HC Deb 13 May 1991 vol 191 cc21-63

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House, at its rising on Thursday 23 May, do adjourn until Monday 3 June.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

3.33 pm
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)

I hope that the House will be unashamed of the coming recess, and will not fall for any of the modish comments in some of our tabloid newspapers that the House is doing any less constructive work in the country than it does at Westminster.

As the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) will verify, I have used such opportunities before to raise the question of health services in the county of Shropshire. I did that in the context of the funding and impact of the district general hospital that has been constructed at Telford and its consequences for health care elsewhere in the county. I am returning to the subject because many cottage hospitals in Shropshire have lost their traditional role. That is true of the cottage hospitals in my constituency at Oswestry, Newport, Ellesmere and Market Drayton, and it applies more widely in other parts of the county.

The loss of a cottage hospital within the national health service structure in no sense inhibits local communities from wishing to see those premises being used for a caring role in connection with the work of the NHS and the Department of Social Security. Thus, throughout the county of Shropshire—obviously I speak specifically for my constituency—determined actions have been taken to provide the resources and dedication to enable the cottage hospitals to have a continuing and caring role.

The pattern will, of course, be different from what existed before the creation of the Telford district general hospital, but in some senses it increasingly reflects the consequences of the application of the Griffiths reforms in social services. The change has been a great challenge to the communities who have seen their hospitals alter their traditional roles. Those communities have sought to raise the necessary finances to give the hospitals a prolonged and vigorous life.

A constituent of mine, Mr. T. G. Whippey, of 33 Rowan road, Market Drayton, has circulated a letter to all hon. Members co-signed by Mr. K. Cooper from Newport and Mrs. J. Hodgson from Shifnal. Doubtless they will be interested in this debate.

Mr. Whippey was perhaps taking a line from my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who has said, "We want our money back." My right hon. Friend made that assertion in a totally different context relating to our relationship with the European Community. Mr. Whippey, however, feels that the loss of the cottage hospitals has created a challenge, whereby the resources that they represent should be returned to the communities to which they hitherto belonged.

That point was made in the letter circularised to hon. Members which states: Many localities, especially the rural and isolated, have a very real public transport problem in addition to the humanitarian, and, with the frail elderly in mind, expect to retain these units to continue as prior to 1946 Mr. Whippey is referring to the inception of the NHS under the National Health Service Act 1946.

Obviously, I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to answer the specific point that I shall raise in my short contribution, but I very much hope that he will forward it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. That will supplement the letter that I have already dispatched in that direction.

If one goes far wider than the county of Shropshire, there are many areas where hospital closure has inevitably become part of the recasting of the health service. Those affected want a clear statement on the ownership of those properties under the National Health Service Act 1946.

I suspect that, inevitably, that legislation gives a great deal of discretion as to how the resources realised from hospital closure will be used. In that case, I should like a statement of policy on guidance as to the use of those resources from the Department of Health, the district health authority and the area health authority.

The use of the resources realised by hospital closure runs at the very heart of the conduct of the health service and relates to wider considerations within the social services. It is happening within the context of change, where one is frequently seeking a partnership between the public and private sectors. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be seized of the point that, in the disposal of the assets of cottage hospitals, attention should be paid to enabling equitable help to be given to all the voluntary effort that takes place, to ensure that such hospitals remain in caring service, even if they are not within what was formerly the NHS structure.

It would be advantageous if the 1946 Act was interpreted so that the communities that have been stripped of their NHS hospitals can at least expect partnership finance when those hospitals begin a new and caring role. That is not a theoretical proposition; it is a matter of immediate reality in the county of Shropshire, where the changes subsequent to the establishment of the district general hospital in Telford means that a new role is now being sought—overwhelmingly by voluntary effort—for those buildings that performed the role of cottage hospitals.

I cannot believe that their emerging role, which is intended to be a bridge between social security and the national health service and a variety of other interests—and not least between public and private commitments—does not create the opportunity for guidance to be given to encourage the voluntary work now being undertaken in Shropshire. In that way, we should be able to ensure the maximum care and use of buildings that were once national health service cottage hospitals.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

May I take this opportunity to thank the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) for his brief speech. If others follow his admirable lead, all of them will be called.

3.39 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

There are some who think that this short debate ought to have been timed to take place after the Monmouth by-election on Thursday when, we are told by unidentified Whitehall sources as reported in sections of the press, the Prime Minister will finally decide whether to take the plunge and call a June election. Nevertheless, we are asked by the Leader of the House, who is presumably one of the Ministers said to be counselling against a June election, to assume that the period 23 May to 3 June will be one of parliamentary recess and not of electioneering. If the right hon. Gentleman will confide his thoughts to us today, they should be a most interesting feature of the speech with which he concludes this debate.

There are some important issues that I want very briefly to raise and on which I seek an assurance from the Leader of the House that there will at least be ministerial statements before 23 May. The first is that of the very serious effect of value added tax on charities and, in particular, the cost to the Paterson Institute of Cancer Research in south Manchester.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the recent increase in VAT—which is in effect a poll tax surcharge—means that Britain's charities now have to pay an additional £33 million per annum. This brings their total irrecoverable VAT bill to nearly £250 million a year. Some charities are facing an irrecoverable VAT bill of over £1 million a year.

Most of that money will have been donated by caring individuals to help, not the Billy Bunters of the Treasury, but people who are much less fortunate than themselves. The Chancellor spoke in Monmouth last week about "the mugging of taxpayers." His policy on VAT can be described as the mugging of this country's good samaritans, and in no case is this more apposite than the milking by the Chancellor of funds donated to the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research.

The research done by the institute includes new drug development, the use of growth factors in cancer treatment, bone marrow transplantation, the development of a cancer vaccine and the study of heritability of cancer, as well as basic studies on cancer and its early diagnosis. Professor David Harnden, the distinguished director of this renowned and internationally respected institute, told me before the Budget that this research is funded largely by the Cancer Research Campaign. In order to ensure its continuance, it is now necessary to modernise the institute's building to meet the needs of modern technology and current legislation. This work can be carried out over a period of four years with minimal disruption to the institute's work. The estimated total cost in early March was £8.5 million, including some £1.2 million in VAT. The only sources of finance open to me, said Professor Harnden, are charitable funds. In a letter to the Chancellor on 4 March, Professor Harnden wrote: If you agree with me that the present law is unjust, will you introduce new legislation that will remove the liability for VAT from buildings which are built for a charitable purpose and funded with money which has been donated for that charitable purpose? This might just bring completion of my programme within the bounds of possibility. Instead of removing the institute's liability to VAT for work which is of life-saving significance, the Chancellor in his Budget increased the burden from 15 to 17.5 per cent. The institute's bill from the Treasury now rises from £1.2 million to £1.4 million, and I am sure most hon. Members will regard that as totally unjust and disgraceful. I wrote to the Chancellor two months ago, in advance of his Budget, and still await a reply. From the Leader of the House, I now seek an assurance that there will at least be a statement from the Chancellor before the House goes into recess.

The second issue I wish to raise is that of the hundreds of redundancies among Dan-Air engineering staff at Manchester airport. They are a skilled work force of very high standing and, unless action is taken quickly to save jobs, they will soon be scattered.

As the Leader of the House must be aware, unemployment in Greater Manchester is already unacceptably high. The total is increasing and, in direct consequence of the Government's policies, it is set to go on increasing. There, more than anywhere else, we just cannot afford the further loss of skills that will result from the policy now being pursued by the Danish company that recently purchased the engineering side of Dan-Air for the purpose, it is argued, of asset stripping. Not only highly skilled engineers, of long experience, but many apprentices are affected by the new owner's decision to disband the present work force at Manchester airport.

At a recent meeting in the House, my right hon. Friends the Members for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) and for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), together with my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham), for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Bradley), for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) and for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and I, among others, met a large delegation of the people now facing redundancy. They believe that Ministers have a role to play in helping to save their jobs and representations have been made on their behalf to the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Trade and Industry. We have also had contact with the Danish ambassador and now wish the two Secretaries of State to meet a delegation of concerned right hon. and hon. Members to discuss this still further very serious body blow to skilled employment in Manchester.

The delegation from the work force was concerned that not only employment issues, but also legal questions arise from what has been done by the Danish purchaser from Dan-Air and would very much appreciate all the help and guidance that Ministers can offer. Hence my concern, as the Member most directly involved, since Manchester airport is in my constituency, to secure an urgent ministerial response for them either in the House or in a meeting between the two Secretaries of State and the right hon. and hon. Members who wish to see them. I know that the Leader of the House will want to reply to me about this as constructively as he can.

My third issue, which I shall also raise briefly, is the Government's failure to ratify the UN convention about the rights of the child. The Leader of the House will know that there is strong and increasing pressure for ratification in the interests of Britain's reputation in the world and of needful children, not least sick and disabled children, in the United Kingdom and its dependent territories.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have called for ratification without further delay. In doing so, they reflect opinion not only in this country, but among the peoples of Britain's dependencies for whose well-being this House and the Government have ultimate responsibility. If not a debate, there should at least be an early ministerial statement about the Government's intentions before the House goes into recess. That is surely a reasonable request.

The final issue that I want to raise is that of the Government's attitude to NHS patients who were infected with AIDS virus by contaminated blood transfusions, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) has given informed leadership over a long period. His concern, and that of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, is for the plight of road traffic victims and women who have been infected by blood transfusions during childbirth—among others—who now seek compensation for the grievous harm they suffered during NHS treatment.

Graham Ross, the solicitor who speaks for the lawyers of 14 afflicted patients in the north, has said: These are men, women and children who are dying because they were given infected blood. Time is not on their side. About 170 transfusion patients are thought to be infected, and Graham Ross also says: The Government have compensated the haemophiliacs as an act of compassion. I cannot see why that well of compassion should suddenly run dry for transfusion patients whose tragedies are equally real. His inability to see why patients who suffered the same injury cannot be compensated in the same way is shared not only on both sides of this House, but by people of all persuasions all over Britain. I most strongly urge the Leader of the House to promise a ministerial statement on this profoundly moving issue, about which there is now such mounting public concern, before the motion now before the House is approved.

At the same time, I hope that he will tell us the Government's response to the disclosure by The Sunday Times yesterday about patients, not least haemophiliacs, who have been infected with a new and potentially fatal virus, hepatitis C, by blood transfusions. The virus causes liver cancer and kills 700 people in Britain every year. One of those infected is my constituent Peter Mossman, who is a haemophiliac. He is justifiably angry now to have to bear this further burden and also about the Government's refusal to fund a new testing programme at a cost of £10 million. Again, it must surely be reasonable to request an update for the House on the Government's approach to this vitally important issue.

3.51 pm
Mr. William Powell (Corby)

I thoroughly endorse the early sentences of my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). Although certain elements of the media may imagine that, when the House is in recess, right hon. and hon. Members do nothing but go on holiday, nothing could be further from the truth. All hon. Members must strike a balance between our attendance in the House and our presence among our constituents. Our constituents expect us to be present in our constituencies, an not merely bob up and down on television screens for all to see. I, like the overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members, will go through an intensive period of constituency engagements and activities. It is only right and proper that we should have recesses to give us a greater opportunity to do constituency work than is possible when our attendance in London is so demanding.

I very much appreciate the remarks of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about VAT and charities. All hon. Members are associated with certain charities. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks, although directed at specific charities, can be taken in the general context that any rise in VAT would affect charities. I point out to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that charities have undoubtedly been adversely affected by the rise in VAT. I hope that the Government may yet find some solution to the awful fiscal burden that VAT places on them. I know that my right hon. Friend has sympathy with certain charities.

However, in the House I have often referred to village halls, and will continue to do so. The Finance Bill 1989—when my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley), the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was responsible for such matters—did a great deal to alleviate the burden of VAT on village halls. Village halls do much important voluntary work, not only in rural areas such as those which my right hon. Friend and I represent but in urban areas. In 1989, I was surprised and delighted to receive robust support from Opposition Members who represented entirely urban constituencies but who nevertheless had active village halls in their constituencies seeking to raise money for improvements.

As a Member of Parliament from the county of Norfolk, my right hon. Friend will be only too well aware of the enormous sums of money raised to keep historic churches in a proper and proud state of repair. The money has to be raised from somewhere, and VAT must be paid on it. That adds to the burden. I refer my right hon. Friend to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) in the Budget debate. Many of his comments were controversial, but he said that the gap between zero and 17.5 per cent. was perhaps too wide. Sooner or later, the Government will have to come to terms with the fact that the gap between goods and services which are zero-rated and those subject to the single rate of 17.5 per cent. may impose too great a strain on the system. Those are arguments for another day.

As far as I am aware, the main matter about which I wish to speak has not been raised in the House on any occasion. It is exhibitions and exhibition sites in Britain. When we learned history at school, we all learned about the great medieval trade fairs. By and large, such fairs have died out in Britain, although, of course, the small street markets are derived from them. We also have the great national exhibition centres at Earls Court and Olympia in the capital city and the national exhibition centre in Birmingham. But when that provision is contrasted with that in almost all sizeable cities in the rest of continental Europe, one realises that this activity of commerce and trade is paid far too little attention in Britain.

Earls Court and Olympia are aging sites, which will undoubtedly require refurbishment, and that will probably be exceedingly expensive. But we have a few modest exhibition sites in Britain of the type taken for granted in towns and cities of 100,000 people or more in France, Germany and Italy. The trade fairs in those towns and cities attract international trade to the local area and promote the local products. They are almost continuously in session. There is a striking contrast between the number of trade fairs in the cities of Lombardy, Germany or southern France and that in Britain.

We all know about the Ideal Home exhibition, the boat show and the motor show, but there are many opportunities for much smaller trade fairs. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) talked about Manchester airport. The magnet which is most likely to attract trade fairs to Britain is active regional airports. They bring in trade and commerce. There is no doubt that close to airports there are possibilities—if only they can be opened up—to encourage trade and commerce through constantly holding exhibitions one after another in the area. Clearly, Manchester is an ideal position in the north-west for holding fairs to encourage such commerce.

There is no doubt that the opening of the new terminal at Stansted opens up opportunities for the east end of London, Essex and East Anglia. It will bring international business, business men and customers into the area via the airport to attend exhibitions held in the area.

A new national exhibition site should be considered for the royal docks area of docklands and the east end of London. The infrastructure is currently being put in place in the area, where there is remarkably little other development. From Stansted airport, it takes little over 25 minutes on an excellent road system to reach the area. In order to have that sort of activity, it is necessary to have not merely transport infrastructure, but hotels, restaurants and all the other facilities which will make the place attractive to international commerce for its trade exhibitions. I stress that I am talking not about a one-off affair which takes place once a year or every other year, but about sites which can be in continuous use, as happens in continental Europe.

There is no reason why nearly every town and city of 100,000-plus people should not have an exhibition site, which can be used for regional, national and international promotions, surrounded by hotel developments and the rest which are needed to make it attractive. In my area, for example, there is no reason why Northampton, Peterborough and Cambridge should not have exhibition centres which can hold such functions. The truth is that they do not. Indeed, they come nowhere near doing so. Yet a city of about 120,000 people on the continent would take such a facility almost for granted.

Why is it that we do not have such facilities? First, for a long period we have allowed our old mediaeval trade fairs to be run down. That has not happened in continental Europe. Secondly, their development falls between the stools of Government, local government and the private sector, which means that they are never properly co-ordinated and allowed to develop. It would simply not be possible to establish any sort of exhibition centre without the closest possible co-operation between the public and private sectors, not merely over planning, but over the whole range of activities. Obviously, I must be careful' about how deeply I go into the role of central Government through the Department of the Environment, but clearly national policy should have a pump-priming role.

If we were to establish a national exhibition centre in docklands, which would essentially take over from Earl's Court and Olympia—two aging sites which are unsuitably situated in west London—and rival in terms of size and prestige similar centres in Frankfurt and elsewhere, it would cost at least £300 million. That is a sizeable sum, and it would be wrong to expect it to be raised in any way other than through a co-operative pump-priming venture, involving the public and private sectors and, possibly, the European Community. For a more modest exhibition centre in the towns of Northampton, Peterborough and Cambridge, which I have already mentioned—there are many other examples that one could identify, such as bigger cities, including Bristol, Southampton and Leeds, as well as towns of 150,000 people—the investment would be more modest, but substantial sums would have to be raised.

Some in the private sector are capable of running exhibitions successfully and well, but the facilities simply do not exist in sufficient numbers or across a wide enough area. One of the best ways of promoting regional policy would be to enable such facilities to develop in areas which desperately need investment, especially investment in infrastructure such as I am talking about. That is so important.

There is only one other matter which I wish to mention this afternoon. We are in the early stages of having to develop a national and regional strategy for exhibitions, but it must be done. I am aware of that only because I was privileged enough to enjoy an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship in the past year or two. For the first time, I had to think about such matters, and I found that there were big gaps.

Although all hon. Members have had a background in industry or professions such as teaching, we all have a narrow background—it could not be otherwise. I came to the House having spent 15 years at the criminal bar among crime and criminals. I always say that some of my best friends are bank robbers—[Interruption.] Even the careers of Opposition Members have a narrow base, but we must grow beyond those roots.

The Industry and Parliament Trust enables hon. Members who wish to enjoy its facilities, opportunities and privileges to learn in depth about matters that they have not previously considered. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had. I hope that serious consideration will be given to the recent remarks made by the right hon. and noble Lord Prior, chairman of the trust, about how industry must start to make facilities and arrangements available for those who work for it to spend at least some of their careers in public life. He also spoke of the need for adjustments in pension arrangements, and those important points deserve serious consideration.

Although it is right that we should adjourn, it is also right that we should not do so until we have had the opportunity to raise matters such as those mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister and Opposition Members. Once they have been aired in the House, I hope that we shall go off for our Whitsun recess and see our constituents with enthusiasm, and that we shall return renewed by our contact with the real world rather than merely with the gossip of the hothouse that is the Palace of Westminster.

4.7 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Leader of the House will be aware that, on several successive Thursdays, Opposition Members have asked for debates on unemployment. He has continually refused, and I should like to raise the matter before we go into recess. We should have had a major debate on unemployment to enable my hon. Friends to discuss the problems in their areas. We must have one now because, if it is true that we shall have thirteen and a half weeks' recess in July, August, September and part of October, the opportunity for many of us to raise such issues will be reduced. I assume that the reports in the tabloid press are not true and that we shall have more opportunity to discuss the dole queues, not only in relation to the ex-Prime Minister, the right hon.

Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who is shedding tears at having lost one job but who is not on the dole, but in relation to those of our constituents who have lost their jobs.

One thing is certain—unemployment is now a major issue throughout the country. Although some people say that it is now hitting the south and some other regions, it is also hitting the north, Scotland, Wales and parts of the east midlands. In the old coalfield areas, pits and other parts of manufacturing industry are still being closed, despite increased productivity. Unemployment now stretches across the whole country and 69,000 people are unemployed in the south. The service industry has been hit and will continue to be hit until the election and beyond. In districts that we represent in the north and the midlands, many other workers are being thrown on the scrap heap.

Some people talk about unemployment as though the figure were down to 6, 7 or 8 per cent., but we all know that the average figure is about 12 per cent. or more because women who have been in work and have not registered for unemployment benefit should be added. In addition, some miners and others on special schemes are not included in the figure and many young people leave school and go straight on to the Government's slave labour schemes. In total, there are more than 3 million people unemployed at present.

On top of those problems, about three weeks ago I received a letter from constituents in little villages called Pilsley and Stonebroom, where two factories are to close some time in July, with the loss of 180 jobs. I am not talking about a pit or part of the steel or textile industries, which have been hammered in the east midlands and elsewhere throughout Britain—one of those factories is more than 100 years old. The factories have been taken over by a firm called Plaxton's, one of the big three coach manufacturing firms in Britain—the other two are Alexander and Volvo-Leyland.

Plaxton's has taken over the little firms that were manufacturing small buses, mainly for the home market, although they also exported. The Government introduced deregulation and privatised the buses. As a result, many firms are not buying buses and there are now 30-year-old buses trying to move round Britain's roads. Someone in the industry told me that the number plates of some of the buses in London are worth more than the buses. That shows the state of the economy.

Plaxton's took over Reeve Burgess in my constituency and, when the employees assembled in the factory hall the other Thursday, thinking that they were to be praised for massive productivity gains, the gaffer—Matthews of Plaxton's—came along and said, "I am not here to talk about productivity, but to say that the Government's policy of giving aid to buses means that buses are not being bought, so I have got to sack you all."

That was only half the story. The other half is that Plaxton's was also playing fast and loose with the workers at Pilsley and Stonebroom. The owner had another factory at Scarborough, which was not bringing in many orders for its 600 workers. Pilsley and Stonebroom factories were receiving a lot of orders, so the owner decided to "rationalise"—the clever word used nowadays. He thought that he would keep production going at Scarborough by sacrificing the two factories in Derbyshire, with the result that 180 workers will be added to the pile of human misery known as the Tory dole queue.

The Government should intervene in this case, which is nothing short of asset stripping. Why is it that the Government intervene in all sorts of matters when it suits them, but do not do so when 180 workers are to be thrown on the scrap heap, many of whom have worked at the two factories for 30, 40 and, in some cases, 50 years? The Minister has just received a request from the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) to intervene in trade fairs. Why do not the Government do anything about the factories? The Minister says that it is not Government business, but if the coalfield district in which the factories are situated had received the grants of other districts, there is just the possibility that those factories could have survived.

However, the Conservatives do not care about unemployment and never have cared. It is part of their incomes policy to have people queuing up for every job. I am told that, recently, a job vacancy occurred in Huntingdon, the Prime Minister's constituency. Somebody said, "There's a job!" It was a position as a caretaker and people were queuing up for it. That is what unemployment means even in a supposedly plush constituency.

The Government have allowed Rolls-Royce to sack several thousand workers. Their attitude is that they have the whip hand and will give contracts on the understanding that there will be no wage increases, despite inflation of 7, 8 or 9 per cent. Unemployment is a deliberate part of the Government's policy. It is intended to ensure that wage increases are minimised. Thus, 180 people in these two small factories have been thrown out of work, with no possibility of redress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has also been approached by these people, as some of them live in his constituency. He, too, received a petition that was presented to me. Signed by nearly everybody in the villages, it calls on the Government to twist the arm of this fellow, Matthews, the chairman of Plaxton's, in an effort to persuade him to get on with the job of saving the factories so that people will not be thrown out of work.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Plaxton's is a very profitable group. The international edition of the stock exchange year book gives details of its standing. The firm has even taken out a full-page advertisement in that prestigious journal with a view to encouraging people to invest in the area. That confirms what my hon. Friend said—that it is involved in asset-stripping.

Mr. Skinner

There is no doubt about that. Most of the employees have said that the order books were full. Indeed, they expected to be congratulated on having made such a great effort. On going along to the factory, however, they were told that they were about to be sacked, but that the Scarborough jobs would be saved. Those jobs may be safe for a while, but when orders for buses disappear, they, too, will go. Then perhaps Alexander's—one of the other bus manufacturing firms—will go, followed by Volvo-Leyland. It is all part of the Government's policy, but we hope that it will not last much longer. It will certainly cease when the Prime Minister calls a general election.

The Government should do something about such factory closures. What could they do? First, they could encourage firms to start to buy buses. Secondly, some of the buses that are already on the road should be inspected. Many of them are road-unworthy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Unroadworthy."] Yes, unroadworthy. Where I come from, some people, if they got mixed up with a big word, used to say, "Chesterfield". There should be proper inspections to ensure that the buses on the streets of every town and city are fit for people to ride in.

It is time to reverse the grants policy so that factories in these areas, including some old coalfield areas, are enabled to carry on.

A short time ago, I called on the Leader of the House to tell the Department of Trade and Industry that, if it really means business, it should meet the workers of these two factories with a view to their setting up a co-operative. What would be wrong with that? The order books are full. If the workers want to set up a co-operative, why should not the Government help them? Why does not the DTI meet people from Reeve Burgess with a view to helping them to take over some of the units at Stonebroom or elsewhere in the constituency? Those people believe that they could do the job better than Plaxton's.

Unemployment is a big issue. Every Opposition Member knows of factory closures and redundancies that are occurring at present. This is not confined to the south. Yes, the south is being hit. The result of the latest by-election showed that thousands of people who thought that they would not be the victims of unemployment now realise what the Tory Government are up to.

We say that it is time the Government changed their policies or got out, so that someone can come to power who will save the jobs of the thousands who have been thrown on the scrap heap, or who may be thrown on it, and so that we can start rebuilding the manufacturing base of Britain once again with a Labour Government.

4.19 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

I wish to raise three matters which I believe should be discussed before the House adjourns for the spring recess.

The first concerns my constituent Mr. Andrew Croall, who has been suspended from his position as deputy director of Nottinghamshire county social services department. Having held his position for some time, Mr. Croall was suspended following the programme "After Dark", which went out for three hours after midnight on 9 March. It is alleged that his suspension is not due only to that programme, but it certainly relates in part to it.

During the programme, my constituent made a number of comments rooted in his Christian belief, about abortion and child abuse. I do not agree with either of his comments, but I defend absolutely his right to hold and mention those views. His Christianity cannot be divorced from his professional life: nor should it be. There is widespread concern about the case not only in Nottinghamshire but nationally. It has been covered in a number of national newspapers. The first issue raised by the case is that of freedom of speech for my constituent. The second concerns whether there is a conflict between his beliefs as a Christian and his role as deputy director of social services. Doubtless both matters will be discussed by the county council in its internal inquiry, but I have three points to make about that.

First, the county council must complete its inquiry in the usual way. I accept, of course, that it is not for me as the local Member of Parliament to second-guess what will happen in the inquiry, but the council must complete its inquiry and must be allowed to do so. Secondly, the inquiry must be completed as quickly as possible, not least because this is an extremely expensive post—deputy chief of the social services department. I am concerned that someone in such a senior position should be suspended on full pay while so many challenges and important tasks face him in his department.

Thirdly, because of the intense local interest in this matter and because of the broader issues that it raises, I make it clear that if, at the end of the inquiry, I do not feel that my constituent has received his rights, and if I believe that there has been a breach of natural justice, I shall seek to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, to allow me to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Before the House adjourns, we should also discuss the Audit Commission, whose role I had the good fortune to discuss in an Adjournment debate last month. In that debate I mentioned a number of important areas into which its role could usefully be extended. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider the possibility of a full day's debate on the Audit Commission.

The role of the commission and what it has been doing have never generated greater public interest than now. A tremendous amount of that interest stems from the work that the commission does. A recent article appeared in Readers Digest, so I have no doubt that millions of people with bad teeth will be much better informed now about the commission's role. The Audit Commission seeks to promote value for money and quality of service. It also promotes economy, efficiency and effectiveness, primarily in local government and, as from last year, in the National Health Service. But its role is not mainly that of a cost-cutter or cost-saver. It sometimes recommends far greater investment in the services that it examines. One need think only of the maintenance backlog in council housing and hospitals, dealt with by the commission, to remember its specific recommendation of greater investment.

A similar conclusion was drawn from the Audit Commission's work on the police fingerprinting service, so there is no suggestion that it is merely an aim of central Government to try to cut local government spending. The commission seeks to ensure that money is spent in the best interests of the people who are paying for it—local people who pay through local and central Government taxation.

Secondly, the Audit Commission is clearly independent. Eight studies have considered the effect of ministerial directives and guidance on local government. Such work is as painful for central Government as the work that is directed towards local government can be for those who run local services. Included in those eight studies were community care, capital control, homelessness and food safety legislation. The work carried out by the Audit Commission on those wide-ranging subjects is extremely important and needs wider understanding and coverage in the House for the benefit of the broad mass of the population and for the taxpayers who pay for the services that the Audit Commission examines.

"Quality exchange" has been developed by the Audit Commission to consider performance measuring. I hope that the Audit Commission will extend quality exchange and develop quality measures in the national health service as an extension of the role given to it last year in the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. There needs to be greater emphasis on management processes and on the need to adapt work to local circumstances. I am sure that the commission could do that.

Potential savings already identified by the commission are approximately £4.2 billion, but that is perhaps not the most important aspect. Much more important are the value improvements that it identifies and opportunities to save £1,300 million each year have already been identified. The measure of the success of that work is that approximately £662 million of the value improvements have been achieved based on the actions taken by local authorities and based on the local auditor's advice. That means that value-for-money work in local authorities has achieved savings of about 40 times the cost of the work undertaken by the commission. That is a good payback for the taxpayer and the charge payer on the work carried out by the commission.

Two significant independent academic studies of the work undertaken by the commission have been published. One was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Trust and was called "Inspecting the Inspectorates". The main conclusion of the report was that from all the case studies carried out by the trust, the Audit Commission emerged as the only one of the three inspectorates involved whose reports made an impact on the corporate decision-making process of local authorities. That is an extremely significant finding.

There are three points with which I shall end my consideration of the commission. There is a range of activities in which the expertise of the Audit Commission will be extremely helpful in achieving better value for money, such as the courts. There is plenty of evidence that the money spent on the courts is not best spent. There is an accounting black hole in the way in which we judge how money is spent on the courts which could be dealt with by the skills of the Audit Commission.

Secondly, opted-out schools may have valuable lessons to teach schools that have not yet decided to opt out. The commission's skills could also be valuably deployed in connection with housing associations. It is the Government's declared objective—which I strongly support—to increase the role of housing associations in the provision of public housing and to diminish the role of councils. It is important to involve the commission's skills in housing associations so that they may advertise widely the best practice within housing associations to other providers of public body housing while trying to eliminate some of the worst practices.

Another area is the Metropolitan police. The Audit Commission looks at all the other police forces in the country, but not at the Met. I am sure that I am not alone in the House in suspecting that the skills of the Audit Commission, which are deployed so successfully in the provincial police forces, could usefully be deployed in the Met, too. I am sure that no one believes that the Met is more efficient than the forces outside London. It would be valuable progress if the Audit Commission examined the Met as well.

Last weekend, the Prime Minister made an excellent speech in Perth in which he developed his theme for a citizens' charter empowering individuals to get the best out of public services. There is no doubt that the Audit Commission could be a most valuable executive arm for the individual citizen in seeking the best out of local services. The Audit Commission has the grasp, the understanding and the information locally, and its role in developing the concept of the citizen's charter is extremely important. I very much hope that the Government will consider in an open way how the skills of the Audit Commission can be used in that respect.

I am deeply disappointed by the Labour party's plans to set up a quality commission which would emasculate the Audit Commission. Such a move would directly transfer power away from the consumer and the user of the services back to the providers. It would have a bad effect on the work of the Audit Commission and would mean that it could never again be as tough with those who do not provide good value for money as it has been. More importantly, the proposal shows that the Labour party has learnt nothing from the past 12 years or from the past eight years' work of the Audit Commission, which has done so much to promote value for money in local services. I very much hope that the Labour party will reconsider its stance on the future of the Audit Commission.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)


Mr. Mitchell

I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Godman


Mr. Mitchell

I thought that the hon. Gentleman sought to intervene.

Dr. Godman


Mr. Mitchell

I now realise that it was his keenness to follow me.

I want to make a final point——

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

The final point?

Mr. Mitchell

I want to make the final point in this section of my speech about the £20 billion Arthur Daley promise made by the Leader of the Opposition last week. It must be a matter of intense irritation and annoyance to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, that whenever he has tried to get across the point that the Labour party will not allow resources to be put into public spending until the additional resources earned permit, the Leader of the Opposition immediately announces that he is pre-empting all the spending of any extra money available.

The truth is that, when the Leader of the Opposition spoke last week, he pre-empted all of any growth that might be achieved during the term of office of a next Labour Government over five years. That seems to be the economics of Arthur Daley. I thought that it was common practice among all parties that one should not promise to spend money until one has it, but that point does not appear to register with the Leader of the Opposition.

The Leader of the Opposition also showed an unbalanced approach to public spending.

Mr. Skinner

The Tory Government are borrowing again.

Mr. Mitchell

Instead of deciding either to repay some of the borrowing, as suggested by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), or that the tax take should be diminished for the least well-off, the Leader of the Opposition appears to have pre-empted all that and to have said that the whole £20 billion, a figure no doubt plucked from the air, should be put into additional spending on services. I am amazed by that.

It appears that no lesson has been drawn from the fact that higher spending and higher taxation of the well-off diminish the income of the Exchequer. That is the lesson of the past five years and the lesson from the United States, yet the Labour party persists in believing against all the odds that additionally taxing and soaking the rich will lead to an increase in revenue for the Exchequer. Clearly, that is not true.

If one accepts that the Labour party has learnt some lessons from the early 1980s about the loony left and about the difficulties that it has presented in terms of elections, one is still left with the fact that Labour appears to have learnt little about taxation since the 1960s and the early 1970s.

In 1964, Harold Wilson, now Lord Wilson, said: Over the period of a Parliament I believe we can carry out our spending programme without any general increase in taxation". What actually happened was that, between 1964 and 1970, the tax burden on the British people increased by £3,000 million—the equivalent of £3 10s a week for every family, worth £50 a week in current values.

In 1966, Lord Callaghan said: I do not foresee the need for severe increases in taxation". What happened between 1974 and 1979? The basic rate of tax rose by 5p, from 30p to 35p. Personal allowances were cut in real terms, bringing 2.25 million more of the low paid into the tax net. The top rate of tax went up to 83 per cent. The effective top marginal rate of tax on unearned income rose to 98 per cent.

The Labour party is again mouthing the promises of the 1960s and 1970s, using similar wording. Such suggestions repeated in the early 1990s will not fool the British people. Indeed, I am amazed that the Labour party should even consider making the sort of promises that were outlined in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition.

At the last general election, the Leader of the Opposition said that he would increase spending on the national health service by 3 per cent. above the rate of inflation. That was considered to be a remarkable statistic. Over the past four years, the Government have increased it by no less than 3.35 per cent. We have achieved far more than the Labour party promised at the last election.

I do not believe that the fraud that the Labour party is seeking to perpetrate on the British people will be successful. The public will not fall for it. I hope that, before the House adjourns, we shall find time for a full-scale debate on the Labour party's economic promises—especially those made by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech last week—so that the public will be more enlightened about their effects.

4.36 pm
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

I can inform the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) that, in my constituency in 1979, we had an unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent. among an electorate of 84,000. After 12 years of Tory government, with an electorate of 54,000 as a result of parliamentary boundary changes, we have an unemployment rate of 9–7 per cent. I could go on at length about the facilities and amenities of which my constituents have been deprived over those 12 years.

We shall be adjourning for 10 days. An early-day motion, signed by 125 of my hon. Friends, asks the Leader of the House to make time available for us to discuss the financial and administrative decisions of the mid-Glamorgan training and enterprise councils. I have attended the House on numerous Thursday afternoons and have asked the Leader of the House whether he is prepared to make time available for that to be discussed. On each occasion, he has said that Parliament is too busy, that the Government's programme is too full for him to make time for debates on early-day motions.

Some people suggest that early-day motions are not worth the paper they are written on. There used to be an agreement that, if an early-day motion had more than 100 signatures, the matter could and should be considered. It would be a good idea if we shortened the spring Adjournment, or if, between now and 23 May, the Leader of the House found time for a debate on this issue. I do not believe that the Government should have time off for good behaviour or good attendance. They could not even field 100 Members to ensure that the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill—which they supported—was passed. The would not qualify for 10 days off for hard work. Only Opposition Members would qualify for that.

The only major legislation between now and when the Government are prepared to stick out their necks and call an election is the Finance Bill. Why can they not find time to debate some of the issues that I have raised? Opposition Members have raised other issues and will probably raise them again in the debate. I am sure that we would all like a full debate on some of the statements by Cabinet Ministers in Monmouth and elsewhere. For example, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) who is the chairman of the Tory party, claims, as did the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), that Mr. and Mrs. Britain and their two children are better fed and far better off than they were 12 years ago. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that taxes were down, that the national health service was vastly improved, that education was much better and that family incomes were up by a third.

I visited St. Paul's cathedral the other day and saw an inscription about its architect Christopher Wren which reads, "If you seek his memorial, look around you." That is good advice. We should look around us to see whether education and health provision are better, whether taxes are down and whether family incomes are up by a third.

In debates such as this, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) usually speaks about unemployment. Unemployment is escalating in Ogmore, as it is throughout the country, but we do not seem to have time to debate it. When the Secretary of State for Employment or the Secretary of State for Wales give the statistics about unemployment, how many of us recall visits by the unemployed to our surgeries and think about the desperate situation of people who become redundant? More often than not, both husband and wife become redundant. They have mortgages and hire purchase commitments which were taken on because of the Government's repeated belief that there is either no recession or that, if there is, it is bottoming out and that everything in the garden will look lovely. In Wales, unemployment has never looked lovely, and it has got appreciably worse in the last 12 years. The Government seem content to let it escalate further.

The week before last, Rolls-Royce announced that 5,000 people were to be laid off. It appears that there will soon be redundancies at the Ford engine works in Bridgend in my constituency. Last week in Ogmore, a major factory attached to the Crystal Tyler group announced more than 1,000 redundancies.

Our schools have crumbling walls and outside toilets and pupils are begging and borrowing books, or at least begging their parents to pay for them. Roofs leak and ceilings are falling down. School meals are deplorable compared to what they were 12 years ago, and teachers who have spent most of their lives in the profession are deciding to leave it. Some pupils are not being taught at all. What sort of future will there be for the nation if we allow that to continue?

At one time, homeless people were found only in London or in the major cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. Now they are to be found in places such as Bridgend. Some Tory Members smile at my mention of the homeless. They should join me at midnight for a visit to cardboard city under the bridge at Victoria. Such conditions are becoming commonplace throughout the country. Tory Members could ask the people in cardboard city whether they could get a mortgage or a loan to enable them to be housed.

Then we could look at roads and traffic jams and at the thousands of car owners who pay licences to have decent roads but are now travelling by rail and tube, not only from parts of Wales but from the east coast. We recently travelled by train to Eastbourne for a by-election and noted the danger, dirt and unreliability of the system.

Over the past few weeks, I have asked taxi drivers about the current state of business. They told me that there are no tourists in London even though it is the spring season. The major hotels are empty. American and other tourists are not coming, not only because of the cost of hotels but because of rubbish in the streets, parks and playing fields. Street lamps are rarely lit, police are not always available and crime is escalating. Such a city will not attract tourists from America or any other country.

Twelve years ago, the cost of water was included in the rates, and few people realised that they were paying for water or sewerage facilities. Now they understand the meaning of the privatisation of water, because most of them are struggling to pay rising bills. Private organisations and plcs have been established to provide gas and electricity, solely to ensure profit for Tory Members and their friends. We could also look at the profits made by those who invest in the City and at the lot of people who have been evicted from bed-and-breakfast hostels.

Look at the queues for national health service treatment. Perhaps some of us should feel the pain of those waiting for operations, sometimes for years. If one has the cash and can pay £7,500, one can save the life of one's child if it needs a heart operation, provided one goes to an opt-out hospital.

That is what has happened in the past 12 years. Conservative Members talk about what has happened in their constituencies, but they should visit some parts of Wales that have always suffered a depression since the 1920s and the days of the national strike.

I say to the House and the country that we cannot afford to allow the health service to collapse. It was created to ensure that people received medical attention when they needed it. We did not agree to establish a medical service from which people would gain financially.

I am sure that the Government will call an election after Thursday, when I am confident that a Labour candidate will be elected at Monmouth. He will come to the House to prove to the Government that it is time for them to go. It is time for them to call an election, and I hope that it will be sooner rather than later, so that all the issues that I have raised can be put to the electorate.

At that election, 12 years of Tory misrule will be given the heave-ho by the electorate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) will be in No. 10 and we shall have a Labour Government who will share with and care for the community.

4.51 pm
Sir Robert McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

I hope that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I find it a little difficult to endorse his final remarks. However, I am sure that he will welcome the fact that I intend to follow him and his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) by referring to unemployment.

I hope that my tone will prove to be a little less hectoring than that of the hon. Member for Bolsover. The focus of my speech will be more specific than that of either Opposition Member, as I wish to discuss white collar unemployment. That phenomenon, if that is the correct word, has emerged during the current recession to a far greater extent than it did during the previous economic downturn of the 1980s.

I make no apology for raising this subject. My constituency is situated about 25 miles from the City of London and we have virtually no industry. However, the administrative and clerical headquarters of the Ford motor company is situated in my constituency. Unfortunately, it recently announced that many hundreds of jobs are likely to go in the next few years as a result of computerisation.

About 70 per cent. of my working constituents commute every morning to the City of London. They are predominantly employed in the service industries. In the I 980s the service sector over-expanded, but there can be no doubt that it is now facing an economic downturn.

The 1980s were characterised as the decade of the yuppie, excess and the unacceptable face of the City. However that may be, and apart from the opportunities that were available to the yuppies in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of my constituents were then able to obtain employment in the City in a variety of menial jobs. Those opportunities have now been replaced by difficulties, especially for those leaving school, who look to the City of London, as my constituents have done for many years, for employment.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy in giving way. Presumably when his commuting constituents are made unemployed they register at the local unemployment offices. How great has been the increase in unemployment in his constituency? In my constituency, unemployment is now approaching 13 per cent., which is dismally high.

Sir Robert McCrindle

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not has high as that, not least because one of the effects of the downturn in the City of London—largely brought about by increasing costs in the City—has been a certain decentralisation.

On a net basis, my young constituents are not presented with as many employment opportunities in the service industries as in the past, but some such opportunities are being recreated in my constituency. It is important to draw attention to the net effect of the economic downturn in the City, but I suspect that it is not as extreme as that in the constituency of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). I suspect that most of that unemployment stems from industry rather than commerce.

About 40 per cent. of the current increase in unemployment has occurred in the service sector-dominated south-east. In 1990 about half of company liquidations also occurred in that region. It is important to stress, however, that many of those liquidations and a good deal of the unemployment stem from industry, including, for example, manufacturing and construction. However, whereas the number of service-sector company liquidations during the 1980s recession was small, the same cannot be said now.

The service sector has been hit harder than the manufacturing sector and hit twice. It has been hit by the general economic downturn, a fact which we must now concede, and by a deep structural downturn. As a result of the big bang on the stock exchange a few years ago, we are arguably a good deal more efficient, but it is easy to overlook the fact that machines have tended to replace people. I appreciate that that has been happening in industry and commerce for a long time, but the impact of the downturn in employment in the City has been considerable.

It is also important to take into account the emerging challenge from Europe. I suspect that most hon. Members welcome that challenge, but, whereas the City was once pre-eminent in banking, insurance and investment services, it is now facing great competition from the European centres of Paris, Milan and Frankfurt. The natural economic downturn resulting from the recession has combined with a structural downturn. It is difficult to know how to address that problem.

I believe that the overall demand for some services will decline in the next few years. There is no doubt that that decline has already occurred in house building. I accept that that, in itself, is not a service industry, but such construction is reflected in the demand for mortgages. Many of my constituents are employed in banks and building societies. We all hope that, as a result of the Government's present economic policies, the demand for housing will grow in the near future to relieve the problems now experienced.

There has also been a substantial downturn in recent months in the tourist industry. Once again, it is to be hoped that, as the standard of living of the British people returns and as the international recession begins to fade, people will again begin to enjoy tourism, with more of them coming from abroad to enjoy tourism in this country. There is one way in which the Government could be of considerable assistance to the service industries.

Recently they have advanced, through the Secretary of State for Employment, a relatively small sum of money to encourage the tourist industry.

I am most grateful for what they have done, but I believe that there should be a major marketing campaign to try to revive the tourist industry, which is so important to this country in terms of invisible exports and the balance of payments. I hope that a far more substantial sum of money will be made available, provided—this will, I think, be echoed by my right hon. Friend—that the tourist industries are prepared to match, I hope pound for pound, all the money that the Government make available.

Britain's recession and our entry into the exchange rate mechanism have led to a sustained period of high interest rates to control inflation. That must be right. I have no quarrel with the policy that the Government have followed. In turn, that has led to a prolonged squeeze on domestic demand and that, in turn, has affected a number of service industries. When the general standard of living is not rising, as it has throughout most of the period during which the Government have been in office, people tend to put off the purchase of insurance and other forms of investment. Once again, it is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Government's succeeding in beating back inflation and restoring a rising standard of living—the single most important contribution that the Government can make to the restoration of the prosperity of the service industries.

The hon. Members for Bolsover and for Ogmore concentrated, understandably, on the manufacturing industries, but growth in the manufacturing industries will overtake that of the service industries towards the end of this year. Some people say that it will stay that way until at least the mid-1990s. That is welcome news for the manufacturing industries, but I have always felt that a balance between manufacturing industries and service industries is the way for a truly effective economy to proceed. Therefore, I hope that I may be permitted to say that it would be unfortunate if we did not manage to sustain the rate of growth that we achieved during the 1980s in the service industries.

I accept that, if service sector companies are to survive, they will have to adjust. The pattern of tourism is changing. The demands in terms of investment, banking, savings and insurance are changing. I do not wish to give the impression that there is a magical way in which the Government can assist, but my reason for raising this important subject is that it has been all too easy to overlook the fact that there is white collar unemployment in this country. That is because it is a relatively new phenomenon. It is very easy, therefore, for the Government's efforts to be directed towards improving the position of manufacturing industries and for them to overlook the fact that they also need to turn their attention to the service industries.

There is concern about takeovers and mergers. I concede straight away that some people in the City benefit greatly if they are employed by a European company that wishes to make a particular takeover, but there is considerable concern among others who are employed in companies that are likely to be the subject of takeovers. That trend is likely to increase rather than decrease in the services sector as we approach 1992. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would be well advised, therefore, to look again at the policy on mergers, monopolies, takeover bids and the like.

I am not alone in believing that in present circumstances it seems to be extremely easy for a German, French or Italian company to make a successful takeover bid for a British company, whereas it remains extremely difficult for a British company to do the same in reverse. If that is even remotely so, we are a long way from the level playing field that I have always felt is the sine qua non of a successful 1992.

I have deliberately chosen to address the House on one subject that is of considerable concern to me and to the 70,000 people whom I represent. I note with approval the Government's current advertising campaign relating to unemployment. I have no quarrel with that campaign, but, try as I may, I can find little in their advertising approach that is of great interest to those of my constituents who, in the past, would have had no difficulty in finding clerical or administrative employment in the City of London.

The Government's advertising campaign seems to me to be focused substantially on unemployed people who are seeking employment in manufacturing industries. I do not wish to suggest that that should not be so, but it is symptomatic of the fact that, because we are unaccustomed to white collar unemployment, we tend to overlook the problem in the service industries.

I use this opportunity, therefore, to draw to the attention of the Treasury Bench the very real need to take account of the growing problems in the service industries. White collar unemployment, I repeat—I think for the third time—is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. It affects, in particular, my constituency and a good many other constituencies around London and large provincial cities.

There is not one simple policy change that would make the problem disappear, but I respectfully suggest to the House, and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that by recognising that the problem exists and taking account of it in the policies that we evolve, particularly the advertising campaigns that we are directing towards assisting the unemployed, we shall make the country, and my constituents in particular, feel that their needs, as unemployed people, are just as important as those of people who are seeking re-employment in the manufacturing industries.

5.7 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I wish to follow up one point to which the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle) drew our attention—the huge increase in white collar unemployment. Before I do so, however, I should point out that, before the House goes into recess, there should be a ministerial statement on what was said by Mr. Bernard Ingham over the leaking of the Solicitor-General's letter. Some may say that that happened five years ago and that it is irrelevant and a matter of no great concern. I do not accept that; nor do my right hon. and hon. Friends. What happened was totally unjustified. The House will remember that the Attorney-General was absent and that the Solicitor-General was in charge. He wrote a confidential letter—certainly confidential, to say the least, within the machinery of Government. That letter was leaked to the Press Association. I cannot possibly accept, therefore, that it is of no consequence at all and can be dismissed.

Last night, Mr. Bernard Ingham denied that No. 10 was in any way involved. Responsibility was clearly laid on the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Mr. Ingham did not say so, but that was his clear implication—that the person who did the leaking was Sir Leon Brittan. If only to clear up the honour and integrity of Sir Leon Brittan, the Government have a responsibility to make a statement, and to do so before we go into recess. What came out last night was official confirmation—if one likes, for the first time—of the rather murky way in which so much was undertaken during those years when Bernard Ingham was the chief press officer at No. 10 Downing street.

Although the Leader of the House was not apparently a victim, it might be of interest to him to learn that Bernard Ingham confirmed the rubbishing of Ministers. One of the prominent casualties of that rubbishing was the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who initiated this debate. It could be said that another right hon. Gentleman who was rubbished and humiliated in a manner that no one in Government should find acceptable certainly had his revenge. He is not present in the Chamber now, but we know what happened as a result of his revenge.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Did my hon. Friend notice that Bernard Ingham also said: I told Bowe that I had to keep the Prime Minister above that sort of thing"? Does that not show that he was quite aware, as a senior civil servant, of crooked misbehaviour?

Mr. Winnick

I tend to agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that he would agree that any attempt to blame another civil servant—Colette Bowe—would be totally unacceptable. I hope that that is clearly understood.

I draw attention however to the continuing job losses in the west midlands. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar was right to refer to the increase in white collar unemployment. I have been involved for many years with a union that organises white collar employees. White collar unemployment is not necessarily a new phenomenon. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar that the escalation in the number of white collar unemployed is new. White collar workers in the south-east used to think that they would have reasonable prospects of obtaining other jobs if they were made redundant, but that is no longer the case. Getting another job is now far from easy and no doubt the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar understands what has happened to so many of his constituents.

Between August and October last year, there were notified redundancies at 27 establishments in the west midlands. Between last November and April this year there were notified redundancies at 80 establishments. I have referred to "notified" redundancies, but the figure is likely to be higher. Between November and April, there were nearly 10,000 redundancies in the metropolitan part of the west midlands.

The number of redundancies is bad enough, but in many cases plants have been closed as well. I have a list of the redundancies that have occurred over the period to which I referred and that list includes the names of firms that have decided to close down. The majority of the job losses in the west midlands were in engineering and the causes in most cases were falling orders and a drop in demand. No one can claim that the latest recession has not bitten deeply in the west midlands.

What worries many of us who have the honour to represent west midlands constituencies is that we are approaching almost the sort of situation that existed 10 years ago. As the House is aware, there were large-scale redundancies and many factories were closed, never to re-open. Far too many people lost their jobs and were unable to find other jobs for a considerable period. The Government said at the time that those circumstances were necessary. They said that it was a one-off and that it had to happen to shake out manufacturing industry and over-manning.

The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) gave a much publicised interview last week in which she referred to the difficulties of adjusting to losing her job as Prime Minister. I can understand that an ex-Prime Minister might find it difficult to adjust, particularly given the circumstances in which the right hon. Lady—most likely to her surprise—found herself out of No. 10 Downing street. However, what about people who have been made redundant recently, or indeed those who were made redundant 10 years ago, who are left with no job at all? I in no way underestimate the difficulties of young people, but 40-year-olds and 50-year-olds who are made redundant may also be discriminated against because of their age and may never be able to work again. That is certainly tragic.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Over the past few months, the Conservative party has painted itself as the caring party, and Conservatives have said that they are interested in elderly people and in the community. Given their track record and the way in which they treated their former heroine and dumped her so cynically, what credibility do they have when they say that they care?

Mr. Winnick

Perhaps I am being unfair to Conservative Members, but they seem first and foremost to care about themselves. Perhaps I am being unduly cynical, but Conservative Members will know whether I am right or wrong.

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar may be aware that I tried to introduce a Bill that would have made unlawful advertisements for jobs in which there was a reference to age. However, the Government decided not to support it. The Government do not appear to be too concerned with the difficulties facing the people to whom the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar and I have referred, whether they be manual or non-manual employees. People who are made redundant and have tremendous difficulty finding other jobs live on a pittance and when they retire, their occupational pensions are reduced as a result of their redundancy. We should not underestimate that factor.

We need a strong manufacturing base now as much as we needed one in earlier years. Manufacturing investment has fallen below the level that existed when the Conservative Government took office in 1979. Investment overall—not just in manufacturing—is forecast to fall by 10 per cent. during this year. That is hardly good preparation for 1992 and the single market.

I know someone in the House—not a Member—with a rather clever contraption comprising a watch with a calculator attached to it. As I come from the west midlands, one would expect me to ask him whether it was made in the United Kingdom. He said, "You must be joking." We have reached a sad state when so much new technology is manufactured abroad and imported into this country. Some no longer believe that we can produce such goods, but of course we can. We still have the talent. We were the first country to industrialise with all those skills in the west midlands. Unfortunately, so much has gone by the way and our forecast in 1979 that the Government were out to undermine manufacturing industry has unfortunately proved all too true.

The Government have failed manufacturing industry, and they have failed the west midlands. No doubt the Prime Minister will take into account the local election results and what happens in Monmouth later this week before he decides the date of the next general election. However, when it comes, it will be the duty and responsibility of Labour Members and candidates to explain to the country what has happened and describe the failure of British industry and manufacturing industry in the west midlands and throughout the country in the 12 years of this Tory Government.

5.18 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

I speak in this debate as a Scot by birth and upbringing and as a Welshman by political adoption. There are not nearly enough Celts on the Conservative Benches, as I am sure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House would agree—even if he cannot agree with anything else that I am about to say. Indeed, there are not many representatives of Scottish or Welsh constituencies on the Conservative Benches. They number a mere 16 out of a total parliamentary party of 369. Disraeli's oft-quoted remark comes to mind: The Tory Party, unless it be a national party, is nothing. Although we obviously have the numerical authority to govern, it is increasingly questioned whether we have the moral authority to do so. That will cease to be questioned only when we have a much broader geographical spread on this side of the House and reasonable parliamentary representation in Scotland and Wales. Too often, the Conservative party in both countries is seen—justifiably seen—as no more than the branch of a predominantly English party without its own distinctive identity, even though, in Scotland, the Conservative party has its own separate organisation.

It has been my belief, and one that I have consistently held for over 20 years, that we as a party should pursue and implement a policy of parliamentary devolution. When I first contested a Scottish parliamentary constituency 17 years ago, that policy was supported by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Scotland and by his predecessor, although of course both have done a volte face since.

Whether they like it or not, devolution is now back on the political agenda. Indeed, the word is occasionally now uttered from the Treasury Bench, which, a few months ago under the previous Prime Minister, would have been a capital offence. Yes, devolution is back on the agenda, and it is back because the Government have put it there.

Even the most ardent devolutionists had to accept that, as long as we had so many tiers of local and national Government—town and community councils, district councils, county councils, the Westminster Parliament and the European Assembly—it was difficult to argue for yet another tier. The local government review—the near-certainty of single-tier authorities within the foreseeable future—changes everything.

As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will know from recent opinion polls in Scotland, the vast majority of Scottish people—83 per cent. in the most recent—want an Assembly or even more than an Assembly. I am sure that even he will agree that that is well without the margin of polling error. There is also a considerable majority for devolution in Wales. As a party we must respond to the aspirations and needs of the Scots and the Welsh. I am not alone in saying so. Mr. Michael Hirst, the former hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden and president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association, said last week: It is essential that we have the widest ranging debate possible on this issue. Mr. John Mackay, the former hon. Member for Argyll and Bute, former Scottish Office Minister, former chief executive of the Conservative party organisation in Scotland and now ennobled in the recent list of working peers—all Conservative Members will welcome his return to Parliament—said: Public opinion in favour of devolution cannot be ignored. We cannot ignore the debate that is taking place in Scotland and we have got to take part in it. Mr. Struan Stevenson, one of our liveliest parliamentary candidates north of the border and prospective candidate and next Member for Edinburgh, South—[Laughter.] Opposion Members may laugh, but they will be laughing on the other sides of their faces when they hear that result in the next election. What I am saying is borne out, as they know, by the local election results just a week ago. Mr. Stevenson said: We must admit that we have been wrong to shut our ears to the demands from Scotland for more self-government. As Conservatives, we believe in one nation, in a united kingdom, but we must recognise that the major strength of the United Kingdom is the variety of the different parts that constitute it. Each must be allowed to make its own distinctive contribution that will strengthen, not weaken, the whole. That will strengthen, not weaken, the union. The identities of Scotland and Wales, as all hon. Members know—I am glad to see so many Scottish Members opposite listening closely to my remarks—are rooted in different cultures, geography and history, quite separate from those of England.

Scotland has its own judiciary and legal system, its own Church and educational system. Wales has its own language and highly distinctive culture. There is something inconsistent and illogical in the present British Government's concern about the possible loss of sovereignty, in European monetary and political union, while ignoring the demand for greater sovereignty from countries that actually constitute the United Kingdom.

The English may see Europe as a threat to their national sovereignty. The Scots and the Welsh see Europe as an opportunity to give new hope and fresh life to their own national identities, to bring about not a dilution, but a strengthening, of their sovereignty.

The extent of constitutional change already brought about by developments within the European Community is hardly appreciated in this House, let alone in the country. That process is bound to be accelerated by the treaties that will follow the two intergovernmental conferences that are currently taking place. We in this House, in our parliamentary institutions and governmental system, must adapt to that.

There is nothing heretical or anti-Conservative about devolution. Historically, this party played a principal role in the establishment of the Scottish Office and in the creation of the post of Secretary of State for Scotland.

Decentralisation, diffusion and the dispersal of power and control are central to Tory philosophy. We have only to look at current policies to see that philosophy at work. In education, the local management of schools is devolving, from the local education authorities to the schools themselves, to the headmaster, to the teachers, to the governing bodies, the actual running and financial management of schools. In the health service, with self-governing hospitals, there is devolved, from health authorities to doctors and to nurses in the front line, the actual management and running of hospitals. If we can have devolution in education and in health, I do not see why we cannot have it also in government and in our parliamentary institutions.

If we also believe that education and health require such radical reform less than 50 years after the last major education reform, and less than 50 years after the NHS was set up, surely the institutions of government and of parliament itself might merit similar treatment. We have clung to the Victorian vision of the unitary state and its institutions, which are no longer capable of delivering efficient government or the effective scrutiny of Government. We cannot cling to institutions that have hardly changed since that time and leave them fossilised as they are. Our constitution surely should not be frozen in one moment of time but must be allowed to evolve. It is capable of improvement. We should look to the experience of many of our European allies and learn from their constitutions what might serve us well here.

Devolution would increase democratic control and the accountability of Ministers and civil servants. If we can agree on nothing else—I think we agree on quite a lot—Scottish Members on the Opposition side of the House will share the frustration we experience in Wales in monitoring and scrutinising not only legislation but also the decisions of Ministers. They have no Scottish Select Committee. We, fortunately, have a Welsh Select Committee, but even Select Committees and Grand Committees are not sufficient for the purpose of checking the Executive. We need far more time to debate Scottish and Welsh issues on the Floor of the House, but we never get it.

Westminster hardly faces a light load of work. Year in and year out, we are faced with heavy legislative programmes that are barely digestible and are spewed out at each Session's end, after insufficient debate and scrutiny. There is never sufficient time for the debate of European directives and issues on the Floor of the House. We are now dealing with the complex, highly technical legislation of the 1990s with a parliamentary machinery that has barely changed since the 1890s.

During this Parliament, the Government have made radical proposals for the reform of education, requiring much higher standards of teachers. We have made radical proposals for the reform of the health service, requiring greater efficiency and better value for money from doctors and nurses. We have carried through a major reform of the legal system to bring the legal profession up to date. As a Government, we are ready to tell everybody else how they can and should do their job better. Yet our system of government, of parliamentary democracy, more inefficient, more ineffective and more desperately in need of reform than all those professions put together, remains untouched.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said last week that devolution would undermine the stability of the United Kingdom. It would not. What would undermine the stability of the United Kingdom is if we did not listen and respond to the legitimate desires and demands of the vast majority of the Scottish and Welsh people.

5.29 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

We are debating a motion that we should adjourn for a week for half-term. Some of us wish that we were adjourning for a general election, although that wish might not be universal. The reason why I wish that we were about to have a general election is that, in the past 11 years, we have never had a Government who had the majority support of the British people. Until we force a constitutional change, we shall not have a Government who have the majority support of the British people. As long as we continue to have minority Governments, we shall continue to have elected dictatorships who tyrannise the country and act against the popular view. I hope that, whenever it comes, the election will enable that change to take place and that the movement towards fair votes and electoral reform will at last force this place to be a democratic assembly.

In the meantime, there are certain matters of which it would be useful for the public to be aware before Parliament rises towards the end of next week. Some of the issues have been alluded to. They are the subjects of the most current topical debate. They are how well the economy is doing, what the Government are doing about the education service, what they are doing about the health service and the facts and figures about the economy, our education and our health. I shall comment on these matters at the local and the national levels.

I wish to start at the local level. The other day, I attended, in my capacity as president, the annual general meeting of the Southwark chamber of commerce. I have never before heard an outgoing chairman make such political comments—political with a small "p". In his address, he said: The way the government and the banks have handled things is like throwing a drowning man a lead lifebelt. That was a man who had worked in a local firm for many years. It was an engineering firm which had been in Southwark for almost a century. His firm went into liquidation only a few weeks ago.

Fewer than five people at that meeting believed that the recession was bottoming out or that we were coming out of it. The rest of the Southwark business community represented at the chamber of commerce meeting believed the opposite. That is not surprising, because, although it is true that unemployment was falling until a year ago, since then lit has increased considerably in inner London. I listened to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle) speaking on behalf of Essex commuter employees. Unemployment has increased by nearly 25 per cent. in the last year in constituencies such as mine. The position is no different in other inner-London and dockland constituencies either.

There is no doubt that the economy is not in good shape. Neither is there any doubt that at local level the education service is not in good shape. Many of our schools are in great need of capital spending for repairs. Many of our schools face great difficulty in recruiting, and even more difficulty in retaining, teachers. We still have no guarantee that the service can meet anything like the needs that exist. Swimming pools are being closed. Swimming lessons are being prevented. The youth service is being decimated. Youth club provision, which is part of the non-statutory education service, is being reduced wholesale in many parts of inner London. The budgets for our youth services have been reduced enormously.

Our state and county education systems, now administered in inner London by the borough councils, are in a desperate state. At the same time, favoured islands of opportunity receive huge sums of government money. In one corner of my constituency a city technology college receives about £10 million of government money. That is about 10 times the capital which all the other schools in the London borough of Southwark put together receive. That £10 million is for fewer than 1,000 pupils out of a total youth population in a borough of 225,000. That is a gross imbalance.

To cap it all, only two weeks ago, with timing that could only be described as inept, the Lewisham and Guy's hospital trust announced cuts. One of the ironies about the announcement made in the second part of April was that the Guy's and Lewisham Trust News was edited and produced by a company called Healthy Relations Ltd. If it is healthy relations or healthy public relations to announce in such an inept way cuts of £6.8 million and a further saving of £6 million and cause a political earthquake such as that which followed, "healthy relations" has a new meaning.

When the health authority handed over responsibility to the trust on 1 April, it did so without being certain that there would not be further cuts. I and other local Members of Parliament from both sides of the House met the health authority last Friday. It told us that it did not know that the budgetary cuts that had since been announced would be the total and final result. Furthermore, it had not subsequently met as a health authority to say that it was satisfied that it would be possible to provide the same level of health care as had been promised before the cuts.

Much of the local community, if not all of it, does not believe that it is possible to cut £6.8 million and take a further £6 million out of a budget of £128 million—that is 10 per cent.—with a potential loss of 600 jobs, to be announced later this month, without affecting the service. We believe it even less when, on asking how the authority will judge how effective the service is, we are told that it will be judged by the throughput of the patients. We all know that it is possible to kick patients out of beds sooner but that the patients do not necessarily have better care. That is against a background of bed cuts.

The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and I and others also attended another meeting at which it was confirmed to us that in the South-East Thames region the inner London health authorities have suddenly been told that the indices of deprivation by which we have traditionally had our funding adjusted to take account of the unarguable extra difficulties of inner urban areas have been removed and replaced by criteria that do not allow for any such compensation for the difficulties experienced in our part of the world.

I do not find it surprising that I have received only a holding answer to a parliamentary question that I asked on 2 May when I requested figures on the number of beds available to NHS and private patients in Guy's, King's College and St. Thomas's hospitals and in each of the three relevant health authorities. I asked for the number of beds to be listed for each financial year since 1979. I wonder whether the Government will ever find a time when they will find it possible to print the answer without being gravely embarrassed.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

To be fair to the regional health authority, we were told that there was some good news. It was that, with mortality rates rising, we might receive more money.

Mr. Hughes

The hon. Gentleman is right. He and I remember that, on other occasions when we have raised anxieties about the Government's underfunding of the health service in inner London—it was not a single party issue—the most famous reply that we have been given is that we might have cause for complaint, but the chairman of the local authority was bullish about the prospects. Someone lying in a corridor for three days in King's College hospital might feel somewhat less bullish about the prospects of the health service being safe in the Government's hands.

To compound the announcement of cuts, we now know that a massive amount is being spent on new management jobs in the health service. The BMA News Review of March 1991—I had better be careful with the quotation and make sure that there is no uncertainty about the source—contained an article bearing the headline: £80 million management explosion It said: The amount the NHS spends on administrators' salaries seems likely to go up by at least £80 million this year as a direct result of the government's reforms … during the six months from May to October last year, health authorities advertised for almost 1,800 new staff to fill administrative posts. That is only administrative posts. The article went on: This is almost six times the £14 million which the Government promised in December to cut juniors' hours and twice the £35 million which the Health Secretary put towards cutting waiting lists in January. In South-East Thames region alone, 140 new administrative posts were advertised between May and October. Clearly, the economy, education and health are unsafe in the Government's hands.

At a national level, the current row about public spending commitments which features daily on our television and radio programmes, must leave the public bewildered. The Government are defending an education service, a public transport service and a health service which everyone, from professional to lay person, knows is underfunded. The Government expenditure programme in this year's Red Book makes it clear that although, suddenly, in the run-up to the general election, they are investing more money in the health service, in the years after 1991–92 the increase will drop substantially.

The Labour party, in the same breath as attacking the Government's record—I join it in that—rules out tax increases and makes spending commitments about which even it does not sound convinced. The Labour party says that it will spend extra money that will exist only if the Conservatives reduce taxation to 20p in the pound. We now also learn that that is less than the Government themselves budget to spend. The Labour party says that it is worried that the Government will fund that extra spending from increased value added tax.

If Labour Members are so worried about that, why did they not vote with us against the last VAT increase? In reply to the Government, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) says that his party would not be willing to provide more funds for the health service unless there is economic growth. That will not reassure people in hospitals, such as Guy's and Lewisham or anywhere else.

Before the House rises next week, the public would benefit from knowing the policies of all three parties and how they propose to fund those policies. We say unequivocally that we need to spend more on public services and we are sufficiently realistic to say also that, if necessary, we shall raise taxation to pay for that. We are in no doubt about that. A penny on the pound would go to education. That will release extra resources for the health service. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] Yes, an increase in taxation from 25p to 26p in the pound would provide extra money which would be devoted entirely to education and training. Therefore, it will not be necessary to redirect existing money to education because extra education spending would be funded from new income. [Interruption.] The Government have stated clearly that they will not ask people to pay more. Indeed, they still have a policy of reducing taxation to 20p in the pound.

It is clear that Tory Members are worried about that. I have been to Monmouth, as I know some Tory Members have, and certainly the electors there are worried about it. They are looking to the three parties for answers to the questions: are the parties willing to spend more and to ask people to pay more? If the public get that information from the three parties before we adjourn, the position will be clearer. Certainly, the public would be clear that only one party says that it will spend more and is willing to ask people to pay more as well.

5.43 pm
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

During my speech, I shall make some comments which may seem unkind about the Labour party's taxation policy, but, having heard the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expound what may be called the Paul Daniels approach to taxation——

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

Paul Daniels is much better.

Mr. Hughes

My right hon. Friend says that Paul Daniels is much better. All I ask is that anybody who considers the taxation policies of the different parties, particularly the electors in Monmouth, should study the hon. Gentleman's words. What a lot of nonsense and double accounting. His party must come up with something more substantial than that to convince anyone of its policies.

I have been impressed by hon. Members on both sides talking about their worthy projects for the recess, should we agree to this motion. They have told the House what they will do in their constituencies and what they will find out about. I intend to reintroduce myself to my daughters and to remind my family who I am.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Why should they suffer?

Mr. Hughes

My daughters are young ladies of eminent good taste and seem to enjoy my company. They just cannot remember when they last had it.

The first of two matters which I wish to raise in this debate is serious and affects constituents of Members on both sides of the House. Racial attacks are not new. Part of the problem is that they do not affect many people, yet those who are affected are affected severely. The problem is brought to mind particularly because of reports of racial attacks in the Thamesmead area and the death of an Asian over the weekend.

I am talking not about the odd attack here and there, but about systematic attacks on Asian and coloured people by a small number of white people. The Asian community fear that, if they talk too much about the attacks, they will be thought to be whingeing and not wholly wedded to life in this country, and that that will somehow instigate further attacks. There is some justification for all those feelings, but there is no justification either for the way in which many people have ignored racial attacks or for believing that this is not a major problem for many Asian and black people.

Before the recess, we should debate an idea which was proposed some 11 or 12 years ago by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, but which has never been adopted. It is simple, but it has merit. The suggestion is that a racial attacks squad should be set up in Scotland Yard. After all, we have a serious crimes squad, a serious fraud squad, a drugs squad, a pornography squad, a murder squad and doubtless several others. Why should we not also have a racial attacks squad?

We have those centres of expertise in Scotland Yard because a local police unit, comprising a chief superintendent running police officers, cannot be reasonably expected either properly to investigate repeated racial attacks or to deal with the problems of the families who are subject to such attacks, without recourse to a centralised unit which has knowledge of and can co-ordinate what has been happening, and the necessary expertise. The matter should come before the House because it is of enormous concern to many of my constituents and to many constituents of other hon. Members in their daily lives. We should be failing in our duty if we did not point out to the police and the Home Office that more can be done and that we expect more of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) said that the Labour party's economics were those of Arthur Daley, and that analogy stands up. However, it is well known in the Labour party but less well known in the Conservative party that they are not the economics of Arthur Daley but rather those of "Only Fools and Horses" —[Interruption.] Labour Members should be patient. They reveal that they know what I am going to say, and it is rather embarrassing for them. Members of the Labour party and the national executive committee have nicknamed the leader of the Labour party "Rodney" and the shadow Chancellor "Del Boy", because of the nickname that Del Boy has for Rodney, and that is how they are known in the House. Anyone who has ever watched the television programme will know that it is not a flattering nickname. The wry smiles on the faces of Opposition Members show that they, too, have heard that and are rather embarrassed.

We must examine not what the Labour party says but what it writes. It recently produced a document entitled "Opportunity Britain", which the House should debate because it contains over 100 spending proposals. They are not all bad—many are desirable—but we do not know what they will cost. One has only to listen to Labour Members in the Chamber or speaking on amendments in Standing Committees, or to share a platform with a Labour Member, to see that every problem is met with a promise of new money. To an extent, everyone knows that the promise is unsustainable.

There has been much talk about unemployment, and the problem is taken seriously on both sides of the House. However, we did not hear much from the Labour party when unemployment fell for 40 consecutive months. The Labour party seemed to forget about it then; it seems to be a problem only when unemployment rises. The Opposition know that their proposal for a minimum wage would add dramatically to the unemployment level. They will set it at 50 per cent. of average male earnings, on a rising scale. Do they accept that that would add 750,000 to the number of unemployed, or do they have another figure? If so, where does it come from, and what is their estimate of the unemployment effects of their minimum wage proposals?

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) spoke about the privatisation of the water industry, but he forgot to remind the House that it has led to the biggest ever investment programme in the water industry. This year, private industry has invested £28 billion in the water industry. What scale of investment does the Labour party believe is necessary? Clearly, the hon. Member for Ogmore thinks that there has been too much investment, because he said that the bills were too high. If the investment is not paid for by consumers and the borrowings of private limited companies, where would the money come from? Where would the Labour party find the money to invest in the water industry?

What would be the standard rate of income tax under a Labour Government? The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) promises that 14 out of 15 basic rate taxpayers would not be worse off. How can the Labour party know that, when it has not announced its plans? If it has made plans, it should tell the House.

The Labour party does not understand that lower income tax stimulates economic growth. It is called supply side economics and it has worked here, in the United States and even in many European countries run by socialist Governments. The proof is contained in the figures for the top 5 per cent. of taxpayers, who now pay substantially larger proportions of tax than they did under the previous Labour Government.

When one considers the Labour party's spending and taxation proposals, it is not a question of reading their lips but of reading about the expensive promises contained in their policy documents.

5.55 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I shall not try to reply in detail to all the points raised—as usual, a wide range of subjects have been raised—but shall concentrate on one or two important issues that are currently the subject of debate outside the Chamber.

Several hon. Members, including a number of my hon. Friends, concentrated on the key issue of unemployment. The subject was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Interestingly, it was also raised by a couple of hon. Members of other parties. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle) specified white collar unemployment, and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) stressed the dangers of unemployment in his constituency. It would be remiss of me not to associate only myself and the Labour party with the deep concern about unemployment in all sectors of the economy and in all parts of the country.

One of the consequences of high unemployment has emerged in today's reports of what is happening at Rolls-Royce. Over the weekend, 34,000 Rolls Royce employees were given notice and were guaranteed reinstatement only if they accepted substantially worse conditions of employment. That is a classic symptom of high unemployment. Employers have the whip hand and can impose conditions that would be unacceptable in normal circumstances. It is dreadful that such an employer-dominated diktat can be imposed and it is yet further evidence of the way in which normal traditions of collective bargaining and national and company agreements, which have served us well over the years, have been eroded by the Government's legislation and high unemployment policies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North pointed out the irony that much of the problem arose under the leadership of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who seems incapable of coping herself with the consequences of unemployment. Her unemployment is pretty cushioned, as she still has a job that is deeply envied by many people—she is a Member of Parliament. However, she seems to be temperamentally incapable of accepting that she is on the scrap heap, having been personally responsible for putting so many of her fellow citizens on it. Nothing could better summarise the distorted values of the former Prime Minister than her unforgettable quote last week, Home is where you come to when you have nothing better to do. That was said by the former leader of what press releases tell us is the party of the family. Nothing could demonstrate more unequivocally how totally out of touch this Administration have been during the past 12 years. For so much of that time, it was led by someone who places a value on the home that would be unrecognisable by the vast majority of my constituents and by people throughout the country. I do not wish to minimise the critical importance to people of work, not only for their standard of living but for their self-esteem and sense of worth. That importance has been dreadfully eroded by the Government, and it is essential that we have a debate on unemployment before the House rises.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Behind the scenes, the Government are dramatically cutting back expenditure on those with disabilities and special educational needs up and down the country, including my constituency. My local training and enterprise council is about to announce the almost complete withdrawal of access by the disabled to training programmes that help them to maintain employment and give them job opportunities. That information brings the Government into great disrepute.

They are not only attacking able-bodied people but are cynically withdrawing financial resources to maintain in employment those with serious disabilities.

Mr. Grocott

My hon. Friend has made an extremely important point, and the issue of the general underfunding of TECs was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. It is further evidence that the Government, whatever their rhetoric and press releases say, have a fundamental lack of concern for the issues of most importance to our constituents.

Another issue that was touched on during the debate and which is central to political debate outside the House, is the announcement of the date of the next general election. It is not that I do not like doing this job, but I fervently hope that this is the last time that I have to participate in a recess Adjournment debate. It is not that such debates are unattractive, but it is clear that this Parliament and Government have run out of steam and it is time that the matter was settled in a general election.

Several Conservative Members have made a number of assertions about what the country wants. There is only one way to settle that issue—in the form of a vote. Early-day motion 819, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) sums up the matter. It states: That this House expresses its concern at the terminal decline of the present Parliament, elected in 1987; and seeks to encourage the Prime Minister to take the necessary action to end the painful suffering of an administration, which has come to the end of its time". The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey thinks, as we do, that it is time for a general election. However, I cannot agree with him that the right way to settle the matter would be a system of voting that would ensure permanent control by minority parties in the centre. That does not strike me as a fair way of determining general elections.

Mr. Ray Powell

My hon. Friend is talking about the general election. It was predicted in the press that, if the Government lost the Monmouth by-election, we would have to wait through a hot, steamy summer, until October or November. The opinion poll just announced by HTV gives 41 per cent. to Labour, 33 per cent. to the Government and 21 per cent. to the Liberals. Does my hon. Friend think that, in the light of that, we shall have to have another such Adjournment debate before the summer recess?

Mr. Skinner

There is another poll relating to Monmouth, which asks how people would vote if it looked as though the Labour party was likely to win. The result of that poll is even better—51 per cent. voted for Labour, 35 per cent. for the Tories and 13 per cent. for the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Grocott

My hon. Friends are joyous bearers of good news. I have been unable to see the news bulletins tonight.

The downside is that we all know that the Prime Minister, in his agony of indecision, and having failed to get any clear message from the computers that he set to work on the local election results, is anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Monmouth by-election before he can make up his mind. I doubt whether he will be able to do so then.

The Leader of the House, and certainly the Government, owe it to us to make a decision. It is high time that the indecision about the election date was sorted out. If the Prime Minister is not going to have an election in June, it is up to him to make it plain to the country that he will not have one until later in the year. There is a clear precedent for that. The last Prime Minister who became Prime Minister by accident, and to his and everyone else's surprise, was Sir Alec Douglas-Home. After playing around with the election date for a while, he had the sense to make it clear that he would not have an election until late in 1964. This Prime Minister should do the same. Whatever the Leader of the House feels about the election date, he must agree that constant uncertainty cannot possibly be to the benefit of the country.

Sir Robert McCrindle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

No, I will not give way.

It is essential that, by this time next week, when the Prime Minister has been able to assess the result of the Monmouth by-election, he should at least announce whether there is to be a general election in June.

Sir Robert McCrindle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

No: if I give way, it will eat into the time of the Leader of the House, for which he would not be grateful.

I have a fairly clear idea why the Prime Minister is not keen to call a general election quickly—he does not want to go down in history as the shortest-serving Prime Minister this century. A little bit of statistical analysis that I have been able to carry out as I while away the time shows that the shortest-serving Prime Minister this century was Bonar Law, who served for 209 days. The current Prime Minister has had 167 days and, according to my calculation, he will have to keep going until at least 25 June to avoid earning the title. If he wants to beat Sir Alec, he will have to keep going for a year, and he will just about beat Sir Anthony Eden if he goes on until February 1992.

Sooner or later, we shall all know what the Prime Minister has decided. It is crystal clear—[Interruption.] Conservative Members were angry when I started my speech, and, having heard the results of the opinion polls, they are even more wound up. I can understand that. The prospect of unemployment is deeply distressing for Conservative Members.

Another reason why we need absolute clarification on the election date—the Leader of the House is in a better position to acknowledge this than anyone else—is that the House is running out of things to do.

Mr. MacGregor


Mr. Grocott

The Leader of the House says, "Rubbish," but on three occasions last week the House rose by 9 pm. I shall inform the House for the record, because it is worth checking the statistics, that the House has not risen before 9 pm twice in a week at any time in the past 13 years. Last week, it happened three times because the Government are running out of things to do——

Mr. Andrew Mitchell

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

I shall not give way. Conservative Members are getting very excited. Like them, I wish that we could resolve this in a normal manner. I hope that they will impress upon the Prime Minister the absolute urgency of calling a general election, so that we do not have rows across the Chamber, but the voters can sort out the matter in the polling booths. Although Conservative Members do not like to hear it, it is extremely rare for the business of the House to fold up as early as it did three times last week.

I shall certainly give way if Conservative Members wish to challenge me on the following point. There are three crucial debates taking place in the House this week—I hope that hon. Members who have spoken in this debate will forgive me if I do not include this one. Those three crucial debates are, first, the one on the health service and opting-out hospitals tomorrow, which was called by the Opposition and is to be held in precious Opposition time. The second one is on famine in Africa and on the effects of famine and related matters in Bangladesh, as well as matters affecting the Kurds. That debate will be initiated by us and will take place in our precious parliamentary time.

The other crucial debate—it is indeed crucial; hon. Members get very excited and jump up and down when the subject is discussed—is on public expenditure. On Wednesday, we shall debate the Government's public expenditure plans. Opposition Members have requested this debate week after week after week, but the Leader of the House has repeatedly refused it. I know that the Government find this information uncomfortable. The Leader of the House has only to check Hansard to see repeated confirmation of what I am saying.

Sir Robert McCrindle


Mr. Grocott

If the hon. Gentleman wants to comment on the specific points to which I have been referring, I shall gladly give way.

Sir Robert McCrindle

I am glad that I have finally managed to persuade the hon. Gentleman to give way.

In pinpointing the admittedly very important subjects that the House, on the Opposition's initiative, is to debate tomorrow, the hon. Gentleman seems to have overlooked entirely an extremely important debate that is to take place on Thursday. On that day, we shall debate the question of planning—a matter of enormous importance to a great many of our fellow citizens. Perhaps the reason for the hon. Gentleman's lack of interest in that debate is that he will not be here on Thursday. Like many of his hon. Friends, he will be at the Monmouth by-election. The reason for the early rising of the House on three occasions last week was that there were no Members on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Grocott

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would care to accompany me to any pub of his choosing in Britain. I will give him £1 every time planning is mentioned if he will give me £1 every time unemployment or the health service is mentioned as a key subject facing the nation.

The Leader of the House should be defending the interests of hon. Members. He should ensure that, before the House rises for the Whitsun recess, we are given an opportunity to debate the declining standards of ministerial accountability. That matter should concern the right hon. Gentleman. It certainly concerns my hon. Friends and myself that Ministers are not answering questions properly. The Government's tactic has been to use agencies to move Ministers one step away from responsibility for the running of their Departments. That is a well-established practice. Why does a question to a Minister get a far less effective response than did the very same question two years ago?

Let me give a specific example involving a matter that is important to me and which I understood at one time was important to Conservative Members. I refer to the cost of running quangos. One of the Government's many broken promises is that it would reduce the running costs of these bodies. This is a specific and serious matter. Two years ago, I asked the Civil Service Minister to state the total cost of running quangos in each of the previous 10 years. I received a detailed answer, for which I was grateful.

Last month, I tabled a similar question, and, in reply, was told to look up the figures in the Library. If that is to be the Government's practice, we might as well simply have a ministerial stamp for every question. Any figure can be provided by the excellent research staff of the House of Commons Library. It is outrageous that the Government are ever more frequently using such a device as a means of avoiding answering specific questions. One might imagine that the Government could at least get their own act together.

Many Opposition Members, in their attempts to obtain information, have to put identical questions to all members of the Cabinet. Very recently, I tabled a very simple question to a number of Ministers. I asked each of them to list the Government appointments for which he or she—in the case of the present Cabinet, it is always he —would be responsible in the next 12 months and in the 12 months after that. Those appointments will, of course, become the responsibility of the incoming Labour Government. Whatever Conservative Members may think, that is a totally legitimate parliamentary question. It is entirely right that we should want to know about these appointments, about length of service and about the salaries. Repeatedly I received the standard reply: Information about the number and levels of remuneration of people appointed to public bodies by my Department is given in 'Public Bodies 1990', copies of which are available in the Library. There were a couple of honourable exceptions. The Secretary of State for Education and Science gave a detailed and valid reply, and the Secretary of State for Defence at least provided page references to enable me to find the answers in various Government documents.

The response of the great majority of Ministers is another illustration of the way in which the Government treat hon. Members with contempt. It is high time the Leader of the House discharged his role and put these matters to rights. In fact, what we want is a rapid end to this tawdry Government. They have gone on for far too long. The endless election debate cannot be allowed to continue. Matters should be put to the people in a general election as soon as possible.

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

I shall follow the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) in one thing—and in one thing only, as I have rather less time than he occupied. I should like to answer all the questions that have been put to me, but, because of the shortage of time, I shall not be able to do so.

I shall begin by dealing with the matter which has been at the heart of much of this debate. It was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) and by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and, by implication, by every other Opposition Member. We have always known that the Labour party is weak on economic policy and on spending. In the general election in 1987 it proved just that, and was crucified as a result. Opposition Members are getting into the same shambles today. Indeed, on the question of spending and tax, they are getting more rattled, muddled and shrill.

Let me direct the attention of Opposition Members to two things that have happened today—on the "Today" programme this morning, and in this debate. On the "Today" programme, John Humphrys said to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith): Let's be clear that that is what your are saying: 'Twenty billion pounds on top of the £40 billion—that's the extra that we're spending in the coming three years."' In fact, the figure is £38 billion, but John Humphrys rounded it up.

Is that what it's about, John Smith? The right hon. and learned Gentleman replied: What Neil Kinnock did was to use as an example the fact that if you get 2.5 per cent., which is about the trend rate of growth of the British economy, that's what you get in extra public expenditure. That was a perfectly simple and perfectly clear example"— [Interruption.] I am quoting exactly what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, and it is not at all surprising that Opposition Members do not like to be pressed on the point. It is crucial, and, if necessary, I shall devote my entire speech to it.

In reply to John Humphrys, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said: We do not add that on top of all the public expenditure forward programmes that have already been announced. We do not accept that's a reasonable way of doing it because it's to add on top, and we never said that, and it's a total misinterpretation to do that. I have never heard such a meaningless piece of a sentence. The reason for it is that, on this point, the Labour party is absolutely on a hook.

Mr. Ray Powell

What is the relevance of this?

Mr. MacGregor

I will come to its relevance in a moment.

The Labour party is on a hook. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant that £20 billion was not being added—if he accepted the figure of £38 billion as the increase in public expenditure, to which he would not add anything—what is all this about? It is that the Labour party will not spend anything more. That is the answer to practically every speech made in this debate.

If, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman did not mean that, and he really meant another £20 billion on top of the £38 billion already announced, that presupposes——

Mr. Grocott

No one believes this.

Mr. MacGregor

But it is crystal clear. If the hon. Gentleman does not think it a fair point, he knows nothing about economics, taxation or spending. If the money does not come from growth or from the £38 billion, where will it come from? It will come from extra taxation——

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Grocott


Mr. MacGregor

I will finish my point first. The money will come from extra taxation, not from increased growth, because that is already provided for. Will the money come from more taxation? I give way to the hon. Member for The Wrekin, who can tell us the answer.

Mr. Grocott

We will not take any lectures on economic management from a Government who, in 12 years, have managed to achieve record interest rates, record mortgage rates, record balance of payments deficits, reduced industrial production and investment and a shambles of the economy. We will take lectures on many things, but not on economic management. This country has been run by Arthur Daley for the past 12 years.

Mr. MacGregor

The House will have noted that there was no answer to the question; the Labour party does not want to answer it, because it does not want even to hint that it will increase taxation. The Opposition want to imply that they will increase spending on all sorts of things and then try to get out of the difficulty by spurious reference to economic growth. The fact is that that is impossible in the next three years because the spending plans already provide for that growth. So the money must come from increased taxes. The electorate will take note of that. The Prime Minister was right to say in Perth the other day that Labour's plans would mean another 2p in the pound on income tax each year.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West pointed out, the Opposition are always asking for more spending across the board. Their Treasury spokesman has told us that there will be increased spending only on child benefit and pensions, but the rest of the Opposition call for increased spending all the time on whatever happens to interest them. They were at it again today. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) wanted more money for charities. The hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) wanted it for unemployment—as did the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)——

Mr. Alfred Morris

Answer my questions.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall come to them if I am allowed time.

The hon. Member for Ogmore wanted spending on training and enterprise councils, and the hon. Member for The Wrekin had his agenda. We have and constant calls for more public spending. That is at the heart of the argument, and I am right to concentrate on it, because it is what Opposition Members have spent all their time doing.

Opposition Members cannot add up the figures. The hon. Member for The Wrekin did not answer the point that I put to him. The Liberal Democrats are just as bad. I found what the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said extraordinary. He may not have meant it, but he said that the Liberal Democrats would raise an extra £2 billion from another 1p on income tax. At least his party is fair in saying where the money will come from. But the hon. Gentleman said that the Liberal Democrats would spend it on education, which would enable them to spend less on the national health service. I do not understand that, given that the rest of his speech was about spending more on the national health service. Perhaps he only meant spending more on Guy's hospital—it happens to be in his constituency—and letting the rest go.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I did not say that we would spend less on the national health service. I said that we would not have to raise the money that the health service needs from additional taxation, because that money would go to education. The health service would be funded by us to the tune of an extra 2 per cent. every year over a five-year Parliament.

Mr. MacGregor

Given that we have already agreed that there are already spending plans to use the economic growth, presumably the money will not come from that. So if the Liberal Democrats are going to spend more on the national health service, presumably they will have to raise income tax by more than 1p in the pound.

There is a more serious point for the Liberal Democrats. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey talked of raising £2 billion from income tax to increase spending on education. His party voted against the proposal in the Budget to increase VAT from 15 to 17.5 per cent., thereby losing £3.9 billion in revenue. Those figures do not add up, either.

The clear message from this debate is that the Opposition want to spend more across the board. They have got themselves in a muddle on tax and spending plans and they cannot get out of it now.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) discussed whether we were rising for a week to go on holiday. I am sure that we are all going to do all sorts of other duties—but I shall leave that matter aside, in view of the time. He also mentioned the health service in Shropshire but did not ask me to answer his specific points, which I shall forward to the Secretary of State for Health; but he made a general point about the ownership of cottage hospitals. As he will know—I have to put this in a very condensed form—under the National Health Service Act 1977, health authorities can take into account resources that come from property and any money arising from its sale, which must be used within the national health service to provide better care for patients. My right hon. Friend will know that that is what we have done; the sale of assets can be and is directly devoted to the service and to patient care.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe raised a number of points, three of which I will pick up quickly. He mentioned VAT on charities. As he will know, the Government have done a great deal to increase the resources that go into charities, not only by more than doubling in real terms the grants to charities but by a wide variety of tax relief measures which encourage more voluntary giving to charities. I could go through the figures, but they are very large.

The value of all tax reliefs on charitable giving to charities is about £800 million a year. The hon. Gentleman's point about the health service—I am not talking here about the Paterson institute—was answered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury on 28 March: I have agreed that in the special case of the health programmes, the additional costs to health authorities should be added to existing provision as a claim against the reserve. This will also apply to comparable expenditure in Scotland and Wales. The increased provision will be granted to the national health service in supplementary estimates for 1991–92, to be presented in due course later in the year."—[Official Report, 28 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 519.] The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the rights of the child convention was signed by the United Kingdom on 19 April 1990, and it will be ratified as soon as possible. I am sorry that I do not have time to go into his point about AIDS.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling discussed the case of a constituent. As he recognises, it is fundamentally a matter for the county council, but he raised several important points and it would be quite proper for him to consider raising the matter on the Adjournment if he were not satisfied in due course.

My hon. Friend also discussed the local government Audit Commission, of which I have always been a strong supporter. It is admirably led and it has produced a number of excellent reports which, if followed through, would achieve greater cost-effectiveness and efficiency and much better value for money. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment undertook in an Adjournment debate to consider a number of my hon. Friend's points, and that he is doing.

As a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and bearing in mind my time at the Department of Education and Science and what the commission said then, I endorse what my hon. Friend the member for Gedling said about its importance, and I shall certainly bear in mind the possibility of a debate. As in so many other areas, the commission's activities show that the effectiveness of provision of services stems not just from the amount of money spent but from how it is spent. So I am happy to go along with what my hon. Friend said about it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir R. McCrindle) raised a number of points about unemployment in the white collar industries. I noted that he said that he had no quarrel with the polices to get inflation down, and, as he will agree, they are crucial to long-term employment. He also mentioned tourism. I remind him that, in 1990–91, the Government are spending about £533 million on tourism.

I should very much like to debate Scottish devolution with my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan)——

Mr. Raffan

And a Welsh Assembly.

Mr. MacGregor

Indeed. I spent a great deal of time when in Perth last week discussing that, but time will prevent me from doing so today, because I want to finish on two important issues raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin.

First, the hon. Gentleman said that the House was running out of business. That is simply not true. About 25 Bills are still to be completed in the next few months—a big programme. The reason why the House rose early last week, which I am sure was welcomed by those hon. Members who complain that the House rises too late, was that there were no members of the Opposition to scrutinise the Finance Bill and other Bills. I gave the normal amount of time to discuss the Finance Bill, and usually the House takes it all.

We have had many debates on economic issues and on unemployment, and I welcome them. The Opposition outlined a policy of implementing a social charter and strengthening it immediately, of imposing a training levy of 0.5 per cent. and then, as I think they said, increasing it pretty quickly, and of imposing a national minimum wage. I can think of no package of measures designed to lose more jobs than the combination of those three ideas.

We welcome the opportunity to continue to debate the alternative approaches to employment. I am happy to have that opportunity, and there will be many such occasions in the near future but, above all, the debate shows that the Labour party is the party of high spenders. It has proved that time and time again, but it does not want the electorate to know about tax concessions.

6.31 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As there are three minutes to go, may I ask the Leader of the House, first, what will he do about rate capping in Lothian? Secondly, what will he do about Heveningham hall, which is near his constituency? In the early 1970s, the Secretary of State for the Environment offered to buy it from the Government, but he was told by the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that no Minister in his Government would buy a house like that. Since then, it has been shrouded in mystery.

May I ask a direct question: are Ministers sure that the Swiss bearer bond holders are not operating for the Government of Iraq and have never done so? Was the hall at any time the property of Saddam Hussein, because many people in Suffolk believe that it was? An inquiry should be set up under the likes of Lord Charteris, with whom I have been in contact to establish the clarity of the future of Heveningham hall.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) mentioned Mr. Ingham. A statement should be made, because we should know what is the position of John Mark. By implication, his private secretary has been adversely affected in the press by Mr. Ingham's memoirs. What is the position of Colette Bowe and that of Leon Brittan——

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

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 23rd May, do adjourn until Monday 3rd June.

Mr. Ray Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Only you can deal with this issue, perhaps through Mr. Speaker.

Today, I tabled a question to the Minister for the Arts, and it was referred to the Welsh Office. I have now received a reply from the Welsh Office to say that the Welsh Arts Council, which was the subject of the question, is not responsible for museums in Wales. My question was about the funding of museums: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales, whether he has met the Chair of the Welsh Arts Council to discuss funding for museums in Wales. The Ministry referred my question to the Welsh Office, and the Minister there in turn replied: The Welsh Arts Council has no responsibility for museums in Wales. With your knowledge of the House, of Committees and of everything else, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can you tell me where I should submit my question—to Mr. Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means or someone else?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I confess that I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I can say only that I have no responsibility for determining who shall be responsible for answering specific questions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will leave it with us and that the hon. Member for Lewisham, East, (Mr. Moynihan), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, has taken note and will get a response for the hon. Gentleman. I have no responsibility in such matters.

Mr. Powell

I am grateful for your reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I raised the issue because it is important for those of us on the Back Benches to receive answers to our questions. We do not want Ministers to transfer our questions hither and thither and then find that we do not receive a reply from any Department.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is fair to complain. What the hon. Gentleman says should be noted to ensure that he gets a fair response.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend refers to a point of order for Mr. Speaker or, indeed, for the Procedure Committee. It will be within your recollection that the late John Silkin, passionately against the advice of some of us, agreed to limit the summer and other recess Adjournment debates to three hours. This was sacred private Members' time, yet once more it was being eroded. This afternoon, we have seen the Front Bench—and I must say, that it was both Front Benches—use the occasion for the usual exchange of party politics. The summer Adjournment is an opportunity for Front-Bench Members to raise matters, however controversial.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Back-Bench Members.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) raised the specific issue of unemployment. This is the occasion to raise matters relating to our constituencies, not for the normal party yah-boo. We can raise not only matters relating to our constituencies but urgent matters such as that raised by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about the Government's reaction—or otherwise—to the behaviour of Mr. Ingham. This is the only opportunity that we shall have to do so, and it is essential to establish what Mr. Ingham and Sir Leon Brittan are doing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is skilful, but I suspect that he is now trying to raise the issues that he might have raised had he had the opportunity to participate in the Adjournment debate. As to the content and way in which the debate is conducted, the yah-boo political arguments came from all sides of the House.

The extent to which the debate is in order is a matter for the judgment of the Chair. Although much caused me concern, nothing this afternoon caused me to rule a speaker out of order. The duration of the debate is more properly a matter for the Procedure Committee, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will want to make representations to that Committee. Now, perhaps we might move on.