HC Deb 23 May 1990 vol 173 cc296-338

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 24th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 5th June.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

4.13 pm
Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)

The Adjournment motion provides an opportunity for Back-Bench Members to raise matters of local, regional or national concern. The brief comments that I want to make about the growing problem of funding in the National Health Service apply at local, regional and national levels. I make these comments not in the context of the public expenditure round for 1991–92, upon which discussions are now taking place between Ministers and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but in the context of the position this year. There is increasing pressure on the budgets of National Health Service hospitals.

Last autumn my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health told us how much he had achieved in obtaining extra resources for the Health Service for the financial year 1990–91. He equated those extra resources with a real growth in the Health Service. Since then, inflation has eroded—or more than eroded—that hoped-for and much-needed growth. Incidentally, the figures that the Government and Ministers produce on the Health Service, using the GDP deflator to demonstrate the effect of inflation, show a substantial growth in real terms in the finances available to the National Health Service. But one has to bear in mind that that global figure, although it is absolutely accurate, does not reveal the whole truth, which is that there has been a higher growth in family practitioner services, which are not cash limited, and a lower growth in hospital and community health services, which are.

The problems that we encounter in our constituencies are associated not with NHS family practitioner services but with hospital and community health services. Regional and district health authorities face severe financial constraints, and limits, reductions and cuts in patient services are necessary to balance the books for the current financial year. Ministers are more than usually insistent that the books are balanced this year to produce an even playing field next April for the introduction of the new financial regime for hospital services as a result of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.

The Whitsun Adjournment gives Treasury and Health Ministers an opportunity to review the present difficulties. Ward and bed closures and restrictions on operating sessions are enormously inefficient ways of reducing expenditure within the Health Service because they reduce productivity and increase the unit costs of particular operations or services in an unacceptable way. They result in longer waiting times and waiting lists. Such actions are being taken within a Health Service where morale is certainly not at its best.

Only last weekend a group of nurses came to see me at one of my advice bureaux. Many of them were student nurses from my local hospital, the West Middlesex University hospital, complaining about the impact of the community charge. One can understand that. They feel that they are treated unfairly compared with RAF apprentices—that issue has been raised in the House. They are also concerned about what they describe as abominable conditions at their own nurses' home. The problem is not that the district health authority and the hospital authorities do not wish to improve those conditions; but that they cannot do so because they do not have the available financial resources. Capital schemes generally have been badly hit by falling land values, particularly in the Thames regions.

The case for an in-year increase of funds for National Health Service hospitals grows stronger. It needs urgent and sympathetic action during the Whitsun Adjournment by Treasury and Health Ministers. I hope that an appropriate in-year increase for National Health Service hospitals will be agreed.

4.19 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I want to make two important pleas to which I hope there will be a helpful response from the Government before the House rises for the spring recess. My first concern, which I know is shared by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, is to help people with haemophilia—and the recipients by transfusion of whole blood—who were contaminated with AIDS in the course of health care under the National Health Service. My plea is not only important but also compellingly urgent for the victims, many of them terminally ill, of this deeply appalling tragedy.

There have been three Adjournment debates over recent months about the issues raised by this tragedy. The most recent was initiated on 9 May by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey). He has in his constituency a couple with two sons, both of whom suffer from haemophilia, and who became HIV-positive after the injection of contaminated blood products. The elder of the two boys now has full-blown AIDS and is terminally ill. Anyone who has read my hon. Friend's speech must have been moved by the scale of the tragedy that has stricken his constituents, but, as my hon. Friend said, their case is but one of 1,200 in which HIV has been confirmed. Many of the victims have already died, and more live with the certain prospect of an early and most painful death in direct consequence of treatment they were given under the NHS.

I should like briefly to raise today the case of 16-year-old Gerald Hillary, whose father is a detective superintendent in Manchester. Gerald was given contaminated blood products in the course of NHS treatment and, in 1985, became HIV-positive. He developed AIDS and died last year. From being a bright and active teenager, he weighed just three stone before he died and could hardly speak or walk. His mother said: If love and prayer could have cured, he would have lived for ever. What hurts most now is that he need not have died. She blames the Government and regards the ex-gratia payment of £20,000 for haemophilia sufferers with HIV as insulting. She says of the Government: They were responsible. They were warned in 1980 that blood products could be infected, but did nothing. In a recent letter to me, David Watters, general secretary of the Haemophilia Society, recalled that, as Minister for the Disabled in the 1970s, I appointed the late and much respected Sir Alan Marre to undertake an inquiry into the outstanding issues in the Thalidomide dispute. In 1978, Sir Alan had recently retired from the office of ombudsman and his report to me, in August of that year, finally settled the dispute. David Watters, in his letter, asked me to press for a similar inquiry into the outstanding issues in the dispute now involving people with haemophilia—and the recipients by transfusion of whole blood—who became HIV-positive due to NHS treatment. He said: We feel confident that such a move could prove helpful. One of our main concerns for our people is that time costs money and, for those who do not qualify for legal aid, the cost of court proceedings is exorbitant. The indications are that a large number of those who do not qualify for legal aid are, in fact, now being forced to use their ex-gratia payment of £20,000 to fund their court actions. Meanwhile, the Government's own legal costs far outweigh those of seeking to resolve the issues more quickly by an independent inquiry of the kind you set up finally to end the Thalidomide dispute. After receiving his letter, I wrote to the Prime Minister recalling my appointment of Sir Alan Marre and suggesting the appointment of Sir Anthony Barrowclough to undertake an inquiry into the outstanding issues in the current dispute over HIV caused by contaminated blood and blood products.

Sir Anthony Barrowclough, who retired only recently from the office of ombudsman, enjoys the respect of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of this House and is of high standing in the legal profession. Again, as David Watters pointed out, the costs of reaching a settlement of the current dispute through him would be very much less for the Government than those of pursuing their case in the courts. It would certainly also lead to a quicker settlement. The earliest possible starting date for court proceedings is January 1991 and David Watters told me of the Haemophila Society's very great fear that the defence lawyers could be about to embark on a series of delaying tactics which could set back the date for the conclusion of proceedings very considerably. In writing to the Prime Minister, I reminded her that many of the victims, including young Gerald Hillary, had already died and that many others have scant prospect of living to see a court settlement of their claims. Justice for them, if any, will be posthumous which, as I hope the House will agree, is not justice at all. In urging her to follow the precedent of Sir Alan Marre's inquiry into the outstanding issues in the Thalidomide dispute, I pressed for an early reply. That was on 3 May and I still await her response. To date, the only official comment about my letter, apart from a formal acknowledgement from 10 Downing Street, was that of the new Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), who replied to the Adjournment debate initiated by my hon. Friend for Kilmarnock and Loudoun on 9 May, and who said that I would be receiving "a considered reply" from the Prime Minister. The Under-Secretary also said that there was "not a precise parallel" between the Thalidomide case and the current dispute involving people with HIV due to NHS treatment.

Nowhere in my letter to the Prime Minister did I suggest that there was a "precise parallel" between the two disputes. But the outstanding issues in the Thalidomide case involved severely disabled people who were trying, mostly against impossible odds, to achieve justice through the courts, and so does the current dispute. In fact, the increasing number of deaths among people with AIDS due to contaminated blood and blood products makes the case for an out-of-court settlement all the more pressingly urgent. What Sir Alan Marre did, after I appointed him, was to resolve the outstanding issues in the Thalidomide dispute within five months. I believe that Sir Anthony Barrowclough could do much the same in the dispute which is now dragging on to the anguish of everyone trying to help severely disabled people who face death from AIDS in consequence of medical treatment.

It is very widely hoped that the Prime Minister will reply soon to my suggestion. Its only purpose was to help people who are involved in a tragedy for which they are in no way responsible. There is still time for an oral statement from the Government on this most urgent and important issue before the House rises for the spring recess and I profoundly hope for a positive response from the Leader of the House when he winds up the debate tonight.

I hope he can help me also in regard to urgent action by the Government further to the debate I initiated on 30 March about childhood neuroblastoma, a form of cancer from which it is now very widely felt that far too many children die unnecessarily. In reply to my appeal to the Government on behalf of doctors and bereaved families alike, I was given a number of important assurances by the then Under-Secretary of State for Health. He agreed with me that any prospect of reducing the toll of suffering and death from this most dangerous form of childhood cancer deserved the most serious consideration and he said: That consideration is now in hand in relation to neuroblastoma. I was told that my views would play an important part in his department's decision-making and he concluded: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome my assurances and pass them on to those whom he represents. Since then I have had no further word from Health Ministers and there is much concern that the assurances I was given in the debate should now be seen to have been acted upon. I know that the Leader of the House will want to have urgent inquiries made about progress since the debate on 30 March before he replies this evening. In doing so, I ask him to have particular regard to the former Under-Secretary's words about me in column 870 of Hansard on 30 March, when he said: I am persuaded by his arguments and I shall instruct officials at the Department of Health to find the figures by searching through the death certificates of children who have died from cancer and to ascertain the most current information about those who have suffered from the disease. That will be at exceptional cost, but the right hon. Gentleman's arguments merit exceptional treatment. I hope that he will accept that assurance in the spirit in which it is offered. I shall be in touch with him about how we can inform the House."—[Official Report, 30 March 1990; Vol. 170, c.874, 870.] That was but one of the assurances I was given on 30 March and I repeat that, since the debate, I have heard nothing more from the Department of Health. I am confident that the Leader of the House will want to respond to me on both of the issues I have raised as helpfully as he can.

4.31 pm
Mr. Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

I draw to the attention of the House just one issue that requires the urgent attention of Her Majesty's Government. I refer to the future retirement age of males and females. This has always been an important matter, but it has become even more important in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Justice a few days ago. That judgment related to an entitlement under a private pension scheme, but I do not believe that there will be any consensus in the private occupational pension industry unless and until a lead is given by Her Majesty's Government about how they think that this important matter will develop.

I concede immediately that the Government are faced with a difficult problem which, understandably, they have sought to avoid for a considerable time. It is a difficult nettle to grasp because whatever the Government decide they are bound to upset one sex or the other. What to do about establishing a common state retirement age has become a matter of considerable public importance. Should everyone be enabled to retire at 60, as women can at present? Should everyone be required to wait until they are 65? Should there be a compromise at, say, 63? Those are all extremely difficult questions.

There are three avenues along which the Government might proceed. They could revive the idea that had the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) when he was Secretary of State for Social Services, which would have led to a "decade of retirement", meaning that any individual—male or female—could choose to retire at any time between the ages of 60 and 70. However, if the individual chose to retire at an earlier age, it would be on a pro rata pension. That is by no means an ideal solution, but it is one way to proceed.

Another suggestion that has been made, and to which I have been attracted in the past, is for the retirement age of women to be moved up by perhaps half a year in each of five years, while the retirement age for men moves down by half a year during the same period. That would defer a judgment for that period, but would result in everyone's being entitled to retire at 62½.

The third possibility that Ministers could consider is an arbitrary declaration that in future everyone, including women, will have to wait until they are 65—or that everyone, including men, will be entitled to retire at 60. If that second course were adopted, it would require either a considerable amount of additional funding or a pension lower than people's present expectations.

Before the decision of the European Court of Justice, the Government faced a challenge on current pensions policy from the Equal Opportunities Commission. The EOC has been seeking a judicial review of that policy on the basis that it contravenes the treaty of Rome. That is a bold course of action. Until now, many people have seen the EOC as fighting—understandably—to remedy the inequities from which women have suffered; now, however, it will have to fight to resolve the inequities from which men have been suffering. The decision by the European Court of Justice will undoubtedly lend weight to the EOC's view.

I cannot deny that the Government face a difficult and controversial task. Were they to set the retirement age at 65 for women as well as men, they would undoubtedly upset many women who have planned and budgeted for retirement at an earlier age. However, allowing everyone to retire at 60 without any loss of pension rights would—according to the most recent estimate that I could obtain—require additional Government investment of £3.2 billion per year. Clearly, there is no easy way.

Unless and until the Government reach a decision about this controversial issue, they cannot expect decisions to be made about private pension schemes, which tend to follow central Government decisions, although occasionally they take the lead. When my right hon. and learned Friend replies, I hope that he will accept that, although there are no easy courses of action, in the light of last week's decision by the European Court a decision cannot continue to be postponed.

I have been an hon. Member for just under 20 years. On many occasions during that time—under both Labour and Conservative Governments—I have drawn attention to the need for a common retirement date. However, in 1990 we are still in the same position as when I entered the House in 1970. The Government must give a lead.

I am aware of the cost considerations, but in my judgment the matter merits the urgent attention of Ministers. At the very least, I submit that the time has arrived for the Government to produce a set of proposals that can be debated. Males and females—members of occupational pension schemes and those who rely on the state earnings-related pension scheme—could then have the opportunity of making their views known.

I hope that the Government will consider my remarks, and recognise that, whatever the possibilities for procrastination in the past, in the light of the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice the time has now come for us to make a decision.

4.39 pm
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

As on previous occasions, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) has raised an important issue, but it is self-evident that it will not be solved by the time the House rises tomorrow. However, I agree with him that we cannot continue to put it off, and I hope that the Leader of the House will understand the message that some sort of machinery must be set in motion so that the Government can take the lead in a public debate on the vital issue of the respective retirement age for men and women.

There are two related issues to which I want to refer the Leader of the House before we vote on the motion for the spring Adjournment. On the first issue, I merely hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will pass on my comments to the Ministers involved, but I hope that he will give a positive response to the second issue. The first relates to certain specific matters connected with the poll tax and the second to the police pay regulations.

In the past few days we have been able to have a number of debates on the poll tax and the various revisions to it. Yesterday we had a good debate on a motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and this afternoon we had an interesting and entertaining debate on the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). Of necessity those debates have focused on the alternatives to the poll tax from next year, on which we all have views. There is, however, an urgent need for the group of Ministers assembled to consider the poll tax to introduce ameliorations for the current year. In the case of Scotland, those improvements should be retrospective to cover the previous year. I want to place on record some important issues that have not emerged in previous debates.

I hope that the Ministers in the group considering the poll tax will decide not to take the Whitsun recess. It would be useful if they were locked in a room for the week and told to sort something out. If they did something to help people this year, they could then take a holiday. I hope that the Leader of the House will discuss that with his hon. Friends.

Areas of low rateable value and low incomes, which are hard hit because they are in the same borough or district as wealthy areas, must have some special provision made for them. Ministers at the Department of Environment are aware of the problem in my constituency at Castle Morpeth, as I have seen them about it. That area is a poor part of my constituency in terms of people's incomes and the rateable values, but people face a poll tax £100 higher per person than that in the neighbouring authorities because Castle Morpeth is part of an authority that contains a wealthy area with high rateable values.

Measures were taken in Wales to separate districts for the purpose of such calculations and that should be done in England. Some extra element of relief needs to be provided this year and the obvious mechanism for such further payments is the transitional relief system. I also hope that Ministers will consider increasing the rebate qualifying levels, as they obviously exclude many people whom we would recognise as being on low incomes.

There must be something wrong with the standard spending system, not least because so many authorities controlled by the Conservative party have been unable to get anywhere near the Government's proposed poll tax figure. It is no use the Prime Minister going on about Labour authorities when so many Conservative authorities are dissatisfied with the standard spending assessment figures.

I have also asked time and time again for urgent action to help those people who are excluded from transitional relief because they live in sheltered housing schemes. They previously paid their rates through housing associations, but now they have been told they are not entitled to transitional relief. Ministers have shown some interest in this problem, but they have not delivered the goods. They offer more and more excuses and say that they cannot do anything, much as they would like to. It is wrong that elderly people should be penalised in this way.

Anomalies have arisen over the interaction of the poll tax, the business rate and the standard community charge. One relates to bed-and-breakfast accommodation. In Scotland, the people providing that accommodation are not required to pay business rates in addition to the poll tax if they offer fewer than six beds—the same rule as applies to the fire regulations. In England, that exemption does not apply, and people will be expected to pay business rates and the poll tax for themselves and their spouses unless they restrict their bed-and-breakfast letting availability to 100 nights per year.

As a result of that exemption, the tourist season will be shortened, just at a time when the tourist boards are trying to extend it. Just as an injustice to Scotland was put right a few days after the Budget, that injustice to England should also be put right—bed-and-breakfast residences in England should be allowed the same exemptions from business rates as are available in Scotland. My constituency is on the border, and the different regime operating in the two countries means that the availability of bed-and-breakfast accommodation at various times of the year will be affected by the exemption and that the price charged for that accommodation will differ.

In most rural and holiday areas, the standard community charge is double the normal poll tax level. If it were not, the community charge would be a lot higher for the normal resident charge payers. However, that standard charge bears heavily on those on low incomes who are obliged to live elsewhere, but who have purchased a retirement home in those areas. I refer particularly to vicars and ministers of religion, who live in vicarages or manses, from whom I have received many letters. They know that they must leave their present homes when their ministry comes to an end, and many make provisions for that time by purchasing an old farm cottage or something similar as a retirement home.

Those people are facing the severe pressure of having to pay a double poll tax in the area where they plan to retire, in addition to the poll tax that they must pay on their vicarages. A missionary and his wife who are working in Africa have no paid income. They live in a hut, and whatever food they require is provided by the local people. They have told me that they are required to pay a double poll tax on their retirement home, on which they are not entitled to any rebate. That problem also applies to some in Her Majesty's forces.

The categories of people subject to the double tax are already fixed—the present system affects those who live elsewhere because of their work. If councils simply reduced the multiplier for that category, all the wealthy second-home owners would benefit as well as those to whom I have referred. I believe that there should be a separate category for those who are required to live in provided accommodation as a condition of their work. That would come much closer to defining a category for whom the local authority could choose to set a lower multiplier. I hope that the Leader of the House will pass on that practical suggestion.

I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to the issue relating to police pay regulations as it directly affects his responsibilities. Today the Home Secretary is attending the Police Federation conference, where he is expected to get a pretty rough ride, not least because of the anger at the way in which those regulations have been treated. The police are angry because the Home Secretary has overturned the decision of arbitration. The Police (Amendment) Regulations 1990 were laid before the House on 9 March. They include changes in rent allowance and destroy the principle that a police officer can live in a rent and rate-free house or have the equivalent costs covered if he or she buys their own house. The matter was taken to arbitration and it is the result of that arbitration about which there is now controversy.

The police have pointed out that the special procedures for the arbitration mechanism are based upon the special circumstances of their work—the unsocial hours, the restrictions on their private lives, the exposure to danger, the need to be on call and the denial of the right to belong to a trade union. The arbitration mechanism exists because of those special circumstances and it has made certain proposals about the 1990 regulations. The staff side of the police negotiating board was taken to the police arbitration tribunal by the official side.

Tribunal decisions are binding on both sides of the negotiating board and are submitted to the Home Secretary. In the past the Home Office stated: The Secretaries of State would never withhold approval of an agreement save for reasons of grave national importance The Home Secretary has adduced no such reasons why he should not implement the decision of the arbitration machinery, which has attempted to deal with some of the severe problems presented.

Those problems are particularly acute for police officers in provided accommodation in rural areas. The police officers who live in their own houses will continue to receive the rates element in their allowance so long as they remain in their present homes. The level of that allowance is the subject of argument, but it will be provided.

Community police officers in rural areas, however, who must live in the village police house with the police office attached so that they can do their job will not receive that allowance. They have a much more limited temporary arrangement. By accepting the requirement of living in tied accommodation, they put themselves at a disadvantage anyway because they are not acquiring capital in a house of their own. They are to be subject to a further disadvantage in that they will have no rate allowance now that the poll tax has replaced the rates. These officers are almost invariably married, because it is normally regarded as essential to have a married man in such a post.

I quote a letter which I received from the wife of a police constable in my constituency: I am the wife of a Police Constable and the mother of three children. We live in a house provided by the Northumbria Police Force, and up until now we have lived rent and rates free. This may seem to be very enviable, but I must point out that because we live in a house with an attached Police Office, we have lost a certain amount of privacy. My husband is virtually on 24 hours call, and does not claim overtime when he answers calls after normal working hours, or is disturbed in the middle of the night.… When he is at work I answer all calls and enquiries, which, as you can imagine, is a full-time job during the summer season, and for which I am unpaid. I therefore feel we deserve a rent and rate free house, which is part of the terms of my husband's contract … The Police Federation's advice has been for us to purchase our own home, which we have done in the past, but the terms of my husband's current employment states that he lives in this police house. If we were to purchase our own home he could not work in this area. If the regulations are not changed, we will be unable to recruit policemen to work in rural postings where they have to live in a police house, with a police office attached, which is the cornerstone of community policing in many rural areas. Hence the importance of the issue in rural areas, as well as in urban areas.

The regulations which implement the change are subject to annulment in either House. Prayers were duly tabled by the Leader of the Opposition on the English regulations and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) on the Scottish regulations. My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) asked on 19 April when the prayers would be debated. The Leader of the House replied: I understand that there is widespread interest in the police regulations and I shall seek through the usual channels to find an opportunity for them to be debated in due course."—[Official Report, 19 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 1557–58.] The prayers appeared in the provisional business of the House, which we were shown through the usual channels, some time ago, not very long after the Leader of House made that statement. Then they mysteriously disappeared, and have not reappeared.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) wrote to the Leader of the House and I have spoken to him myself about the matter. There has still been no debate, nor has the matter been referred to a Committee. Who is preventing a debate? Is the Leader of the House going to tell me that the Official Opposition have told him that he must on no account allow a debate on their own prayer? I cannot believe that; no doubt the Leader of the House will tell us if that is so. Or is the Home Secretary leaning on the Leader of the House, saying, "For heaven's sake, don't let a debate take place on the police regulations because I am in enough trouble with the Police Federation as it is, and I do not want the regulations debated"? There must be some reason for the delay.

It is the law of the land that the regulations are subject to annulment in either House. In preventing that procedure from operating, the Leader of the House is showing scant concern for the very law and order about which his right hon. and learned Friend is no doubt talking to the Police Federation conference. There is a provision in law under which the regulations may be annulled. The Leader of the House is not allowing the law to operate. It is not good enough for him to say that the matter may be raised by any hon. Member on the Adjournment or on an Opposition Day. The provision was made so that that time would not have to be used on the Government's legislative programme, which is what this is.

A statutory procedure is being subverted. I contend that it is an abuse of the House for it to be so subverted. It is not the first time that it has happened. There is a litter of such motions, as there has been in previous Sessions. They all break the promise given when the procedures were introduced: that time would be found for debates on prayers. In this case, in the face of clear controversy, the Leader of the House must ensure that the matter is debated. I ask him to say later how he will make provision for that to happen.

4·53 pm
Mr. John Ward (Poole)

Before the House rises for the spring recess, I wish to refer to policing in Dorset. I say right away that I am a great admirer of the Dorset police, who carry out their duties with immense skill under their chief constable, Mr. Brian Weight.

Dorset, and especially east Dorset, has developed rapidly over recent years and the chief constable, with the full support of the police committee, has applied frequently for additional officers to be authorised by the Home Office to help him meet the increased requirement. Invariably Dorset is granted fewer additional officers than we think we need and the shortfall has had to be compensated for in other ways. There is a limit to what increased efficiency and the increased use of civilians can do, but the chief constable has made the maximum possible use of both options.

Every police force has additional burdens from time to time, but the cost of £2 million required to provide the necessary security at the forthcoming Conservative party conference does not make balancing the books any easier. In spite of the efforts of the local police, overall crime increased by 11.2 per cent. in Dorset in 1989. Although the detection rate has also increased and Dorset police have been among the leaders in the fight against drug abuse, it is an uphill struggle.

I hope I have shown that we are fully utilising the resources we have, and that we can make a good case for additional resources. Above all, we must retain the good officers we already have.

That brings me to the main point. As hon. Members will know—indeed the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has just referred to it—there has been some discussion and much correspondence about the Home Secretary's decision to reject the findings of the police arbitration tribunal this year. I do not question his right to do that, although I question the wisdom of the decision and the way that it has been implemented. The Home Secretary has responded to our criticism by making alterations which go some way towards making the settlement fairer; hon. Members will be familiar with the changes.

What I wish to highlight today is a great injustice which remains for Dorset police officers. Until now, some police forces have had their rent allowance uprated in even years, and some in odd years. Under the Home Secretary's present plans, some officers, including those in Dorset, will receive an allowance based on an uprating which took place on 1 April 1988, while others will receive an allowance based on an uprating which took place a year later. The arbitration tribunal recommended that there should be an uprating of the 1988 allowance under the old system of calculation, but the Home Secretary has said that the additional expenditure cannot be justified.

In spite of the most recent concessions by the Home Secretary, the effect will be that the Dorset police officer, who is currently receiving £1,333 per annum less than his colleagues in Hampshire, will receive a minimum of £856 per annum less than his Hampshire counterpart. I do not make too much of the London Metropolitan police allowance except to say that the London policeman will receive £2,863 more than the Dorset policeman. We all accept the additional risks often faced by the Metropolitan police, but I cannot accept that police in Hampshire, doing precisely the same job as police in Dorset and separated by an artificial line on a map, are worth over £800 per annum more in allowances.

During the recent disturbances caused by Leeds United football supporters in Bournemouth, we saw forces from other areas, including Hampshire and London, working shoulder to shoulder with Dorset police, carrying out the same duties, yet receiving different rates of allowances. It goes without saying that Dorset police are available to lend assistance to their colleagues in other police forces should the need arise. I am not asking for special treatment for Dorset police officers, but simply for fair and equal treatment for those who carry out the same job as their colleagues in other forces but who happen to live or work in the wrong area when it comes to allowances.

Obviously, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed did not know that today, during his address to the Police Federation, the Home Secretary said that there would be a debate in the House after the recess. We look forward to that. I hope that I have said enough to show that we both respect and like our police in Dorset. We need to retain the good and, yes, ambitious men who serve us. To do that we need to see fair play. Again I ask that the Home Secretary should reconsider the injustice of the present position and come back to the House, when we have the debate, with an arrangement which will right the injustice which I have illustrated today.

4.59 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Before the House rises I want to appeal to the Leader of the House on behalf of the many thousands of young miners who are to lose their jobs over the next three years. The Leader of the House will be aware of the announcement by Sir Robert Haslam this week that up to 7,000 miners can expect to have to leave the industry during the next three years.

The House will be aware that, since 1984, there has been a massive rundown of the mining industry. There are now more than 1,000 men fewer in the mining industry than there were in 1984. The present position is more serious than it has been hitherto, because the average age of the work force in the mining industry is 33. If those young men find themselves out of work and the Government continue with their policy of providing very little aid to the mining communities, there will be no hope of those young men finding alternative employment.

I am sure that we are all aware that one of the main reasons for holding down the mining industry was the Government's feeling towards the miners' leadership and some of the miners. As I perceive it, the position now is a little different. I believe that British Coal's decision arose from the privatisation of the electricity industry, and has meant that, due to lack of investment, British power stations have not been fitted with the flue gas desulphurisation plants required to limit CO2 emissions from them. If, like many of our European colleagues, we had undertaken investment during the past few years, we would be able to meet the EC directive on emissions from power stations by 1993. Unfortunately, because such investment has not taken place, that is no longer possible.

The only way that British Coal and the new private electricity companies can meet that demand is with low-sulphur coal. There is insufficient low-sulphur coal mined in this country to meet the demand. Therefore, as the executive directors of National Power and PowerGen told the Select Committee on Energy a few days ago, their judgments will be made on a purely commercial basis, even if British Coal could meet the demand. They told the Committee that British Coal would have to reduce their prices by up to £6 or £7 a tonne less than imported low-sulphurised coal if it was to stay in the market. From my knowledge of the mining industry, I believe that that is an impossible task.

We are having further to run down our mining industry and import more coal. That policy is purely and simply based on commercial judgment in the short term. If that policy is to continue and our pits are run down so rapidly—bearing in mind the fact that Sir Robert Haslam said that 7,000 would have to leave the industry, and I believe that figure could be doubled if one takes into account the spin-off jobs outside the mining industry—when and if the Government, of whatever political persuasion, decide that they might invest in the desulphurisation plants, this country will not have the coal-mining capacity to feed them. Therefore, we shall still continue to rely on imports.

I am sure that I do not need to tell the Leader of the House or any other hon. Member what will happen to the so-called cheap coal from abroad once we cannot meet our demands. It will no longer be cheap, and we shall have to continue to import low-sulphurised coal when we could solve the problem ourselves.

It is worth noting that, if we had provided the plant—and if we do so in the future—it would limit the emission of CO2 by 90 per cent. Low-sulphurised coal will limit that emission by only 50 per cent. Therefore, if we are serious about attacking the problem of acid rain, our efforts should be to provide the necessary plant to the power stations, which can be fed by British Coal. I would have thought that that was common sense. To sterilise thousands and millions of tonnes of coal in this country and leave ourselves open to competition from abroad does not seem sound market judgment over the medium and longer term.

However, if the Government, National Power and PowerGen are to continue with their policy of relying on imports, we must ask what will happen to the people who are thrown out of work in the mining industry. That is the appeal I want to make to the Leader of the House this evening. As mining communities have been wiped out—my own in the Wakefield, Pontefract and Castleford travel-to-work area has lost 11,000 mining jobs since 1984—they have received no assistance from Government to try to attract alternative employment.

Although that has been bad enough, there was previously a cushion because the vast majority of men have been 50 or over and have received weekly payments to cushion the blow of losing their jobs. There is now a completely different ball game. I have already told the House that the average age of the work force is 33, and they receive no weekly payments or cushion.

If the Government do not intend to provide the plant to use British coal, but intend to run down the industry, I believe that, by the mid and late 1990s, the work force of the mining industry could be down to 10,000, whatever Sir Robert Haslam says. He says that people who talk in such terms—I hope that he does not mean me—are Jeremiahs. I regret that unfortunately, since 1984, the prediction of the Jeremiahs to whom he referred have been right and Sir Robert's estimates have been wrong.

I hope that the Leader of the House will persuade his colleagues in government that, if the jobs have to go—I believe that it would be a retrograde step for this country—there is an obligation on the Government to plan and assist those areas to attract industry to provide alternative work for the young miners who will be thrown out of their jobs. Surely that is the least that a Government can do, and that is my appeal to the Leader of the House tonight. Will he give serious consideration to that issue if the mining industry is to be run down to the extent that he suggests?

5.9 pm

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

The hon Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) has raised an extremely important point and he will have been heard sympathetically by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Those of us who represent Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire understand the problem that he describes, and we hope that he will have a sympathetic response later from my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House.

I wish to speak about two matters, the first of which concerns the relationships between church and state, which need urgent debate in the House. I shall not say very much about this because, by sheer luck, for the first time in 16 years I drew a place in the ballot this afternoon. Unfortunately, it was second place, but if the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) has a short debate we shall be able to get on with discussing the problems of church and state. I shall table a motion which will express strong and radical views, but I suspect that the Government Whips will then make sure the debate on the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch will go on all afternoon.

I hope that when those who are charged with picking the new Archbishop of Canterbury start their work they will realise that many people in this House and in the country want a man who preaches well, who believes in orthodox doctrine—

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

And in God.

Mr. Latham

And in God, as my hon. Friend says. They want a man who will speak up for the traditional values and creeds of the Church of England—

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

And is a Tory.

Mr. Latham

I disagree with my hon. Friend. The man's politics are irrelevant—what matters is that he preaches strongly and effectively. I believe that many people in the church are hoping for the choice of such a man.

I now turn to a wholly different matter—the Health Service in my constituency. The general subject of the Health Service was discussed strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) earlier this afternoon. There is a difficulty in Leicestershire similar to that which he described in his area.

Leicestershire health authority faces the need to make cuts of £6 million this year to balance its budget by the end of the financial year. That is producing some unsatisfactory and worrying proposals, one of which is to close the Vale of Catmose hospital at Oakham in my constituency. I do not want to bore the House with too much detail, but that 100-year-old hospital is undoubtedly scheduled for closure at some stage, and Leicestershire health authority had proposed to close it in the middle of this decade.

Last year, to the great annoyance of my constituents and myself, the authority insisted on closing the maternity unit at the Rutland Memorial hospital—also in Oakham—as part of last year's round of cuts in the Health Service. This year, however, it promised us that the way in which it would solve the problem of the Vale of Catmose hospital would indeed be to close it, but that the site would be sold off only after a new major rebuilding programme had taken place at the other hospital, the Rutland Memorial, which would cost more than £1 million. That compromise, though regretted by many of my constituents, was regarded as reasonable in the circumstances. It is certainly generally accepted that the Vale of Catmose hospital will eventually have to close.

The latest proposal, which comes as a result of the economies required by Trent regional health authority, is that the Vale of Catmose hospital should be closed as quickly as possible, and the proposed rebuilding of Rutland Memorial hospital has been postponed indefinitely. I must tell the Leader of the House what I told the Secretary of State for Health when I and Leicestershire colleagues from both parties saw him recently—that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. It arises almost entirely from the collapse of the property market and hence the difficulty for Leicestershire health authority in disposing of surplus land. The authority had 600 acres of land for disposal. of which about 150 were of high residential development potential, and there is no doubt that the land can eventually be sold, but in the present bad state of the property market it cannot be sold for a figure that the district valuer would find acceptable.

The authority has therefore got into the present difficulties, but any commercial company in the same position would not immediately close down its operations—it would increase its borrowing. At our meeting with the Secretary of State for Health, my colleagues and I proposed that Leicestershire should be allowed to borrow some money to tide it over the present difficulties. The money could then be repaid next year when, I hope, the property market will have picked up. It is not a tremendously radical proposal—exactly such borrowing took place in the last financial year when Leicestershire health authority was allowed by Trent regional health authority to do so.

I am sorry to say that the Secretary of State for Health gave us a most disappointing reception when we went to see him. He said bluntly that Leicestershire health authority must live within its means, that he would not even look at the matter again and that he would not, as he put it, second-guess the health authority. That was a very disappointing reply.

It was reported in the local paper the other day that the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health—my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), whom I warmly welcome to his new position and who I am sure will do his job well—was quoted as saying that the Government are looking at ways to ease the problems for the capital growth, some of it this year and in future years as well. I have discussed that remark briefly with my hon. Friend. He may well not have been accurately quoted, and he may have been trying to say that the Goverment have no intention of arranging the kind of flexibility between capital and current spending that I want and may instead be looking into the problem of frustrated land sales.

It is essential that the Government do not allow the National Health Service to get into another cash crisis. They got into terrible political and social trouble two years ago when a similar problem arose. People in my constituency, especially those in rural areas, are not prepared to put up with a Health Service which entails having to drive 30 or 40 miles to Leicester for hospital treatment. They expect cottage hospitals in market towns such as Oakham and Melton Mowbray to be kept open and to offer a wide range of services. So long as I am in this House, which is only until the next general election, I shall defend as strongly as I can their right to those local services, and I look to my right hon. and learned Friend for a positive response.

5.16 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I want to take this opportunity to urge the Leader of the House not to allow the House to go into recess until we have debated three items. I shall be as brief as I can because several other hon. Members want to speak too——

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

That's enough, Bob.

Mr. Cryer

I am surprised that my hon. Friend has interjected because he has raised my first item on the Floor of the House.

I refer to Bradford under Labour control. Labour had a massive win at the last local elections, swept Pickles and his cronies from office and dumped them in the garbage can of history where they so rightly belong. The subject was raised at Question Time in the context of the Labour-controlled council's discussion of priorities. The Minister who holds the poisoned chalice of the poll tax, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), said in reply to an intervention by a Tory Member that he had contacted the leader of the dwindling number of Tories on Bradford council—the discredited Eric Pickles.

What right has the Minister, in an official capacity, to contact the person who led the defeated group, who is no longer in office and who has been shown that the people of Bradford no longer want him as part of their administration? If Ministers have contacts to make with Bradford, they should surely be with the leader of the council or with the chairman of the appropriate committee on the council. Any contacts must be with the elected majority group; otherwise, they are a deliberate snub to the massive majority in Bradford who got rid of the Tory majority and substituted a Labour majority. I am staggered that a Minister could say in the Chamber that he had contacted the discredited minority leader of Bradford in an official capacity.

If the Minister wants to go to Bradford as a Tory Member and try whistling in the wind for a few Tory voters, he is entitled to do that, but as a member of the Government he must perforce negotiate with the elected majority. I know that the Government want to get rid of local democracy and to trample the rights of local government into the dirt, but they have not managed to do that.

The people of Bradford have given a loud and clear message that they want a Labour-controlled council and Ministers must conduct negotiations with that council. The leadership on Bradford council has made it clear that by law the council must deliver certain services. Those services will not be prejudiced in any way, except of course through cuts by central Government. It is up to central Government to provide the money so that Bradford council under Labour control can deliver the services that are required by law.

Because of the difficulties created by inheriting a Conservative budget, the council will inevitably discuss priorities and will try to reverse the cuts which Pickles and his cronies introduced in Bradford. The sacking of teachers and other local authority workers was in the pipeline. Bradford council wants to improve and maintain services and to restore education and housing after the ravages of Conservative control. I am surprised that any Minister can defy the democratic will of the people of Bradford, and I shall keep a close eye on the way in which the Government behave. I expect them to have negotiations in good faith with the Labour majority in Bradford and I hope that they will negotiate better poll tax support grants for the future.

Secondly, I draw to the attention of the Leader of the House some evidence that was published today by the Select Committee on Members' Interests. It is the minutes of evidence on parliamentary lobbying. One of the lobbying organisations in the study is a firm called Ian Greer Associates. Before I was on that Committee, Ian Greer gave evidence to the effect that he had nothing to do with Members of Parliament, that he did not pay them and that he kept them at arm's length. The evidence states: You are completely dissociated from them? A. That is correct. Subsequently, Mr. Andrew Roth produced some interesting evidence that, far from being dissociated as Mr. Greer claimed, five hon. Members introduced business to Mr. Greer and obtained a commission. Apparently only one of the five took the trouble to declare his interest in the matter. Several large sums are likely to be involved. For example, one of the accounts was with British Airways. We can assume that the amount involved is perhaps several hundred thousands a year. A commission of 5 per cent. of that is big money, and it was alleged that the commission was greater than 5 per cent.

A Select Committee was dealing with this matter, which means that it is an important constitutional issue. Select Committees have the power to call for persons and papers, and they expect people to give evidence in good faith. Mr. Greer told the Committee that he could not name the hon. Members to whom he had paid the money. He said that it was not his responsibility, and even said that he did not have any responsibility for advising them to register their interests. In reply to a question from me, Mr. Greer agreed that with hindsight he might in future advise hon. Members to register.

People who are called before a Select Committee should give the fullest possible evidence and should not deny information about payments that they have made to hon. Members. I spoke earlier about local authority interests. If payments had been made to members of a council, the House would have been outraged and would immediately have called for disclosure of those payments.

I hope that the Leader of the House can arrange for an early debate or that he will take into account the published evidence and issue a statement suggesting that all hon. Members should register all their interests, and that, if four hon. Members have omitted to do so, they should rectify that omission as quickly as possible. I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is important for hon. Members to follow the rules of the House. Those rules, set out in the reports of 1974–75, say that hon. Members should declare interests that affect their conduct as Members of Parliament or that might be thought to affect their conduct. That category exactly fits the situation that I have described.

I shall now continue the argument that I started in an Adjournment debate, which is that we should not go into recess until we have had a full-scale debate on the sell-off by the Government of the skill centres. I assure the House that this issue will not go away. I remind the House that the Government decided to sell 60 skill centres, asked for bids and issued a document through Deloitte Haskins and Sells. The document was handed over on the understanding that it was secret and had to be handed back.

If the Government invited bids for a business and then secretly informed one bidder that £11 million was to be made available, I am sure that Conservative Members would regard that as completely unfair. They would regard it as even more unfair if they learned that the three people who made the successful bid and received the £11 million were the three senior civil servants who were in charge of the skill centres in the first place. Moreover, the Minister has refused to reveal the price received for the sale of 27 skill centres to Astra Training Services, an organisation produced by the three civil servants.

There is a cloak of secrecy. Time and again, the Minister produced bland platitudes and he will not say how much taxpayers' land has been sold. He will not confirm that no other bidder received the £11 million, although the other bidders, several of whom I have contacted, have told me that they had received no information about the £11 million. The Motor Traders Training Association approached the Government and asked if any money was available to carry on training but it was told that no money was available. If the association was told that by a civil servant who was associated with the project, it looks not just casual or incompetent, but sinister.

The story from the bidders is that, when they went to the skill centres, they were not allowed to get the full information that they needed to make their bids. When they asked the Government and civil servants for information about trade union agreements—it was a condition of the sale that such agreements should be honoured—they were not given that information. If that is the case—and allegations have been made to me by bidders, none of whom was told about the £11 million, so all have a common cause of concern—it is more than incompetence. It is the deliberate obstruction of bids so that insider dealers, the civil servants, could purchase the skill centres. This is a matter of scandalous proportions.

The total value of the centres is about £130 million, including land and the assets on it. Those have been virtually given away, together with £11 million of taxpayers' money, and no prices have been revealed for the sale. In another case, £2 million has been handed to a training consortium, again without any acknowledgement of the arrangements that were involved. These matters must come before the House as soon as possible, so that we can have a full investigation and, hopefully, some remedial action. It is a seedy rip-off of the taxpayers by a clique of civil servants operating from the inside.

5.49 pm
Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

I am returning to the subject of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, not only because I failed to catch the eye of Madam Deputy Speaker on Monday but because I believe that it is important for the Government to restore public credibility before and during the recess and because the public need the Government to apply as much reassurance, frankness and caution as possible in this matter. BSE is leading people to think deeply about recycling animal proteins—sometimes even diseased animal proteins—back into the animal food chain, particularly for those animals which are naturally herbivores. This has already led to serious animal health problems. The drive for ever more efficient and cost effective ways to produce food has led to hidden costs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) will attest.

We think—we do not know—that BSE is caused by the same agent as scrapie. If it is, there may be parallels with the vertical transmission that we find in scrapie. The Southwood report referred to the placenta as "highly infectious" so it would not be surprising to find that BSE is vertically transmissible. If BSE is the same agent as scrapie, then this organism has passed not only the species barrier but the genus barrier. It has jumped a whole sub-family. That makes me feel very uneasy.

The Tyrrell intermediate consultation committee said: Experience with scrapie suggests that many species may be susceptible to BSE. Therefore, I was disturbed when I received a written answer that said: there is no scientific reason why the offals should not be incorporated into feedstuffs for non-ruminant animals. It is up to countries importing protein material from the United Kingdom to determine the conditions under which such imports may take place in the full knowledge they have about the disease and its likely cause."—[Official Report, 13 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 197.] We have no assurance that this disease may pass to animals other than ruminants. It could be that their lifespans are too short for them to develop the disease and show clinical signs. The Tyrrell committee said that pigs and chickens "may" act as sources of infection for man. It would be far better to incinerate all offal, so that the sub-virus reaches a dead end and is not passed around in an incestuous food chain, perhaps ending up on man's dinner plate.

It shows a rather nonchalant attitude towards other countries, some of them Third-world countries, to say that they can take some of these tainted materials—it is up to them, it is their risk, they take it in full knowledge. That is rather like the debates that we had about sending waste to the Third world. We should not pass around these materials to other countries and we certainly should not try to make a profit out of them abroad when we do not make a profit out of them in this country. We know that these materials are dangerous, and we do not have full knowledge of what they may cause. Other countries may not have such developed systems of governance or developed veterinary systems, and we should not put them to the test in this way.

We know that spongiform encephalopathies are transmissible to man and that in man they may take up to 30 years to develop. Doctor H. C. Grant, MD, FRCP, a neuropathologist at the Charing Cross hospital, has put forward his expert view: The Southwood report claims that the risk of humans catching the disease is 'remote', but the truth is that we do not know if it is remote. Experts doubtless thought the likelihood of cattle catching the disease was remote when they first fed scrapie-infected material to cattle in 1981. The Southwood report said: It may be a decade or more before complete reassurance can be given. If we cannot give complete reassurance, we should approach the matter with the utmost caution. I welcome the Government's decision to review the method of stripping out brains and spinal material from carcases, because it could be that the splatter of this nervous material on to red meat will defy the purpose of performing the operation. There may be better ways to do it.

In the debate on whether carcases should be buried or burnt, there should be a preference for burning, because we know that that organism is highly resistant and can be destroyed only by burning or powerful corrosive acids. I noted that, in a reply to a question from the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), who unfortunately is not here today, my hon. Friend the Minister said: Spongiform encephalopathies have never been recorded in domestic pets. Moreover, the industry's policy is not to use these materials. There is thus no need for regulatory action."—[Official Report, 2 February 1990; Vol. 166, c. 409.] On 14 February, in the First Standing Committee on European Documents, I called for a legislative ban on these materials being recycled into the pet food chain. There are responsible operators who will keep this material out of the petfood chain, but that does not allow for the irresponsible operators, who may be out to make a quick profit from recycling these materials.

The experts who had never recorded the transfer of spongiform encephalopathies have now recorded the transfer of them to domestic pets, strengthening my argument that there should be legislative action on this point. The Tyrrell committee called in June 1989 for a random survey of cattle brains at the point of slaughter. The Government should give this more urgency than that afforded to it by the committee. Not only would such a survey give a better fix on the incidence of this disease: it might give greater reassurance to the public that they are not receiving meat that has already been infected and that has developed the disease but is not yet showing clinical signs of it. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend agrees that it would not be right for humans to be fed such meat. Just because this policy has been espoused by the Labour party does not mean that it should not be adopted.

5.37 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Given his concluding remarks, the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) should not be surprised when I say that my hon. Friends and I much agree with most of the points in his speech.

It would be useful, before we went into the recess, for the House to receive details about the appointment of the Secretary of State for Energy as the co-ordinator of Government information. The media were given the news by No. 10 Downing street, but the House was not. Can we table questions about this aspect of Government activity? If not, why not? Ministers are supposed to be accountable to the House. When I raised this matter yesterday on a point of order, Mr. Speaker said that he understood that it was an unofficial arrangement. What does that mean?

Why did the job go to the Secretary of State for Energy? Why did it not go to the most natural person—the Leader of the House? He always maintains that he has a close working arrangement with the Prime Minister, even if they meet only weekly at meetings and apparently can hardly bear to say much to each other. Surely the responsibilities of the Leader of the House are not so heavy that he could not take on these added responsibilities for co-ordinating information.

If the Leader of the House is out of the picture, why did not the appointment go to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster? As we all know, he is the current chairman of the Conservative party and, unlike his immediate predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is keen on a high-level profile. I should have thought that the job of co-ordinating Government information, or lying, whatever one wants to call it, was right up that right hon. Gentleman's street. Why was not the job given to him? Though after the farce of yesterday's "summer offensive," which came unstuck within a matter of hours, perhaps the Prime Minister was not altogether wrong, I must admit, in coming to the conclusion that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was not quite the right person for the job.

It appears that the political columnist of The Independent was told yesterday by an admirer of the Secretary of State for Energy, who has been given the job of co-ordinating Government information, that the latter has no ambitions, no thoughts of his own—that we can readily accept—and that his one desire and purpose in life is to anticipate the Prime Minister's every wish. The columnist added that this means that the Prime Minister has put herself in charge of winning the next general election. It is not for me to say whether that is good news for Tory Members.

In an article in today's Guardian the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)—we can all agree that the hon. Gentleman is certainly no wet, and is as Stalinist a right-wing Tory as one could find—said that the chairman of the Tory party has stated loyally that we must not drop the pilot. The hon. Gentleman comments: But he would, wouldn't he? In the same article the hon. Gentleman tells us that the topic of the Tory leadership is never far from Tory MPs conversation—paternalist or Thatcherite, Backbencher, or junior Minister. The hon. Gentleman adds: Sticking to the pilot we have got may not, however, provide a safe passage now that we are moving into new and uncharted waters. The hon. Gentleman then speculates on the change of leadership. Has he suddenly become an admirer of the pretender to the present throne, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)?

There has been much in the press in the past two or three days of the possibility that there will be a general election in June 1991. It seems that the press has been fed a good deal of information that it could be next June. We shall see in due course. Downing street has been extremely busy I believe feeding the press with the possible date of next June to avoid a leadership election this autumn. If Tory Members are persuaded that the period before the next general election is limited, that they should not rock the boat and that the election will be as early as June 1991, they may be less willing to participate in a leadership campaign unlike last year.

As I said, I think that we are entitled to answers. We are entitled to know the precise duties and further responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Energy. We are also entitled to know whether he will answer our questions on the Floor of the House relating to Government information matters following our opportunity to table them. These are matters of concern that should be dealt with by the Leader of the House when he replies.

5.44 pm
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Having sat on the Conservative Benches for about 11 years, I have heard several of the speeches of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), but never have I heard such nonsense and cynicism expressed in the Chamber as that which I so recently heard. The hon. Gentleman must begin to understand, even at his rather mature age and with his long experience in this place, that it will not do to present to the House spurious information which is of no interest to my right hon. and hon. Friends and of even less interest, if that is possible, to his own right hon. and hon. Friends. The hon. Gentleman is an embarrassment to his constituents and to his party.

I am about to disappoint the hon. Member for Walsall, North even more. He probably expected my few remarks to be related to South Africa, which is one of our favourite topics. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, with his vast experience of foreign affairs during his distinguished time as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, would also show an interest in South Africa. However, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister having correctly said yesterday that sanctions are no longer an issue and that the Government consider them to be irrelevant after the excellent and successful meeting with President de Klerk in South Africa, I feel that it is appropriate at this stage to rest my case.

I wish to bring to the attention of the House before the recess a matter which is attendant to a subject that the House has been discussing during the past few days in various degrees of hilarity and seriousness—local government expenditure. I shall refer especially to local expenditure in Bedfordshire and in Luton. Anyone from outside this place who had visited it in the past 24 hours might have gone away feeling somewhat confused as to the Opposition's position. Yesterday, the Social Democrats fantasised about a local income tax. I believe that one of their speakers claimed that it would counteract the community charge that the Government have introduced, which he claimed has intruded on people's private lives. If anything intruded on private lives, it would surely be town hall bureaucrats investigating our constituents' Inland Revenue affairs. Today the hilarity was produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who dealt admirably with the roof tax on which the Labour party seems to be hooked, although not even that is certain in these uncertain times for that party. The polls show that it is slipping further towards the level of popularity of the Conservative party. It seems that the Labour party is entirely confused as to what its policy should be.

What is not confusing to those of us in the real world is that the wrath which has been heaped upon my right hon. and hon. Friends in the past few months has not been the result of the Government's actions. Virtually all of it has been the result of high-spending local authorities, especially those controlled by the Labour party. In Bedfordshire, the Labour and Liberal hung councils took the opportunity, as they did in 1974, to impose upon the unwitting community charge payers—previously it was the ratepayers—massive increases in spending without any justification, knowing that they would not have to face the brunt of the anger that that would generate.

It is interesting that now that community charge bills have landed on doorsteps and people are beginning to pay—and those who thought that they would not enjoy rebates are enjoying them—the tone of correspondence has changed dramatically to my mind and in my experience. People are beginning to realise that it is not the Government's fault that in Bedfordshire, and in my constituency, there are community charge bills of more than £400 per person. They are beginning to understand that their bills are the result of the reckless spending of county authorities, and in some instances borough authorities, which have decided to spend other people's money without any thought of where further moneys will come from.

The position in Bedfordshire is especially sad. Regrettably, it has always been a county of high-spending authorities. When the Conservative party lost control of the county council, good housekeeper that it was, people in monkey suits in Bedford county hall took control. They have taken no account of the ability of community charge payers, or of residents generally, to pay. To my mind, there is no doubt as to exactly where the blame lies. Over the years, the Labour-Liberal-controlled council has almost exceeded its wildest dreams in its excesses and in the burdens that it has placed upon us.

For example, some years ago, and following the spending of about £50,000, we became a nuclear-free zone. I am not sure whether the Bedfordshire ratepayers felt any better for that, but we were sore that such a sum was spent on their behalf changing signs. There was an attempt to twin with a black township in South Africa. That may seem creditable to Labour Members, but a great deal of money was spent on a political exercise which had no bearing on the well-being of the unfortunate citizens of the township or on the well-being of the ratepayers whom the authority purported to represent. Many a long hour in the council chamber has been spent debating freedom for Nicaragua, tropical rain forests, whether the BBC should move from Cambridge to Norwich——

Mr. Tony Banks

We should all be interested in rain forests.

Mr. Carlisle

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the rain forests are important, but the council is prepared to spend time and money debating subjects which have little or nothing to do with the needs of the people whom it purports to represent. To cap it all, in its expenditure plans for 1990–91—which were vigorously opposed by the Conservative group on the county council—it has proposed and brought in a massive increase in spending, which is totally unjustified. The justification for such spending is questionable. That is not just my opinion, as someone with a political axe to grind, but the opinion of the independent Audit Commission, which has made extensive surveys on local authorities' financing and budgeting in the past, as many hon. Members will know.

The Audit Commission has consistently found that since Bedfordshire county council passed into Labour and Liberal control it has been a high-spending council and that in a majority of cases spending is excessively high and exceeds other comparable county councils—this year it is some £23 million. Bedfordshire is way above the family average in terms of spending on particular services.

Education is the greatest spender, and Bedfordshire spends some 14 per cent. more on the number of teachers and on teachers' salaries than other councils in the basket of comparable authorities. If Bedfordshire had the best education system, if parents could say that their children were getting better education than anyone else and that examination results, even in the difficult areas—some of which are in my constituency—are better than in comparable councils and that people regard it as worth moving to Bedfordshire for that education, I would not complain. In surveys conducted recently by Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools, however, Bedfordshire has consistently come near the bottom of the table for examination results and qualifications. That does not justify the enormous expenditure by an authority which is under political control. The Audit Commission rightly criticised the authority's organisation and management and said that spending on secondary education far exceeds what is required and that, in its analysis, the spending policy is basically flawed.

Part of the problem is that those who purport to represent the people of Bedfordshire in county hall will not bite the bullet and take the tough decisions to reduce the number of schools that a Tory council would have taken if it were in power. Item 14 of Bedfordshire county council's audit of accounts 1988–89 states: There are too many schools. Up to 30 per cent. of the places available are unfilled. That is a disgrace and means that between 10 and 12 schools should be closed if the authority wants to make money available to improve services which need improvement—for example, special areas, provision for the young, and facilities for sixth forms. The authority could save money if it had the courage to take those political decisions, but it refuses to do so.

The Audit Commission goes on to say that something must be done to reduce the present imbalance between school places and overall pupil numbers. On that basis alone, some £5 million per annum—possibly more—would be saved.

Social service expenditure by Bedfordshire county council is some 15 per cent. above the average. If our old people's homes were the best in the country I would not say a word about it. If every child in care in Bedfordshire had better treatment than children elsewhere I would not complain, but regrettably there is gross inefficiency within the service, although people who work in those hard-pressed services try hard. Savings could be made and have been identified by the Audit Commission. The tragedy is that, while we have an authority in power whose business seems to be to spend other people's money, those savings will not be made.

This year, once again, despite the difficulties that we face—I acknowledge that the new legislative requirements that the Government have rightly put upon local authorities have created more—the council still refuses to make savings and consequently to improve services. As the years go by, the situation snowballs. If Bedfordshire continues to be run by virtual loonies from country hall who continue with the same policy, we shall be in severe difficulties.

If my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House takes one message back to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and to the new Minister of State, it should be that any alterations made to the community charge—I am suspicious of any alterations—must not give more money to authorities such as Bedfordshire, which will only spend the money willy-nilly, without thought for our constituents.

Not long ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made certain suggestions in The Times about changes in the structure of local authorities. Some of those ideas were taken up today in an excellent article by Simon Heifer in The Daily Telegraph, which I recommend to my hon. Friends. With more energy and virulence than my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley, Mr. Heffer says that it is about time that we abolished county councils. They represent a level of local government that has become unnecessary.

If a message came out of the local election results—particularly the wonderful results enjoyed by the Conservative party in Wandsworth and Westminster—it is that if small local authorities can control spending and their destiny, as Wandsworth and Westminster have done since the GLC disappeared, there is some chance that the community charge system will make those spending the money accountable. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will take that on board, and if he does not recommend that action be taken before the House rises for the spring recess, he should certainly recommend that it be a part of the manifesto for the next Conservative Government in the 1990s.

The county councils are a level of government over-burdened by bureaucrats. They are expensive and do not work. Many of my constituents in Luton long for the days when the borough controlled its own education and social services. The small size of such a committee is attractive and must appear so to most hon. Members. We felt that we could control our own destiny, and it would be on our own heads. Wandsworth and Westminster have proved that only on that basis have we any chance of controlling local government expenditure, which seems to go up and up, especially in counties which are Liberal or Labour-controlled.

I have some sympathy for the idea of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley about an election each year. I believe there should be elections on a three-year basis, as happens in some local authorities now. We must abolish the larger tier of local government, which has become unwieldy and an excuse for representatives who are not fit to be in government for all sorts of reasons. We would then get representatives who are far closer to the electorate—the charge payers.

As the House rises for a short holiday at Whitsun, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will think of the people of Bedfordshire and the burden placed upon them by the Liberal-Labour-controlled council, and that he and his colleagues will come back to the House with radical proposals for the next Conservative Government which will make local authorities far more accountable and ensure that we never have such Liberal-Labour overspending again.

5.58 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I disagree with virtually every word uttered by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). That will not surprise him. At least I congratulate him on making a speech other than on South Africa. Given the speeches that he makes in this place, I was beginning to think that he represented Pretoria, North rather than Luton, North. He referred to a number of issues to which I am sure we shall return. The future of the shire counties is being debated within the Labour party. Their future will form part of our proposals when we come to power.

I intend to refer to an anniversary that has passed largely unnoticed this week; it is an anniversary that I know the Prime Minister would prefer to forget. Nearly two years ago, she was present at a ceremony at Battersea. power station. She went there for one of those ubiquitous. photo opportunities that she gets. She was seen with Mr. John Broome, the developer. She described him as a man of enterprise and vision. His enterprise and vision was to turn Battersea power station into a pleasure dome.

The Prime Minister was there to give encouragement to Mr. Broome. She hailed him as one of the best examples of Thatcherism in practice. Mr. Broome, no doubt warming to the theme, having been encouraged by the Prime Minister in that way, gave an enormous hostage to fortune, as it turned out, by saying to the Prime Minister, "I shall invite you back on 21 May 1990 at 2.30 pm in order to unveil this great development. If you come at 2.33, Ma'am, you will have missed it." The Prime Minister was chuffed, as she often is by hearing words of that sort—bravura, bravado, call it what you will. However, the right hon. Lady still has a decade or so in which to wander down to Battersea, where she will find that she has missed nothing, given the present sad state of dereliction of that wonderful building.

The Prime Minister was right to say that the proposed development was a symbol of Thatcherism—of Flash Harrys with flash ideas, leading ultimately to failure. One could take it a stage further and say that Battersea power station as it exists at the moment is a symbol of the country—an empty shell, its grandeur and glory gone, decaying away due to inefficiency, neglect and lack of care. That symbol of dereliction, just a few miles down river at Battersea, is a symbol of the country. The power station is a derelict eyesore.

The Secretary of State will probably soon receive a request for Battersea power station's listed building status to be lifted so that the power station can be demolished. If the wind, the rain and the weather have not done that already for Mr. Broome, that is what the Government will be asked to agree to, and they will be as derelict as that building if they are prepared to allow that to happen. There ought to be shame on the Conservative Benches. Certainly there ought to be shame in No. 10 Downing street for having gone along with this carnival, this festival that has had such an unhappy ending, the problem still not having been resolved.

Battersea power station is a London landmark. Many of us have come to love that building. [Interruption.] The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) laughs and thinks that that is a joke, but many Londoners look with great warmth and affection on that building. Previously they derived great warmth from it. To see it in its present bad state is no laughing matter.

The Government have been extremely casual with public assets. By means of their privatisation proposals, they have given them away. What Lady Porter did with the three Westminster cemeteries, the Government have done regularly with many public assets. They have given many of them away, together with sweeteners. Privatisation is nonsense in that respect, and we know it.

I want to compare briefly what happened to Battersea power station with what might happen to county hall. Proposals are now coming forward that are not entirely dissimilar to Mr. Broome's proposals for Battersea power station. The county hall proposals are for a luxury hotel, offices, a business centre, an amusement park and luxury flats—all the Flash Harry ideas that Mr. Broome had for Battersea power station. I disagree with the proposals. The Secretary of State is considering—[Interruption.] I intend to say what I should like county hall to be used for. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) knows exactly what I intend to say.

The considerations arising from the public planning inquiry are now sitting on the Secretary of State's desk; he will undoubtedly deliberate upon them, and he ought to bring them to the House so that they can be fully debated. The House has an interest in what is being proposed for a building on the other side of the river that is within our line of vision. We ought to decide whether we are happy with the proposals. I disagree fundamentally with them; they involve the spending of a great deal of money.

The Secretary of State has to decide whether the new Flash Harrys on the south bank will have the resources to carry out their proposals. I have seen little evidence of their financial assets being sufficient to fund the proposed development. We do not want to end up with a Battersea power station problem immediately opposite us on the other side of the river—county hall with its roof off and the builders walking off site because the money has run out. Despite the fact that I intensely dislike the proposals, I want the Secretary of State at least to ensure that the developers have the financial wherewithal to complete their development.

I despise the proposals. It is a political decision. The former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), said on one occasion that he would like county hall to be demolished brick by brick. He could not demolish it, because it is a listed building. However, political symbolism makes the Tory Government want county hall to be used for a purpose that is totally outwith its previous function. County hall was built with inner-London ratepayers' money. It was built as a centre for London local government. It is a symbol of local democracy in London—the local democracy that this Government have done so much to undermine and destroy. We want couny hall to remain in its original form and to be used for its purpose—as the seat of London local government.

I am delighted to know that among the welter of policy proposals that are about to be launched upon a grateful nation by the Labour party there is one that states that a Labour Government will restore London-wide local government. There will be a new London council. We must ensure that it is based in county hall. I want to extract from Opposition Front Bench spokesmen—not my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench now, so he need not worry too much about it—an undertaking that, if the Secretary of State for the Environment allows a hotel to be developed on the county hall site, a Labour Government will take it back by means of compulsory purchase.

Who would that upset? It would upset the developers, the Flash Harrys. I could not give a monkey's toss for them, nor would many Londoners. It may upset a few rich tourists. I am sorry for them, but there are plenty of luxury hotels for them in and around London. If the Labour party in opposition and then in government were to give such a pledge, most of the people of London would support them. It would be a politically popular move.

As long as I draw breath in this House, which I hope will be for some years to come, I shall strive to get county hall back into public ownership to act as the headquarters of London local government. I have great confidence that I shall succeed.

6.9 pm

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

Before we adjourn for the spring recess, I wish to discuss the teaching of history in our schools. The subject has been greatly ventilated in recent weeks and we have also received the final report of the history working group of the national curriculum.

A knowledge of history is absolutely essential if we are to retain our identity as a nation. It is most important that our children should understand what has made our country—its origins and its development through the centuries until the present time. It is essential that they should know how our small island on the edge of the continent of Europe was first colonised by Rome, passed through the so-called dark ages into the flowering of Anglo-Saxon civilisation followed by the Norman conquest and the feudal system, the wars of the roses when the aristocracy nearly destroyed itself, the reformation and the Tudor monarchy, the wars against France which we usually won, our own civil war, the growth and development of the British empire which at one time encompassed a quarter of the world—and what happy days they were—the rise of democracy and the two great wars this century.

Some people are shy about dwelling too much on our island history for fear of upsetting the immigrants among us. That is a mistaken view. Immigrants, like everyone else, expect us to be true to ourselves and to our history and identity as a nation.

Children should be made to learn the dates of the great events of past centuries. That is not just dull learning by rote; it will give them a framework in which to place all those unfolding events and to understand how they relate to one another. They will thus in due course begin to realise the remarkable continuity of the history of our small island. Incidentally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) recently remarked that what we are all about in this place is the continuity of history.

Children should know about kings, queens, statesmen and other leaders; and about battles and other great events. But that does not mean that they should neglect social, domestic and occasionally local history. While for most people in the United Kingdom history tends to be mainly the history of England, that does not mean that events in Scotland, Wales and Ireland should be ignored.

Mr. Winnick

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir John Stokes

No. Many hon. Members still wish to speak and we have only one more hour.

We are an old nation with roots going a long way back, unlike some of the newer nations in Europe, and it is essential that children should appreciate that. I have always been fascinated by the continuity of our history—for instance, the coronation rite, which goes back to before the Norman conquest, and the monarchy that can trace its ancestry back to King Alfred in Saxon times, the continued existence of the House of Lords and the hereditary peers of whom I am so fond, the tradition and procedures of the Chamber, our jury system and the English common law, the many words and phrases in the English language which go back for centuries and our wonderful heritage of cathedrals, churches, castles and country houses and the ancient towns and villages that we all love so much.

We have been most fortunate in not having been conquered since 1066, and our internal wars were mild compared with the fearful struggles on the continent. Our island status, guarded in the old days by a powerful navy, has kept our country intact.

The growth of the British empire and the trade that followed it is a romance in itself. The colonisation of north America and its subsequent successful rebellion is a unique story and our influence in America has been profound.

The more one studies our history and development, which are so different from those of nations on the continent, the more necessary it is to examine with great care, if not with suspicion, any proposals for our ancient country to join a new European federation. We are not a highly centralised country. We never had a Code Napoleon, but only a common-sense common law. Nor do we have a written constitution. We are a practical, not a theoretical, people; a kindly, tolerant, gentle people, slow to wrath but very angry and determined when need be; perhaps a people inclined to be lazy but capable of immense exertions in a crisis.

There is a great deal to be proud of in our history, despite some shaming events from time to time, such as our treatment of Ireland, but there is nothing wrong in being proud of our past. We in Parliament are trustees or posterity and must hand on the torch of our civilisation to succeeding generations. We have contributed a great deal to the civilisation of the world and we should be proud of that. We still have a great deal to give the world and we. should rejoice in that. I am happy to say that at present our standing among nations remains high.

6.15 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

One of the achievements in our history of which we should be proud is the development of the franchise—the struggle in 1832 to reform Parliament and to establish more equal and equitable electoral districts, the struggle throughout the later 19th century, especially by the Chartists, to establish a universal franchise for men, the struggle of the suffragettes in the 20th century, and finally the achievement of the universal franchise based upon people's residential rights that was finally established in 1928.

The pride that we take in the development of the franchise should be demonstrated by our intention to ensure that nothing removes or undermines it, but to extend democracy and the participation and involvement of the British people who struggled so hard to achieve electoral rights. But what is happening now? There are great problems about the state of the franchise. The franchise is being undermined and nibbled away by one piece of legislation in particular which cannot be reformed or altered to avoid that serious effect. That measure is of course the poll tax.

Before 1987, there was a close correlation between the numbers on the electoral register and the estimated population of those over 18. As we have a universal franchise and reasonable techniques for calculating the population, one would expect those figures to approximate. However, since 1987, the figures have started to deviate, initially in Scotland but now in England and Wales but not in Northern Ireland, which has a distinct advantage in not having the poll tax.

It is clear that the major factor undermining the electoral register is the poll tax. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys recognises that the decline in registration is due not to demographic factors or changes in the age structure of the population but to non-registration. If offers a number of reasons. The Prime Minister wrote to me suggesting that the decline in registration in 1989 may have been due to the postal strike of September 1988. The decline in Scotland was not associated with a postal strike, and the poll tax was introduced a year earlier in Scotland than in England. The poll tax factor on electoral registration operated earlier.

The poll tax register and the electoral register overlap considerably. The principles of accountability, on which the poll tax was based, are similar to those for electoral registration. If people are desperate, they take desperate remedies to protect themselves. People are not registering for the poll tax, but realising that their names still appear on the electoral register. That applies even to people who are only just 18, because the poll tax registrar can go back to past electoral rolls to discover missing names. Such people will not bother to register.

I asked the Library to produce evidence on the link between people aged 18 and over and electoral registration. In Great Britain, at least 1.5 per cent. of the population have disappeared from the electoral register. That amounts to more than 600,000 people, or 1,000 per constituency if it were evenly distributed throughout the country. But it will not be evenly distributed. There are obvious problems in some areas, such as in Glasgow, where, since the introduction of the poll tax, 40,000 people have disappeared from the electoral register, or 6.5 per cent.; in Liverpool 25,000 are missing, or 7.5 per cent.; and in the past two years in Finchley, the Prime Minister's constituency, 4.6 per cent. and 3.9 per cent. of people have disappeared from the electoral register.

I rang the electoral registration office in Finchley to ask about the reason for that under-registration. The answer was that it assumed it had something to do with the poll tax. Some opinion polls show that the Prime Minister may lose her seat at the next election, but another factor must be taken into account: those who were interviewed or their equivalents may not appear on the electoral register.

The people who have most to fear from the poll tax are those who will disappear from the electoral register. Masses of people are disappearing from it, especially in some areas. That is serious. It is doubly serious when we take into account a measure that the House passed recently to extend the expatriate vote on a voluntary basis—that is nonsense, given the obligatory franchise in this country—to 3 million overseas voters. If only 20 per cent. register, they will replace the 600,000 people who have been squeezed off the electoral register by the poll tax. That should worry hon. Members.

The Government's commitment to manipulating the franchise is greater than their commitment to ensuring that people appear on the register. Statistics on electoral registration advertising expenditure that I have obtained from the Prime Minister's office show that in 1988–89 only 0.3 per cent. of total advertising expenditure—£322,000—was spent on electoral registration. That contrasts starkly with the £760,000 which has been spent on encouraging people to take up franchise rights overseas and to vote in our elections.

The electoral register is being manipulated. The franchise is being fixed and fiddled. Given the great sense of history in this Chamber, we should be as concerned about that as we are about some of the other great issues, such as the attack on the environment and the many dangers and injustices of much of the legislation that the Government have passed. If we lose the franchise, we lose one of our most sacred traditional rights. Hon. Members and everyone outside should be deeply concerned about that. We should ensure that the poll tax is abolished and that the franchise is fully and properly re-established in this country.

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

On Monday, we spent quite a lot of time discussing mad cow disease, which has not infected anyone. In contrast, more than 5,000 people are slaughtered every year on our roads, more than 300,000 are injured and, of those, 60,000 are seriously injured. Before the House rises for the spring Adjournment, I should like to make a few remarks on the subject. I must declare an interest, because I have the honour to be the president of the Guild of Experienced Motorists.

There have recently been signs of an improvement in the number of road accidents. The creation of motorways was a positive step, because research shows that one is far less likely to have an accident on a motorway than on other roads. The anti-drink-driving campaign has been a success and should be maintained. We must bear in mind the fact that four out of every five accidents are not related to drink, and we should be applying our minds to those accidents.

There are more road accidents in East Anglia than in any other region of Britain. We are fortunate to have the best health in the country, probably the best employment record and much going for us, but it is a disgrace that so many people are slaughtered or injured on East Anglian roads. Within East Anglia, the record of the county of Cambridgeshire is the worst. The overall increase in road accidents in Cambridgeshire since 1984 is 16 per cent. On rural roads where the 40 mph speed limit does not apply, the increase is 28 per cent. and on trunk roads it is 25 per cent.

Since 1987, there have been different trends within the East Anglian region. The figures have decreased in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, but have increased in Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk. Cambridgeshire has experienced the biggest increase of all, which is against the trend elsewhere in the region and country. There are several reasons for that. I shall highlight only two in this short debate. Suffice it to say that in my constituency the A45 and A505 are absolute death traps. It is a nightmare to drive along them and appalling to see time and time again in local newspapers or on local television the ghastly mangled wrecks which are the result of accidents that occur on those roads. That is not good enough in a society such as ours.

I know that the Government appreciate the problem. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), the then Secretary of State for Transport, said in July 1989 when introducing the White Paper: The eastern region programme is being increased by over three and a half times … That reflects East Anglia's status as having the fastest growing economy in the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, in a reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), said on 30 October 1989: One of the main features of the White Paper was its recognition that East Anglia has an inadequate road infrastructure. There are substantial plans set out in the White Paper to produce an improvement, and we shall honour them."—[Official Report, 30 October 1989; Vol. 159, c. 4.] Those are fine words, on which I entirely rely.

Meanwhile, it is unacceptable that the appalling casualties should continue in my part of the country. The slaughter on the roads results in more deaths than any other cause—more than heart disease, tumours, diseases of the respiratory system and air accidents, much more than bombs and certainly more than mad cow disease.

There are several general observations to be made on this subject. Research has shown that the first principal cause of road casualties is driving too fast for the conditions that prevail. Conditions on most British roads are unsuitable for the speed at which vehicles move. The other cause is driving too close behind the vehicle in front, a persistent nuisance. That can be overcome quite easily through technology if the will were there to compel vehicles to be technically adapted.

The driving test is still hopelessly inadequate and needs to be revised. It is ridiculous that people can crawl around a suburb in a little Mini and then step into the type of vehicle that needs to be handled with the skill of Nigel Mansell. Again, the penalties imposed are too feeble. There should be much greater use of the power of disqualification and of confiscation of the vehicle involved in the accident. There could be greater use of sleeping policemen in rural areas and villages. These have been found to be effective restraints on speed.

Manufacturers must show a greater sense of responsibility. What is the point of making relatively cheap cars for popular use which can travel at 140 mph when the speed limit everywhere is no higher than 70 mph? What is the point of producing cars with engines that require someone with the skill of Stirling Moss or Nigel Mansell to handle them? Often such cars are poorly maintained and the drivers do not have the skill required. They have completely inadequate training. Manufacturers have a responsibility to incorporate the latest safety devices. I am bound to comment that, if it had not been for Government action, manufacturers would probably not even insert brakes in vehicles.

All this mayhem and chaos on our roads results in dreadful loss of resources and expenditure, heavy burdens on our Health Service, pressure on our hard-pressed police, bereavement of families and bitter misery for those who are disabled for life, as all too many are. It is no consolation to them to be told that in Europe and in other countries the number of casualties is higher.

This matter deserves greater scrutiny both by Her Majesty's Government and by the press and the media. That is especially true in the county of Cambridgeshire.

6.34 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The tragic events in Israel's administered territories and Jordan this week have highlighted again the unhappy Arab-Israeli conflict and we should pause to think about the situation for a moment before we rise for the recess.

While elsewhere in the world there are so many encouraging and happy developments, it is depressing that in the middle east there is still unsettlement and misery. Naturally, Israel is blamed and comfort is given to her enemies by Governments who should know better, even if they feel that they cannot do better.

I do not believe for a moment that Israel has any other intention than to see that its nationhood survives secure and that it remains an independent, multi-racial democracy under the rule of law. I believe that when Israel turns to violence, it is forced to do so in order to survive as a nation and to protect its borders and people as any other nation under unremitting attack would have to do. When the intifada is violent, the containment cannot but be violent. If there were no uprising, no one would be wounded and no one would die.

When terrorism repeatedly strikes Israel from its foreign borders, as it has for many years, Israel has tried to end those attacks by building a buffer zone between it and the Lebanon. Sadly people die in the fighting which ensues. If there were no terrorism and no military attack on Israel, no one would be wounded and no one would die.

I believe that Israel wants to live in peace with its Arab neighbours. Its people are not warlike by nature and, because they were so often deprived of human rights, they have respect for the human rights of others, such as the Palestinians. It is inconceivable that Israel should want to use up either its human resources in endless fighting or its economic resources, which are difficult to come by, in the endless struggle for survival. If Israel's Arab neighbours were prepared to live in peace with Israel, there would be no daily killing or misery.

If Israel had nothing to fear from its neighbours it would not need to settle the high ground on the west bank to build defensive settlements and land for peace would be the bargain now being struck. Of course, Israel wants to settle the 1 million Jews from the Soviet Union, not only because they are fugitives from a country in which, as Jews, they were not welcome, but because the tiny state of Israel, which is so vulnerable to the sheer numbers alone of its neighbours, naturally wants to be stronger. If the United States and other countries in the world will not take the Soviet Jews, where else do we expect them to go?

So far, the settlement on the west bank has been widely exaggerated by those who have reported it. I understand that fewer than 1 per cent. of Jewish emigrants have settled on the west bank. That is 32 families in all—138 people. Of course, the whole situation is unsatisfactory and unhappy and there is conflict which results in hatred and the spilling of blood, so we ask yet again at this time how it will all end and whether we can help.

One thing is certain. We cannot reasonably expect Israel to agree with any state or organisation that it should commit suicide. The greatest problem is that the Arabs demand a Palestinian state at least to begin with on the west bank, but everyone who has the slightest knowledge or understanding of the area knows that such a development is impossible. It is impossible for the Palestinians because there is no water, energy, raw materials, or infrastructure and no body politic to govern such a barren place. It is impossible for the neighbours of such a state, be it Jordan, which has its own history of violence to contend with from the PLO, or be it Israel. No nation could permit an enemy which is sworn to destroy it to have its guns pointed at its heart from only a mile or two away. It is 10 miles from the border to Tel Aviv, which could be taken out in a moment. How long would it be before the west bank state needed to expand into Jordan or Israel?

In opposing a PLO state on its borders, Israel is hardly being unreasonable, although without a stable Government speaking for all the people it is perhaps difficult for it to have a cohesive foreign policy. One of the reasons being advanced for maintaining the absurd proportional representation which has caused the political chaos in Israel is that if it were abolished it would remove the small Arab representation in the Knesset, which the Israeli Government does not want to do.

There is, of course, an Israeli peace plan—to have free democratic elections among the Palestinians in the territories, thus providing elected representatives who can negotiate with Israel without fear of Arab terrorism, and from which autonomy would automatically emerge. The plan would seek to ensure that the Palestinians enjoy that autonomy for three years while confidence builds up between the two sides and while a final acceptable status for the territories is worked out, and backed by the super-powers or the United Nations. I believe that, in practice, everything would be negotiable in such talks, as was the case when the hard-line Mr. Begin negotiated peace for land in the Sinai with President Sadat at Camp David, and peace with Egypt resulted.

It is asked why Israel will not talk to Arafat, the Palestinian leader. Did he not say in December 1988 that he would recognise the state of Israel and renounce terrorism? The answer is that the Israelis do not trust Arafat to deliver his promise—and nor should anyone else trust him. Why? First, it is because in the years since the renunciation of terrorism at Geneva there have been 13 terrorists attacks by Fatah inside Israel's 1967 borders, 17 border attacks by the PLO or affiliated organisations, including two Katyuska rocket attacks on kibbutzim in the Jordan valley, 15 infiltration attempts across all borders, including two by Fatah, and 125 Palestinians have been murdered on the directions of the "Unified Command" by which the PLO operates in the territories.

Either the PLO leader is responsible for the terrorism of the groups which operate under his umbrella of command, or he is not. If he is responsible, he has not renounced violence. If he is not responsible, how can anyone expect Israel to negotiate with a man who has no control over or ability to stop terrorist attacks on Israel? What security would there be for Israel if it negotiated with Arafat? If he is in complete control, let him call off the violence that has been going on in the territories for two and a half years—the intifada. That will prove his control and power and oblige Israel to recognise the strength. Israel might then talk to him.

The second reason why one should not trust Mr. Arafat—if more proof were wanted—is the speech that he made to senior Fatah military personnel in Baghdad on 6 April 1990, which was reported in the Paris-based Lebanese newspaper Al Muharrar on 10 April as follows: Open fire on the new Jewish immigrants—be they from the Soviet Union, Ethiopia or anywhere else … I want you to shoot, on the ground or in the air, at every immigrant who thinks our land is a playground and who thinks that immigration to it is a vacation or a picnic … Do not tell me that political decisions prevent us from military activity against immigrants. It makes no difference whether they live in a Jaffa"— which is just inside the 1967 boundary— or in Jericho. I give you explicit instructions to open fire, do everything to stop the flow of immigration … I give you my instructions to use violence against the immigrants. I will jail whoever refuses to do this. My words are not just a threat, they are the reality. From today on, I will incarcerate whoever refuses to obey my instructions … Today I publish my orders to use violence against the immigrants and I wll put anyone who fails into prison … I have already put into prison Palestinian ambassadors, members of the Revolutionary Councils and clergymen when they made a mistake. My decision and the decision of The Fatah to use violence must be carried out in real terms". Is that a man of peace? Has the leopard changed its spots? How can that language inspire anyone to believe that Mr. Arafat can be trusted when he talks of peace? That speech was made six weeks ago and has not yet been denied by Mr. Arafat. Can anyone blame the Israelis for not trusting him to deliver? When Western Governments continue to pander to Arafat, to pretend that they accept his moderation and his renunciation of violence, is it any wonder that Israel loses patience with those who proffer such absurd advice?

Is there no hope then? Of course there is hope. There has to be. Camp David showed that there can be hope, however hopeless the situation might appear. If the Israelis get their political act together, speak strongly in one voice and start acting flexibly, there will be hope. If they continue their policy of not settling Jews on the west bank in large numbers—because that would set back the cause of peace—there will be hope. If the PLO genuinely stops its terrorism, if the Palestinians elect moderate representatives democratically, if the United Nations and other world powers make an effort to push the peace initiative forward with fairness and good sense, the situation is not hopeless.

I hope that as the House rises for this short recess the Government's determination to be more understanding about Israel's difficulties—and its refusal to accept the hollow assurances given for its security—will become more evident. Israel should not negotiate with unrepentant terrorists. It cannot be expected to negotiate with neighbours who hate its very existence. Provided that our own and other Governments recognise those facts, they will help the peace process because Israel will feel less alone and will be more willing to accept sensible international advice.

6.47 pm
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Before the House rises, I wish to raise briefly the case of one of my constituents, Mr. John Richardson. The House may think that this has become the Israeli half-hour, because I want to raise issues of concern that relate directly to Mr. Richardson's visit to Israel this morning. However, much of what the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, which was interesting and to which I listened carefully, is not directly relevant to this case.

Mr. Richardson, who lives in Leicester, left for Israel this morning. He arrived in Tel Aviv at 4.45 this morning. Immediately on arrival, he was detained by the Israeli security services. He was allowed no direct contact with the British embassy, although he telephoned the embassy and asked for someone to go out to Tel Aviv airport. Mr. Richardson was sent back to Britain on the first plane. He arrived in Britain at 8.45 this morning and came to see me in Westminster at 1 o'clock because I was anxious to have the facts before raising this matter in the House.

Mr. Richardson was in Israel to attend a symposium. He was supposed to give a lecture in two days' time on the situation there. He is of impeccable character. I have known him—not only as a constituent, but also as a friend—for over six years. He is the commissioning editor for a newpaper, the Ithaca Press.

I am glad that the Leader of the House, the deputy Prime Minister, who has great experience of foreign affairs, is on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that he will press the Foreign Secretary at the earliest opportunity for a statement on the way in which British citizens are treated in Israel.

I refer also to the position of British Airways. When he left Tel Aviv airport, Mr. Richardson's passport was not given back to him. It was handed to a British Airways steward and was not returned to him until his return to Britain. We should examine carefully the role of our airways and airlines in immigration matters: it is wrong that a British citizen should have his passport retained by an air steward.

I raise the issue not because I can help Mr. Richardson by so doing—he left the House at 2.30 this afternoon and returned to Leicester—but to draw the House's attention to the fact that British citizens who are travelling in good faith to Israel are sometimes sent back without explanation on the first available flight. I hope that the matter will be taken up by the Leader of the House, and that he will mention the debate to the Foreign Secretary.

6.49 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I am sure that the House will understand if I say that, much as I enjoy the privilege of speaking here, I wish I were somewhere else. Tonight I would like to be at the annual meeting of Wrekin district council, under the leadership of Councillor Malcolm Smith. Tonight Phil Heighway ends his one-year term in office as chairman, and is replaced by Graham Bould, with John Minor as his deputy. The council has been Labour-controlled since its inception, and that was greatly reinforced by a tremendous by-election result a week ago, when the Conservative vote of 1987 was halved, with the Conservative candidate coming third behind the Greens.

I have a specific matter to raise which relates to the responsibilities of the Leader of the House. I hope that the House will attempt to adjust its procedures—however uncomfortable that may be for some hon. Members—to the television age. For some six months, the nation has been looking at us, and it is perhaps time that we started looking at ourselves more critically.

It would be a mistake, however, not to refer to some of the contributions that have been made. It was notable that two Conservative Members spoke about the inadequacies of the Health Service. Opposition Members say "Hear, hear" to that. One Conservative Member made a telling contribution about the retirement age. I appreciate that issue only too well, especially the question of men who wish to retire at 60.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) made a powerful speech—which I am sure will receive universal approval—about the effects on haemophiliacs infected by the AIDS virus. What I liked about his speech was that he made specific recommendations, based on his experiences as a Minister, about how the matter should be resolved. I hope that the Leader of the House takes to heart my right hon. Friend's comments about the treatment of Thalidomidevictims; perhaps that is an important precedent that could be applied in this case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) made a characteristically informed speech about the problems of the coal industry, about which he is, perhaps, better qualified to speak than any other hon. Member. He speaks from great personal knowledge. He pointed out the differences between the current possible round of redundancies and earlier ones, and I hope that the Leader of the House will refer to that in his reply.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (M r. Winnick) raised an issue that is dear to my heart: responsibility for Government communications and co-ordination. I am deputy to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Cunningham). He now shadows three Secretaries of State in varying degrees—the Secretary of State for Energy, the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and we await the possibility of more being added to the list. We can cope with them, but it would be nice to know exactly what their responsibilities are.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is not here now. He made an important contribution about the future of county hall. I hope that the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), with his deep sense of history, would have seconded my hon. Friend's proposal. We do not want to see historic buildings turned into luxury hotels; they should once again be the seats of democracy that they were in the past.

While we are on a democratic note, let me add that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) made an effective speech about the impact of the poll tax on people's ability to vote. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) also referred to some of the injustices of the poll tax. The poll tax, the Health Service and democracy—those themes have recurred.

We should try to make our procedures more intelligible to people outside. For the past six months, the country has been looking at us with varying degrees of amazement, interest and ridicule. This motion is a classic example of our procedures. It is nearly 7 pm, and we are debating That this House, at its rising on Thursday 24th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 5th June. Suppose that we told any group of workers in the country that they could have a holiday next week, but that before they could have it there would need to be a three-hour debate, continuing until late in the evening. They would consider that a ludicrous proposition, and it would be passed without a vote. All hon. Members know that this is an opportunity for people to raise important issues, but surely we should be able to do that without calling an Adjournment debate.

The House should keep more sensible hours. I know that Conservative Members get worked up about the hours in the House. In the last full Session, we sat for longer than almost any other legislature in the world: at 2, 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning, I sometimes wonder to what effect. In the 1988–89 Session, the House sat for 175 days: on 121 of those days—about 70 per cent.—the debate continued until after 10.30 pm; on 80 days—about 40 per cent.—it continued until after midnight; and on 21 days it continued until after 2 am. I do not mind—and I am sure that no other hon. Member minds—sitting in the middle of the night if we are considering critical issues of national importance, but in some Consolidated Fund debates I have addressed a massed audience of three hon. Members at 5 o'clock in the morning, and I am sure that there must be a more sensible way. I am amazed that the camera operator can stay awake at that time of night. Hon. Members should examine again the possibility of morning sittings.

I know that traditionalist Conservative Members will not like this, but I think that we should think again about the way in which we address each other in the House. I can refer to the man sitting opposite me as the Leader of the House, although not many people outside know what that means; I can refer to him as the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East—although I do not know whether he is learned until I hear his reply to the debate. But if I were to address him as Sir Geoffrey Howe, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would rule me out of order—although that is what people know him as, just as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford is Geoffrey Lofthouse. Why on earth can we not occasionally use the language of the real world? When we refer to someone as, for instance, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, the commentators who must make our proceedings intelligible to the world outside must say in hushed tones that we are referring to Edward Heath. Our next comments are then lost, because the commentary drowns them.—[Interruption] I am greatly encouraged that there is so much opposition from Conservative Members who want to retain the House as a completely unintelligible club.

What about the nonsensical way in which we ask questions at Prime Minister's Question Time? The Prime Minister is asked to list her official engagements for the day and on Tuesday she said: This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today."—[Official Report, 22 May 1990; Vol. 173, c. 16.] On 10 May the Prime Minister replied to that same question: This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today."—[Official Report, 10 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 392.] I could go on and on. Those answers are a waste of Hansard and a waste of the House's time. Twice a week we have a quarter of an hour of precious moments in which to question the Prime Minister, but each week we have inane questions and answers. I am all in favour of general questions, but not silly ones, and it should be possible to ask specific questions of the Prime Minister.

When the televising experiment comes to an end I hope that we will look more modestly and critically at the way in which we operate. A democracy will not work unless people understand what we are saying and our procedures. At the moment they leave a great deal to be desired and I hope that we shall improve them as quickly as possible.

7 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), if I am still allowed to call him that, closed our proceedings with uncharacteristically acerbic observations. I thought that we could take comfort from the fact that this curious ritual of an Adjournment debate had enabled 18 hon. Members to raise a wide variety of issues in a short space of time, but I fear that I shall be unable to deal with all of them because the time allowed is too short.

With regard to the procedures of the House, the hon. Member for The Wrekin might like to notice that on Monday this week we announced a series of substantial reforms in the procedures relating to European Community matters. Yesterday we received a report from the Select Committee on Procedure which, if accepted, will reduce by 90 per cent. the number of questions tabled and will save about £750,000 a year, on which I look with favour. The hon. Gentleman will also note that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), answering for the House of Commons Commission, today gave an important reply about the work that the Commission has set in hand to review the management of the House. That is not too bad a record.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) discussed National Health Service expenditure. I know that they join me in endorsing the spending on the NHS under the Government. That spending has never been higher. It has gone up by nearly 39 per cent. in real terms since we came into office and it will rise by more than £5 billion in the two years between 1989 and 1991. My right hon. Friend drew attention to the differential rate of expansion between the family practitioner services and hospital and community health services, but there has been an increase in spending on hospital and community health services of 36 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79.

There has been some impact in Leicestershire and elsewhere as a result of the shortfall in land sales and we hope that that will not endure for very long. The Leicestershire district, however, has received an increase of nearly 3 per cent. in real terms in the year in question. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton also asked about borrowing, but I cannot add to what has already been said by the Secretary of State for Health. I am more enthusiastic about the other issue raised by my hon. Friend when he urged those responsible to ensure the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury who unequivocally believes in God. I echo my hon. Friend's wish and I am sure that that proposition will commend itself to many.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) raised two specific issues with characteristic concern. The first related to the position of haemophiliacs infected with the HIV-AIDS virus. I can do no more than refer him to the speech of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health at the conclusion of the Adjournment debate on 9 May when he made plain that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would respond specifically and in considered form to the point which he had raised.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. He will appreciate that following the Adjournment debate on 30 March there has been a change in Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State at the Department of Health. The new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will be writing to the right hon. Gentleman in the very near future with the information that he requested.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) understandably raised the question of the possible equalisation of retirement conditions and used as the basis for his speech the recent judgment of the European Court of Justice. Obviously we need to address that question with increasing effectiveness. I say that with some feeling as the issue has been around for some time. I was part-author of two pamphlets in the late 1960s which commended some progress in this matter. Within her Majesty's Government I can be seen as a reasonably committed advocate of progress towards resolving the question and I shall not allow the issue to be forgotten.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed raised a number of points about the community charge which I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I believe that the House was particularly struck by his argument about second homes, albeit empty, which are required for retirement. It is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman that there is already a substantial discretion with local authorities in that respect. We cannot make any changes this year, but local authorities should exercise their discretion more generously.

The hon. Gentleman also expressed his anxiety about the possibility of a debate on the police regulations laid down in 1990. That anxiety was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward). The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will appreciate that the business that the House debates is that which I announce at business questions, not what might have been discussed through the usual channels. Last week I told the House that there would be an opportunity to debate the regulations. The timing of that debate will remain to be agreed through the usual channels, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, speaking at the Police Federation conference today, said that such a debate will take place after the recess.

Mr. Latham

It could hardly be before it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No, but hon. Members may take some comfort in the fact that it will take place after it.

The hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse) raised a serious matter about the possible impact of changes in the fuel-burning policy of certain industries on employment in the coal industry. He will recognise that the installation of further flue gas desulphurisation plants is one option for meeting the tighter sulphur reduction targets after the turn of the century. It will be for British Coal to convince the generators that the cost and reliability of its product justifies such an investment.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) raised a number of points, none of which impressed me greatly. It is surely entirely proper for my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities to communicate with councillor Pickles, as he communicates with other councillors in his capacity as Minister. It is a curious observation to regard that as somehow improper. The hon. Gentleman had an Adjournment debate on skill centres only last week when his charges were fully answered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Employment.

It is unconstructive for the hon. Gentleman to raise specific questions in the House about Members' interests as the very evidence to which he is referring is being considered by the Select Committee——

Mr. Cryer

It is published.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It may be published, but that does not mean that it is not proper for the Select Commit tee on Members' Interests to consider it rather than for the hon. Gentleman to raise that evidence in bits and pieces on the Floor of the House in a debate of this kind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) made a number of interesting points about bovine spongiform encephalitis. He will know that a number of them were the subject of observations by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the debate which took place on Monday. My right hon. Friend has been giving evidence on that complex subject to the Select Committee on Agriculture today. I hesitate to add my limited stock of knowledge to that already offered by my right hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) made some telling comments about t he extravagance, bureaucracy and inefficiency of Bedfordshire county council. It surprises us not at all because we all know, if we are well informed, that just as Conservative-controlled councils deliver high quality at low cost, so Labour-controlled councils offer poor services for charges which take no account of the charge payer.

In the intervention immediately following, by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), there was a reference which deserves at least some acknowledgement in relation to Battersea power station. The hon. Gentleman will know that a revised planning application is currently with Wandsworth local authority. Clearly, we all want to see the future of the power station resolved as quickly as possible. The hon. Gentleman will know also that county hall was the subject of a public inquiry last autumn. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce his decision when he has considered the report.

Apart from that, the hon. Gentleman's performance—the brash way in which he said, "Down with developers, out with tourists, exit enterprise, in with compulsory purchase orders, in with bureaucracy and up with expenditure", made him a perfect exhibit A in illustration of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) made a sweeping and entirely justified commendation of our nation's history and the importance of studying it. Perhaps he will join me in expressing the hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will be consigned to the scrap heap of that history as an interesting example of Labour man.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (M r. Barnes) raised some characteristically thoughtful points about the registration of voters in relation to the registation of overseas voters. That is taking place in accordance with the legislation passed with the support of both sides of the House. When talking about the level of electoral registration, the hon. Gentleman should remember that in some years it does not keep pace with increases in the population. There are several explanations for the variation, so he should not jump to conclusions about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) made some important points about our record on traffic accidents. Overall, Britain has a better safety record than the European Community, but that is no cause for complacency—our record can and must be improved. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the features in his county. It is particularly important to improve our record in relation to children and pedestrians. I was glad that he made specific reference to the case for greater use of sleeping policemen, or humps, as a means of checking speeds in areas of special sensitivity, not only in village streets but near schools.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who has a distinguished record as an advocate, did not fall short of his own standard of advocacy in making some points on behalf of the people in the Government of Israel. None of us doubts the importance of that country's case for a peaceful and secure existence, but equally we attach importance to the case of the Palestinians for respect for their human rights. As so often before, therefore, we urge the PLO to maintain its commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement and we look to the Israeli Government to move quickly to dialogue and to avoid more violence and bloodshed. If there is one point that I should like to draw from my hon. and learned Friend's speech, it was his reference to a territory for peace. If that is the right basis for a deal, surely it cannot be entirely sensible to increase settlements in that territory which may yet be the subject

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM 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 24th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 5th June.

Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to raise the matter, but surely there are some conventions of the House that should be respected. An hon. Member came into the House shortly before the replies to the debate; he made a speech about a specific point and did not bother to stay for the closing speeches, although they were beginning immediately afterwards. I think that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) should have been more courteous to the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I had not noticed what happened, but I deprecate the fact that bad manners are shown in the Chamber. Common courtesies in terms of our parliamentary behaviour should be upheld at all times. I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) for making the point. What he said, and my comments upon it, will be recorded in the Official Report.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a convention that as soon as documents are published they are open to debate in the House. The Leader of the House implied that somehow, when the Select Committee on Members' Interests published evidence about parliamentary lobbying, it should not have been subject to debate. Surely you will agree that that is entirely wrong, but it is now on the record.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments. As he says, the matter is now in the official record.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not saying that such documents should not as a matter of order be subject to debate in the House. I was merely saying that to introduce them in the casual selective way that they were introduced in the Adjournment debate was unconstructive.

Madam Deputy Speaker

It is a matter for debate.

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