§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]9.36 am
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
In the Christmas Adjournment debate I spoke about the problems which, sadly, existed then at St. George's hospital, Tooting, which is in my constituency. It is one of the largest hospitals in London and it serves the health needs of people living in a very wide area of south London. It is an excellent hospital. No one would question the skills or the care of its staff, whatever role they may play in the day-to-day running of that hospital.
When I spoke in December, I highlighted the concerns and problems of senior consultants, doctors and nursing staff at the hospital and the continuous pressure that they faced in providing the health care that they wanted to provide and that the general public expected. I spoke about the visits that I had made to the hospital and the meetings that I had had with members of staff. I return to that issue today.
More than three months have passed since I last spoke about St. George's hospital and, sadly, the problems still exist. Following my speech in December, I received a letter dated 11 January 1996 from the Minister for Health. He commented, as I did, on the dedication of the staff at St. George's hospital. He talked of increased funding and of the pressures on hospitals; and of seeking to improve arrangements for the discharge of patients. He said that, last year, the hospital had received 25 five-star awards in the national health service performance tables.
306 I sent the Minister's letter to Dr. Millard, a senior consultant physician at St. George's hospital. That gentleman was the doctor who wrote to me last year pointing out the problems and who showed me round when I made my visits to the hospital. Dr. Millard was not impressed by the Minister's letter. He sent me a reply dated 22 January 1996, in which he questioned the Minister's claim that finances had been increased and pointed out, as I did in the Christmas Adjournment debate, that Wandsworth health authority had seen a cut in its budget of 24 per cent. since 1993.
We in Wandsworth have lost a great deal of funding and the real question that was not answered by the Minister is about the extent to which the increases that he referred to relate to the sizeable sums of money that we have lost in recent years. That is what Dr. Millard, staff at St. George's and I, as the local Member of Parliament, believe to be the question.
Dr. Millard says:There has been no increase in the number of beds at St. George's. There is a plan to increase the number of beds by eight which is obviously inadequate in the present circumstances. There has been no improvement in the arrangements for discharging patients and we still have patients in acute beds who could be looked after in the community.The reference to the NHS tables is something which staff of the hospital find particularly unreasonable. Twenty-five star awards do not reflect what is going on and seems to us nothing more than Government propaganda.That is the response of a senior doctor at the hospital to the Minister's letter. The Minister told me and local people, "Don't worry, things are not that bad," but a senior doctor working at the hospital says that the problems that they face in the hospital's day-to-day running are not being tackled by the Government.
I also received a letter dated 24 January 1996 from Dr. Elizabeth Vallance, the chairlady of St. George's Healthcare NHS trust. She said:Thank you for taking the trouble to let me see Gerry Malone's letter to you.I am glad he is so fulsome in his praise of St. George's. Our problems, of course, remain but we are doing our level best to deal with them within our resources.
I also received a letter that refers to St. George's from the British Medical Association, dated 11 January. It states that there isa lack of slack in the hospital system due to the run down in the number of beds … wards are being closed for financial reasons such as reducing staff numbers".There is a total lack of preparation for the discharge of patients, which means thatbeds are blocked by elderly patients who are unable to be discharged into the community and therefore remain in hospital.None of the responses that I have received since my December Adjournment debate speech has agreed with what the Minister told me in his letter.
In February, I was approached by the "World in Action" television programme about St. George's hospital and told it what I knew. It approached doctors, staff and patients at the hospital and in March, it produced a programme devoted solely to the problems of St. George's hospital, Tooting. I doubt whether any major television company would spend time and money producing a programme if there was not a serious issue involved. After that programme, I received a vast number of letters from 307 people all over the country saying that they had the same problems—the staff and the hospital are great, but the services and resources that they get are not enough to provide the sort of care that they want to give. I and the people working in St. George's hospital make that charge again today.
Ministers do not want to face the facts. London and St. George's have lost millions of pounds in recent years. That money has gone out of London to other areas well outside it. I have some facts that show why we in Wandsworth regard the issue as crucial. Hospital admissions in Wandsworth are 18 per cent. above the national average. It is in the highest 10 per cent. in the country for hospital admissions of the elderly. It has one of the lowest—15 per cent.—day centre elderly attendances because of insufficient day centre provision in the borough. Out of 366 national districts, Wandsworth is the 21st most deprived area. That is our position, and the hospital, its staff, local people and the British Medical Association all know it.
I again highlight that we urgently need extra funding for the hospital, so that it can provide the sort of care that it wishes to provide and that the community needs and seeks. I close by begging Ministers to start listening and doing something to tackle my concerns, because they will not go away. The position has sadly worsened because of the lack of action between December and early April. It will continue to worsen unless, at long last, we get Ministers who listen to the people running the system and start to give us in Wandsworth the adequate funding that is so urgently needed.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is an opportune time to discuss violence on television and in the electronic media generally because on the day that we return after the Easter recess, we shall have the Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill, following completion of its Lords stages. There will be an opportunity to discuss whether we should include a V-chip—V for violence—in new television sets to be manufactured in the United Kingdom.
I can report already that an all-party group of hon. Members has supported such an amendment, which has been lodged for discussion before it can be tabled. On video violence, I draw attention to the early-day motion that stands in my name and those of the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who is the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is supported by Members on both sides of the House and has more than 200 signatures objecting to the release for home viewing by the British Board of Film Classification of the video of the film "Natural Born Killers".
I shall discuss those two specific questions and then deal with the general issues that they raise. First, the European Parliament has considered the V-chip and said that it wants Europe-wide action on its inclusion in television sets. It is not some faraway technology for the distant future. It was invented in Canada three years ago and on 14 March, Keith Spicer, the chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said: 308The Canadian public, and in particular parents, have told us they want further action to protect their children against gratuitous and glamorized TV violence. Nearly two million Canadians have signed petitions saying this, and scores of parent, teacher, medical and public interest groups have spoken up for a sensible balance between protecting children and protecting creative freedom.
The Canadian Parliament has already decided that the V-chip will be made available from later this year in all new television sets. It recognises, as I do, and as Lady Howe has recently said in this context, that that is a tool in the armoury of parents and not the solution. Broadcasters must continue to be responsible about what is broadcast, but it can be a useful weapon for parents who wish to sift what their children watch. The American Congress has taken the same decision. Instead of waiting, or pushing the matter to a Select Committee for discussion, we should consider carefully the legislation in Canada and the United States and take seriously our obligation to do something similar.
I am grateful that the Home Office has already indicated its strong support for the proposal. When I raised the matter with the BBC, it too had no objection in principle to the V-chip being included in new television sets. The only question mark so far has been raised by the Department of National Heritage. I understand that the Secretary of State for National Heritage was misquoted in the Financial Times last week, when it was implied that she did not support such a proposal. I hope that there is an open mind and that we shall have a chance to consider the issue in the context of the Broadcasting Bill.
Similarly, I hope that we shall reconsider gratuitous video violence. Two years ago, in an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which received widespread support throughout the House, we decided to take action against material that was likely to contain gratuitous violence and might have a psychologically damaging effect on the children who saw it.
That amendment was passed, so I found it amazing that, a few weeks ago, James Ferman of the British Board of Film Classification passed for home viewing—as distinct from what is already available for viewing in cinemas, where there are much tighter controls on the age of people seeing the material—"Natural Born Killers". The House should bear it in mind that that film contains 50 random killings and involves an orgy of bloodshed. The perpetrators of the crimes simply ride off into the sunset with no action taken against them. Is that the sort of thing we want our children to see; more to the point, is it in accordance with the new law that Parliament enacted?
If James Ferman and the BBFC are incapable of telling the difference between a film such as "Schindler's List", in which the violence is set in a moral framework, and "Natural Born Killers", it is time that we appointed a new board. The issue needs to be taken much more seriously.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that guns have been available in this country for many years, yet only recently have there been the terrible tragedies of Hungerford and Dunblane. Will he speculate on what might have changed to cause guns to be used so violently? Could it possibly be the continual diet of violence that we and our children are getting?
§ Mr. Alton
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that question. That has been one of the significant changes in this country, and I shall return to that subject. I agree with him.
309 Before to my election to the House 17 years ago, I worked with children with special needs, many of whom were excluded from school because of disturbance or maladjustment. Those children were not exposed to the high level of gratuitous violence that seems to pour into our homes now, particularly through the video, but also through computer games, in which they are given choices that involve garrotting or raping their victims. Clearly, the scale and nature of what our youngsters are exposed to today is very different from that of two decades ago, and we must take that issue seriously.
The context of my amendment two years ago was the killing of a young boy, James Bulger, in the city of Liverpool, by two nine-year-olds. In the aftermath of the verdicts, the trial judge remarked on "the striking similarities" between scenes in the video "Child's Play 3" and the attack on James Bulger. Whether people accept the definite link, it has to be said that that film and 440 other videos had been hired during the previous few years by the father of one of the boys. The videos included soft pornography, violent horror and necrophilia. In Manchester at almost the same time, a chant from the same film was used by the torturers of the teenager Susan Capper. She was taunted with that chant while she was subjected to the most brutal and horrifying assault. Eventually, she died.
Meanwhile, in Norway, the film "Power Rangers", which was shown in the United Kingdom on Saturday mornings, was withdrawn and a link was suggested between the killing of a five-year-old girl by her six-year-old friends and an episode of the programme. During the very same week, the Lincoln coroner, Roger Atkinson, said that an episode in the ITV series "Cracker", in which two characters were stabbed to death, could have led to the murder of a midwife 12 hours later. Granada Television dismissed the coroner's remarks as only his "opinion".
It is a fact that about 400 killings, 119 woundings and 27 sex attacks on women are screened every week in this country. We are told that that is only a reflection of real life, but that is an absurdity because there are only 14 killings in an average week in real-life Britain, not 400.
Violence in Britain and America—where it is considerably worse—has become gratuitous and random. Gruesome, violent death, mutilation and serial killing have all become an art form that can be turned on or off with the flick of a switch. The climate of violence—real and imagined—has led to ordinary citizens living in fear. People no longer feel safe in their homes, let alone in the parks or streets, or at night time on public transport. Security companies and the alarm systems that they sell for personal use, for cars, homes, offices and workplaces, are a booming industry.
Meanwhile, the entertainment industry seems to be in the throes of a passionate love affair with violence, embracing it at every opportunity. We are becoming emotionally deadened by the horrors that we witness and have come to accept violence as normal.
When Lord Rees-Mogg was chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, he said:Television is an extremely important reinforcement agency in most of the areas in which it operates.British academics continue to agonise about the links between behaviour and what people see. The American Psychiatric Association linked television to 50 per cent. 310 of crime in the United States. By adolescence, a young American will have seen 100,000 acts of violence and 8,000 murders on television.
As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) implied in his intervention, real crime has risen inexorably in this country. One in three of those of us who were born here in the 1950s now has a criminal conviction, and in a third of cases it involves violence. Professor Elizabeth Newsome and nearly 30 child psychologists, child psychiatrists and paediatricians published a paper, which I asked them to write, courageously stating that they had previously been "naive" in underestimating the links between how people behave and what they see.
Our own Royal College of Psychiatrists has also pointed to media violence as one area in which tighter controls could help protect vulnerable children. The Professional Association of Teachers spoke to 1,000 teachers in different parts of the United Kingdom, and more than 90 per cent. of respondents believed that children's emotional, social and moral development was being damaged, sometimes irrevocably, by what they saw.
For years, national paranoia has led us to tilt at imaginary Spanish windmills and French farmers, while we remain indifferent to the Americanisation of British values and our way of life. British culture has been increasingly dictated to by American tastes in everything, from what we eat to what we watch. Some of the least attractive aspects of life in modern Britain, such as drug dependency, street crime and mugging, screen violence and the disintegration of family and community life, were all manifesting themselves in the States many years before they were washed up on our shores. It is a fact that, when America sneezes, we tend to catch cold.
If we are not convinced by what the psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers and parents say, let us put on record what David Puttnam—probably one of the most admired people in the field of creating good film and video material—has to say on the subject:What proof are we looking for, I wonder? Are we going to wait a decade or two to see if there is a fresh outbreak of gruesome murders before deciding perhaps 'Driller Killer' wasn't the thing to show the kids after all? Does the railway company wait for someone to be killed by a train before fencing off the railway line?He added:Does common sense not tell us that it is foolish to debate whether watching sadistic pornographic films makes children into dangerous psychopaths? Leaving aside the impact this influence may or may not have in future for the rest of us, what is abundantly clear is that, for them, as immature human beings, watching sadistic pornographic films has to be a very bad idea".
If the advertisers in this country thought that there was no link between what people watch and how they behave, they would not have spent some £4,000 million over the past 12 months advertising their wares on television and trying to sell them. The chairman of Unilever once said that he knows that half of what is broadcast on television has no impact on those who see it, but the only problem is that he does not know which half. Clearly, there are more than just casual links in this regard. There is now increasing empirical evidence— worldwide—of the links between how people behave and what they see. Time and again, the evidence points to a correlation.
When we debate the Broadcasting Bill immediately after the House returns, we shall have a chance to put real power into the hands of television viewers, by giving them the V-chip. We shall also have a chance to amend 311 the legislation to allow for a national audit to be conducted each year, so that the programme makers have to report to Parliament on the level of violence that they transmit. We shall also have the chance to bring to task bodies such as the British Board of Film Classification and Warner Brothers UK, which creates films such as "Natural Born Killers".
On the day after the Dunblane massacre, the managing director of Warner Brothers UK telephoned me from California to say that, in the light of what had happened, it had withdrawn, for the time being, "Natural Born Killers" from the home viewing market—it was to have been released on Mothering Sunday. However, he said that he would review the decision in a few weeks from now. I leave hon. Members with the following question: if it was not right to screen that film on the day after the terrible massacre, what will make it right and proper to screen it in the weeks to come?
§ 10.1 am
§ Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)
Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech this early in the debate. When hon. Members make a maiden speech, they suffer from nerves, and it is helpful to make it early in the debate. I am conscious of the traditions of the House, and that when one makes a maiden speech, one refers to one's predecessor. On this occasion, it is easy and a pleasure to refer to Derek Enright—and it is something that I would have wanted to do.
Derek Enright was an extremely hard-working and diligent Member of the House. I know that to be the case, because of comments that hon. Members from both sides of the House have made to me since my arrival. He was well loved, as Madam Speaker commented when I first entered the House. In a short space of time, he established a presence in the Chamber and throughout the Palace. It is a tragedy that he was perhaps unable to fulfil all his ambitions.
Hon. Members may not know that Derek Enright made a major impact in the constituency. During the by-election, I met hundreds of local constituents, residents and voters, almost all of whom told me—unprompted—of their deep affection for their Member of Parliament. He was loved in the constituency. The degree of unanimity in what I heard about my predecessor wherever I went during the by-election was remarkable.
Obviously, it is difficult to single out any one or two aspects of work that a Member of Parliament will have undertaken. My predecessor did a great deal of work in many areas. I know that he worked closely with his neighbouring Members of Parliament, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Sir G. Lofthouse), on health-related issues. In particular, they were working on issues related to emphysema and other health problems suffered by coal miners in the area.
I know that my predecessor would be horrified, as I am, at the proposals to change the character of the health service in the locality. There appear to have been secret discussions at a higher level—in the Wakefield area, in Pontefract, in Quarry house in Leeds, and in London—about plans to change the character of the health service 312 and eventually to remove some services from local hospitals. Those matters are extremely worrying to me—and I am sure that they would have been worrying to my predecessor. Later today, if I get the opportunity, I shall speak in the debate about the health services in the Wakefield metropolitan district. I shall make some firm points and express my views, in particular, about the poor quality of paediatric services in the area.
I shall do my best to emulate my predecessor's achievements, hard work and diligence—in every respect, bar one. That one thing relates to something that hon. Members will understand—that is, his ability to convert modern-day, idiomatic English in pop songs into the classical language of Latin. I am afraid that I could never aspire to—and I am not sure that I would want to—such an amazing and precocious talent. With those few reflections, I am sure that all hon. Members will remember very warmly my predecessor's contribution to this place.
Hon. Members will know that I was elected in a by-election, but they may not know that there have been 12 Members of Parliament for Hemsworth this century—which is a remarkably high number. It is tragic to note that seven of those hon. Members died while holding office. There have been six by-elections—so the people in the area have become rather familiar with them. In fact, after I had been selected as a Labour candidate, one of the old stagers came up to me and said, "Normally in the Labour party, we tend to look at a person's politics and what his ideological position is on various issues. However, because there have been so many tragic deaths of sitting Members in Hemsworth, we are concerned about whether you have a health certificate. We want you to represent us for a long time."
Traditionally, Hemsworth has been associated with the Labour party—indeed, since the foundation of the Labour party, it has represented Hemsworth. Hemsworth has been so safe that I am told that The Guardian Weekly in Manchester coined the phrase, "They don't count the votes out there, they weigh them," for the constituency. That has been said about many other constituencies, but we believe that it was coined in relation to Hemsworth.
I have looked back at the maiden speeches and the records of my 11 predecessors this century. I discovered that the seat has been so safe for the Labour party that on two occasions the Labour nominee arrived with his nomination papers—I am referring to George Griffiths and Horace Holmes—for the returning officer, only to be told that he had been elected because no other candidate was prepared to stand for the seat. That illustrates the fortress nature of the support that the Labour party has had in Hemsworth this century.
Bearing that history in mind, I happily went with my agent to the returning officer at Wakefield town hall, imagining that that exceptionally sensible precedent would be followed in my case—I imagined that the returning officer might be able to declare me elected as there were no other candidates and because of the nature of the opinion polls and the state of the Hemsworth constituency. One could imagine my chagrin to discover that there was not one but 10 candidates fighting for the seat. It was a daunting prospect for me to face.
However, apparently, it was not as daunting as the prospect facing the Conservative party candidate. After the count had finished, I noted that he had retained his 313 deposit and that he was going around in a very gleeful manner. When I asked him why he was so happy, he said that he was delighted because it was the first time in a parliamentary election that he had managed to get into second place. That was interesting; obviously he was more daunted than I had been.
Hemsworth has always been associated with the coal mining industry, which, as we know, has created wonderful communities throughout this country and elsewhere, with a powerful community spirit—the sense of caring and sharing and all the similar values that we associate with such communities.
From Featherstone in the north—my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford was born there, represented it for a time and played for the famous rugby league team—through Hemsworth down to South Kirkby and South Elmsall in the south, and from Upton across to Ackworth, Crofton and all the other communities, including Rye Hill and Fitzwilliam, which make up Hemsworth, the spirit of community and the strong community values that the miners contributed wherever they built up communities are evident.
The miners were interested in many things other than mining; sport was one of the great talents that emerged from those villages and small towns. Rugby league was played throughout the area. Frickley Athletic, in the south of the constituency, was supported by the miners with a subscription from Frickley pit for many years, and it is sad that that has now finished because of the closure of the mining industry in the area.
Mr. Geoffrey Boycott came from the constituency. We cannot help his politics—although we shall do our best, even now, to work on his repentance in relation to those matters—but he was a sturdy player for Yorkshire county cricket. I sometimes think that, if representatives of Yorkshire came down to Hemsworth and looked at the youngsters there, we might be able to rebuild our team for the future.
The mining industry was profoundly important in the formation of the communities that I now have the privilege to represent. The maiden speeches of my 11 predecessors read like a social and economic history of the area. Together, they form a remarkable document.
The first Member of Parliament for Hemsworth at the turn of the century was elected as a Liberal and came across to the Labour party as soon as it was founded, so we can claim that we had one of the first Labour Members of Parliament. He was a miner and described in his maiden speech the 400-odd pits that existed in the Yorkshire area—he had visited the coalfaces of almost all of them. Another Member of Parliament for the area described 12 separate working pits within walking distance of his house.
The experience of the constituency reflects the tragic history of the decline of an industry. My predecessor, Derek Enright, mentioned the last working pit. I now have to report in my maiden speech that no working pits are left in the Hemsworth area. That is a tragedy for the community. Although to an extent we understand that the industry has been in long-term secular decline, it is hard to forgive the motives of some people in high office who adopted a particular political position regarding the mining industry.
In the area profoundly strong communities remain, which were originally concentrated around the coal mines. Now that the coal mines no longer exist, their reason for coming into being has disappeared and there is a gradual process of economic and social decline.
314 I have with me a list of every benefits office in the country, showing the amount of family credit allocated to families in each office area and the number of families in each area who receive family credit. It is a very interesting document. We know that family credit is the Government's way of subsidising poor employers. When a household earns income below the mean poverty thresholds, the Government allocate family credit to the household.
In the two years for which those figures have been published—from 1993 to 1995—we have witnessed, throughout the country, a remarkably even increase of about 35 per cent. in the number of families receiving family credit in each benefit office. The figures for the Hemsworth benefit office, however, reveal a tragic position. We have there not a 35 per cent. increase, not even a 70 per cent. increase, but almost double that—in two years, there has been a 117 per cent. increase in the number of families receiving family credit.
That is tragic. It must be connected with the fact that the mines have closed and the redundancy money is gone. It reflects the way in which the labour market in the United Kingdom has been casualised. It reflects low pay in the area. It reflects the increase of agency work and unfortunate practices. It also reflects the need for us to change macro-economic policies. It shows the need for a minimum wage. Why should the state subsidise poor employers through this mechanism? It demonstrates as well, in my view and in the view of many hundreds of people I have met, the need for the social chapter, to ensure that workers' rights are adequately protected.
I represent an area which I have found to be wonderful, and which I am still finding out about. The communities that make up the constituency are lovely communities, which find themselves in a difficult position. I pledge myself to try to do my best to follow in the footsteps of all my predecessors and to work hard for the economic and social regeneration of the communities that make up Hemsworth. I thank the House for giving me such a good hearing.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
It is an honour and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) on the occasion of his maiden speech. The last time I followed a maiden speech I followed three; it is easier dealing with one. The hon. Gentleman spoke fluently, without any sign of nerves. He showed great humour and, early on, great command of his subject. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Derek Enright, was a much-loved constituency Member of Parliament, whose views on several pro-life issues I shared. His untimely death is a great loss to the House.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth comes to the House with a reputation as leader of Leeds city council.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the late and lamented former Member for Hemsworth, will he place on record the work that that hon. Member did for relations with Portugal as secretary of the British-Portuguese parliamentary group, of which I am chairman? He will be sadly missed for his knowledge of that country and the contribution that he made to parliamentary relations between this Parliament and the ancient Parliament of Portugal.
§ Mr. Amess
I thank my hon. Friend for prompting me. I have no expertise on that subject, but I am sure that that was a worthy tribute.
Finally, I would say to the hon. Member for Hemsworth that my wife supports the Leeds football team but that is as far as the affinity goes with his former council. I share his admiration for Geoffrey Boycott, an outstanding cricketer whose politics I much applaud. We look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman in the months ahead.
That is the end of the bipartisan approach. I wish to draw three matters to the attention of the House before we adjourn for the Easter recess. I may best describe them as analysing what the Labour and Liberal parties do once they are given power. The first matter concerns the behaviour of Liberal and Labour-controlled Essex county council, the second concerns the behaviour of Labour and Liberal-controlled Havering council and the third concerns the purported policy of the Liberal party on religious education in schools.
My colleagues on this side of the House are fully prepared to accept responsibility for the actions of Her Majesty's Government. However, we are a little tired for being blamed for everything when the socialists control Europe. In my part of Essex, we are looking very closely at how the local Labour Member of the European Parliament has performed since his election: he is very good at being photographed, but he has not delivered on any of his election promises. The Labour and the Liberal parties, and not the Conservatives, control Essex county council. We are in crisis in Essex because of that council's wicked budget decisions.
§ Dr. Spink
I wish to draw together the two points that my hon. Friend has made regarding the Member of the European Parliament and the Essex county council. The Member of the European Parliament denounced in my local press the cut in expenditure on the flood warning system on Canvey island in my constituency. I was surprised that he found his way to Canvey island sea wall, as I do not think that he had been there before. He seemed to be entirely unaware that the Labour councillors on Essex county council—which was given a 3.5 per cent. increase in expenditure this year—cut that vital system. How about that for inconsistency?
§ Mr. Amess
Never mind about not having visited Canvey island I understand that the Member of the European Parliament had not been to Europe before his election. There is no point in running for office unless one can achieve something. What is the point in candidates for county or district councils and for the European Parliament running for office if, when elected, they simply blame the Government? Upon election, such representatives should accept some responsibility.
Essex county council's budget proposal is a disgrace. It is sitting on huge reserves, but it has cut the fire service budget by more than £1 million. As a result, there will be no new recruitment this year and no training provided for fire officers. However, in the literature being pushed through letter boxes during the local election campaign, one councillor claims that he has saved one of the local fire stations. That is absolute hypocrisy. The council has also cut the budget for libraries by £1 million and, as a result, no new books will be bought this year.
316 I thought that new Labour was supposed to be caring—that is what the Liberal party is supposed to be about also. However, that is not the case with Essex county council. Care in the community is a shambles: its delivery is so poor that there is an inquiry into the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) recently led a delegation to the Home Office in order to discuss the fire service. It appears that Essex county council, in spite of the fact that it is sitting on huge reserves, did not apply for funding under section 19 before pushing through a budget that will cut expenditure on the fire service. That is the fault not of the Government, but of the Labour and Liberal-controlled Essex county council. If those councillors do not want to accept responsibility for their actions, they should resign and the Conservatives will take control.
My second point concerns Havering council. I have given notice to my hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Sir M. Neubert), for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) about my intention to raise the issue. I am meddling, if you like, in Havering council matters because it wickedly interfered in the education of my children. I have five children, all of whom attend a state school in my constituency of Basildon. I never speak publicly about my religious views—that is a personal matter—but, privately, my wife and I, as Catholics, believe in single-sex education.
There are no single-sex Catholic schools in my constituency, so we applied to send our son to the nearest single-sex school, which is located in Havering. The wickedness that resulted from our application defies belief. However, the chickens have come home to roost for the Labour and Liberal councillors concerned.
I was in America on the evening that the school's governing body met to discuss my son's application. It decided to accept that application on the strength of our belief in the Catholic religion. The school is non-grant-maintained and non-selective. My wife and I did not know that our son had been offered a place at the school until we read it in our local newspapers. A Labour councillor, Miss or Mrs. Feeney—
§ Mr. Amess
That night, Ms Feeney went to the town hall to consult a former Member of Parliament, Arthur Latham, and the chief executive, who used to be the Labour leader of Basildon council. They decided to get to work on the issue. When I returned from America, I found my wife and children extremely upset. As a result of those wicked actions, party invitations had been withdrawn from small children who did not understand the reason why. You can imagine, Madam Deputy Speaker, my disgust when I learned what Labour Members have been up to. They say that what they do as individuals does not affect the party: that is a load of rubbish and their hypocrisy should be aired publicly.
§ Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)
Was the Ms Feeney to whom my hon. Friend referred the same woman who came originally from Dagenham and somehow qualified for a council property in Havering, which she then bought? She was then elected to the council and became a close confidant and ally of Arthur "Lothario" Latham, and apparently she is now purchasing a house across the border in Essex. Should we not be told more of that intriguing story?
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend will be aware that, when the story broke, the newspapers carried the headline, "Basildon schools not good enough for local Member of Parliament". My office was immediately inundated by telephone calls making allegations of the sort that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford has described to the House. I have never abused my parliamentary privilege, and I kept to myself all the accusations that were made to my office.
The Labour councillor in Basildon who has been instrumental in spreading the story is currently in prison awaiting trial for a serious crime. I understand that his partner, who was also a councillor for one year, disappeared suddenly. The councillor resigned from Basildon council last week, but I cannot say any more about the matter as the trial is pending. However, I can comment about Havering council.
If one were to read the weekend newspapers carefully, one would see the corruption within that council and the nonsense that has gone on. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is in his place. He is an old boy of Campion school, which I attended also. The leader of the Liberal group on the council accused the hon. Gentleman of interfering in the allocation of my son's school place. We have now discovered that the relationship between the leaders of the Labour and the Liberal groups—who are power-sharing—goes way beyond any original understanding.
I have many letters about the matter which illustrate a catalogue of abuse. Labour councillors have rebelled. I have in my hand a letter signed by four Labour councillors which states:Dear Comrades, It is with deep regret that we have resigned from membership of the Labour group. In spite of the 'anti socialist' nonsense you may be hearing you should be in no doubt that we will continue to support the administration in the implementation of the 1994 Labour Party manifesto. The causes of our resignations are complex and cumulative.If we go further into the reasons, they are appalling. The letter continues:A couple of weeks ago all members of the Council, Labour and Conservative alike, received a letter announcing Arthur's full return to health and his willingness to take on all of his enemies 'within and without'. We don't know if this has frightened the Tories but it frightens us.The letter goes on and on.
I am delighted that the Lib-Lab power-sharing arrangement in Havering has collapsed. The chickens have well and truly come home to roost. I hope that the same happens to Essex county council.
I shall end my speech by mentioning the report in the newspaper about the Liberal party policy on religious education. I just could not believe it when I read in the newspaper last week—I have given notice to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) that I would mention his name—that the spokesman for education policy in the Liberal party had said that in an ideal world there would be no religious education in our schools.
§ Mr. Amess
Some hon. Members say, "Hear, hear," so there is some support for that view. But I found it deeply offensive and I believe that many of our fellow citizens found that statement deeply offensive.
If I were asked what is wrong with society at the moment, I would say that it was the deep arrogance that 318 humanity is everything and that there is no powerful force that we should consider. I am not bothered what religion anyone is. Christianity is what I care about and I wish to see all our churches supported. I certainly want to see religious instruction given in our schools.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before the debate continues, I have noticed what one might call a running commentary from hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I taken due note of those who have, so to speak, informally spoken already.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
I have had an opportunity to speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who is our education spokesman, since that report appeared in the paper, because I was myself concerned about it. It is true that everybody in the Liberal Democrat party believes that religious education should continue in schools, and it is clear from my discussion with my hon. Friend that he did not say that in an ideal situation there should be no religious education. Indeed, he believes that religious education is an important part of the education of all our children.
§ Mr. Alton
For the sake of the record, it is right for me to point out precisely what was said. It was reported in The Independent newspaper some weeks ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that, in an ideal world there would be no more religious schools, which theoretically would close all Anglican, Catholic, Jewish and nonconformist schools. He also said that daily acts of worship would be ended in that ideal world. I share the view of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) that that would be a deplorable development if that so-called ideal world, which I would regard as a nightmare world, were ever to occur.
§ Mr. Amess
This has been an interesting opportunity to explore what the policy is on religious education. I support religious education in all our schools. As this is the Easter Adjournment debate and no doubt the whole of United Kingdom will be rejoicing and eating their Easter eggs, I would have thought that religious education was especially important at this time.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) very far, but I do join him in offering congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett). His maiden speech was refreshing and we all enjoyed it. It showed good humour and it had all the ingredients. First, he paid a warm tribute—with which I know the whole House will agree—to his predecessor, Derek Enright. Secondly, he gave us an interesting reminder of the changes in his constituency and, finally—and crucially for a maiden speech—he made an important political point about the poverty wages that are paid in his area. I am sure that the whole House will look forward to him speaking many more times and giving us the same enjoyment.
319 I wish to raise two issues, which can both be summed up with initials—VOCs and SK5. The first is a national issue—I have given notice to the Leader of the House that I will raise it—and the other is a local constituency issue. The question of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, is extremely important to all of us. Very few people understand VOCs, yet they affect all of us and the air we breathe. They are important not just when we are out in the street, but in the workplace and in homes. VOCs can be highly toxic and some of them are known to cause cancers. They are part of very complicated photochemical reactions which produce a photochemical smog that can aggravate conditions such as asthma and also cause headaches and nausea in some people.
The Environment Select Committee, of which I am the Chairman, produced a report 12 months ago. I wish to find out today what progress the Government are making in controlling air quality, because that is extremely important. As long ago as 1988, we signed up to the United Nations environment programme convention on long-range, trans-boundary air pollution. Under that convention, we were supposed to produce a 30 per cent. reduction in emissions by 1999, compared with 1988. It is important that the Government tell us exactly what they intend to do about meeting those targets.
In their response to the Environment Select Committee, the Government suggested that they would make good progress. We certainly got the impression that in several areas they would try to reach that 30 per cent. reduction target before the actual treaty requirement occurred. But the need for a reduction is here, now. Last summer, we had a series of incidents in which air quality was extremely bad in our cities. It is no good delaying reaching the target until the last minute. We should aim to reach it quickly.
The Government have done a little bit to produce a tax differential on premium unleaded petrol, but they could do much more. They are not doing enough about the emissions from industrial processes. I hope that the Minister will give us an update on how far and how soon the Government will achieve those targets.
I suggest that installing the proper equipment in industrial premises to recover VOCs, which would otherwise escape to the air, is not just good for our health but good for our industry. On several occasions recently, the Secretary of State for the Environment has talked about opportunities for environmental protection industries. It has been pointed out that others, especially the Germans, have scooped up the environmental industrial market because they have been at the forefront of attempts to achieve targets for environmental improvements. As a result, their industries develop the skills and take the opportunities to produce the equipment. If we are not careful in Britain, we will fall behind.
I want to put pressure on the Government for a clear update on meeting target emissions of volatile organic compounds in the short term, to ensure that we do not suffer too many bad-quality air episodes this summer—and in the long term, to meet agreed requirements.
When will the Government's air strategy policy be published? That was due to be appear last year, but I understand that it will be June at the earliest before it is produced. We await also the Government's response to 320 the royal commission on transport, and particularly to its recommendation to reduce the number of cars on our roads and emissions, if VOCs are to be significantly reduced. Also, what is the position on VOC emissions in buildings?
My second subject concerns the way that postcodes affect my constituents. The Government may argue that postcodes are a matter for the Post Office, not Parliament—but I suggest that they have wide implications. I am particularly concerned about a new housing estate, Fairways, in north Reddish, but the problem also exists on the Droylesden-Audenshaw border and between those parts of my constituency that are in Denton and Reddish.
The Post Office claims that postcodes exist only to facilitate postal deliveries. If that were so, I would not mind. I have sympathised in the past when the Post Office complained that insurance companies and others have misused postcodes, in determining premiums. The situation is changing rapidly, because the Post Office is busily selling postcodes to all sorts of people.
The Post Office claims that it is selling postcodes so that companies can get delivery addresses right, but the Post Office knows that many purchasers of postcodes use them for other purposes. Under the Data Protection Act 1988, one has the right to correct a computerised entry with which one disagrees. Provided that the Post Offices uses its record of an address for the sole purpose of postal deliveries, it does not have to do anything—but as soon as the Post Office sells that information for any other purpose, an individual should have the right to record that he disagrees with that information.
The problem is particularly acute when an address is used by not just the Post Office but others, which can be particularly well demonstrated in north Reddish, where residents may live in Stockport but have a Manchester M19 postcode. In addition, the Post Office is insisting that their address should include the words, "Levershulme, Manchester". Those residents do not live in Levershulme, Manchester, but that requirement affects their insurance premiums. Also, anyone driving from Stockport to a house in Levershulme will come to the Manchester boundary, then start looking for the street name in question.
If the Post Office continues to insist on a Manchester postcode, it should at least accept that residents of the Fairways estate, for example. are entitled to show their address as "North Reddish, Stockport, Manchester M19"—and the rest of the postcode. As long as the Post Office denies those residents the right to identify their addresses as being in Reddish or Stockport, the Post Office is insisting on the use of a misleading address, causing confusion for people trying to find houses or provide services.
The Post Office is causing unnecessary hardship to such residents by selling their postcodes to all sorts of organisations, which then insist that they know the correct address and that the individual resident does not know where he or she lives.
I have pursued that issue with the firm of conveyancing solicitors that dealt with the Fairways estates, because some buyers were misled into thinking that the properties were in Stockport—they are, but they do not have a Stockport postcode. I have taken the matter up also with the Association of British Insurers. I want the Minister to pursue the problem with the Post Office, so that, if it 321 wants to sell postcodes for any purpose, the residents of Fairways estate should have the right to correct their address. I hope that he will go further and tell the Post Office that instead of that complicated solution, the residents in question should be allocated an SK5 postcode, which will show that they live in Reddish or Stockport. That would avoid the nonsense of them being identified for postal purposes as living in Manchester or Levershulme.
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
It is a pleasure to speak soon after the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett). I spent election day in Hemsworth and noted a range of quality among the parliamentary candidates. Right at the top, along with the hon. Gentleman who won the election, was the Conservative candidate. He is a good, sound, local man and he did a wonderful job. I am sure that we will see him enter the House eventually. At the bottom of the range was Mr. Mark Thomas—a mischievous, misleading, nasty little person.
Beneath him, if hon. Members can believe that, was the candidate for Arthur Scargill's party. That candidate misled the country into believing that there is such a thing as old Labour and new Labour, but that is not so. There is just the Labour party. In his Adjournment debate two weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) spoke of the poor lady who lay dying of cancer on the pavement outside Kingston general hospital in 1978 because of the Labour party. My hon. Friend explained that there is no such thing as old Labour or new Labour, but just Labour. That is what you get—and I am sure that the country will reject it. However, I do not want to be partisan this morning.
I want to raise not a political problem but the issue of unfair business rates imposed on riding schools and equestrian centres. Real despair has arisen because massive rates increases have caused the closure of many livery yards, schools and equestrian centres throughout Britain, as a consequence of last year's revaluation following the rates set in 1990. That revaluation hit the equestrian industry particularly hard.
One riding school in East Anglia closed following an increase in rates from £780 a year to £9,780 a year. The owner had to knock down his stables to ensure that his rates were reduced. There are similar examples in Castle Point of extortionate and entirely unreasonable increased rates for small equestrian centres. There are simple, do-it-yourself livery yards in my area where the monthly rates bill has increased to an amount higher than the yards' audited profit before rates. That situation is not tenable.
The reason for high rateable values is that all stables in Essex at least are rated on the same basis, even though there are many different types. There are racing stables, dressage stables, equestrian centres, competition yards and full livery yards. At the bottom of the scale are the yards that are the particular subject of my remarks—do-it-yourself yards, which are suffering the most.
These stables are perhaps best described as small cottage industries; they are part of the rural fabric of Britain and its traditions, yet they are expected to pay rates as high as those levied on professional Newmarket training stables, according to the valuation officer in my area. So these DIY yards have been put under intolerable pressure by unreasonable rateable values.
322 Assessing rateable values is the responsibility of the Valuation Office agency. It is therefore not right that Ministers should interfere directly, but I believe that we need some political steer on this important issue. It is such an obvious injustice, and if we cannot fight for right and against wrong in this place, where can we do so?
As Henry Smith, the owner of a small livery yard in Benfleet pointed out in a letter to Horse and Hound, the closure of livery yards will result in a loss of Government revenue, a loss of jobs, and derelict premises or premises which have to be knocked down. I am talking about the loss of facilities that support this quintessentially British traditional activity. Riding is not an elitist sport; it is something that disabled people and young people, especially girls, enjoy very much. Everyone will lose unless some help is offered—most of all, the people trying to scrape together a living from DIY livery yards.
I must acknowledge the steps taken by the Government to help small businesses, among which livery yards may be counted. The Government have introduced a transitional system of phasing to reduce the impact of the 1995 revaluation. The caps on rating increases are more generous for small properties: 5 per cent. in real terms in 1996–97 and only 2.5 per cent. for small domestic or non-domestic properties. Nearly 800,000 small businesses in England and Wales benefit from these lower bills which have resulted from action taken by the Government, but the Government must take further action to protect small DIY livery yards.
My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) has suggested that it may be possible to find a way of helping these yards under the terms of the White Paper on rural England which was published last year. I do not know whether that is possible, but I hope it is. I take succour from the fact that I am supported in my concern by no less distinguished people than the Secretaries of State for Defence, for Education and Employment and for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, all of whom have written to various bodies on this subject. A number of other hon. Members share our anxiety too.
I hope that the Government will listen carefully to what I say this morning and will take action to resolve what is for many people a desperate problem.
§ Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)
I am pleased to have the opportunity this morning to congratulate the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) on his maiden speech. He seemed to be worried about the number of candidates in his by-election. If he thinks that 10 is a worrying number, it is probably a good thing that he did not take part in the Newbury by-election, where we had a record number of 19 candidates. Had he paid attention to that, however, he would have realised that it is not actually very worrying, since in that by-election only two candidates got more than 2 per cent. of the vote—the Labour party candidate being one of those who failed to reach the 2 per cent. mark.
I am sorry to say that I cannot congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) on his speech, as it became clear in the course of it that he did not understand the important difference between worship in schools, which is one thing, and religious education in schools, which is quite another.
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise, as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) did, a subject which I do not think has any party political significance but which 323 is still of importance to all hon. Members and to our electorates. I refer to the pyramid selling of business club membership, an issue which has come to my attention over the past week or two as a result of a letter that I have received. It is right to raise the subject before we adjourn for Easter, because of the recent Third Reading of the Trading Schemes Bill which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott). That Bill has now gone to the Lords. I hope that the Government will ensure that it reaches the statute book and that it is put to good use as soon as possible.
On Third Reading of that Bill last Friday, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) briefly mentioned a business known to him as Titan Marketing, which he said had been operating in some areas of the north. It has also been operating in my constituency, and I am glad to be in a position to give the House further details of this secretive company and to draw it to the attention of the wider public so that people may be warned of the dangers of getting involved in the company.
The letter that I received from a constituent reads in part as follows:SirsPlease excuse the fact that this is an anonymous letter, but the reasons for this will become apparent.Last Sunday I went with a friend to see a business opportunity that he was very excited about. He told me that he had been involved for about two to three weeks but could not give me any details because of a secrecy agreement. He told that there were very large sums of cash changing hands every week and that if I wanted to find out about this I had to go to"—here he named a school in the constituency—on any Saturday or Sunday. My curiosity was really aroused and I agreed to go last Sunday despite the £20 fee whether I joined or not.The organisation is called the TITAN business club and is based in Hamburg, Germany. They have been operating in this country since October 29th of last year. The meeting starts at about 4 pm and lasts till about 8 pm. It consists of three presentations …The meeting is not open to the public and you can only go if you are invited by one of the existing members. At the start we were obliged to sign a secrecy agreement saying that we would not disclose anything about the organisation and agreed to pay 10,000 deutschmarks if we did (this is one of the reasons why I have chosen to remain anonymous). The meeting itself is conducted in a rather unusual style with much clapping, standing ovations and ritual chanting.It was not until the final presentation that they finally told us what they were about. They ask you to pay £2,500 to join the 'private members club' as they insisted on calling it. You are then required to recruit others to do the same. For the first two recruits you are paid £450and are called a Junior partner. For each subsequent recruit you are paid £1,220 and are called a Senior partner. After your fourth recruit you are in profit. You can only introduce a maximum of two members at any one time and only by bringing them to one of the weekend meetings…It is expressly forbidden to try to publicise the club. The payouts are in cash every Wednesday evening.One of the unusual features of the club is that all transactions are in cash. They claim that they have no UK bank accounts and that all club records are kept in Germany. There are no information leaflets and they do not want people to take away the membership form from the meeting. I spoke to two club officials, Rob Glas who is the UK regional manager and Alan Simpson who is the regional marketing manager. At first they were both very courteous and polite, but when it became obvious that I was not going to join they declined to discuss things further with me and insisted that I returned the membership form. They both refused to give me any contact phone numbers in this country and told me if I had any further comments I should contact their office in Germany.324 I hope that it has become plain from what I have read what an iniquitous scam this company is running and how dangerous it would be to get involved in it.
The letter ends with a few choice comments about how iniquitous the writer feels the scheme to be, and I quite agree with him. Anyone who has any sense will avoid like the plague joining a so-called "business club" of that sort.
I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to alert their constituents to the Titan business club and that Ministers will find ways in which to expose the perpetrators of that scam in the sure knowledge that exposure to the public will ensure that such a scam withers away. There is nothing like the cover of secrecy to allow such a business to thrive.
I am sure that we all agree that it is important for the Titan business club to disappear as quickly as possible. But I must warn hon. Members that, while it has apparently left my constituency—it is very keen to get out while the going is good and to take the subscriptions of the original participants with it—the club has already moved into other constituencies in the south. People should be warned, before it is too late, to take no part in it.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
I do not believe that the House should rise before it has addressed the important problem of the shambles in which the Kent highways programme now finds itself. The Government announced £81 million of funding for the Kent highways programme, which was by far the largest amount to be granted to a roads programme in the country, yet the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition controlling Kent county council have that programme totally out of balance.
The reason for the shambles is that, year after year, the council has asked permission to build the Medway relief roads but, year after year, after receiving such permission, it has not gone ahead because it has never been ready to do so. The council has taken the allocated money in those years and put it into other schemes, which have now started. Consequently, the Kent county council highways programme is choked with commitments.
We should remember that the £81 million for this year's highway programme is an absolute record, but that commitments already undertaken by the council have absorbed all but £7 million of that figure. The council has already approved five schemes, amounting to £43 million which it must somehow accommodate within the £7 million. Recently, the council decided to spread the money among three of the schemes.
What worries me is that the council is now trying a sleight-of-hand by spending money this year that may or may not be allocated to it in future years. It has put together a proposal to borrow £20 million to £25 million from Rochester city council, English Partnerships and any other company that is foolish enough to lend to it so that it can proceed with the Medway relief roads. That proposal would choke the Kent highways programme even further.
The council now proposes to ask the Minister with responsibility for local transport and road safety—my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris)—to agree to that ludicrous proposal. I suggest, in the interests of that area and of sound finances, that the ministerial answer should be a categorical no, not least because we do not need the Wainscott bypass.
325 The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), the Opposition spokesman on roads, recently visited the area. He told the press that the Medway tunnel was a "white elephant", and he blamed the Government because he claimed that they had not funded the connecting roads. Quite frankly, that statement shows appalling ignorance. As I have already explained, the Government have given authorisation for it year after year. The trouble is that Kent county council has spent the money elsewhere.
The roads have been delayed because of incompetence, subterfuge and a failure properly to assess alternative routes—for example, the historic Strood gyratory, which was the original proposal, or the Medway riverside route from Rochester to the junction with the M2, where it crosses the River Medway. The latter route, incidentally, has the virtue of demolishing the city of Rochester civic centre, which could be moved to a magnificent building on the Chatham maritime to serve the Medway towns' new unitary authority.
Not only did the Opposition spokesman on roads express his ignorance in those statements but his approach would sanction the county council's riding roughshod over my constituents by curtailing public consultations and public inquiry before pressing ahead with the proposal.
My constituents in the parishes of Higham, Shorne and Cobham bitterly resent the way in which Kent county council has ridden roughshod over their opinions, because the Wainscott bypass would pass through some of the most beautiful green belt in the London area. That land is very agriculturally productive and is, in fact, the last piece of green belt between the greater London conurbation and the Medway towns. The plan for the bypass should be returned to the drawing board, even at this late stage, so that alternatives can be considered. The case for doing so has been made very clearly on financial and environmental grounds.
If the council were to go ahead with the proposals, the Kent highways programme in 1997–98 would be totally clogged. The council would be spending £30 million to £40 million on the Medway relief roads alone, and it would spend even more on previous commitments. The result of pressing ahead would be that no progress will be made on the Ramsgate harbour road or on the south Thamesside development route, phases 2 and 3, which consists of the roads from Ebbsfleet to Greenhithe in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn).
Failure to proceed with those phases would jeopardise the development of the Thames gateway, which is close to the heart of the Government, and the Ebbsfleet developments, which are close to my constituents' hearts. All in all, the Kent county council highways programme is a sheer and utter shambles.
The development of the Thames gateway has not been helped by the delay in the vital south Thamesside development route, phase 4, which is effectively the Northfleet town bypass. Imagine having the channel tunnel rail link Thames tunnel excavations on one side of a town and the massive construction of the Ebbsfleet international station on the other side—with the monumental numbers of heavy goods vehicles and earth-moving vehicles passing between the two—when the only route between the two sides is through one's town. That horrible prospect is why 326 the south Thamesside development route, phase 4, must be built before either of those projects is started. They are due to be started imminently.
We are desperate for progress on this project because of the shambolic way in which the Kent county council highways department has been handling it. In February last year, the residents of Northfleet saw the plans for the road. More than a year later, what progress has the Lib-Lab council made on it? It has taken a whole year for the KCC highways department to ask the council planning department for planning permission to build the bypass, and that permission has still not been granted. In fact, it has taken the Conservative Government to nudge the council forward by granting for this financial year a specifically allocated credit approval in order to push the project through along with another one. I can tell the House that my constituents and I will push Kent county council to get that project through because it is vital.
It is ironic that, while Kent county council's highways programme is in a shambles, the financial spokesmen for the Labour and Liberal parties on that council are now talking about a mini-budget for 1996–97, to be announced in June. Do you remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, the last Labour Government of all those years ago, when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey, came to the House with a succession of mini-budgets every year? We are asked by the Opposition to look forward to the prospect of a Labour Government; well, if one wants to see Labour government in action, one should go along to Kent county council, where mini-budgets and shambles are the order of the day.
§ Mr. Arnold
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind us about what it means to have Labour in office.
We are told that there may be a Labour Government after the next general election. I will leave it to the electorate to decide, but I have my doubts, because if the electorate want any ideas about a Labour Government, they should just look at the antics of the Leader of the Opposition in the past week alone.
Just last Wednesday, I read in that excellent daily newspaper, Kent Today, a snippet entitled "Blair set to meet the shoppers". It informed its readers:Labour Leader Tony Blair will meet shoppers in Gravesend when he comes to town on Friday.The MP is planning a walkabout in the St. George's and Anglesea centres during his visit".I was rather surprised to read that, because I thought that it was parliamentary courtesy to inform a colleague if one intended to visit his or her constituency. That lack of courtesy is nothing new, however, because the Leader of the Opposition visited my constituency about a year ago and did not advise me in advance. On that occasion, I received an apology from a deputy spin doctor in the right hon. Gentleman's office, who referred to that omission as an "oversight". Well, well, well.
I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition immediately I got the wonderful news that he was showing some interest in Gravesham. I told him that, had he advised me in advance, I could have organised a visit for him. I wrote: 327For instance, we might have visited the Enterprise Parks at Springhead and on the Imperial Business Estate where thousands of jobs have been created in recent years under the Enterprise Zone legislation of the Conservative Government (legislation against which the Labour Party voted). We could have visited our highly successful grammar schools and grant maintained schools, all of which are under threat from the Labour Party. Indeed, slightly more time permitting, we could have visited the site of the future Darenth Park Hospital where a brand new General Hospital costing £100 million is to be built, financed by the Private Finance Initiative, or alternatively visited the many farms in Gravesham. Both the hospital and the livelihood of many farm workers have been put at risk recently by the irresponsible scaremongering in the House of Commons by Harriet Harman.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the convention that the names of Members are not mentioned. I know that in the first instance the name was given in a quotation, but the hon. Gentleman should be a little more careful.
§ Mr. Arnold
I was quoting from a letter; I am fully aware of the conventions of the House.
More important than those invitations, I challenged the Leader of the Opposition to a debate in the very shopping centre that he proposed to visit. I believe that it is far more important for shoppers to be informed of the answers to real questions rather than just given a photo-opportunity handshake.
In the event, the Leader of the Opposition was half an hour late. He did shake hands, but only with the Labour grandees of the local council. He rushed through one of the shopping centres in less than 10 minutes, looking somewhat harassed.
It is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman did not accept my challenge, because such a debate would have been most interesting. Just yesterday in the Chamber, the Leader of the Opposition had great fun during Prime Minister's questions by proposing a debate on television with the Prime Minister. Why did he not respond to my invitation to a debate in the shopping centre at Gravesend? Indeed, I have still not had a reply to my letter, six days later.
I would have called on the Leader of the Opposition to answer a burning question for the people of Gravesend: quite simply, would he support the PFI for Darenth Park hospital, a major £100 million hospital project? I would have asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell me whether he supported the PFI scheme for that hospital—yes or no. If he had answered yes, he would then have had to give the Opposition health spokesman, the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), some pretty firm instructions, because she has tried to undermine that project.
In the House recently, the hon. Lady mentioned the existence of a PFI priority list, which she claimed had been leaked from the Treasury, and which categorised projects into an A and B list. She had great fun jeering at me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford when she said that Darenth Park hospital was on the B list, and that therefore it was hardly likely to be developed. I have news for the hon. Lady: that project has attracted four major consortia, which have put in bids. Those applications are so good that two have been selected and invited to tender, and one of those tenders will be accepted. In other words, if the project is on the B list, as the hon. Lady claimed, it is certainly a golden list.
328 The hon. Lady has made other attacks on the concept of using the PFI for hospital construction. On 13 January she told a health conference at Birmingham:I don't call it a Private Finance Initiative, I call it a privatisation initiative.The hostility behind that quotation is clear. If that was not enough to undermine the confidence of bidders to build our hospital under the PFI, she told the House:Any banker would be unwise to enter into a contract valued at hundreds of millions of pounds with a public sector partner that can be abolished by the Secretary of State".—[Official Report, 12 March 1996; Vol. 273, c. 825.]That hardly instils confidence in the companies that are bidding, but then they are far more intelligent than the hon. Lady, and they have maintained their bids.
I would have liked to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether he supports the use of the PFI for Darenth Park hospital. If he were to answer yes, the hon. Member for Peckham should stop undermining our hospital. If he were to answer no, the people of Gravesham and Dartford deserve nothing less than a beautifully framed signed letter from the Opposition Treasury spokesman, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), giving his firm commitment to invest £100 million of Government funds in year one to build that hospital. We would expect nothing less and we would expect a yes or no in support of our hospital.
I can assure the House that the Dartford and Gravesham national health service trust, local people and the local Members of Parliament back the project and are pressing ahead because we want our new district general hospital. It is the best prospect that we have had for many a long year, and it will be delivered under a Conservative Government through the PFI. The construction of that hospital would have a spin-off and release the Gravesend and North Kent hospital for the creation of the community hospital, to which my constituents have looked forward for a long time. That hospital site would be transferred to the Thameslink Healthcare Services NHS trust, which is already working on an £8 million PFI project to bring that about.
What I have tried to make clear this morning is that Conservative policies are working in north-west Kent. They are working despite the sabotage, incompetence and hostility of Labour—in office on Kent county council; and in opposition in the House, where I hope and expect Labour to remain for a very long time.
§ Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)
I was minded to comment on the unfortunate speech of the hon. Member who, for the time being, represents Basildon, but I am happy now to regard that as a distant memory. I am, however, delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) is resuming his seat alongside me because I now have the opportunity to congratulate him personally on an excellent, elegant and well-judged maiden speech with which I associate myself in general terms and in the particular—his gracious remarks about his predecessor.
I have my own fond memories of my hon. Friend's predecessor's charm, humour, bonhomie and presence and I have my particular reasons for remembering him with much fondness and regret. We were the two classicists on the Labour Benches. It is a little known fact that we 329 shared a secret—as young teachers we both translated the songs of the Beatles into Latin in separate songbooks. Mine ranged from "Amat te mehercle", which non-latinists might just about recognise as "She loves you, yeah yeah yeah" and "Veni domum Bill Bailey", which needs no translation.
I did not know of my late hon. Friend's service to relations with Portugal, but I knew from close quarters the excellent work that he did for relations with Greece and Cyprus, and it is to a matter of great importance to the people of Cyprus that I wish draw the House's attention today—the people who are still listed as missing since the invasions of 1974. We know the statistics. There are 1,619 names on the list and, if the House will allow me, I shall give a few personal details about several of them because they are not just statistics but individuals.
The following is the evidence of one Lambis Elia from the village of Hartsia:On 13.9.1974",after the invasions,the Turks arrested my two sons, Michael aged 17, and Elia aged 19, and took them to their camp near our village. On the same day I met the Turkish Cypriot, Nazim Ahmet, aged 60, who is a friend of mine"—that also should be noted—and I asked him to take me to the Turkish Army Officer. He did take me and the following day on the 14.9.1974, the Turkish Officer allowed me to see my sons for ten minutes. The next day …the Officer allowed me to see them again and this time I was with my wife. We saw them for some time in the Turkish camp where they were being held.On 16.9.74 around two o'clock in the afternoon a party of the International Red Cross came to our village. I told them about the arrest of my sons and I led them to the area of the Turkish camp. Unfortunately, however, the Turkish Army Officer denied that he was holding any prisoners and did not allow the Red Cross to carry out an investigation.Since then, nothing has become known about the fate of my two sons".
Andreas Nicodemos, of the village of Trimithi in the occupied Kyrenia district, was a reservist during the invasion. He was taken prisoner and transferred, with others, to Adana prison in Turkey. On 20 or 21 August 1974, he was taken out into the yard, where he heard someone call his name. The person who called him was someone he knew—his co-villager Kyriakos Frixou—who is now missing. They shook hands and spoke but, since then, nothing has been heard of him.
I have here a famous photograph that was developed from film taken by a Turkish journalist who was covering the invasion and was wounded and captured by the Greek national guard. The picture shows some Greek Cypriot prisoners kneeling under armed guard. Five have been identified. I shall read out their names because they are individuals. They are Korellis Antonakis tou Michaeli from Kythrea, Nicolaou Paniccos tou Chrysostomou from Achna, Skordis Christoforos tou Georghiou from Dhali, Papayiannis Ioannis tou Charalambous from Anglandjia and Hadjikyriakos Philippos tou Stephani from Famagusta.
I also have copies of photographs of other missing people, but I shall not read out any more names as that would burden the House. However, I have a photograph that was published in a Turkish publication and shows a visit by the Turkish Red Crescent to a prisoner of war camp. It shows four identifiable individuals alive in prison in Turkey—but they are now missing. I also have two pictures 330 from a BBC documentary, again taken at Adana prison. They show four individuals who have been identified and who were alive and well but who are now missing.
There are 1,619 missing people, of whom 992 were reservists—prisoners of war caught fighting—but 627 of them were civilians. Of the total, 1,503 were men and 116 women. The sad thing is that, although among the older age groups 315 were over 60 and 241 were between 40 and 60, 1,036 were between 16 and 39—the active miliary age group—and 27, including two girls, were under 16.
There has been much public condemnation of the fact that people who were known to be alive in custody are still posted as missing and their fate is unknown. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe considered the matter in September 1984, as did many other international bodies. It discussed the Verde report, which was endorsed. Mr. Verde wrote:Enforced disappearance is one of the most serious violations of the human rights safeguarded by international instruments: it infringes virtually all the victims' personal rights and many of the rights of their families. The violations are also contrary to the 1949 Geneva conventions and cannot be justified by special circumstances, whether armed conflict, state of emergency or internal unrest or tension"—any of which terms accurately describes the situation in Cyprus at that time.
The House will note that the Verde report refers to the rights of the families of missing people. It is on the agony of the families that I want to dwell for a few moments. To understand their agony, we must have a little insight into their southern European, Greek orthodox culture. In that culture, family ties extend widely and deeply. It is often jokingly said that, in Cyprus, everyone is everyone else's cousin—that is the latitudinal family tie.
Longitudinally, it is interesting to note the extent of the use of the patronymic. The endings "-idis", as in Christophides, "-akis" and "-opoulos" are all patronymic endings. It will be noted that the simple genitive case is often used as a surname, as in Georgiou, which means son of George or "George son". This feature is, perhaps, common in other cultures, but people in Cyprus have another interesting custom, which is to pass on Christian names from grandfather to grandson. The son of Charalambous Kotziamanis is a dear friend of a number of us in the House—Nikos Charalambous Kotziamanis—whose eldest son is Charalambous Kotziamanis, and so it will continue.
That family tradition is echoed in the formalised remembrance of the dead. There are services after three days, after 40 days—the Sarandaimeron, which is very important—after three months, after six months, after 12 months and annually thereafter. Connected with that is the importance of the family grave in the ancestral village. Indeed, the very word "cemetery", or koimeterion, means the place where the dead rest or sleep.
The distress felt by the 180,000 refugees is caused not just by the loss of their property, but by the loss of their ancestral villages. One need only observe the multitude of village associations that exist in the London Greek Cypriot community to appreciate that. In such a culture, uncertainty about the fate of loved ones and the denial of the experience of bereavement is particularly painful. Those loved ones are not at rest; people hope against hope for their return, setting places for them at family celebrations such as weddings. Anyone who has observed 331 a public meeting of refugees cannot have failed to be moved by the sight of old women holding up photographs of those whose fate is still unknown—agnooumeni, or missing people.
That is why the recent pronouncement of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, was so particularly brutal. He said that the "unknown" were all dead—that the Turkish army had handed them over to Turkish paramilitaries in the aftermath of the invasion of 1974, and that the paramilitaries had put them to death. I am not certain how that can have been done to people who were in prison in Turkey.
It is not clear what Rauf Denktash intended. Did he intend to clear Turkey of responsibility for those people's fate, or simply to close the issue? Whatever his purpose, the attempt failed. If Turkey handed over prisoners of war to paramilitaries, that was wrong, and a violation of international conventions. If Turkey wants to be absolved, it must provide the necessary information. The problem for Turkey is the evidence that I gave in my opening remarks—evidence of the known existence of many of the people involved after the cessation of hostilities.
Rauf Denktash's remarks did not close the issue. They make no difference to the requirement that the fate of the missing people—the fate of as many individuals as is humanly possible—must be revealed to their families, to whom they continue to be dearly loved sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, or just missing friends.
I shall read a poem by another dear friend of some hon. Members, Michaelis Xenophontos Joannou—son of Xenophon. The poem is entitled "To A Missing Friend".
- "Where were you lost my friend
- Where do you roam at this hour?
- In which dungeon are you kept prisoner
- Or have you been buried
- In an unknown grave
- Without a cross?
- 'Missing' they said
- And they took down all details
- Whilst life continued its road.
- I always see you, though,
- On the football terrace
- Standing and smiling at me…
- In vain I try to explain
- That bitter smile on your face."
The United Kingdom has many interests in the matter—as a guarantor of power, as a member of the Commonwealth and as a country in which many relatives of the missing people have settled, joining the Greek Cypriot community here. Some of the missing people had dual nationality: I am aware of at least one. Earlier this week, I presented my Cyprus (Commission of Enquiry into Missing Persons) Bill, the aim of which is toestablish a Commission of Enquiry to take evidence concerning the whereabouts of certain missing persons and to authorise the provision of assistance in the conduct of any investigations into those matters carried out by the authorities on the island of Cyprus; and for connected purposes.The Bill's Second Reading is to take place on 12 July, but I have an opportunity today to rehearse briefly the case for the establishment of the commission.
Mine is a modest proposal. I ask for an investigation of the fate of certain missing persons, at the invitation of the Cypriot Government. The Bill offers a framework, 332 procedures and funds by means of which, after 22 long years, the hopes of the families of the agnooumeni may be vindicated—although, sadly, that is now unlikely—and their fears laid to rest by knowledge of the fate of their loved ones. Painful though that may be, it does not compare with the pain of the present uncertainty.
§ Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)
I, too, want to talk about Cyprus and the role of the United Kingdom Government, the United States and European Governments.
The island has been occupied for more than 21 years. It has been annexed, and United Nations troops are on the green line. When I go there, I try to imagine what it would be like if the same happened in Scotland—if my homeland, my people and my property were taken from me. What would it be like if foreign troops occupied the part of the country to which I belong, and my property was filled with immigrants from Turkey or another foreign power?
The Scots are a proud race—no less proud than the Greeks and even the Turks. We are a warlike nation, just as they are. The British have used us on many occasions to force their policies on other people. The Cypriots, however, have genuinely tried to exercise a peaceful policy, through the United Nations and in other ways, in an attempt to reunify their country. There is a democracy in Cyprus; the Cypriots have even put their political future at stake, repeatedly trying to establish formulas through the United Nations, and holding meetings in New York and elsewhere to suggest to Mr. Denktash ways of returning the annexed territory to a united Cyprus in which people can live in freedom and democracy.
All that has been to no avail, however. There is clearly a connection between Mr. Denktash and Ankara. Much hangs on the attitude of not just the UK Government but the United States, which has considerable influence on the Turkish Government and the proposal that Turkey and Cyprus should become part of the European common market. I hope that the good will and efforts of others will make it clear to Ankara that we cannot stand aside after 21 years and see a divided nation in which UN troops are on guard at all times and people are made refugees in their own country. Many of them have come to the United Kingdom, but they would be delighted to return to their ancestral homes.
The Government are denying their responsibilities. It is all very well to say that the Cypriots must come together, but have our Government seriously analysed the proposals of the democratic Government who are in place in the largest part of the island for the protection of minority groups? I do not believe that the Foreign Office has made any serious efforts. There seems to be a pro-Turkish lobby in the House. I am not pro-Greek; I am pro-democracy, decency and freedom. I want the people of Cyprus to be united once more, as they should be. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and others on bringing the Government's attention to the problem. I do not know how much publicity it will get, but it is certainly an outstanding international problem.
There have been peace negotations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and similar negotiations brought democracy to South Africa after years of apartheid. What is stopping us from negotiating to bring 333 about the unification and freedom of Cyprus? Turkey and Greece are two great nations with ethnic connections. They have different religious and, perhaps, political views, but if Israelis can get together with Palestinians and if South Africa's people can negotiate to do away with apartheid, anything can happen in this world.
I hope that the UK, which has a vested interest in Cyprus and a responsibility as a partner in efforts to secure peace and unity, will take this matter seriously and that, in the years before the millennium, its priority will be to ensure that Cyprus again becomes a united nation and island under a democratic process. Achievement of that would be a credit to us and to the people who are aiming to secure it.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
I want to pursue a matter that was referred to in the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett), who spoke with depth, feeling and understanding of the problems that face coalfield communities in his constituency. It is important that we work towards creating new jobs, new opportunities and a new future for coalfield communities.
In the past few weeks, British Coal Enterprise has been privatised. That process is now almost complete. When the House resumes after the Easter recess, the enterprise will be in private hands, so it is important that we discuss the matter—perhaps for the last time—today.
The House will remember that British Coal Enterprise was set up as a regeneration agency to attract new jobs to coalfield areas and to retrain former miners. In the financial year just ended, it spent £20 million in coalfield communities. It operates a loan fund that is matched against others to create funding for small business and other companies. It operates workshops in coalfield communities throughout the country and it has been involved in the training and retraining of former miners.
I want to record my thanks and those of many hon. Members on, I think, both sides of the House to British Coal Enterprise, and in particular to its chief executive, Phillip Andrew, and all his staff. I opposed British Coal Enterprise's privatisation, but the job is now done. The agency is being fragmented. The loan fund has been subject to a management buy-out by Coalfield Investments Ltd., which is headed by Bill Furness, British Coal Enterprise's former finance director. The workshops have been sold to a firm called Birkby, which is based in Huddersfield. The training side—the Grosvenor side of the business—has also been the subject of a successful management buy-out.
British Coal Enterprise has been discussed many times in the House. On a number of occasions, Ministers have made commitments that, as part of the sale, the new private sector owners will continue the agency's work in coalfield communities. According to Ministers, under new ownership, British Coal Enterprise will continue to focus on creating jobs, to maintain the loan fund and to offer coalfield communities a new future.
Coalfield communities were therefore extremely surprised and disappointed to learn only yesterday that, out of the 120 staff who work for British Coal Enterprise, 30 are to be made redundant—a 25 per cent. cut in jobs. I understand that further redundancies may be announced 334 shortly. There is a strange irony in the fact that an agency set up to create new jobs in coalfield areas is now putting people out of work.
My real concern is that commitments—they are on the record—had been given that, under private owners, resources would continue and that, in its new form, British Coal Enterprise would continue to do the job. The bottom line is that, with staff cuts of 25 per cent., it may not be able to do so. Faith has been broken with coalfield communities.
Coalfield communities have a right to know how much the Treasury has gained from the sale of British Coal Enterprise, which was 100 per cent. owned by the public. The proceeds are to go to the Treasury. The sale has been completed. How much money has been gained? Figures of about £20 million to £30 million have been bandied about. Let us have it on the record; let it be acknowledged how much money has gone to the Treasury.
Let the Minister face the argument. The agency was set up to create new jobs in coalfield areas. Why should not the receipts from the sale be put back into coalfield communities, perhaps matching RECHAR funding, to bring new jobs into the area?
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth spoke movingly of the problems that face coalfield communities. Hon. Members will remember that, in October 1992, the then President of the Board of Trade announced measures that, in effect, wound up large parts of the coal industry in the United Kingdom. Since then, unemployment nationally has fallen by 17 per cent.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) is here this morning, because he knows better than anyone that, since October 1992, although unemployment nationally has fallen by 17 per cent., in the Mansfield travel-to-work area, which covers his constituency and part of mine, unemployment has fallen by just 7 per cent. and that, in the neighbouring Worksop travel-to-work area, it has hardly fallen at all. The gap between affluent areas and disadvantaged areas such as coalfield communities is widening, which is a recipe for social disaster.
The nation owes a debt to the coal industry, to the people who worked in it and to coalfield communities. Coalfield communities know that they need a new future and that they must find that future through their own efforts. They want investment in infrastructure, in workshops and in companies, but especially investment that will create a new future.
Even at this late stage, I hope that the Minister will reconsider the issues that surround British Coal Enterprise. I hope that he will reiterate the commitment that Ministers have given many times in the House that, under private ownership, British Coal Enterprise's successor companies will continue to meet coalfield communities' needs. I hope that he will consider how much money has been raised from the sale of British Coal Enterprise, whether it is £20 million or £30 million, and give a commitment today that the money will be spent on creating the new jobs and the new future that is so badly needed in many of our neighbourhoods and towns.
§ Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) for his kind remarks. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for 335 Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) and wish him well in his career. I certainly think that he will do an excellent job. Those who have listened to his speech—or who will read it in Hansard—will have learnt much about the man and about what he will, I hope, do in his time in Parliament. If he can do half as well as his two immediate predecessors, he will do a magnificent job.
I also remember Derek Enright, who was a marvellous politician and a marvellous friend. I also remember his predecessor, George Buckley, who was a dear friend to many of us in the Chamber and a sterling worker on behalf of the coalfield communities that he represented. Sadly, both men died serving their community and the state. I wish my hon. Friend well in his endeavours. I hope to God that the same fate does not befall him while he is a Member of the House. I hope that he has a long and arduous time in this place, but that he enjoys good health in his old age in retirement.
Like my hon. Friends the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), I, too, want to raise the question of Cyprus today. It is a scandal that we, as a guarantor power and as signatory to a number of conventions in relation to Cyprus, have not fulfilled our responsibilities to that great allied nation. Here we are, yet again, 21 years after an illegal invasion that resulted in the illegal occupation which continues today, with tens of thousands of troops illegally occupying one third of the sovereign island of Cyprus. That is a disgrace.
I want to consider other disgraceful areas where we have failed to exert sufficient pressure to try to help this ally. Since 1974, 1,619 people are still missing, many of whom can now be presumed dead because of the age at which they were taken prisoner—nearly all in uniform, I may add, under the terms of the Geneva convention. But young women and girls and one four-year-old child also disappeared during that time. I know of that child, having considered the history of his case. President Klerides of Cyprus knew all about that case because, at the time of the illegal invasion, he was acting President of the island. Mr. Dentkash, who remains the leader of the Turkish Cypriot illegal regime in the north, was the acting President of that illegal regime. On many occasions, that young child was about to be handed over, but it never actually happened. His case typifies nearly all the cases of the missing 1,619.
Not just one or two cases of joint citizenship are involved. There are hundreds of cases of people who had British citizenship, and nearly all those involved have relatives who are British citizens. It is a scandal that we have not tackled the issue head on, in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of those missing people, or at least to notify relatives of exactly what happened. If there are any remains, they should be returned to the relatives.
One reason why we should tackle this international issue head on is Britain's historical relationship with Cyprus. At no time within its recent history has Cyprus let Britain down. I am amazed that it has not, when one considers some of the events in which we have been involved with that nation and the ways in which it has been treated by us.
336 During world war one, tens of thousands of Cypriots stepped forward to fight with the allies. On day one of world war two, 42,000 of the 48,000 eligible adults in Cyprus volunteered to fight fascism in Europe, and thousands of them died in the process.
I am not ashamed to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian that I am pro-Greek. I am pro-Greek because Greece, like Britain, is a member of the European Community. I do not step away from that, because I also recall what Greece gave during the second world war. For the first two years, it was not officially in it, but on day one it gave the whole of its merchant fleet to the allies. In the process, during those first two years, thousands of lives and ships were lost. It is an historic fact that, if Greece had not entered the war and had not taken on the fascist forces of Germany at that time, the war could have been lost.
§ Mr. O'Hara
Will my hon. Friend also remark on the fact that for six months, between 28 October 1940 and the occupation of Athens in April 1941, Greece alone was fighting with the United Kingdom against the fascists?
§ Mr. Meale
I thank my hon. Friend. We should remind ourselves of those facts and of what side Turkey was on during that period. It certainly was not the British side.
When I think about the illegal occupation of Cyprus, I also remember Turkey's human rights record, which is the most abominable in Europe. I wonder why we have stepped back from Cyprus and have not given it the support that it has given us. Anyone with even a modicum of intelligence will realise that it is because we are being led by United States foreign policy. That is the reality.
Many of us will wonder why the United States should be involved in all this. Among the 1,619 missing people are a number of American citizens. Yet the United States has failed to fight in a realistic and honourable way to discover the whereabouts of those people, to obtain their release or to have their remains returned. I just wish that the United States would treat its missing people in Cyprus as seriously as it treated its missing people in a more recent confrontation in Vietnam.
But this is about United States foreign policy and about Britain being led by the nose by the United States. Many reasons have been given for that. One is that America has a number of missile bases in Turkey which, in the old days, pointed towards the old Soviet bloc. That wall has now come down and instead, as I understand it, the Americans have switched their missiles round slightly, aiming them towards the middle east in order to try to provide stability there. We all know how, during the Kuwait war, Turkey was used by American forces in order to send aircraft and troops against Iraq.
But the truth is that this is not really about missile bases. If it was, the Americans could have them in Cyprus or on aircraft carriers or submarines in the Mediterranean. This is about trade, and a particular kind of trade-oil and gas. We all know that 72 per cent. of the world's known resources of oil and gas are situated in that part of the world, particularly in Turkey. It is about that, and about American trade and foreign policy, which seeks to get through the door of the old Soviet states and to trade there, to capitalise on the gas and oil reserves and to use that as a base to enter Europe and to trade with the third world—Africa, India and all the rest.
337 Any economist with any sense who has read Lipsey will know that the only way in which the world will be able to get out of the recession in which it now finds itself is to trade out of it, and the most open market for that resides in the third world and, in particular, in Africa.
We need to start to live up to our responsibilities. Sadly, we have let down the people of Cyprus. This is a matter of common sense and it is in Britain's interests. Cyprus represents, as a full partner in Europe and as an ally of Britain, many advantages. The first is its role in trade with the third world, to which I referred earlier. Cyprus has an excellent record, particularly with African nations, and certainly with the old eastern bloc. It now has its own stock exchange, which is magnificently run, and an offshore banking system that is second to none. Its geographical location offers Europe the opportunity of a telecommunications bank for Europe that would be the envy of the world. Last but not least, it has the second largest shipping fleet in the world, which, if joined with that of Greece, would give us a monopoly on world shipping. If we are to trade, we need that base.
Madam Speaker, it has been kind of you to allow me to address the House today on Cyprus. I say that Britain should live up to its responsibility. It should demand of Turkey and of the illegal regime that they get round the negotiating table and, as a precondition to any movement, notify the United Nations missing persons committee of the whereabouts of the missing persons. Then we could go on to free the island, make it a full partner in Europe and be an ally to it, as it has been to us.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I associate myself with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). I also describe myself as pro-Greek. Indeed, I was made an honorary citizen of the island of Simi, which is just a few kilometres from the shores of Turkey. Those of us who consider ourselves pro-Greek have a responsibility to ensure that the Greeks and Turks talk to each other. Political solutions need to be found, and we must do all that we can to encourage the search for them. At one stage I thought that I would have to pack my tin hat along with my suntan cream and sunglasses when I went to Simi, given the increasing tension between Greece and Turkey.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett) will make an excellent Member of Parliament, although he has a lot to live up to. I know that he knows that as well as anyone. Derek Enright was a most cultured, civilised and decent human being, and we all miss him enormously.
The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) is not in his place, but I know that he will read Hansard, if only to read his own speech. I am sorry that he felt that I was being nasty to him. I should like to say that he played a great part in assisting the London borough of Newham and the private and public sectors on the location of the second international station at Stratford. It was just a little bit of uncustomary bile on my part that led me to say those unkind, ruthless and altogether accurate things that I said about him.
I regret that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) criticised my good friend Mark Thomas, who does the excellent programme on Channel 4, "The Comedy Product". Anyone who revealed, as Mark did, the 338 underwear secrets of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) deserves a great tribute from the nation. When he revealed to a horrified nation the state of the hon. Gentleman's underpants, he did something that we all should be pleased he did. The underpants from hell is the only way I can describe them. No doubt he will live to regret the interview that he gave to Mr. Thomas.
I should like to say a few words before the Easter recess about bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease. Perhaps later this afternoon the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will make a statement about the failure of the European Union to lift the ban on British beef, even though thousands of cattle are to be slaughtered and more will be following on a selective basis.
The thing that I deeply regret is that the taxpayer will pick up the bill for all this. There is no such thing as a free lunch, particularly within the European Union. Although 70 per cent. of the cost of the slaughter policy will come from Europe, we contribute to the EU budget. So the money might come indirectly, but it will still come from the taxpayer. There is something wrong here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) talked about the destruction of the coalfield communities. When the arguments on that were raised in the House, we were told that it was a matter of market forces. Market forces dictated that there was no longer a demand for coal and the miners would just have to pack up from the pits, leave their helmets and lamps behind, and go somewhere else.
§ Mr. Banks
No. I cannot give way; I do not have time.
A completely different solution is advanced whenever the farmers unions are involved. I know that they play a vital role in the economy, but farmers in this country always get special treatment. The miners are told that it is the market, but we have to make special provisions for the farmers. Some farmers and those who work on farms or in the beef industry are entitled to special provision, but I do not see why the taxpayers should pick up the tab for farmers who knowingly fed their cattle, which are ruminants and herbivores, animal protein foodstuffs. One does not need to be a scientist or wear a white coat—a few Members in the House ought to be wearing white coats, but not because they are scientists—to realise that it is obvious that, if we start grotesquely interfering with nature, there will be a price to pay. The taxpayer is expected to pay that price.
If we are going to shoot hormones into cattle to tenderise meat, genetically engineer animals to produce food for us, and interfere with the natural growth of fruit and vegetables, we shall do things to ourselves as well as to nature. We are poisoning ourselves. One does not need to be an expert to work out that there will be consequences.
I want to know whom we are going to sue. Someone ought to be arraigned in a public dock and accused. We can accuse the Government, but we could certainly also accuse the cattle cake manufacturers. After all, those who produce pharmaceutical products, tobacco companies and the manufacturers of asbestos can be sued for endangering the health of the nation. So why 339 should not those who have endangered the health of the nation through BSE now be sued? Everyone is walking away. No one is guilty. No one is at fault. No one is to blame. But the taxpayer has to pick up the bill in the end.
I have been a vegetarian for some years now, but unfortunately not long enough to have escaped the incubation period of mad cow disease in humans. So I am probably as potentially mad as anyone else in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Banks
I am not looking for sympathy. Some people feel that I contracted mad cow disease an awful long time ago, but that is neither here nor there.
What I want to know now is how I and other vegetarians can avoid beef products. It is not easy. All right, I do not go out and buy beef. That is the easy part. It is where beef products go into the food chain elsewhere—where they are hidden—that gives me room for concern. For example, skin, bones, ligaments and tendons are boiled up to make gelatine, which is used as a gelling or thickening agent in many products, including some, if not all, yoghurts, ice creams, cakes, biscuits, sweets, mints, liquorice allsorts, jelly beans, wine gums, jelly, sausages, aspic in pork pies and coating for vitamin pills.
In order to make sure that I stay healthy long enough to see the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) go to his inevitable political doom, I take vitamin tablets. I now find that I am taking vitamin tablets that contain beef products. So I am thinking, "Ha ha, I am not going to go mad like the rest of them. I am okay. I am taking vitamin tablets." The fact is that I am still doing exactly what other people are doing. I am taking potentially infected products into my system without knowing it. If I want to commit suicide, I want to do it knowingly. I do not want to do it by accident. We need far more information and labelling to tell us what goes into food products.
When I have called in the House for various boycotts of nasty products because of the treatment of animals, the ministerial response has always been that it is up to the consumers to decide. Consumer choice is what it is all about. I do not disagree with consumer choice, but to exercise choice, we need information. We do not get enough information about what goes on.
At the base of the problem lies the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for food protection as well as for food production. That raises irreconcilable conflicts, as is shown by BSE. We must split the two functions. I want to think that someone is looking after my interests as a consumer rather than sacrificing them in the interests of the producer.
We must all learn from what has happened. My lesson is that I am far from being safe in following a vegetarian diet because I do not know enough about what goes into the foods, pills, tablets and potions that I take to be able to make speeches here. I shall end because I have been told to do so.
§ 12.9 pm
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
I would not dream of telling my hon. Friend to end, but I am glad that he sat down when he did because it gives me the chance to reply to the debate.
I have just received a message from the Leader of the House saying that he has been delayed in Cabinet in respect of the Agriculture Council. I am sure that that will be of especial interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), because the issues he raised are significant and are causing much concern. I agree that there must be limits on how far we interfere with nature. On his points about what happened in Brussels overnight, I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us that there will be a statement to the House on that today.
It would also be appropriate to have a statement about the Cabinet's decision on a referendum on a single currency. I understand from my hon. Friends that they can read the outcome of the Cabinet meeting on Teletext—which is the normal way of finding out things—although I suppose that for the most part, we read it in this morning's papers, where such things are reported in advance.
I am sure that the Leader of the House regrets his absence from the Chamber; we understand why it is necessary. He will especially regret missing the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett). I am pleased, as a fellow Yorkshire Member, to be able to congratulate him from the Front Bench on his contribution. Those of us who knew him before he came into the House, and knew the impact that he made on Leeds city council, had high expectations of him, which he has met today. I am sure that his reputation for directness, good humour and taking a practical approach to problems will stand him in good stead.
He will appreciate both the compliments that have been paid to him and the heartfelt compliments that were paid to his predecessor, Derek Enright. All hon. Members had a great deal of respect and fondness for Derek. He would appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) intends to maintain his tradition as a classicist.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth said that Derek Enright had a real presence in the Chamber. On occasion, that caused the Chair some concern. I noted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend was careful to compliment—rightly—your colleague the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. He is already working out how this place works, and I am sure that he has put in some good preparation for trying to catch the Chair's eye to speak again later today. We congratulate him on his performance and good humour. The House welcomes his contribution and his concerns about the coalfield community that he represents and the disasters that have happened to it, the health service and the other local constituency matters that he will, I am sure, raise from time to time.
It is always difficult to reply when hon. Members have spoken on a wide range of subjects. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who has a reputation of using these debates to good effect, reminded us, as he did at Christmas, of the difficulties that his constituents face because of the pressures on St. George's hospital. Many of us will know from our constituency experience that our constituents often say that a hospital and its staff 341 are great, but that the pressures on them are too great for them to be able to cope in the way that they would like. It is useful to have these debates where such issues can be raised, so that Ministers are left in no doubt about the concerns of our constituents.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) referred to violence on television and video. As a parent of two young children, I share his concerns. He spoke at some length about the V-chip. I do not reject the idea that it could be a useful tool, but we should not oversell the idea as the solution to the problem. The difficulties are more complex than that. As parents, we have significant responsibilities for what our children watch.
The current hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) was at times amusing, although not always intentionally so. His tirade against his local authority was to some extent matched by that of the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). He is in some difficulty when he criticises Basildon and mentions a headline that said that Basildon schools were not good enough for the local Member of Parliament. He has already decided that Basildon is not a good enough constituency for him, so he should be careful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) raised serious and frightening issues, although he raised them responsibly, about volatile organic compounds. He said that he had given the Leader of the House warning that he would raise the matter. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say what the Government intend to do to make up the backlog, given that they are not on target to meet the requirements for air quality. I know that last year was difficult, but people with asthma and other respiratory diseases are anxious. This would be a good time to update the House on the Government's air quality strategy. I understand what my hon. Friend said about postcodes and the way in which they are used, and sometimes misused, for insurance ratings. Perhaps the Minister will answer those points.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) raised a small but significant problem that affects constituents. He made good use of his time, as did the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), who talked about the pyramid selling of business club membership. I have not heard of that device for getting money out of people, although I am aware of previous concerns about pyramid selling in general. I hope that his warnings will be heeded.
The hon. Member for Gravesham adopted an approach that is common among Conservative Members—"Don't blame us, we're only the Government." In recent weeks, local authorities have been blamed for half the country's problems and the European Community for the other half. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) has been blamed for the Scott report and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) for BSE. The public must sometimes wonder why we want to be in power. Why do we want to sit on the Government Benches, if we have so much power and influence when we are in opposition? Passing the buck has to stop somewhere, and the public have rumbled what the Government are all about.
Three of my hon. Friends used this morning to raise the serious issue of Cyprus, and did so in a way that silenced the House and made everyone present listen with great attention to the tragic stories. They were right to give us 342 salutary reminders of the personal hardship caused by the situation there. I hope that attention is drawn to the problems that they raised so responsibly. I am sure that their comments will be taken on board.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) raised an important constituency matter, which also affects other people within his region and in Yorkshire—British Coal Enterprise. His arguments in favour of such activities, which can help bring investment, help small businesses and help in the retraining of people who have lost their livelihoods, ought to be heeded by the Government, because there is so much insecurity that, if such enterprises can bring some hope, they deserve support.
We have had a useful morning, and I hope that the Minister will take on board many of the constructive suggestions made by my hon. Friends.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. David Willetts)
I must begin by passing on the apologies of the Leader of the House, who had hoped to be here to respond. Indeed, that was the basis on which he invited me to sit on the Front Bench for an hour while he was away in Cabinet. Sadly, things have not worked out like that, and I have to stand in for him. He is sorry that he has not been able to return to the House, and I shall, of course, draw to his attention all the points made in the debate. If I am not able to deal with them in the few minutes remaining, I shall ensure that the relevant Ministers are made aware of them.
The highlight of this morning's debate was the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Trickett). I congratulate him on that speech. He is very welcome in the House. We remember his predecessor fondly—particularly his knowledge of the classics. It was interesting to discover that Geoffrey Boycott—a man whom we admire for his political loyalties as much as for his cricketing skills—was brought up in Hemsworth. We look forward to more contributions from the hon. Gentleman in the months and years to come.
We also heard a conspicuously interesting contribution from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who is widely respected on both sides of the House because of his concern for a series of moral issues that affect the quality of life in our country today. He wanted to draw the attention of the House to V-chips. The Government are considering the implications of the V-chip carefully and are in consultation with broadcasters, regulatory bodies, viewers and other interested parties. It is undoubtedly an interesting and promising new development, but some technological and practical issues surround it, which still need to be tackled. It was useful that the hon. Gentleman raised that issue today, however.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the video of "Natural Born Killers". I am sure that many hon. Members view with enormous distaste and dismay some of the videos and films that are now available, but the British Board of Film Classification is an independent body—the Government have no powers to intervene in its decisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) made some telling points about Essex county council and Havering council in his speech. The third subject that he 343 raised was the importance of religious education in schools. Early-day motion 715 is before the House at the moment and deals with that subject.
I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House were shocked by the remarks of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who apparently has said that in an ideal world there would be no religious state schools and that his party would put a stop to the daily act of worship, in an attempt to encourage all children to be educated together. That is not a remark that many hon. Members would agree with and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon was right to draw it to the attention of the House.
The most extraordinary scene then followed. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) tried to tell the House that that remark did not mean what it appeared to mean and, as soon as he sat down, his hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill stood up to confirm that it indeed meant what we thought it had meant all along. That interesting internal debate among the Liberal Democrats was clearly won by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.
We heard a variety of other important contributions today. Sadly, I missed the opening speech of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), who mentioned the position at St. George's hospital. The hospital is taking action in collaboration with its purchasers and other trusts to manage the increased demand that we recognise is occurring in emergency admissions. By good fortune, I see the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), sitting on the Front Bench. I shall ensure that that Department is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's comments.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) mentioned postcodes and volatile organic compounds in his speech—two subjects that do not, perhaps, sit naturally together in one speech—and the shadow Leader of the House pressed me to deal with air pollution and volatile organic compounds. I can assure the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish that, despite the postponement of deadlines for certain sectors as regards such compounds, which was announced last 344 June, the Government are steadfast in sticking to their commitment to reduce by 1999 volatile organic compound emissions by 30 per cent. compared with the level in 1988.
Sadly, I have only a few minutes left and there is not time to go through all the subjects raised by other hon. Members. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) in his place. He made some pertinent remarks about the private finance initiative, giving a good example of how it can benefit patients locally and raise standards in the health service—points that were well taken. I shall ensure that his remarks about the Kent county council highway programme are drawn to the attention of the Minister responsible for local roads at the Department of Transport.
Cyprus was mentioned in a series of speeches—particularly the people who have been missing since the Turkish invasion, and human rights concerns. Here, everyone accepts that, because of Britain's special historic role in that unhappy country, we must do everything we can to move towards a solution of the difficult problems on the island. I was impressed by the knowledge displayed by the Labour Members who spoke on the subject. When I did some research, it was clear to me why they had such expertise. I found that the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) visited Cyprus on several occasions in 1995—in August, in September, and again in October—as did the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), doubtless to research in greater detail the points that they made today.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) raised the question of the future of British Coal Enterprise, and I shall draw his points to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. The difficulties of British Coal Field Investments Ltd. should not obscure the fact that, generally, the industry is doing well and that the privatisation of coal has been a success. I am told that British Coal Enterprise is continuing discussions with English Partnerships on the transfer of a package of some 80 sites for major regeneration projects.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish you a happy break over Easter—I know that we are not finished yet, but the three-hour debate is almost over. I wish all hon. Members a refreshing Easter break. I look forward to returning to this place reinvigorated the week after next.