HC Deb 24 May 1995 vol 260 cc820-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chapman.]

10.5 am

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I believe that the House should not adjourn before hon. Members have considered the important matter of the underfunding of school budgets. Yesterday, the House heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) about school budgets in Devon being underfunded by the Lib-Lab county council, and about the fact that Conservative county councillors there have proposed a motion that the £4 million odd should be restored and have shown the ways and means by which that could be done. That proposal was turned down by the Lib-Lab county councillors in Devon.

The position in Kent should be raised this morning. My hon. Friends representing Kent and I have raised it incessantly. At the risk of boring hon. Members, I shall remind them that the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups on Kent county council at first intended to provide for no increase in school funding for this year, despite knowing that a settlement for an increase in teachers' pay had been rightly approved. That creates an intolerable position for our schools and it has occurred at a time when Kent county council has received a 2 per cent. increase in financial support from the Government, and when the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups have approved a budget that has hit Kent council tax payers with an increase of more than 5 per cent. in their council tax.

When one considers that 2 per cent. increase in Government funding and the fact that council tax payers are contributing another 5 per cent., it is an absolute outrage that schools in our county were confined to budgets that showed no increase to take account of teachers' pay or of inflation. Needless to say, that caused outrage in Kent and the Lib-Labs conceded the point to the extent that they introduced a 1 per cent. increase. That has nevertheless left our schools with problems in relation to their budgets and how they manage their finances. In a small number of cases, those problems could lead to the loss of teaching posts, which is outrageous.

The county council's Conservative group proposed an alternative budget that showed ways in which, by a rearrangement of spending, money could be concentrated on schools, thereby increasing funds to cover the teachers' pay settlement and making up for inflation. That could have reversed the wanton imposition of a £700,000 cut in adult education by the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups and could have kept a fund going for discretionary grants for post-16 education, which the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have totally cut.

In a neighbouring constituency to mine, we have a case of a young girl who has an exceptional talent in dance. She would normally have looked to the county council for a discretionary grant to develop that talent in her education, but the application was turned down flat by the council on the ground that it has no budget for that. That has never happened in Kent before, but it is what happens when large authorities such as Kent are in the hands of a coalition between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. What will happen to the education of that talented youngster and the development of her talent? They care not a bit.

Those two groups use the usual range of excuses, saying that it is because of the Government's actions and that it is all so unfair. Originally, I put it down to inexperience, incompetence or a mixture of both. That seemed quite a reasonable answer to their extraordinary behaviour. However, I am coming increasingly to the view that not only is it a conspiracy at the expense of the people of Kent and the education of all our children, but that that conspiracy extends far further. We have heard what has happened in Devon, where budgets have been deliberately underfunded despite the alternative budget presented by experienced Conservative county councillors. Hon. Members will know of case after case of similar goings on in councils up and down the country.

The conspiracy between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats seems to be based on the belief that if they short-change the schools and bleat about Government cuts, parents will rise up and blame the Government. That may have had a little to do with the local election results earlier this month. So on that score it was cynically successful. What is left in the wake of that conspiracy is the wreckage of our youngsters' education—including that talented girl to whom I referred—and pressures on schools that they should not have to face when the money is available. I increasingly think that we are dealing with a political, cynical conspiracy.

What strengthens my view? Recently the accountants for Kent county council announced that there was an underspend of £17 million in the revenue budget for the council, let alone the underspend of £24 million in the capital budget. Although it is now the second month of the financial year, Conservative county councillors in Kent quite properly tabled an amendment asking that £3.8 million of that £17 million underspend—that is all that is required—be put into the school budgets in Kent so that they would know that the funding was available and so that, in the minority of cases, they would not have to take the drastic action of dismissing teachers. That is a sensible solution based on the best for the education of our children in Kent.

A detailed budget was laid out by the Conservative group on Kent county council, but it was curtailed without proper debate and was voted down by the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups.

What happened to the amendment to harness £3.8 million from the £17 million underspend of last year? The Labour and Liberal Democrat groups—it is easy to confuse them given the way in which they carry out their so-called work in Kent—decided that they did not want to debate it. However, they dare not turn it down because it is so logical and is supported by the people of Kent. They decided to filibuster and fob it off to a committee. The next meeting is on 22 June. That means that it will be a month before our schools know whether a solution will be found for their problems.

As you know, Madam Speaker, I am the last to complain about the party politics in which we indulge ourselves from time to time, but we are talking about the education of our children—I mean "our children" because my children attend state schools in Kent, as do the children of other hon. Members up and down the county and the country. We should not play politics with the education of our children and that is what the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups are doing in Kent.

I hope that the Labour and Liberal Democrat spokesmen will roundly condemn what has happened in Kent and that at the very least they will instruct their groups in Kent to look at this matter and put the money that is available into our schools for the education of our children.

10.14 am
Mrs. Diana Maddock (Christchurch)

I am sure that hon. Members will join me in sending our sincere sympathies to the friends and family of those who lost their lives or were injured in the tragic coach crash yesterday. I am sure that hon. Members are aware that a coach carrying 29 members of Christchurch Royal British Legion overturned after they had been out for a pleasant day in Wales. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that certain matters are looked into before the recess.

I had given notice that I intended to ask a private notice question later today. However, in view of the sad death of a previous Prime Minister, I thought that it would be more appropriate to raise the matter this morning and I thank you, Madam Speaker, for allowing me to do so.

Only two weeks ago I was celebrating VE day in Christchurch with many of those who were involved in the accident. Various questions arise in our minds as a result of the accident. Over some time, questions have been asked in general about coach safety. Often an accident has nothing to do with roadworthiness, but I should like to draw the House's attention to some figures provided last year in answer to parliamentary questions about coach safety. Unacceptable numbers of coaches failed the annual test; in the last year for which I have figures, 73,000 tests were carried out. Initially, there were over 27,000 failures and the final number of failures was over 13,000. I hope that the Minister responsible will look into that now that we have had yet another tragic accident.

Much has been said about seat belts and, at the moment, we do not know exactly what happened yesterday. It would be premature to say what we think happened when we do not know the truth. We hear that there were some seat belts fitted to the coach, but the impact yesterday was such that the roof of the coach was crushed. That raises questions about the strength of the upper structure of our coaches. The coach involved was about nine years old and I hope that the Minister will look at the existing regulations dealing with the strength of coach roofs.

In view of yet another tragic accident, there are three matters that need to be considered. First, we need to know why so many of our coaches fail their annual tests. Secondly, we need to know why the roof of this coach was crushed and, thirdly, we need to know whether seat belts play a role. I know that that was looked at last year and I understand that there are certain difficulties over legislation in Europe.

It is particularly poignant that those who survived the last war have lost their lives in this tragic way and I hope that the Minister will look into the matter with great urgency and set things in motion before the Whitsun recess.

Madam Speaker

I call Mr. Amess. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member wish to speak, or is he just moving around the Chamber?

Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I am not ready yet.

Madam Speaker

In that case, I shall call Mr. Clappison.

10.19 am
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on a matter that is of particular importance to my constituents, that is, the future of the assisted places scheme. Currently, 29,000 pupils nationally are helped by the scheme. There is a concentration of places in my constituency, where 411 pupils enjoy its benefits. I admit that not all of them come from my constituency, but a substantial number of them do. In any case, wherever they come from, they are all being educated in my constituency. Also, a number of children from my constituency go to schools outside it to enjoy the benefits of the scheme. Therefore, I am anxious to emphasise the value of the scheme to my constituents and also to highlight its importance nationally.

When we last debated the matter in the House, the Opposition spokesman complained, among other things, that there was little public awareness of the scheme and that not enough members of the public even knew of its existence. He quoted an opinion poll showing that only 40 per cent. of the public had heard of the scheme. Of course, it is a matter of subjective judgment, but I happen to think that 40 per cent. is a rather large proportion of those interviewed in any opinion poll actually being aware of the matter being surveyed.

The Opposition spokesman omitted to mention another opinion poll finding—it may have come from the same poll—relating to public approval of the scheme. The poll showed that of those who were aware of its existence, a substantial majority approved of it. When the figures were broken down by party affiliation, they showed a clear majority of supporters of all parties expressing approval. Indeed, 55 per cent. of Labour party supporters said that they approved of the scheme, while only 27 per cent. said that they disapproved—a clear majority of 2:1.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Does my hon. Friend think it ironic that the Labour party opposes the assisted places scheme, even though it is one of the most egalitarian schemes in education? Did he read the column written by Matthew Parris in The Times today? He pointed out an interesting dichotomy when he said that the Labour party claimed that if the scheme was discontinued, thousands of pounds would be available for the employment of more teachers, yet it failed to understand that the pupils who currently benefit from the scheme would then have to go into the state education sector, so those additional teachers would be required anyway—resulting in no net saving.

Mr. Clappison

I am tempted to say that great minds think alike, but I am not sure who the great minds are in this case because my hon. Friend has anticipated some of the points that I had intended to make—and in particular my next point, which he put so succinctly.

It is the supporters of the Labour party who benefit particularly and considerably from the scheme. Why does the Labour party want to do away with the scheme when so many of its supporters benefit from it? Left-wing commentators and Labour Members have tried to construct an elaborate sociological analysis to show that it is not Labour party supporters who benefit from the scheme. One survey quoted described those who benefit as culturally middle class. Other people have said that they are middle-class, single-parent families—horror of horrors.

That may or may not be so, but it is certainly true that those on the left wing of academic politics are far more inclined than Conservative Members to pin labels on people. I am not especially interested in the cultural, social or any other feature of the backgrounds of those who benefit from the scheme. The important point for the Conservative party is that they are people who would not otherwise have had the opportunity to benefit. It should be clearly understood that the scheme benefits people whose incomes are not especially high by today's standards—some 80 per cent. have below average income. I was told yesterday in a parliamentary answer that 42 per cent. of parents get free places on the scheme because their income is less than £9,300. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is a very moderate income. Therefore, the sociological arguments do not carry much weight.

The Labour party's economic arguments are not much better. During Education questions yesterday, Labour Members said that the scheme was a way of propping up foundering private schools. That argument has been used before and conveniently ignores the fact that many of the schools in the scheme are extremely popular and massively oversubscribed. In my constituency, about 350 of the 411 places are offered by the Haberdasher's schools for boys and for girls. I am delighted to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who is in the Chamber, was educated at Haberdasher's. Indeed, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have attended that eminent institution.

My personal knowledge of the Haberdasher's schools is that they could fill their assisted places many times over with pupils whose parents could afford to pay the full fees. However, the schools value the assisted places for a number of important reasons and they are prepared to play a full part in the scheme. The argument of Labour Members simply does not hold water. I could cite a list of schools taking part in the scheme—St. Paul's, Westminster and Dulwich college are a few examples of schools in reasonably close proximity to my constituency—that are of such quality that they attract huge numbers of applicants, so it is certainly not a case of propping up foundering schools.

I come now to the argument about the cost of the scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) just mentioned. The Opposition spokesman said yesterday that if the scheme were scrapped, state schools could employ an additional 5,000 teachers. That figure is wrong because the entire cost of the scheme could not possibly provide that number of teachers. It was a gross underestimate of the cost of providing a teacher. The Opposition also ignore the fact that pupils being educated under the scheme would have to be educated in the maintained sector if the scheme were scrapped.

We need to examine the true difference between the cost of an assisted place and the cost of a place in the maintained sector. That has varied over the years and sometimes the difference in cost has not been very great. Even when there is a difference in cost, as there is currently, I believe that that cost is well worth paying to provide choice, opportunity and diversity in our education system. I am sure that if that view was put to the fair-minded people who were interviewed in the opinion poll to which I referred earlier, most of them would agree.

Assisted places are a welcome contribution to educational choice and diversity in my constituency. Those who have the benefit of such places, whom I meet through my surgeries and otherwise, tell me of the importance and value that they put on those places. They are provided in addition to a great deal of other educational diversity and excellence in my constituency. More than 6,000 pupils attend grant-maintained schools, with some of them coming from as far afield as Islington. Many of those schools are excellent and are receiving good reports from Ofsted.

The Opposition have put the assisted places scheme under direct threat. It is ironic that their only firm pledge on education—out of all the pledges that they could have made—is to abolish the assisted places scheme. That is a shame and it is very sad. Indeed, in many ways it is out of keeping with the old Labour tradition of trying to create the opportunity of a good education for people who would not otherwise have received one.

The Opposition's attitude is also ironic in view of the number of people on low incomes who benefit from the scheme. When the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) proposed putting VAT on school fees, which would have affected people on higher incomes who could afford to pay the full fees, there was an outcry and the proposal was rapidly withdrawn. The Labour party will not withdraw its pledge to abolish the scheme, which helps people on lower incomes, which is sad. Indeed, if that policy were ever implemented, it would be sad for future generations on lower incomes in my constituency, who would have the opportunity of attending certain schools taken away from them.

In future generations, if Opposition Members were in a position to carry out their intentions, brothers and sisters of children who obtain assisted places would lose the opportunity to go to the same school as their siblings. Opposition Members would deprive children of opportunities that they would otherwise enjoy. That would be rather a shame, as I am sure my constituents would agree.

I put on record my support for the assisted places scheme. The opposition of Labour Members to the scheme deserves to be highlighted. People on lower incomes and Labour supporters, 2:1 of whom are in favour of the scheme, have a right to know that the Labour party is bent on taking away their opportunities for no good reason, as I hope that I have demonstrated. Its arguments are not the real reason for the party's hostility to the assisted places scheme. The real reason is sheer ideological hostility towards independent education, which in the case of assisted places would take away valuable opportunities that the Conservative Government have provided.

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

I assure the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) that as someone who failed his 11-plus, known in Scotland as the quallies, I shall certainly not be discussing my early academic career.

Before the House adjourns, I hope that the Leader of the House, with his customary courtesy, will attempt to deal with a couple of questions about the Brent Spar incident and the Greenpeace occupation of the installation. The right hon. Gentleman will not be able to answer the questions himself, but I should be grateful if he would pass them to his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry.

I should like to ask about the Government's proposed framework policy document on abandonment programmes for offshore installations. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure consultation with interested parties in Scotland, such as the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, which have most to lose or gain from an abandonment proposal?

Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on my concern about the recent decision of the Minister for Industry and Energy to relax to 5 m the minimum water clearance above any platform remaining in situ in the North sea, compared with the 75 m currently obtaining but applied in only one case so far? That could have a disastrous effect for our fishermen. This morning's edition of The Herald carries a large article on the Greenpeace occupation of Brent Spar, which is entitled: Oil Company Reclaims Brent Spar". That reclamation was achieved with the assistance of Grampian police officers. The article says: Mr. Heinz Rothermund, Shell's managing director, said Greenpeace and other organisations pointed to problems and Shell respected that. Many things were being done world-wide thanks to the fact that problems had been pointed out, but as industrial organisations they were paid to find solutions and compromise and evaluations were required. Mr. Rothermund is speaking with a forked tongue because the conduct of his company in the gulf of Mexico is entirely different from its proposed conduct in the disposal of Brent Spar. I accuse the company, its board of directors and senior executives of sheer hypocrisy. It has removed completely 20 installations from the gulf of Mexico. It is American federal law to remove redundant installations from such waters.

Shell has had to comply with American law, but because of the British Government's lax implementation of part I of the Petroleum Act 1987 such companies, with Shell leading, will leave their installations in the North sea, to the detriment of our fishermen. Fishermen have been treated very badly in this affair. The Government are accused of adopting an astonishingly lenient approach to the removal of such structures. Brent Spar should be brought ashore, dismantled and its recyclable elements recycled. Shell is trying to get away with a cheap option. The Government's failure in that regard and the disgraceful behaviour of Shell's senior executives provoked the Greenpeace occupation of Brent Spar.

Brent Spar is an old, redundant oil storage tank, which from the sea bed to the surface extends to some 109 m. It contains a dreadful toxic chemical mix that Shell cannot analyse but is happy to put into what it says are safe deep waters. For such materials, there is no such thing as a safe deep-water burial. In a written answer to a question that I tabled, the Minister for Industry and Energy said: In accordance with section 4 of the Petroleum Act 1987 the President of the Board of Trade approved the Brent Spar abandonment programme on 20 December 1994."—[Official Report, 15 May 1995; Vol. 260, c. 27.] He went on to claim that environmental considerations and possible interference with navigation and fisheries had been analysed and there had been a comparative assessment of risk, technical feasibility and cost.

The question of cost looms large in abandonment programmes. The Government encourage international oil and gas companies to leave their structures—or many of them—in place. They are not, however, encouraging such practice in the southern areas of the North sea, where the waters are shallower and the technical difficulties of removing the structures are much less complicated. Installations should be removed from those waters and the beds should be swept clean so that our fishermen, who have fished the waters for hundreds of years, may return to fish their traditional fishing grounds. That is especially important given what is happening elsewhere in the fishing industry.

Shell Expro, aided and abetted by the Government, is seeking to dodge its obligations. Coming from a fishing family, I obviously have a special interest in the matter, but I hasten to assure you, Madam Speaker, and the House that no money whatever is involved, just strong family ties. A brother of mine is currently fishing off the northern coast of Norway on one of our freezer trawlers. Shell Expro has chosen the cheap option for dumping the huge Brent Spar installation. It gave the game away in a publication which it produced some time ago, in which it said: Onshore scrapping would require some 360,000 man-hours of work. The complexity and labour intensive nature of the operations means that they would be very costly and expose personnel to greater risk. Yet in the gulf of Mexico, Shell has removed more than 900 installations from those admittedly shallow waters. Some of the structures in the gulf of Mexico are akin to some of those on our continental shelf, such as the type in Norwegian waters. That is what the company is concerned about. Bringing the installation ashore would cost 360,000 man hours of work whereas, to use the company's words: The environmental impact of the sunken Spar will be limited and contained. The site of the sinking is likely to be in water over 2,000 metres deep and more than 240 kms from land. From my knowledge of the fishing industry, I can tell the House that no trawler anywhere in the north Atlantic fishes in water that deep, but the eventual dispersal of toxic materials will damage marine life.

The document states that dispersal at sea—the dumping in deep water—will require 52,000 man hours of work. That difference in man hours is obviously focusing the minds of Shell's directors and chief executives, who are saving money, having made many millions of pounds out of the offshore industry. It has been estimated, incidentally, that bringing the installation ashore would cost about £46 million. Since the mid-1980s, Shell has been involved in a £1.3 billion renovation programme of its offshore operations, so £46 million would not figure very largely in its costs.

I have argued ever since enactment of the Petroleum Act 1987 that such structures should be completely removed from the marine environment. The late Alick Buchanan-Smith was a fine man and a fair-minded adversary who was popular in Scotland and, indeed, south of the border. As a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Petroleum Bill I told him—I thought that he would be here for many more years—that, while I was in the House, I would campaign for the complete removal of such structures, which is permitted under part I of the 1987 Act, which he steered through Committee.

The Government have failed the people of Scotland by their refusal to ensure that installations are removed. We are talking about as many as 20 or 30 a year during the next few years, as there are more than 200 in our waters. Contrast our Government's attitude with the American legislative view and the way in which the Norwegians handle such matters.

There is hypocrisy in Shell's actions. The company behaves one way in our waters but, because American federal law forces it to behave in another way, it complies with that law in the gulf of Mexico. The Norwegian Government said that they wanted an installation similar to Brent Spar—N.V. Frigg—brought ashore for dismantling and recycling. If it is good enough for the Norwegians and their fishermen, why not for Scotland and its fishermen?

Greenpeace has informed me that complete removal of the installation would cost £46 million, which represents only 3.5 per cent. of the money that Shell is spending in the Brent field. We must remember that Shell has assets of more than $11 billion. My fear is that, if Shell is allowed to get away with this unsavoury decision, an unfortunate precedent will be established for others to follow.

Hamilton Oil and Gas demonstrated what should be done plainly enough by the complete removal of the Forbes platform. It plans to remove completely the bigger Esmond platform and ancillary facilities, so it can be done. We shall have to face up to that fact when the time comes for those 200-odd structures to be abandoned. They will be removed from the central and southern North sea and they should be removed from northern waters.

I come from a fishing family and I fully support the view of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation on the matter. In a recently published document, it states: Politicians of all Parties will hopefully be reasonably familiar with the long history of difficulty which has been the lot of our Fishermen in competing for access to the waters of the UK Continental Shelf with the North Sea Oil and Gas Industry and with our policy that our forbearance and co-operation with the Oil Operators should be recognised by the acceptance of both them and the Government of an obligation to remove entirely from the sea all installations which cease to be in use. That standpoint has regrettably never been accepted as a general principle and in recent years changes in International Law, heavily influenced by the UK Government, have reached the stage where partial removal of offshore installations will be permitted upon their Abandonment". Alick Buchanan-Smith said that, where possible, such structures should be removed. He pointed out to me that concrete structures are enormously difficult to move, which I accept; it is a fact of life. The Norwegians are finding similar difficulty with the removal of some of their massive concrete structures, but there has been genuine consultation between the Norwegian Government and associations representing Norwegian fishermen who fish in their waters. There has not been any genuine consultation between the UK Government and the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations or, more importantly in this regard, with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation.

The issue is very important and it is causing a great deal of concern in Scotland, not merely among Greenpeace activists but in small fishing communities where there are no, or very few, alternative employment opportunities.

I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that the fishermen have played the game. They said that it was important for oil and gas to be brought ashore. It has helped the Shetland economy enormously over the years, as it has also helped elsewhere—one thinks of Orkney, Fraserburgh and Peterhead and, indeed, of Aberdeen. Many thousands of people are working in the industry.

In my constituency, two rigs are being converted. I hope to see as many as 11 rigs coming into the firth of Clyde in the next two years for conversion work. No one has to tell me, or our fishermen, how important the offshore oil and gas industry is and has been to our economy. We could debate how the money has had to be spent—on the massive number of unemployed people—but that is another story.

Part I of the 1987 Act should be used more radically to ensure the complete removal not merely of the installations but of redundant pipeline networks. They, too, prevent fishermen from fishing the waters that they and their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers fished.

Peter Morrison—a Minister who followed on from the late Alick Buchanan-Smith—said in a speech in Aberdeen, which was widely publicised in Scotland, that the abandonment programmes for the installations could generate many thousands of jobs along the east coast of Scotland and later on the west coast. He said that redundant shipyard workers and others might find employment in such programmes, but that simply has not happened.

The American experience is entirely different. More than 900 installations have been completely removed from the gulf of Mexico. We have the shabby sight of Shell, BP and the other companies that used those natural resources to make massive profits seedily dodging their obligations to other users of the maritime environment, particularly fishermen.

Following enactment of the Petroleum Act, I had hoped that we could say to our fishermen that one day they could fish those waters again. I hoped that the seas would be swept clean of structures and redundant pipeline networks, and that they would be able to drop their gear on to the sea bed without it becoming snagged, as often happens today, by materials from the hugely important offshore industry.

I hope that the consultation exercise that the Government are planning will be genuine, and not the kind of thing that the Scottish Office—under its present regime—undertakes. I hope that there will be genuine consultation with fishermen and others so that we can decide which installations may have to stay in place, such as the concrete structures. I hope that a radical implementation of the 1987 Act will mean that other structures can be removed and brought ashore in the interests of our fishermen. They deserve nothing less.

10.50 am
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I am glad to be called, Madam Speaker, as I felt earlier as though I had been caught out making a false bid at an auction.

I join colleagues in paying tribute to the noble Lord Wilson of Rievaulx who dominated political affairs in this country when I was a child. In every sense he was a great politician.

I should like the House to consider four matters, the first of which is identity cards. Some years ago, I successfully moved a ten-minute Bill to allow the introduction of voluntary identity cards. That was the first occasion on which the House did not oppose the concept of identity cards. I proposed a system of voluntary identity cards because I felt that if the House and the country were not prepared for a compulsory system, a voluntary system would be better than nothing.

People accept that they must have birth certificates and death certificates, but I cannot understand why the bit in between is not recorded. When we knock on doors—as we recently did during the local elections—we find that the general public are concerned about crime. There is no doubt in my mind that identity cards will help in the fight against crime. I shall be astonished if it is true that new Labour is going to oppose the introduction of such cards.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the 1951 Conservative Government scrapped identity cards as the last remnant of the socialist Government that had been in power from 1945 to 1951?

Mr. Amess

My difficulty is that I was born in 1952, so I cannot personally recall that. I am looking to the future, and I do not think that what happened in 1951 is paramount in the minds of the British public at the moment.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Does my hon. Friend agree that even en ventre de sa mère he was a Tory?

Mr. Amess

There is no answer to that. The Conservative Government have not claimed credit for the national lottery, but I hope that we will claim credit for the sensible introduction of a compulsory identity card.

My second point is well timed, because I see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is present. The Fenchurch Street line is notorious for offering a poor and inadequate service to my constituents and others in Essex. I am accused of being obsessed with my constituency, but it seems that Opposition Members and Front-Bench spokesmen are becoming increasingly obsessed with it. They have recently visited Basildon to talk about the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line. They have not done so in an honest and realistic fashion, and have spread things that are not true. I deplore the way in which they have recently been scaremongering in my constituency.

My constituents could not care less who runs the Fenchurch Street line so long as the trains arrive on time, the carriages are comfortable, the fares are reasonable and the line's operators are mindful of security. That is what they are concerned about, and the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line will deliver those things.

I must say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that I am not entirely happy with the procedures that have been followed hitherto regarding precisely who is being allowed to tender for the line. The wild rumour is that there will be a management buy-out. As a local Member of Parliament, I would not be in favour of that. Some hon. Friends and I took part in a notorious journey five years ago with the present chairman of British Rail, when we were told to catch a train at the wrong time at a station at which the train did not arrive. During that journey, the chairman did not want to talk about services.

I believe in leading from the front, and I do not think that the present management of British Rail can reassure my constituents that they are the best people to run the railway line. I am totally in favour of the privatisation of the Fenchurch Street line, but I am not in favour of a management buy-out, which I believe will be an unfortunate method of embarking upon privatisation. Many other companies are more capable of delivering a fine service to my constituents, and they should be treated in a fair and even-handed fashion.

The third of my four points concerns the concept of education, which some of my hon. Friends have mentioned this morning. I have set myself a target in the past year of visiting every educational establishment in my constituency. That may seem an easy task, but there are 54 of them. I am delighted to tell the House that I have only three more to visit.

Although I shall wait until the end of my visits to produce a paper on how education in Basildon has shaped up in the past year, I wish to take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to all the people involved in education in my constituency. Some weeks ago, the heads of the schools in my constituency met the Secretary of State for Education, and described to my right hon. Friend the issues that were concerning them. All of them welcomed the constructive debate that took place.

Only last Thursday I was privileged to present 51 certificates at Basildon college at the culmination of the college's adult learners' week. It was a moving event, at which 51 people were presented with certificates for achieving great things. They were not getting degrees from Oxford or Cambridge universities, but the awards were every bit as good as any other award that I have been privileged to hand out.

The House needs to concentrate on parenting. This is a difficult subject, and it is a difficult message for any politician to deliver. The majority of parents do a wonderful job for their children, but there is no doubt that some parents need help to understand the full responsibilities of what it entails to have children. The problems that hon. Members hear in their surgeries—on housing, education, crime or general welfare—can all be traced back to problems in parenting. I hope that my party will take that fact on board. The Opposition are always setting up commissions and two years down the line we get some paper on them. I hope that my party will now embark on a national campaign to deliver some sort of assistance in parenting.

I have an axe to grind about nursery education. The Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), and I share the same county council—Essex county council—which is trying to deliver nursery education. That is all well and good but, as I have two children who were born in September, I want something done about rising fives. The current demand for nursery education, apart from the problems faced by parents who must go to work, encapsulates the difficulties that some people experience in coping with the responsibility of being parents. I hope that the House will consider carefully how we can put right the failures of past Governments, past teaching methods and past liberal attitudes, and ensure that every couple who decide to have children accept that that decision brings huge responsibilities.

Some hon. Members may think that this is an unfortunate occasion on which to be partisan but I feel that I must comment on new and old Labour. The crux of my remarks concerns hung councils. I am pleased to see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir. M. Neubert) because his constituency makes up a third of the London borough of Havering, which has a hung council. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House shares with me Essex county council, which is a hung council. As from last Thursday, my constituency, which shares the local authority of Basildon with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), also has a hung council.

Having read the election addresses carefully, I feel that many socialist candidates who stood under the ticket of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties were deceiving the general public for various reasons. Essex county council, which has been a hung council for two years, has been an absolute disaster and people in Essex are rapidly regretting it. With no consultation whatever, it has thrown out community care, which had been well established by the Conservatives in consultation with six of the bodies involved. As a result, the constituencies of many of my Essex colleagues are now suffering from bed-blocking. People cannot get the right accommodation; waiting lists for operations are getting longer; and waiting times in hospitals are constantly increasing.

Never mind new or old Labour, it is about time that they and the Liberal Democrats accepted responsibility when they are in power. Given the number of county and district councils that they control and European seats which they occupy, they can no longer blame the Government but must accept responsibility for their inadequacies. What they have done in Essex is wicked.

Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)

My hon. Friend has good reason to be personally aggrieved at the activities of certain prominent Labour personalities on Havering council. Is not one unfortunate consequence of hung councils and coalition politics that they allow minority parties access to public funds, which are used in anti-Government and therefore effectively party political propaganda, as has happened in Havering? To explain away the consequences of its overspending, Havering council implied, with widespread publicity, that Government grant had been cut by £17 million. When that is combined with the development of a machine at the town hall and investment of £500,000 a year—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Many hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye in the debate. Interventions are supposed to be brief and to the point.

Sir Michael Neubert

With that investment, personality cults develop, such as we saw in the last days of the Greater London council at county hall across the river. Does not a danger to democracy lie in all that?

Mr. Amess

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. What is happening in Havering council is causing great distress to many residents. I am sure that they voted for candidates thinking that they would enjoy good, sensible local government, and the result has been far from that. I thank my hon. Friend for the sympathy that he offered me about a particular difficulty. Unfortunately, some Basildon socialists work for Havering authority. For instance, the deputy chief executive used to be the leader of Basildon district council. I agree with every word that my hon. Friend said.

The cuts by socialist-controlled Essex county council in selective school transport are a disgrace and have been made for reasons of pure dogma. County councillor David Rex describes the ruling as totally divisive and unfair. If children gain places by their own merit at one of our Grammar Schools they should not suffer discrimination because their parents cannot pay for them to get there. Even if a contribution is made to travelling expenses to parents who receive income support or family credit, many other families will still be unable to meet travelling costs and their children will be deprived of the opportunity which their ability and industry has given them". My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) and I served together on Redbridge council, where we retained an excellent grammar school. Southend has four grammar schools; Colchester has two; and Chelmsford has two. They are all excellent. The socialists on the council have told us that the supposed savings from cutting free school transport will be £1.6 million over 10 years, and the treasurer revised that costing to £1.3 million. However, it has been completely forgotten that Southend will be granted unitary status, so the idea that there will be savings is nonsense. I happen to know that the socialists are being overwhelmed with protests from local parents and I entirely agree with those protests.

When there were difficulties with the policing which Essex county council provided at Brightlingsea, the socialists—whether the alliance or new or old Labour—made some disgraceful statements, which made the job of policing even more difficult.

My final point is about the circumstances in which I find myself on Basildon district council, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay. On the Thursday before last, we had local elections. I now have eight Conservative district councillors in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay has six Conservative district councillors in hers. In total, there are 14 Conservatives on Basildon district council, 16 Labour and 12 alliance councillors.

When the Labour and alliance candidates were campaigning during the local elections, it was drawn to my attention that there did not appear to be much mention of local issues. Local candidates said that they would be in a position to do something about national taxation, the national health service and the defence of the country. That was dishonest. They should have campaigned on local issues. Of course, the electors have rapidly been disappointed.

I live in the Nethermayne ward. I went to the Towngate theatre to hear the results declared and, when the Nethermayne result was declared, I witnessed the leader of the Labour group, whom I defeated in the general election, and the leader of the alliance group, whom I also defeated in the general election, hug one another—and the result meant that an alliance councillor had been elected. It occurs to me that, far from there being a hung council, it had already been agreed that Labour and alliance would share power. It happens all the time.

Alliance councillors are often so gutless that they abstain on issues, but let there be no doubt about it—new Labour, for which I have no respect, old Labour, for which I have every respect, and the alliance party, for which I have no respect, have gone into coalition in Basildon.

I intend, for the remaining time of this Parliament, to take every opportunity to bring to the House's attention the consequences of socialist misrule by Basildon district council, socialist misrule by Essex county council and socialist misrule in Europe. I intend to ensure that, as a result, the general public, when they are given the opportunity to vote in a general election, do not make the mistake of being deceived and electing the horror of a socialist Government.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Eight hon. Members are hoping to catch my eye in the time remaining in the debate. If the speeches are as long as the last two, someone will be disappointed.

11.12 am
Mr. George Mudie (Leeds, East)

Before the House adjourns, I have the opportunity to mention a disturbing case of Government inactivity and insensitivity on an important matter. I hope that the Leader of the House will return to his seat at some point, because he is very much the human face of the Government and I would not wish to miss the opportunity to make the case directly.

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

As the hon. Gentleman observed, I was about to take a short break but, in view of his comments, he has made it impossible for me to leave for the moment.

Mr. Mudie

I am grateful that the Lord President is staying in his seat, and I hope that neither his situation nor my speech is too uncomfortable.

The important matter to which I refer is the fact that more than 3,000 people suffering from haemophilia are infected with the hepatitis C virus, as a result of being given contaminated blood. For those people in the Chamber who do not know the effect of the hepatitis C virus, it attacks the liver and is potentially life-threatening. Although there is an uncertain medical prognosis, current medical opinion estimates that as many as 80 per cent. of those infected will develop chronic liver disease. Between 10 and 20 per cent. of those people will develop cirrhosis of the liver and many of those, sadly, will develop liver cancer. The progression to severe liver disease can take between 20 and 40 years. Many people with haemophilia have already been infected for more than 20 years.

In 1986, clotting factor concentrates were heat-treated to deactivate the acquired immune deficiency syndrome virus. By coincidence, but largely unrecognised at the time, it had the same effect on the hepatitis C virus. In 1991—good news, in a way, for those suffering from hepatitis C—a test for that virus, for HCV antibody, was developed. The bad news was that, as the haemophiliac population began to be tested, it became apparent, incredibly, that almost everyone suffering from haemophilia who had been treated with clotting factor concentrates before 1986 was infected with the hepatitis C virus.

The Government—I praise them and I praise the Prime Minister especially—acted with regard to those with the AIDS virus. Through the Macfarlane Trust, Government financial help is available to haemophiliac AIDS virus patients and their families, and more than £14 million has been given out in addition to special grants of more than £66 million.

Those are the facts. It is against that background that the Haemophilia Society is campaigning straightforwardly, and I hope understandably, for similar arrangements to be made regarding haemophiliacs who contracted the HCV virus—the hepatitis C virus—to those made regarding haemophiliacs who contracted the AIDS virus from contaminated blood through the national health service.

Everyone accepts the many similarities between haemophiliacs with HCV and haemophiliacs with the AIDS virus, and it is difficult to envisage how the Government can long resist the argument to give more equitable treatment.

I shall list some of the similarities. The route of infection for both HIV and HCV was contaminated blood given as part of NHS treatment. The infection for both viruses took place before the date in 1986 when heat treatment was introduced. Like the AIDS virus, the hepatitis C virus will place additional medical, social and financial burdens on those who already had a life-threatening condition. All will have to cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of not knowing whether they will be one of the 20 per cent. who will experience cirrhosis or the smaller number who may suffer early death from liver cancer.

All will have the worry of possible transmission to sexual partners, transmission to an unborn child and transmission to other members of the household through blood to blood contact. All will experience difficulties in obtaining life insurance, or can receive it only at prohibitive rates or for a short time. Many may suffer disruption to their education and employment as they become ill and some will lose their jobs and their earnings as a result of the illness. Some people, as a result of the ignorance of others, will be confronted by discrimination and ostracism in the workplace, in school and in society in general.

In spite of those similarities, it is accepted that the two cases are not the same. As Baroness Cumberlege said in the other place—somewhat tactlessly, I felt—those with the AIDS virus were all expected to die very shortly."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 March 1995; Vol. 562, c. 864.] She also outlined other social differences, but nothing on a scale on which to base a strong case for withholding help from those with the hepatitis C virus.

What do the Haemophilia Society and those suffering from the hepatitis C virus ask for? They ask for three things. First, they ask for an across-the-board ex gratia payment, on the same basis as that paid to those haemophiliacs suffering from the AIDS virus, to all those infected with hepatitis through contaminated blood products—not compensation, but an ex gratia payment on the same basis. Such a payment will avoid the spectacle of 3,000 people, already unfortunate enough to have the problem of haemophilia, pursuing the Government through the courts, arguing a case about being treated with infected blood in the national health service.

Secondly, the Haemophilia Society wants those who become ill and the dependants of those who die to have access to the hardship fund of the Macfarlane Trust on the same basis as infected haemophiliacs. Thirdly, as a matter of urgency, it has requested that payments should be made to those who are already ill and to the dependants of those who have died. It has been put to the Department of Health that the deeds of the Macfarlane Trust—set up to assist those haemophiliacs with the AIDS virus—could be changed to extend the work of that excellent and well-respected trust to deal with the larger but similar group of people now suffering from the hepatitis C virus.

The Haemophilia Society would also like those people to be offered many other things, including better counselling and support. But I am aware of your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I must cut my remarks short in fairness to the many other hon. Members who want to speak. I would regret it if my case were harmed by either my presentation or the lack of time available to me. If either were so, it would be unforgivable.

Those of us who are fortunate in health and with children similarly blessed can only marvel at the courage and strength of those who, born with the terrible disease of haemophilia, are struck so unfairly by the second dreadful virus, hepatitis C. I cannot see how anyone other than a blinkered Treasury bureaucrat would not feel that some assistance should be offered to those people.

I remember that it was the Prime Minister who stopped the unseemly wrangle over help to haemophiliacs with AIDS. He acted with compassion and purpose. I hope that the Leader of the House will ask the Prime Minister to extend that compassion and rediscover that sense of purpose to help those who are now asking for his assistance.

If anyone doubts the awfulness of the disease and its effect, let me conclude by quoting from a letter from one of my constituents, who wrote: As parents we have seen our 13-year-old son suffer with haemophilia but to give him this virus as well, I feel very depressed. I went to a meeting this year about the hepatitis and I felt the sky coming down round me as the people were medical and parents and they were talking about liver transplants and bleeding in the stomach, the side-effects of the drug Inferon. I came out the meeting very shocked. Please help us. I am sorry I cannot put it over how desperate we are, but we love our son and I feel very scared over my boy's future. I appeal to the House and the Leader of the House to give those parents, that youngster and all those in the same circumstances some help and some hope.

11.22 am
Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), because I know that we must seriously address the issue that he has raised. Some constituents recently approached me about the same problem. I hope that it can be dealt with on an all-party basis, because it strikes me that it is something that has gone wrong in our society. It should not be a party political issue, but the Government of the day must address it. It is clear that a great deal of injustice is easily capable of being suffered, if that has not already happened. I hope that we will address that issue in a proper debate in the House in the weeks ahead.

I should like to raise a number of issues affecting my constituency as well as one or two national interests that should be considered by the House before it adjourns. Education in Kent has already been referred to today by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), so I need not repeat everything he said.

As I have gone around the schools in my constituency, I have heard concern expressed about the way in which the county council, with the authority of the Liberal-Labour group controlling it, has issued to those schools a number of newsletters which lack any form of independent financial analysis and are extremely biased. Although the director of education and certain politicians who are playing political games with our schools suggested that the schools should send out those newsletters to parents, most of the schools in my area, if not all of them, have resisted that recommendation. They have refused because they have argued that the documents were political, misleading, offered no real accounting sense and sought to make political capital out of what we all accept has been a tight financial settlement for local government. The settlement does, however, allow schools to be funded properly, provided that local authorities are willing to do that and to be more efficient. I am concerned at the way in which the Liberal-Labour group on Kent county council is misusing its position of power and is not acting in the interests of my constituents, in particular, those who have children at school.

Last year, the county council underspent by £17 million. That happens to many county councils, because although they plan for a certain amount of expenditure, some of that spending is not required, for whatever reason. The Liberal-Labour group has refused to apply any of that money or to use any of the consequential underspend that may result this year on funding schools. As a consequence, schools in my constituency have not received the full amount to which they are entitled, which is a tragedy. Kent county council has the necessary money and could plan its expenditure to make it available to the schools, but it has refused to do so. It is playing a political football game with the schools.

Not every school in my constituency is experiencing such financial difficulties, because those that are grant-maintained operate more efficiently. Many of them have greatly increased the number of teaching assistants in their schools because they are better managers of their finances than other schools. One of the results of the politicisation of education in Kent may be more applications for grant-maintained status. I am sure that the House would consider that to be entirely appropriate in the circumstances. Just because Kent county council has become Liberal-Labour controlled, we cannot allow it to play political football with our children's education. That is unacceptable.

We should also debate as soon as possible the channel tunnel rail link proposals. Although that matter is being dealt with by a Committee of the House—so I will not go into a lot of detail—certain important issues should be discussed by the House. The Committee considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill seems to be having difficulty in considering the financial viability of the channel tunnel rail link, let alone the financial viability of the channel tunnel. That is extremely important to my constituents because, if massive amounts of subsidy were given to either the rail link or the channel tunnel, that would affect Dover port and the ferry industry, which still employ 6,500 people in my constituency and the surrounding areas.

Certain serious questions must be addressed. For example, is the channel tunnel rail link financially viable? Is the channel tunnel financially viable? So far, the company has had to go back to its shareholders on a number of occasions for additional finances. So far, it has not been able to perform as it should have done and it has not worked according to the plan set out in the company's financial forecasts.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We told the hon. Gentleman that.

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman and I rarely agree on matters, but on this issue we have agreed consistently, right back to 1987 when I entered the House. The hon. Gentleman gave me the honour of coming into my part of the Lobby when I divided the House on the channel tunnel issue not long after I was elected here.

Mr. Skinner

The Lobby belongs to everyone.

Mr. Shaw

Nevertheless, I am still grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman came into my Lobby not long after I was elected to the House. I was one of the Tellers who called for the Division. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long history of questioning the principles that lie behind the channel tunnel project.

Mr. Skinner

In the last two years or whatever of this dying Tory Government, in the event that the Government decided to come up with taxpayers' money, whether small amounts or large, to help bail out the people running the channel tunnel, would the hon. Gentleman join me in my Lobby to vote against handing out large sums of taxpayers' money? Will he give me that guarantee?

Mr. Shaw

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall vote against any public bail-out of the channel tunnel; I make that crystal clear. However, that will not necessarily occur. Although the channel tunnel is in enormous financial difficulty, the private sector may have the means and the ability to sustain it. I shall not support any Government, whether Conservative or Labour, who propose to bail out the channel tunnel with public finances.

I think that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has received the answer that he desires. I do not know whether he will divide the House on the issue and be a Teller in the Division Lobby, but I certainly hope that he will have a Front-Bench role in the new Labour party. I have always believed that he should lead the Labour party—he certainly has a unique ability to make the points for Labour that his colleagues are too frightened to make.

I also draw the attention of the House to the intergovernmental conference which will be held in Europe next year. I do not think that the House should adjourn until we have had the opportunity to discuss the convergence criteria. Although the criteria set out in the Maastricht treaty are quite simple and straightforward—they deal with Government deficits and the proportion of Government debt to gross domestic product—they do not take account of the differences in social security systems in Europe.

People are now beginning to focus on the issue of unfunded pension liabilities, which I first raised in 1991. Governments in Europe have very real debts. The Swedish Government are unable to support their social security system and they have been borrowing for 12 years on the international markets. Those markets are now signalling that they are fed up and that they do not wish to carry any more Swedish debt. They have said that they will no longer fund Swedish employment levels or the expensive Swedish state structure.

The Swedish social security system is under enormous pressure as a result of its international funding being called into question. The Swedish Government certainly cannot fund it from their own highly taxed system. Italy and other European countries, including France, face a similar problem, and the implications are quite horrendous for any financial proposals—such as the single currency—that come before the IGC next year. I believe that the House should debate those issues as soon as possible.

The currency markets continue to build up the deutschmark in an unrealistic and an unreasonable manner. We should have a public debate about the demographics in Germany. The aging of the German population will peak in 2005 and will worsen further in proportion to the number of people in work; as a consequence, the German economy will require a greater level of funding in order to sustain its social security system. If there were to be a single currency, Britain would have to contribute towards subsidising the German social security system. That is totally unacceptable. We should debate those issues and their implications both on the Floor of the House and in the wider community.

Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why Sweden is in difficulty is that it has done many of the things that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in February this year suggested that we should do in this country—such as extra investment in social security, housing and the labour market; direct provision of employment opportunities; state-paid child care; more subsidies to employers to encourage them to take on the unemployed; and indexing benefits above the retail prices index? What does my hon. Friend think would happen if we were to take that advice?

Mr. Shaw

If we were to take that advice, like Sweden we would have to borrow from the financial markets rather than try to fund those measures out of taxation—which Sweden can no longer do because its taxation rates are already too high. As a consequence, we would increase national debt and the debt that we owe overseas. We would then be, in effect, bankrupt. Sweden is on the brink of bankruptcy, as are Italy and France, and probably Germany come the year 2005.

We must face the fact that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation recommendations are misguided. The foundation is not conducting balanced political and social research. It is sad that the foundation should be so irresponsible as to advance principles that I doubt that Joseph Rowntree would have supported in his business, personal or public life. Foundations should be much more responsible in the way in which they conduct their research.

I draw a final matter to the attention of the House which I think should be examined before we adjourn. The issue of trade union accounting should be debated on the Floor of the House of Commons. I cannot recall when the last debate on that subject occurred—we have not debated it while I have been a Member of Parliament. It would be interesting to debate the issue of political funds of trade unions.

As a chartered accountant, I have done some research into that matter. I recently reviewed some trade union accounts and found a lack of consistency in the way in which political funds are accounted for. No code of conduct appears to be followed when drawing up accounts of political funds and there seems to be a lack of disclosure regarding so-called "political panels" which appear in trade union accounts. There is no suggestion as to what they are or how they operate.

It is remarkable that one cannot reconcile the finances of the political panels. One cannot see whether the funds are used to support Members of Parliament or how the amounts shown in the trade union accounts may be reconciled with the disclosures in the Register of Members' Interests. According to the accounts of the Union of Communication Workers, its political panel spends some £70,000 each year. The purpose of that political panel is not clear from the union's accounts and we are unsure what demands are made on the people who benefit from that panel.

I have tried to reconcile the accounts with the Register of Members' Interests, and I have found that three Members of Parliament receive money from that political panel. I pay credit to one hon. Member—I shall not mention him by name as I have not given him notice of my intention to do so—who discloses in the Register of Members' Interests that his political association receives £8,000 per year from the UCW, although his declaration does not state that that money comes from the political panel.

That is a significant sum. It is interesting that a Member of Parliament should receive that level of income. I certainly do not derive that sort of sum from any one donation or area. We are often told that no personal benefit is derived from such donations, but I have to attend many rubber chicken lunches and dinners in my constituency to raise funds for my political association. I would be very grateful if some white knight would appear on the horizon and donate £8,000 to my political association with no strings attached. However, I would be concerned that there might be strings attached. I doubt that the Union of Communication Workers would give me £8,000 without requiring me to take a certain political line.

Another hon. Member uses similar words in the Register of Members' Interests but does not disclose the figure of £8,000. That makes a total of £16,000. When I take away £16,000 from £70,000, which is the total amount that the UCW spends on its political panel, my maths tells me that that leaves some £54,000. If that is the case and it is all going to one Member of the House of Commons, that really is quite something.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Obviously, I will comment on the hon. Gentleman's speech when I wind up, but the purpose of the political panel of the UCW is the political education of its trade union members. That union does more in the political education of its members—about the way in which our democracy works—than most other trade unions put together. The hon. Gentleman implies that the money goes to one Member of the House of Commons. It does not; it is used for the purposes of political education, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that.

Mr. Shaw

There may be a slight problem here, perhaps because I have been using the word "political". I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that the political panel, or, if one likes, the panel, which is part of the political fund, is actually described in the accounts as the "parliamentary" panel. So within the political fund, it is, if one likes, the political parliamentary panel. I would certainly be interested to know whether there is any education expenditure there, but I think that it is designed to go towards the work that is done in Parliament on behalf of the union.

Mr. Rooker


Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman says no, but it would be very welcome if there were a reconciliation of the trade union accounts. He is giving me all the reasons why there should be more disclosure and more information in the trade union accounts on how those items are put together, why they are often described as parliamentary panels, and what their purposes are. If I have been led to conclude wrongly that one Member of the House of Commons is getting some £50,000 a year of support to his parliamentary constituency, I am certainly open to have that position corrected. I really hold no particular brief for arguing something that is incorrect, and I would welcome the opportunity for that trade union, or any other, to disclose where the money in the parliamentary panel part of the political fund accounts goes.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

Can I take it from the hon. Gentleman's comments that he will vote for the full disclosure of all moneys coming from all sources to Members of the House?

Mr. Shaw

I think that we might be arriving at a very interesting position. There is an interesting argument, although it is separate from the one that I am making today, on whether we should have more disclosure or whether we should accept that Members of Parliament should be treated like members of the public and have the same rights to privacy. I, for one, do not particularly have any great difficulty with increasing the level of disclosure over time, but that raises the question of how one makes a fair disclosure.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

That is a fulsome endorsement.

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman needs to look at his own position and life style and whether he discloses everything about his life style in the way that he should.

Mr. Galloway

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was a very clear assertion that there is something in my life style or my income that I should be disclosing to the House but am not. I really think that that was out of order. If it was not out of order, it was certainly just about the meanest, lowest, most gratuitous insult that anyone has ever paid to me in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House can well do without personalising things of that nature. It does not do the debate any good and it does not do any good to the image of the House of those outside this place.

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was remarkably sensitive in getting to his feet at that point. I think that, if he looks back at comments in the House, he will see that he has not at all times been civil towards me. I have tried, in every way that I possibly can, to be civil towards him. We do not want to go down the path that he has invited me to go down, because that would not do the House much good.

In finalising my point about trade union accounts and trade union disclosure, I draw the attention of the House to the 1995 annual report of the Communication Managers Association. It is an interesting report, showing that the union has three parliamentary advisers. I notice that one of them is even a Conservative Member of Parliament. I am not certain that a Conservative Member of Parliament would want to be associated with all aspects of the report. I feel that perhaps I should go to my colleague and ask him whether he is aware that some £26,000, which comes out of the political fund of the Communication Managers Association, went to the Campaign Against Privatisation of the Post Office—CAPPO, as it is known.

It is obviously reasonable if a trade union wants to fund a campaign against the privatisation of the Post Office. I suppose that that is the sort of thing that a trade union might be expected to do. It might not fund something that is to the benefit of the Post Office consumers, or the people who use the Post Office's services, but I can understand if a trade union wants to fund something that is, perhaps, against the consumer's interest, and supports the current position of the Post Office. I am interested in a sentence in the CMA's annual report under "Parliamentary Advisers", which says: In addition, and as reported last year, special arrangements are made in respect of the Leader of the Opposition and we make a donation of £7,000 towards the upkeep of his office. I feel that the annual report should detail what those special arrangements are. It suggests to me that there is a lack of financial disclosure, and perhaps a lack of proper disclosure, in the trade union's accounts when we do not know what the so-called "special arrangements" are in respect of the Leader of the Opposition and how they are meant to operate.

Mr. Rooker

What is it to do with the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Shaw

If there are special arrangements in an organisation that is campaigning politically and those arrangements affect the Leader of the Opposition, I think that we should know, not only as members of the public but as Members of Parliament, what those arrangements are. The Leader of the Opposition discloses in his entry in the Register of Members' Interests something called the Industrial Research Trust. I want to know what is in that trust, what is the purpose behind it, and why money seems to be going into a pot—we do not know where it is coming from or what it is spent on. The money does not seem to be available to every Member of the House of Commons.

One must also question whether there are taxation implications. Is the trust properly set up from a taxation point of view? Is it a device to avoid or evade income tax? Are personal benefits involved? Are conditions attached to it? What special arrangements does the union consider exist?

Mr. Heald

What sort of industrial research does my hon. Friend think that that body will be doing in the Labour leader's office?

Mr. Shaw

I agree with my hon. Friend. Those are the questions that have to be answered. There is a real issue here as to why some £7,000 a year from the Communication Managers Association—we understand that other sums are also involved—goes into the Industrial Research Trust. Why are those sums necessary? What are the special arrangements? Are they buying support for a particular policy? Is that policy of interest to all members of society, or is it of interest only to a small group in society? We have to know whether hon. Members are able to act in the interests of all members, customers, consumers and citizens of this country—all 57 million people—or whether they are acting on behalf of a small group of people whom they are financed to support.

Mr. Heald

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is being most generous. Does he have any idea who pays into that research fund and who the trustees are? They are nothing to do with the Labour party, are they?

Mr. Shaw

I have been informed that some of the trustees of the Industrial Research Trust are members of the other House, and therefore I cannot go into detail about their names or positions, although there has been a suggestion that they are Labour peers. In consequence, it may be that if my hon. Friend or I applied for a grant from the trust, we would not get one if a political judgment about its management were involved. That raises interesting questions about the trust's purpose, the amount of money that goes into it, who benefits, how they benefit, in what circumstances they benefit, the special arrangements that exist and whether people who benefit from that money are able to exercise proper and fair judgment in the House of Commons, untainted by any financial interest or financial support.

There are a number of issues that the House should discuss. I just wonder on this occasion whether, however much hon. Members feel that we need a break, these issues are of such importance to the British nation that we should be prepared to give up some of our break next week to discuss them.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is a great advantage in debates of this nature to hear as many hon. Members as possible. I have already pointed out that long speeches may prevent other hon. Members from speaking. It appears that my advice is being ignored, and the Chair does not like to be ignored.

11.49 am
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East)

I am grateful for the opportunity before the House adjourns to raise a couple of related issues and the legal framework which has presented problems to the police in dealing with important problems in my constituency: first, the level of car crime in my constituency and nationally; and secondly, the illegal use of motor bikes, which is becoming a real problem in Coventry, North-East and elsewhere, and with which the police have difficulties in dealing within the current legal framework.

Many hon. Members will be surprised, as I was, to discover that it is not an offence for a person to remove the identification marks from a motor vehicle. People can be done for tampering with a motor vehicle, but to remove such marks is not in itself an offence. In addition, there is no enforceable legal obligation on the owners of a motor vehicle to maintain proof of ownership. That situation is causing real problems for the police in their attempts to tackle vehicle-related crime.

My concerns about the issue arise from an analysis of the national situation and from a serious and on-going problem in my constituency. As vice-chairman of the European Secure Vehicle Alliance, in view of all the comments flying around at the moment I should make it clear to the House that that position is entirely unremunerated.

Vehicle theft in England and Wales is higher than in any other country in the western world and our recovery rate for stolen vehicles has fallen substantially since 1989. In 1993, 600,000 vehicles were stolen, of which 250,000 were never recovered. In 1994 there was some improvement in the stolen vehicle rate, but the overall picture is still bleak. Recovery rates have fallen from 69 per cent. in 1989 to a reported figure of 62 per cent. in 1994. I do not altogether accept that figure of 62 per cent. yet. A provisional figure of 55 per cent. was produced, showing a drastic fall in the recovery rate of stolen vehicles, but the final figure came out at 62 per cent. Far be it from me to say that there is anything wrong with the figures, but in view of the Government's track record on other figures I am not prepared to accept that figure until I have had time to analyse it. There is a considerable discrepancy between the provisional figure of 55 per cent. and the eventual figure of 62 per cent. Even taking that into account, however, if we accept the figures as reported at face value we still have a serious situation: only 62 per cent. of stolen vehicles in Britain are recovered.

Much has been said in the House and elsewhere about the problem of so-called joy riders. The figures show clearly that we have a serious problem of permanent crime and unrecovered stolen vehicles. It is generally accepted that the number of unrecovered vehicles is due in part to a growth in organised car crime, where vehicles are either dismantled for their valuable components or have their identification marks doctored so that they can be sold as legitimate cars—a process known as ringing.

The cost of all that vehicle crime falls on the motorist, and it falls disproportionately on those who live in inner cities or the less affluent parts of our towns and cities. Motor insurance premiums have risen by 75 per cent. since 1989 and competition in the insurance market, combined with new abilities to target risks, means that someone deemed to have a high-risk address can be charged three or four times as much for insurance as people living in other parts of the same city. Theft is not the only factor which has caused premiums to rise, but it has made a large contribution. The result is that people in some areas increasingly cannot afford to drive, own or use a motor vehicle legally. They have become the indirect victims of our astronomical levels of vehicle crime.

My constituency has a specific problem with motor bikes being driven on and off the road, through housing estates, at all times of the day and night and at all speeds. During the past two years, a number of pedestrians have been injured. One incident resulted in a woman being admitted to hospital with serious injuries. Some of the bikes are being used to perpetrate serious crime. The police cannot catch the perpetrators in the act, despite using police motor bikes and a police helicopter, and if they manage to track them down to their homes they often find that the bikes have had all the identification marks removed and are in the possession of people who will not say where they got them. Often they cannot prove their ownership in any way and decline to show any receipts. Yet the police cannot confiscate the property. That is astonishing.

When a Kawasaki with all the identification marks removed was seized from someone whom the police described as a "known, prolific criminal" and that person was unable to produce a receipt or any other document to prove that he had obtained the bike legally, the police's own legal department outlined three options open to them: to incur the cost of taking the matter to court under the Police (Property) Act 1897, but expect the bench to return the motor cycle to the only claimant; to dispose of the motor cycle without the support of the court, but expect civil proceedings against the chief constable to recover the claimant's valuation of the motor cycle; or to return the motor cycle to the claimant. Needless to say, with such legal advice, the motor cycle was returned to the person claiming to own it.

That is the problem facing the police in my constituency and elsewhere when they try to deal with a serious problem that is blighting the lives of many people. The existing law does nothing to help them.

Those problems are not confined to Coventry. Salford metropolitan borough, which was concerned at the number of uninsured, untaxed and often stolen motor bikes being used in the city, recently raised the matter with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities to obtain a national assessment of the problem.

The motor industry is also calling for action to deal with the problem. The core and advanced security group of the Ford Motor Company Ltd. wrote to the European secure vehicle alliance saying: One long standing concern has been the ability of car ringers to remove all identification marks and avoid prosecution. The letter continues: Any vehicle whose original identity could not be proved by the police was usually handed back to the thief or ringer. The group calls for examination of the Japanese system of marking major vehicle components and storing car identification numbers in a central database.

If we are to reduce the problems of vehicle theft, we need to strengthen the law in this area. We should oblige owners to maintain proof of ownership and make it a criminal offence to remove vehicle identification numbers. I know that there are currently consultations about the tightening of vehicle registration, but that in itself is not enough and will not address the problems that I have outlined today.

Vehicle theft is costing our economy a fortune. The costs fall on the motorist, and disproportionately on poorer motorists. Our crime rate is an indictment of a do-nothing Government who are heavy on rhetoric but light on action. Let us give the police a tool that they can use in tackling these important problems and let us start immediately during the consultation process.

12 noon

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

First, I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) for not observing the usual niceties of the House by informing the hon. Lady in advance that I would be mentioning her constituency. However, I am certain that the people of the Isle of Wight, and not least the Isle of Wight county branch of the Royal British Legion, would like me to extend their condolences to the people of Christchurch in respect of the tragedy that they have suffered. There are many associations between our two constituencies, as hon. Members would expect, and I ought to put that on record before I commence.

I do not intend to go down the route that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) followed, but I have to say, in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, that I allow myself a slightly wry smile in looking at the recommendations of the Nolan committee. The House has for many years directed millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, which is known as Short money, to political parties.

I am open to correction by Opposition Members, but I understand that the Labour party has always voluntarily accounted for that money and published the way in which it uses it. However, it has always been something of an interesting political mystery to me that the Liberal party, which makes so much of open government, has never published how it applies Short money. If any other organisation in the United Kingdom distributed such large sums of money without there being a standing requirement to show how that money was spent, we would be down on it like a ton of bricks. Yet this tradition has gone on for some years in the House and it is impossible to find any transparency. However, that is not what I intended to raise—I merely put it on record and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord President will make a note of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) started this debate by talking about education, and it is along those lines that my concern lies. My hon. Friend expressed the view that there was something of a political conspiracy between the Opposition parties on education in Kent.

The late Sir John Nicholson, who was a well-known figure in the City as well as the Isle of Wight, always told me that the Isle of Wight would never lack for anecdotal evidence. Since I have been its Member of Parliament, I have tried to sift the information which comes to me rather than always believing that there is some great political conspiracy. However, I did happen to notice that a number of Liberal Democrat-controlled authorities have done away with their chief executives and not bothered to replace them.

As hon. Members know, we have a new unitary authority on the Isle of Wight, but we still do not have a chief executive. I have to rely somewhat on hearsay evidence for this because I have not entirely authenticated the figure, but I am told that something like £1.5 million has been spent on the basis of the chairman's decision without referral to committees. That concerns me.

I am not concerned that there should be delegated powers to spend—when I was a councillor, I argued for raising them to a substantial figure—but I am concerned that it has occurred since we have not had a chief executive. I hope that the new unitary council, under the political control of the Liberal Democrats, will address that problem. In a small island community such as ours, feelings run high on many issues and we need someone to hold the ring in a professional way and give thrust to policy as decided by the Liberal Democrats. We are the poorer for not having such a person. I shall return to that subject in future if we are not successful in getting a chief executive appointed.

Over the years, we have always had problems with school admissions on the island. We have only five high schools and some parents want their children to go to schools outside their areas. I have always managed to resolve such problems privately with the chairman of the education committee, Councillor Maureen Stolworthy, for whom I have the utmost regard. I congratulate her on her appointment as the first chairman of the new unitary authority. However, on this occasion that process has not happened. I also find that it is not happening in Hampshire, which is a separate education authority.

I begin to get a slight feeling that perhaps the Liberal Democrats have a new policy to frustrate parental choice in schools—I put it no higher than that—as I have found a ludicrous situation in which two talented students on the Isle of Wight want to study Latin, but they can do so only at Carisbrooke high school, to which they have been refused entrance. There is also a pupil, both of whose parents work for the county council, or unitary authority as it now is, in Newport. They want their child to attend Carisbrooke high school, but their catchment area is Sandown and admission has been refused. However, Sandown high is bursting at the seams. Such illogical enforcement of the rules is beginning to frustrate people on the Isle of Wight.

I have a letter from John Groves, chairman of the governors of Solent middle school. He says: It is our opinion that the LEA has mismanaged the admissions process"— he is referring specifically to his school— and has put the school into a position where financially it now needs more children. The letter was sent to every councillor and continues: Please bring your common sense to bear on this problem so that it may be resolved at the earliest opportunity. I hope that that will happen, and I have written to the new education committee chairman. I hope that the tradition on the Isle of Wight of not using education as a political football will continue and that pragmatism and common sense will prevail.

12.7 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

As a party organiser, I had to work on many occasions with Harold Wilson and I wish to be associated with the tributes that will be paid to him later today. Certainly, the effects and the results of his Labour Governments, such as the Open university, will stand as a tribute to his administration for many years.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be brief on the issue that I want to raise because you have asked for that and because it would be premature to raise a number of issues that relate to the point that I want to deal with.

The Leader of the House knows of my concern about pension funds. The Pensions Bill is currently going through Parliament. I have constituents who have been affected in the widest sense by pension fund problems, not only in respect of the Maxwell fund but in respect of Astra Holdings, Sycamore Holdings and Bellings pension funds. The Leader of the House knows that I have raised the matter with him and other Ministers on many occasions in the House.

I wish to concentrate today on the Bellings fund, in which there has clearly been fraud and abuse on the widest scale comparable to the Maxwell situation. I hope that the week's recess will give the Government a final opportunity to look at some of the gaps that are not being plugged in legislation so that problems with pension funds do not occur in future. In the years ahead, no hon. Member should need to tell the House that a pension fund is not able to honour its commitments to its pensioners. Negotiations are still going on over Bellings and for that reason, some things are best not said in the House.

There is, however, one point that the Leader of the House should put to the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who has responsibility for pensions, and to the Prime Minister. When I asked the Prime Minister a question on the first day back after the Easter recess, he said exactly the same as the Minister had said. The Prime Minister and the Minister say that because not as many people have been affected by the Bellings pension fund as were affected by the Maxwell fund, the Government will not help them in the same way.

I, any reasonable person and the people who are members of the Bellings fund say that the suffering of the fund members has been identical to the suffering of those in the Maxwell fund and in other funds. The number of people involved is not relevant and the Bellings pension fund members do not take kindly to being told that their problem is not the same. It is, of course, not just a matter of numbers. The Maxwells were well known and the media gave the problems with the Maxwell fund much wider publicity.

I ask the Leader of the House to urge his colleagues in the Department of Social Security to think again. Any help that the Government were willing to give to the Maxwell pension fund members should be given to the Bellings pension fund members and to any others who are in a similar situation, because the procedures have not safeguarded the pension funds of which they are members.

12.12 pm
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I take this opportunity on the Adjournment of the House to raise three matters concerning education, especially in connection with the Office of Standards in Education report, which raises important matters. The Government's reforms of education have undoubtedly improved education standards in our schools. The GCSE results, the A-level results, the proportion of students staying on at school and the number of people going into higher education—I shall not quote the statistics—are significant evidence of improvement. Our test results will gradually become evidence of that as well.

There are two crucial strands of policy on which I should like the Government to build. The first relates to making schools more directly accountable to parents. A recent public attitude survey found that no fewer than 87 per cent. of parents welcomed the greater control that they had over their local schools and the greater information that they had through the league tables, all of which were a result of the Government's reforms. Secondly, it is important that, through the governing bodies, parents have been given greater powers to control school budgets. Nowadays, even non-grant-maintained schools have 90 per cent. of their budget available to use as they wish.

Even more important is the way in which the secret garden of education—the curriculum—has been opened up, not only by testing, but by the new Ofsted inspections, which are far more comprehensive and far more frequent than used to be the case. In the past, the average secondary school had a comprehensive inspection from outside its local authority once every 50 years; there is now an inspection once every four years and 6,000 take place each year. That has allowed us to move the education debate away from what I have always regarded as the sterile ground of looking at schools as if they were sausage machines and of believing that the more resources one put in, the more one would get out, to looking in more detail at the education process and at the quality of teaching and education in our schools.

It is sad—it may be ruing this—that the Labour party voted against the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, the Education Reform Act 1988 and the Education Act 1994, which gave parents more access to the information that has opened up the secret garden in a constructive way.

The Ofsted report to which I referred shows that 40 per cent. of 14-year-olds did not meet the required standards last year in English, mathematics and science. Some 25 per cent. of seven-year-olds did not meet the required standards in the three Rs. The report also showed that 20 per cent. of schools—one in five—were not teaching properly something as basic as English.

It behoves us to consider the reasons for those figures. The reasons are not just curriculum organisation and the management of schools. The figures may be related to the basic skills of teachers, and according to Ofsted, which is objective in the matter, that has proved to be the case. Two out of every three newly trained primary teachers, in the opinion of Ofsted, did not know how to teach reading. Only one in 10 primary teachers had a proper grasp of mathematics.

I argue today for two things. First, not on a statutory basis, but on the basis of encouraging every local education authority, there should be criteria by which schools would be judged during visits by inspectors. There should be a clearly laid down system of appraisal of teachers in every local education authority and, more importantly, in every school; it happens in some schools already. The system works well, it is constructive and it is not a hire-or-fire policy, but a way in which the weaknesses of various teachers can be improved. The next stage should be that the Government insist that each school erects such a system so that problems with teachers can be dealt with.

Secondly, there is no point in having such an appraisal system unless head teachers and heads of departments know how properly to use it. I know that head teacher training, especially for new heads, is being improved by the Department for Education. I believe, however, that the retraining of heads on a national basis is important. There should be retraining in terms of general management skills, which many head teachers do not have when they are appointed, and in terms of using the appraisal system. That system would identify weaknesses and would be a significant way in which to motivate teachers.

There is no point in giving schools greater opportunities to appraise teachers and to manage them if we do not give them flexibility in terms of pay. There is only one state school in the country—the Oratory school, to which the Leader of the Opposition is shortly to send his son—which has moved away from the mandatory system of teachers' pay being negotiated on a national basis. It is crazy that teaching is one of the few markets in which pay does not reflect local labour market conditions and which does not give schools the opportunity to reward teachers in a flexible way. We should move to a recommended system of national pay bargaining rather than a mandatory system. That would underpin the improvement of standards that we have seen recently in our schools.

12.17 pm
Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

The House should not adjourn without discussing the current crisis in Kashmir, where two heavily armed countries, both probably in possession of nuclear weapons, are squared up to each other in an atmosphere of escalating tension and where general hostilities may break out at any time. That would have catastrophic consequences for the Indian-Pakistani sub-continent, for the broader area and for the world as a whole.

I declare an interest in the matter. As a long-standing and close associate of the Pakistan People's party, I spent an abstemious Hogmanay in Islamabad as a guest of the Pakistan People's party Government and of Benazir Bhutto personally. It was a very abstemious Hogmanay, but my visit was an interest that I should declare in this debate.

The immediate cause of the crisis has been the escalation from a six or seven-year low-intensity struggle between the Indian occupation force in Kashmir and the indigenous resistance to that occupation into a qualitatively different and more dangerous situation, with the burning of the shrine at Charar-i-Sharif. The flames are still licking around the ruins of the 650-year-old holy shrine, the adjacent mosque and the adjacent houses, all of which were destroyed in a firefight between the Indian occupation forces and people who were taking sanctuary in the shrine. As a result of that firefight, an ancient and revered site has been reduced to ash and ruins. The consequent increase in the political temperature on both sides of the border, and in the occupied and disputed area itself, is real and palpable. The House and, indeed, the Government should recognise it.

The Indian Defence Minister publicly threatened that India would invade the area known as Azad Kashmir, which is currently outside Indian control and in a semi-detached relationship with Pakistan. He said that India would teach Pakistan a lesson. There is a general alert in the area: soldiers and populations are bracing themselves for a new, much more damaging and dangerous military altercation.

The ultimate cause of all the tension—which has meant that two countries where people often go hungry and many millions experience deep poverty spend 60 per cent. of their budgets on armaments and defence—is the unresolved status of the area of Jammu and Kashmir. In a sense, that is a British responsibility: it is unfinished business following partition. It was mishandled at the time of partition, and has never been resolved. The United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1949, which call for the people of Jammu and Kashmir to decide on their future by plebiscite, have never been implemented; and the United Nations charter that gives every people the right to self-determination has also never been implemented in the area.

India must learn that simply pouring more and more soldiers—650,000 now—and more and more firepower into the occupied territory, the valley of Kashmir, which used to be known as "paradise on earth", and creating increasing aggression on the ground, will not lead to quiescence among the occupied people. Indeed, it merely adds fuel to the fires that we have seen over the past few weeks. There must be a peace process.

My early-day motion 1126, entitled "Need for a negotiated settlement in Kashmir", has been widely supported by members of all parties. It asks for a peace process to begin, and Britain is in an ideal position to begin it. She has good relations with both India and Pakistan, both of which are members of the Commonwealth. Britain is in a position to initiate contacts of some kind, perhaps through an eminent persons group. There are many redundant statespeople in the Houses of Parliament, some of whom were very eminent once. They could be put to constructive work trying to broker the beginning of a peace settlement, bringing to the table the Governments of India and Pakistan and those who represented the people of Jammu and Kashmir at the Hurryat conference.

I do not understand why Britain does not want to play that role. It would bring to a peaceful, negotiated end the long running sore that has cost thousands of lives, has caused three wars and is in danger of causing a fourth. It has led to mass intimidation, rape as an instrument of political oppression, shooting in the streets, torture in the prisons, exile, refugees and all the dreadful panoply that accompanies such a conflict. Britain could do itself a great deal of good in the area, the Commonwealth and the world by beginning a peace process.

Benazir Bhutto and her Government hold the line against extremism in that part of the world. They are a democratic Government of an Islamic country—moderate, not threatening to any neighbours or anyone else; but, for as long as the Kashmir issue remains unresolved, they are in danger. If Benazir Bhutto goes, the dark forces that will step into the government of Pakistan will certainly not be in the interests of the people of the area, this country or the community more generally.

12.24 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North)

Before we adjourn, perhaps it would be possible to discuss a range of transport issues, and also low pay.

Johnson Matthey in my constituency has developed a diesel auto-catalyst that has a remarkable effect in removing dangerous particles from exhaust fumes. I know that my hon. Friend die Minister for Transport in London has seen the device in operation, and I hope that more discussion of it will be possible in the House. There is no doubt that, if it were fitted to all the diesel engines in Britain, environmental pollution would be much reduced.

There is much concern about roads in my constituency. The A10 between Royston and Buntingford has become an accident black spot. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads has been able to introduce, through the county council, a range of measures to improve safety on that road. What is most shocking, however, is that most of the accidents have been caused by drivers travelling far too fast and overtaking where road signs make it clear that overtaking is not possible. Accident follows accident, despite the marvellous efforts of the local police, who have prosecuted 120 people in this year alone. I hope that a further campaign can be launched to persuade motorists to cut their speed and obey road signs.

Baldock badly needs a bypass, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will proceed with that programme once the public inquiry has been completed.

Let me turn from local issues to low pay. I am disappointed not to have received an answer to the question that I put to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) on 14 February. I asked him whether he endorsed the analysis of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, and whether he accepted that its conclusions were sound. He said that he endorsed the analysis, and accepted that many of the conclusions were sound; but he would not say which of those conclusions a Labour Government would implement.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)


Mr. Heald

It was not a tremendous surprise. It is worth considering, however, what analysis the hon. Member for Garscadden was endorsing. The report said that, since the mid-1970s, income inequality and wealth distribution inequality had grown. That, however, was a period of high inflation and high taxation: anyone with any savings saw those savings eroded year after year, until they had no substantial value. The gap narrowed between such people and those with no savings at all.

It is true that the difference between the highest and the lowest earner was narrower during the mid-1970s, but that was because all wage rates were falling and taxation was penal. If the hon. Member for Garscadden accepts the analysis, surely he must say which of the report's conclusions he would put into practice. Those conclusions were that there should be extra investment in training and education, social security, housing and the labour market, direct provision of employment opportunities, state-paid child care, more subsidies to employers to take on the unemployed, indexing of benefits above the retail prices index, social fund grants, not loans, and a reversal of the reduction in the jobseeker's allowance to six months. When we debated those issues in February, many Labour Members said that those were the changes that they wanted, yet the Opposition do not say what they would do. We hear many claims that the Government are following the wrong path, but the only way in which the public can judge those issues is if the Labour party says what it would do.

All the measures that I have read out involve spending more money. I should like to know how that squares with the Leader of the Opposition's comments in his Mais lecture, when he said: In Government, controlling public spending is a long and gruelling slog. But the alternative is far worse". If he is saying such things—which is a move in the right direction—how can his Front-Bench spokesmen stand there and say that they accept the conclusions of a report that involves spending and more spending? It just will not do.

The report also makes a proposal for a minimum wage, no doubt at the level that the trade unions want. Was it not in November that Denis Healey said that that would enable the trade unions to build a new tower on the platform of the minimum wage? If it is right that that would happen and that all the differentials would move up, how can the Leader of the Opposition say: Controlling inflation is not only an objective in itself. It is an essential prerequisite for sustainable economic growth on a scale sufficient to attain the social and political aims of the Labour Party"? What could be more inflationary than every wage level being pushed up on the platform of a minimum wage? I hope that we can debate those issues before we adjourn and obtain some real answers for a change.

12.31 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Later today, tributes will, I understand, be paid in the usual way to Harold Wilson. Winning four out of five elections as party leader is a remarkable score. I speak as one who, in a sense, benefited from his leadership. I won an election for another seat in 1966 by a majority of 81, and had it not been for the climate at the time I doubt whether even all my hard efforts and those of my supporters would have secured victory. Over many years, Harold Wilson played a significant role in the life of the Labour party. It is right and proper that we should pay tribute to him today.

I want to deal with the importance of making progress on the Nolan recommendations before the long summer recess. It was interesting, as those who have read the press in the last few days will have noted, that in last Thursday's debate the view—almost exclusively expressed by Tory Members—that the Nolan recommendations should not be implemented in whole and that there should be no disclosures of outside financial interests received a hostile press. I may be wrong—I may have missed one or two newspapers—but, literally, not one newspaper echoed the theme of the Tory critics in that debate.

The Prime Minister was right to set up the Nolan committee. As I said during Prime Minister's questions last Thursday, it is important that its recommendations should be implemented quickly. There is no reason why—and I have argued this over many years—disclosure of outside financial interests should not be made in the Register of Members' Interests. At present, the register gives no insight into how much is involved. The Nolan committee's recommendations are constructive.

I know that some of my hon. Friends are in favour of a total ban on outside interests, but I am not. Such a ban would not be right or practical. I have never argued anything along those lines. As Members of the Parliament, however, we have a responsibility to be perfectly frank about what we do outside and what income we receive. We should not conceal it from our colleagues in the House of Commons or from the electorate.

My interests are in the register. My union pays a contribution.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

How much?

Mr. Winnick

How much is in the register. I have made sure that that is so. The union pays my constituency party £300 each year. It pays me no money, and rightly so. It also pays a proportion of my election expenses. It is all in the register, apart from one other entry that anyone can check.

It has been a matter of regret that the reputation of the House of Commons has been lowered, particularly as a result of what has happened in the past six or nine months. It is important for us to put our House in order. There have always been people who have argued against change and reform. In the last century, they argued against measures to tackle corruption. Even the Reform Act 1832 was rigorously opposed, but those changes were considered to be necessary.

I was in the House of Commons before there was a Register of Members' Interests. When it was suggested that such a register should be introduced, there were protests—mostly, of course, from Conservative Members—that it would be an intrusion into privacy and that it would be wrong. No one argues that now. The register is accepted, even by those critics in the debate last Thursday. Not one single Tory said that there should not be a register. It was, nevertheless, a subject of much controversy before it was introduced.

Once the Nolan recommendations are put into effect, with the source of outside income being disclosed, after a period of time they too will be accepted. No one is likely to argue against them. I ask the Leader of the House: when will the suggested Committee be set up, when will it report, are the Government determined not to dilute Nolan, and will they find excuses as to why those recommendations should not be put into effect?

The recommendations should be put into effect as quickly as possible. There should be firm recommendations before the House embarks on the summer recess. Delay is not permissible. Undoubtedly, delay would not be understood outside. In the country at large, widespread support exists for the changes that we know are necessary to clean up our act and to ensure that the reputation of the House is what it should be. For those reasons, the Leader of the House should give a firm assurance today that the promise that we require will be given.

12.37 pm
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

This morning, 14 hon. Members have taken part in the debate—somewhat fewer than we had for the last recess Wednesday debate, in which about 21 took part. One of the reasons for that is that, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have observed, some of the speeches have been far too long. We need a safety valve—a zero hour—to allow us to raise urgent issues, but hon. Members coming to the House during Adjournment debates when they cannot obtain a reply from a Minister causes a bit of a problem for the Leader of the House.

Nevertheless, some interesting points have been made. In the time available, I cannot touch on them all. Obviously, a good many Conservative Members are still shellshocked from the results of 4 May and the consequences of the change ordered by the electorate in the management and governance of their local authorities. They cannot quite come to terms with the fact that, at the request of the electorate, another political approach is being taken in relation to the delivery of services, whether they be social services or education. The first two speeches by Conservative Members dealt with that.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock) was rightly in her place this morning, and she would have been there this afternoon if our business had been as arranged. Following yesterday's accident, we all share the distress, trauma and bereavement that has been caused to many families. These accidents do not happen very often on our roads. We have an intensively used motorway network. There are always many reasons why accidents happen. It would be wrong for the House to rush to a judgment, and we do not wish to do so. We must learn lessons from each of these tragedies so that the experience and knowledge gained can be used to prevent accidents in the future.

I know that the hon. Member for Christchurch and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) contacted the Speaker's Office this morning requesting a private notice question. I am sure that Madam Speaker would have granted their request or the Secretary of State for Transport would have made a statement to the House. Obviously, that is not possible because of the sad death of Lord Wilson, our former Prime Minister. We must make it clear that, notwithstanding that terrible tragedy, we have a good safety record on our roads and we have responsible coach operators.

The answer is not to be found by concentrating on a single issue, whether it be seat belts or the structure and integrity of the bodywork of the coach. We must reassure the travelling public that everything will be done by the inspection and investigation agencies to ensure that all the lessons are learnt from the tragedy. I am sure that the House will return to this matter on some other day.

I must confess that I missed part of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), but my good friend the deputy Chief Whip told me that he had raised the important issue of the dismantling of offshore equipment in the North sea. We have exploited the natural resource in the North sea to the great advantage of the United Kingdom—and I emphasise, to the advantage of the United Kingdom—in the past 20 years. It has involved an enormous number of jobs, new technologies and an enormous amount of wealth. We can argue about the way in which the wealth has been used, either public or private but, as we are moving further out into the North sea and the Atlantic, the equipment near the shore should not be left in such a state that it affects the ability of hundreds of other people to carry out their normal occupation—fishing.

There is a cost to be met for exploiting the natural resources of the planet, whether it is the coal mines or beneath the sea bed. The cost of that exploitation must be restoration as far as is practicable so that we do not damage opportunities for future generations.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how he can justify the new political order to which he referred in view of the contents of my speech, which dealt with Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled Kent county council? Although that council has more than one source of money available, it short-changes our schools. I asked whether Opposition spokesmen could justify that and whether they would instruct their groups on the council to put the money into schools.

Mr. Rooker

I am not keeping a count of this and I cannot refer to every speech, but I believe that I am dealing with the fourth or fifth speech and I do not intend to go back.

The issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow needs to be addressed and I believe that it will come before the House on many occasions in the future. It affects not just the occupation but the life of those involved in the fishing industry.

The cost of exploitation must be considered under the polluter pays principle. We and the oil industry have polluted the infrastructure of the North sea and we should not allow that to prevent other people from carrying out their normal occupations.

The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who has just arrived back in the Chamber, did a 50 yd sprint along the Benches this morning because the first time he was called to speak he was separated from his notes, so Madam Speaker went on to call another hon. Member. However, when he did make his speech, he seemed to be having some difficulty coming to terms with the catastrophic implications for Tory Members of the results of the elections on 4 May.

I shall not go into detail about the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about local government in Essex and Basildon, but he should not seek always seek to undermine the concept of independent local government. The House has a real problem with some people who claim that we are sovereign over everything and that we have the answers to everything. We do not, and we should not pretend that we do. If we genuinely believe in independent local government, we will not always agree with what our colleagues in local government do, from whichever side of the political divide they come. We can raise the issues on behalf of our constituents—that is our prime function—but we should not seek to undermine the concept of local government.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Fenchurch Street line. I have done some campaigning in Basildon so I suspect that I have travelled on that line in the past.

The hon. Gentleman talked about identity cards. I hope that this will not cause a problem and I hope that he does not fall over, but I should tell him that I am predisposed towards the concept of identity cards and I am not alone on the Opposition Benches. It is not an issue on which there is a narrow party divide. One of the biggest tragedies facing us is that we have a Home Secretary who seeks to make a party issue out of every serious home affairs matter. [Interruption.] I do not agree with sedentary interruptions.

I do not agree with the concept of compulsory identity cards and I do not agree with putting DNA information on such cards. I believe that citizens have a right to assert their identity and that is my starting point. They have a right to do that regardless of their position in society, whether it is at home, in the office, getting a travelcard or even if they are stopped in the street. They should be able to tell the police, "Naff off. I have asserted my identity and that is the end of the matter." That right does not exist now. I have a pocket full of credit cards and hon. Members cannot move around the House without a photo-identity pass because we cannot open some of the doors without them. There is a genuine issue to be addressed.

The driving licence may be the way to go. I agree with the chief constable in my area who believes that identity cards should contain not just a photograph but a fingerprint. That would go an enormous way towards dealing with the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who spoke of motor crime. In fact, if it were not for motor vehicles, we probably would not need as many police because at least half of all crime is related to motor vehicles in one way or another. That issue must be considered seriously.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) raised an important issue. Sometimes there is a downside to the use of modern technology, particularly in the health service, whether one looks back to the thalidomide issue or haemophiliacs and the AIDS virus. We must address this issue. We cannot leave it to the courts or to individual citizens to take on the NHS or the drug companies. We should not leave people to go, apparently, begging to the Government.

To our disgrace, we do not have a system of no-fault compensation in this country. The Government would have the full support of the Opposition if they adopted the same attitude to the hepatitis C virus as they did to haemophiliacs and the AIDS virus. The number of people involved is small and it will not be the last time. There will always be such issues because of the use of technology in the health service. Such people need our help before they have to go knocking on doors. Their mothers and fathers need help as do others who take care of them.

The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) made a very long speech and I cannot deal with all of it. He also talked about education and complained about local government publicity. If a local authority is breaking the law on political propaganda, the hon. Gentleman should use the mechanisms in the Local Government Act 1988, which the House put in place for hon. Members to operate. He should not just come here and complain about it.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill. I should declare an interest: I have no intention of ever using the channel tunnel because I do not think that it is safe enough. I accept that that view is prejudiced, but that is my belief. The Opposition have no predisposition to use public money to save the private investors. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that it is there. The hon. Gentleman rightly declared his vested interest and I suspect that the financing of the channel tunnel will come back to haunt the House and the country for some time, particularly when one considers our inability to provide the necessary infrastructure to go with it.

The main part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was on the political funds of the Union of Communication Workers. As I said in an intervention, political education in that union is far in advance of and more detailed than in any other trade union of which I am aware and the political panel is the structure for doing that.

The political panel does not just relate to the Members of Parliament who happen to be here; it relates to those who aspire to be Members of Parliament and who have to go through the training processes and is part of the funding for their education. It has to come out of the political fund. It certainly does not have the implication suggested by the hon. Gentleman that the money he cannot account for has ended up as £50,000 sponsorship for one of my hon. Friends. I can assure him, without even checking up on the matter, that that is not the case because I know the way in which that union operates.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East raised an issue that he had intended to raise later today under the ten-minute Bill procedure. I was astonished by the fact that two thirds of stolen vehicles are never recovered. It is an astonishing figure bearing in mind the amount of police time occupied in dealing with vehicle crime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was the only person to raise an international issue and he spoke about the continuing and worsening position in Kashmir. As he said, our nation is in a unique position to offer more help to both the Pakistan and Indian Governments than we have hitherto given. We must not follow the rhetoric that Pakistan does not want an independent Kashmir—I am well aware of that from my constituents in Birmingham. The conflict must be resolved without going to war for the fourth time, and it can be resolved only by talking. That is what this Government should be encouraging.

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

The House will understand that I wish to begin my remarks by expressing the regret that we all feel at the death of Lord Wilson. Whatever political disagreements there may have been, he was undoubtedly one of the substantial political figures of our time. We can all think of some of his memorable phrases that will probably be part of British politics for all time, and which may be referred to when proper tribute is paid to him later today.

This has been another interesting revised Adjournment debate occasion, now known as "Matters to be considered". As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said, there have not been as many speakers as there were on the last occasion, but rather more than appeared to be likely when Mr. Deputy Speaker spoke so sternly from the Chair about one and a half hours ago—since when the proceedings have speeded up considerably.

My main feeling is one of envy for the freedom with which the hon. Member for Perry Bar felt able to speak from the Dispatch Box. I detected only a rather tenuous connection between what he said and the policies that he is supposed to advocate. Indeed, there must be some risk of a headline in tomorrow's newspapers, "Opposition denounce channel tunnel"—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman probably said that it was a personal view, but nevertheless I envy his freedom to scatter such comments from the Front Bench. He also used one or two phrases that I would not care to use from the Front Bench, but that is life.

Obviously, I will not have time to deal with all the speeches, any more than the hon. Gentleman was able to do so. I am sure that the House will understand if I start slightly out of order with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mrs. Maddock), who spoke about the terrible and tragic accident that happened yesterday and which affected many of her constituents. As my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) said, it also affected many people with whom he and his constituents are connected.

I hope that the hon. Lady will not mind me saying that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made a special visit to the House this morning to hear what she had to say. I understand that he has been in touch with her and that they had a helpful discussion in which he made clear the sympathy we all feel for the families of those who were killed or injured. I am sure that we all wish to pay tribute to the emergency services for their prompt response.

The hon. Lady fairly said that she did not expect me, or my right hon. Friend, had he been able to answer a private notice question, to make any assumption about the cause of the accident. However, I understand that my right hon. Friend has assured her that he will look at the report that has been commissioned from the Vehicle Inspectorate against the background of the points that she raised this morning.

I want to comment briefly on as many speeches as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) made a number of points about education and he was later echoed by my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in relation to Kent and for Basildon (Mr. Amess) in relation to Essex. Indeed, education was the single strongest theme running through the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham made a number of comments to which I cannot respond in detail. However, he made an interesting point about the underspend on the revenue budget in Kent and the suggestion of Conservative members of the county council to use that to overcome the problems with the education budget. I am sure that we all hope that that proposition will be carefully considered.

I am glad to note that in Essex, where there were similar problems, the Conservative group had rather greater success. Against a background of division between the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition, it proposed a plan that successfully prevented the damage that would otherwise have been done by the coalition's original proposals.

I am always reluctant to use the Dispatch Box to air constituency matters and I will not do so now, other than to say that I am finding exactly the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon relating to community care in Essex and bed-blocking. There is also what I can call only the deplorable proposal to withdraw transport to selective schools. That can only damage the least well-off with able children. I very much hope that Essex will decide not to proceed with that proposal when it considers it again next month.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made some important points about the assisted places scheme, which in many ways echo what I have just said about transport to selective schools. Once again, the Labour party is attacking something that has widened educational opportunities for least well-off people in society and which has helped more than 70,000 children since its inception. I hope that the Opposition collectively, not just in any particular area, will reconsider their policies and proposals in that area.

I stayed in the House to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). He knows that I understand many of the points that he raised because of the time that I served both as a Health Minister and as a Social Security Minister, when a system was put in place to help those who had contracted AIDS from infected blood transfusions. The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot add to the various exchanges on those matters, but I am sure that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Health and the Prime Minister will study what he has said this morning with great care.

I hope that people will study if not all at least part of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dover said. He had obviously done a great deal of research into trade union accounts and the Industrial Research Trust. He asked a number of questions that I am sure he would not expect me to answer, but which we all expect others in other places to consider and then provide answers.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) made some important and interesting points about car crime and I shall ensure that they are drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

I shall draw the thoughtful and constructive points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, on a number of matters, to the attention of my various colleagues.

I cannot add to the exchanges that the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and I have had during business questions and on other occasions. However, our very recognition of the problem of pension funds, which was revealed most dramatically by the Maxwell case, underlies the Pensions Bill that is currently in Committee. At the very least, the Bill is clear recognition of the concern that is felt, which the Government share and which we are seeking to address through changes in the law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) echoed others' comments, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon, about the involvement of parents in the educational process. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest will know that a great deal of effort has been put into securing such involvement and I am sure that his suggestions will be carefully considered.

I am sure, too, that all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and, not least, the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the current consultation exercise, in which the fishermen will have an opportunity to have their say, will be carefully considered by Ministers. In anticipation of that, I hope that all hon. Members who have made points will depart tomorrow reasonably peacefully for a happy and contented recess.

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