HC Deb 24 July 1996 vol 282 cc264-304

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising today, do adjourn till Monday 14 October.—[Mr. Wood.]

9.37 am
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

There are three urgent and important issues I want briefly to address. Each of them merits a ministerial response before the House rises for the summer recess.

First, I want to raise Lord Rix's moving plea, in a letter to the Leader of the House, for a fair wind for his Disabled Persons and Carers (Short-term Breaks) Bill. His Bill won unanimous support in the Lords and I was delighted to be asked to sponsor it in this House. In doing so I have the support of right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, large and small, none of whom saw any justification whatever for the blocking of the Bill by a Government Whip when I presented it for Second Reading on 12 July. That our procedures can allow that to happen where a Bill has already been unanimously approved in another place is surely wrong and should be immediately reviewed.

While I cannot now discuss its terms, the Bill, as its title implies, is one to help disabled people and their carers who, hugely to their detriment, never go beyond their own homes. As Lord Rix pointed out in his letter to the Leader of the House, of the 130,000 adults and children with severe learning disabilities living with their families, four out of five never receive short-term care provision to relieve the pressure of full-time care in the family home.

All I will say today, as Lord Rix did in other words in seeking the right hon. Gentleman's help, is that this is bad for the disabled person, bad for carers and bad for the taxpayer.

As is accepted in other legislation on disability—not least that which I had the good fortune to bring to this House, both as a private Member and as a Minister—any failure to give the disabled person and the carer a break hastens the day when it will no longer be possible to cope at home, making long-term institutional care the only option at far greater cost to the taxpayer than that of facilitating short-term breaks. Carers may be among the most admired people in this country, but they are also among the most neglected. Helping them is not only a moral and social priority: it also makes economic sense.

While it appears on today's Order Paper only as a remaining order, the Government have it within their power to let Lord Rix's excellent Bill through this House before we adjourn for the recess. It is about a small step forward that, in Lord Rix's words, would add a touch of compassion and understanding to the Government's record. He might justifiably have added that, for the Government to refuse to let so uncontroversial a measure through this House, would be both self-defeating and inhumane.

The issue is not one that divides one side of the House from the other. The divide is now one between the Government and both sides of the House, and I implore the right hon. Gentleman to do all he can to help the Bill forward. Meanwhile I must inform him that, if he is not able to assist its supporters today, I shall be seeking to discharge my commitment to the Bill in full by bringing it back to the Order Paper of this House on every remaining sitting day of the current parliamentary Session.

I turn now, again briefly, to the very deep sense of injustice that persists among people with haemophilia and their families. The tragic fate of three brothers explains why they are so aggrieved. All three had haemophilia. Two were infected with HIV by contaminated NHS blood transfusions and died of AIDS-related illnesses. The third brother was infected with hepatitis C by NHS blood products and died of liver failure. The two brothers infected with HIV received help from the Macfarlane Trust, funded by the Government, and were able to make some provision for their families. But their brother, infected with hepatitis C, went to his grave having been refused that help. He was unable to make any provision for his family.

All three brothers had become terminally ill and died from the same cause: contaminated NHS blood products. But one was denied help given to the other two brothers by a Government who provided £70 million for people infected with HIV and set up the Macfarlane Trust to give them continuing support. The Government accepted their moral responsebility in the case of HIV infection. They have the same responsibility now in the HCV cases.

It is argued that compensating those infected with HCV would take money away from patient care in the NHS. To say that is to get not just the wrong end of the stick, but the wrong stick. For the payments made in the HIV cases, including those to the dependants of people who subsequently died because of AIDS-related illnesses, came from contingency moneys, which is what the Haemophilia Society is asking for now for the hepatitis C victims. The society simply wants the terms of reference of the Macfarlane Trust to be extended to include them.

Measured against the pain and suffering endured, the claim is an extremely modest one. Hepatitis C attacks the liver and is life-threatening. Current medical opinion is that up to 80 per cent. of those infected will develop chronic liver disease. Of these, some 20 per cent. will develop severe liver problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. More than 50 of those infected by contaminated blood products have already died and the death rate is accelerating.

This further tragedy in the haemophilia community dates back to before 1986 when heat treatment was introduced to end the contamination of NHS blood products. But by then 3,100 people with haemophilia alone had been infected with hepatitis C. In recognition of the scale of the problem, an all-party early-day motion was tabled, in my name, urging parity of treatment for people infected with HIV or HCV. The motion has now been signed by more than 260 right hon. and hon. Members, a majority of all Members of Parliament who are free to sign such motions. As the list of signatories shows, the issue is treated not as one of right and left but of right and wrong.

In none of the many campaigns in which I have been closely involved in this House in my 32 years here have I had so strong a sense that it should not be necessary to campaign to right such an obvious wrong. The Government know we are right and that our campaign is entirely free from party animus. They know, too, that if given the nod by Ministers, this House would settle the issue within an hour. That hour could and should be found before the new parliamentary Session begins. If there is no commitment today to finding it and the campaign has to go on, then go on it will until justice is achieved for people who simply want equitable treatment.

I turn now, thirdly and finally, to an issue of urgent concern to all long-term sick and disabled people and those who work with and for them. I refer to the implications of a judgment given by the Court of Appeal in what the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—RADAR—describes as one of the most important cases to date on the rights of disabled people to community care services. The court ruled that, when a local authority has agreed that a disabled person has needs for care services under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, the authority must meet those needs and cannot take its own budgetary constraints into consideration. This landmark ruling was given in a judicial review judgment against Gloucestershire county council in relation to its treatment of a disabled pensioner, Michael Barry, in withdrawing home care services from him, among 1,500 other disabled people in the county, claiming that a Government squeeze on funds was responsible for the cuts.

The Court of Appeal's judgment, as John Keep of RADAR who played such an admirable role in helping Michael Barry to achieve the judicial review has reminded me, is totally in line with the guidance given to me as the Minister for Disabled People about the legal effect of section 2 of theAct.

I set out that guidance in this House, for the information of right hon. and hon. Members and local authorities, making it crystal clear that to reduce or withdraw a service under the section without diminution in need, was plainly unlawful. That is what the Court of Appeal has now ruled and it is, in my view as the author of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, urgently necessary for Ministers to issue guidance to local authorities about the implications for them of the court's ruling.

Clearly, service users whose needs have been assessed under the Act now have an undoubted right to have those needs provided for, and many thousands of disabled people up and down the country who had their services withdrawn or reduced for financial reasons are now entitled to have them restored. And they must quickly be identified and informed of their rights and entitlements. That there should ever have been any misunderstanding about the mandatory effect of the Act after my statement to the House is all the more disturbing when one learns that the legal guidance given to me as Minister was repeated by their legal advisers to all my successors in the post over the past 17 years.

The essential need now, however, is to ensure that no local authority is left in any doubt about its responsibilities as decided by the Court of Appeal. The right hon. Gentleman, whose genuine commitment to disabled people has so often been expressed, in opposition and government alike, fully appreciates the urgency of the call I am making to his ministerial colleagues on this issue and he needs no reminding of its importance to chronically sick and disabled people all over Britain.

9.48 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be extremely brief. There is an element of continuity in the events to which I shall refer. I spoke in the Adjournment debate before the Easter recess in 1995 on the subject of Bart's, and I wish to return briefly to that subject. I shall dwell only on that single issue.

Some 30,000 people in south Hackney and south Islington, as well as my constituents in the City of London, have been adversely affected by the proposed move of Bart's to the Whitechapel site. Although the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to East London and the City health authority, it is ironic that in 1993–94 Camden and Islington used more general medical beds at Bart's. That also has some relevance to present circumstances.

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a single question at the end of my speech, so he does not need to take elaborate notes of the events that I wish to place on record. The easiest way of describing events since late 1995 and early 1996 is to quote the first two paragraphs of a letter from the two relevant community health councils—Islington and City and Hackney—to the Secretary of State on 22 April this year: Just over a year ago the accident and emergency department at St. Bartholomew's Hospital closed. Assurances were given in writing by East London and City Health Authority, which agreed to the closure, that general practitioners would have direct access to the local hospital for their medical patients. In reality this has proved extremely difficult with obstacles being put in their way whenever they have attempted to get people admitted. This has led to people from south Islington, south Hackney and the City being sent down to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel where they have had to wait sometimes for many hours before being admitted and in some cases transferred back to Bart's for admission. In the autumn City & Hackney CHC learned from unofficial sources that there were plans to close the general medical beds at Bart's at the beginning of February 1996 so terminating entirely the services available to local people. This was confirmed just before Christmas. The enclosed letter,"— which I shall not quote— objecting in the strongest terms to the proposed bed closures, was sent to the General Manager of East London and City Health Authority. These closures had not been consulted on and were contrary to the agreement that the Health Authority had made with the Royal Hospitals Trust following its decision in March 1995 to go ahead with the plans set out in its consultation document, Health Services for the Future. The Royal Hospitals Trust maintained it was quite safe to close the beds because there had been so few admissions over the past 12 months. The reasons why are explained above. There was then a two-month gap before the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), replied on 18 June 1996, with what was an essentially procedural answer on the subject of consultation. He did not dwell on the substance of the letter. I fear that the absence of any reference to its substance did nothing for morale either at Bart's or in the area to which I referred, and that is a subject on which I have commented before.

No doubt, cost has played a role. There are rumours that the special trustees at Bart's are being pressed for any money that can be used to help the Royal Hospitals trust. There is a degree of irony in that, as the conventional wisdom was that the backstop of the special trustees had previously allowed Bart's to get into lax financial ways.

That was clearly a belief in the Department of Health, as my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State for National Heritage, made clear in comment after comment to me in 1992–93 before Bart's took itself in hand so rigorously and effectively.

It is, however, cost pressure that I want primarily to raise as a matter that should detain the House from adjourning until it is settled. The matter is urgent because there are rumours that the Government would like to sign the private finance initiative contracts relating to the hospital in Whitechapel in October, which may well be before the House returns.

My question to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, of which I have given him brief notice, is whether there have been any modifications—either upwards or downwards—in the cost stated in the outline business plan submitted by the Royal Hospitals trust in 1994 and approved by the Secretary of State for Health in 1995 in the invitation to bid for the private finance initiative and, if so, what are the percentage changes. My right hon. Friend will recognise the significance of that query from his past service in the Department of Health.

A final irony is that, early in July, I asked the parliamentary doctor for an appointment before the House rose. The only appointment available was at noon today. We NHS patients take opportunities and imperatives when they are offered to us. If it should prevent me from being present in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate, I apologise. I also hope to be present when my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) raises the subject of D'Oyly Carte, a cause with which I am also associated.

9.54 am
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Just before the parliamentary recess, or what my brother-in-law persists in calling the parliamentary recession, we have the opportunity either to deal with the particulars—and we have heard important particulars from the previous two hon. Members who have spoken—or to speak in more general terms. I shall turn to the latter and reflect on what one may call the state of the nation as the Government stagger with great relief to the recess, having lost a number of Ministers on the way.

The Government's major concern is to survive. We have endured the politics of survival for some considerable time and that is not in the interests of the country. Therefore, it is to the state of the nation that I shall address one or two remarks and on which I shall make some reflections.

I was spurred to raise the subject by yesterday's exchange between the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition during Prime Minister's Question Time. My right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister: Does he agree with his Chancellor's recent statement that he can see circumstances in which he would recommend that Britain joins a single currency during the next Parliament? The Prime Minister replied: We have made the position on a single currency entirely clear. So my right hon. Friend continued: Can he, like his Chancellor, see circumstances in which he would recommend that Britain join a single currency during the next Parliament—yes or no? The Prime Minister replied: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell the House whether he agrees with the argumentation in the pamphlet that I have here".—[Official Report, 23 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 142.] That exchange was extremely significant. The Prime Minister's response was astonishingly evasive, and one is bound to ask why. Why could not the Prime Minister give a straight answer to a straight question? If it were the case that in not even the most theoretical circumstances could the Prime Minister see a case for entering the single currency, he is surely deceiving our partners because, by remaining in discussions, he is implying that—if the circumstances were right, if the various convergence criteria were met, and if it were deemed to be in our national interests—he would be prepared to recommend to the House that we should join a single currency. However, he could not even say that he would do so in those theoretical circumstances. Why was that? He was in the awful position of having to look over his shoulder and say to left and right, "Have I done well? Have I answered correctly?" He was in the difficulty of not daring to identify his policy on that issue.

The Government's broad position is absolutely correct, however. The decision need not be taken for some years hence, when the circumstances may have changed and Britain can take a decision rationally on the basis of the configuration of countries and circumstances at the time. Why does not the Prime Minister at least say, "Yes. If the circumstances were correct, I would be prepared so to recommend"? The fact that he is not prepared to do so not only amounts to a deception of our partner countries, which let him and our Government into discussions on the basis that, if the circumstances were right, we would join, but is highly indicative of the state of the nation and of British politics.

The man in the street surely thinks of the Prime Minister as fundamentally decent. but with a wholly impossible balancing act to perform. He is seen as someone who is trying to hold together a party that is fundamentally divided. I have tried to find a character in Greek mythology who was in the same position. I recall one who was suspended between heaven and earth because neither would receive him. I thought of Sisyphus or some other character. I am sure that the Greeks would have conceived of some person on the rack or in circumstances alike to the Prime Minister's at the moment. He is certainly tortured as rivals position themselves for the post-election struggle for the leadership.

All serious commentators surely agree that this Parliament is already dead and that, effectively, we have already embarked on an election campaign. There will be some disagreement on when the Parliament died. Was it when Britain was forced out of the exchange rate mechanism, just after the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), so eloquently told us about its advantages? With a certain political amnesia, he is now bidding us to forget the eloquence of the speeches that he made shortly before the forced withdrawal. Certainly, for several months, the Government have been paralysed and Parliament has been dead. It cannot be right for the country that there is such politicking and paralysis in policy.

I travel fairly extensively and discuss matters with parliamentary colleagues on the continent. It is already clear that, in respect of the intergovernmental conference, a number of our partner countries are seriously considering putting relations with the United Kingdom on hold so far as is possible because they perceive the Government as a lame duck. Our partners are looking forward to a time after the election, whatever the result may be, when they can deal with a Government who are prepared to govern. I know of that position from very highly placed sources. That is sad and cannot be good for this country.

On politicking, we know that we shall return after the spillover session to an abnormal Queen's Speech. It will effectively be the Government's manifesto. It will be a shop-window Queen's Speech because, realistically, the Government will not be in a position to put into effect many of its proposals. In November and December, we shall be dealing with some Second Readings and the Budget, and in January and February, the Government will find it very difficult to get many of the ideas through. The Queen's Speech will be a parading of theory and not really relevant to the country's problems. It will be more relevant to the Government's wishes to be re-elected and their desire to encourage the country to view the form of their policies.

As the election campaign becomes shriller and more intense over the recess, it cannot have the traditional themes that the Government prefer, such as law and order and the wicked Labour party that is in thrall to the trade unions. Given our policy, that can hardly be a credible position to put before the country. One fears, therefore, that the theme chosen will be the flag and the idea of wrapping oneself in it over foreign policy. One fears a rather nasty campaign against foreigners, especially our European partners, along the lines of those in the popular newspapers that follow the Government. At home, alas, the flag will relate to the devolution policies of the Labour party and all other parties, with a slogan about the break-up of the United Kingdom.

We are, of course, in a world of slogans. "New Labour, new danger" is parroted in Prime Minister's questions like a music hall act. That is not serious politics. Serious questions need to be addressed in relation, for example, to the future shape of the United Kingdom. The Conservative party, under Disraeli for example, stole the clothes of Mr. Gladstone when it saw the way in which the Liberal party was addressing issues surrounding the urban working classes. Disraeli said that we must educate our masters and sought to address real problems. This Government are paralysed; they will not debate or try to address issues such as the Scottish and Welsh questions, which concern identity. It should be recognised that there are already clusters of government in Edinburgh and Cardiff that are not accountable. There can be a serious debate on how to address that. One cannot simply run away, chant slogans and pretend that such problems will go away.

Alas, over the next nine months, this country is likely to be afflicted by the politics of Micawberism. The Government are hoping that something will turn up. There is a smell of decay and a feeling of the end of an empire. We have heard about the Premier club and Mr. Beckwith, a gentleman who is bidding for Ministry of Defence houses and, as we are now told, is interested in buying Benefits Agency buildings around the country. Mr. Beckwith and others with the right amount of money are gaining access to the Prime Minister's ear. This smell of decay, paralysis, Micawberism, drift, this lame-duck Government, are surely bad for Britain—alas, they are likely to last for another nine months.

10.6 am

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) feels a lot better for getting that off his chest. It was a peroration reminiscent of John of Gaunt on his deathbed. I shall not attempt to follow him, but I wish him an extremely happy holiday.

I direct the House's attention to a matter that I consider to be of particular concern. I refer to a headline in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, which said, "Backwoodsmen save asylum Bill".

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Do you still read The Daily Telegraph?

Sir Patrick Cormack

Of course I do. I emulate the hon. Gentleman's wonderful example. However, I shall not allow him to distract me.

I refer to the headline because I think that it highlights a matter that ought to be of acute concern to all parliamentarians: the relationship between the two Houses, especially the future of the House of Lords. It is a great pity that we are adjourning for the summer recess and returning for a brief spillover session without provision for a debate on the constitution. The other week, the other place had a very fine two-day debate on the constitution, in which many admirable speeches were made—not on both sides of the argument but on every side of it, since it is a many-sided and multi-faceted argument.

We trifle with the delicate balance of our constitution at our peril. The Labour party's proposals are fraught with danger. However, my main reason for addressing the House is that I do not believe that one can defend the automatic right of every hereditary peer to sit, speak and vote in the House of Lords.

I speak as one who basically believes in the composition and powers of the House of Lords—the powers are about right. It is a revising Chamber, a Chamber with the power to delay and to tell us to think again. It has been an extremely good institution over the past 17 years. On a number of occasions, particularly in the days when we enjoyed a very large majority in this House, the House of Lords told us to think again. In doing so, it often exercised collective wisdom of a high degree of excellence.

I think in particular of the House of Lords' rejection of the War Crimes Bill. We were most unwise to override it on that occasion. Nevertheless, when we overrode their lordships, we were doing what was constitutionally proper. It was entirely legitimate for the Government of the day to override the Lords' decision on the basis that the will of the elected House should not be superseded. That is an admirable constitutional doctrine, to which I subscribe.

However, I do not subscribe—the Leader of the House will not be surprised to hear me say this as I have said it to him privately—to using so-called backwoodsmen to vote down what is manifestly the desire of a majority of the active, participating peers in the other place. I do not want to debate the merits of the Asylum and Immigration Bill this morning. Those who were present for the debate know that I am sympathetic to the three-day amendment that came from the House of Lords. Again, I do not question the constitutional propriety of the Government's attempt to overturn that amendment. Had the Lords inserted another amendment on Monday of this week, and had we debated it today, it would also have been entirely legitimate for the Government to try to persuade their supporters here to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.

However, it is most unwise, although constitutionally perfectly proper, to bring into the Division Lobbies in the other place peers who rarely attend or take part in the deliberations there and who come up specifically to vote after a debate in which they have taken no part. Of course they have the right to vote, just as Her Majesty the Queen has the right to refuse the Royal Assent to any Act of Parliament that we pass. No monarch since Queen Anne has exercised that right, and it would provoke a constitutional crisis of the utmost magnitude if Her Majesty ever did so. I believe that a similar reticence ought to possess many of the hereditary peers.

I happen to believe also that the House of Lords as constituted now has a great deal to commend it. I should hate to see it become the creature of placemen and party. The Cross-Bench element contributes enormously to our constitution, consisting as it does of men and women of great eminence and distinction debating issues on their merits without feeling that they have to look over their shoulders to party bosses or constituents. That has a great deal to commend it, too.

The active, regularly attending hereditary element in the other place, who include some extremely able young men and women, make a real contribution as well. By way of reform, and following the precedent of the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801, I should like the hereditary peers to be confined to a certain number, selected on a basis to be agreed—perhaps elected by themselves. They include, as I say, many who are diligent in their attendance, eloquent in their contributions and emphatic in the mark that they make.

I must tell the Leader of the House, at a time when the whole future balance of Parliament is at issue, that it is unwise in the extreme to call out these "backwoodsmen" for particular votes such as the recent one.

Mr. Donald Anderson

The same happened with nursery vouchers.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Quite so. Again, I do not intend to discuss the merits of that argument. Suffice it to say that, in respect of the asylum arrangements, I was on the side of the Lords; on nursery vouchers I suspect that I would not be. That is neither here nor there. Using constitutional mechanisms that are in place is one thing; bringing out the backwoodsmen is quite another. By dint of those two recent unwise actions the Government have inflicted a wound—I sincerely hope not a fatal one—on the House of Lords.

I want the hereditary element to remain—in a monarchy it is important that it should—but I do not want every hereditary peer automatically to have the right to vote and speak in the House of Lords. I certainly do not want those who rarely exercise that right to be called in to rescue the Government from time to time.

I have felt moved to raise this subject above all because I deplore the fact that we have not had an opportunity to debate the constitution and the roles and positions of the two Houses during this Session. I hope that, when we come back in October, my right hon. Friend will be persuaded to postpone Prorogation for just one day so that we can debate these matters. Failing that, I hope that we shall have a debate at the beginning of the next Session.

10.15 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Like the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who had the guts to put his vote where his mouth was, I thought the rejection by this House of the three-day Lords amendment was a disgrace to our country. Meanwhile, I should like to ask five succinct questions.

My first question relates to the United Nations resolution on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. As the Leader of the House will know, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, of which I am not a member, is being taken by its Chairman to Buenos Aires in the recess. I hope that there will be serious discussions with our colleagues on the matter of what they can say there about the question of sovereignty. There is a real opportunity to listen to what is being said in Argentina about this delicate subject. Judging by what we heard from Guido Di Telia, this morning on the radio and in person about two months ago, it appears that there is some kind of constructive solution to be had. So, before the whole thing goes sour, let the Government take action.

My second question relates to Iraq. Are the Government entirely happy with the seemingly unending mission led by Rolf Ekeus? In the Whitsun recess, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire led an all-party heritage delegation to Stockholm, where we naturally spent time talking to our Swedish colleagues. It emerged that people in the know in Stockholm—to put it at its very gentlest—entertain doubts about their colleague Ekeus and believe that the time is ripe for a change. It is certainly clear that his personal relations with the Iraqis, not just with the inner leadership, have become appalling. It is also beyond dispute that infant mortality in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys is so dreadful that it shames humanity. We are almost as far from the Gulf war now as we were from the second world war when we put Germany back on its feet. I therefore hope that the Government will take another look at that appalling human tragedy.

My third question concerns Cuba. It is perfectly clear to some of us that any pressure to stop trading with Cuba has nothing to do with the merits of the case and everything to do with internal American politics. I draw the attention of the House to Sunday's talk by Alistair Cooke. There is also a great deal of other evidence pointing to the idea that attitudes to Cuba reflect the internal situation in the United States. I do not see why British industry and trade should be disadvantaged.

The fourth issue concerns Libya, a subject on which I have had so many Adjournment debates. During the recess, can thought be given to a matter raised by President Mandela's delegation, which concerns the whole of Africa? Would not the situation be brought to a head by a trial in The Hague or, as has been offered, in South Africa itself? Otherwise, it will go on for a lifetime.

I am not in any way anti-American, but one does notice that Iraq and Libya were traditionally British markets, and that decision-makers in those countries were educated at British, not American, universities. However, it is British, and not American, industry that is losing out in those Arab countries. I hope that the Government will no longer act on the instructions—I think that that is the right word—on Libya given by Washington. Otherwise, the present situation will continue. The sanctions will be maintained—sanctions which, incidentally, are totally ignored by the Germans, the Greeks, the Italians and the French, while Britain and British industry lose out.

Finally, I wish to raise the matter of airport and aircraft security. Throughout this Session, I have endlessly raised the subject of the Lockerbie disaster of 1988, which led to major reviews in aviation security by both the British and American Governments. Eight years on, experts and campaigners for improved safety agree that it is still possible for bombs to be smuggled on board aircraft.

Among the specific measures that feature in post-Lockerbie reports, and which will now be readdressed by the investigation into the TWA flight if a bomb was to blame, is baggage reconciliation, as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 1987. Its implementation is mandatory in the United Kingdom from this year, but is limited elsewhere. The rather grandiose term for the vital process of ensuring that every bag loaded on board is matched with a passenger is still a long way from being carried out around the world. Airlines are particularly vulnerable to baggage being transferred from connecting flights, and the bomb may make the whole journey while the passenger does not. Eight thousand bags a day are lost worldwide—yes, 8,000 a day. Is that not proof that reconciliation is just not working? How can people talk about baggage reconciliation and safety in those circumstances?

The second recommendation was made in the 1989 report "The Lessons of Lockerbie" by Paul Wilkinson, security expert from St. Andrews university. There is no worldwide watchdog organisation on air travel that has teeth. The UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation can make recommendations but has no power to enforce them. Wilkinson and his colleagues say that that does not have to be the case, and see the same organisation's International Atomic Energy Agency as a working model. Critics in the US highlight the fact that the body responsible for enforcing safety, the Federal Aviation Authority, also has the job of promoting air travel. It may be a little difficult to do both, and the Government should think about that.

The final recommendation—that better security equipment be provided—was made by Sheriff Principal John Mowat at the 1990 fatal accident inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster. Its implementation has been limited. Systems similar to supermarket bar codes, which would aid baggage reconciliation, are being introduced only gradually. Mowat said that better X-ray machines might have detected the Lockerbie bomb and—although one must not jump to conclusions about the TWA disaster—might have detected bombs elsewhere. Many people are concerned about that matter. Standards have improved in some airports, but many others have done very little.

I ask that serious consideration be given this summer to the kind of international authority proposed by Paul Wilkinson.

10.24 am
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I will be as brief as I can, and I am sorry that I have not given my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House notice of the point that I wish to raise. Before I do raise the matter, I cannot let go the crass statements and nonsense from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) about the Prime Minister's statement on the single currency, and implications about the hon. Gentleman's Government. Those need to be answered and hit hard.

The Prime Minister has—not once, but many times—stated at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere that until we know the terms of a single currency, the Government will not make a statement about what they feel about it. Any person who believes that he can make a proper statement without knowing the facts is dealing in Alice in Wonderland politics. If the Government decided that a single currency was in the nation's interests, there would be a referendum. That is clear, and needs no argument.

Mr. Donald Anderson

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Peter Emery

No. The hon. Gentleman has had his say. He implied that the Government are on their last legs, but what is the alternative? He said that it is time for a change, but a change to what? Higher inflation? We have the lowest inflation in western Europe. Higher mortgage rates? We have low mortgage rates, and they are always higher under a Labour Government. Higher unemployment? Unemployment has been falling for four years, and it is always higher at the end of a Labour Government than it was at the beginning. We must know the alternative, and we must ensure that it is branded properly.

I wish to return to my main point, and again I apologise for not giving notice to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I much object to the interference by an Opposition Front Bencher in what is an entirely constituency matter in Woodbury Salterton. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) gave me no notice of his question on the Order Paper, and that is wrong. He may be the Opposition's agriculture spokesman, but he should have the good manners to let me know what he is taking an interest in. If the hon. Gentleman had come to me, I could have told him what he is seeking.

The position is that rendered carcases and meat from non-BSE cattle are being stored in Greendale Barton in Woodbury Salterton. Any cattle with the disease, or from an infected herd, must be incinerated. That is the law, but a Liberal councillor is trying to create fear by criticising the Government, claiming that they are not doing their job properly by allowing the placement of this rendered material in a large agricultural store, which has been in existence now for 15 years or so, before being taken for incineration or disposal. That disposal cannot be done immediately, and there is not enough capacity to deal with the problem at the moment. The material must be stored somewhere, and it is in a proper store that is licensed and inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to get a statement from MAFF to clarify what I am saying so that we can assure my constituents that they have nothing to fear from the storage of this rendered material in my constituency.

People should understand that the Government's policy must be to get on with the culling as fast as possible so that we can meet the requirements by October and get the ban on the export of British beef lifted. That entails a certain amount of storage around the country, including in Woodbury Salterton, but it is a measure to assist farmers and the British people to get agriculture back on its feet. That is why I raise the point. It is worrying that an Opposition Member should try to highlight something in my constituency which he could have clarified easily without stirring up problems.

10.30 am
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I wish to raise several points. I agree with many hon. Members that the House should not adjourn until the Minister of State for Defence Procurement takes a definite decision about procuring equipment that the forces will need shortly. I refer particularly to the Nimrod 2000 project. That has been held back by the Treasury, whose guesstimates have been wrong more than once. I sometimes wonder whether it has lost sight of the old adage, "Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves." It constantly watches the billions but fails to realise that money is lost at other levels. It has to foot the bills for other votes of supply because of unemployment. Firms have their patterns changed by the delays in deciding the contracts. I urge the Government to settle the issue quickly.

Secondly, I want to discuss intimidation. Some people in Northern Ireland claim that their community is being intimidated. In reality, far more people from the Protestant community have been put out of their homes in the past few weeks than have people from the Roman Catholic community. Tragically, our people do not claim compensation as they are not part of Sinn Fein-IRA's economic warfare against the House, the Government and our people in Northern Ireland.

It may surprise some hon. Members to learn that anyone who moves out of a Housing Executive home gets £175 for reallocation. A fair number of people who have claimed intimidation have been on waiting lists for some time and are seeking to jump the queue. They also blame the social services for not giving them the proper counselling needed for the pressure of economic warfare.

I wonder whether yesterday, when the Prime Minister met representatives of two smaller political parties in Northern Ireland, he got assurances from them that intimidation and extortion by loyalist paramilitaries will cease. I speak on behalf of constituents who in the past few weeks have been told that the ceasefire is over and that they must pay £100 a week. Some shopkeepers are asked to pay £20 weekly and larger firms pay £1,000 a year. The mythology of the ceasefire should not blind us to the reality that the forces of lawlessness have been dictating the terms in the Province.

I was interested to receive a letter from a lady in Preston who encourages us because we wish to remain in the United Kingdom. She said that she became interested in 1970 because she did not like to see small people pushed down. In that context, is there not some conflict between a Government policy that seeks to maintain the Union and discourages a form of devolution in Scotland, England and Wales but that has not only sought to restore a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland but gone further down that road and allowed a foreign Government to have an unhealthy influence in the affairs of United Kingdom in that area? That lies behind much of the trouble.

We must consider the provocation that our people endure. As they travel through Belfast, they see tricolours flaunted from high-rise buildings, one bearing the slogan, "Drumcree church will burn". Where is that being told to the British people by the British media?

My last point concerns the responsibility of the media, and especially of the BBC. Was it without significance that Kate Adie was in Northern Ireland even before the walk to Drumcree? We are constantly told about the Protestant terrorists and paramilitaries, but the religious connection of the IRA is never mentioned. We must strike a balance and have responsible broadcasting. I have twice had to have corrections in respect of references wrongly attributed to me.

10.35 am
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale)

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a constituency case. I realise that it is difficult for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to reply to a constituency case.

A constituent had a judicial separation hearing at Altrincham county court in the summer of 1995. His wife was legally represented because she was entitled to legal aid. My constituent was not so entitled because he was working, and had to represent himself because he could not afford to pay a lawyer and a barrister. The hearing lasted four hours, and it was decided that the wife should be awarded the matrimonial home, which has been paid off entirely. The husband had to pay the court costs amounting to about £1,000 and agreed to pay £400 monthly in maintenance. He also agreed with the court that, when he retired, he would commute £60,000 from his pension provision and pay a quarter of that to his wife so that she would get £15,000.

My constituent agreed finally that a £3,500 endowment policy due to mature this November should be shared between him and his wife. He accepted all that and, a few days after the court appearance, received a letter that stated the terms of the court order, to which he agreed. He was therefore surprised, a few weeks later, to receive another letter which amended the original order without explanation. He was then told that the endowment policy would go entirely to his wife rather than being split between them. He was disturbed about that, went to the court and asked for an explanation. He was shown the judge's handwritten memo, which clearly stated that the endowment policy was to be shared. He was also shown correspondence from the wife's lawyers, who had written to the judge requesting that he review the order. He had done so, amended it and ordered the whole endowment to go to the wife.

My constituent was never asked for his views. He wrote to the court and asked the judge for an explanation. He was told that the amended order was correct and that that was the end of the story. My constituent is entitled to know why the court was not reconvened and why he was not consulted. The decision was taken behind his back by the judge and his wife's legal representatives. He senses injustice, which I fully understand. He came to my advice bureau because he had tried every other means to get his grievance rectified, but to no avail. Because, in my innocence, I believed that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor was responsible for the judiciary, I wrote to him about the case. I had a reply dated 6 March from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department, which stated: As you are aware the Court Service became an Executive Agency on 3 April 1995. As your correspondence concerns matters relating to operational aspects of the Courts, the Parliamentary Secretary has asked me to pass it to the Chief Executive of the Court Service … to reply. Meanwhile, my constituent had been trying desperately hard to obtain the necessary information—all he seeks is some redress. A letter dated 12 January from the office of the courts administrator in Manchester stated: I accept that you should have been given an explanation of the circumstances leading to the 2nd amendment to the order and for this omission I sincerely apologise. Turning to your points regarding correspondence being entered into between the other side, the Court and the Judge without consideration to yourself I note that you also wrote to the Court to request amendment to the original order, albeit minor alterations, and that the order was duly amended. The petitioner's solicitors suggested that the order be reviewed and this request was relayed to the judge. The letter adds that the judge could have reconvened a hearing but it would appear that he did not feel that that course of action was necessary. I am not able to comment on the decision of members of the Judiciary. I eventually received a reply from the chief executive of the Court Service on 25 March, in which he stated that while he understood my constituent's feelings, I regret there is little I can add to the replies he received from the Courts Administrator at Manchester and the Customer Service Unit here at Headquarters. I enclose copies for your information. You will appreciate that the judiciary are entirely independent of Government and therefore have complete freedom in the way they deal with the cases that come before them. My constituent was of course not happy with that reply, so I pursued the matter with the Court Service, which replied on 18 April: It may be helpful if I explain that if my constituent does not agree with a particular part of the amended order, it is open to him to apply to the court to have the order varied. I enclose an application form should he wish to do so. I should stress, however, that the decision whether to allow his application rests with the judge who hears the matter. I would also strongly advice your constituent to seek legal advice before making any application to the court. My constituent senses injustice. Because he is not entitled to legal aid, he would have to represent himself yet again. He has been told to appeal, but cannot afford to take the risk. The amount at stake is £1,750–50 per cent. of the value of the endowment policy. If my constituent won an appeal, he would retain that sum. If he lost, he would receive nothing and be faced with a substantial legal bill.

The judge involved is apparently a member of the Solicitors Family Law Association. My constituent felt so strongly that he complained to the association's complaints bureau, but was told that his complaint could not be accepted and that he had no redress. This country's legal aid system should be carefully examined. If my constituent had been legally represented, it could have been a different story.

My constituent has signed over the matrimonial home, paid the court costs of the original hearing, and agreed to pay his wife £400 per month maintenance and 25 per cent. of his pension commutation on retirement. Why was the judge able to change his mind on the sharing of the endowment policy? Why did the judge listen only to the wife's legal representatives? Why did not the judge reconvene the hearing and give my constituent the chance to put his case? If British justice is the best in the world, it must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can undertake some investigation before the House rises for the summer recess and explain why my constituent has been given no proper explanation, why the judge is apparently not answerable to anyone and where my constituent should go for justice.

10.43 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth parliamentary Cyprus group.

On Sunday 14 July, the annual Cyprus rally was held in Trafalgar square, when 5,000 people gathered to remember the events of July 1974, when Cyprus was invaded by the Turkish army. Twenty-two years later, Cyprus remains a divided country. The occupied northern area is still under the control of the Turkish army, using an estimated 30,000 troops and military equipment.

Many hon. Members, irrespective of party, work closely together for a united Cyprus and the rights and freedoms of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Britain is deeply involved in the Cyprus situation. It is one of the island's guarantor powers, and Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth. Discussions have been held over the years, but hopes of an honourable settlement have not been realised. Many distinguished individuals have studied the Cyprus tragedy and their views are clear They include the Secretary-General of United Nations. In reports, he and others have plainly put the blame for the lack of progress on Mr. Denktash, who leads the Turkish-Cypriot community.

None of the events that has occurred since 1974 has helped to resolve the Cyprus issue. Mr. Denktash made a unilateral declaration of independence to seek, he claimed, an independent Turkish republic in occupied northern Cyprus. That achieved nothing. Years after that declaration, only one country in the world recognises that so-called independent state—Turkey. Over the years, an estimated 80,000 people from mainland Turkey have been brought to occupied northern Cyprus. They are known to Turkish Cypriots as illegal settlers. Many true Turkish Cypriots have left their homeland because they are not prepared to live alongside the people whom Mr. Denktash has brought from the mainland.

Earlier this year, Mr. Denktash made a statement regarding the 1,600 Greek Cypriots who were declared missing after the 1974 invasion. He said nothing more than that those people were dead. He gave no explanation of how they were killed and he did not say where their remains were buried. I asked the Secretary of Stale for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further action the British Government, as one of the guarantor powers, would take to secure further details from Mr. Denktash. On 29 April, the Minister of State replied: Mr. Denktash's remarks bring an opportunity for all concerned to renew their efforts towards resolving this tragic and long-standing issue. I hope that the work of the UN committee on mercy and people can progress speedily, and that all parties will continue to give it their full support. Although I welcome the Minister's sentiments, the British Government have made no commitment to seek a dialogue with Mr. Denktash to discover what happened to the 1,600 people Mr. Denktash says were killed—but whom Turkish Cypriots say were murdered.

At the time of the 1974 invasion, thousands of Greek Cypriots lived in the Karpass area of northern Cyprus. Today, only 500 people live there. Many people have visited the Karpass area, including Lord Finsberg, who went only this year. He has spoken to me about the deep concern that he saw and felt about the denial of human rights to those people. To his credit, he has tried to improve the conditions of the people who live there. I highlight that incident because, in March this year, Members of the European Parliament sought permission from Mr. Denktash to go and visit the area. He refused.

I tabled a question on 1 July to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs asking what discussions he was having with Mr. Denktash. The reply was: The Turkish Cypriot leadership is well aware of our views on the need to revoke the remaining restrictions on the basic freedoms in the Karpass."—[Official Report, 1 July 1996; Vol. 280, c. 278.] That is yet another reason why many of us in the House who genuinely seek an honourable settlement in Cyprus are deeply concerned at the actions of Mr. Denktash.

We are not talking about some faraway country; we are talking about a country that is a member of the Commonwealth and for which this country is one of the guarantor powers. There are many other issues that one could raise. A year ago, I, along with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, initiated a debate on Famagusta—a city today regarded as a ghost town. No one lives there. It was once one of the most prosperous areas of Cyprus. We have had promise after promise over the years from Mr. Denktash that Famagusta will be returned to the Republic of Cyprus. Nothing whatever has happened.

Recently, the Government—I applaud them for this—appointed Sir David Hannay as their special Cyprus envoy. I have met Sir David and I warmly welcome his appointment, but I should like to find out exactly how the Government see Sir David's specific role and how they will respond to his reports and proposals. When I met Sir David some three weeks ago, he gave a clear indication that he intended to play a very active role in seeking an honourable settlement to this long-running tragedy.

I believe, as do many hon. Members, that there is at long last real hope for an honourable settlement in Cyprus. That hope is Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union. The next two countries due for consideration are Cyprus and Malta. In the view of many of us, there is no doubt that, if Cyprus becomes a member of the European Union, benefits will go—as I want—to northern Cyprus. Report after report tells us that the economy in northern Cyprus is on its knees. It gives me no pleasure to say that or know it because, sadly, ordinary men and women suffer as a result of the enormous problems that the economy in northern Cyprus now faces.

I hope that the British Government will give us clear assurances that they will support the application of Cyprus for membership of the European Union. What worries hon. Members on both sides of the House is that, more and more, we get what we term the hedge. The Government say, "Oh yes, we are considering it, but only when there is a settlement." We all want a settlement, but I and many hon. Members believe that there should be no delay in consideration of Cyprus's application for membership. That consideration should be based on the fact that, even if by then there has not been a settlement, the application for EU membership will be determined on its merits. Many of us believe that that is the only criterion that should be followed in the application that Cyprus is making for membership.

As I have said several times in this short speech, Britain has clear responsibilities for Cyprus. We want a settlement for the benefit of the two communities of Cypriots. Whether they are Greek or Turkish, they are Cypriots. We want only one Cyprus, and that is the Republic of Cyprus.

10.54 am
Sir Michael Neubert (Romford)

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this debate on the last day before the House rises for the summer recess. Under the old dispensation, we should argue that the House should not rise before urgent action is taken or pressing decisions are made. That is certainly the case with the matter that I wish to raise this morning, which is the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland, which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 3 July. On 16 July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland issued a consultation paper. The consultation is to be for one month only, until 16 August.

It is almost certain that the decision on this important matter will be taken before we reassemble in October and absolutely certain that the consultation will finish in a little more than three weeks. This is an example of a familiar phenomenon in public life—controversial proposals are put out for consultation in the holiday month of August. Everyone who has concerns about the matter on both sides of the border would need to be on the alert to make sure that their views were made known. I make known my views this morning in this last opportunity here in the House of Commons.

The return of the Stone of Scone has already been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), who was quick off the mark with his Adjournment debate yesterday week. I congratulate him on it. There was undoubtedly an element of surprise in the announcement. When the notice, "Statement: Stone of Destiny" went up on the annunciator screens, like many another I wondered what it could be about. Had the stone been stolen again? There was scarcely eager expectation of the announcement. It was that rare thing in modern politics—a decision that was not the subject of a disreputable leak or flagrant breach of confidentiality. It is a matter for commendation that that was so. Certainly the 700th anniversary this year of the removal of the Stone of Scone gave point to the announcement, and a pretext for it.

I greet the decision with some scepticism. I speak, of course, as a Sassenach—with some temerity, surrounded this morning by Scots—from well south of the border. As a Londoner born and bred, and I cannot see how these matters look from Scotland, but I doubt whether it is possible to rearrange hundreds of years of history by such a gesture.

If I speak briefly of the history of the stone, I do so as a non-historian, drawing heavily on advice. The stone consists of sandstone of a type apparently found in the Scone area and other areas of the world. It is part of the early history that is myth, but it is recorded that in 1249 Alexander III was crowned on the stone. In the late summer of 1296—hence the 700th anniversary of its removal—the stone was removed from Scone. In June 1297, the stone was formally presented to St. Edward, with the other Scottish regalia—the crown and sceptre. A bronze chair to house the stone was ordered, but in 1300 an account was presented for making a wooden chair. There had obviously been some restraint on public expenditure, which has an echo to this day.

A chair was eventually made of wood to house the stone found at Scone on which the kings of Scotland used to be crowned. Every coronation except one since 1399, or possibly as far back as 1307, has taken place in the chair. The only monarch not to be crowned and anointed on the chair was Mary Tudor, who regarded it as tainted by her Protestant predecessor.

That was the stone's early history. Then, in 1328, came the treaty of Northampton, which has been cited as one good reason for returning the stone as an overdue obligation, finally to be fulfilled by our generation. I am told, however, that the treaty of Northampton, made at Edinburgh and later ratified at Northampton, makes no mention of returning the stone.

The English and Scottish copies of the text of the treaty were lost. The 18th century Scottish historian Lord Hailes, in his "Annals of Scotland", attempted to reconstruct the terms from chronicle accounts, but copies of the terms have subsequently been recovered, and Hailes has been shown to have been wrong in some details, including provision for the return of the stone.

It is therefore incorrect to state that the Government are belatedly honouring the terms of a treaty by returning the stone to Scotland. The writ that orders the abbot of Westminster to surrender the stone, which refers to an agreement made at Northampton, refers not to the treaty with the Scots, but to a decision of the English king's council. There were no Scots present at Northampton with whom an agreement could have been made.

I am indebted for that advice to Richard Mortimer, keeper of muniments at Westminster abbey. He says that one of the myths gathering round the stone is that it once bore the inscription: Ni fallat fatum, Scoti, quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem". Fortunately, it is translated as: If the fates go right, where'er this stone is found The Scots shall monarchs of that realm be crowned. That prophecy was held to be fulfilled when James VI was crowned James I of England. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] James left the stone at Westminster abbey, which he also chose as the burial place of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. The presence of the stone at Westminster is therefore symbolic of the Union of the Crown.

For 300 years or so after that, there was nothing of report except that, in 1653, the chair and stone were removed to Westminster Hall for the inauguration of Oliver Cromwell as the lord protector, and then replaced. During the second world war, the chair was removed to Gloucester cathedral and the stone buried in the abbey. In 1950, as we know, the stone was stolen. That is when it enters modern consciousness.

That is the history and the context. Obviously it would be wrong to seek to change a decision already announced by the Prime Minister and approved by Her Majesty the Queen—that is beyond my ambitions or intentions at this or any other time—so I wish to concentrate on the choice of the new location, which I regard as extremely important. One can understand the dismay of the dean and chapter of Westminster. I quote from their official statement on the day of the announcement: as the successor of those abbots of Westminster and Deans and Chapters who have been guardians of the stone for so many centuries, we must continue to urge those who are advising the Queen in this matter to take full account of the symbolic and emotional significance of the stone, its integral connection with the Coronation Chair and its intimate association with the sacrament of Coronation. My purpose is to emphasise the stone's religious associations—an aspect that received little attention at the time of the original announcement. It is appropriate and desirable for the stone to be found a new resting place on consecrated ground, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) in his question to the Prime Minister on 3 July. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside supported that principle in his bid to have the stone returned to Scone in his constituency.

I speak from the standpoint of my role as parliamentary warden of St. Margaret's and a member of the abbey family. Any decision as to the new location must reflect not only the constitutional importance of the stone to the United Kingdom, but the sacred mysteries of the coronation, to which our present monarch memorably and movingly pledged herself at the time of her coronation in 1953.

It is not easy from this distance to suggest where a suitable site might be found. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside suggested that there might be a site near the ruins of Scone abbey. St. Margaret's chapel in Edinburgh castle has been suggested as one option for the future by the Prime Minister. Another option would be St. Giles' cathedral, which I visited for a magnificent organ recital during the Edinburgh festival last August. It would seem most akin to the present position in Westminster abbey.

Inevitably, given its history, consideration of security for the stone will be an important factor, as will an appropriately dignified setting to match the sovereign symbolism of the stone for the Union. I make a plea that tourism be not paramount. It is true that, at Westminster abbey, it is now visited by 2.2 million people a year, a number exceeded only by that of visitors to the tower of London, but I ask that tourism not be the overriding consideration.

It would be nothing short of desecration if a stone that is already to be moved backward and forward between Scotland and England at the time of future coronation were to be lodged insensitively as part of a "Come to Scotland" campaign and not secured in the religious character that is its essence. The stone was, after all, the votive offering to Edward the Confessor of Edward I.

I look to the Government to respect those religious associations and to find a resting place for the stone that reconciles all those different interests and provides a fitting home for that all-important symbol of our historic Union.

11.5 am

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise an issue that has become public in recent days, which intimately concerns many of my constituents—the level of radiation around the old Greenham Common air base and in the rest of my constituency and adjoining constituencies. It is feared that there may now be, or have been in the past, some health risks associated with that radiation.

As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have tabled several questions for written answer to the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Health, which I hope that they will answer. I shall refer to some of those questions today because, although I realise that the Leader of the House may be unable to answer some of them, I hope that he will ensure that the Secretaries of State concerned provide an appropriate answer, with all possible speed, given the profound worries of some of my constituents about those matters.

The issue arose from an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 14 July, when it reported on a leak that had been made to it, apparently by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of a report written in 1961 by two Aldermaston scientists, Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson. They reported at that time that they had found an increased level of uranium and radiation coming from uranium in the area around the Greenham Common air base in a sort of hourglass shape. That suggested that the runway at the air base had been at some point contaminated with uranium, which had been taken up on the wheels or wings of aeroplanes leaving the air base, and thus had been spread in both directions from either end of the air base runway.

Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson said that the contamination must have resulted from some form of nuclear accident on the air base, and the only one that they could highlight was an accident that was known to have taken place on 28 February 1958, when a B47 bomber had to drop two of its fuel tanks; one hit a hangar and the other hit another B47 on the ground. Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson assumed that it must have caused some sort of radiation leak, probably from a nuclear bomb on the bomber. There is considerable evidence that that was not the case, but that information raised understandable worries among many of my constituents.

One of the important questions that needs to be answered is why the Cripps and Stimpson report produced in 1961 was kept secret until it was leaked to The Daily Telegraph. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him to place a copy of the report in the Library, and I am happy to say that he promptly did so. In his letter to me confirming that he would do that, he wrote: I can … confirm that the 1961 report has been reviewed during the course of the day"— on 15 July this year— and we have concluded that it can be downgraded and released to the Public Record Office. It is now much more than 30 years since the report was produced in 1961, so why was it not released to the Public Record Office on 1 January 1992, in line with the normal 30-year rule? There must be some reason why the Government decided that it would not be released at that time. As it was so easily released once it had been leaked and, as those of us who have had a chance to see the report know, as there seems to have been no good reason for keeping the report secret for so long, the Government must say why they kept it secret until last week.

Another report, which is believed to have been written by a man called W. M. Saxby in 1987, also refers to radiation around Newbury and the air base. It is rumoured that, as a result of that report, the Government changed their decision about the classification of the original 1961 report. Why has the Saxby report not been released? Can it now be released to reassure my constituents about its content?

Openness and honesty about both those reports are now required if my constituents' confidence is to be regained. Several questions remain to be answered. What happened during that accident? What was the result of it? Was any uranium involved in the 1958 accident? As there seems to be sound evidence that the bomber may not have had a bomb on board at the time, could a different source of uranium have led to the later contamination of the area, either on the bomber or in the hangar, which was also destroyed? What then happened to the debris from the accident? The hangar was virtually destroyed and had to be taken down and replaced with a new one, and the bomber was burnt out. But what happened to the debris, which may have contained some form of uranium? Was it buried somewhere and, if so, was it buried on the site or elsewhere? What monitoring has since been done to reassure local residents that the debris, wherever it might be, is not contaminated?

It is understood that up to eight reports have been written about the accident by both the British Government and the United States air force. Those should now be made known and copies placed in the Library so that everybody can see exactly what happened, what happened to the remains of the accident, and what further steps are being taken to ensure that they are kept safe.

A further question is: where might the raised levels of uranium and radiation have come from if they did not arise from that accident? The Cripps and Stimpson report found genuinely higher uranium levels than would normally have been expected in the surrounding area. If the Government are to continue with their line, which I have no reason to disbelieve, that the uranium cannot have come from the 1958 accident, which was originally blamed, the question arises as to where that excessive uranium came from. Was there another accident on the Greenham air base that may have caused it? What tests have been carried out since that date to discover whether those high radiation levels still exist and, if so, where they may have come from? Do the Government now propose to carry out further tests, given the increased concern that has now arisen?

My next two questions are about health and illustrate why further tests may now be necessary. A few years ago, there was a scare about a cluster of childhood cancers around Aldermaston and Burghfield, and various epidemiological surveys and tests were done to see how they could have arisen. Although no clear answers came out, the surveys and tests showed a significant increase in childhood cancers in that area. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment investigated the case, but it is not clear whether it knew about the Cripps and Stimpson report and was given the full details of the accident in 1958, which might have affected its decision on how those cancer clusters arose.

Most important in terms of the modern position is that, sadly, there is now a cluster of leukaemia cases in a small section of Newbury town. Three cases in one road alone have arisen within the past few years. Even to a layman, that is an unusually high incidence of leukaemia. Several related diseases seem also to be at comparatively high levels. Whatever happened in 1958 and whatever the Cripps and Stimpson report shows, we must find out whether the high number of leukaemia cases in a small area of Newbury town is significant statistically and, if so, how the cases may have arisen and whether they could be related to the radiation that was previously discovered. What epidemiological and other tests do the Government propose, to see what the causes of an excessive leukaemia rate could be? Naturally, my constituents are concerned that it could be connected to the high radiation levels in the area, so that must be investigated.

For far too long, there has been excessive secrecy over this matter. While that might have been necessary in the cold war days when the report was first produced in 1961, I cannot see why such secrecy should be necessary in the 1990s. Those days are surely gone and now secrecy can only increase my constituents' worry. My constituents now demand truth and honesty. The secrecy must end.

11.16 am
Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)

First, I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the way in which he has conducted the business this year and for the fact that he has been able to give us more notice of what we are to discuss.

I wish to raise three brief points, the first of which is on education. This year's settlement has done great good by getting more money into the classroom. The Government must go further and get even more money out of county halls and into the classroom, and, in what remains of this Parliament, I hope, they will be able to do that by means of the new Education Bill.

I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment all the best in the current discussions on state spending. She attained a good settlement for this year and we want an equally good settlement for next year. When the GCSE and A-level results come out next month, they will show a further improvement. Higher standards in the classroom are Government policy. The higher the standards, the more young people expect to go on to higher education.

I hope that the Dealing inquiry into the future of higher education will not cut across the expectations and hopes of young people and their parents as standards in the classroom rise. With the escalator taking young people into university going up, it would be extremely unfortunate if Sir Ron Dearing came out with a policy that somehow made the escalator go down and that made it more difficult for parents to help to get young people into university. That inquiry is a terrific challenge and it is vital that it recognises that standards in the classroom are going up, which inevitably means more demand for higher education.

Secondly, I raise the issue of the Child Support Agency, which is still not functioning properly. I do not blame Ministers for that but, to paraphrase the former leader of the Liberal party, the former right hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs, Ministers must not create a bomb shelter in which the Child Support Agency can shield itself from the splinters of public criticism. I shall give the House two examples. The first concerns a constituent whose wife left him and went to Australia, leaving him with custody of the children. It has taken a long time and much effort to make the CSA understand that he is responsible for the children and that there can be no maintenance because his ex-wife is living in Australia and has nothing to do with them.

One would think that the CSA could simply check with Bedfordshire local education authority to satisfy itself that the children are registered in Bedfordshire schools and that their father is responsible for them. However, it has taken months to get the message across to the CSA. Last month, my constituent received three contradictory letters within a week from the agency.

My second example concerns a constituent whose daughter went to live with my constituent's ex-husband. He was in employment and not on income support, so that did not trigger the Child Support Agency, and the daughter, who is approaching the age of 18, has been working for 12 months. Therefore, why is the CSA pursuing the mother for maintenance? It will require the patience of the archangel Gabriel and the wisdom of Solomon to resolve that matter. It is just another example of the CSA failing to do its work properly.

As the amount of overtime increases in certain industries, the CSA must be extra careful about calculating the level of maintenance to be paid. I have often told the CSA that overtime is not automatic; it is like the Cheshire cat—now you see it and now you don't. The CSA must not automatically include overtime in the usual weekly wage or the monthly salary when making maintenance calculations. It must be fast-footed and flexible in its calculations.

I hope that the CSA will improve one day. However, after another parliamentary Session during which I have battled on behalf of my constituents, I think that it has a long way to go, first, to attain the standards of public service outlined in the citizens charter; and, secondly, to improve communication channels with the public about its actions in relation to demands for maintenance.

Thirdly, I refer briefly to the extremely difficult industrial disputes in the Post Office and on the tube. I think that we must increase the powers of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in order to resolve those matters. At present, ACAS can intervene only if both parties are willing—it has a semi-voluntary role. Once a case is before ACAS and the parties have agreed voluntarily to refer their dispute to it, two things should occur: industrial action should be suspended together with any management proposals that may have triggered the strike. Both sides of industry should make an equal effort while ACAS tries to resolve the dispute. If the industrial dispute is hopelessly deadlocked with no movement on either side, ACAS should have the power to intervene. If neither side will co-operate, the law should be changed to allow civil action to be taken in the courts and damages awarded.

I think that it will take most of August to resolve those extremely difficult disputes. Public opinion regarding industrial disputes moves slowly, but above all people want to see efforts being made to resolve them. The current disputes will not be resolved in front of the television cameras or on the "Today" programme: they will be resolved only under the umbrella of ACAS, without publicity stunts. I propose a small change in the law that would give ACAS greater powers to intervene. It has been resolving industrial relations disputes for 21 years and I believe that it is time to give it greater powers.

In conclusion, during the remainder of this Parliament the Government must continue to pursue policies that give greater job security, as it is the feeling of job insecurity that is making life difficult for Conservative Members. Post-1949, the Christian Democrats in Germany won five elections in a row because their policies of low inflation and low unemployment proved successful. There is no reason why the Conservative party should not do the same. Our priority must be to ensure that our economic policies give greater job security to all workers. If that can be achieved, we shall wake up on a fine May morning next year and find that the United Kingdom has a fifth Conservative Government.

11.24 am
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) referred to the industrial disputes involving the underground and the postal workers. He could refer them to ACAS until he is blue in the face, but there is one relatively simple solution: treat the workers like those in this place.

For instance, the postal workers are trying to get Saturdays off. At present they must work a six-day week: that is the core of the dispute. Members of Parliament come to this place for four days a week, and 10 Fridays in the year are constituency days—I will not call them days off. Hon. Members do not have to work a six-day week unless they choose to do so. Nobody drags Members of Parliament here, kicking and screaming that they do not want to do the job. Whenever there is a vacancy, there are plenty of people willing to fill it.

If the Government want to act decently, they should say to those involved in the postal dispute, "Why can't the workers have a five-day week like many other people?" It is not asking for the moon. What is more, the postal workers held a ballot and a massive majority voted for industrial action. The same is true of the underground. The main part of the workers' claim is to reduce their working week by one hour. Tories talk about breaking the back of the British economy, but those two disputes are about having Saturdays off and a one-hour reduction in the working week.

It is appalling that we must listen to attacks on the wealth creators in society—the workers—who are asking for relatively small concessions. I would go a lot further. With 4 million people out of work—that is the real figure—we must crack unemployment in Britain. We could do that by opting for a four-day week for everyone. What is the point of having technology coming out of our ears if we are calling upon people to work five and six days a week—as well as overtime—amounting to a 48-hour week or more? We should talk about harnessing that technology to enable everyone to work a four-day week.

Now that I have got that off my chest, I turn to the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee—who has now left the Chamber. He got on his high horse about an hon. Member tabling a question about his constituency. He said that that was terrible: his area was being invaded. I remember speaking not so long ago at Coalite in my constituency, where two farmers had stopped their production because of high dioxin levels. Hey presto, shortly afterwards I looked at the Order Paper and found that there was a question from a Tory Member of Parliament—it was obviously planted—asking the relevant Minister to explain to the House what the dioxin at Coalite was all about. Coalite is in my constituency, but I did not whine or whinge; I know that that is how Parliament works. I have a vague idea—I do not wish to put words into anyone's mouth—that Ministers in the next Labour Government might ask me to table planted questions. I shall tell them to ask someone else, but I am sure that it will happen.

I come now to several issues of which the Leader of the House is aware. He served for some time as Secretary of State for Social Security and he is familiar with many areas that may appear complicated to some people. I refer to the chronic bronchitis and emphysema legislation. The Leader of the House knows that Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Sir G. Lofthouse), who represents a Yorkshire mining constituency, eventually succeeded in getting that legislation on to the statute book. Everyone knows that it does not work exceptionally well. The success rate is only 11 per cent. which is not high by anyone's standards. Thousands of miners who are coughing their lungs up have put in a claim, and only 11 per cent. have been successful.

Loads of us knew immediately that we had to do something about that. Many hon. Members—most of them are in the Chamber now—made representations at different levels. As members of the miners parliamentary group, we met the Trades Union Congress and put forward an argument that we had cobbled together with our hon. Friends. The FEV1—forced expiratory volume—test was not working properly because it provided a better opportunity for someone with a bigger physique than for someone with a smaller physique. The deterioration in lung capacity should not be decided by how big people are, so we said that that should be altered.

We said that it was unfair that people had to work 20 years underground to qualify and that no one on the surface should qualify, because people take in a lot of dust on the surface. We also proposed getting rid of the X-ray, because most people concluded that it was superfluous to the whole exercise. We campaigned on those issues. We took up the matter with the TUC, which took up our demands. It went to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, which the Leader of the House knows only too well. It is generally accepted that, when the council makes recommendations to the Government of the day, they accept them.

Those recommendations have been with the Government probably for the whole of this year, so it is high time that they told us what they are going to do. We believe that they should accept the recommendations. We have reason to believe that they have not accepted all our ideas—I wish they had. Notwithstanding that, we think that they should now be put before the failed recipients.

Yesterday, in Social Security questions, it was drawn to the attention of everyone who has studied the issue that the old-fashioned special hardship allowance, which became the reduced earnings allowance, is in a big administrative muddle. It is clear that a substantial number of people were given the reduced earnings allowance, and they were told by the Government that they had it for life. Now there is a new Government proposal to reduce the amount from roughly £36 to about £9 and to have what is called a retirement allowance. The net result is that people have lost £27, or whatever, out of that £36.

That is a problem in itself. Literally thousands of people in every coalfield are affected, as are people in other industries of course, but we all appreciate that, because of the physical aspects of mining, a considerable number of those affected used to work in the coal mines. They have lost that money.

It is clear that the Government should resolve that problem. I have again a simple recommendation. The Leader of the House knows the facts well. The matter involves part of the Department that he used to run. He should say, "Look. There is only one way to clear this up. Never mind going backwards and forwards to commissioners, appeals and all the rest. The Government have made a mistake and should allow the reduced earnings allowance to continue." I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is listening, because she can make that proposal when the next Labour Government get into power, and tell the putative Chancellor of the Exchequer that we shall need the money.

Many things in social security need to be sorted out by the next Labour Government. I am not expecting them all to be sorted out in the first year. I will be moderate on that issue, but we have been hammered on the social security front. The welfare state has almost been torn apart by the Government. I say that en passant. We shall probably hear a lot more about it from Conservative Members after May, or whenever the general election is, when I shall be sitting in the seat of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath).

There have been strikes by firefighters in Derbyshire, as there were in Merseyside some time ago. As we all know, there is a problem with firefighting and with how much money can go into it. Local authorities have been deprived of money. There have been cuts in Derbyshire in the past six years. The net result is that there are problems in coming to some form of agreement.

I have made it clear that I am on the side of the Fire Brigades Union. That will not surprise many people, but it is a problem. People cannot afford to act the fool when they are talking about people who have to put out fires. Not so long ago, hon. Members talked in the House about the three firefighters who had been killed, all within the space of a few weeks. People were saying that it was terrible. Every time there is a disaster in Britain, people say that the firefighters are doing a wonderful job, that they were first on the scene and all the rest of it.

What I have asked for is simple. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I have asked to meet the Home Secretary to put the case and to try to get the cap lifted by the Secretary of State for the Environment, so that we can resolve the problem and take account of the transition to a new fire authority next year.

With local government changes, it will be a problem not for Derbyshire county council, but for Derby and Derbyshire. Therefore, it is imperative that the firefighters know that, when the new authority comes into being, the financial base will be better than at present.

I compliment the Leader of the House because, when I raised the matter last time, he said that he would consider it and produced a letter from the Home Secretary. I know that he is never out of court and that he is a busy man—he has to keep defending himself; he is a bit of a recidivist. Nevertheless, he sent a letter to me saying that he did not have time to meet me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire.

I thought that it was general practice in this place that, if Members of Parliament made representations to meet a Minister, somehow or other, we would be able to meet him or someone from his Department. We are finding it extremely difficult. We are not on some errand, but trying to resolve the problem. We are trying to put out fires—a different kind of fire—on behalf of the firefighters.

The Leader of the House has gone so far. He has stirred the loins of the Home Secretary. We want the firefighters and Derbyshire county council to have the opportunity to meet the Home Secretary so that they can put their case, with a view to ensuring that the matter is resolved and, when the transitional authority takes over next year, that the financial base can be secure, so that fires can be put out in Derbyshire and elsewhere.

11.37 am
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

It is important that I declare an interest. My interest is in Gilbert and Sullivan. It is important that the House realises that what I am going to say is a direct result of an unashamed interest in preserving for all time the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, which have made an essential and unique contribution to our English national heritage.

Some months ago, the House became aware of the danger—I think it is a new danger—facing the much-loved D'Oyly Carte Gilbert and Sullivan light opera touring company. The problem, when the curtain fell at the end of May, was whether it would ever rise again. The difficulty has simply been how to find some 20 per cent. of the money needed annually to run the D'Oyly Carte. The other 80 per cent.—amounting to £2 million—is raised from box office receipts, from private subscriptions and from local authority support. Just the remaining 20 per cent.—the £500,000—is needed to keep going the D'Oyly Carte company, which has been running for over 100 years.

The problem is that the Arts Council is the proper vehicle for funding the arts—it does a very good job, but it seems to have some failings. It tends to like grand opera, so the Royal Opera House, wonderful work though it does, receives 80 per cent. of its income from the Arts Council and has to raise the remaining 20 per cent. from private sources. On the other hand, the D'Oyly Carte has to raise 80 per cent. privately and needs only 20 per cent. from public subscription. There is a similar story with other companies that favour grand opera. When the Welsh Opera performs Verdi, Puccini and the like, it is favoured rather than Gilbert and Sullivan. Such funding offers grand opera to the privileged and wealthy. I have nothing against that, but those companies are getting the strawberries and cream, by 80 per cent. of public funding for their enjoyment.

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend should not place too much emphasis on the figure of 80 per cent. at the Royal Opera House. He might find, on research, that that figure is not precisely accurate.

Mr. Steen

Obviously, if a former Secretary of State for National Heritage tells me that the figure of 80 per cent. is too high, I bow to his knowledge. The figure may be 70 per cent. or 60 per cent., but it is certainly very high and, in cash terms, the figure received from the taxpayer is about £14 million, whereas the amount given to the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan has, at the highest, been only £30,000 a year and, at the lowest, £15,000.

If the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan are part of our national heritage, perhaps they should be treated a little more generously—perhaps more in line with the grand opera approach of the Arts Council. Tens of thousands of people want an evening's entertainment in a language that they understand. It is no good going to grand opera and listening to Italian, French and German—most of the tens of thousands of people in the provinces want to hear a light operetta in English. From Birmingham to Glasgow and from Coventry to Plymouth, people flood to theatres in their droves and leave feeling better and happier. Whenever I go to see a Gilbert and Sullivan production, I come out in a merry mood, whistling some of the infectious tunes.

Mr. Skinner

Go on—whistle them.

Mr. Steen

I will not whistle one now, although it is tempting.

Gilbert and Sullivan is as much part of the British culture as cream teas, cricket at Lord's or the unpredictability of the weather.

I shall explain what has happened, as I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to understand the facts. I am delighted that the former Secretary of State for National Heritage has not yet had to leave for his doctor's appointment as he can put the facts right if I should get anything wrong in the next few minutes.

The D'Oyly Carte operated without any grants from 1880 to about 1982–102 years. In 1987, the company was reformed, sponsored by private institutions, and given a home in Birmingham, thanks to the generosity of the city council, which has been funding it to the tune of about £250,000 a year, although that grant is decreasing. The Arts Council has argued over the years that it cannot make an award to Gilbert and Sullivan's D'Oyly Carte largely because the Government have reduced its Treasury grant. In effect, whatever it is funding at the moment has to stay, but nothing new can be taken on board. That means that the existing orchestras and other good work must receive preferential treatment, but nothing new can be considered.

I wonder whether that is a correct analysis. I wonder whether the Arts Council is taking the right approach. Whether it is or not, there is a solution to the problem: lottery funds. The Arts Council receives £325 million a year from the national lottery. Many of the people who buy lottery tickets enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan. Can we find £500,000 from that £325 million to keep the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan going? The answer is uncertain—the bureaucracy, rules and regulations surrounding the giving of lottery money are so complex that it has been difficult to see how money can be given to the D'Oyly Carte to keep it going, or to anyone else.

One would be forgiven for thinking that it should be otherwise. One may wonder why 0.5 per cent. of the total of the Arts Council grant from the lottery cannot be given to the D'Oyly Carte. I have been told the reason by the chairman of the Arts Council. Whereas the Arts Council's funds are governed by Treasury rules, lottery awards are covered by different rules that come under the lottery regulations. Rules and regulations seem to be the problem in this case. The plot, which is worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan—perhaps mixed with Whitehall farce—is steeped in bureaucracy. The dramatis personae, which in this case includes Lord Gowrie and the Secretary of State for National Heritage, is peppered with petty bureaucrats proffering little lists that contain certain items. If a company is involved with quartets, madrigals or grand opera, it is on the list, but if a company is involved with low-brow Gilbert and Sullivan, it does not appear on the list. The list excludes popular culture and touring operettas.

We must give encouragement to the Secretary of State for National Heritage and her officials to achieve a little less restrictive regime on lottery funds. To give the Secretary of State her due, she has encouraged the setting up of a stabilisation fund, established to help organisations pay off any outstanding debt and put themselves on to a sound financial footing—we are all for that. I think that it is a splendid initiative, but the trouble is that it is surrounded by more red tape, with more criteria and more rules and regulations. It may take so long before the stabilisation fund comes on tap that the D'Oyly Carte will not be around to benefit.

The officials are also trying to free the lottery money so that some funds can be given to on-going touring operations. At present, the lottery money is precluded from paying for touring operettas or touring companies. To give credit where credit is due, the Secretary of State is trying to release lottery money for things other than buildings. If the D'Oyly Carte had applied for a new theatre to be built, there would be no problem. The problem would involve finding the money to do anything in that theatre.

The Leader of the House should find a way of not allowing the House to adjourn today until we have saved one of the most peculiar and important of our British institutions: the D'Oyly Carte and its Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.

11.47 am
Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) referred to the importance of Gilbert and Sullivan in this country's cultural heritage and I want to speak about something that is important to its natural heritage.

The House may be aware that I have long been interested in hedgerows, the landscape and British wildlife. Hedgerows are important, but unfortunately, over the past 30 or 40 years, we have seen the destruction of thousands of miles of hedgerow. In the 1970s and during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981, I sought to gain protection for hedgerows, but the Government blocked the move. In 1982, with all-party support, I presented a Bill to protect the most important hedgerows in England, but the Government blocked it. Further attempts followed and in 1987, the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, who was guest speaker at the centenary celebrations of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, called for the protection of hedgerows. I was delighted with that call because, as a member of the council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I was to present a Bill in the House that very afternoon to accomplish just that provision.

Unfortunately, on the following Friday, despite the fact that the Bill was supported by Conservative Members as well as by Opposition Members, the Government blocked it, on the instructions of the then Prime Minister, who had called for such protection only a few days before.

Early in 1982, I reawakened interest in the old enclosure hedgerows—or the parliamentary hedgerows, as they are called in some parts of the country—and told the House that such hedgerows seemed to be legally protected. The Minister told me, "Those old laws no longer apply; but they have never been repealed." I made representations to the Minister and inquired of him, "You do realise that you're paying out grants to people to grub hedgerows that may be protected in law?"

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food then moved with enormous speed, ending all grants for grubbing out hedgerows. Trying to put matters right, the Ministry then introduced grants to plant new hedgerows. I welcome that measure, but point out the fact that it may take those new hedgerows a couple of centuries to develop the ecological interest possessed by those that have been grubbed out.

The Government failed to act to protect hedgerows. Furthermore, unfortunately, conservation organisations did not pursue the test case that I had thought desirable. Subsequently, the Government continued to block initiatives by Back Benchers on both sides of the House to protect hedgerows.

In the Environment Act 1995, the Government gave themselves the power to take action to protect hedgerows. Although they have received credit for assuming that power, they have, so far, not earned it by doing anything to implement their power.

About an hour ago, I left the House to make a telephone call, in which I learned that we now have the beginnings of a test case and that we have received a judgment stating that individuals who are concerned about the destruction of hedgerows of parliamentary character—the old enclosure hedgerows—have locus standi. The case was initiated by Mr. Colin Seymour, who has a great deal of experience in this matter, and I have supported it, as has the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, of which I am patron. We have now flushed the matter out into the open.

A few months ago, the Government refused to make a declaratory statement on the matter to confirm the legal position, as they should have done. They will now have to do so, or face a flood of cases across the country.

The House should understand that no one involved in this issue is being Luddite about it. The common land of England was enclosed in the industrial revolution to enable the production of more food for an increasing population. However, when the common lands were enclosed in 4,000 parishes—with each enclosure before 1840 requiring a separate piece of legislation—the landowners who carved up the land between themselves were given not only ownership but an on-going legal responsibility to protect hedgerows for all time. That responsibility applied to them, their heirs and their assignees, and those laws have never been repealed.

The Government's actions have allowed the irresponsible to maintain ownership of that land, and to get rid of the responsibilities and obligations that the ownership entails. The Government cannot continue to ignore that fact.

I had hoped that this would be my last speech in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] NO; the Government should go, and they should go quickly. If there is an early election, this will be my last speech in the House. However, if we do not have an early election—in which case I shall have to make another speech—I hope not only that sensible hedgerow protection is introduced under the 1995 Act, but that the Government will start to act responsibly on the obligations and responsibilities placed on landowners by the 4,000 private Acts of enclosure passed by the House before 1840.

11.53 am
Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will be pleased to know that my wife and I have been busy planting hedges all round our land in Scotland, as some of us do care about hedges.

I believe that the House should consider the constitution of the United Kingdom. In particular, I believe that we should have a debate about the crazy, unworkable and dangerous proposals for devolving power to a Parliament in Scotland. The House should also consider viable and deliverable alternative proposals.

Hon. Members are aware of the Liberal Democrats' proposals for a federal structure, in which Scotland would have a Parliament in Edinburgh, the English regions would have regional Parliaments and Wales and Northern Ireland would have their Parliaments. That is theoretically possible, but, unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats and for others who support a federal structure, the 83 per cent. of the UK population who live in England have, thus far, shown no real interest in such proposals.

In a democracy, there is no viable way in which the minority of the population who live in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can force the vast majority of the population, who live in England, to accept a federal structure against their wishes. Consequently, any proposals for constitutional change must seem viable and be acceptable to the majority of the UK population.

Labour's proposals—which have created great rifts within the party and opposition to the proposals from outside the party—are neither viable nor acceptable. That is why the House should debate the constitution, and, in particular, the relationship between Scotland and England.

I believe that Labour's proposals are dangerous and unworkable. They are also unsaleable in England, because the English voter's right to enjoy the same decision-making structure as Scotland has been ignored totally. Does anyone seriously believe that voters in England—who comprise 83 per cent. of the UK population—will accept Labour's devolution proposals?

In simple language: what devolution proposals does Labour expect 83 per cent. of the population to support at the next general election? It expects English voters to agree to a Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who is a Scot, educated at a fee-paying Scottish selective school, and who is proposing to lead a Government at Westminster. Most of the major portfolios in his Administration are likely to be filled by Scots from Scottish constituencies. The right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is expected to be Chancellor of the Exchequer; the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is expected to be Foreign Secretary; the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is expected to be Secretary of State for Scotland; the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is expected to be the Patronage Secretary and Chief Whip; and the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) may turn out to be the Secretary of State for Transport. Furthermore, the Law Officers and many of the Ministers of State will be Scots from Scottish constituencies.

If that were to happen, English voters would say, with considerable justification, that the Labour Scots are expecting to run Westminster—which would be perfectly legitimate in a unitary Parliament. However, those same voters will find that proposal unfair and unacceptable if that proposed Scottish-run Government also ask them to support proposals for a Scottish Parliament to be run by Scots in Edinburgh.

What about Labour's proposals for a referendum? In my judgment, it is nonsense to pretend that there is any logic in having a referendum on constitutional change without spelling out exactly what the referendum will contain. The details of a referendum are not merely to deal with constitutional anomalies but will be critical in determining how people will vote. The only time to hold a referendum on constitutional change is after Parliament has fully debated the matter and voted a Bill through both Houses—only then will the details be known and only then should the question be put to the people. It is nonsense to pretend otherwise—just a fig leaf to cover Labour's embarrassment.

I believe that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield knows that the package that Labour is proposing is unsustainable and that he understands that it is unsaleable in England. That is one of the reasons for the Opposition's U-turn. As I have outlined, Labour's latest proposal for a two-part referendum is also unsaleable.

English-based voters will not accept that only Scottish-based voters should be allowed to vote for proposals that would allow the Scots to run Westminster, with Scottish Members voting on English law and order, education, local government and other politically sensitive English matters, while English Members would have no say on such matters affecting Scotland. The West Lothian question cannot be ignored. It has to be answered, but there is no answer yet.

To add to the irritation, Labour expects to retain the Goschen/Barnett formula which takes into account sparsity and population numbers in Scotland so that anything up to £1.40 of UK taxpayers' funds can be spent per head of the population in Scotland for every £1 per head spent in England—and the Scots are going to be running Westminster.

Such a notion is unsaleable in England because any party with a majority of Scottish Members could, if it so wished, take all Scottish legislation, including controversial measures, through all its stages in the Scottish Grand Committee. That is the obvious, viable, deliverable and workable alternative. As has recently been shown, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Grand Committee can sit anywhere in Scotland and, with minor changes to the rules, can have UK Ministers attending and participating in debates.

So why is there deemed to be a need to set up a Parliament at great cost—£47 million, I understand—in Edinburgh? That £47 million would be only the beginning and the continuing revenue costs of this unnecessary, constitutionally dangerous Parliament could run into many hundreds of millions of pounds. Why, then, is the Labour party proposing such a badly thought-out scheme and putting the UK constitution at risk? It is doing so for short-term political advantage at Westminster and in Scotland.

No attempt has been made to accommodate the need to reassess the number of Scottish Members of Parliament; nor has any attempt been made to consider the amount of taxpayers' money spent in Scotland. The only way to prevent a damaging and debilitating English backlash is to make all the electors throughout the UK aware of the real hazards of the scheme. The crazy and dangerous proposals should be scrapped. We need a full debate to expose the realities.

I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) here. I believe that the answer to the Northern Ireland situation, which is often brought up as the red herring, lies in giving people there the same structures as the United Kingdom—local government with all the powers and authority that it has in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, it could be in the form of a regional council. With a unitary Parliament, we cannot have one part of the United Kingdom enjoying benefits that other parts do not. That is neither viable nor deliverable.

The 83 per cent. of the UK population living in England must be made aware of the realities of Labour's crazy scheme. Were it ever implemented, not only would the Scots under Labour be seen to be having their cake and eating it, but the English voters would be expected to bake the cake, ice and deliver the cake and pay for it.

We should be aware of the hazards and recognise that there would be an English backlash. I am not suggesting that the backlash will come only from Conservative Members. The British people as a whole have a gut feeling about what is right and wrong—they would know that Labour's proposals are wrong and would not accept them.

12.4 pm

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

This has been an interesting debate. I should like to comment on many issues, but because time is limited, I shall concentrate on a constituency matter, namely a company called LORE, or Land Owners Rights to Enforcement which is involved in wheel clamping on private land.

Wheel clamping is a cause of great concern in my constituency and throughout the Wakefield area. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, people are being allowed to park their cars only to find that, as soon as they leave them, the cars are clamped. LORE is demanding £95, or £100 in one instance, to have the clamp removed. That is extortion and something will have to be done to control such companies which are not registered and which recruit all kinds of people to carry out their work and extort money from unfortunate people.

I had hoped that the matter would be cleared up by the Home Secretary before the recess. I understand that he is aware of the situation and is on record as having promised to consider regularising the way in which wheel clampers operate.

In my constituency on Saturday—market day—three cars were clamped. The municipal car park borders on to the car park of a public house. One car owner had purchased a ticket from the municipal machine because he thought that he had parked in the area run by the local authority. The person involved—a Mr. Robinson—had his car clamped and received a demand for £95 to have it removed. A group of 50 people gathered round to support the claim that those whose cars had been clamped should have the clamps removed free of charge. The police were called because the situation could have become serious. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are aware of the problem which has affected your constituents.

In a further case, Mrs. Mountain who lives in my constituency went to buy a ticket only to find that her car had been clamped when she returned to it. The people who carry out such operations are often large and heavy and are frightening in themselves. Something needs to be done because the situation becomes serious when people say that they will not allow clampers to get away with it.

Indeed, a constituent of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, took the initiative only last week. Her car was clamped but instead of waiting for the clamping company to tow it away, she towed it away using her own tow vehicle, had the clamp removed and demanded £95 from the clamping company for the clamp's return. I regard that as true initiative but it is dangerous because the heavies—the people employed by LORE—demanded the lady's home address and telephone number, which she refused to give. She regarded that as intimidation.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) spoke about intimidation and extortion in Northern Ireland. It is being used by wheel clamping companies in our local communities. I hoped that we could have found a solution or at least asked the Home Secretary do something about this dirty business before the House goes into recess. Sadly, that will not happen, but hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that something must be done about companies that are not registered.

Wheel clamping companies should be registered with the local authority and there should be reasonable charges. I am not suggesting that there should be no charge, but £95 is totally unreasonable. If a car is towed away, a further charge of £25 per day is imposed. The House must address that issue and find a solution.

12.10 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

We have had a useful debate with a high level of interest on both sides of the House. Therefore, there has been a great demand on time and some hon. Members who are present have not been able to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) was particularly disappointed that he was unable to discuss the catastrophic £32.5 million deficit faced by his local health authority.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is well known that I am the only hon. Member who speaks for an entire county and represents more than 100,000 constituents. It is also well known, as it has been in the media, that I represent the only seat in the House where there has been a serious call for devolution and independence from the United Kingdom constitution. It is a matter of the utmost regret that the House has not found time to allow me to debate that issue today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse)

That may be so, but it is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mrs. Taylor

Notwithstanding that, we have had a useful debate and many hon. Members have raised important issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) opened the debate and it was no surprise to the House that once again he raised his long-term concern with the difficulties facing disabled people. I hope that the House continues to focus on those issues when my right hon. Friend retires. He has served the House well by drawing those matters to our attention on numerous occasions.

Other hon. Members also mentioned long-term problems, including those in their constituencies. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) mentioned Bart's and the health service in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) mentioned hedgerows and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) mentioned the Child Support Agency, which is becoming a long-term problem. Despite all the assurances that matters are improving, most hon. Members know from their case work that many problems remain in respect of the CSA. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them today.

Other hon. Members have raised topical issues. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) spoke about wheel clamping. He gained the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House when he described the outrages that are well known to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) spoke about issues that he has raised previously. I am thinking particularly about what he said about airport safety. As he said, had the lessons, of Lockerbie been learnt, perhaps the events of the past few weeks might have been different.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) asked the Leader of the House for a constitutional debate, if not during Prorogation, early next Session. He gave the Government an extremely mature warning about the misuse of backwoodsmen in another place. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Asylum and Immigration Bill. The vote in another place on the amendment that concerned him would have been very different had it been a vote of life peers and not hereditary peers. The same applies to the decision affecting Ministry of Defence housing. He was right to caution the Government against playing into the hands of those who want to reform the House of Lords. Every time the Government get their way by dragging in every hereditary peer who is entitled to vote, the result is often different from the will of the life peers and that does not serve the Government well. I commend him for making that warning.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I referred not just to life peers, but to hereditary peers who regularly attend the House of Lords.

Mrs. Taylor

On both occasions, the attendance was much greater than usual.

Perhaps the most topical issue this morning was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who mentioned the Premier club and the role of Mr. John Beckwith. It is urgent and important that before the House rises there should be a statement on the role of Mr. Beckwith in the sale of Ministry of Defence housing and the possible sale of social security property—an initiative that seems to have come from Mr. Beckwith himself. The value of the properties is reported to be £2.5 billion. Therefore, there are massive implications for the taxpayer and for the reputation of politicians.

We know from the Sunday newspapers that Mr. Beckwith is also chairman of the Premier club, which solicits donations to Tory party funds of up to £100,000 from very rich business men in return for contact with Ministers up to and including the Prime Minister—hence the title Premier club. At the same time, Mr. Beckwith is having discussions with management advisers to the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Secretary of State for Defence and urging the sale of all that property to consortia which he leads. That puts Ministers in an intolerable position as there is a conflict of interests. It also raises some important issues that should be addressed before the House adjourns for the summer recess. It demonstrates how much wiser it would have been to refer the issue of party political funding to the Nolan committee as soon as possible rather than delaying until after the next election.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) raised another topical issue that concerns both sides of the House. He was concerned about defence procurement. There is real concern that has been mentioned almost on a daily basis over the past two weeks that the Government have not yet announced their decisions on three vital contracts—the hon. Gentleman mentioned one of them. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are in jeopardy and there is great uncertainty within the armed forces. Ministers previously gave the impression that announcements would be made before the summer recess, but it now appears that the Chancellor is blocking decisions or announcements on those contracts.

I raised the matter at business questions, as did Conservative Members, yet we have not had a decision. There is great concern that the decision will be made without hon. Members having the opportunity to question Ministers. It would be unfortunate were such a decision to be made immediately the House goes into recess. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House raised that important point. Indeed, Conservative Members, as much as Labour Members, have said in this debate that several decisions are imminent—whether they be on the funding of London hospitals, defence procurement, or the Stone of Scone, to which the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) referred. We have been told that decisions are imminent but that they will not be announced in the House. I do not think that that is satisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East speculated on what it will be like when the House returns in October and said that we shall have a very sparse Queen's Speech that might be no more than an outline of the Conservative party's manifesto. I am not sure whether we shall return for more than a formal Prorogation in the autumn because I would not be surprised if, effectively, today were the last day of this Parliament before the election. I certainly hope that that is so. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would consider it beneficial to everyone if a phoney Session did not begin in October.

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

It will not surprise the House to learn that I do not intend to be tempted too far by the remarks by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I assure her that the Queen's Speech will not be phoney. I have spent a great deal of time on it. It will be a good, solid Queen's Speech, containing measures that we intend to carry through for the benefit of the people of this country.

The remarks by the hon. Member for Dewsbury represent only one of the temptations with which I am faced at the end of this debate, which has been the most extensive of its kind that we have yet had. If I count the point of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) as something akin to a speech and include my speech, we will have reached an historic high of 20 hon. Members taking part in this debate. That leads me to the first of various temptations. I wonder—it is very dangerous to do so in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and certainly totally against my own interests—whether the opportunity provided by this debate would not be rather a good use of a number of Wednesday mornings. Although it is perhaps not appropriate to consider that now, it has been observable that we have had a very good debate and hon. Members have valued the opportunity to raise a variety of issues.

Were there not a risk of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) thinking that I might be flippant, which is the last thing that I would wish to be on the subject that he raised, I would be tempted to say that no stone has been left unturned in this debate. Certainly no hedgerow was left unexplored in what we all fervently hope will not be the last speech by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy).

I see that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is not present. I personally thought that his speech was rather outside the normal tone and terms of this debate. A large part of his speech rested on the proposition that this place was dead, yet it has seemed very much alive this morning, which, in a sense, disproves what he said at the outset. His pretty extraordinary speech, on which the hon. Member for Dewsbury sought to build and which was effectively demolished by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, was apparently based on attacking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for taking a position with which the hon. Gentleman declared that he agreed. I do not understand quite what he thought that he was at. He also succeeded, as did one or two others, in referring to devolution in the presence of the author of the West Lothian question without seeking to address it in any way, shape or form.

Leaving aside such points, I am faced this morning with an even more impossible task than usual because I have been invited to range across the entire future of the British constitution by my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for North Tayside (Mr. Walker). When I put together the remarks by the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and one or two others, I realise that I have also been invited to range virtually across the entire British foreign policy—all in less than 10 minutes.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow knows very well that the Government have very strong objections to the United States' extra-territorial legislation, which is one of the things to which he referred. I assure him that, although we share the United States' desire to promote political and economic reform in Cuba, we differ fundamentally on the means by which to achieve it. I cannot comment on all the points that he made, but I shall of course ensure that his particular point on airport security is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The hon. Member for Tooting is an indefatigable contributor to our debates because of his experience in many parts of the world. I cannot range over the whole situation in Cyprus, but I am grateful to him for recognising that Sir David Hannay's appointment as our special representative is a sign of our determination to help reinvigorate the settlement process.

I briefly touched on the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, but I should also say that he knows that consultation is going on about the future location of the stone. I am quite sure that his remarks will be taken carefully into account in the course of that consultation.

Since the issues that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) raised have by and large been the subject of extensive discussion and correspondence in various ways, he will not be surprised to learn that I am not in a position to add to what has been said on earlier occasions about the Bill to which he referred or, the unhappy—indeed, tragic—problem of haemophiliacs.

On the legal case concerning Gloucestershire county council, the Government are considering the judgment and its implications. Leave to appeal to the House of Lords has been granted and the Department of Health will consider whether to revise any of its guidance—which was of course the right hon. Gentleman's request—in the light of the House of Lords judgment. In any case, we shall shortly be discussing the details of the case with the local authority associations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) asked a specific question. I have an answer in front of me and I shall simply read it. Whether he regards it as an answer is a matter for him to judge, but we can no doubt return to it if he does not. It says that, in line with the investment appraisal process used throughout all NHS trusts, the final costs of the project to which he referred will not be known until the full business case has been produced. That will take into account the details of bids received from potential private sector partners in September and continuing discussions with the purchasing authority.

However, the trust is confident that the costs will be in line with those in the outline business case. That is certainly a relevant comment that my right hon. Friend will want to consider very carefully.

A number of references have been made to defence procurement. Although I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when questioned about the matter yesterday, I assure the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in particular that I will ensure that the concerns and interest that he expressed on that front, together with the comments that he made on others, are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other right hon. Friends as appropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised a constituency case, and I well understand that. He had kindly given me notice of it. I must repeat that, as all hon. Members know, it is not possible for Ministers to intervene in judges' decisions. In view of what he said, however, I shall specifically ask for his speech to be drawn to the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

I shall ensure that the remarks by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) are carefully studied. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has asked the National Radiological Protection Board to undertake an independent inquiry into the contamination levels in the area to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It might also be possible for the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, which has a wide-ranging brief, to take account of any new information that arises concerning the position in his constituency.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) recognises that it is no more possible for me to range across the entire education policy than it is for me to do so on foreign policy and the constitution. I have, however, noted with care his remarks, which I thought were interesting on that front as well as on industrial relations.

I thought that the usual knockabout by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was quite good this morning. As ever when he gets to constituency matters, he made some important points, but I am not in a position to comment on them in detail. I am sorry that my success in getting him a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has not satisfied his appetite. His appetite for a meeting remains and I shall ensure that the matter is drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

As for the IIAC recommendations, with which, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am familiar, he slightly exaggerated the amount of time the Government have had to consider the proposals. As I understand it, the report was given to Ministers in March and published in May. These are complicated matters; a response will be made once all the issues raised have been given full and careful examination.

Lastly—I am doing rather well having referred already to hedgerows—I note the strong support for the D'Oyly Carte expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). I know that the company is in the middle of complex commercial negotiations on its future, and I do not intend to comment further.

As for hedgerows, section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 requires that regulations be subject to consultation and approval by both Houses before they can come into effect. We expect to publish draft regulations for consultation later this summer, with the aim of laying the regulations before Parliament by the end of the year.

Apart from wheelclamping, which I shall bring to the attention of the Home Secretary as he is familiar with the problem, I believe that I have now touched on every subject raised this morning.

Back to