shall say only that the House is ready for the Easter recess to prepare for the good news to come.

10.39 am
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) made a rather strange speech. He said that he was going home to tell his constituents the good news about what the Government have done, and he then spent the rest of his speech complaining about things that were going wrong for which he wanted help, to which many of the answers lie with the Government. I certainly agree with him that his constituency, as all others, needs things from the Government, and I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to deliver.

I also agree that not many hon. Members will vote against the motion. After a spell of Committees sitting late into the night, I could defend having a week off—five working days—to even the most determinedly aggressive constituents. It will do us and the country good to have a few days with our families or friends in the fresh air and to come back renewed in about 10 days.

The debate a year ago on the Easter Adjournment motion was started by the former right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, the late John Silkin. I believe that it was his last speech in the House before he died and that it is therefore appropriate now to pay tribute to him for all his services to the House. Until the very end in the equivalent debate a year ago he was arguing for constituency and wider matters of particular interest to him.

I support many of the arguments already made by hon. Members, such as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) who spoke in favour of the Settle to Carlisle railway, and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) who spoke in support of Manchester airport and the diversion of air traffic to the north. As someone born in Cheshire and who lived for the first decade of my life next to a Cheshire airfield, although not Manchester Ringway — it was the AV Roe Woodford airfield — I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's decent and proper regional argument. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) rightly argued for more money for his constituents and for Northern Ireland housing in general. It is unfair that that has been cut.

I wish to speak about the crisis in the Health Service in inner London, a subject which formed part of my speech in the equivalent debate last year. I spoke then about the crisis in nursing. It is no better, but today I wish to go slightly wider and I hope that the Leader of the House will give us some fundamental assurances.

Since I spoke from these Benches on health matters last year, I have been dogging the Secretary of State for Social Services with questions about hospital and community services cuts in London. Eventually, after much obfuscation, I obtained the figures. In an oral answer on 12 January the Secretary of State confirmed that between 1981–82 and 1986–87 expenditure in the four Thames regions had dropped in real terms by 2.8 per cent. That was a bigger reduction than even I had expected. The Secretary of State justified those cuts by saying that they were more than offset by increased efficiency." —[Official Report, 12 January 1988, Vol. 125. c. 132.] That gives rise to three questions which I hope the Leader of the House will take away with him. First, what is the basis for that efficiency claim? How do the Government measure increased efficiency for the purpose of that claim? Have they made specific calculations of increased efficiency, or is it a general statement? Are their claims of increased efficiency accepted as valid by anyone but themselves? When the Government's figures confirm real cuts, as they do in London, we need more than a general statement that they have been offset by efficiency.

Secondly, and confirming the worry, the Government say that taking into account efficiency savings, purchasing power in the Thames regions increased by 2 per cent. during those five years. That contrasts enormously with the 2 per cent. increase in services needed annually to keep pace with greater numbers' of elderly people, existing policy commitments such as community care, and medical advances. The Government have accepted that a 2 per cent. increase in services is needed annually. Even taking on board their claims about efficiency, if they acknowledge that there has been only a 2 per cent. increase over five years—not each year—in purchasing power, they must also acknowledge that services have not increased by anywhere near enough to meet the growing demands of people in inner London and the south-east.

By the Government's own admission that a 2 per cent. increase in services is needed annually, their admission in January that purchasing power has increased by only 2 per cent. in total over five years makes it clear that the NHS in London has not had enough money even to stand still. It has been slipping back and services have been declining. Will not the Government at last admit that, I hope as a preface to doing something about it? They will have another opportunity to do something in the next few weeks.

Thirdly, must not the Government acknowledge that because the resource allocation working party formula does not take sufficient account of indicators of social deprivation and therefore, tends particularly to shift resources away from urban areas in the south-east, the cut in London, as opposed to the four Thames regions, which go outside London, will be even bigger than the 2.8 per cent. cut that the Government have acknowledged in the Thames regions as a whole—and that in an area that desperately needs more health resources?

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

How does that information stand up in the light of the announcement made on Wednesday of additional funding for the Thames area? As the RAWP formula still shows that the Thames region is overfunded, it is difficult for those of us in other areas that have not been so generously treated to accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Hughes

I understand that point, and I shall answer it specifically by taking an example of one health authority in London.

The principal health authority in my constituency is Lewisham and North Southwark. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, including the Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), and the hon. Members for Peckham (Ms. Harman) and for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ru.ddock), recently, with me, met our local health authority chairman and officers and were briefed on the exact position in our authority's area, which includes Guy's hospital. In 1988–89, the authority will hand back £2.4 million through the RAWP formula. That will go back from us into the kitty. In 1982–83, the authority's expenditure was 128 per cent. of its RAWP target of 100 per cent. The region set a target for the district of 105 per cent. by 1993–94. It is already down to 108 per cent., so it has managed to cut 20 per cent. off its theoretically excessive allocation and is giving money back. I do not detract from the needs of other regions, but the chairman and officers of the local health authority have reached the stage of saying, "We can take no more." I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that where there is no real increase in funds in parts of the country, at the same time as there is redistribution of resources our way, the result is substantial cuts.

Since 1983, 290 beds have been cut in Lewisham and North Southwark. It will be unable to keep paying back the RAWP money without further substantial cuts. The authority's pay bill is £100 million. If it is not fully funded, and there is even a 1 per cent. deficit, it will mean a £1 million shortfall. Contingency plans have been drawn up for further substantial cuts, should they prove necessary. The authority has already lost £3.3 million because of underfunding of pay awards over five years, and it has lost £12.4 million because of inflation and RAWP redistribution. The total reduction of resources is about £15 million. The House will accept that the officers and members of the health board are impartial in matters of party politics, but they are saying that without additional money our priority care programme will be murdered, our waiting lists will mount enormously and it will be impossible to reach the RAWP target. That is just one health authority in inner London trying to cope with Government policy.

Other health authorities have desperate problems. In relation to West Lambeth authority, which includes St. Thomas's hospital, our local South London Press newspaper said today: Hospital bosses claim NHS inflation is running at eight per cent. leaving hospitals short. Since 1983, the number of beds has been cut from 927 to 632. The number of patients treated has decreased, the number of patients on the waiting list has increased from 5,100 to 8,100, and it is likely to have to cut by 60,000 the number of people who visit hospital clinics and slash staff by one in 10.

I could make a similar argument in respect of all the health authorities in inner London, including Riverside, which covers this area, the City and Hackney, which includes Bart's hospital, and many others. The Health Service in London is far from safe in anyone's hands.

There has been a 24 per cent. increase in people waiting for operations in inner London, and a 9.4 per cent. increase in greater London. In 1987, in the South-West Thames region, waiting lists increased by 1.8 per cent. to 36,391—a quarter of whom had waited for more than a year—and last year in South-East Thames region the waiting list increased by 4 per cent. It would have been greater but for a last-minute cash allowance. We are grateful for the additional allocations of cash, but they have not compensated for the substantial difficulties faced by the Health Service in London.

The result is that health authorities are turning to charity. Great Ormond street hospital has had to have its Wishing Well appeal. Bart's hospital is bringing in Saturday volunteers from the City to help on wards. Ear, nose and throat surgeons are working for nothing. The Imperial Cancer Research Fund has given £25,000 to Bart's to pay for paediatric nurses. At St. Thomas's, doctors are donating their profits from private practice.

All this is happening in some of the poorest areas of the country. In 1986, infant mortality increased from 9.2 per cent. to 9.7 per cent. For some diseases, for example, lung cancer and respiratory disease, the death rate is up to 50 per cent. higher than the national average. Living conditions contribute not only to physical but mental illness. For example, schoolchildren in the Camberwell health authority area, which is also partly in my constituency have three times the rate of behavioural disturbance as children in the Isle of Wight. In the four Thames regions we have 76 per cent. of all the AIDS patients in the United Kingdom. The result of the cutting of acute beds has the greatest effect in areas with a high number of ill elderly, many of whom should be in other than hospital accommodation but are not. In London some 1,400 beds have been cut—50 per cent. of them acute—and 46 per cent. of the people in acute beds are over 65. Spaces are just not available either in the proper places for the elderly or in hospitals for other patients.

I ask the Leader of the House to give assurances on the one thing that the Government can urgently do to come to the aid of the Health Service. Before we leave for this Easter recess, they should announce that they will fully fund the nurses' pay award that is to be recommended by the pay review body. Many in the nursing profession are in a desperate situation. Some 60 per cent. of nurses work overtime. Many work through their lunch breaks and most do another job to help out financially. They have desperate difficulties with accommodation and with travel costs, and they are now facing the threat of the poll tax. Nurses are opting out.

I have a letter from a BA honours student nurse, who says: Another disturbing aspect is being in close contact with students who leave in their 1st year … already 3 in my intake have gone away … or 2nd year, or as soon as they qualify because they are disillusioned and dissatisfied. It does not take the student nurse long to discover the reason why nurses are so disheartened and why morale is so low! … As a member of the Royal College of Nursing I would find it very difficult to contemplate striking, but I am filled with anxiety about how I will be able to survive physically, mentally and financially in the years ahead … I wish to remain … please make it possible for me to do so … by speaking on behalf of nurses in the house of commons. I was intending to do so anyway, before the letter came, but it confirms the crisis and the need. The Lewisham and North Southwark area is between 250 and 400 nurses short of establishment. The Government must come to our rescue. They will have an opportunity to do so when the pay review body reports.

Easter should be a time for rejoicing. I hope that the situation in the Health Service will not be as bad as it was over Christmas at the end of last year. I have here a copy of a letter, sent to the Prime Minister since the new year, by a nurse working at Guy's hospital. It is about the situation at Christmas 1987 in London in the Health Service. It says: Understandably the operating theatres are always shut over Christmas and consequently some of the surgical wards, but this year to save money three medical wards were also closed. Unfortunately the local population did not cease to be ill. This meant that acutely ill patients were admitted onto already overstretched surgical wards. It became increasingly difficult to get doctors to see patients they had admitted, as instead of having all their patients on one or two wards, some had patients on eleven different wards. The geography of the hospital meant that it took some of them all day to complete their rounds. On one ward an elderly lady died alone as the four nurses working on that ward were too busy looking after the twenty-six other patients, to sit with her. She then lay on the ward for four hours until a nurse had been around several other wards to be a sheet to wrap her in. To make matters even worse, the mortuary porters informed us she would have to be placed in cadaver bag, as the mortuary fridge was full! Another demoralised colleague, along with a student nurse on her first ward placing, discovered a man vomiting copious quantities of blood. They had several other patients all calling for their attention, including an infectious patient lying on the floor of a side-room demanding to see a doctor and be discharged. Surgical wards do not have the facilities to deal with the medical patients. For example, they do not have a large supply of incontinence aids or hoists to lift heavy immobile patients into the bath. These problems were compounded by the acute shortage of linen—presumably due to some other cost cutting exercise. By Sunday 27th December the wards were even running short of paper sheets and pillow cases. By the following day, nurses in charge of wards were refusing to admit patients until linen had been found to make up the beds for them. Excellence of care is stressed by the School of Nursing. I do not feel I am meeting this by nursing very sick people between two paper sheets on top of a plastic mattress. How would you feel if a relative of yours was admitted to a top London hospital, only to find staff were too busy to meet all his needs and he was expected to sleep in a bed improvised from drawer sheets and pieces of paper! Struggling to give the care we have been trained to give under the limitations imposed by financial constraint is only a further stress to an already demoralised profession.

That was the Health Service only a few short months ago. It is not acceptable to go on like that. The Government must say, through the Leader of the House, that they have a new commitment, which means more money and more support for people who are trying to keep our National Health Service up to the standards for which it was founded.

10.55 am
Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely into the problems of the Health Service in inner London. However, I can assure him that dissatisfaction with the working of the RAWP formula is not confined to London. As far away from London as my constituency in Cornwall there is a feeling that the formula does not reflect needs accurately and nor is it a good measure for allocating resources. No doubt, as he said, inner London has particular problems, some of them stemming from deprivation and urban difficulties, but the other side of the coin is that areas such as mine suffer from difficulties such as that which has become known as the rural scatter—the long distances between hospitals and patients.

Another of the difficulties in Cornwall is the inherited situation of a large number of old hospitals. I am convinced that in order to rationalise them there will in some cases have to be increases in capital spending. Cornwall also suffers, which is fortunate in some ways, from a very high incidence of old people, which puts a big burden on the NHS, yet RAWP does not take account sufficiently of such a factor. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would side with him in his eagerness to have a thorough look at the working of RAWP, and the Government are doing just that.

As the hon. Gentleman has outlined the difficulties facing the NHS, he will welcome the fundamental and thorough review of it that is being carried out under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. This is a sign of the seriousness with which the Government are taking the issue of the NHS. I join the hon. Gentleman in hoping that the Government will fund in full the nurses' pay award. However, he will accept that it would be irresponsible of any Government to give an assurance that they will do that. This award in particular looks like being extremely complex, and I have no doubt that the Government will have to look at it carefully. I hope that they will be in a position to fund in full, but it would be unwise for anybody to give that assurance in advance of receiving the report.

I wish to make two particular points, one about a national issue, and one of relevance to my constituency and the county of Cornwall. The national issue is one that has dominated this week's news—Northern Ireland. I say that it is a national issue because it affects everyone of us, wherever we live. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) here. Although it impacts enormously on Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, it affects us all, because at some time or other we have had service men from our constituencies serving in Northern Ireland, and what happens in Northern Ireland cannot be ignored by the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, I was dismayed earlier this week, following the brutal murders of the soldiers, at the reluctance of the broadcasting authorities to hand over all the untransmitted film of part of that attack.

I speak as one who has journalistic experience of covering events in Northern Ireland. I spent a number of years visiting the country on behalf of The Daily Telegraph to cover politics there. That gave me many opportunities to see the situation on the streets and the difficulties faced by soldiers, the police and my fellow journalists, especially those who worked for television, and their camera crews. I accept that camera crews are often in the front line and in considerable danger, so I understand the stance adopted by the broadcasting authorities — the BBC and Independent Television — who are trying to do everything that they properly can to protect their crews when they cover events in Northern Ireland.

However, overriding all other considerations, it is of paramount importance that the broadcasting authorities make available the evidence that they have to the RUC and the prosecuting authorities, who are trying to bring to justice the people who committed the vile murder of those two soldiers. If the broadcasting authorities say that they are reluctant to hand over film because they want to protect their staff, that merely serves to reinforce the problem of television coverage by the BBC, ITN and RTE of IRA-inspired events in Northern Ireland. The review of such coverage should have taken place even if the tragic events of last Saturday had not occurred. The broadcasting authorities need to consider how professionally and to what extent they cover IRA-inspired funerals, demonstrations and so on.

I have no doubt that there must have been an clement of collusion between the broadcasting authorities and the agents or representatives of the IRA for covering some of these events. I am thinking particularly of the pictures that we have all seen in newspapers and on television in recent weeks, of IRA firing parties letting off volleys of shots over a shrine around the corner from the funerals. As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said in the House the other day, that might be preferable to filming a firing party performing such a ceremony—if that is not too dignified a word—over a grave at a funeral, but when filming these episodes the broadcasting authorities, at least to a certain extent, play into the hands of the IRA. They should think long and hard about whether being sucked into a propaganda exercise by the IRA should constitute part of the news.

As a journalist, I know that this is a difficult area. It is always difficult to draw a line between naked propaganda for an organisation and genuine news. However, my plea to the broadcasting authorities is that they should give urgent and deep consideration to these difficult issues.

I turn now to a couple of issues that affect Cornwall in particular. I noticed this morning in The Daily Telegraph a report headed: British regions get no priority in rush for EEC millions". That relates to an apparent decision by the EEC Commission to try to give priority through the structure funds to certain regions — Greece, Portugal, Ireland, southern Italy, parts of Spain, French overseas territories and Northern Ireland. In so doing, the Commission is trying to exclude all other parts of the United Kingdom: for example, Wales, parts of northern England and the assisted areas of Cornwall and. Devon. If the report is true, and I suspect that it is, that is a matter for concern. Of course, there will still be access to other European funds in other circumstances, but the first priority for the structure fund will be the areas I have listed—the others will come behind.

I do not expect my right hon. Friend to comment on this today, but I know that he will draw it to the attention of the Ministers concerned and ask them to renew the attempts that the Government have already made in Brussels to ensure that areas of the United Kingdom outside Northern Ireland that have high levels of unemployment are given as much priority as other parts of the European Community. European funds play an important part in providing the infrastructure of parts of the United Kingdom that have high levels of unemployment. They are beginning to have an impact on Cornwall and I do not want such areas to be deprived of the funds. I hope and believe that that will not happen, but I want an assurance that Ministers will fight this issue strongly in Brussels.

Talking of infrastructure and development in development areas, I and most of my hon. Friends very much welcomed the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on 9 March about local authorities' expenditure. The purpose of the statement was to clamp down on irresponsible local authorities that were going in for creative accountancy and other like devices, such as doing deals with Japanese banks—and others—to get around the Government's proper restrictions on capital expenditure. However, there appears to be a possibility that some genuine attempts to carry out redevelopment by responsible local authorities might get caught.

I refer to a report that appeared in The Morning News a week ago today. It echoed the concern of a number of councils, including Penwith district council about the possible ramifications of my right hon. Friend's statement. The report points out that a £2 million scheme for Truro city hall—I can vouch for its being much needed— may be at risk; so may a £5 million leisure centre at Falmouth and a harbourside car park for Truro. A £5 million harbourside redevelopment at Penzance in my con-stituency is also under threat. Most of these redevelopment schemes involve some sort of deal with developers, under which land may be made available to them. They will carry out the work and the community will get the benefit.

That is the proper way to proceed. It is not in the same category as some of the antics carried out by councils such as Brent and others, which we all read about. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reassure the House without delay on this matter, and that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey the anxieties of responsible local authorities to our right hon. Friend so that an early statement can be made to clarify the position.

I take considerable hope from the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that he would consider issuing additional capital allocations where we arc satisfied that the agreements were not entered into for the purpose of evading capital expenditure or borrowing controls." —[Official Report, 9 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 327] The answer lies in that sentence, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will lose no opportunity to reply to the letters which I, and no doubt other hon. Members and councils, have sent to him. I hope that we can be reassured that sensible projects, such as the ones that I have mentioned, are not at risk and that they will go ahead.

11.12 am
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I should like to take this opportunity to raise in the House and place on record so that, one hopes, the Government and others will carefully examine it, the importance of immediate action over the treatment of people, especially Kurdish people in Iraq, and the need to bring an end to the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war. This war has been going on for twice as long as the second world war and hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this appalling conflict. The most unspeakable horrors have been perpetrated on people in villages in Iran and Iraq, and people who have differences of opinion with the respective regimes are suffering under the most appalling prison conditions.

The Governments of Western Europe and, indeed, of virtually every country are conniving at the continuation of this war. This is because they do not do enough in the United Nations to bring the war to an end, and almost every Government in every industrial country is guilty of directly providing arms to one side or the other. Many Governments provide arms to both sides. Governments who are not providing arms are certainly providing sufficient equipment for the manufacture of arms. Some provide chemicals and pesticides that can be used for the manufacture of chemical weapons that are as awful and as crude as those that were banned by the Geneva convention after the first world war.

The House should not adjourn for Easter without at least protesting against the continuation of the war, and it should do everything that it can to bring some humanitarian assistance to the victims of the war. If we do not do that, we will allow hundreds of thousands of people to go needlessly to their deaths in this appalling conflict. I shall not speak at great length about the basis of the conflict, because that would take up a great deal of time. Instead, I wish to draw attention to specific aspects.

It is important to note that this is not just a conflict about the delineation of the frontier of the Shatt-al-Arab waterway between Iran and Iraq, but that it is fuelled by outside forces who want to get their hands on the oil in both countries. The war also demonstrates the humanitarian and political bankruptcy of both regimes, because they seek to repress their own people by means of an attack on a neighbour. This tactic has been used by dictators for centuries who have tried to unite their people against an enemy in order to prevent the people from rising up and protesting about the appalling conditions in which many of them have to live.

I shall illustrate the dangers that are implicit in the continuation of this conflict by quoting from "International Relations" dated November 1986. It carried an article entitled "The Middle East and World Peace" written by Sir Anthony Parsons, who was at one time the British ambassador to Iran. The part that I shall quote comes after Sir Anthony has discussed the possibility of an Iranian invasion of Iraq and the likely reaction to that of other Arab states, and the implications of an invasion of Iran by Iraq and the reaction to that of nearby states, particularly the Soviet Union.

Sir Anthony said: The point is that the threat to world peace will persist for as long as the Iran/Iraq war continues and we should not be lulled into false security by the long-lasting military stalemate which could at any time be broken. Those important words should be remembered.

I should like to draw attention to one aspect of the war and to the problems implicit in the middle East—the treatment of the Kurdish people there. It is important to remember that in Iran the regime led by Ayatollah Khomeini is as brutal and repressive against dissidents as any regime in the world, and the testament to that is the number of people who have fled from that country to seek political asylum. In Iraq there is almost a Fascist regime, which has instituted virtual genocide against the Kurdish people. The vast numbers of people in political prisons in Iraq testify to that. The long arm of Iraq's security services extends to Britain, where one finds Iraqi refugees, who have sought and obtained safety, afraid to march openly on the streets to protest against the Government of Iraq because of reprisals that might take place against their families. They have to march on the streets of Britain with their faces covered so that they cannot be photographed.

Turkey also contains many Kurds. In the Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey there is virtually a civil war and many Kurdish people are in prison in Diyarbekir in eastern Turkey. I understand that during the Easter recess, or shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister is to visit Turkey. I hope that if she goes ahead with that visit she will carry very strong messages. First, she should convey the message that Turkey is not a democracy, and cannot be, because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of political prisoners in that country. People are on trial because of their political beliefs, and the general secretaries of the Communist party and the Workers' party, Mr. Kutlu and Mr. Sargin, are in prison. Secondly, she should tell the Government of Turkey that their country cannot be looked upon as a free democracy while military rule still applies in some of their provinces and while Kurds are being oppressed. The Kurdish language is banned in Turkey, and the word "Kurdistan" is also banned. The invitation to the Prime Minister to visit Turkey is part of the attempt by the Government of Turkey to cover up their crimes so that they can gain entry to the European Community.

I shall give another quotation to show how awful the positon is for the Kurds, particularly in Iraq. I shall quote from a letter delivered yesterday to the Prime Minister by the Committee for the Defence of Kurdish Nation and by Kurdish Organisations in the United Kingdom. The letter says: We, the people of Kurdistan in exile in Britain, appeal to you as a world leader to intervene and publicly condemn the wholesale slaughter of the innocent Kurdish people and the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqi Government on the innocent Kurdish inhabitants of Halabja. This is not the first instance of the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Tonight we have received private telephone calls from reliable sources in Iraq revealing the full horror of what has happened this week: we are told that about 21,000 ordinary men, women and children from the Halabja population died immediately under the cyanide bombardment. Another 20,000 have been fatally affected and between 300 and 500 are now dying each day. We believe that as a world leader—and in the pursuit of world peace and the right to self-determination of all peoples … you will share our despair and understand our desire for an immediate end to this appalling and barbaric genocide.

The letter continues by asking that the Prime Minister intervene immediately and personally and that the United Nations … send a … fact-finding mission to Kurdistan to establish the full facts and the extent of this tragedy which is without precedent since Hiroshima. The letter concludes: we appeal to you … to use your prestige as a world leader to demand that the Government of Saddam Hussein immediately cease these atrocities against our defenceless people. That letter emphasises the horrors that the Kurdish people are going through in Iraq at present.

It is also important that the House understands the background to the way in which the Kurdish people have been treated, and their fate. Kurdistan was first divided in 1514—this is not a new problem—between the warring Ottoman and Persian empires. It was not until 1920 and the treaty of Sevres that the Kurdish nation was recognised, but the treaty was never fully carried out or established because of the rise of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, who ensured that it was never brought to fruition. The treaty of Lausanne in 1923 superseded the earlier treaty and set the seal on Kurdish hopes for independence.

Today the Kurdish nation is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. For all that time there has been oppression at one time or another, of differing severity, of the Kurdish people in all four of those countries. At the moment the most awful oppression is in Iraq and Turkey, but in the past it has been in Iran, and sometimes in Syria. The desire for a Kurdish nation and for recognition of Kurdish culture is at the heart of the present oppression against the Kurdish people in Iraq. In Iraq, Kurds constitute the largest group. Over 20 million people have been victimised by the political and ideological turmoil of our time. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in the middle east and have suffered very badly.

I want to draw attention to the way in which the Kurdish people are being treated in Iraq. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein has for some years sought to oppose Kurdish culture and the use of the Kurdish language, and to oppress Kurdish people in those areas. It has sought to do so by Arabising the areas and moving large numbers of people into those areas to minimise the strength of Kurdish feeling. Of course, the areas into which they have moved people are rich in oil and fertile. They have also deported and evicted large numbers of Kurdish people from their villages. Since 15 April 1987, 700 villages have been bulldozed, set alight and destroyed. A new eviction drive has affected over 140,000 Kurdish people.

That is not the first time that this has happened. Indeed. 2,000 villages were destroyed between 1975 and 1979 in an earlier attack against the Kurdish people. About 8,000 Kurdish people have disappeared since 1983, when the Iraqi secret police or the Iraqi army arrived and simply took people away. Large numbers of people have been killed during that period.

The most shocking and appalling thing has been the use of chemical weapons and chemical warfare against the Kurdish people. It is clear that the Iraqi Government are using poison gas against the Kurdish people in Iraq. Since mid-April 1987—just less than one year ago there has been continued shelling with mustard and diphosgene gases, which have been used to kill people. This week some disturbing news has arrived, which has been adequately reported in some newspapers. Anyone who doubts the existence and use of such chemical weapons—the Iraqi ambassador in this country denies the use of chemical weapons—is referred to a secret document that has been smuggled out of Iraq, from the general commander of the Erbil district, which clearly confirms the existence of those weapons. The document is headed: Subject: Control over distribution of biological and chemical (materials)". It goes on to ask for a half-yearly stock-taking of those weapons and gives guidance on their use.

I refer the House to the news reports that have been received this week that emphasise the horror of the gas attacks that have taken place. I refer to the first part of the article by Nicholas Beeston, reporting from Halabja in occupied Iraq. He is writing about people who have died as a result of a cyanide attack: Like figures unearthed in Pompeii, the victims of Halabja were killed so quickly that their corpses remained in suspended animation. There was the plump baby whose face, frozen in a scream, stuck out from under the protective arm of a man, away from the open door of a house that he never reached. Near by, a family of five who had been sitting in their garden eating lunch were cut down—the killer gas not even sparing the family cat or the birds in the tree, which littered the well-kept lawn. Their neighbours had had the foresight to hide in an underground shelter. It became their mass grave with 10 men, women and children huddled together in the darkness surrounded by their best carpets and the family's valuables. The report then lists the horror of the cyanide gas attacks that had taken place in the past week in Halabja. It seems that 20,000 people had been killed as a result of those gas attacks, in the most appalling and unspeakable crime that can be imagined.

If anyone has any doubts about the methods that the Iraqi forces are using in Kurdistan, I refer him to orders that were sent out to the armed forces in June last year, concerning army activities in Kurdish areas. They state:

  1. "1. All remaining villages declared out of bounds for security reasons will be considered as areas containing saboteurs, agents of Iran and traitors of Iraq.
  2. 2. No humans or animals are allowed in these areas. Shooting is unrestricted in these areas, unless on orders issued by us.
  3. 3. All travel to and from these areas, and all agricultural and industrial activity within them is forbidden. All concerned authorities and apparatus will monitor these issues rigorously.
  4. 4. Your command will carry out special strikes against the largest number of those present in the exclusion zones periodically, using artillery, helicopters and aeroplanes, and at any time day or night.
  5. 5. Anyone found in these villages will be detained and interrogated by the security apparatus. All those aged 15–70 inclusive to be executed after making use of any information obtained off them.
  6. 6. The relevant body will interrogate those who surrender to government of (Ba'th) Party apparatus for 2 days, or up to 10 days if necessary. If more interrogation is needed, permission must be obtained from us by telephone or telegramme."
One can only assume that those people who are not interrogated are shot immediately, or shot after interrogation.

Amnesty International has issued numerous reports on the situation in Iraq. It reported last February that hundreds of people, in some cases children as young as 14, had been executed in Iraq. It calls again for action on this matter.

I hope the House will understand that the full horrors of the Iran-Iraq war have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, but within that conflict the most appalling savagery is being perpetrated against the Kurdish people. This week's cyanide attacks have at last hit the world's press headlines. It is time for the Government to act by doing what is requested by the Kurdish people, which is, first, requesting that the United Nations immediately sends observers to ascertain the full extent of the attacks that have taken place; secondly, demanding that the Iraqi Government allow the International Red Cross into the country to take medical and humanitarian aid to those people; thirdly, and above all, demanding a complete stop to all arms and chemical sales to either Iran or Iraq. They should also stop propping up the Iraqi Government by the use of trade, aid and credits, which I am afraid the British Government have been doing in the credits that they have passed on to Iraq. This House should make its views clearly known on this appalling matter.

11.29 am
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

No one could fail to be moved by the humane way in which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) discussed the tragic circumstances arising from the awful conflict of the Iran-Iraq war. I congratulate him on drawing the attention of the House to some of the details which, sad to say, have been emerging in our press and other media.

I, too, wish to raise a moving matter concerning the elderly. In particular, it relates to the provision of their housing in private sheltered accommodation. A constituent, Mr. Lawrence Lewis, came to see me and drew my attention to a matter which has now reached national proportions. For the benefit of the House I hold up a envelope containing letters from well over 100 people from all over the United Kingdom, telling me of their problems with sheltered accommodation for the elderly.

Accommodation of this type will fulfil a vital function as our population continues to age. It is already providing a much-needed dynamic to the housing market by allowing people to move from traditional forms of accommodation to accommodation more specifically provided for the needs of the elderly. The market is large. It is worth some £2 billion a year and there are about 7,000 units of this type of accommodation being built every 12 months. Clearly, problems are emerging in this area, which, at present, has no trade association and no form of regulation against possible abuse of the elderly.

My constituent purchased his sheltered accommodation as a result of some fairly persuasive advertising material. He was particularly attracted to the words used which related to service and maintenance charges. That is the provision of common services, such as gardening, window cleaning, cleaning of common parts and so on. Mr. Lewis felt from the advertising literature which showed that those charges would not rise sharply, so he would be in for no nasty shocks, that this was a good way to live economically. Sadly, that was not to be the case.

My constituent came to see me and showed me the literature for his accommodation and that from the developer of the same accommodation about five miles from my constituency in Blackpool for another development in which the developer's claim was even more specific about service and maintenance charges. It stated: We do not expect those to rise by any more than the rate of inflation. My constituent could not square that claim with the large increases which he had experienced.

As a result I took up the issue with the developers. I choose not to name them deliberately, because my intent in taking up this matter has been one of good faith in the interests of the individuals, and not in any way to have a witch hunt against any one developer, builder or managing agent in this sector. I have been so careful that when I was approached by "That's Life" to open my files to reveal information from those who had written to me, I refused. I do not believe that it is right to break the confidence of those who approach me, including right hon. and hon. Members. With the exception of a factual press release about holding a meeting in the House to discuss the matter, my public comment has been in response to interest from the press.

My constituent drew the matter to my attention and I discussed it with Age Concern which told me that the problem was widespread. As a result of that, the subject got into the newspapers through completely independent means. The Daily Telegraph had an article covering the issue. The paper asked me what I would do about it and I said that I wanted to look carefully at the law, particularly as it affects the statements in the literature on service and maintenance charges because through the Housing Bill or the Consumer Protection Act 1987 or even through a review of the Trade Descriptions Act there might be methods to address the clarity with which information is put across in the sales literature.

As a result of that first article I received 40 letters and The Daily Telegraph received 30. I shall summarise the issues raised with some quotations. A lady in Wye in Kent wrote: We did all our 'sums' before we took over our properties and if the managing agents had kept their word about increasing charges none of us would find ourselves in the financial difficulties which we do at present, many of the residents are contemplating having to sell out and move, but even that would impose an impossible burden on many. A gentleman from Solihull wrote: From conversations I have had with residents, many accepted these bottom line figures in good faith and budgeted accordingly. There is now alarm that they might prove grossly inaccurate within 12 months. In a most moving passage he continues: It does seem there is a group of elderly people with genuine fears but who might feel themselves constrained from voicing their concerns too publicly because they do not want to come into conflict with the company that is managing the property where they had hoped to spend their retirement free of worry. A letter from Cornwall tells me that a group of people found that their service and maintenance charges had risen by 70 per cent. in 18 months.

Finally, on an issue of a wider nature, a retired squadron leader in Seaford, Lincolnshire wrote: Can you imagine what might happen when the builder of sheltered housing goes into liquidation? Can you imagine the doubtful characters who might be attracted to these situations? I would be the first to admit that while I have given albeit a selective flavour to some of those problems, there are also many customers satisfied with this type of accommodation. Clearly, the market is growing and we must face the fact that many elderly people see the excellence of the standards that this type of accommodation offers, are seduced by the sales literature and do not ask the pertinent financial question: Can I afford to meet those regular service and maintenance charges? Many of them are living on fixed incomes and they cannot easily adjust to sudden unthought of expenses.

Earlier I mentioned what service and maintenance charges covered. Many people have suddenly discovered that they are also liable for sinking fund payments to cover the depreciation on items such as lifts. Moreover, if the developer or managing agent got his sums wrong in estimating the cost of the charge in the run-up to the sale, the residents are visited with a bill. Such bills can go on, compounded by the natural increase in charges, and present them with financial difficulties.

My intent was to find some simple way, without creating a new quango or vast regulatory body, to help these people and any others who will enter this market. I contacted the National Consumer Council which drew my attention to section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. What I am about to say has the favour of the Office of Fair Trading, my Lancashire trading standards office and others in this area. The NCC legal officer, Mr. Guy Dehn, drew my attention to the fact that the Act deals with what is called "misleading price indicators". In other words, if one sets out to mislead or give inaccurate information on the price of a service, section 3 of that Act will help those who suffer.

The Act goes further. It provides for the creation of codes of practice which govern the whole operation, not only of sales literature, but of other statements about services and obligations for residents in this type of accommodation. It is high time that the House had an opportunity — I urge my right hon. Friend to take up the matter with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and other Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry — to consider carefully the possibility of applying a code of practice dealing with these matters under the Consumer Protection Act. I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friends for such a code of practice.

The National Consumer Council in a letter to me said: Misleading or insufficient information about future levels of maintenance charges will disrupt budgetary planning and can clearly cause considerable distress. With regard to the customers of such accommodation it says: It is unrealistic to expect them to forage about for further information or to challenge figures on the basis of a calculation. I have studied the sales literature for such sheltered accommodation and many different words and phrases are used to try to say the same thing. There is no uniform description regarding what the service and maintenance charges mean. Some companies mean the narrow management charge — the administrative expense of providing communal services. Other descriptions go as wide as the water rates and all other expenses. It must be confusing for potential purchasers to be confronted by such a wide range of definitions, and that obviously gives rise to misunderstanding.

The National Consumer Council believes: A code of practice dealing with claims about maintenance charges would be in everyone's interest. A good code should help prevent the problem from recurring. The providers of sheltered housing would have guidance as to what information to provide and how to present it. The Government would be able to promote desirable practices in this area. Pensioners would not be misled. The application of the new law in this field would be clearer.

I can think of no finer recommendation than that the House gives some form of approval to that course of action. To that end I organised a working party, including representatives from the trade, and we had a meeting in the House. Leading developers and managing agents attended as well as an observer from the Department of the Environment, and representatives of the Office of Fair Trading, Age Concern and Help the Aged. As a result of its good will that working party will meet in the House on Monday to develop further its thoughts on the matter. I hope that not only will it recommend a code of practice, as I have outlined to the House, but that the group will form a trade association to deal with wider issues covering the quality of service, training of staff, facilities offered by wardens and so on.

If that group established a trade association it could also introduce a code of approval for each individual developer and stop maverick developers entering the market and misleading elderly people. I trust that the House will support the initiative, which I have taken in good faith, as I believe that it will do much to safeguard the future of accommodation for the elderly.

11.42 am
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

The House of Commons is the most sophisticated political prison in the world. It makes strong men and determined women impotent with the minimum of brutality yet with the maximum of effectiveness. Such is the confidence of the system that even the doors are not locked. Indeed, for most of the working day there is no obligation to attend—if the usual channels will permit me that indiscretion.

Parliamentary democracy and the holding to account of Government and the Executive is now little more than a sham as practised in this Chamber. The anarchic and archaic procedures that dominate our proceedings seem to give a few perks to buy off individual Members, but fail to direct the efforts of either Government or Opposition Members in the job that Parliament was set up to do.

One of the most obvious and striking examples of that failure relates to the hours of sitting of this place and it is that to which I wish refer to today. There are many other examples that could be drawn, notably the length of the parliamentary sessions. The House of Commons meets for more days than any other legislature in the civilised world. Our recesses—today we are debating the Easter recess—seem to bear no rhyme or reason to contemporary politics. Certainly the summer recess is far too long for the purpose for which it was originally intended. I believe that a system of proper holidays, which any self-respecting trade unionist would certainly support, could be arrived at by negotiations with the relevant parties, perhaps even through Mr. Speaker's Office. Such holidays could then become a normal part of our environment instead of the current practice.

My major argument relates to the length of the sitting that we have each day. On average we sit beyond 12 o'clock at night twice a week. It need not always be like that; indeed it was not always like that. The great reforming Government of 1945–50, as I understand it from the record books, had only three sittings after 12 o'clock. There has developed, however, for no reason — an organic growth—a series of sittings well into the night. Therefore, the House now has an average of two sittings per week that go beyond 12 o'clock.

The answer to the problem rests with Members of Parliament. The Economist stated: MPs, though individually they had succeeded in becoming more independent of party whips, have not yet learnt to act collectively in their own interest against the interests of the frontbenchers of both major parties. If ever a man has suffered through not belonging to a trade union it has been the modern British MP. That comment, made over a decade ago, is just as true today. The power of the Government and in particular the Front Benches, as exemplified by the whipping system, has meant that we have been lumbered with a system without any forethought or planning. That system imposes upon hon. Members a great many burdens. Such burdens are self-inflicted because, until the Back Benchers of both parties realise their self-interest, the system will continue.

It would be idle to waste too much sympathy on Members of Parliament, but there are others who must be taken into account, notably the families—the husbands, wives, children, girl friends or whatever. They suffer because of the idiocy of the system under which we attempt to work. There is a great deal of statistical evidence about the divorce rate among hon. Members, and those statistics need not be repeated.

I hope that we would all wish to encourage more women to become Members of Parliament, but added to all the burdens that male Members of Parliament face are the burdens that families and society place upon women as mothers and, in a sense, home makers. Those burdens are in excess of those that we should reasonably place on Members of Parliament. Such burdens could be removed if we had the will.

Other disadvantages in our present system include the effect on the decision-making process. How can Ministers effectively perform their duties the next day if they have been at the Dispatch Box or sitting on the Front Bench into the small hours? There is a great deal of anecdotal and written evidence from Members of all parties—whatever shade of Government have been in power—that has outlined how performance has been impaired because this place has taken its toll of Ministers.

Members of Parliament have a macho tendency to prove their toughness by sitting through the night, but that is also a costly exercise in terms of keeping staff on duty and awake when any self-respecting person would be at home with his or her family and relaxing for the day ahead.

I have tabled a motion referring to that problem in which I suggest that the House should rise automatically at 10 pm, thus returning to the system which existed just after the war when business appeared to be conducted as expeditiously and efficiently as it is today, perhaps even more so. If there were a national crisis, there would be a fallback provision under which a given number of Members of Parliament could request the sitting to continue, but that would occur only in extreme and emergency cases. To compensate for any loss of time, the House would meet at 1 pm every day, except Friday.

Given that the television age is about to come to this place—not before time—the Adjournment debate would not take place at the last knockings of the parliamentary day, but would begin the day. The superstars on the Front Bench, who will no doubt monopolise the television cameras, would experience competition from any hon. Members who are allocated an Adjournment debate and would therefore earn a place in the public eye. Between 1 pm and 1.30 pm, they could speak about an important issue during prime time television.

I do not anticipate instant acceptance of that proposal by the House, but, having looked through the press files, I am encouraged to see that many highly respected and distinguished parliamentarians from both sides of the House, including former Prime Ministers, but unfortunately not yet including the Leader of the House, have suggested that the way in which we work is unplanned and unco-ordinated and suits only the Government, not Parliament.

A major restructuring of our work needs to take place under the auspices of the Select Committee on Procedure. I hope that the Leader of the House will make the necessary arrangements so that the Procedure Committee can consider that matter again. It has discussed the matter in the recent past, but there are many new Members of Parliament who are keen and fired with antagonism towards the way this place works. I hope that that strengthens the feeling that we must put our own house in order by ensuring that we sit at proper times of day and that the business of Parliament, which is to hold the Executive to account, can take place on a far more sensible basis than at present.

11.52 am
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) suggested that Members of Parliament should be represented by a trade union. All I can say to that is, God forbid.

Today is a sad day in the history of the trade union movement in this country. We have had the humiliation of seeing trade union leaders returning from a visit to Ford in the United States with an empty bowl. It is a particularly sad day for Scotland, but also for industry in the United Kingdom as a whole. The Government have endeavoured to make the economic climate of this country one of the best in the world in which people can come and set up a business. The Budget has gone a long way towards helping that recently with a nice taxation policy which should be a positive encouragement to people overseas to invest in the United Kingdom.

There is no doubt that Ford did a great deal of market research before selecting Dundee as the place to set up its new plant. It evaluated a labour force which I am sure is second to none. I am sure that the people of Dundee would give faithful service and do a good day's work for a good day's pay. There are many other elements, for example, communications, to encourage business.

Despite Ford's decision, the United Kingdom is perhaps the best country in the world in which to set up a business at present. I hope that Ford will reconsider its decision. As a former, fully paid-up member of what is now the Amalgamated Engineering Union, I am embarrassed to think that my former brothers and sisters have created such a climate and refused to accede to the company's request, albeit reluctantly and after a narrow vote.

Companies come here and set up business to make a profit. They are not Oxfam or some charitable institution. Ford has a tremendous commitment to the United Kingdom. It has been here for many years and the plant in Dundee would have reinforced that commitment and provided the company with a gateway into Europe. It must have been reflecting on the future of the Channel tunnel.

I find it humiliating that we shall lose this valuable plant because the trade unions cannot get a firm agreement among themselves. When a pit closes, we hear cries about the social consequences for surrounding villages. We hear of the spin-offs of the earning power of employees and the company. Ford employees would spend an enormous amount of money in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and the company would be a major purchaser. Others would supply components. It is sad to think that all that will be lost because trade unions cannot get their act together.

It has been said that that is not the true reason for the decision, but the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar is about the same now as it was in the autumn when the decision to open the plant in Dundee was made. The exchange rate is no more favourable compared with the other countries where Ford is considering establishing a plant.

I remember when I was a training manager responsible, among other things, for the training of about 100 school leavers each year throughout the country. The trade unions renegotiated their rate of pay and sent us a communication to the effect that we would have to put up our trainees' salaries. We felt that we could not possibly do that, so the regional trade union leader came to see the managing director. I have never forgotten the scene. At the end of a long meeting, the trade union man and his team walked along the corridor rubbing their hands, and he said, "Well, brothers, we screwed them into the ground, didn't we?"

We were left with no alternative. We were told that we would be blacked and that nobody would use our services if we did not pay the demanded rate. The young people: who worked for us had motor cars or motor cycles, dressed well, seemed reasonably happy with the money that they earned and enjoyed their recreation at the weekend with their girl friends.

The result was that we had to sack or give redundancy notices to 100 school leavers within a fortnight and, for years afterwards, we took on only about 20 school leavers a year. That was the trade unions doing something for their members. I vowed that I would get here so that I could do something to restore the balance. Since 1979, I have played my part in trade union reform. We have to restore the balance between management and the rights and privileges of those who work for a company.

I believe that there is a role for trade unions, but there must be teamwork with management. Unions should fight for the good of their members and give value for the membership fee. That has not happened in Scotland. It has been a complete disgrace.

The big fear is that other companies that have been thinking of investing in the United Kingdom will see that Ford has pulled out, and will say to themselves, "Ford is not silly. That firm knows what it is up to, and if it is not good enough for Ford, perhaps we should not come to the United Kingdom as we are proposing to do." I hope, however, that those companies do not think like that, and that the trade unions will knock their heads together round the table and say, "We must sort this out". These jobs are vital, not only to Dundee or to Scotland, but to the United Kingdom in general.

When I woke up this morning, switched on the "Today" programme on Radio 4 and heard the news that the trade union leaders were coming back with an empty bowl, I was very sad indeed. I am not being vindictive, or trying to make too great a political point; I am merely saying that the United Kingdom depends on sensible trade union leadership. Union leaders are paid enormous sums. They are given expenses, large office accommodation and often a very nice executive car. In return, they ought to be responsible — responsible for the interests of their members. That is what the members want, and that is why the Government have been intent on giving rights to trade union members. We have recognised that bad union leadership, like bad management, can sometimes be very costly.

We have given power to the parents in the Education Reform Bill; power to the council tenants to buy their houses; power to the consumers, with the privatisation of electricity. Now we have given power to the trade union members. It is terribly important to get this right. I do not wish to elevate my importance, but I hope that my small contribution will put out a hand of friendship to Ford. Ford will be loyally served in Dundee; it could not have chosen a better place. As for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State far Scotland, he could not have done more. Only the Opposition's embarrassment leads them to suggest that he did not do enough. That is dishonest politics. If the Opposition examine the history, they will find that my right hon. and learned Friend has been in there right from the off, battling to get plant into the United Kingdom.

Ford could do without the aggravation. The firm wants stability and continuity; it does not want plant shutdowns. If it comes here, it will want to get on with the job, and I think that it is entitled to that. In return, the TUC must meet and sort out the differences, and deliver a unanimous vote—not the silly voting that we have seen recorded—to allow Ford to come here and get on with the job.

I believe that Ford will still come, but it will want a lot more from the TUC, and if it does not come it will not be the Government's fault. The Government have a tremendous record for job creation. This was an instance of that, and it is sad to see it slipping away. I very much hope that Ford will reconsider.

12.3 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

The main theme of today's short debate has been neglect. Every hon. Member who has spoken has drawn attention to the Government's neglect of one aspect or another of our national life.

First, we heard about their neglect to put enough money and effort into the space programme. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) told us about the neglect by British Rail, because of short-term financial considerations, of the Ribblehead viaduct, which consequently endangers the future of the Settle-Carlisle railway. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) followed that with a reference to the Government's neglect of the needs of air safety by not putting enough money into providing air traffic controllers with the technical equipment that they need to keep up with the increase in air traffic. In other words, there is obviously an absence of intelligent anticipation of what everyone knew was likely to happen.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) drew attention to the Government's neglect of the housing needs of some people in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) drew attention to the neglect of the needs of people relying on the National Health Service in his constituency and in inner London in general. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) drew attention to the neglect of the employment needs of people in the south-west. In particular, he stressed that there were not enough regional funds entering the area. It is always worth remembering that the south-west peninsula is one of the poorest, lowest paid areas in the EEC. Women's pay in the area is absolutely appalling and 164,000 people are out of work there. The area deserves a great deal of attention and it needs much more money from the Government's and the EEC's regional policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) drew attention to the horrifying events in Iraq and the treatment of the Kurdish people. He drew attention to the Government's neglect to do anything, make representations to provide an element of protection, or persuade the Iraqi Government to behave more humanely towards people living within their boundaries.

The hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) drew attention to private sheltered accommodation for the elderly, which the Government have promoted, and to the Government's failure to anticipate the need for measures to ensure that old people were not conned rotten by people establishing private sheltered housing. Perhaps the basic law in that regard is satisfactory, but I rather doubt it. If it is, the necessary codes of practice have not been drawn up, yet the Government have been promoting private residential accommodation since 1979. They should have made some progress with the codes of practice. I suspect that it would be better if they had used a little of the enormously long Housing Bill which is presently before the House to provide an element of protection for people living in sheltered homes for the elderly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) referred to our activities. It must be a question of self-neglect to the extent that there is anything wrong. We all know that there is quite a lot wrong with the terms and conditions of work in this place and with the facility to scrutinise the Government's activities. However, that is self-neglect. It is entirely our own fault that we do not have a better system of running this place at more reasonable hours.

Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

I was interested in the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and particularly his suggestion that there should be a trade union for Opposition Members. If the proposals were introduced does the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) expect that the leader of that union would be elected for life, or would he be subjected to occasional competition?

Mr. Dobson

Members of Parliament are not elected for life. Unless the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should all be elected for life—which at this time might be a good idea for me, but not for anyone else—his proposal is not on.

One of our problems in considering our activities as a legislative body is that the whole matter is dominated by theorising from a not particularly observant Frenchman in the 18th century. He concluded that Britain was ruled under a system involving the separation of powers of the Executive from the legislature and from the judiciary. He failed to observe that the person who chairs the meetings of another place takes part in the legislature and is also head of the judiciary and a member of the Cabinet. That suggests that some observers of our constitutional scene have not been too bright, although they have managed to dominate the intellectual approach to Government for nearly 200 years.

The other problem is the failure to recognise that, provided the Government party has a substantial majority, the theory that the House of Commons controls the Executive is not true. The Executive controls the House of Commons unless there are marginal majorities of parties in the Commons.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On the Executive's control, does my hon. Friend know that the important decision in Brussels on agriculture and stabilisers is to be agreed by Her Majesty's Government next Monday and Tuesday in Brussels, but they have not yet arranged a debate on it? They should have done so before the recess. The Government have neglected to observe the spirit of the resolution of the House of Commons on 30 October 1980. There would have been time before this week was out for such a debate. Its lack is a constitutional loss to the powers of the House over Ministers.

Mr. Dobson

I agree that the House is not strong enough in relation to Ministers. In terms of the strength of the House in relation to Ministers participating in the EEC's activities, it is weaker still. I make an offer to the Leader of the House: if he wants to make room for the debate which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) suggests and which would meet the requirements of past undertakings, the Labour party will happily forgo the debates proposed on the Housing (Scotland) Bill. That measure could be postponed or totally abandoned and there would be time to discuss that EEC matter next week.

The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), who seems to have disappeared, referred to the decision of the Ford Motor Company not to go ahead with its plant in Dundee. There has been neglect there by the Government.

Mr. Harris


Mr. Dobson

Since the Ford Motor Company said that it would not build the plant there, the only action taken by the Secretary of State for Scotland has been to go round, in and out of the House, denouncing the trade unions. So far as I know, he has not said a single word to the Ford Motor Company to ask the company to reconsider its decision. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were serious about getting that plant in Dundee, he could have gone with the people from the TUC to the United States to discover whether an agreement could be reached.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

I shall not give way.

It is unlikely that what has happened with this plant will have any effect on inward investment by other companies. Not many other companies already have 20 plants in this country and a recognition agreement that applies to those and to any future plants, and then want to say, "We want to open one plant that is entirely outside those national arrangements." The Government should sort out whether they are in favour of single-union agreements. After all, this Government wished two unions on the Nottingham coalfields. They say that they want a no-union agreement at GCHQ. They have insisted that the negotiating bodies recognise organisations such as the Professional Association of Teachers in the existing negotiating machinery. There has been considerable Government neglect in all the spheres mentioned this morning, including neglect by the Secretary of State for Scotland in sticking up for the interests of Scottish people and the people of Dundee concerning the Ford plant.

I shall raise another point which relates to neglect. It was raised indirectly by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who mentioned the state of the Health Service in inner London. I have to declare an interest in that most of the area that I represent is covered by the Bloomsbury health authority, which has the longest hospital waiting list in the country. This year, its income falls short of its expenditure by no less than £4 million, and it is estimated that next year the shortfall will be £5 million.

As a result of that shortfall, the health authority is contemplating closing the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Harrow and the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital for women, which was saved partly as a result of intervention by the Prime Minister. Last week, it considered, as an alternative way to save those enormous sums of money, closing all its hospitals for all purposes save emergency admissions. At present, the Bloomsbury health authority is spending more than £1 million a month on hiring expensive agency staff because the pay, accommodation and living standards that it can offer its own staff mean that people will not work for it.

Mr. Corbyn

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the major problems for Health Service staff throughout inner London is the extraordinarily high cost of purchasing property or acquiring private rented accommodation and the loss of nurses' accommodation because of the asset-stripping activities of a number of health authorities? Does he agree that the Government must address the urgent problem of accommodation for NHS staff as it is more important that they, rather than a bunch of yuppies, should be in inner London.

Mr. Dobson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In my constituency newly qualified nurses earn about £4,500 a year. A privately rented one-bedroom flat in my constituency costs about £100 a week, and that is for a very rundown one bedroom flat. In some parts of my constituency there are one-bedroom flats for sale for more than £95,000. Can the Leader of the House suggest how a newly qualified nurse from the Middlesex hospital or the University College hospital training schools can continue to stay in the area and try to provide a service for people who live in my area or who come from outside for treatment.

I have a copy of a letter from the professor of medicine at University College hospital medical school to one of his patients. In addition to being the professor of medicine, he is also an active clinician. He says: Present Government policy n this field is dominated by the determination to save money. It will either continue the serious underfunding which has led to a worsening series of crises in the hospital sector over the last two or three years, or will shift much of the cost for the Health Service away from direct taxation, which would mean that availability of health care would depend on each person's ability to pay. The option of increasing direct financial support of the NHS to the level that other European countries find necessary has been discounted by the Government, apparently as this would threaten its plan to reduce the top level of income tax.

The professor has to live with the daily consequences of turning patients away as he and his colleagues cannot deal with them because of the massive shortage of funds in that area. That epitomises the neglect and the lack of foresight, anticipation and investment that has characterised the comments expressed in all today's speeches.

We should remember that this is in a country where, for the past eight years, we have had the bonus of North sea oil. That oil has brought profits, bumped up Government revenue by more than £60,000 million and made it relatively unnecessary to buy oil from abroad. It has been like a continual pools win for the economy and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in any country with a sensible Government that one-off, golden windfall would have been invested in the future in plant and equipment, education and training and research and development.

But under this Government the money has been squandered. Far from increasing investment in manufacturing industry, investment is still down on 1979 levels. Since 1979, our share of the world market in manufactured goods has decreased by 20 per cent. Our manufacturers' share of the home market is down by 30 per cent. compared with 1979. Our imports have increased by 50 per cent.

Mr. Harris

Dundee will not help.

Mr. Dobson

If the hon. Gentleman is so perturbed about 400 jobs in Dundee—

Mr. Harris

The figure is 1,000.

Mr. Dobson

No. If hon. Members check carefully, they will find that 400 jobs are at risk—[Interruption.] I will concede the figure of 1,000. How many Conservative Members have protested about the proposal of the South of Scotland Electricity Board to buy coal from abroad? That would put far more people out of work in the Scottish coalfield. If they are worried about jobs in Scotland, they should be worried about all jobs in Scotland.

Despite the benefits of North sea oil, we have the biggest trade deficit in our history. A country that was once the workshop of the world has become the warehouse of the world, importing for the first time ever more manufactured goods than we export. Our young people are the worst trained anywhere in the developed world. We are just about used to our young people not getting the sort of training that is available in Germany, France or Holland, but now they are not getting the training that is available to young people in Taiwan and Korea. Yet the Government believe that we can compete—[Laughter.] Conservative Members laugh at the idea that young people in Taiwan and Korea get better industrial training than our youngsters, but it is a fact and we shall suffer in the end.

The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) mentioned science. Our scientists have been starved of funds for research into space, information technology and agriculture. Even medical research has been cut. It used to be said that one of the great British embarrassments was that we invented all sorts of things but did not develop them ourselves and they were developed by industries abroad. The Government seem to have established a think tank and have come up with an idea to get rid of the embarrassment. Their answer is not to improve our development of inventions but to stop the inventors inventing them in the first place. That is an absurd way to get out of bother.

The Government have no long-term plans for anything other than filling the pockets and feathering the nests of their friends. The country is suffering now, and will suffer more in the future.

12.22 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

No one seems to be against our taking a few days' holiday, and the whole House will have shared in the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to John Silkin, whose last speech in the House was in the equivalent debate a year ago. He was a wise man, a tough politician and a great exponent of what are known by some as the black arts of the usual channels, but I can say from my experience that when he did a deal he stuck to it, in the highest traditions of the House.

It seems a long time since Christmas. We have made good progress with our legislation—

Mr. Dobson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman has already taken up some of my time. If I am to reply to the debate, the hon. Gentleman should sit there quietly and let me get on with it.

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In rightly paying tribute to John Silkin, the Leader of the House said that the former right hon. Member never went back on bargains into which he had entered. There seemed to be some suggestion that I might have done so, and I would like to make it clear that I have not.

Mr. Wakeham

I am not referring to the hon. Gentleman in any way, shape or form. He seems to be a little sensitive about this, but there is no such suggestion. I was just saying that John Silkin, the former right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, was a man of the highest integrity. He was Chief Whip of the former Labour Government through difficult times and had a high reputation for sticking to his word. I would have thought that that was acceptable to all hon. Members.

We have had some good speeches raising many national, international and constituency issues. The only time that the debate became heated was when the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) got a bit excited about Dundee, but I can understand his embarrassment about that. I will do my best to reply to all the points that have been made. I do not have much time, so I will do so as quickly as I can. If I have not answered all the points, I shall write to the hon. Members concerned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) made a strong case for the United Kingdom's participation in the optional programmes of the European Space Agency. Space plays a part in the development of Britain's science and technology base and can lead to profitable economic activity, but we have to balance the long term benefits of investment in space projects with investment in other industries and technologies. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 10 February announced that we would not be joining the polar platform programme in its proposed form. However, since then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton said, there have been discussions between the European Space Agency and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration about modifications to the configuration of the polar platform. We are reconsidering our position and I shall see to it that my hon. Friend's views are passed to my right hon. and learned Friend so that they are properly taken into account before any final decision is made.

Sir Peter Emery

I thank my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), not for the first time, and not even for the first time this week, raised the question of the Settle to Carlisle railway. Whatever the outcome, it could not have had a better and more persistent supporter than the hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is actively considering British Rail's closure case. It is a complex case needing careful consideration and he hopes to make an announcement soon. The recent Jarvis plc report is a helpful contribution to the debate, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will take it fully into account.

Local authorities have said that they will be able to help with the cost of repairs to the Ribblehead viaduct, but they will be confirming the position after a meeting in Carlisle on 12 April. The Government cannot guarantee that any particular local authority contribution will be enough to save the line. There has been some private sector interest, but no one has offered to buy the line. I take on board the hon. Gentleman's points, and I will see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sees them before he makes his decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised what was both an important constituency interest and an important national interest—Manchester airport. This is a major airport and it continues to have what many people would consider to be a phenomenal growth— by about 15 per cent. in 1987 over 1986, with 8.5 million passengers a year. Since 1986, 30 new scheduled services have used the airport and now it is possible to travel to over 70 destinations from Manchester. The Government were disappointed that agreement was not reached at the talks with the United States delegation on 17 to 18 March to discuss increased access for United States airlines to Manchester. The contacts are being maintained and it is hoped that an agreement will eventually be achieved. My hon. Friend's strong words will encourage everybody to recognise that the travelling public, particularly those engaged in commerce and business, should be considered, and we should not take a narrow and restricted view of the matter.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) raised matters to do with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I listened carefully to him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State attaches great importance to the maintenance of a housing programme in Northern Ireland, but it must compete with other priority programmes for resources within the overall Northern Ireland public expenditure programme. I noted his careful analysis of the problem in his constituency and I shall see to it that the Secretary of State understands and studies the points he made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) raised a series of questions about his part of the world, and I would not disagree with his view that they are important, although I might slightly disagree with the way in which he managed to exclude Essex from the east coast of Britain. Coastal protection there is an important issue to my constituents, and I have received a number of representations trying to improve it. I tread carefully here because my wife was born in Norfolk and many members of my family live in Suffolk.

The key to many of the transport problems that my hon. Friend raised about East Anglia is the M11-A11-A47 route to Great Yarmouth. Fifteen schemes from the M11 are currently planned or have been recently completed, to a value of £130 million. They will result in three-quarters of the route being dual carriageway by the early 1990s. At the London end, we have proposals for the Hackney—M11 link road, a £125 million scheme that will enable quicker access to the centre. I am sure that my hon. Friend will keep pressing us, but we are making good progress with some of the problems he raised.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised many questions about the Health Service, and in the few minutes that I have he would not expect a full answer to them all. However, I refer him to Wednesday's announcement by the Minister for Health, which was another sign of the Government's concern to improve services in the inner cities. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced on 24 February that, provided the various review bodies' reports were received during the first part of April, the Government would hope to announce the decision on nurses' pay by the end of that month. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I cannot anticipate the Government's decision on the reports, but I repeat our pledge that we shall implement them unless there are clear and compelling reasons for not doing so.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) raised a number of important.issues. All journalists should read what he said about the difficult situation in Northern Ireland. Everyone, including the media, must do all that they can to assist the RUC to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes of last week.

I have taken on board my hon. Friend's points about the EEC's structure plan, which I shall refer to the Secretary of State. I shall also refer to him the point my hon. Friend made about local authorities such as his, which are behaving perfectly properly but getting caught up in the necessary restrictions that the Government have had to bring in on creative accounting. I am sure that the Government do not intend to stop activities of councils such as the one in my hon. Friend's constituency. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the other day about this matter.

I do not always agree with everything that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) says in the House, and I did not agree with everything he said today but I agreed with much of it. He rightly raised matters that are of concern to every decent person in the world and which relate to some of the terrible things happening in the middle east. I share his concern about the use of chemical weapons. Over a long period the British Government have sought to eliminate their use.

The Government remain deeply concerned about the continuation of the Iran-lraq conflict and the tense situation in the Gulf. We are particularly dismayed at the loss of life of so many innocent civilians as a result of the "war of the cities". We have played a leading role in the United Nations and are currently working closely with other Security Council permanent members on an arms embargo to enforce compliance, should this be necessary.

As I said to the hon. Gentleman yesterday, I have a deal of sympathy for the early-day motion that he drew to my attention about the plight of Kurdish people in Iraq. I deplore the denial of human rights wherever it occurs arid the difficulties faced by the International Red Cross in trying to get there to give humanitarian assistance to the people who are suffering.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) raised a matter that started as a constituency problem, but he was right to bring it to the attention of the House. It is about the provision of sheltered housing for the elderly. The Government welcome the discussions that are taking place about establishing a trade association and a code of practice to help elderly people who are contemplating taking on properties in sheltered housing schemes. We support such moves and think that success will best be achieved by the self imposition of a code of practice by the industry and the dissemination of information rather than by the use of legislation. By raising the matter my hon. Friend has done the House a service. The hon. Member for—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic Adjournments).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 31st March, do adjourn until Tuesday 12th April and, at its rising on Friday 29th April, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd May; and the House shall not adjourn on Thursday 31st March until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.