§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House at its rising today do adjourn till Monday 16 October.—[Mr. Streeter.]
§ 10.4 am
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Cornwall, South-East)
Before the forthcoming Adjournment, I think it right to draw the attention of the House to the unsatisfactory and deteriorating situation at the Liskeard junior school.
I am obliged to remind the House that this is not the first occasion that I have felt it necessary to raise the subject on the Floor of the House. Indeed, the first occasion was in March 1971. On that occasion the Under-Secretary of State for Education who replied was one William van Straubenzee. Sadly, the position has altered little since then.
I should add that during the late 1970s and the 1980s there was relief on the numbers and space at Liskeard junior school as a consequence of the construction of a new Church of England primary school serving the town. However, the advantages gained by that development have now been exhausted. In practice, we are back to the situation of the early 1970s except that the problems are now greater through the combination of higher pupil numbers and the fact that the various buildings that comprise the school, to which I shall come in a moment, are also 25 years older.
The school has a classic market town centre situation. The main buildings were constructed in 1880. They comprise four classrooms, the library, the administrative accommodation and the special needs area. From the 1970s onwards, a series of temporary buildings have been constructed, but, as is so often sadly the case, they have assumed an air of permanence and, because they were constructed as temporary buildings, over the years their maintenance has not been to such a high level as one would have wished and they themselves are causing problems.
I am sure that that set of circumstances is mirrored in all our constituencies. Every time one builds more temporary accommodation to house growing pupil numbers, one cuts down on the playground space. In other words, the position at Liskeard is very unsatisfactory.
The school is centred in the town, adjacent to a main road on a cramped and confined site. I should also mention in that context that, in addition to inadequate space, in recent years there have been problems with the boilers at the school, the hall is totally inadequate and the sports field provision is located away from the school site 1582 and there have been times when, for the children's safety, the head teacher and his staff have felt it necessary temporarily to suspend sports field activities.
The number of pupils at the school is roughly 300. During the next three years it is projected that that number will rise to 352.
There is projected housing development in Liskeard. Over the past eight years, on average there have been 100 new dwellings constructed each year. The structure plan for the area allows for a greater increase in housing development. Pressures are being exerted on the school from all sides.
I turn now to the financial position. The school had been allocated, over the next three years, the sum of £220,000. That is part of the basic need bid that the Cornwall county education committee made this year. From my description of the school, its site and its inadequate facilities, I think that the House will realise that it would be futile to spend scarce financial resources on those deteriorating buildings.
Earlier this year, a responsible campaign was undertaken by the parents, in conjunction with the headteacher and his staff and the parent-teacher association. Pressure was put on Cornwall county council. A number of visits to Liskeard were undertaken by county councillors and, as a consequence, they agreed to give Liskeard junior school top priority. In the 25 years that I have been dealing with the county council in my capacity as a Member of Parliament, I have never known it to move so quickly. That testifies to the current unsatisfactory position.
Cornwall made an application to the Department for Education for a supplementary credit approval. A site has been allocated for a new junior school. The total cost of that project will be of the order of £1.6 million. We all recognise that, with the existing constraints on public expenditure, there is no chance of our being successful, in one go, for the whole bid.
Therefore, the school governors have drawn up a rolling new-build project. We are looking for £580,000 for the first phase. Last week, the previous Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), announced that there was to be an allocation of £20 million for supplementary credit approval. Liskeard was allocated just £38,000. I shall not bore the House now with the predictable response to that paltry figure, which was clearly inadequate and, in many ways, an insult.
We are now in a genuine dilemma. Over the next three years, a total of £258,000 has been allocated to Liskeard junior school—a sizeable sum that we do not wish to waste. The purpose of my raising the subject here this morning is to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House two specific questions that I am sure he will convey to the Department for Education and Employment.
First, I gather that in the autumn further supplementary credit allocations are made by the Department. Will he ensure that the Liskeard application features in that list even though we were successful to the tune of a very modest £38,000 last week? We must keep the project rolling forward. The momentum has been created and the only satisfactory outcome is an allocation of a meaningful amount so that we can start the first phase.
Secondly, during the past few months I have kept in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch who was the Minister responsible for the financial 1583 allocations. We now have a newly appointed Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I have already extended an invitation to her to visit Liskeard. I hope that I have been able to impress on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the urgency of the situation. I hope that he will support me in trying to persuade my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that she should visit Liskeard as early as possible in the forthcoming autumn 1995 term.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
I am delighted to have been called to speak this morning as I wish to raise the subject of the Coxhoe medical practice in my constituency and the events that have occurred over the past few days, which are nothing less than an absolute disgrace.
It is important for me to give a brief history of the medical practice. Until two years ago, seven doctors served 12,000 patients in a newly formed budget-holding practice. The practice served the villages of Coxhoe, Cassop, Kelloe, Quarrington Hill, Bowburn, which is in my constituency, and West Cornforth, a village in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).
Within six months, three partners left the practice and the other four doctors separated. One, Dr. Pollard, set up a practice in the village of Bowburn. Another, Dr. Drew, set up a practice in West Cornforth. The other two doctors, Dr. Woods and Dr. Shami, remained in Coxhoe with the bulk of the practice—about 8,000 patients. From a state-of-the-art surgery, with all modern facilities, Dr. Pollard moved to Bowburn, to a room in the local community centre with virtually no facilities. Dr. Drew moved into one room in a house in West Cornforth, again with few facilities.
Dr. Woods and Dr. Shami have apparently struggled to keep the Coxhoe practice going, with nearly 8,000 patients between them. I am told that that is an impossible workload and they have finally had to accept that they are overwhelmed and cannot cope with the number of patients. The maximum that any general practitioner is allowed to have on his or her books is 3,500 patients.
The practice in Coxhoe has survived with a number of locum doctors who have now all left. The Coxhoe doctors have tried in vain to find new partners, or even locums, to keep the surgery and the practice ticking over. It appears that there are just not enough doctors to go around—the Coxhoe surgery is two short. On making investigations, I have found that the rest of the county of Durham is a further 18 doctors short. I am told that, nationally, there is a shortage of literally hundreds of general practitioners.
The two vacant posts have been advertised four times, including once in the "Irish Medical Journal". Four candidates were interviewed when the first advertisement appeared in the papers and one was appointed. She subsequently took another post elsewhere and did not turn up for the job. Six doctors responded to the second interview, but eventually all withdrew. The third and fourth advertisements produced no response.
1584 As a consequence—and the reason why I desperately needed to address the House this morning—the Coxhoe doctors announced that they have asked the family health services authority to remove 2,500 patients from their lists and find new doctors for those people. The practice has identified the 2,500 patients to be removed from the list. The only exceptions that will be made in those areas, which include Kelloe and Cassop, will be terminally ill patients.
Although all the patients removed from the list will be found other doctors, it is a deplorable situation. Many people will have to travel long distances to find a new doctor. Many mothers with children, and pensioners, will have to go by foot or catch a number of buses, and will have to travel much further than was previously necessary. Those people's local surgery, which many of them raised funds to develop, will no longer be theirs. Many have been patients at the surgery for 40 to 70 years or more and it is outrageous that they have been dumped, thrown off the lists.
It should not surprise hon. Members to know that the affluent parts of the practice have been retained and the less affluent parts have been dumped. Some patients removed from the surgery have received letters and others wait in trepidation for their letters to arrive. As hon. Members can imagine, wholesale panic has set in, and old people in particular are worried sick about the situation because they do not know whether they will be able to see a doctor—if they ever can.
Questions must be asked about how this situation arose and who is to blame for it. At the weekend I was never off the telephone. I spoke to the chairman of the family health services association, I met members of the Durham health commission and I spoke to the doctors. I have had about 30 constituents at my surgery. Anyone who listens to the arguments can draw different conclusions. The doctors of Coxhoe, the FHSA and the county Durham health commission say that there is a desperate shortage of doctors. Therefore, according to them the blame lies with the Government. They tell me that cuts that were made some years ago in the Government programme for training doctors have resulted in a desperate shortage of doctors. Also to blame are the Government changes in the funding arrangements for general practices. Those were changed in 1990 to encourage doctors to set up clinics and other services. Disastrously, not enough money was allocated to cover all the new services that were set up.
The doctors and others have told me that the expectations of newly trained doctors "have moved with the times". That is a nice way of putting it. Doctors do not expect to be on duty at all hours of the day and night or for unbearably long periods. I am also told that they are not attracted to country practices such as those at Coxhoe, Kelloe and Cassop but are attracted to the lush suburban practices that are favoured by the latest funding arrangements of the NHS.
Taking a different perspective, because I sit on the fence on this issue as I do not know who is to blame, is it not strange that a large, successful practice, one of the first to accept the bribes to go fundholding—those are not my words but those of one of the partners some years ago—should disintegrate within six months? I am told that some of the partners do not speak to each other and that the office manager was ignored by some of the doctors because they disliked her so much and that they communicated with her only through a third party. I am 1585 told that one or two of the doctors left the surgery because of her and that the atmosphere was so bad that other doctors would not work there or wanted to be away. If that is accurate, is it any wonder that the practice cannot get recruits?
Was it the disunity and incompatibility of the doctors that broke up the practice and led to the eventual catastrophe that my constituents have had to suffer? The dreadful consequences are that patients have been dumped from the list and do not know whether they have a doctor. Internal squabbles in the practice should not have been the first issue: the first issue for any doctor or practice should be the patients that they serve.
Out of 12,000 patients in a state-of-the-art practice fewer than half now enjoy the facilities. Some 2,000 do not know who their doctor will be and the others are seen in substandard conditions compared with what they were used to for many years. It is important that the practice remains intact: it must not be allowed to disintegrate. I urgently request the Leader of the House to take the matter up with the Secretary of State for Health and ask him to intervene, perhaps along with the regional health authority, because it is now clear that the FHSA and Durham health commission are not prepared to intervene. That is not a criticism because they have done their best to get doctors. Unfortunately, they have not been able to do that and now the matter must be subject to ministerial pressure and perhaps the help of the regional health authority.
We must ensure that adequate temporary cover is found so that the practice can continue without kicking out 2,500 patients. Temporary cover should continue until new, permanent appointments can be made to the practice to enable it to continue as before.
I ask the Leader of the House to request an investigation to see why the events that I have outlined have occurred. It is in the interests of the Government to do that because their policies are being blamed for the disaster although, as I have explained, as far as I can see there are two sides to the story. I am not making any judgment whatever, but there should be an investigation to find out exactly what happened and why this tragedy has occurred. Some 2,500 people have been disregarded by the doctors whom they trusted. Those people need help and only the Secretary of State for Health and the Government can halt this despicable situation.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
I should like to make five brief points that I hope the Government will bear in mind before we adjourn because it would be scandalous if we adjourned without looking at them. The first item, which I hope the Government and all hon. Members will consider seriously, is the simple fact that spending on agriculture is once again out of control and will continue to get worse.
It is rather sad to hear hon. Members speaking with great feeling and passion about the needs of the education authorities for more money for schools when at the same time an appalling amount is poured down the agricultural drain. That situation is getting worse every year, although the House tries to confuse and mislead itself that things are getting better.
I have a copy of the European Community's general budget for 1996. It contains precise, clear figures and it should be available in the House next week. It shows that 1586 spending on agriculture by the EC on the common agricultural policy has increased by 25 per cent. in two years. The figures show that the amount spent is £90 million a day, which is £630 million a week or £2.6 billion a month. What worries me is that we are consistently told by the Government that reforms are coming and that changes are about to occur. But everyone knows, clearly and precisely, that there is no possible way in which we could reform this filthy, evil policy which is no more than a protection racket and an invitation to fraud.
I appeal to the Government and to the Liberal Democrats, who have always fought for people and their rights, to say what the blazes we are to do about the policy when the figures show that it is out of control. Sometimes the Government say, "Their spending has gone up and ours has come down." That is again absolute codswallop because every hon. Member who takes an interest in agriculture, as some do, knows that national spending is higher since we joined the EC and that it continues to rise. The situation is getting considerably worse.
Every hon. Member who pleads with the Government to spend money on hospitals, schools, doctors or anything else should realise that we are pouring enormous amounts of money down an open drain, that the drain is becoming larger every year and that there is absolutely no possibility of the policy being reformed. That cannot happen as a result of people sitting around a table and at some stage we will have to face it.
Secondly, I appeal to the Government to stop what I regard as a conspiracy of silence on European Union information. Over the past 48 hours I tabled two questions, one of which asked for information on the amount that we had spent on agriculture over the past 10 years. That seemed a simple question.
I asked another question about the amount that we have paid in net to the European Union in the past 10 years. The Government have rightly said that Members should not be allowed to table questions about information that is freely available in the House of Commons Library. The sad fact is that to get that information I would have to ask the Librarian to look up 10 separate documents. What was meant to be a protection against abuse has now simply become a means by which factual information about the European Union that the Government do not want to be revealed no longer appears in official publications of the House of Commons.
Why on earth should we not tell people what money we have contributed to the EU in the past 10 years? Why should we not tell them about our expenditure on the CAP?
The third issue to which we must face up is border controls. Once again, I believe that the House is deliberately seeking to evade the straight facts. Some hon. Members may say that I am rather obsessed about border controls, but I appeal to them to reread the announcement about our entry into the exchange rate mechanism. Then, every single Member said that that was wonderful news, which would bring stability and create jobs. If anyone had studied the announcement with common sense they would have realised that it was complete economic nonsense.
On border controls we are simply jumping up and down and saying that we will veto any EU measures. We have said that we will make absolutely sure that we retain our border controls. The plain fact is we simply cannot do that. As we know, our border controls are fading away 1587 almost every month. Whereas we used to require people to show their passports at the border, because of the problems of legislation, we agreed that we would operate only what is called the Bangemann wave, whereby people wave their passport at the control. We then agreed that we would let people in with identity cards. The unions who control our borders have said that more than 50 per cent. of all illegal immigrants come from the EU.
What about our remaining border controls? The Government are well aware, as is every Member, provided he or she faces up to it, that our only border protection is the declaration attached to the Single European Act. If that has any validity, can the Government tell me why Commissioner Monti published three directives which will effectively remove all British border controls? He could not have done that if the treaty law was clear. There is only one thing we can do: simply ask that the declaration attached to the Single European Act is transferred into a treaty clause at the intergovernmental conference next year.
If we want to keep our border controls we must make it clear that nothing can be discussed until the issue has been clarified. The Government tell us that those wise, delightful and sensible people all signed the declaration and that we must take their word for it. Their word does not count for anything before the European court. The Government are well aware that proceedings have been initiated by the European Parliament against the European Commission, which issued those directives. Although the Government say that they will stand firm and throw those directives out, individual legal actions will involve the payment of massive damages. It will not be possible to keep people out of the United Kingdom unless we have the courage to say we will try to enshrine our border protection in treaty law.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
My hon. Friend suggests that there should be a treaty change to make our control over our borders absolutely total and uncontroversial. If there is a treaty change, that treaty must then be ratified by every country in the European Union. Is my hon. Friend optimistic that such a treaty would be ratified?
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
No, I am certainly not, and that is the problem. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the other member states will not want to ratify it. All we are asking is that something at the back of a treaty should be put at the front of it. We are not advocating any change in wording, but just to transfer those words from one place to another.
Other member states such as Belgium and Holland will not support such a change. At next year's IGC the Government should ensure that there is no discussion on anything until the issue has been resolved. Hon. Members may say that that is not a helpful way to solve things. They may ask why we cannot sit round a table to discuss it. We hear that request every five years or so, when we are told that we should adopt a positive approach. Quite frankly, unless we demand that change, border controls will be kaput, as we will find out when the matter is discussed before the European Court. We must wake up to that fact.
What on earth are we going to do about fixed exchange rates? Hon. Members will be well aware that we had a bad experience with the ERM. Under the Maastricht 1588 treaty, the next time we go into the ERM, there is no way out of it. That decision is irreversible and unchangeable. Even if that led to massive unemployment and the borrowing of lots of money, we would have to stay on in the ERM. I have been trying, deliberately and precisely, in every way I can to get an assurance from the Government that before we opt again for fixed exchange rates, that decision will be subject to a decision in the House of Commons. I even asked the Prime Minister yesterdayif it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to advise the House and seek its advice before a decision is made to act as though sterling was in a fixed exchange rate arrangement under the EMU arrangements set out in the Maastricht treaty;He referred me to a delightful answer given by the Department of Trade and Industry, which simply said that we might have a referendum on a single currency.
The Leader of the House is a straight guy and he knows what the score is. Basically it does not matter two hoots about a decision on a single currency in comparison with fixed exchange rates. Once we are in such a mechanism all we will have is the equivalent of a Scottish pound note. Before we break for the recess, surely we should decide that before we go back into the ERM, the House of Commons will be asked to decide on that. If we cannot have that assurance, what the blazes is the point of having a democratic Parliament?
§ Mr. Marlow
Has my hon. Friend forgotten that the Prime Minister has made a commitment not to join the ERM under any circumstances before the next election?
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I am well aware of that statement. My hon. Friend should recall a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, who gave us similar assurances. He joined the ERM unofficially, which one can do. What is wrong about having a clear statement from the Government—I should be grateful for a similar statement from the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties—that before any such move is made, the House will vote on it? The ERM is not fun. Our entry last time created half a million extra unemployed. Decent, honourable people of our country were made unemployed because idiots approved of the ERM.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
I should just like to put on the record that some of us on the Conservative Benches have no dispute with the principle of entry into the ERM. It is possible that we joined at the wrong level. We were certainly at the wrong level by 1992, when our membership of it so was mismanaged by the then Chancellor, who has since become a hero to my hon. Friend's wing of the party.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
I do not think we can solve the problem by attacking Ministers. It is most unfortunate that when some of us try to deal with a real issue, some of my colleagues simply tried to indulge in party disputes and assault Ministers. We should stop that silly political nonsense of saying, "He's a baddie and she's a baddie." We should look at the issue. My hon. Friend must know that half a million decent people in Britain were put out of work because of the appalling ERM. I am sad to say that the majority of the House voted for our entry into it, although I voted against. All I am saying to the Government is, "Don't do it again without asking us."
I hope that the Leader of the House will accept that we simply must have a chat about the problems of transport to grammar schools. The Government are aware that those 1589 schools are controversial—some people think that they are a good idea, others think that they are bad. My right hon. Friend is also aware that some of those schools operate a 6 per cent. entrance policy, which basically makes them minority schools for up-market people. In some places, such as Southend, however, 25 per cent. of our kids go to them.
I am sad to say that Essex county council has today abolished free transport for children who go to grammar schools. Some of the Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors are decent people. The leader of Essex county council, who is a Liberal Democrat, is one of the nicest people I have ever met. The council has been misled on the basis of a couple of cases where children travel miles and miles and cost the council a fortune. The council has asked why it should pay for them.
I live in Southend-on-Sea and my kids have all gone to the council schools and done very well. There is no problem where I live, because pupils can walk to the grammar school, as my daughter does. One part of Southend, Shoeburyness, is miles away from the grammar schools. The council's declared policy will simply mean that children from one part of Southend will have to pay for their transport to school. That will be expensive and those children may be deprived of the opportunity to attend a grammar school, unlike children in other areas of Southend. That seems completely wrong. I hope that the Government will take the view that where there are grammar schools—where the local people decide that they want them—every child should have an equal opportunity to attend them. It is not right that some people, like me and my kids, can walk to the grammar schools, while others are prevented from attending them simply because they live too far away and are too poor to afford the necessary transport.
We should think about poor people. I say to the Labour and Liberal Democrat members of the Essex county council, "Please think about the poor families in our area who are being deprived of a great opportunity. Please remember your duty to them."
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I want to spend a few minutes suggesting some thoughts, reflections and priorities that should occupy some of the time of our new Secretary of State for Wales during the recess. No one should underestimate the strength of feeling that has been expressed to me, not about the personality of the new Secretary of State, but about the way that he was appointed. People are fed up of being pawns in some internal Conservative party game. It is the most important political appointment made in Wales, but we do not believe that the Prime Minister sat down and asked himself who would be the best person for the job and, indeed, what jobs he would want him to do in Wales. We do not believe that those factors played any part in the appointment of the new Secretary of State.
Having said that, I must tell the Leader of the House that we have worked with successive Conservative Secretaries of State and, in some respects, harmoniously. I even worked with the previous Secretary of State—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—and although we were ideologically poles apart, we still managed to get on with the business of working together to foster the common good of the communities that I represent.
1590 I hope that the new Secretary of State will come to Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney—his predecessor did so on more than one occasion—where he will find a curious, enigmatic mixture of our experiences under successive Conservative Secretaries of State. He will see a great deal of development, such as important infrastructure changes and the development of the A470. He will hear our hopes for making the A465 a dual carriageway. He will also see one of the most important and expansive land reclamation schemes in Europe to remove the backlog of 150 years of industrial dereliction.
The right hon. Gentleman will find a vigorous partnership between local authorities, his Department and other agencies trying their best to remove the locational obstacles to development, which have been such a problem to and a burden on communities such as mine. He will find many good things happening in my constituency—I have always acknowledged that—as a result of the working partnership between the Welsh Office, the local authority and other agencies. He will find a local authority which, because of the persuasive character of myself and other hon. Members, is to enjoy the restoration of Merthyr's proud county borough status. We managed to persuade the previous Secretary of State to be a listening Secretary of State in that important respect.
Unfortunately, below the appearance and even the actuality of the developments in my community, serious issues are causing problems and they desperately need to be addressed. Quite frankly, the appearance of development conceals the cumulative growing social and economic problems faced by families and by the community as a whole. Far, far too many people are without jobs; far, far too many people—men in particular—are economically inactive. One estimate based on the 1991 census suggests that up to 40 per cent. of men of working age in my constituency are economically inactive. That is not healthy, it is not right and it cannot be ignored.
Despite all the modest improvements in local employment, there is still a massive problem. We have to live with the fact that far too many people are out of work. I was in the House in 1972—I am not sure whether the Leader of the House was—when a Conservative Government rightly panicked because the unemployment total had hit 1 million. They had to introduce an emergency budget because there were 1 million people out of work. Now, we have to live with the fact that more than 3 million people are out of work.
My constituency has an especially high unemployment rate, so the first problem that the new Secretary of State will have to deal with is the sense of resignation, even fatalism, now felt not only by young people but by the middle aged, who believe that they will never get a quality job again. The Secretary of State should talk to people in employment in Wales because I am afraid that there is no feel good factor among them. Many of them feel that they are working harder for less money. Low pay in the community is as demoralising as no pay at all. It is a serious issue.
I was fascinated and, indeed, impressed by a lecture given by the right hon. Gentleman's previous boss, the Secretary of State for Social Security. He said:This widening of earning differentials between the skilled and unskilled does not just affect unemployment. It lies behind, or is intertwined with, many of our social problems. It may play a major 1591 part in the break up of families, the growth of lone parenthood, and a growing welfare dependency. It may even play a part in explaining delinquency and crime.There are certainly wide earning differentials in my community.
The Government have said that they want to roll back the state and remove its power from people's lives. I am sad to tell the new Secretary of State that during my political lifetime the state has never been more intrusive than it is now in the lives of people in my constituency. It is one of the saddest and most ironic consequences of economic developments during the past 15 to 20 years. People are now more dependent on the state. The state is more intrusive in their lives because they are dependent upon it for benefit because of redundancy and unemployment. We do not want that. The image that we actually like such dependency is nonsense. Indeed, the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman in his previous job to introduce a new incapacity test and remove people from invalidity benefit will have a dramatic effect on purchasing power in my community. He will be able to see the effects of those changes on the people in Wales.
What should be the new Secretary of State's priority? He must try to break through the resignation and fatalism felt by so many about the chances of getting a decent job. I am glad to say that he succeeds to a Welsh Office that has never really bought Thatcherism. It has done its own thing under successive Secretaries of State. It has the capacity and power to manipulate skilfully. It can use its powers to work with other agencies to create jobs and attract inward investment.
Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's first priority must be to put the Welsh Development Agency back on track. The Leader of the House will be aware that it has suffered a sad, distracting and debilitating series of problems, which in my opinion arose partly because the agency had taken its eye off the central need, which is to create jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector. Recent figures show that inward investment has fallen. We do not know whether that is directly associated with the WDA's performance, but it certainly cannot have been any help.
When people say to me, "Where will the jobs come from? Jobs can't be created any more", I say to them that they are already in south Wales. All along the M4 corridor, from Sony to National Panasonic, are large and major assembly plants. Components pour into those plants; a series of manufacturing services are required to maintain them. It must be a major new priority to change the source of an increasing proportion of that component work and manufacturing services and channel that into neighbouring communities, such as mine, which are adjacent to the great assembly plants that have been attracted by inward investment. In other words, the jobs are already there; we need simply to ensure that a higher proportion of component and manufacturing needs are served by local companies in south Wales. That should be the Secretary of State's priority.
I have argued with successive Secretaries of State that we should have not only a "Source Wales" but a "Source Valleys" campaign. We need more than words and glossy brochures; we need the Government to use their powers to attract and develop component making and manufacturing services for our great assembly plants. Although there 1592 have been many good efforts, the results are rather poor. The new Secretary of State should set himself and us targets for the future development of jobs of that kind which will break through the fatalism and sense of resignation still felt by so many communities.
§ Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me to speak on what I believe to be an important subject, one that the House should debate before the summer recess. I am referring to the imminent sale of 51 per cent. of the shares in Birmingham airport to Lockheed, the American company. During questions on the business statement last week, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate or statement on this topic. I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to raise the matter before the recess.
The airport is currently in public ownership and owned jointly by the metropolitan boroughs in the west midlands. My interest is that of a Member of Parliament for one of those boroughs. You, Madam Speaker, also have a constituency interest in the future of the airport. Dudley is one of the boroughs involved, and it is interesting to note that the Labour leader of the council in Dudley is also the chairman of the company that currently owns the airport. One of my constituents also wishes to be given the opportunity to purchase the airport. He is Roy Richardson, a large business man in the black country.
Following my request last Thursday, I was rather surprised that the chairman of the airport company, Councillor Hunt, should tell me not to interfere in the future of the airport but to look after my constituents. That is exactly what I am doing and what I intend to continue to do. It seems that the Labour council leaders involved enjoy their ownership of it and treat it as a toy that they, like children, refuse to give up.
I raise this issue at a time when it is accepted that the airport's future financing depends on its being able to attract private sector investment. That has been clearly stated and accepted by the councils involved. The former Minister for Aviation and Shipping, Lord Caithness, advised local Labour councillors how to go about raising more money for future development and told them the Government's view some time ago.
My first question is why are we selling only 51 per cent. of the shares? Surely it would be for the benefit of the councils and the taxpayers to sell 100 per cent. of the holding currently in the public sector. Many airports are currently run efficiently and successfully in the private sector. They do not need worthy councillors interfering with commercial decisions; they decide on commercial grounds how to run those airports and do so with great success. Whether the sale is of 51 per cent. or 100 per cent. of the holding, it is essential that it is completely above board and not decided over sandwiches in a smoke-filled room. For the benefit of the public purse, the councillors should get the very best price for the assets that they hold.
I wrote to the Department of Transport asking what the Government's view was. On 11 May, I received a reply from Viscount Goschen who was by then the Minister for Aviation and Shipping. I was advised:It is up to the local authority owners to decide how privatisation should take place, though they will of course be mindful of the need to satisfy their auditors that they have obtained the best price.1593 It is important that the best price is obtained for the public good. I question whether speaking to only two foreign companies, which are presumably offering the councillors an agreement as to how the 49 per cent. holding will be handled, will necessarily obtain the best price.
In the west midlands, there are three potential purchasers, all with local interests—National Express, West Midland Travel and the Richardson brothers. They have not been given the opportunity to be considered or told exactly for what they should be tendering. I do not wish to make political points although Opposition Members suspect that I may be doing so. However, I shall quote briefly from a newspaper article written, not by a Conservative, but by Graham Findlay in The Birmingham Post on 14 April. The article is headed "Politics leaves bids grounded", and a secondary heading reads,Graham Findlay blames 'old Labour' for the row over Birmingham Airport's sell-off'.The article states:There is a sinister political sub-text to the reasons given in public for refusing to consider three Midland bidders for Birmingham International Airport.The three who are being left out in the cold are National Express, West Midlands Travel and the property developers the Richardson twins…Officially, the councils say they want the 'internationally-recognised and relevant strategic skills' which the Irish and American buyers could provide …But behind the plausible reasons for wanting foreign partners at the airport lies what appears to be blatant political prejudice on the part of the seven councils.At the end of last year West Midlands Travel and BZW, advisers to the councils, were involved in some preliminary talks over the deal.But then it became apparent that the sale of WMT to National Express would make WMT's managers a great deal of money …And it is said that once news of the payments became known, several Labour councillors insisted they would have nothing more to do with WMT or National Express as potential partners at the airport …Meanwhile, Don and Roy Richardson have also fallen foul of the Labour cabal.These are not my words but those of Graham Findlay in The Birmingham Post. The article continues:The Richardsons have had faith in the West Midlands through lean years as well as fat, investing in new projects during the recessions of the early 1980s and the early 1990s.Yet they are not wanted at the airport. As Mr. Roy Richardson says: 'They are happy for us to do the dirty jobs but when the juicy ones come up, we are left out.'Once again, we see the local Town Halls' avoidance of successful examples of successful local capitalists.But for many Labour councillors, the Richardsons face another prejudice. They have been known in the past to lend their support to the Conservative Party.That alone would almost certainly prove too much for some Labour councillors to stomach.We now know why they are excluded from being considered for future ownership of the airport. The other two potential purchasers are in no way political, but the whole issue needs to be tackled before the recess. It is especially urgent that the matter be discussed now because the local councillors who currently own the airport are likely before the end of the month to accept a bid from Lockheed to become their partner with a 51 per cent. holding.
1594 I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House what can be done, first, to stop the political fiddling; secondly, to ensure that everyone—especially those actively involved in industry in the west midlands—has a fair opportunity to bid for the airport; and thirdly—this is important for all our constituents—to ensure that we obtain the best price for the sale of this public asset.
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
May I take the Leader of the House away from the tribulations of Birmingham airport to the more tranquil setting of the River Tweed in Roxburghshire? Before I do so, I must say that Scottish Members owe him a great debt for enabling the House to go into recess relatively early this year. Scottish Members who might have had difficulties greatly appreciate the additional scope that we now have for taking family holidays before school begins again in August.
Before we adjourn for the long summer recess, I ask the House to consider the system of allocation of capital borrowing consents which are to be used by the new Scottish unitary authorities after 1 April next year. As the House will know, in April 1996, the number of Scottish authorities—currently nine regional councils plus three islands authorities—will be increased to 32 unitary councils consisting of 29 unitary land-based authorises and three islands councils. One does not have to be an accountant to recognise that, by virtue of that fact, a larger number of authorities with smaller capital budgets will lead to potential difficulties in paying for unusually large capital projects.
It is a matter of concern across parties that a new system for allocating those important capital borrowing consents has not yet been finalised. A rumour is going around that there will be a system of allocating 75 per cent. of the budgets to the local councils with a residual 25 per cent. being top-sliced and kept in a central pool for allocation on a national basis to larger capital projects.
Whether or not that is true, the planning processes of a number of larger capital projects are being stymied because of the uncertainty. If the matter is not soon resolved by proper consultation with the local authorities concerned, that inevitable confusion and uncertainty will serve to delay further the start of the larger Scottish capital projects involved. Certainly, to go through the long summer recess without that matter being resolved will cause great concern.
To illustrate the point, I shall cite the case of my own roads authority—the Borders regional council—which has had a project ready and awaiting capital borrowing consent for more than two years. The local authority in the Borders region sees an urgent need to build a new road bridge across the River Tweed down river of the Rennie-designed road bridge which joins the two halves of the town of Kelso. The Rennie bridge is a grade A listed building. It was built many years ago, it is an exceptional piece of architecture and any sensible system should preserve it on an architectural and heritage basis for the benefit of future generations. It was certainly never designed to cope with the volume of traffic or, indeed, the size of vehicles today, 12,000 of which cross it daily.
The road platform on the bridge is extremely narrow—it is not up to modern standards—and it is far too narrow for safe pedestrian use. Indeed, a recent tragedy occurred 1595 when a fire engine travelling across the bridge went through the parapet wall and fell the long drop into the River Tweed killing one of the fire crew which was responding to an emergency call. That underlines the danger of the Rennie bridge being the only one available to the population and the local community.
The intolerable traffic congestion which is building up because of the bottle-neck Caused by the bridge is inconvenient to the point of interfering with the normal economic life of the town. The local roads authority has paid careful attention to that factor in identifying the need for a replacement bridge. In addition, the fabric of the environment of the centre of Kelso is being knocked to bits by the through traffic, which is forced—because there is no other route—to go through the town centre to cross the Tweed over the Rennie bridge. If anything happens to cause the bridge to close, as was the case with the fire engine tragedy, the diversions required to get to other bridges which cross the Tweed are totally unacceptable, involving detours of some 20 miles in total. A new road bridge would provide relief on all those fronts and is now long overdue.
Public initiatives have been sponsored by the people of Kelso to make their anger and frustration known to Ministers. They included a massive petition which I presented to Ministers and a delegation which I led to see the Scottish Office Minister with responsibility for roads. However, the people of Kelso now feel dismay bordering on outrage because Scottish Office Ministers refused to sanction the necessary consents for the project for the second year running in April this year.
The Borders regional roads authority has an annual capital allocation of just over £4 million. The Kelso road bridge replacement will cost around £8 million. One does not have to be an accountant to appreciate how difficult it is to pay for an £8 million project out of a £4 million annual budget. The galling thing is that almost £1 million of capital expenditure had been committed by the Borders regional roads authority to financing public inquiries, initial survey and design work and acquiring the land to enable the new bridge to be built. That money is tied up, serving no useful purpose and it will have no effect until central Government consent is forthcoming to start building the new Kelso bridge.
In addition, and compounding local anger, Scottish Office Ministers have been unfairly leading on the local authority by appearing to agree the consents necessary for the new bridge in principle when the project appeared in the on-going transport forward planning documents required by statute to be lodged by the local authority. The documents have been submitted and approved by Ministers without demur or comment. The implication is that if the plans are in the three-year rolling programme, they will be given capital consent approval when their time comes. Yet now, although the bridge is ready to be built, Ministers are actively withholding the additional £2 million borrowings needed by the local authority in each of two consecutive years to allow the new road bridge to be built.
I give due notice to the Government and Scottish Office Ministers in particular that the people of Kelso will persist in raising this issue on a regular and frequent basis until the Scottish Office recognises the urgency of the need for a new bridge at Kelso. In the meantime, I urge the Leader 1596 of the House to draw the matter to the attention of the new Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State has a new ministerial team and the chance to look afresh at the merits of this case. I make. two pleas. First, urgent steps should be taken to agree a new system of allocating borrowing consents for all the new councils in Scotland after next April, because it is delaying important planning of unusually big projects.
Secondly, and particularly, urgent reconsideration should be given to the approval of borrowing consent for the building of a new road bridge for Kelso. I would be much obliged if the Leader of the House could take whatever opportunity he has to raise those matters urgently with his colleagues in the Scottish Office.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)
As we enter the long recess, I want to air a few matters on my mind before summer atrophy sets in to political and parliamentary life. The first matter is Bosnia. It is right to hold an emergency debate this evening on that subject. I asked to speak in this debate before I knew that there would be an emergency debate. So, since a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and having been called, I shall speak on Bosnia in this debate as I cannot guarantee being called in the later debate. I hope that the emergency debate might even prevent us from being recalled during the recess to react to yet another dangerous escalation of activity in that region.
Whatever happens, however palpable the failure of the central purpose of the United Nations and NATO mission, there seems to be no sticking point at which Her Majesty's Government say, "That is enough, we must change direction." Lately, we appear to be driven by French taunts of appeasement. They are taken more seriously by us because of our relations in the European Union and our efforts at foreign and defence policy co-ordination. Those efforts will be soured if we give the French a dose of realpolitik rather than indulge their spirit of moral crusade, which is frankly indistinguishable from the ravings of Gladstone over a century ago, and as damaging to British interests.
The comparison by President Chirac concerning appeasement in the 1930s is a ludicrous historical analysis. The threat of Hitler's Germany was wholly different, not least in directly and vitally affecting the peace and security of this country as well as of France.
Facing the challenge confronting us in the former Yugoslavia, we desperately need a clear and accurate historical perspective. Every now and again during the past century and a half, the eastern question, which is centred on what to do about power struggles and atrocities in the Balkans and the pot-boiling interventions of interested nations, stirs demands for some definite action. Most people are relieved that they are not asked to understand, let alone to unravel, the intricacies of a geographical and historical tangle that is more complex than the Gordian knot. On occasions—now is one of them—matters become deadly serious for our country.
We are ordering our service men to risk their lives for the present policy of supporting a United Nations operation, ostensibly with the laudable peacekeeping humanitarian objective of saving lives and bloodshed, but increasingly risking the waging of war in furtherance of 1597 those aims. The truth is that there is no peace to keep in the war zones of Bosnia and no agreement between the warring factions that is likely to bring it about.
The British interest and the limits of British power need to be clearly understood and defined. It would be madness for us to attempt, whatever the shadow Foreign Secretary urges us to do, with the French and whoever else joins us, to pick sides and to impose peace. There is no overwhelming public support for fighting such a war. The United States has no intention of committing ground troops to Bosnia for anything but aiding a general withdrawal of United Nations troops once it has seen beyond question that the peacekeeping mission has run its course. Withdrawal, even with full air support, is no easy task and will undoubtedly involve the abandonment of military equipment. It will also mean lifting the arms embargo.
Withdrawal and lifting the arms embargo would have the catastrophic consequences to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred yesterday. But our objectives must be limited to our power to carry them out and that applies to the whole United Nations and NATO effort. There is no ignominy in withdrawing when we have decided that our humanitarian efforts are no longer sufficiently succeeding. Every moment longer we remain, we shall be held responsible by both sides for what happens. We shall be associated with the bloodshed and we shall face impossible demands from both sides to act or to cease from acting.
At present, we have a classic example. The Bosnians say that they will use United Nations personnel as human shields unless NATO air strikes are called against the Serbs. The Serbs say that they will kill United Nations personnel if air strikes are used. It reminds me of the dilemma faced by Elizabeth Bennett in "Pride and Prejudice" over the marriage proposal from Mr. Collins. She was told by her father:From this day forward you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins and I will never see you again if you do.Our policy on Bosnia should now be to recognise that direct negotiations between the warring parties will not happen in the foreseeable future. The United States will not get involved with ground troops and without United States involvement in a world crisis of this kind, we certainly cannot make substantial headway. We should direct our diplomatic and military efforts, with the United Nations, to contain the fighting and to prevent it from spreading into peaceful parts of the former Yugoslavia or over the borders into other countries. That has been our traditional historical role in the Balkans and to that role we should return as soon as possible.
I turn briefly to more domestic politics and I shall look well beyond recent troubles and the unnecessary bloodletting of the recent leadership election. The Government now require a coherent strategy based on clear policy and decisive, competent action. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister must capitalise—a good Conservative word which I hope is back in fashion—on his victory in the recent leadership election by delivering decisive and competent action. Our constituents must be able to recognise it.
In recent days, the words of Southey about the battle of Blenheim have been running through my mind and I want to share them with you, Madam Deputy Speaker. 1598 He wrote:Everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win. 'But what good came of it at last? Quoth little Peterkin. 'Why that I cannot say' said he 'But 'twas a famous victory.'Good must indeed be seen to come at last to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to the fortunes of this Government, and the electorate must be able to identify with it and to feel it.
We have a reshuffled Government in place, the most noteworthy creation being the new post of First Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister, with a flexible job description to give ample scope to the energies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). In speculating on the likely success of such a creation, it is interesting to note the words of Rab Butler in his excellent autobiography, "The Art of the Possible". In referring to the relaunch of the Conservative Government after the night of the long knives in July 1962, he wrote:I was named First Secretary of State and invited to act as Deputy Prime Minister, a title which can constitutionally imply no right to the succession and should (I would advise with the benefit of hindsight) be neither conferred nor accepted.We must wish my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley—and ourselves—every good fortune with that job. My right hon. Friend certainly has work to do in it.
I do not detect in my constituency any hunger for a Labour Government. Frankly, that is so whatever the notoriously unreliable and ephemeral opinion polls and local election reversals might suggest. It is not difficult to identify the policies on which our political recovery will be based. They are not complicated, they are traditional Conservative ones and they have been aired most notably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in recent weeks. Those policies include lower taxation, support for the prudent pensioner, especially those, mainly women, now in their 70s and 80s, support for small businesses through tax and rate changes, a reduction in public expenditure and the bureaucracy that underpins it, strong defence and the maintenance of our traditions.
We should not, for instance, be proposing to cease Royal Navy mast manning and field gun exercises which continue to have real relevance to training, fitness and morale, and which cost peanuts compared with the expenditure on desk jobs in the Ministry of Defence and other Government Departments, which inspire no one in Portsmouth or anywhere else with a sense of the glory of our military traditions. What Conservative Minister with any pretensions to a soul could consider signing such a demolition order and consigning such useful traditions to untimely collapse? Instinct alone should stay his hand. We must stop doing such things if we are to regain the respect and trust of the electorate.
The same goes for agreeing to shut or amalgamate successful and popular small schools or hospitals. To those who believe that it is impossible to cut public expenditure by significant amounts, I refer the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) in last Tuesday's economic debate. If I had time, I could add to it and I will certainly do so in due course. I refer those who scoff and who say that it is impossible to cut taxation—certainly not to the extent of £5 billion—to the statements by my right hon. Friend the 1599 Prime Minister and by Government sources to the press about the abolition of inheritance and capital gains tax and the possible introduction of transferable tax allowances. Those changes together amount to well in excess of a mere £5 billion.
§ Mr. Marlow
Is my hon. Friend not encouraged by the fact that the Prime Minister is already making headway in his commitment to do away with capital gains tax with regard to share options? Tax on those has now been transferred to income tax.
§ Mr. Martin
I am very encouraged by what the Prime Minister is saying at present about taxes and I hope very much to see action resulting from it in addition to that to which my hon. Friend refers. Of course we can and we should cut taxes and of course it takes the will to do so. The Government must demonstrate that will and restore their credibility with the electorate with low taxation, which is a crucial difference between us and the high-spending, high-taxing Labour party.
I repeat that there is no appetite for Labour, new or old, or for what passes as its policies. Nor is there appetite for the Liberal Democrats, the ultimate beneficiaries of disillusion, protest and abstention. The vacuum is on the Opposition Benches. We do not need further lengthy consultation exercises on every policy under the sun. I hear that the latest is contained in a 10-page document sent by central office to my constituency, with no copy to me. I merely represent my constituents in this place and could certainly let the Government know, to the best of my ability, of some of the ideas that would represent my constituents.
The new Government, even fresher than new Labour, have the initiative at present and right up to the general election. They must keep that initiative. We must all use the time left in this Parliament to secure the best for our constituents and the best for our nation.
§ Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)
I will not be tempted to follow the route taken by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin). I do not wish to intervene on the internal grief of the Conservative party. That grief has been displayed openly in recent weeks, and it is not worthy of any further discussion on this occasion.
I wish to take the opportunity briefly to talk about certain events in my constituency and to raise a more general issue that relates not just to inner cities, but to our political system as a whole. Last week in the Hyde park area of Leeds, there were two nights of what the media referred to as rioting. The Hyde park area is partly in my constituency, and partly in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson).
The problems in the area are typical of those of an inner city; high unemployment—particularly among young people—housing stress, changes in the traditional family and family breakdown. The problems are more acutely felt in a city such as Leeds which has done extremely well economically in recent years. There is a real social and political problem when pockets of deprivation lie alongside noticeable pockets of affluence, as people feel that they are missing out on what they consider to be their rightful stake in society.
1600 There is a problem in the way in which our political system discusses inner-city issues. There is a great danger in the House that although we talk about the problems and exchange statistics, we are simply failing to relate to the key players. For many of my constituents—this may be a result of my own failures—the political debate is totally alien to the immediate day-to-day problems that they face. If we in this House do not get a grip on those problems, there is a real danger that we will allow an underclass to fall outside our political system. Those people will not be represented, and may become extremely dangerous to our long-term political stability.
Let me give one fact about last week's events that struck me as one of the most frightening statistics that I have come across for some time. When I talked to the various agencies directly involved in the events—the police, the local authorities and others—it was suggested to me that, on the first night, somewhere between 100 and 150 young people were involved in the activities on the street. They were not organised, nor were they bussed in from other cities. It happened spontaneously, and they were in direct and open conflict with the police. They threw stones and razed a pub to the ground. Cars were burned and other activities took place in which some 100 to 150 young people were directly involved.
Hyde park is an area where there has been a good working relationship between the police, the voluntary agencies, the local authority and the local community. If one wants to look for an inner-city area which has achieved many of the things talked about in the House and elsewhere, Hyde park is one. Yet we still have a large number of wholly disaffected young people.
I do not believe that we can simply attribute to those young people some innate evil that makes them behave in that way. I suspect that a relatively small number of those 100 to 150 young people are involved in organised or regular crime. But we cannot simply say that the majority of those young people are evil or naturally criminal, and that they must be written off.
We have a problem, because it is too easy just to write this off as a law and order issue. It is a much more difficult problem than that. I fear that in my constituency—I suspect this can be replicated up and down the country—we have a generation of young people who are lost to and lost in our society. Unless we relate to those young people, we will have deep and long-running sores in our society.
What can we do? First, we as politicians must recognise that there is no magic formula or panacea. While there is no answer that we can give from on high, there are things that we can do. It might sound economically deterministic, but I think that jobs are crucial. If we do not provide jobs for young people, they will have no hope or no expectation of a stake in society. We must think radically about how we provide jobs.
There is a worrying culture developing in our inner cities in which work no longer has a central part. In many parts of my constituency, people simply do not have a disciplined structure to their lives because they have no role in the labour market. Jobs are crucial. I do not know whether you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or other Members have been following an excellent series of articles on the subject in The Guardian. What came through from one of those articles was a sense that our young people— 1601 including those in our school system and primary schools—are saying that they have no hope, no ambition and no expectations.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
My hon. Friend has touched on a most profound point for this country and for the House. There is no expectation among our young people not only for themselves, but for their friends and for the future of their families and our society. Does my hon. Friend agree that the primary duty for all parties in this House and those outside is to try to get an economic policy—wherever it may come from—which centres on the need to distribute employment in society so that the sense of expectation can be revived and maintained?
§ Mr. Fatchett
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. I shall digress briefly by relating some personal and anecdotal evidence of some problems in the inner cities. I visited one of the secondary schools in my constituency a few years ago. I may have been full of the middle-class work ethic, a sense of achievement and a belief in our educational system. I remember saying to one streetwise 13-year-old that I hoped that he was working hard and doing all that was necessary to get good GCSE results to enable him to go on from there. He looked at me as if I came from a totally different world and said, "If I work hard, I finish up on a scheme. If I do not work hard, I finish up on a scheme." He had worked out that equation, and decided that he might as well enjoy himself at that stage because—whatever happened to him—he would finish up on a training scheme. My fear is that, in a few years, he might not even have the ambition to finish up on a training scheme.
We must seriously relate to these issues across the political parties. Jobs are important, but a change in our style as politicians is also needed. We must listen more. All of the institutions and agencies operate from the top down and are too top-heavy in terms of solutions. The ideas move from us to them, whereas we should be allowing them to come up with their own solutions. I recognise that if we allow young people much greater control of their own lives, we take risks. But if we do not allow young people that responsibility, there is a real danger that they will simply fall outside our structures.
Following the events in Hyde park, people said to me that what was needed was a new youth club in the area. That suggestion was made with all the best intentions in the world, but those who made it have failed to understand where we are. We must find flexible, informal and creative ways of relating to young people. It is not just about jobs. We must also tap into their culture and give young people a sense of hope.
I should also like to raise the issue of drugs, a subject that is difficult for us as politicians to deal with. Hon. Members who represent inner cities—the problem may be more broadly spread now—will share my concern and fear about the explosion of criminal activity and violence surrounding the developing drug culture. It is difficult for my generation to understand and relate to the drugs problem; it is easy enough to be frightened by it, and to feel that it is alien.
Time after time, experienced, level-headed and sensible senior police officers in the Leeds and west Yorkshire area have told me that some 80 per cent. of crime in the area is drug-related. There is the problem of trafficking, which can be serious; much more relevant to us as citizens, however, is the fact that a large amount of crime 1602 is committed to pay for the addiction that exists in the inner cities. I could take hon. Members to any part of my constituency tonight, and they could see young people using drugs. It is frightening.
How should we respond to the problem? It is difficult for us, as politicians, to produce a response. We are in danger of scoring cheap political points at a time when important issues surround young people. If we do not respond, however, the criminal spin-off from drugs will change not just the lives of the individuals directly concerned, but all our lives. Any hon. Member representing an inner-city constituency will have tales of crimes committed against innocent constituents simply because people have been under the influence of drugs, or need money to pay for them.
I can offer no easy solutions, although I have no hesitation in saying that the hard core of drug traffickers should be locked up for a long time, and I am sure that all hon. Members agree. The majority of decent young people, however, pose a different problem: for them the gratification side of the drugs equation is known and experienced, but the risks are ignored or unknown. We must talk to those decent, ordinary youngsters who have been pulled into the drugs net.
This may be partly based on hope, but I think that we could do more. We could listen more to young people; we could condemn less, and devote more time and effort to conveying the message that drugs pose too great a risk for people to become involved with them. Let me issue a plea to the Leader of the House: we need to adopt creative, radical methods to put that message across. If we do not tackle the problem, much of what we know as life in the inner city today—with all its problems and brutality—will continue to deteriorate. I am sure that the Leader of the House is sympathetic; I hope that the Government, with the support of all political parties, will provide more education about drugs and so promote greater awareness.
We need more resources to provide drugs education, jobs and housing. That plea is heard in many debates on the inner city; let me add that we, as politicians, should relate more to the problems of the percentage of society who are increasingly disaffected and falling through the net. We must understand the depth of the change that has taken place in our inner cities. We cannot afford not to allow our fellow citizens to be part of our political debate, and to gain from it.
If we do not relate to the problem, there will be political, economic and moral costs for us all. There will be economic costs because we are wasting the talents and resources of many of our fellow citizens, especially members of the next generation. There will be political costs because, if we do not relate to the problem as politicians, our system will be weakened and grounds will be provided for extremism of all kinds, which will be very damaging in the long term. Finally, as an affluent society we cannot morally justify the fact that a percentage of our fellow citizens have no right to a stake in that affluence. All hon. Members enjoy that affluence, and I feel that we have a moral responsibility—whatever we say in politics—to try to ensure that our fellow citizens enjoy the same affluence and personal well-being.
§ Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)
I am sure that my constituents would not want the House to adjourn without 1603 my having the opportunity to raise an issue that I have raised numerous times over the years: the state of the water industry in the west country.
The facts are reasonably well known by now. We in the west country are responsible for cleaning up about a third of the beaches that were found to be deficient under a European directive. Local resources have had to be used to clean some 130 out of 455 beaches. It is easy to say, with 20–20 hindsight—a piece of equipment that I, as a politician, will always use when it is to my advantage—that the Government should not have privatised the water industry in the way that they did, given that we now know that the beaches had to be cleaned up. We did not know it then, however. The fact is that 1.5 million people—or, more probably, about 900,000, given the number who actually pay water charges—are responsible for cleaning up a third of the nation's beaches.
The pressure on prices in the west country is stunning. It has been said that the average annual water charge is about £300 per household because of the high rateable values in the area. It is by no means uncommon for an elderly single person in relatively modest accommodation to pay well over £400 a year, and before long what could be described as an affluent household in the suburbs may be paying well over £1,000—in some instances, as much as £1,800 or £1,900.
It is all very well for those who can afford such charges to say, "It is just one of those things; we must cope with it." For many people in the west country, however, the situation is frightening. In the not too distant past, residents have seen their water bills rise by up to 20 per cent. per annum. They are paying for the one staple of life the use of which they cannot possibly control.
I hope that I can say, without sounding unduly and uncharacteristically flippant, that it is not much consolation for an 80-year-old widow with a zimmer frame to know that surfers in the west country are able to enjoy amazingly clean water. Such people have rather more pressing concerns, and they are having to pay massive bills.
What can be done? A great deal has already been done over the years. At long last, as a result of hon. Members' efforts, Ofwat has been prepared to recommend that the huge year-on-year increases in the west country should not continue, and that increases should be pegged to the rate of inflation. Some say that we should consider reductions in charges; that is a nice idea, but it was never going to happen.
It would have been something if charges could have been pegged so that people at least knew what they were having to budget for. That was a definite prospect last year, when Ofwat made its recommendation. South West Water has appealed to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, saying that it has not enough money to perform its statutory functions; apparently, however, it had nearly £1 million to devote to the effort to overturn Ofwat's judgment. I do not know whether that figure is accurate, but when I put it to South West Water it was not contradicted. I dare say that South West Water has better things to do.
As I have said, people are paying massive charges for a staple that they cannot control, and seeing no end in sight. That is the general background; I have gone into much more detail in the past. An interesting fact that I 1604 have discovered during a life in politics is that things can always get worse—and if they can get worse, they probably will.
One weekend recently, people in the higher-lying parts of the west country found that, when they turned on their tap, nothing happened—no water came through. In certain parts of Cornwall, people found that what came through the tap was obviously unfit to drink. Having paid the highest water charges in the country, they suddenly found that the process of turning on a tap did not produce the water that they were paying for.
Not everyone connected with the south-west and the consumption of water on that weekend suffered the glum reality of water not coming through. One person who was able to consider that in a rosier way was none other than the managing director of South West Water, Mr. Fraser. He was revealed in the Sunday Times to be watering his garden—a marvellous occupation, if you have the water to do it. Doubtless, while watering his garden, he was contemplating what he would do with his latest pay rise—a pay rise of £67,000 per year—a remuneration package. Mr. Fraser subsequently wrote to me, saying that that was not a pay rise as such—it was not him but one of his minions; obviously he would not write to a Member of Parliament about that sort of thing—but a total package of about £67,000. He was quizzed about that by a journalist—it is interesting to meet someone who is paid even more than a journalist—and he said:My salary has been frozen for some time. This was a modest rise.Let me make one thing clear. I am not some latter-day Leveller and I have no difficulty with the payment of high salaries. I would have no difficulty in conveying a message to my constituents that, to retain the best people for a difficult job in a competitive world, it is necessary to pay the rate for that job. I understand that, and I understand the language that says that an organisation must pay whatever is necessary to recruit, retain and motivate.
However, the problem is that, often in the water industry, it is not an issue of bringing people in who bring their great expertise to bear because of the salaries available; they are the same old shower who were there in the first place.
To be fair to Mr. Fraser, he was actually brought in from outside, but a great many people would have asked themselves, that weekend when they had no water in their taps and they saw the spectacle of that gentleman in Surrey watering his garden, contemplating what to do with his extra £67,000, why it was necessary to pay that money. I do not know.
Perhaps, for the rest of the year, head hunters were beating their way up the path, past those lovely, well-watered flower gardens, to present themselves at Mr. Fraser's mansion, saying: "You are such a successful person that we shall offer you plenty of money to leave South West Water." That may have happened, but a cynicism born of many years in politics suggests to me that that may not be true. I have asked, but I have not yet been able to discover any head hunters for Mr. Fraser—scalp hunters, yes, about 1.5 million of them, but no head hunters.
I could be wrong. Perhaps it is necessary to pay a massive sum to retain Mr. Fraser's services, but I should be interested to know what the going rate is. What is the going rate for a pay rise for a managing director of a water 1605 company that is incapable of delivering water? I may be displaying the naivety of a politician. Perhaps one really does have to pay an extra £67,000 to someone to do a job that he is proving incapable of doing, but I doubt it, and so do a great many of my constituents.
It was an increase of £67,000 and a total remuneration of £200,000. If we were here with Mr. Court, the chairman of South West Water, today, perhaps round at his place enjoying a pleasant glass of 1983 Chassagne-Montrachet, he would probably say, as we sip that wine in his well-watered garden, "It is a drop in the ocean compared with what South West Water is actually paying", and he is right—it is. However, a sense of fairness matters, and it is the last straw for people in the west country when they find that the directors of that rapacious water authority, paying themselves mega-salaries, are not even able to deliver the service that they are paid that money to provide.
What can we do about that? Obviously, something must be done. It is not sufficient to say, if anyone were to say it, "It is all very difficult, but in the end, in free commerce, the market must decide."
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
It is a monopoly.
§ Mr. Nicholls
I shall give way to my hon. Friend, if he wants, in a moment.
There is no market in water. It is all about the magical ingredient H2O. One cannot do without it. The same criteria do not apply to Marks and Spencer, to any grocer or to any other firm in a competitive industry. It is completely and utterly different. The language of the marketplace, which, in my opinion, justifies to the hilt salaries of, in some cases, £200,000—or £2 million, for that matter—cannot possibly apply to the monopoly utility.
I shall say in a few moments, when I have given way to my hon. Friend—[Interruption.] I shall not give way.
§ Mr. David Nicholson
I made my point.
§ Mr. Nicholls
One aims to please.
What shall we do about it? It is always easy, yet it is always difficult, to draft legislation on one's feet. The shape of what must be done is obvious.
When the chief executive or managing director or senior board members of a company such as South West Water are recruited externally, the company should be required to file with Ofwat a statement of what salary it intends to offer and its grounds for saying that that salary is necessary to attract people of a sufficient calibre. As far as internal reward is concerned, documents should be filed with Ofwat, showing why it is necessary—let us take the case in hand—to pay Mr. Fraser £67,000 a year more than previously. The documents should say who has tried to poach him, who has beaten a path to his door—why it is necessary to pay that sum of money. Then the public can be satisfied.
If it turns out that it is necessary to pay that sum of money to ensure that water does not come through people's taps in the west country, I am sure that the British people, who are fair, will consider the evidence and say that that must be entirely right. Until that is done, however, they will be extremely upset.
Is it a trivial matter? I do not believe so. Every now and again, one comes across a defining issue—an issue that drives people round the bend, an issue that infuriates people almost beyond reason. In the west country, the 1606 salaries that the senior personnel of South West Water pay themselves are that defining issue. It goes against every single canon of fairness.
When someone as naturally right-wing and acquisitive as me is compelled to say that figures such as that are an outrage, the matter needs to be tackled. I hope that, if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has the opportunity to say a few words about my contribution today, even if he cannot offer any direct solution, he will at least acknowledge that, yet again, a west country Member is bringing on to the Floor of the House of Commons the pre-eminent issue in the west country today. I should also like to think, because I have a great deal of confidence in him, that he might be able to say something that will give people some cheer that that sort of outrage will one day cease.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I shall briefly comment on the speech that we have just heard. I am sure that all of us, whatever part of the country we represent, will fully agree with what the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) said. He spoke about the west country, and obviously the problems that he and people who live in that part of the country experience, but the problem exists throughout the country. It is not only water charges, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, cause people to drive themselves round the bend with hopelessness, but the size of salaries. I and, I am sure, many other hon. Members of the House might tell similar stories to the one that the hon. Gentleman related.
This is a matter for the Government, because I do not believe that it should be a political issue, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said. Water is one of the essential commodities that everyone needs, and the Government must urgently consider the matter.
The subject that I would like to speak on for a few moments concerns the Latham committee report on the construction industry. That was published a year ago and the report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for the Environment and prepared by Sir Michael Latham, the former distinguished Member of the House whom I am sure that many of us recall.
The report was well received by all with interests in the construction industry. It was welcomed by companies working in the industry. There are thousands of them, large and small; indeed, about 10 per cent. of the country's gross national product comes from the construction industry. The report was also warmly welcomed by trade unions who have members employed in the industry. I must declare an interest, as the trade union that sponsors me, the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union—which has thousands of members working in the industry—also fully supports the Latham committee report.
The construction industry is vital to this country, but it has faced many problems over the years. They included the late payment of money, the abuse of payment after work had been completed, and arguments about cost and the kind of work that companies had done. Those problems often led to drawn-out and expensive disputes and, in the end, the companies and their workers invariably lost out.
The Latham committee report considered all those issues. It recommended measures to improve relations between clients, contractors and subcontractors which 1607 would lead to improved efficiency within the industry. As I have said, the report was received very warmly. Early-day motion 557, which appears on the Order Paper, deals with the need for a construction contracts Bill. It has been signed by more than 200 Members from all political parties, including some very senior Members and those who do not often sign early-day motions in this place. I think that that illustrates the support that the proposal for contracts legislation has within the House.
In all constituencies there are construction companies that employ local people, so I believe that the entire country would benefit from such legislation. I impress upon the Leader of the House that it is not a political issue. Sir Michael Latham's proposals are warmly supported by all political parties throughout the country. Members of Parliament and the representatives of the construction industry and companies in our constituencies want to see such legislation introduced in the next parliamentary Session.
The House goes into recess this week and those of us who have been in this place for some time and those who have held positions in Government know that in the next few weeks Ministers and their Departments will be finalising the legislation that they would like included in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. Sir Michael Latham and those involved in the industry—be it the contractors or the trade unions—hope that such legislation will be included in the Queen's Speech.
Tomorrow a major conference will be held at the Queen Elizabeth conference centre. The topic of discussion at that conference will be "Latham: One Year On". We know the nature of the discussions that will take place as there have been many such meetings in the past year. I have with me this morning publications from the Department of the Environment reporting on Latham and his proposals and I have also received similar correspondence and publications from the Construction Industry Training Board.
The early-day motion to which I have referred will obviously be discussed at tomorrow's conference, as will the parliamentary questions that have been asked in the past year. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked about the Government's intentions in that regard and I am sure that those questions will figure in tomorrow's discussions. I am sure that the overriding concern, to which speaker after speaker will refer, is when a construction contracts Bill will be presented to Parliament.
One year has passed since the publication of the Latham committee report and, to the Government's credit, it has not been pigeon-holed and forgotten. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for the Environment for the active role that he has played in the discussions that have taken place about the report. We have a right to look to the Government to make an early announcement about legislation.
When the report was published a year ago, I spoke in a debate similar to this one. Even in those early days, I supported the report, and it was clear from the response of hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Latham proposals enjoyed widespread support and that they believed that legislation should follow. In the past few days, the construction industry has also agreed to the Latham proposals. I understand that the Secretary of State 1608 was waiting for that expression of support from the industry. His attitude was: "I am not unsympathetic; but does the industry agree to the proposals?" I have been informed that that is certainly the case.
In conclusion, I hope that the Leader of the House will convey to his right hon. Friend the urgency of the matter. A statement must be made as soon as possible. Many hon. Members—the hon. Member for Teignbridge, who has just spoken, is one of the sponsors of the early-day motion to which I referred—seek the introduction of very clear legislation based upon the Latham proposals.
The industry and its trade unions do not want to see those proposals incorporated in other legislation. The Government of the day often say that, although they are not unsympathetic to a particular case, they cannot introduce a separate Bill to deal with the matter. Therefore, they incorporate the proposals in another piece of legislation from the relevant Department. We want the Government to reach an early decision about introducing a Bill to deal specifically with the construction industry. The proposal has the support of many hon. Members as well as the construction industry and the trade union movement. Therefore, I earnestly request the Leader of the House to convey my comments to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment so that we may know as soon as possible whether contracts legislation will be included in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
I shall follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) and refer briefly to Bosnia before I return to issues of domestic politics.
This year we commemorate, among other things, the discovery of the full extent of the Nazi holocaust. This generation will censure those who carried out those atrocities and those who collaborated with them. The President of France recently recognised the tragic and awful contribution of French people to the holocaust and we are aware that other things could have been done to avert it. We must resolve to do what we can to prevent any repetition of that tragedy, wherever it may occur in the world. One thinks of what happened some 15 years ago in Cambodia, only recently in Rwanda and particularly of events in Bosnia, which is on our continent and only a few hundred miles from the borders of the European Union, with some many consequences for general peace in the area. We heard the difficulties described by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South and later we shall hear further of the considerable practical difficulties that lie ahead in Bosnia. If the United Nations—which I fear is rather like the Holy Roman empire in the 18th century—scuttles from Bosnia and leaves people there to an awful and tragic fate, history will say harsh things about us.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South pointed out, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and others have made useful points in recent weeks. That internal debate has helped in certain respects, and the Government can pursue various proposals. As to the way in which the national press handled that matter, I intervened in a moving speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) last week, when he spoke about the concerns of inner cities and difficulties in our society—similar to the 1609 speech made this morning by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). In my intervention, I said none of my hon. Friend's points—any more than the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls)—were debated in the national press during the important political contest of a couple of weeks ago. Instead, many newspapers subjected us to a catalogue of lies, half-truths, distortion and crude propaganda. It is not sufficient for most hon. Members to ignore such stuff or that many of our constituents appear to have become immune to it. Indeed, some of my constituents have changed their newspaper orders as a result, although I am sorry that the remaining choice is hardly immense. Damage is done to our political system, the Government and the Conservative party's standing if such half-truths and propaganda are believed.
Some years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon was director of the Conservative party research department. Both my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I have worked in that distinguished and honourable department at various times in our careers. I refer to an article by Dr. Robin Harris that appeared in The Sunday Times on 9 July, so it is hardly ancient history. That article was not written by an 18-year old scribbler or someone who has just returned from Patagonia. Dr. Harris is also a former director of the Conservative research department and made a considerable contribution to winning the 1987 general election—although Lord Tebbit or Michael Dobbs may contest that claim—and was a member of the Downing street policy unit. His remarks in The Sunday Times will have been read by hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country, so I make no apology for quoting them now—and they were outrageous. The headline, which was probably the contribution of The Sunday Times, stated:The sooner defeat comes, the sooner the right will inherit the Tory party, says Robin Harris".I am sorry not to hear cheering by Opposition Members because if that comes about, they can extend their mortgages and take their managers to champagne lunches. If those two events occurred, Labour would enjoy the fruits of office for years to come. Dr. Harris then wrote:Kenneth Clarke is safe to promote the European single currency. Malcolm Rifkind is free to place Britain's foreign and security policies further under European Community control.That assertion is absolute rubbish. It ignores our Cabinet and parliamentary procedures.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
It is true.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I am sorry that my hon. Friend disagrees, but I hope that he will allow me to proceed because he might actually agree with something that I will say later.
Dr. Harris continues:And the Prime Minister, able at last to express his guilt-ridden loathing of his predecessor and all her works, has the pleasurable prospect of showing his true colours as a big-spending social democrat.What extraordinary rubbish, and I take the opportunity to repudiate it. As to Dr. Harris's remark about public expenditure, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) contained useful proposals about illegal immigrants and areas of public expenditure that might be curbed. But most of the specific proposals made in recent weeks, if they stand up to examination, would probably not save large sums of money.
1610 The past year has seen considerable debate on education spending. If it had not been for careful management, a degree of patience and various commitments for the future, that debate might have created difficulties for the Government on the Floor of the House. I do not think that there is any possibility of a similar education spending settlement passing through the House next year, so there will almost inevitably be an increase in education spending. We know of concerns about the battle for law and order. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) celebrated the Government's success in that struggle in Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday. If that success is to continue, there must be further spending on the police and associated areas. Difficulties will arise in cutting spending in other areas, such as health, community care and defence.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
§ Mr. Nicholson
I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that I would make a point about Europe. Of importance in the Conservative party debate about the European Union is that nothing is predictable. There are no hard lines between right and left or between Eurosceptics and positive Europeans. Despite my earlier intervention, I believe that my party's Eurosceptic wing has made and can continue to make an important contribution. A number of my hon. Friend's points deserve replies, because it is a basic right of hon. Members to receive accurate and effective responses to requests for information. Sometimes, the Eurosceptics aim at the wrong target, because the single currency—which may or may not come about—could bring particular benefits. But I support the Eurosceptics in concentrating their fire on some of the legal and constitutional invasions of our country's affairs. It is not satisfactory that the European Court is able to overturn specific decisions of the British Parliament.
I received in this morning's post a letter from a constituent, Mr. Keith Ross, proprietor of The Tantivy in my nearest town of Dulverton, expressing concern about a report in Asian Trader headlined:Brussels sets scene for newspaper VAT".The leader in the same issue comments:European Commission President Jacques Santer has made it clear that at next year's Maastricht conference"—although I am not sure that the intergovernmental conference will be held again in Maastricht—the EU will push hard for Britain to give up its right to set its own indirect taxation in order to harmonise levels across Europe.That will mean VAT on newspapers, perhaps on water services and even on food. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is aware that there is not a shadow of doubt that such a proposal would not get through the House. It would be resisted by Conservative Members whether they are positive Europeans, Eurosceptics or anything else. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to make that clear. I hope also that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will make the matter clear in succeeding weeks. Further, I hope that I have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East in making that point.
1611 I shall bring my remarks to a close. I am sure that that will please my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman). No recent appointment to the Government gave me more pleasure than his elevation to the Whips' Office. He is enough of a countryman to know the saying about setting a poacher to operate as a gamekeeper. I am sure that he will be successful in the Whips' Office. I am sure also that if he and other members of the Government take note of my concerns—I try to be positive in the struggle about Europe—we shall be a more unified, effective and successful party in the next 18 months.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
This three-hour debate is a substitute for a form of procedure that produced a formal motion for the adjournment of the House. Under that motion, many of us could argue that the House should not adjourn before certain matters had been debated.
The Jopling proposals, comments on which were received at 11 o'clock from the Select Committee on Procedure, confuse sitting hours, which we all wish to be reasonable, with sitting powers. For example, we cannot extend today's sitting because a decision was taken forthwith yesterday. Reductions in the powers of Back-Bench Members are being recommended—in my view wrongly—by the Procedure Committee. They include the elimination of an amendable motion on the sitting of the House. The House should control how long it sits after receiving Government proposals that are amendable and on which we can vote. It is proposed also to eliminate second Adjournment debates and speeches on Ways and Means resolutions, which relate to the fundamental powers of expenditure and taxation. As I understand it, it is proposed also to eliminate private Member's motions. There would be a major reduction in Member's powers and of those of the public who send us here.
I challenge any member of the Procedure Committee, including its Chairman, to debate the recommendation that the entire Jopling package, as adopted, continue to be considered in the next Session.
If a motion had been before us, I would have tabled an amendment to the effect that we should not adjourn unless and until two topics had been debated. The Government have put these topics high on the list of publicity over the past few days. They will be debated and reported upon in the press accurately or inaccurately, as the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) said, for the next two-and-a-half months. These topics are the Government's plans for sport and for nursery education and/or education of the pre-school type.
Until yesterday's announcement, we were due to have a debate on the Prime Minister's proposals for sport, which do not necessarily involve public expenditure. It is a bit rich because, since 1979, the Government, through their powers and legislation, have closed 5,000 playing fields. Physical education colleges have been closed. Extra-curricular sport has plummeted as teachers struggle with the administrative burdens of the national curriculum. The Government have done more to reduce opportunities for healthy sport and recreation at schools and elsewhere than any previous Government. Having 1612 been involved with sport for 14 years before coming to this place, I looked forward to participating in the debate about the Prime Minister's proposals, but we have been denied that debate.
I am sorry that the Lord President gave a rather misleading reply to my question yesterday. It would have been possible to suspend the sitting rule tonight to have a two or three-hour debate on sport, perhaps concluding it at 1 am. There would have been no vote because it would have been on the Adjournment. As things stand, we are not able to have that debate. That is in tune with the Government's approach of having publicity outside the House on issue after issue and restricting debate in the Chamber. No wonder the public do not think very much of us if there is media comment on the Radio 4 programme "Today" and on television shows and a lack of debate in this place. The decline in the reputation of Parliament may be something to do with that. The Deputy Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who will obviously play an important part in Government information and propaganda services over the next four months, will have to be watched in that context.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) on his remarks about drugs and recreation. On Sunday, I was on the Victoria dock in my constituency. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is in his place. There were young people on the dock. Twelve or 13-year-old boys were pushing out a boat, asking permission to row it. They were not able to do so. They may be able to row in future, but thanks to the lottery, not the Government. What satisfaction can those boys get from life? I am talking of a life that produces a sense of well-being within society and a sense of achievement. Many young people who look naturally for well-being and achievement will get them only from the artificial stimulation that is produced by drugs. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to that.
On 6 July, when the Prime Minister replied to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he said:I confirm that, on a phased basis, I look for the introduction of nursery education for all four-year-olds and my right hon. Friend"—the Secretary of State for Education and Employment—will announce this afternoon our plans and the phasing.The Secretary of State made a statement a few moments later. She opened her statement by saying:With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement about pre-school education."—[Official Report, 6 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 512–17]We have not had a debate on that subject, although there has been comment in the press and throughout the country. It seems that there is confusion about, and non-recognition of, the major difference between nursery education as we know it and pre-school education. Apparently, the Prime Minister does not understand the distinction between the two. He talked about nursery education for all four-year-olds. The Secretary of State's statement was not about that. The plans are not about that. There are plans for vouchers for pre-school education, of which nursery education is a part.
Did the Prime Minister say what he did knowingly? I use "knowingly" with point because we shall later debate the Nolan report and the responsibility of Ministers. Did the Prime Minister knowingly say what he did when it is not true or was he misled by officials? I cannot believe 1613 that he was misled. I cannot believe either that the Prime Minister did not know the difference between nursery education, as defined in current statute, and pre-school education, which includes play groups. I acknowledge that some play groups are extremely good, but the range of pre-school education is different from nursery education. Relatively few people throughout the country understand the difference.
I shall put on record one or two questions and answers, which I have tabled and obtained. They show that the Government are on a collision course with the public and themselves. I do not believe that they have thought out their plans. It is clear that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is not keen. Some time ago, the Prime Minister poured cold water on the proposal for nursery education for all three and four-year-olds because of expense. I presented a petition on the issue on 19 November on behalf of 106,000 petitioners. They asked for nursery education to meet demand. I introduced a Bill on the subject on 18 September 1994. It was talked out by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who later claimed that she did not know that she was destroying the Bill. All that it would have done was place a duty on local authorities to ascertain need.
Administration will be extremely difficult. Questions have been tabled to try to ascertain exactly what will happen. I received some answers yesterday. They are not yet in Hansard so I cannot provide a reference. I asked in what manner the Secretary of State for Education and Employment expects to advertise the terms of the contract for the firm that will run the vouchers. The answer was:I will reply as soon as possible".It is clear that the Department does not know, or if it does know, it is not saying, despite having announced the scheme.
I also asked what steps the Secretary of State for Education and Employmentexpects to take to ensure that levels of staffing in existing local authority nursery schools will not be prejudiced by the establishment of new nursery schools by a provider offering improved remuneration".—[Official Report, 17 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 978.]Clearly, there will be none.
Areas such as Newham, where 60 per cent. of young children go to nursery schools, will be prejudiced by the free market in qualified nursery teachers. Nursery schools in suburban areas will probably be able to offer more by virtue of the £1,000 which some people will be able to expect. A free or semi-free market in nursery education is being opened up which may prejudice areas of greatest need, such as the London borough of Newham.
I asked what number of the 74 bodies listed in a written answer some time ago had been consulted on the Government's plan. I was told:The … task force on under-fives wrote to the majority of the bodies listed on the day of the announcement requesting their views.So, there is to be consultation, but it will not be very good because the proposals have been only half announced.
I asked what was to be the cost of administration of the voucher scheme in the next two years. The answer was:I will reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible".I askedif there will be changes in the statutory instruments defining the qualifications of teachers in nursery schools and those relating to their premises.1614 One of the problems is how the Government will carry out their plans with the limited number of qualified teachers and premises which are statutorily defined as being capable of supporting genuine nursery education. I shall not read the whole answer but it is a classic for, "Yes, Minister". The reply stated:My right hon. Friend has no plans at this stage to impose any new qualification requirements for staff in any institutions which register to exchange vouchers for pre-school education.A casual reading of that might suggest that there will be no change, but I emphasise the wordshas no plans at this stage to impose".That does not mean to say that the requirements will not be relaxed, and I suspect that that is what will have to be done in order to achieve their objectives.
My last point on the matter, which will cause a great deal of trouble, relates to a series of three questions that were answered yesterday, after a fashion, about the logistics of premises. I have particular views about the regulations of the Department for Education and Employment relating to school premises. They are wholly inadequate, although I do not have time now to give examples to show why that is the case. It appears that there will be a review of all regulations relating to premises and equipment of schools registered to exchange vouchers for pre-school education. The reply says:In addition, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the Secretary of State for Wales announced on 14 July their intention to consult on a new set of school premises regulations. These regulations apply to all maintained schools, including maintained nursery schools. They will continue to do so."—[Official Report, 17 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 977.]It did not have the honesty to point out that a written answer of 14 July sets out a change in all school regulations relating to premises. It is too long to read it all, but it says that it has been concluded thatthe regulatory burden placed on schools by the Education (School Premises) Regulations should be significantly reduced."—[Official Report, 14 July 1995; Vol. 263, c. 829.]So there will be a change not just in the regulations relating to nursery schools, which it is important should be maintained in order to provide the necessary environment in this prized and highly regarded area, but in the already inadequate regulations for schools. That was not made clear by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. She referred in her statement last week to a change in the regulations, but she did not make it clear that that was what she had in mind.
At the moment, the Government are using the House of Commons less as a means of announcing their proposals and using the Order Paper and the procedure of the House and more as a means of ensuring that matters are not debated. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) mentioned the future generations—children in nursery schools and youngsters wanting sporting facilities. Why is it that we are now to adjourn for two and a half months before both those crucial matters can be debated? It has been impossible to do so, an omission for which the Government are responsible.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
We have had a great deal of debate and discussion on European policy within the Conservative party, but it would be wrong for the House to go into recess without the 1615 Government, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in particular, pointing out the appalling implications for the United Kingdom of the Labour party's European policy.
After all, as we know, the matter has been resolved in the Conservative party. We now have a policy with which we in the party and the country can be totally at ease. We are winning the arguments in Europe. We will be able to maintain, because the Prime Minister said so, our immigration controls. We will not agree to any further increase in qualified majority voting as the intergovernmental conference progresses. The United Kingdom will not agree to any deepening in Europe. As we are winning the arguments, we will be gaining more control over our affairs through subsidiarity. Things are moving our way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) looks a little concerned, but I can promise him that in an election within the Conservative party a fortnight ago, 89 of our colleagues, including, no doubt, my hon. Friend and I, voted for a programme and a platform which said that Britain will not have a single currency and for the fact that we will not bring before the House any measures to give more powers to any European institutions.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
§ Mr. Marlow
The hon. Gentleman says that we lost the vote, but 89 people voted for that platform. It is inconceivable that this Conservative Government, let alone the next Conservative Government, when many of the positive Europeans will have retired and the people coming in will have come in on a Thatcherite bandwagon, will bring any of these measure before the House. That is fact. That is given. We are secure. No Conservative Government will deepen Europe or introduce any measures to bring about a single currency. They would not do it. It would not work. It would not succeed. They would not have a majority.
The first thing that the Labour party would do would be to embrace the social chapter. What does that mean? Any good employer will want to ensure that his people are well looked after, but to do that he needs a succesful and thriving business. He must be competitive. Anyone who embraces the social chapter will have to embrace the on-costs, the paraphernalia of all the other European countries who will want to stuff it down the throats of our industries to make our industries as uncompetitive as theirs are becoming. Not only will we have bad employment practices and bad employers, but we will lose a great many jobs.
§ Mr. Marlow
The hon. Gentleman cannot resist his asides. Germany is yesterday's story. It is the United Kingdom that will be today's and tomorrow's story.
The next point that the Opposition want to embrace is the single currency—a single currency in Europe with all those diverse economies, with the same interest rates, with the same inevitable levels of taxation, socialist bureaucratic levels of taxation, high levels of taxation. The people who motivate European policy are motivated by schemes and plans and by building up their own 1616 empire. We cannot afford that. Let the rest of Europe crucify itself with a single currency and with high levels of public expenditure. Let us be clean and distinct and apart. Let us have the strong currency of Europe while others have the weak one. Let us have the Japanese—Nikko Europe and others—investing in Britain rather than in the rest of Europe because they feel that Britain will be more competitive outside the single currency.
I should like to make one further point about the desperate implications of the Labour party's European policy. Agriculture is controlled by Europe; trade is controlled by Europe; little things, like the quality of our water, are controlled by Europe; our weights and measures are controlled by Europe. The Labour party wants our money to be controlled by Europe. Everything will be controlled by Europe.
The Opposition want a policy for devolution, with more powers going to Scotland and Wales. They have power, if they are given more power, they will seek more power and the remainder of the power will lie with Europe. What is the point of Westminster? Do the Opposition want to break up the United Kingdom? That is what they will do.
I should be grateful if, before the recess, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explained loud and clear the devastating implications of the Labour party's policy on Europe for the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)
There are two subjects that the House should consider before the recess. I understand hon. Members' concerns about Bosnia, but one of my constituents, a student called Paul Wells, is currently one of the hostages in Kashmir. I should have thought that it was inappropriate for the House to depart for the summer recess without even a statement about the current state of negotiations on the release of those hostages.
The main issue that I want to raise today, however, is Motability. It is a remarkable organisation, for which I have nothing but praise. It is a registered charity that brings mobility to disabled people. The Queen was recently able to hand over the 500,000th vehicle to a disabled person, due to funding for this scheme through the Department of Social Security. Motability is a truly wonderful charity.
I cannot say the same about the system of financing that exists behind the scenes at Motability. There is an important distinction to be drawn between Motability the charity and Motability Finance Ltd. I am greatly concerned about a series of reports that have been percolating out to the public and press of late about serious wrongdoings in the structure of financing through which Motability Finance Ltd. delivers vehicles to disabled people.
I shall put the matter in context. The charity Motability has a turnover of about £3 million a year. But the supplier of finance, Motability Finance Ltd., has a turnover of £375 million a year. Motability Finance Ltd. is not a charity; it is a private company. It is set up as a partnership of six main banks. It is a profit-making business, which now has assets in excess of £1 billion. It also has access to £1.5 billion-worth of credit each year from the six banks which are the partners in MFL.
On 15 June this year, in the other place, Lord Carter raised a number of his concerns about what was happening in Motability Finance Ltd. He said: 1617the Government pay Motability Finance Ltd … £360 million of disabled people's social security benefits. Motability Finance Ltd. is the only lender in the world to have no bad debts. The money is guaranteed by the Government because it is a social security benefit which is paid over. Yet the rates of interest it charges disabled people and its car leasing arrangements are not that advantageous.That is my first concern.
Lord Carter illustrated some of the concerns that had been raised with him. He said:I understand that over the years a number of officials"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 June 1995; Vol. 564, c. 1931.]
Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but there is a rule in this place against quoting from a Member speaking in the other place, unless he or she is a Minister in the current Session.
§ Mr. Simpson
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Lord Carter referred to a number of acts of minor fraud that worried him, and should also worry the House. The essence of the matter is the returns required by the major banks that are participants and partners in the Motability Finance scheme.
The simplest thing is for me to quote from a report drawn up by accountants KPMG on the financing of MFL. The concluding paragraph states:We have carried out a comparison with the Return on Capital … which would be earned in a typical lease to that which is earned in practice by the partners and other leasing companies … The typical lease scenario envisages a ROC of 14.6 per cent. The average ROC of a number of leasing companies for 1992 was 13.1 per cent. However a Motability lease gives a ROC of 30.9 per cent., substantially higher than that generated by a typical lease or that earned by other companies.We are talking, then, about a private cartel of six major banks, headed by someone who is also involved as the chairman of Motability. The cartel is mackerel fishing for money from public funds that properly belongs to disabled people. The rate of return required for no-risk access to that finance is almost twice that in the private market.
A report was also commissioned by the DSS about the goings-on inside Motability Finance Ltd. The catalogue of events that have taken place have seen a large number of Motability staff leave in recent years. Last October, the assistant director, Mr. Robin Taylor, left. The following January, the then director, Mr. Simon Willis, who had been seconded from the DSS, had his services withdrawn at two weeks' notice. The following March, the finance director, Mr. Graham Moss, left, and now the fund-raising director has decided to leave.
Many of the departures revolved around conflicts with the chairman of Motability, Lord Sterling of Plaistow, who is perhaps better known, not only as the chairman of P and O, but as a generous benefactor to the party in government.
The most damning matter that the House needs to address urgently concerns a report commissioned by, I think, the DSS, called the Bircham report. It details the serious improprieties that exist within MFL. I shall give two quotations from the report, which should form the basis on which the House should take urgent action.
Paragraphs 9 and 10 of the report state:KPMG, of which Mr. Acher is the senior audit partner, are auditors to the National Westminster Bank Group, including Lombard Finance, which participates in the Motability scheme, the Midland Group, including Forward Trust, which similarly 1618 participates in the scheme and P and O, of which the Chairman of Motability, Lord Sterling, is also Chairman. At the same time the Chairman of MFL (Mr. Brian Carte) is … both a governor of Motability and a director of Lombard Finance.Save for out-of-pocket expenses, Motability's Royal Charter of Incorporation prohibits the payment of salary, fees or other remuneration to any governor under clause 4. Mr. Gerald Acher is both governor and Vice-Chairman of Motability on the one hand and a senior equity partner in KPMG on the other. Since he became a governor, KPMG have been paid substantial fees by Motability for professional services rendered, a share of which must pass to or otherwise benefit Mr. Acher in some form. In these circumstances Mr. Acher must account to Motability as a constructive trustee of the gross fees paid to KPMG under the self dealing rule.The Bircham report details conflicts of interest, improprieties of action and a serious overcharging of the disabled by a banking cartel that is simply fishing money at no risk out of the pockets of disabled people, out of the purse specifically provided by the House to allow disabled people to be mobile around the country.
The House must demand a public examination of the financial structure of Motability Finance Ltd. We need to have a debate on the Bircham report in its entirety. I shall place a full copy of the Bircham report in the Library after the debate. We must demand that the DSS conducts its own root-and-branch overhaul of MFL to ensure that disabled people receive the fairest deal for their, or our, money that goes into the scheme. We must not allow a sleazy bunch of bankers and benefactors to make themselves a fast buck through a no-risk, monopolistic scam, perpetrated on the backs of the public and the disabled—and we need to do that overhaul urgently.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
It is useful to have debates of this kind. The changes to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred have not been unanimously welcomed in the House. However, they have been helpful overall, especially for Back Benchers, as this morning's debate demonstrates.
I am always reluctant to disagree with my hon. Friend on matters of procedure, but I must say that some of the procedures which were changed by Jopling and about which he complained have fallen into disuse and become difficult to defend. They fell into disuse not least because newer Members had not been as assiduous in mastering the procedures as my hon. Friend. The Jopling changes of which he complained have been helpful to the majority of hon. Members.
It is not always possible for every hon. Member to attend on Wednesday mornings. Rather unusually, I should like to mention to the Leader of the House one colleague who could not be here—my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen). He lost an Adjournment debate on Monday through no fault of his own, but he had told the Minister exactly what issues he wanted to raise. I think that he gave the Minister a copy of his speech, which was on European co-operation. I hope that the Leader of the House will accept my hon. Friend's apology for not being here this morning, and will be able to arrange for the Minister to give my hon. Friend the reply that he would have had if he had been here.
Obviously, we cannot deal in detail with all the issues that have been raised, some of which will be the subjects for the debate later today on Bosnia. This morning's debates were unusual because so many Conservative Members spoke about internal Conservative party matters.
1619 Perhaps, in view of what has happened in recent months, that should not surprise us. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) invited us to sympathise with his comments about how the press has treated his party in recent weeks. At last he now knows how it feels, because we have been subjected to that kind of treatment for many years. It was interesting to see the tables turned.
These debates are always useful for hon. Members who wish to raise constituency matters, as did the hon. Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks), and not for the first time, as he pointed out. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) raised some serious matters about his constituents, who must feel very insecure because the basic services provided by general practitioners are threatened in the way that my hon. Friend described. I hope that Ministers have taken his concerns on board, and that the Leader of the House will make sure that they are followed up.
The hon. Member for Teignmouth (Mr. Nicholls) spoke about the concerns of his constituents following water privatisation. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in his place. When the Bill for water privatisation was going through the House, many of us suggested that prices would go through the roof and that the salaries of directors would be increased to ridiculous levels. The hon. Gentleman complained that a monopoly utility was allowing one of its executives to have a salary increase of £67,000, but such suggestions were described as scaremongering when we complained about water privatisation.
In such debates, some matters are raised which could be described as regular. Not for the first time hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) raised the issue of European Union policy, and especially the common agricultural policy. I agree with many of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Southend, East about the CAP. The slowness in moving to reform must concern hon. Members in all parts of the House. The speech by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) was somewhat unusual, in that the hon. Gentleman attacked Labour party policy on the EU rather than that of his own party. Perhaps we should put that aside this morning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) again spoke about the Latham report. Perhaps the Leader of the House will be able to respond to my hon. Friend's information about the construction industry's agreement to the proposals.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke about local government settlements, a topic that has been mentioned on other occasions. He was right to acknowledge the need to take account of such vital issues as family holidays when the Procedure Committee considers when the House should sit. Perhaps I will not be popular with all my colleagues when I say that I told the Procedure Committee a few days ago that there was scope for considering whether the House should sit for some weeks in September as a means of keeping us in touch with what is happening and avoiding such long gaps between our activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South raised some topical issues about the need for a debate on sport. I raised that with the Leader of the House during business questions yesterday, and I hope that the right hon. 1620 Gentleman will be able to tell us when it might be possible to have such a debate. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's every word about nursery education. When he was speaking about that, I thought of the earlier speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), whose constituency I have visited.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney about jobs and development. People in his area are working hard to attract development, and perhaps some of them feel that they are running hard just to stand still, because of all the factors that are stacked against them. My hon. Friend's remarks coincided with what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said. He highlighted one of the main concerns of all of us about the future of young people and what is happening in our constituencies. It was in my hon. Friend's constituency that riots took place, but we are all aware that they could have taken place in many other areas.
The comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central about the problems of young people and those of unemployment, deprivation generally and deprivation being side by side with affluence, and many young people feeling that they have no stake in society, must be extremely worrying to us all. If young people have no hope, no expectations and no aspirations, the future is bleak, not just for them and their families, but for society as a whole. That is because we are all threatened by such lack of hope, and by youngsters who can turn to crime. As my hon. Friend said, unfortunately they often turn to drugs. In political terms, if they turned to anything, they would probably turn to some form of extremism. My hon. Friend was right to remind the House and the Government of those dangers.
I was reminded of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South, because there is clearly a link between nursery education and aspirations and achievements later in life. There is overwhelming evidence that the best action we can take for our young people is to give them the best possible start by investing in nursery education.
The evidence shows that, if we spend more on nursery education, we shall get a return for the money, because there will be less crime, young people will grow up with more opportunities, and there will be fewer teenage pregnancies. Those are all direct benefits.
I wish I could say that the recent Government initiative on nursery education will provide, as the Prime Minister has promised, nursery education for all four-year-olds. In itself, that is not good enough, because our three-year-olds should also be entitled to it. I fear that the voucher scheme will be a third-rate imitation of a proper comprehensive policy for nursery education for all three and four-year-olds whose parents want them to have it.
I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to respond in detail to some of the important points that have been raised. It is useful to have such debates, and I hope that we will continue to provide opportunities for hon. Members to raise issues in this way, because that is valuable to our constituents and to the House.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I note that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) expressed 1621 the hope that I would be able to respond in detail, in 10 minutes, to 14 speeches—15, including her own—on a wide range of matters. I must tell her that that would be a triumph of hope over experience, and over practicality. I shall do my best. I shall, of course, consider what the hon. Lady said about her hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Keen). Given the circumstances that she described, I shall see whether I can get him a written reply from a Minister.
Although I cannot speak for the hon. Lady, I suspect that she would agree with me that this debate is one of the pleasures of the job of Leader of the House. I learn an enormous amount in a short time. I am provided with endless briefing notes, which I digest, I hope, at least to some degree, in the relatively short time available. I am offered a guided tour around the United Kingdom.
As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said to me informally outside the Chamber—I hope that he will not mind me repeating it—today we travelled from Liskeard, to Kelso, by way of Merthyr Tydfil. That is surely a testament to the flexibility and efficiency of the Government's transport policies.
We have heard wide-ranging and entertaining speeches from everyone, but some speeches have been wider ranging than others, in particular those of my hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin), for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson). I am sure that they would not expect me to range as widely as they did over the policies of the Government towards the world in general and Europe in particular.
I particularly agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South about the current policy vacuum in the Labour party, which certainly was not filled this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made an impressive speech about one definite part of the Opposition's current policy. I think that I would be right to say that it was probably his most helpful speech in many years. He drew attention to the dangers of the Labour party policies towards the European Union, and I wholeheartedly agreed with his every word.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Give him a job.
§ Mr. Newton
My powers do not extend that far, but they extend to giving him the encouragement to make frequent speeches along those lines.
I shall make necessarily brief comments on some of the specific points raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) raised important points about Liskeard junior school in his constituency. I shall certainly draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
My hon. Friend also asked me to encourage one of my hon. Friends, who has been most recently appointed to the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), to visit that school at some stage this year. I have received a characteristically cautious briefing note from the Department of Education, which states:Ministers of course do receive a very large number of invitations to visit schools and simply cannot accept them all. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend would be willing to consider a visit if that could be fitted into a wider programme.1622 I hope that that gives at least some modest encouragement to my hon. Friend. I shall also have a more informal word with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment to draw her attention to what he said.
The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) raised a important and difficult problem, which he would not expect me to answer in detail, about family practitioner services in part of his constituency. He acknowledged, as I have been told, that County Durham health commission is taking urgent steps to help residents in the Coxhoe area to identify alternative doctors, and has set up two help-lines for patients to ring. The hon. Gentleman also made it clear, however, that the problem required further examination. I shall bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East made a wide-ranging speech, but he also referred to a matter of considerable importance to my constituency and subject to many protests from my constituents—the policies of Essex county council, under Labour-Liberal control, towards transport to selective schools that still exist in Essex. My hon. Friend said that his children went to those schools, so perhaps I should declare a past interest in that both my daughters went to Chelmsford county high school for girls, which will subject to the same problem.
I share the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed about the effect on less well-off able children in the county. I hope that the people of Shoeburyness, to whom he referred, will make their views clear in the by-election that will take place, tomorrow, 20 July, for a county council seat.
The hon. Members for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney made impressive speeches about their areas. The speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central was one of the best that I have heard in Adjournment debates for a long time. He will know that I, too, am concerned about drugs. I have worked with the chief constable of West Yorkshire, Keith Hellawell, on producing a new Government strategy on drugs, "Tackling Drugs Together". That places greater emphasis than in the past on prevention and education. I certainly hope that it reflects some of the thoughts that the hon. Gentleman expressed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) gave me notice that he intended to raise a complex problem. He made some important points. I understand that, alongside the correspondence he has had with previous Transport Ministers, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has written to him this week on that very subject. I understand that my hon. Friend has not yet received that letter, but I assure him that it is on its way, and I hope that it will be helpful to him.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke about a problem in a pleasing town in his constituency, Kelso, where I had the pleasure to holiday a few years ago. On that occasion, I ran into the former leader of the Liberal Democrats. I note the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I am sure that he would not expect an off-the-cuff answer from me. I shall make sure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of Scottish Office Ministers.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) that I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends the fact that a west country 1623 Member has yet again raised the water industry, which is significant and important to his constituents. I hope that my hon. Friend was encouraged by the Government's response to the Greenbury report.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Director General of Water Services has set new and tighter price limits for South West Water, which have been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission at the company's request. We have to await the outcome of the commission's determination of price limits for South West Water. The problems to which my hon. Friend referred are being considered.
I may have inadvertently encouraged the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) to take part in the debate, because I reminded him of it when I bumped into him in the Corridor yesterday. He duly took up that invitation, and spoke about the Latham report. He will be aware that, in the past few weeks, I have regularly made what I have described as sympathetic noises from the Dispatch Box about relevant legislation. I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech, but, as I said to someone last Thursday, the hon. Gentleman can take my comments as a sympathetic noise.
I think that I have come close to running out of time, so I dare not embark on commenting on any other speech. I have noted the points made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). If any other speech remains unmentioned, or if any hon. Member is dissatisfied, I shall make efforts to remedy that in some way.
Meanwhile, I hope that I have given universal pleasure and have caused universal enthusiasm by creating a position in which, later today or early tomorrow, all being well, hon. Members on both sides of the House will be able to enjoy a short break from the duties that they have so assiduously pursued on behalf of their constituents this morning.