HC Deb 14 December 1992 vol 216 cc56-94

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising on Thursday, 17th December, do adjourn until Monday 11th January.—[Mr. Wood.]

5.27 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me at the beginning of the debate.

In 22 years in the House, I have never before felt genuinely angry about the House adjourning, but today I do. It is appalling that the House should adjourn this week without devoting a full day to debating the terrible situation in the Balkans. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House well knows, I have asked him on successive Thursdays to change the business of the House so that we can have a debate on the Adjournment to discuss the position in Bosnia. He has politely but firmly refused, and on two or three occasions he has urged me to use the opportunity presented by the Christmas Adjournment and I am grateful to Madam Speaker for calling me now. I have a high regard for my right hon. Friend and am glad to count him as a genuine right hon. Friend, but I do not think that it is good enough.

The most appalling atrocities since those of the second world war are being committed in the heart of our continent. The crisis—it is no less than that—in the Balkans, presents the world with its greatest post-war crisis. Unless firm action is taken in the next three or four weeks, we could be moving towards a European Armageddon—and so far, such action has not been taken. We could find ourselves with a full-scale Balkan war involving not only Bosnia but Kosovo and Macedonia, and erupting to such a degree that Bulgaria and Albania would be drawn in—not to mention Greece and Turkey, both NATO members, with all the ghastly implications of that.

In a moment, I should like to spell out some of the possible consequences of such a holocaust. Last week I had the privilege of taking part in the launch of a new venture, Action for Bosnia, embracing all political parties. I was delighted to see the right hon. Michael Foot there. All political parties and all shades of religious opinion were brought together by a common horror at the atrocities and a common concern for what might follow. Later that day, I had the privilege of receiving in my room here two Bosnian Members of Parliament, one a Serb and the other a Muslim. Although of different political persuasions, they were united in their grief and in their pleas that something be done.

Later that day, one of these Bosnian Members of Parliament, Professor Filipovic, sent me a fax from Geneva, where he is taking part in the talks. He was a professor of philosophy at the university of Sarajevo. I have never met a more cultivated, gentle, widely read or deeply compassionate man. If he sat in this House, we would all be proud to call him a colleague.

Professor Filpovic sent me a fax with details of the casualties up to 23 November—some three weeks ago. Between the beginning of May and 23 November—the figures have not been disputed—128,000 people were killed in Bosnia: 59,000 of them by arms and explosions, 10,000 by cutting tools and sharp weapons, 2,500 by drowning and 30,000 by unidentified objects. It is a grisly and ghastly catalogue—a catalogue which is an indictment of those of us who have stood by while it has grown.

On Friday, I abandoned my constituency engagements and went up to Edinburgh to take part in a conference deliberately organised to coincide with the summit. The first day of the conference was given over to the delivery of papers by academics from Europe and the United States—papers in which the rich cultural history and heritage of Bosnia were movingly and graphically described.

On Saturday, we concentrated on the politics. I contacted the Foreign Office to ask that a Foreign Office Minister meet the Bosnian Foreign Minister who had come over specially for the conference. I pay tribute and am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who left Holyrood house and the summit, came to our conference and spent almost an hour with the Bosnian Foreign Minister and me discussing the problems. I am also grateful to the Foreign Secretary for making the meeting possible.

As a privileged participant in the discussions between two Foreign Ministers, I cannot possibly repeat what was said between them. What I can say is what Mr. Silajdzic told me and told the conference later that afternoon. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) in his place, because he too was a participant in the conference, as was the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald).

The Bosnian Foreign Minister said a number of things which I believe we all need to take carefully into account. First, he made it plain that this is not a civil war—a point that many of us have made in the past. This is a war in an ancient country with ancient borders; a country that has in the past been a shining example of what a multi-ethnic, multicultural country should be. Christians of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic persuasions and Muslims have lived happily side by side, intermarrying and weaving a rich tapestry of civilisation in that part of Europe.

As Mr. Silajdzik said, this is not really a war at all. A war implies a conflict or contest between two parties who go to war for particular reasons. This is not war: it is a slaughter of an innocent population, in the numbers to which I have referred, with all sorts of attendant atrocities. The phrase "ethnic cleansing" ought to make the flesh of every hon. Member creep. The things that are being done to enforce ethnic cleansing are barbaric beyond belief.

As Mr. Silajdzic told me, there can be no worse crime than the killing of a child—but there can be: the killing of a child following its torture. There can be no worse crime against a woman than rape—but there can be, he said: it is when those women are put into rape camps. In one motel—there may be more—in Bosnia, young girls and women are taken and ravished by soldiers and others and then killed. One man has publicly admitted to killing 200 of them in this manner.

This is what is going on as we debate our Christmas Adjournment. Winter is gripping Bosnia; it is a real winter there, not the sort of white Christmas for which we might fondly hope, but a winter when the temperatures can sink to 32 below, and beyond. In Sarajevo last week, there were five days without electricity or water. I have arranged for Mr. Silajdzik to come and address hon. Members in a Committee Room two days after we return. I hope that Members will come and listen to him—if he is still alive, because he is going home during the Christmas recess.

Mr. Silajdzik is also a highly civilised, cultured man. Although Bosnia is a small country, it has people of great quality. I was enormously impressed by the quality of its Foreign Minister—a professor of history, a man who had devoted his life to scholarly pursuits before serving what he thought would be a newly independent nation. He spoke graphically and chilllingly of what was happening to his country.

What struck me most was that his concern was not just for Bosnia. He said that he had been accused the previous day by a Foreign Office official—not, I hasten to add, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford, who could not have been more concerned—of being emotional. Who would not be emotional, given the circumstances? Despite the emotion, the Foreign Minister was concerned about the wider issue and the wider view.

He told me, as he told the conference later, that, if the Balkans erupt into full-scale war, he was fearful of two consequences above all. The first—I totally agree—is that the spectre of Muslim fundamentalism or extremism would rear its head. Mujaheddin are already fighting in Bosnia—not because they were invited, but because they went there. The leaders of the Arab world met in Riyadh 10 days ago. They told the international community that something must be done by 15 January, or else—that, from the responsible leaders of the Arab world.

Behind them are those whose representatives howled me down in Trafalgar square in August when they called for a jihad—a holy war. Just imagine what would happen —this is not impossible—if Muslim extremists took power in the key nations of the Arab world and in Turkey. Could there be a greater destabilising of our world? That prospect should make us all pause.

The second consequence that concerned Mr. Silajdzic and which concerns me is that the validity of the world order—the United Nations itself—is on trial. If we fail to deal with what is happening, what example is that to those who would foment trouble in other newly emerging countries? You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I do, that, in parts of the former Soviet Union, peace is fragile and brittle, and in other parts it has already been broken—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia. What is happening in Kazakhstan—a nuclear power?

If we do not exert some real world leadership through the United Nations, what sort of signals will we send? This is a terrible crisis, and I infinitely regret that we have not done more already. I urged for many months—in fact, for a year—that we should do more. I repeat my belief that, had we taken firmer action when Dubrovnik and Bukovar were bombed and shelled, the Bosnian atrocities might never have happened.

We have not only failed to exert any force but said that we would not do so. We ruled out the doctrine of the deterrent. That was a serious mistake. We must do something now. If we do not, we could all be parties to a great crime. Edmund Burke, one of the greatest orators ever to command the House, said: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I do not suggest for a moment that the good men who sit on both Front Benches—and they do—have done nothing. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government have done nothing. But what they have tried to do was not enough, and was not successful.

The sanctions have not worked. The shuttle diplomacy has not worked. The killing has continued, is continuing, and will continue. There is no point in dismissing the situation and saying, "It's too difficult." There will be risks whatever we do, and there are certainly risks in doing nothing. I do not pretend that surgical air strikes are necessarily easy—although precision bombing seemed to work in Iraq. I do not pretend that, if we put more troops on the ground, the terrain will be easy—although I have never advocated massive ground involvement.

I feel rather ashamed of my country when the faint-hearted view seems to prevail that, because a certain number of German divisions were required to keep the population down during the past world war, we should be reluctant now. That has been proved to be something of a myth. There were not a great number of divisions, and those that were there, were for the most part, "Dad's Army" divisions—reserves.

I believe that this crisis is of the gravest magnitude and that the House should have been given a full day to debate it. The Government should have gone forth, reinforced by a mandate from the House—as they did at the time of the Falklands war, which was another rather tricky operation —and tabled resolutions at the United Nations.

I am glad that the communiqué issued at Edinburgh on Saturday was much tougher and less ambiguous and equivocal than previous communiqués. We now need action and the United Nations should be activated quickly. The air exclusion zone must be enforced, and the killing of innocent civilians stopped. I want proper peace and prosperity throughout the whole of the former Yugoslavia. I am not anti-Serb as such, although I am very much anti the aggressive dictator who rules in Belgrade currently, and what many of his henchmen have done. I am glad that Saturday's communiqué was unequivocal in its condemnation of them.

If the House is to adjourn without debating Bosnia, let the message go to the Government that we expect no rest during the recess that will take Ministers away from seeking to play a part in solving that great problem. If the House returns and nothing is done by 15 January, if the Arab world decides to take this one on itself and outside the umbrella of the United Nations, we will have begun to go down a very slippery slope.

It is an urgent matter. I know that I have gone on about it at some length, and that I have raised it many times in the House. I hope that my colleagues will forgive me, but I feel deeply about the matter—so deeply that I must tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Government cannot be sure of my vote on anything if something is not done about Bosnia.

5.47 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

We have heard a moving and persuasive speech by the hon. Member for Stafffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) on a grave crisis of universal concern. For my part, I want briefly to raise three urgent and highly important issues about which, demonstrably, there ought to be at least oral ministerial statements before the House rises for the Christmas recess.

The first is that of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council's report on chronic bronchitis and emphysema in coal miners and metal production workers. The IIAC report recommends, on page 7, that both conditions should be prescribed as industrial injuries in relation to current and past miners who have worked underground. The need for a definitive statement of the Government's position is made all the more urgent by the high death rate among miners whose work has led to serious respiratory illnesses which, as the Lord President knows, often leave their victims struggling to breathe.

The right hon. Gentleman is also aware of a leaked internal memorandum to the President of the Board of Trade, in which it was pointed out that, because of the high death rate among miners with chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the longer the Government delay the less they pay. That appalling cynicism deeply shocked public opinion. Given that the report went to the Government as long ago as 17 August, surely it is high time now for a clear statement of their response.

The second issue that I want to raise is the smallness and lack of clarity of the monetary figures and words on the new Bank of England notes, the E series, and the similarity of the print colours used for the £10 and £20 notes. It is widely reported that that lack of clarity has caused distress to cashiers and shoppers alike, more especially to large numbers of people with impaired eyesight. Lord Henley, a Treasury spokesman in another place, was told there on 5 November that, if he ever stood at the head of a long queue in a supermarket and said that he must spend time trying closely to examine bank notes, he would be "howled down".

That was put to Lord Henley by my good friend Lady Llewellyn-Davies, in response to his statement that the new bank notes had been deliberately printed with figures that were hard to read to encourage people to examine them closely and thus combat forgery. Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who formerly chaired the National Consumer Council, was not amused. She told Lord Henley: Most people do not have the time to give a minute examination to every note when passing them during the day"; while Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, a former Chancellor, said that it was

totally out of proportion that the possibility of forgery should take precedence over whether notes are easily identifiable."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 November 1992] It is now clearly important that the Bank of England should be asked urgently to pay due attention to the widespread and increasing criticism of the new series—not least among people with visual impairments—and that a Treasury Minister should respond to public concern in a statement to the House. The other place has been able to debate the issue, and it must be right for this House at least to be able to question a Minister.

My third issue concerns the future of the independent living fund, whose help for very severely disabled people can mean all the difference between their living independently in their own homes and being shut away in long-stay institutions, almost certainly at far higher cost to the taxpayer than that of an adequate ILF grant. The Alzheimer's Disease Society, in which I take pride in holding honorary office, says: The sudden announcement that the Fund would stop receiving applications after 25 November was a major shock". The gap between closure of the fund and the launching successor body will, says the society,

entail great hardship for prospective applicants who contact us daily about the demands of caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease". The society wants clarification in regard to people over working age. We know that the successor body will not accept such people: that much is already clear, and it is seen as discrimination against elderly people of high dependency. Will people accepted by the new agency continue to receive help when they are above working age? Will the definition of "working age" be the same for men and women that is, between 16 and 65?

What is to happen in cases where the ILF is asked to help between now and April 1993? Delays in the Benefits Agency's processing of claims for the higher rates of disability living allowance and attendance allowance have effectively disqualified many people claiming from the ILF. How is it proposed to help those victims of the Government's own failure? Again, what procedures are there for consulting carers and their voluntary groups about the new arrangements?

As Ministers know, the Spinal Injuries Association is very anxious for local authorities to be given powers to make direct payments to severely disabled people to make their own arrangements for personal assistance. Such payments give them choice and control over their own lives; at the same time, good-quality services are provided with minimal bureaucracy, thus giving value for money. Will the local authorities that now make direct payments to severely disabled people be allowed to continue doing so? Direct payments provide all that the Government claim they want to see from their community care policy; so why are Ministers opposing the call for statutory powers to enable local authorities to make such payments to severely disabled people?

While welcoming the Government's acceptance that the successor body must be one that will make direct payments to individual disabled people, Peter Large, than whom no one has more experience of the ILF's work, states that lack of information about it leaves severely disabled people seriously worried about their futures". Will the successor body be run by the same staff as those who now run the ILF?

The fund now makes awards averaging £105 a week to more than 18,000 severely disabled people. The budget for 1992–93 is £97 million. It is understood that the budget next year—1993–94—for carrying the existing ILF's case load will be £117 million. Given the current backlog of 6,500 applications, will £117 million be sufficient to ensure that any existing beneficiary whose condition deteriorates, or whose costs increase, will be able to receive increased payments to cover the increased costs from the successor body to the ILF?

What will happen if the £117 million is insufficient? Will beneficiaries whose costs increase have to wait for other beneficiaries to die in order to secure increased payments from the fund to cover their higher costs? By any standards, that would be a total scandal.

I understand from a parliamentary reply given on 2 December that the budget for the successor body is only £4 million. Can this be correct? How will severely disabled people secure payments from the new agency, and how many will it help? Will anyone be able to insist that a local authority makes a contribution? After April 1993, when a local authority assesses a person's ability to pay for personal assistance, will the mobility allowance, the DLA care component and the severe disability allowance be taken into account? Will the money given to local authorities in consequence of the changes to the ILF be specially earmarked for the purpose of financing independent living, as it would have been by the ILF?

This issue, and the questions I have posed, are of considerable importance to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I implore the Lord President not to leave the severely disabled people on whose behalf I appeal to him still worrying about their futures when the House rises for the Christmas recess.

5.59 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make a brief contribution to this important Christmas Adjournment debate.

I wish to direct my remarks to recent developments in Macclesfield health authority. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in her place. She certainly has an interest in what I am about to say because her health authority is also involved. I know of her interest because she has signed one of the early-day motions that I have tabled, and I know that she strongly supports the sentiments that I have expressed on behalf of the people of Macclesfield about the unfortunate developments that are being initiated by the chairman of the regional health authority, Sir Donald Wilson.

In July, Sir Donald Wilson gave me a firm assurance, in the presence of the then chairman of the Macclesfield health authority, Mr. Peter Hayes—who has now taken over as chairman of the East Cheshire NHS trust—that there would be no merger of the Macclesfield and Crewe health authorities unless the communities and the two authorities were in favour of such a step.

I took that assurance at face value. What has happened subsequently? Sir Donald Wilson is well known to me and to those who come from Merseyside. He is a man who always has a hidden agenda and who will never share it with those who represent the people of the area. He is determined, come hell or high water, to get his way, riding roughshod over the people of the area, their health provision and health services.

I suspect that, because I no longer serve on the Select Committee on Health, Sir Donald has felt it appropriate to strike. Macclesfield has a wealth of talent—numerous able business people who for many years have given immense service to the national health service in a voluntary or other capacity. But in recent times, Sir Donald has brought in from outside the health authority area a chairman—County Councillor Simon Cussons—who, quite by chance, happens to be the leader of the Conservative group on Cheshire county council.

Mr. Cussons has no connection at all with Macclesfield, except that, for a relatively short period, he was chairman of the family health services authority for the whole of Cheshire, which clearly involves my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, as well as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton).

Sir Donald had appointed by the Government a man who has no knowledge or experience of Macclesfield, and the method of that appointment left much to be desired. I was not advised of the appointment until some days after it had taken place. I may say that I regard it as most discourteous not to notify the hon. Member concerned of those who are to be appointed until some days after the appointment has been made. I say that not least because the House knows of my considerable interest in health matters. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich—if not the Minister—knows of my deep involvement in health provision and care in my constituency throughout my 21 years as Member of Parliament for Macclesfield.

I repeat that the method of Mr. Cusson's appointment left a great deal to be desired. The acting chairman of the health authority, Mrs. Morven Sowerbutts, who has given many years of devoted and committed service to Macclesfield, was unseated without even being notified of the fact. She arrived to chair a selection panel to select the chief executive of the authority, only to be told that a new chairman had been appointed. Without any knowledge of the area, Mr. Cussons immediately decided to chair the meeting, even though Mrs. Morven Sowerbutts had been with the authority for many years, had studied all the papers, and was fully prepared to take the meeting and would have done an excellent job.

As I said, I have tabled an early-day motion expressing my concern about the appointment of Mr. Cussons. I emphasise that I have no argument with Mr. Cussons himself. I merely feel that he has been used by Sir Donald Wilson to deprive Macclesfield of the opportunity to have a chairman who can stand up for the interests of the area and its people.

I am supported in the views that I have expressed by the Secretary of State herself, who has admitted that the way in which Mrs. Morven Sowerbutts was treated was thoroughly unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend wrote to me: Turning to the way in which Mrs. Sowerbutts was informed of the appointment of Mr. Cussons as chairman of Macclesfield HA, I can only agree that someone who has given such excellent service to the NHS deserved better. She did indeed deserve better. I am concerned that Mrs. Sowerbutts should continue to serve on the health authority, although she will clearly have to review her position in the light of the treatment that she has received.

That is not the worst of the matter. We now come to the appointment of Mrs. Chris Hannah as chief executive of the health authority, the circumstances of which are extremely interesting. Before Mrs. Hannah was appointed chief executive of Macclesfield health authority, she happened to be the personnel manager of the Mersey regional health authority—one of Sir Donald Wilson's chosen people. Did she get the job in a way that was fair and above board? Oh no, she did not. She was responsible for advertising the position of chief executive of Macclesfield health authority. She was the one to whom applications came. Having sorted them, she no doubt handed them to Mr. Geoffrey Scaife, the regional general manager, another hatchet man for Sir Donald Wilson—who, interestingly, believed that the number of applications to be considered by Macclesfield health authority was less than adequate, and that their quality was rather weak.

What did Mr. Scaife do? He went to the personnel manager, Mrs. Chris Hannah, and said, "Wouldn't you like to put your name forward for the position?" The day before the interviews were to take place in Macclesfield, Mrs. Chris Hannah's name was put on the list. Again, I am supported in my concern by the Secretary of State, who said in her letter to me:

I appreciate why the circumstances of the appointment led you to raise this matter. Adding Mrs. Hannah's name to the shortlist the day before the interview, after she had been involved in the shortlisting for the post, was bound to lead to questions about the fairness of the … exercise. Does the House think that what happened should have been tolerated? My right hon. Friend's letter dated 7 December accepts that best practice was not followed and that the appointment had the appearance of being unfair. I would go further: it had the appearance of being corrupt, politically opportunistic and profoundly unethical.

But I have not finished. Who is Mrs. Chris Hannah? She happens to be the daughter-in-law of Mr. Dan Hannah, the chairman of Warrington health authority, and not only that but the daughter-in-law of Mr. Dan Hannah who was appointed by Sir Donald Wilson as the chairman of the Wirral and Cheshire purchasing agency with which Macclesfield will be doing business. The health authority is now the purchasing unit—the purchaser—so it will be doing business with the Wirral and Cheshire purchasing agency. There clearly must be a definite conflict of interest there.

The interests of the national health service and the people of Macclesfield have been subordinated by those Machiavellian developments to the career ambitions of self-serving administrators and a dictatorial and domineering regional authority chairman whose time, I believe, is up. His sell-by date has passed. He is now 71. He has been in the position for 11 years. He is riding roughshod over the people of my area, and is no longer serving the health needs of the area. If anything, he is working against the best interests of the reforms of the health service in Mersey, and particularly in my authority. Despite what he said to me in July and subsequently, he has a dogmatic desire to merge, amalgamate and otherwise to neuter any health authority that is run, as Macclesfield has been for so long, by local people with a commitment to and a real interest in the local community.

To say a little more about the hidden agenda, Sir Donald Wilson gave me the assurance in July that there would be no merger, but the position of chief executive is not, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich knows—if she wishes to intervene, I shall be happy to give way—as the chief executive of the Macclesfield health authority; it is a joint appointment. It is the chief executive of Macclesfield and Crewe, as a result of which the authorities are building for the merger which Sir Donald has told me will not take place unless the communities and the health authorities want it. If he can take over the health authority and annex it with his own placemen and placewomen, he will at least be able to carry the health authority with him, but he will not carry the community.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Is that not a continuing pattern? Has not Sir Donald done that before? In fact, is it not the habit that people actually set up trusts and then themselves take over the jobs? This is not the first time that Sir Donald has connived at appointments which are clearly, in the smallest sense of the word, political. Is it not time that we had an open investigation of the whole working of that regional health authority?

Mr. Winterton

I would most certainly be happy to support that. I have been increasingly concerned over recent times about what is happening in Mersey. It has apparently become the individual fiefdom of Sir Donald Wilson. I believe that he even frightens Ministers.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I have been following the hon. Gentleman very closely. He has made deeply disturbing disclosures to the House, but am not clear what solution he proposes. Is he asking for a public inquiry urgently to consider what sounds like a considerable scandal?

Mr. Winterton

I believe that it is an absolute scandal, and a scandal which is not serving the best interests of the people whom I represent or those in the constituencies adjoining my own.

I sought to do things the right way. As soon as the matter occurred, I contacted the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State referred me to the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). He was not able to see me for some days. I was rather disappointed about that, but he at last saw me and gave me generously of his time when I outlined my concern in detail. He took almost a further fortnight to investigate the allegations, as a result of which I then received the letter from the Secretary of State. The matter was clearly so serious that the Minister for Health believed that the matter should be dealt with by the Secretary of State. I have quoted in part the letter that was sent to me by the Secretary of State herself in reply to the concern that I expressed. I am deeply concerned that she has not felt able to intervene in this scandalous matter—she should.

Although I am most unhappy about the appointment of Simon Cussons—that can be excused and explained, although I do not accept the explanation—but the appointment of that chief executive cannot be allowed to go ahead. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) asked me what I was seeking. I am seeking to have the appointment not confirmed, and I am looking for the apppintment to be readvertised and a proper ethical selection procedure adopted to chose a new chief executive for Macclesfield. I am not saying that Mrs. Chris Hannah cannot again have her name put in on her behalf if she is not prepared to put it in herself and not prepared to respond to the advertisement which went out in the first instance.

Finally, I have sought to raise this matter in the most responsible way. When that responsible way is blocked and no action is taken, I have no alternative but to bring the matter before the House, initially through the early-day motions that I have tabled. Perhaps I should also mention early-day motion 1044 that was subsequently tabled by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden). That motion has been signed by a large number of hon. Members from Merseyside. Clearly, they have considered the action that I have taken as reflecting their worry about the way in which Sir Donald Wilson is blustering his way through health matters in the Mersey region. I do not say it very easily—I am choosing to say it here, I agree—but the man is a bully not only to his staff but to those who are appointed to health authorities in his region. It is a very sad state of affairs when one man can do so much damage within an area.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give me an assurance that the Government will seek to discuss the matter with Sir Donald Wilson and with the chairman of the Macclesfield health authority, County Councillor Simon Cussons, have the appointment of Mrs. Chris Hannah annulled—not confirmed—ensure that arrangements are made to readvertise the position, and have a proper ethical procedure for the selection of a chief executive for the Macclesfield health authority.

I do not make those comments easily. I have sought to work with Sir Donald Wilson. I have sought to work with Ministers in the Department of Health, and I am sure that they will admit that. I have always gone to them prior to taking action such as I am taking on the Floor of the House. The matter is of such importance that it had to be put to the House to try to bring additional pressure to get action so that the people of my area will know that democracy still has some value in this country. I want an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the appointment will be rescinded, that it will not be confirmed, and that a new selection procedure will be allowed to go ahead and fresh advertising undertaken, so that we will know that we have the best candidate, not the one who is most suitable to Sir Donald Wilson.

I make a final plea. I know that it is expecting rather too much of my right hon. Friend, but I mean it. In the past, Sir Donald has done some good work, but he has run out of time and he is now counter-productive to the best interests of health care and to the reforms which are so dear to the Government of the day. I am committed to serving my constituents, and I am today reflecting the concern that they have expressed to me. I am speaking not only for myself but on behalf of the chairman of the Macclesfield community health council and the council as a whole, which has written to the local health authority saying that it is strongly opposed to the merger of the two authorities.

That is, perhaps, an indication that Sir Donald Wilson is seeking to ride roughshod over people and to roll them into the dirt to get his own way, whatever the arguments of the issue. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give me some assurance about this matter when he replies.

6.19 pm
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

The House has been riveted by a tale of Byzantine intrigue and nepotism in Macclesfield. I even forgive the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for saying "finally" three times in the past five minutes. Obviously, I cannot speak about his problems, but I promise the hon. Gentleman that I shall sign his early-day motion. When he was deposed from the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health, I took that as a sign that the one thing the Government did not like about those Committees was a robust, firm and vigorous criticism of their policies.

I should like to discuss Bosnia, which has already been raised by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). The part of the Prime Minister's statement on the Edinburgh summit that referred to the situation in Bosnia was inadequate, as was his response to specific questions about that region.

I should be in favour of delaying the Adjournment of the House so that we could at least have a debate on Bosnia. I accept that that might be difficult to arrange, but the least to which we should have a right is a statement tomorrow on why direct action is still ruled out. I believe that that action is essential.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South mentioned a meeting with the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mr. Silajdzic, in Edinburgh on Saturday. Mr. Silajdzic also gave a lengthy interview to The Herald on Saturday in which he said: My God. My God. Anybody with the smallest intelligence can see there has to be intervention. It should have happened months ago. Please listen to me. They have already killed 100,000 of my countrymen … And yet still they say we must talk, talk, talk, and the slaughter is only just starting. What must I say? What must I do? I keep travelling all over Europe. To speak to leaders. I go to the USA … I speak to everyone. To John Major at the London conference. That was three months ago and even though every accord has been broken they still do nothing. That is what the man at the centre of the situation believes. I, too, believe that we must act.

The Ministry of Defence, official governmental and European Community line is that intervention is impossible. On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State for Defence repeated the same things that he has said before—that intervention would involve an intolerably large number of troops. In tonight's edition of the Evening Standard, in an article headed "Ashdown escapes in mortar bombing", the Secretary of State says: The reality is that if the UN wanted to intervene in a military sense it would have to contemplate a commitment for many years involving perhaps, more than 100,000 troops. The likelihood is of very large numbers of casualties, and with no certainty that the war would be brought to an end. That is the official line. That article also quotes from the American Vice-President-elect, Al Gore, who says that more should be done to enforce the flying ban. He is directly quoted as saying:

The resistance and reluctance that has been coming from our European allies I frankly find hard to understand. On the radio this morning, the Secretary of State was pressed to respond to that charge, and he did not make a good one. The only thing he said was that it was all very well for Senator Al Gore to say that when there were no American troops in Bosnia. There are no British troops in Somalia, as far as I know, but that does not mean that we are not giving warm support to what the Americans are doing there. We should bear in mind that it is inevitable that the Americans will say to the Europeans that America will not be our nanny all the time. It is inevitable that they believe that we must do some things ourselves and that it is our responsibility in the first instance to respond to the situation in Bosnia.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of the British soldiers now in former Yugoslavia, including those of the Cheshire and Staffordshire Regiments, are being issued with notices of termination of their contracts with the British Army? Does he agree that that hardly seems a sensible way in which to treat British regiments?

Sir Russell Johnston

I take note of what the hon. Lady has said, as has, I am sure, the Leader of the House. I hope that he will respond to that point.

Wider questions arise about the defence review, which is obviously affected by the demands put upon us in former Yugoslavia, but, if hon. Members will forgive me, I shall not enter into that discussion now.

The argument against intervention is that it would require an enormous number of troops. Those who argue against intervention often cite what happened to the Germans in the second world war—the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South also touched on that. Some people have said that 30 German divisions were deployed in Yugoslavia during the war, but I believe that, at the maximum, there were seven. Certainly there were more divisions in Yugoslavia when the Germans were retreating from Greece, but during the occupation there were just seven. One should remember that those divisions dealt with all of Yugoslavia, not just Bosnia. One should also remember that every man's hands were turned against the Germans—when they were not turned against each other.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

That was not very often.

Sir Russell Johnston

No, there is no doubt that every man's hands were turned against the Germans.

What did the Germans lack? First, they did not have any helicopters; if they had, I am quite sure that, considering the efficiency of the German army, they would have sorted out Tito in double quick time. Secondly, the Germans did not have modern sophisticated weapons, such as heat-seeking weapons, or modern sophisticated aircraft. To make comparisons with the German occupation is unrealistic.

A year ago in a letter to The Times I argued that we should have used air power on the Serbs as they were encircling Osijek. A year later, the argument in favour of air power is becoming more difficult because things are much messier, but I still think that it stands. Air power could be used in Sarajevo, which is a howl aurrounded by clearly definable military targets. It could also be used to deal with the advancing Bosnian Serbs in the northern part of Bosnia.

The use of air power would have not only a military effect on the Bosnian Serbs but an enormous psychological effect, because it would demonstrate that the Europeans, or the west, will not allow the Serbian attack to go on any longer. One should also remember that because of the alliance between the Croats and the Muslims, one would have to deal with the Bosnian Serbs alone. At the moment we should aim for a ceasefire—the one thing that endless talks have failed to produce.

The line taken by the new Yugoslavia, if I can call it that—Serbia and Montenegro—is that it has fulfilled all the United Nations demands set out in resolution 752. It has produced a note to that effect, stating: The last 92 Yugoslav soldiers were withdrawn on 19 June 1992 from Bosnia. It goes on to say that no military interference has taken place since.

I was informed at the weekend of aerial photographs showing quite large numbers of tanks crossing from new Yugoslavia into Bosnia. Is any information available about that? One presumes that there is continual surveillance by American satellites. Given the political argument that is raging, it is important that people know the facts; there is no security reason for concealing such matters. The effect of air strikes would be considerable, and if there were military intervention on the ground, the demand would be far less than has been suggested.

Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley wrote a long article in The Independent on Sunday in which he spoke of some 30,000 troops plus naval and air support. I am not a military expert, but as a highly respected senior British general, his views should be taken into account.

I object to the repeated suggestion that this is a civil war. An advertisement to that effect on behalf of the new Yugoslavia appeared in, I think, The Independent, referring to the Yugoslav civil war. In Bosnia, we are talking not about a civil war but about the activities of one group against both the others. In the context of Yugoslavia as a whole, this has not been civil war. The Foreign Minister of Bosnia admits that there have been atrocities on both sides—not just the Serbs have been guilty of atrocities. He said:

there have been atrocities on both sides, but what do I expect? Kill a man's son, then rape his wife and he is no longer a man. You have stolen his humanity. There is a difference, you know, between active and reactive crime. That is an interesting statement: the difference between active and reactive crime. The contention in this conflict has been that, although horrible things have been done by both sides, the main weight has been the continual aggressive action by the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia, which has produced the horrible prison camps and the allegations—which have been confirmed, or surely the summit in Edinburgh would not have referred to them —of rape camps. The weight of responsibility clearly rests on the one side.

As the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South said, a threat exists to Kosovo and Macedonia, which should have been recognised by the summit. The fact that Greece is able to stop this and simultaneously break the sanctions embargoes by supplying oil should not have been permitted by other Community countries. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Jeddah conference, which said that it expected some action by the 15th, which is tomorrow.

Mr. Cormack

Of January.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am sorry; I meant January. It is a generous time scale, but it is also a short time. [Interruption.] I thought that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) wanted to intervene, but she was merely doing natural things; I am sorry.

What is happening in Bosnia is terrible and it is getting steadily worse. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South is right to fear that it might produce an extraordinary explosion among Muslims in other parts of the world. A serious British Muslim asked me, "How would the west respond if the Turks took things into their own hands and unilaterally took out the guns around Sarajevo?" What could I say? That risk exists. The least the House should do is debate these matters before we rise.

6.34 pm
Mr. William Powell (Corby)

I make no apology for returning to the subject of Bosnia, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) spoke. One must agree with the hon. Gentleman's references to the terrible events in Bosnia.

The subject was raised in the Christmas Adjournment debate a year ago by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and I recall commenting on the terrible seiges at Osijek and Vukovar. It was bad enough then. Perhaps it was predictable that it would get worse, but the reality of how much worse it has become was forcefully struck home in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South. He rightly said that there is every chance, unless good sense prevails, that in a year's time we may be dealing with what he described as a holocaust—very much worse than even the terrible events that are unfolding before us.

I am glad to say that, notwithstanding the terrible reports that have emerged from the former Yugoslavia, our Government have not been quite as inactive as is sometimes suggested. I am far from sanguine about how successful active military intervention would be. It is easy for us, without having to confront the reality of the terrain and conflict in Yugoslavia, to forecast how simple it would be to resolve the matter, but surely we have enough experience of Northern Ireland to realise that military intervention does not necessarily solve problems as easily as those who enter into such engagements might imagine. We have surely enough experience of Northern Ireland to know that the difficulties of reconciling what appear to outsiders to be irreconcilable divisions are considerable.

I hope that the House will not allow itself to be talked too easily into believing how easy a military solution for Yugoslavia might be. I am glad that this summer and autumn my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and members of the Government have responded actively to many of the reports.

I want to talk principally about war crimes. War crimes are war crimes, and although the events that are occurring in Yugoslavia can easily be overlooked by many people in the horrid rush of extra events that pile one on top of another, it lies with us to assert some fundamental moral principles. The fundamental moral principle that we must assert more than any other is that these crimes against humanity are outlawed under international law. We should send a message to every single person in Yugoslavia who is committing crimes against humanity or who may do so in the weeks and months ahead that their names are being taken and their crimes catalogued and that, if it is possible for them to be brought to account and stand trial before a tribunal, that is exactly the fate which will befall them. The civilised international community will have details of their names, the allegations made against them and evidence of the outrages that have been perpetrated. If those people seek to travel abroad, they will be arrested when they arrive at the frontiers of civilised countries. There will be no hiding place for them.

One issue about which I feel most strongly is that too many people may have allowed their moral senses to become numbed to Yugoslavia and have overlooked the fact that crimes are crimes however they are committed. The evidence is accumulating. Sir John Thompson went to Yugoslavia and compiled a report in late summer this year; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided over the London conference; and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe was asked to examine whether there was evidence on which people might be prosecuted.

A special rapporteur, the former Prime Minister of Poland, Mr. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, was appointed. He investigated the issue of human rights between 21 and 26 August and his conclusions were published in a United Nations document on 3 September this year. The House will bear it in mind that we are dealing with a man of considerable distinction. His main conclusions were that massive and grave violation of human rights were occurring throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and that such violations were being perpetrated by all parties, but, in describing what was happening to the Muslim population, he used the phrase "particularly tragic". He also said that the violence was being tolerated and even encouraged by the responsible authorities. He said that there was an immediate need for concerted action. The report was available at the London conference.

In moderate but nevertheless very clear terms, that man of distinction was making it perfectly plain that crimes against humanity were being committed. Such crimes are outlawed under international law, but were being encouraged by persons in responsible positions. That is unacceptable. Mr. Mazowiecki went on to say that the heavy weaponry on the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina should immediately be neutralised and placed under the supervision of the United Nations protection force, and that the United Nations should continue to call on the competent authorities to abandon the policy of ethnic cleansing in all its forms, a policy which has caused so much outrage in the rest of the world.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South that the initiatives must come above all else from the United Nations. If that is not possible for any reason, the CSCE also has a leading role to play. The report also stated that the United Nations should without delay issue a peremptory warning to the authorities controlling the different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina that, with respect to their duty to safeguard the security of civilian populations, they may, in accordance with the norm and standards of international law, be brought to justice, for not only the direct perpetration but the toleration of acts of atrocity, violence and other violations of human rights.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he referred specifically to Mazowiecki's suggestion of putting heavy weapons under the control of the United Nations. How is that to be done, other than by some form of military intervention? How are war criminals to be brought to court unless we bring about the cessation of hostilities? I raised the issue of war crimes in a debate on 16 November, but the Government made no response.

Mr. Powell

I shall say something in due course about the trial of those responsible for war crimes, because the main burden of my remarks involves the establishment of a tribunal to deal with such matters.

At the London conference it was decided to send a party of what can only be described as three wise men, although one turned out to be a lady, to investigate further the matters which were raised by Mr. Tadeusz Mazowiecki. On the initiative of the United Kingdom they asked Ambassador Correl, the chief legal adviser to the Swedish Foreign Office, to go to Croatia to investigate further. He selected Ambassador Turk of Austria and Ambassador Thune of Norway to go with him. They were in Croatia from 30 September to 5 October. They concluded that there were numerous reports of atrocities against unarmed civilians as well as the practice of ethnic cleansing in Croatia and, that, while such reports could be attributed to both parties to the conflict, it appeared that the scale and gravity of the crimes committed by the Yugoslav national army, the Serbian paramilitary groups and the police forces in the Knim authorities were by far the most serious.

They also stated that they had received sufficient evidence to establish a legal basis for international prosecution, that an expert committee should be convened immediately to arrange a system for the collection of information, that an expert committee should be formed to prepare a treaty establishing an ad hoc tribunal to hear the allegations of crimes and that an international forensic expert group should be sent immediately to investigate the evidence of mass graves. If that is not completed before the coming winter, there is a real danger that the evidence itself might be destroyed because of the extraordinarily low temperatures which can be experienced in that region, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South mentioned.

That report from the three rapporteurs led by Ambassador Correl from Sweden was available in October. The matter was then handed to the United Nations. Of course, we are aware that the United Nations passed resolution 780 on 6 October. It established an expert group to collect and analyse the information submitted to it with a view to providing the Secretary-General of the United Nations with its conclusions on the evidence of grave breaches of the Geneva convention and other violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia.

Five people were appointed to examine the issue. Fortunately for the world, one of those five was none other than the redoubtable Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, of De Paul university in Chicago, who is recognised throughout the world as a leading authority on international law and who is the author of the standard textbook about crimes against humanity which was recently published on all continents.

Unfortunately, no budget was given to the five men and there were no satisfactory conditions for them to carry out their work. I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and the Leader of the House of Commons to coment in detail this evening, but I should be grateful if he would draw my remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, from whom I should like to know in due course the state of the financial assistance provided to the five men, how many staff they will have and what opportunities they are being given.

I am told by the redoubtable Professor Bassiouni that the group has met only once. In other words, although the world community recognises that something is very wrong and that something must be done, efforts to put right the problems are so far desperately inadequate. That must now change. The message must go out that all those responsible for crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia can expect to have to account for themselves not only in the celestial heavens to which they, like the rest of us, will go in due course, but in this world.

What is now required is the establishment under international authority of an ad hoc tribunal to set about the task of collecting the evidence and ensuring that it is possible to place on trial those responsible for the most outrageous criminal acts. If possible, that should be done under the authority of the United Nations. The United Nations should be asked to move not some time well into next year, but before Christmas.

If it is not possible because of the internal workings of the UN—I know that a number of people are concerned about the attitude of the People's Republic of China in this respect—for such action to be taken under the authority of the UN, it should be taken under the authority of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. I know that the CSCE is concerned about whether its authority might be undermined by an unsuccessful attempt to intervene in this way, but now is a time when we simply must be bold. What is happening is too wrong and such wrong cannot be allowed to prevail.

I welcome the fact that Dame Anne Warburton is going out to Yugoslavia to investigate the terrible news we have heard about the rape camps, which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South mentioned. The story that appeared in The Times today seemed simply too appalling to be true, but all of us know that it may well be true. Such atrocities cannot be allowed to prevail.

I have asked again and again in the House for an international court or international tribunal to deal with international crimes against humanity. If ever there was a case for the world community establishing such a tribunal, this is the case.

I raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 27 October. I asked him to persuade his colleagues in the Government to adopt a much more constructive approach towards establishing such permanent machinery for the trial of such crimes. My right hon. Friend replied: I am certainly content to give my hon. Friend that assurance."—[Official Report, 27 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 862.] I welcome that reply. I am convinced that our Government are trying to make some progress on the matter, although I do not underestimate how difficult it is to secure the agreement of the others who must be involved.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. If the international community is to will those ends, it must also will the means by which to bring the people concerned to trial.

Mr. Powell

Indeed, that is the case. It is perfectly possible to proceed. There is a draft convention which was discussed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in the autumn. Our country, on behalf of the European Community and the sixth committee, gave a most positive statement in October about the European Community's intent. It is perfectly possible for us to proceed quite quickly. The draft exists. It would be possible to table any necessary amendments, to debate them and to decide on them quickly if there were a will.

I believe that there is a growing will in the Government to make some progress. I want to encourage the Government to go further. Above all else, I want everyone in the House and in the country yet again to assert that what is happening is wrong, to say that it cannot be allowed to prevail and to say that the civilised thing to do is to try to bring to justice, if not now, then as soon as we can, those who carry responsibility for the outrages.

6.52 pm
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) in discussing the troubles of the former Yugoslavia, but I, too, want to raise a matter of considerable importance before the House rises for the Christmas recess.

Last Friday, my constituency and much of south Wales were shocked by the announcement by Marconi that it was to close its remaining factory in Newport, with the loss of more than 400 jobs. That was a shattering blow to the town and to the surrounding area. The workers there have nowhere else to go.

I want the House to be clear that the works is not what might be called a doll's eye factory. There are many in south Wales which were established to try to compensate for the loss of jobs in coal mining and in steel. Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd., to give the company its official title, employs many highly skilled design engineers.

In October, the company announced the closure of its Corporation road factory, with the loss of more than 100 jobs. The works formerly employed 700 people, but it had been progressively run down. Now the second factory is to close, making a total of more than 500 jobs lost, many of them highly skilled. There is, of course, the multiplier effect, which brings the figure to approximately 1,500 when one takes into consideration the ancillary concerns linked to and dependent on the two factories.

We know that the name "Marconi" is merely a trade name. The company is really the General Electric Company Ltd., GEC, which is presided over by the well-known predator, Lord Weinstock. The Spytty road factory in Newport opened approximately 17 years ago and it is very modern. It is well situated because it is close to the M4, to the dual carriageway and to motorway links to Birmingham and the midlands. Until three years ago, the factory was part of the Plessey empire; but for many years, the company was pursued by Lord Weinstock, who was most anxious to take it over.

With several colleagues, I worked with Sir John Clarke, the then chairman of Plessey, and his executive team. When the first GEC bid was made, it was warded off. On the second occasion, some three years ago, Lord Weinstock's attempt was successful. By 14 September 1989, GEC owned 76 per cent. of the Plessey shares. The takeover was heralded as the dawn of a new era. It was to be rationalisation, from which all manner of benefits were supposed to flow.

The outcome, as I said, was rather different and both factories are now to close. All that the highly trained, highly skilled labour force have got is a Christmas redundancy package. The works is quickly to be run down from March 1993, with the gates finally closing in September.

From all reports, it is a poor redundancy package. The pay-out will be the state minimum. The closure procedure and the dates which I have mentioned apparently have that factor very much in mind. There has been concern locally about the way in which the closure announcement was made. The workers first heard that the factory was to close on the television news on the night of Thursday 10 December. It was as if the management were allowing the media to do their dirty work for them.

I can confirm at first hand the botched way in which the matter was handled by the company. On Saturday 12 December, I received a letter, dated 14 December, from a Mr. M. J. Shaw who was referred to as the divisional director sonar, Marconi Underwater Systems Ltd. The letter told me that the closure announcement was to be made to the staff on Monday 14 December and that there was to be the eventual loss of all 400 jobs. What a way for a firm of this size, with an international reputation to uphold, to carry on. Is it any wonder that the workers are expressing anger and astonishment?

I appreciate the changed circumstances of the past few years, with the cut in defence procurement following the end of east-west confrontation and the virtual disintegration of the Soviet Union. There is now a crying need to reorganise the defence industry for peaceful production. One would have thought that GEC was in an ideal position to play a major part in that kind of development. According to an article by Andrew Lorenz in the Sunday Times on 6 December, Lord Weinstock is quoted as saying that he has £1.8 billion to invest. That is profit generated by the efforts of the employees. I contrast that massive surplus with the mean, parsimonious attitude which the company seems to be adopting towards its workpeople, who are now considered surplus to requirements.

With all those millions of pounds in GEC's coffers ready for investment, the company is said to be in preliminary discussions about becoming a partner in power station projects in Indonesia and southern Europe and in power station and road schemes in China. That kind of investment will not help to save jobs in that factory in Newport.

Lord Weinstock is also said to be contemplating investing in road and rail in the United Kingdom. I would be the first to applaud investment in our infrastructure, as I have been calling for an increase in that sector for years. Nevertheless, it is state investment that should go into infrastructure; I am thinking of the billions of pounds that are raised each year in motor taxation, less than a quarter of which is spent on roads.

The millions of Lord Weinstock should go back into manufacturing industry, from where they were generated, to make Britain more competitive in world markets so that we as a country can cut imports, thereby improving our trade balance which has been so deeply in the red for so long. In doing that, Lord Weinstock would also provide jobs for his existing work force instead of making them redundant.

The Government do not appear to have grasped the need for a change in our industrial production following the end of the cold war. There are immense opportunities, but a non-interventionist approach is not needed.

The President of the Board of Trade seemed to be on the right lines when he told the Conservative party conference recently that he was prepared to intervene before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner on behalf of British industry.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to sit in the Chamber and do their correspondence? Hon. Members have come here to debate matters of considerable importance.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

I thought that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) had acknowledged me when I nodded to her and I know that the point was made to her by the Whips. There are facilities in this place to deal with one's correspondence. The place to do so is not in the Chamber.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

May I point out that I am perfectly capable of listening to what is happening and doing my local work at the same time? Unlike most hon. Members, I do not employ a secretary in London. I wish to know what is going on because, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, these matters are important. If I wish to take up a point that is being made, I am perfectly capable of doing that and of doing my correspondence at the same time. I did bow to your wishes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by ceasing to use a pair of scissors. However, I must say that I think the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich is more than somewhat narrow-minded.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Recently, I have noticed that many of the courtesies of the Chamber seem to have been put on one side, probably as a result of ignorance on the part of new hon. Members, for example, when leaving the Chamber after making a speech before the next speaker has spoken. It is not proper to do one's correspondence in the Chamber. There are facilities to do that elsewhere. I should be obliged if the hon. Member for Lancaster would refrain from doing so.

Mr. Hughes

Before that interruption, I was referring to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade to the Conservative party conference when he said that he was prepared to intervene at any time on the part of British industry. However, we have not seen much evidence of that resolve. Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade has been too busy closing our very efficient coal industry.

The message crying out from the GEC-Marconi situation has been known for more than 2,000 years. I took the trouble of looking up Isaiah chapter 2, verse 4 which is about settling disputes between great nations. It states: They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks". It is surely not too difficult to put that biblical message into a modern context.

I conclude by repeating the proposal that I made earlier today to the Secretary of State for Wales during Welsh questions. I called on him and the Secretary of State for Defence and the President of the Board of Trade to intervene to stop the closure in that vital works in Newport. Why pick on south Wales in that way? It has faced enough problems with coal and steel redundancies and closures. I plead with the Government to give our area a break. It has suffered enough.

7.6 pm

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I declare an interest as chairman of the Falkland Islands group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I want to raise a matter which is of great importance to the people of the Falkland Islands which I believe should be debated in the House before we rise for the Christmas recess—that is, the unilateral decision of the Republic of Argentina to invite applications to fish in its waters in the south-west Atlantic from countries which have, until recently, been fishing in Falkland Islands waters.

The Argentines are offering cheaper licences for longer periods, thus attracting trawlers away from the Falklands. Not only will that pose a severe threat to the economy of the Falklands; it is also likely to decimate the stocks of ilex squid. The economy of the Falkland Islands depends on the population of ilex squid.

The Argentine action has been taken without prior consultation with either the British or Falkland Island Governments. It pays no regard to the need to conserve the stocks of ilex squid, and it will lead to its rapid depletion. It is likely to cost the Falkland Islands between £8 million and £16 million a year, which will seriously affect the ability of the islands to remain self-sufficient.

To put those figures in perspective, one must realise that the total income of the Falkland Islands from those and other activities is about £30 million a year. The cost of the action represents a drop of anything up to 50 per cent. in the islands' income. In short, it represents a serious crisis which requires firm action from the British Government without delay.

Of course, as the House would expect, discussions have taken place between officials. Every effort has been made to resolve the problem. However, the discussions, which included proposals to limit the amount of squid that can be caught in Argentine waters, broke down at the weekend. We are therefore today faced with a very serious situation—indeed, one of the most serious situations since the conflict that occurred between the Falkland Islands and Argentina. Argentina has made it clear that it will allow trawlers which fish for ilex squid to catch between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes. If that happens, it will be a disaster for the Falkland islanders and the conservation of fish stock which feeds millions of people around the world.

I am sure that my colleagues in the House who have visited the Falkland Islands will have been as impressed as I was to see the size of the fish when they are eventually caught and realise how vital they are in feeding so many people. Therefore, it is not simply an Argentine matter; it affects many people who live in the less developed countries of the world.

It is possible that the Argentine decision could wipe out the ilex squid in a few years. The reason is that the life cycle of the fish is only one year. The fish which are caught in Argentine waters will be small and at the beginning of their life cycle. They are usually a good size by the time they reach Falkland waters.

Why is Argentina taking this unilateral action? The House may agree that it looks like a rather hostile political decision, intended to threaten the economy of the Falklands. The action is not necessary to Argentina or its economy. I believe that it is a most unfriendly act, to say the very least, by a country which wants to develop its trade with Britain and the Community and put recent events behind it. I say that because imports from Argentina in the 12 months to September 1992 were worth £122.3 million. British exports to Argentina for the same period were £103.4 million so we have a trade deficit with that country.

Argentina also seeks something else. It wants a fishery agreement with the European Community which will enable surplus European Community fishing vessels, mainly from Spain and Portugal, to fish in south-west Atlantic waters. To that end, the Community will contribute 28 million ecu—about $35 million—during the validity of the agreement, which has been initialled but not signed. That means that the Exchequer and the people of Britain will contribute to that money which is intended to enable the accord to come into force. It also means that the European Community is positively encouraging vessels to fish in the Falkland waters, and is providing financial aid to Argentina to develop its fishery.

Argentina constantly stresses to the Falkland islanders that contact is needed with them so that the two countries can share research and technology. The Falklands have frequently tried to share information with the Argentines. It has urged the Argentines that the stocks will be depleted if unrestricted fishing is allowed and fishing vessels will move to other fishing grounds. Both countries will suffer revenue loss.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

As a fellow officer of the all-party Falkland Islands group, I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised the issue. Can he explain that the Falkland Islands Government operates a most responsible conservation policy? In the past, it has limited the licences it issues and the size of catch that a fishing boat can bring in to the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Shersby

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I visited the Falkland Islands fishery in August and was able to see the policy which was being pursued. The policy is very responsible, designed to conserve fish stocks to the benefit of all concerned.

The problem is that, despite what the Argentines have said, so far they have taken little notice of approaches from the Falkland islanders and no action to give effect to their words. If the fishery grounds are carefully managed, there is no reason why the fishery should not last for many years to come, to the benefit of both countries. However, that simply has not happened.

As we sit here a few days before the Christmas recess, what can be done to make it clear to our fellow citizens in the Falklands and the Argentine Government that the British Government is not prepared to accept the decision? First, I believe that urgent action must be taken at senior ministerial level to make Argentina aware that Britain regards its action as likely to cause a major crisis. Secondly, it should be made clear to Argentina that the United Kingdom will veto the proposed fishing accord by using the Luxembourg compromise of saying that vital national interests are involved. We could do that because at present the United Kingdom is considering the accord, especially its effect on the Falklands.

I should like to say this in the spirit of Christmas. I hope that none of those actions will be necessary. I hope that Argentina will re-examine the serious problem and recognise that, if it wishes to trade with our country and the European Community and be accepted, and if we are to put behind us the recent unhappy events, hostile action of this sort against small islands and a small population is simply unacceptable to the people of the United Kingdom and those who live in western Europe. I hope that Argentina will give thought to those matters and resume talks as quickly as possible.

7.18 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

This debate gives hon. Members the opportunity to raise issues which they believe should be urgently debated, and that is what I intend to do in the short time that I wish to detain the House.

Last Thursday, hundreds of men and women from many parts of the country who have links with Kashmir lobbied Members of Parliament. Many hon. Members not only met those men and women, but spoke at the meeting that took place in the campaign that has been conducted for many years to give the people of Kashmir the right to decide how they wish their future to be developed.

The sad tragedy of Kashmir is one of continuing suffering to men and women of all ages, from the very young to the very old. For more than 45 years, part of Kashmir has been occupied by the Indian army, under the direct control of the Indian Government. It has been a rule of oppression and brutality. Many organisations have requested permission to visit the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir to see what conditions are like. Many hon. Members have made similar requests. Those continual requests are always refused, yet no reason whatever is given by the Indian authorities for such refusals.

Last year, the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), the former Member for Ilford, South, Mr. Neil Thorne, and I visited Pakistan. I pay the warmest tribute to Pakistan, not only for its commitment to Kashmir, but also for the care that it shows to the refugees who have fled the Indian-occupied area of their country. I saw with my own eyes the brutality that has been inflicted on men and women who had escaped from the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir. Horrendous and sordid injuries had been inflicted on those people.

We visited the area of Kashmir which is now the responsibility of Pakistan. We were allowed to go anywhere we wished, and we were allowed to speak to anyone to whom we wished to speak.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

The hon. Gentleman speaks highly of Pakistan. Does he recall that, soon after he and I entered the House in 1970, wicked and atrociously cruel oppression was perpetrated by the Pakistan army on the people of East Pakistan and East Bengal, now Bangladesh? Is he aware that the Pakistanis now give aid and comfort to terrorists in Kashmir?

Mr. Cox

I take the gravest exception to the hon. Gentleman's last comment about terrorists of Kashmir, as indeed will people who are citizens of Great Britain. They are men and women fighting for their freedom. If the Indian Government allowed those so-called terrorists the opportunity freely to decide their future, they would decide it. The hon. Gentleman should know as well as I do that the great tragedy of Kashmir is that freedom and opportunity are being denied.

I return to the comments that I wish to make. I saw the most horrendous and sordid injuries that had been inflicted on people. I shall give just one example. We saw a young boy of 16 who was picked up by the Indian army and accused of being a terrorist. He denied it. He was taken into a room and tied down on a table. His clothes were pulled open and kerosene oil was poured all over his chest and set alight. The burning that one saw on his body was one of the most sickening sights that anyone could see.

That example is not something we were just told about. I and two other Members of Parliament, one who is still a Conservative Member and the other who lost his seat at the election, saw the young boy. I could give many other examples of such injuries which we were not told about but which we saw for ourselves. People of all ages had suffered such brutal action.

Since 1948, many attempts have been made to solve the Kashmiri issue by means of the United Nations resolution. Such efforts go back many years. The obstacle to progress is the lack of any real commitment on the part of the Indian Government. When it suits them, the Indian Government will say that India is the largest democracy in the world. The key to democracy is to allow people their freedom and allow them to decide how they wish their future to develop. That is what the people of Kashmir want: they want to decide whether they wish to be linked to India or Pakistan, or whether they want to be an independent country.

This afternoon and this evening, we have heard some moving debates on issues that concern all of us, such as the former Yugoslavia. Britain becomes involved in many issues. I do not criticise that. I am sure that we are deeply concerned about the former Yugoslavia on humanitarian grounds and because we are horrified at the appalling suffering that many men and women are enduring there. However, we do not have any real links with Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia does not have the history which Kashmir has.

If the Leader of the House or any hon. Member doubts that the Kashmiri people look to Britain to play an active role, they need only read the commitments given by the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, to Kashmir and its people. I believe, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House who support the efforts of the Kashmiri people to decide what their rights should be, that the Government must take some steps of paramount importance.

I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of my points and use his influence or that of his right hon. Friends to make those points to the relevant people. The British Government should immediately make it clear to the Indian Government that the brutal treatment and oppression of Kashmiri men and women must be stopped immediately, and full and free access to the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir given to organisations. There are many highly reputable organisations in Britain and throughout the world which could play that role, see what the conditions are and meet whomever they wish, so that they can form a judgment.

Many Members of Parliament would also like to have the opportunity to go to the Indian-controlled area of Kashmir and see what conditions are really like; but, despite enormous numbers of such requests, visits have not been allowed. There is always a reason why it is not convenient for us to go. If there is nothing to hide, why are groups not allowed to go? Why are Members of Parliament, irrespective of party, not allowed to go? The Government must seek via the United Nations a full debate on Kashmir. I hope that the United Kingdom will initiate that debate.

We want the Government to initiate a debate on Kashmir in Parliament in their own time early in the new year. Many men and women in Britain have links with Kashmir but are citizens of Great Britain. They believe that we should debate the issue in the House. As Members of Parliament who represent those people, we have a duty to allow them to hear the views of Parliament on that country.

The British Government should bring together the two Commonwealth countries which are deeply involved in Kashmir—Pakistan and India—at the Commonwealth conference next year and persuade them to agree to a debate on Kashmir at the conference.

Kashmir and its people want one thing: the freedom to decide their future. Every Member of Parliament, irrespective of party, has a duty to help those people and that country to achieve that objective.

7.28 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I wish to raise three matters. They are hospital radio broadcasting, pets and Basildon.

I have the honour to be the unpaid parliamentary spokesman for Hospital Radio Broadcasting. As many hon. Members will know, it is the largest team of volunteers in Britain without any paid officers. One part of the organisation is Radio Lollipop, which operates in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). That radio station is dedicated to broadcasting to children. I am pleased to announce that it is organising a fax-a-joke project this Christmas, and hopes to broadcast it throughout the country to cheer up sick children in hospital.

On a serious note, I have probably been failing the organisation for the past five years. Hospital radio is merely asking for its own frequency. Often people visiting hospitals ask whether they can tune in to the hospital radio station on their own headsets. The benefits of FM broadcasting are that hospitals would not have to spend as much money on maintaining hardware systems and that our programmes would be heard more easily by the audience at which they are aimed.

Our programmes are generated by more than 15,000 volunteers within the 320 member stations in hospitals throughout the country, at an annual cost of £7 million. The aim of our organisation has never been to broaden the audience outside the homes and hospitals that we serve, but we want to get the programmes to the audience for which they are intended.

A recent test at Redhill hospital was a great disappointment. All the members are so enthusiastic about broadcasting. I broadcast from a hospital at Bow for a short time. Hospital radio is supposed to cheer up sick patients and I was told firmly that my voice was not therapeutic, but I took no offence and decided to work quietly behind the scenes.

On behalf of all the members of that organisation, which I am privileged to represent, I must say that it is churlish of the Broadcasting Authority to have shilly-shallied for five years. We still do not have our own frequency. I hope that the authority does not think that our organisation is not worth a frequency, and I hope that hon. Members throughout the House will support our initiative to get one.

The second issue is pets. Many hon. Members are keen on keeping pets, as is my household. I have it on good authority that Father Christmas will be delivering a canary to one of our children this Christmas. During times of great difficulty in the economy animals have suffered to some extent. I wonder how many hon. Members realise that the Act that controls the maintenance of pet shops is 41 years old—the Shops Act 1951.

Last year I tried to amend the 1951 Act. My simple Bill set out regulations for the care of pet animals, inspection of pet shops by veterinary surgeons, the keeping of records and, most important of all, regulations on the sale of animals to children under 16.

I do not wish to be a spoilsport at Christmas, but it is just not good enough for a child to be allowed, without the parents' permission, to purchase a puppy, a kitten or an exotic reptile from a pet shop. All those animals need a great deal of care and it is incumbent upon pet shop owners to make certain that children's parents have given permission for their purchase. I know that the Leader of the House has a busy schedule in 1993, but I hope that he will find time for a short piece of legislation to amend the 1951 Act.

I shall end my speech on the subject of Basildon. The constituency has attracted some attention during the past year. One reason was that it was one of the first marginal constituences to show that there would once again he a Conservative Government. I am the only Member of Parliament that Basildon has had. We have gone to the good people of Basildon three times and been elected three times. On every occasion the media and other interested parties, including one or two Opposition Members, have forecast that a Conservative Member would not be re-elected.

It is no secret that the former rotten socialist council was one reason for my re-election in April, as it was an absolute disgrace. On 7 May, 15 Conservative candidates stood for election and were elected, with swings of between 20 and 50 per cent. from the socialists to the Conservatives.

In May, my poor, excellent, Conservative council was left with hardly enough money to collect the refuse—we were left with only £0.5 million in the reserves. The former socialist council wanted to spend £28 million. Of that, £14 million was to go in wages and £7 million towards capital and interest payments on loans. My excellent Conservative councillors were left to grapple with that scandalous state of affairs. They have done a sterling job during the past five months and have pledged that next year, for the first time ever, Basildon will not be capped, and that it will not be capped again as long as it has a Conservative council.

During the past year, much has been written and said about Basildon and much has been heard about the town on television and radio. However, much of it has been written by people who have no knowledge of my constituency. They pop in and out with their teams and write stories with no meaning. It is about time that the truth was heard and that is why I hope that next Christmas hon. Members will purchase for their stockings a book called "The Road to Basildon", of which I am the author. On that note, I wish everyone a happy Christmas and I hope that they will enjoy good health and prosperity in 1993.

7.37 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) ended on a happy note with some self-congratulation and wished us all a merry Christmas, but anyone who has sat through the debate will realise that it will not be merry in many parts of the world. We have heard speeches about the gravest matters and no doubt many hon. Members will wish to follow them.

Today we have come here to comment briefly on matters of concern to our constituents, and I shall deal with the methods and policy of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in regard to the grants that it pays for private housing. The grants run at about £32 million a year and have done an enormous amount of good in the past. In 1984, about 27,000 properties benefited from the grants, but by last year the figure had fallen to 5,748. That fall reflects two things: first, that restrictions are placed on those who can get a grant; and, secondly, that there has been a general improvement in the housing stock. However, there have been problems and setbacks. For example, replacement grants seemed suddenly to vanish; no one seems to be able to get one. Also, people were offered a grant and spent money on having plans drawn up, only to discover that the grant was withdrawn at the last minute. That is a scandal.

I have long preached in the House that it is often better to replace a poor house than to spend a lot of good money to repair it. If people were offered less for replacing than repairing, we would have a much better housing stock throughout the United Kingdom, not just in Northern Ireland.

Because of the present financial circumstances, the Housing Executive grant system was changed and a new system came into operation on 1 October. I appreciate the fact that the Government wish to means-test everything, but I do not know whether it is wise to apply it to housing. However, that has happened and I am not sure whether much saving has resulted. Although the change was unwelcome, I understand it, given the philosophy that lies behind the Government's action.

My constituents and I cannot understand the Housing Executive grant form. The first 12 questions on the form are perfectly straightforward and resemble those found on any Government form. However, we take grave exception to question 13, which states: It is Executive Policy to direct grant aid regardless of the political affiliation or religious belief of the applicant. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) should listen carefully to this because it applies to what he was saying. The question goes on: In pursuit of this Policy the Executive strives to ensure fairness in the treatment of all households and individuals. To help us achieve this aim it is important that we collect basic information on the religious denomination of applicants. Please tick which of the following best describes the religious composition of your household. It then gives the choice between Protestant, Roman Catholic, mixed Protestant and Roman Catholic, or other.

I find that scandalous and do not see what on earth an individual's religious affiliation has to do with whether his house needs repair: either it needs repair or it does not; either it falls within the legislation or it does not. In all the years that I have been a Member, many applications for grants have passed across my desk. I have received many complaints about how the grants have been administered, but I have never received a complaint from an applicant who has been refused a grant saying that it was refused on the grounds that he was a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. He may have been refused for many other reasons and may have had difficulties with the reasons given for refusal, but he never said, "I was refused because of the house of worship that I attend on a Sunday morning or evening."

The position is now different. We have never had the problem before, but the mere asking of that question makes it an issue. Since I first raised the question in Northern Ireland, the Housing Executive has said that applicants need not answer that question. Why ask it, then? If it is not filled in, it will soon make an utter nonsense of the statistics. Experience of fair employment legislation has already shown us that, although it is not obligatory to answer the question now, the next step is that it will have to be answered. The matter will go on and on and great efforts will be made to find out exactly what an individual's religious affiliations are.

Because the question of religion is now being asked, the executive will have to publish statistics on who has replied and who has received and been refused grants. They will then have to stop assistance to decide how grants can be allocated fairly. Will it be by the sums allocated to the religious group in question, by the number of grants made or by area? Will the applicant need to be visited by different grants officers—two sets of them—or will there be two sets of administrative staff just to determine whether the grants are being allocated fairly?

The matter will not end with Housing Executive repair grants. One thinks of all the ramifications such a policy will cause in terms of the grants that farmers receive. There are big farmers, little farmers, dairy farmers, pig farmers, poultry farmers, sheep farmers, beef farmers, potato farmers and less-favoured areas. Each will be able to complain of discrimination. In industry, the Local Enterprise Development Unit in Northern Ireland, the industrial development boards and other groups will claim discrimination. The issue may also apply to social security benefits. I do not know where it will end, but I wonder where it comes from.

The Belfast News Letter editorial of 7 December, when I raised the question, said: The Northern Ireland Housing Executive appears to be indoctrinated with the pontifical, and at times absurd, policy-speak of the Fair Employment Commission, if the questionnaire on its grants form is anything to go by. I share that view and believe that the form should be withdrawn. It is another mistake as it asks a irrelevant question. That offensive question should be removed and, while the Housing Executive is at it, it should also withdraw the earlier form that it produced for the housing selection scheme, which apparently asks the same question. I was not aware of that until now. It used to be illegal in Northern Ireland to ask the religious denomination of anyone applying for a job or anything else. It is not a requirement. The Housing Executive must face a lot of questions from me about who has received a grant.

7.45 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I always enjoy these debates, particularly the one at Christmas. Faced with Christmas shopping, writing Christmas cards or the opportunity to raise an issue about which I feel strongly on the Floor of the House, I feel that there is no choice. We have heard some emotional speeches so far and, although my speech will be on a completely different topic, it will none the less be extremely strong stuff.

We should not adjourn for the Christmas recess until we have had a thorough debate on the prospects for Britain's hill farmers. Last Thursday, without any warning or discussion, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the outcome of the autumn review on hill farming. He reported that there had been a recovery of hill farm incomes. Although that is acknowledged, the recovery is nothing like as good as he suggested. As a consequence of that recovery, he announced a 26 per cent. cut in hill livestock compensation paid to sheep farmers in less-favoured areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) has already said that that is disgraceful. I propose to use the two adjectives "shabby" and "despicable". Not only does it threaten to put hill farmers out of business but it threatens the future of our upland landscape, much of which lies in national parks. No one should doubt the seriousness of the situation.

If one tours our upland areas, one sees empty farms and farm properties where farmers and their families have given up because they cannot make a living. The proposed cut is unprecedented. It will return hill farmers' incomes to those of 10 years ago. A typical hill farmer in my constituency—I dare say that it applies right across the country—with some 750 ewes would lose £1,500. Farms with larger flocks are already curbed by unfavourable treatment from the European Community because they suffer from headage limits.

There have been some encouraging signs of income recovery. The prices paid for store lambs went up this year and a little last year but that must be put in perspective. The recovery is from incomes that were at their lowest since the war. In real terms, incomes are still significantly less than they were five or six years ago when I was first elected to the House, and we thought that they were in crisis then. They remain in crisis and will be in even bigger crisis if the cuts go ahead.

Many hill farmers are struggling to survive. They have been holding on, hoping for better times. Now, just as matters look a little brighter, they face a cut in support that will knock them back to where they were just two years ago. It is extraordinary that Ministers recognised the fact that hill farmers needed help. Those farmers were grateful for much-needed increases in the ewe premium and the introduction of advance-stage payments of that premium.

At a stroke, all the good work of the past two or three years will be undermined, eroded, and wiped out. It is ludicrous that the cut in support proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food competes with schemes such as the Department of the Environment's stewardship scheme, which recognises how impossible it is for some farmers to make a decent living. Some two or three years ago, the North York Moors national park introduced a scheme based entirely on the fact that government at whatever level, whether local or national, recognised the severe difficulties of marginal hill farming and its importance to the fabric of the upland districts.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

I am glad that my hon. Friend has been given the opportunity to raise an important issue that burst on us over this past weekend, after the leakage of an announcement that was intended to be made as we went away for the Christmas recess. Is my hon. Friend aware that Exmoor in my constituency is about to become or has become an environmentally sensitive area and that the Ministry's press release refers to over-grazing? Surely that is not the way to tackle the problem of over-grazing, if there is such a problem.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes a valid point and speaks of his experience, which is spot on and on which other hon. Members should reflect. In the press release announcing the cut in hill livestock compensatory allowance, the Ministry said that there would be further measures to prevent over-grazing. The combination of the two factors—the cut in hill livestock compensatory allowance and the measures to prevent over-grazing—will put out of business the very farmers whom we are supposed to be in the business of helping.

Let us be clear about the sort of people and families involved. We can forget the urban city dweller's view of the fat cat farmer. Families in such farms struggle to make ends meet. When I visited them, as I like to do during our recesses and intend to do over the Christmas recess, I am always deeply moved at the way in which they go about their business. They do not expect much out of life, and they look on hill farming as a way of life. Anyone who knows the North York Moors national park will know that it is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton


Mr. Greenway

I see that my hon. Friend wants to tell us about the Peak district.

Mr. Winterton

I come from Cheshire, where the Peak park plays a major role. My constituency includes many hill farmers who cannot make an income from their farming, so they take on outside activities such as contract work and driving to make ends meet and to keep their families.

Mr. Greenway

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Many farmers exist by successfully claiming family income supplement. if the HLCA payments are reduced, the social security budget will rise—it will rise even more if farms are put out of business as a result of the cuts.

I believe that the decision must be reconsidered. What future can there be for hill farmers if, every time things get better, the Ministry says, "Now things look brighter we shall cut the special help that we have always recognised you need and knock you back on the floor"? What a prospect for the farmers—the proposal will mean kicking men who are struggling to get off the floor, which is precisely how hill farmers in my constituency are viewing it.

How much money will the proposal save? I am told that the mean decision will save £20 million. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade announced a £1 billion package for the coal mining districts a few weeks ago, which I fully support. However, hill farming is in just as much of a crisis as the coal industry. It is time that we had a thorough, open review, not a behind-closed-doors decision by the Minister whereby he issues a press release stating that he has had a review and made a decision.

We should consider the figures. What sort of income levels should we expect hill farmers to achieve? What sort of reasonable income should they be able to earn from hill farming? What is the importance of hill farming to the overall structure of the sheep industry, one of the more successful parts of British agriculture—with 27 per cent. of the EC regime in sheep meat and an increasing volume of exports? Farmers are doing better, partly because of that increase in exports. We want to improve our balance of trade in food and foodstuffs, and the sheep industry is already helping us to do so.

A recovery in prices has helped the entire sheep sector. If the cuts go ahead, the gap between the hard-pressed hill farmer and the rest of the specialist sheep sector will widen. However, the Minister concluded that the HLCA rates are now greater than necessary to compensate for the permanent natural handicaps of farming in those regions. That is totally illogical. Those permanent handicaps have not altered simply because there has been an improvement in the cycle. All agriculture sectors are cyclical, and the cycle of sheep prices will again turn down. If it does so this winter, and the cuts go ahead, how on earth will some of our sheep farmers be able to afford to feed their sheep flocks throughout what is already proving to be a wet and expensive winter?

I have represented the constituency of Ryedale in the House for the past five and a half years and, when it comes to issues relating to the local economy, I can think of nothing that has been of greater on-going concern to me than the future of hill farmers. They need extra support, not cuts. It is time that we had a thorough debate on their future so that we can press my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come to the House and to tell us why the Ministry is going ahead with such a mean and spiteful cut in support at such a difficult time.

7.57 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I do not intend to detain the House long. When the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and I make common cause, it should at least attract the attention of most other hon. Members. We do not normally find ourselves in the same lobby, but what is happening now with the proposed merger of the Crewe and Macclesfield health authorities is totally unacceptable.

It is important to realise that Sir Donald Wilson was a political appointment. Despite the clear views of my constituents, the creation of health trusts has been pushed ahead, with little concern for the interests of either the patients or those working in the national health service. Now, Sir Donald Wilson has gone too far. It is not in his control to appoint whomever he wishes, when he wishes, where he wishes, irrespective of the interests of those who will be affected, without the Secretary of State taking a clear and firm line. There should be an immediate declaration from the Department of Health that there is to be an independent inquiry into the management of our regional hospital authority.

For far too long, the creation of trusts has meant that employees have created trusts and not only laid down the terms and conditions of the new trusts but often determined the budgets and then gone on to become chief officers of the trusts that they were, supposedly, setting up. We now have a plain case of someone overriding all the interests of open government—of which this Government are so proud—and blatantly appointing someone within the organisation who was herself in the process of creating a short list. She added her own name to it and became the chief executive.

That is not a matter of party politics—it is unacceptable for anyone to behave in that way. That is certainly not in the interests of the NHS or of a Government who think that they want these crazy trusts. It is impossible to obtain accurate information from the trust in my area, but we know that it is overspent every year. Coopers and Lybrand has prepared internal reports which have not been released, and the trust is to be £1.29 million overspent again this year—it will have to fiddle the figures to make them look good.

We also know that certain people have lost their tenure of office and have gone off having been paid large sums as compensation. In an open inquiry, many facts would come out—for instance, about the way the region is run—and those facts would give pause to many, including many Conservative Members.

I speak with real feeling about what is happening. No public office should be run as the fiefdom of one political party or one political master, yet that is what is happening in the Crewe and Nantwich and Macclesfield area, and it is wholly unacceptable.

8 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I believe that we should scrutinise the governance of Scotland in some depth before the House rises for the Christmas recess. The Maastricht treaty, when linked to the Single European Act and the treaty of Rome, will have given away massive powers to Europe—away from this Westminster Parliament and will have created a legal unitary structure known as the union. That means that this Parliament will have many areas of responsibility removed from it. In other words, it will be bypassed.

The consequence for Scotland will be that the cement that binds the United Kingdom together will be fatally weakened. That, I fear, will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. I suggest that the cement that binds the United Kingdom consists of the monarchy, the Westminster Parliament, the unwritten constitution and British citizenship. Sad to say, because of recent events the monarchy is under great strain and has been badly weakened; while the giving away of real powers, financial and political, to Europe means that Westminster Members will not be able to ask questions on behalf of their constituents about matters that will be dealt with by unelected bankers or the people of Brussels.

The free-to-constituents-service given by Members of this Parliament—the cornerstone of the United Kingdom's unwritten constitution—and the right of constituency Members to have questions on behalf of their constituents answered will have been bypassed. For many Scots, redress in the future will be via the European Court, where only the wealthy can be sure of justice. In time, I believe that the Westminster Parliament will be reduced to the administrative and executive level of a medium-sized state in the United States. How long will the Scots tolerate that, and what will they feel about what has been done to the Union established in 1707?

I remind the House that Maastricht creates a legal entity, a unitary European state called the union. Everyone will be a citizen of that union, and the citizen's duty to the union is to be reviewed and revised every three years. That could mean that young Scots can look forward to the possibility, under European foreign and defence policy, of conscription into a future European army. All that makes me believe that following a Conservative victory at the next general election—I expect there to be one—all it will take is for 37 of Scotland's nationalist and crypto-nationalist Opposition Members, many of whom paraded in Edinburgh on Saturday last, to decide to sit in Edinburgh and call themselves the Scottish parliament. Their legal right to do that is sustainable, because Scotland's parliament was not dissolved in 1707: it was merely prorogued. No constitutional Act on the statute book provides for the means to break up the United Kingdom, and I suggest that in the absence of such an Act those 37 Members will be in a strong position.

I also suggest that the weakening of Westminster's powers in favour of Europe's powers will make Scottish independence, inside or outside Europe, a real possibility—perhaps even a probability because Scots will quite properly question the wisdom of remaining within a union that can no longer deliver the benefits of the Union. As a Unionist, I want that Union to continue. I articulate my concerns tonight because while we have been concentrating on making Europe work we may well have been taking actions that mean that the United Kingdom will no longer work.

This is why I shall continue to oppose the Maastricht Bill. We urgently need a debate in Government time in which we may discuss the governance of Scotland.

8.5 pm

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

I will not follow the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) except to tell him that, in the 16th century, Wales was savagely annexed. There was no Parliament then, and it was not prorogued.

There is a gathering crisis in the steel industry in Europe, and the Government appear not to wish to know about it. It is already affecting Britain and British Steel. The former communist states of eastern Europe, in a desperate search for currency, are efficiently dumping the steel that they make in western Europe. British Steel has already cut its production targets by 20 per cent. and has signalled a £51 million loss. That shows how serious the situation is. I want the Government to do something about it and to give a lead.

I should also like to mention the aerospace industry. The European airbus project received a severe blow last week, when an order for 74 aircraft was cancelled. That means that, throughout western Europe, there are likely to be grave employment consequences. I should like the Government to come to the House and explain what they believe the consequences for Britain will be; 7,000 workers here are engaged in making the airbus.

Workers in my constituency make steel, and they make the wings of the airbus. I am proud of Shotton steelworks and its contribution. It is world class. The aerospace factory at Broughton employs 4,000 and has a magnificent record too. I should like to hear some clear answers from the Government tonight about these two industries.

In my constituency, 3,000 people are out of work. More than 700 of them are long-term unemployed. I am deeply worried about the Government's review of the assisted area status map of Britain. I believe that the Government plan to take assisted status away from my constituency. I warn them not to do so. The unemployment figures there are serious, and the long-term implications for steel and aerospace could be even more serious. The Government must promise not to tamper with the assisted area map.

8.8 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

Because of the pressure of time, I shall confine the bulk of my remarks to topics raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I hope that Conservative Members will realise that I intend them no discourtesy by so doing.

I should like, however, to refer briefly first to the speeches by the hon. Members for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and for Corby (Mr. Powell). They spoke for the whole House when they described the terrible plight of the people of the former Yugoslavia and asked us to consider not just what more we can do to help but the position of our own troops, who are currently doing their best in that area. Committing troops to any conflict is, of course, a serious step, and the whole House will be mindful of the welfare of British service men this Christmas, the task that we have set them, and the difficult circumstances in which they are expected to undertake it.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the speech made by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack). Does he share my anger at the written response by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, which clearly stated and placed on record that our troops are to receive a cut in their allowances while on active service under the United Nations in Bosnia?

Mr. Brown

The thoughts of us all are with our service personnel this Christmas. No one wants to see them done an injustice—particularly not at this time, and in the very difficult circumstances that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South clearly described. I hope that the Leader of the House will have something satisfactory to say on my hon. Friend's point.

The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) also commands widespread support for his remarks about war crimes, not just in the House but throughout the country and the international community. Similar points are made on the other side of the Atlantic, and I hope that the Serbs will take careful note of the direction and speed in which international opinion is moving.

I thought that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) would also secure widespread support in all parts of the House. As we have come to expect, my right hon. Friend spoke for the disabled and for the severely disabled, and raised the issue of the independent living fund and its successor funding arrangements. Fortunately, the Leader of the House has some specific expertise in that matter, and I hope that, when he sums up, he will be able to say something that satisfies my right hon. Friend.

It is Christmas, and it is nice to see parties on both sides of the House coming together to raise important matters. Although I am summing up for the Official Opposition, perhaps the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) will not find it entirely inappropriate if I speak on his behalf as well. He has made common cause with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in describing the regime now operated by Sir Donald Wilson—himself a political appointee—in the areas in which both the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have their constituencies.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield outlined, and my hon. Friend confirmed, that Sir Donald has been behaving in an arbitrary manner. My hon. Friend specifically called for an independent inquiry into the management of trusts in the area, and I formally support that request from this Dispatch Box. The circumstances outlined are clearly unacceptable in any form of public administration. It is not a question of party politics but a straightforward stand against corruption. I hope that the call for an independent inquiry into the affairs of the health authority in question will be carefully noted by the Leader of the House, and that he will draw it to the attention of the Secretary of State for Health.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the affairs of the House that Labour Members have spoken about employment in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Flynn) raised the question of job losses at Marconi, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of GEC. He commands my sympathy, because I witnessed a similar closure—that of the Marconi factory in Gateshead, next to my own constituency—in similar circumstances only a few years ago. GEC operates in a ruthless way in such matters. I, like many others, would like to see some of the huge surpluses over which GEC's management preside put back into British industry, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East suggested.

My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), in a brief intervention, declared his support for the 4,000 airbus workers in his constituency, who could not be better represented in the House. My hon. Friend spoke also of the Shotton steelworks and of its high quality products. He referred to assisted area status. In the circumstances that currently obtain in this country, the Government are wrong to consider removing assisted area status from any community.

One of the great tragedies of the current slump is that, when recovery eventually occurs, our manufacturing base may be so eroded that we are unable to take advantage of it. At the depth of the present slump, we still have a balance of payments deficit rather than a surplus, which suggests a fundamental weakness with the British economy. The Government should be trying to address that problem rather than hope that, sooner or later, we will float through the slump thanks to market forces and world circumstances alone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) rightly and movingly described the plight of the people of Kashmir. He called for self-determination, and graphically outlined the unsuitability of military occupation as a form of government for that area. I took his remarks very much to heart; they as much as any will condition my thoughts over Christmas. I am looking forward to Christmas, as I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members are, but this evening we learned of some very sombre causes for concern from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is much for us to reflect upon, and for the Government to respond to.

8.16 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

The House will understand when I say at once that it is unlikely that in the 10 minutes left to me I shall be able to comment fully and in detail on every speech. I begin by making it clear to those right hon. and hon. Members to whom I am unable to respond as fully as I should like this evening, or who asked for specific answers for which I shall have to draw on information that I may not have with me, that I will ensure, in one way or another, that their concerns are reflected in my communications to my right hon. and hon. Friends, and that I will endeavour to make a specific response in writing or in some other appropriate way.

I acknowledge the points made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), to whom I hope to address some points before I sit down, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Flynn), concerning the employment situation in his constituency, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who spoke about Argentina and the Falklands fisheries, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who made an impassioned speech about his experiences in Kashmir, which I carefully noted, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), whose constituency is not far from my own frontiers, and which I visited during my hon. Friend's successful general election campaign.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) expressed concern about the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I shall bring the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) firmly to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—although my hon. Friend will know that my right hon. Friend sought to address many of those concerns in his recent statement, a copy of which I have with me.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) joined my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and we heard also the interesting constitutional observations—as I think I might most safely describe them—of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Finally, we return to the perceived economic concerns of parts of Wales with the remarks of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) about steel and assisted area status—which were echoed by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) speaking from the Labour Front Bench. I hope to return to some of those issues; first, however, let me deal with a subject that I have not yet mentioned.

Adjournment debates are often light-hearted, and today's debate has had its light-hearted moments. More often than not, however, such debates consist of a succession of constituency problems which, although important to the areas involved, do not give rise to discussions as wide ranging as some of those in which we engage. Perhaps the most striking single feature of today's debate has been the impressive quality of the speeches— particularly, but by no means only, those dealing with Bosnia. Another striking feature has been the fact that almost 50 per cent. of the debate has concerned important issues of foreign affairs. My hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) and for Corby (Mr. Powell), and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir. R. Johnston), made especially striking speeches about Bosnia.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby was kind enough to acknowledge that I would be unlikely to be able to respond in detail to some of the points that he raised. I shall, however, undertake specifically to seek from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary the information for which my hon. Friend asked about the commission of United Nations experts appointed to deal with war crimes. As my hon. Friend will know, the British Government strongly share his concern, and deplore and condemn both ethnic cleansing and the other atrocities that are being alleged. The conclusions of the Edinburgh Council state, clearly and categorically:

Those responsible for all these crimes against humanitarian law by the different sides will be held personally accountable and brought to justice. I accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought today to establish how that can be done. No doubt the questions that they have raised will be dealt with in other ways, not least by the United Nations. I hope, however, that we can all agree that that is a very clear-cut statement about the Community's attitude—an attitude which the British Government fully share.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby for acknowledging, in a speech that in other respects had a good deal in common with those of my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire. South and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber, that the question of involvement could not be approached quite as sanguinely as some—including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber—appeared to suggest. He indicated, at the very least, some hesitation, and—like my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South—he seemed to recognise that the terms of the presidency's conclusions generally from the Edinburgh Council represented a clear and striking statement of the vigour with which the problem is being approached by the British Government and, indeed, the Community as a whole. He also recognised that we are seeking to impose further pressure.

As the statement is long, I shall not quote all of it. It begins by acknowledging—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South—that

the tragedy in former Yugoslavia constitutes a serious threat to peace and stability in the region … the international community will not accept the acquisition of territory by force, nor accept the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina … the Community and its member states will take further steps to assist in tightening sanctions on the Danube, and cause for the rapid despatch of observers to the border between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina … states its belief that the United Nations Security Council should examine the situation in respect of the United Nations Security Council resolution 786, the no fly zone resolution, that the UN security council should examine the situation in the light of operative paragraph 6 of that resolution. After referring to the ministerial-level meeting of the steering committee of the international conference—the follow-up to the London conference which is due to take place on 16 December, and which will be attended by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, the statement continues:

The European Council, which brings together the Heads of State and of Government of countries which are profoundly peace loving, will continue to give priority to political means in order to resolve the crisis in Yugoslavia. But, given the gravity of this tragic situation, it has no choice but to promote and participate in further initiatives which the international community may be obliged to undertake. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber made it clear that they would have liked the statement to go further. Nevertheless, it is a firm and clear statement that the problem is not being ignored by either the British Government or the Community as a whole. The Government and the Community are not refusing to consider other action if the difficulties are not resolved in a way that the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend would like. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowledging that the terms of the statement have given him some encouragement during the week.

Sir Russell Johnston

None of that enables anything to be done to stop the acquisition of land in Bosnia, by force, by Bosnian Serbs.

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

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, at its rising on Thursday 17th December, do adjourn until Monday 11th January.