§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Burns.]9.34 am
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me to open the debate. My purpose this morning is to draw attention to a grave injustice and to secure for its victims the humane ministerial response they crave. I hope that the Leader of the House will assist them, as I know he will want to do if he can, by asking the Secretary of State for Health for a helpful statement to incorporate in his reply to this debate.
Some wrongs are so patently clear that we ought not to have to campaign to put them right. One of the most glaring today is the unmerited extra suffering inflicted on people with haemophilia who were infected with hepatitis C by NHS treatment. They were prescribed under the NHS—3,100 of them—contaminated blood products to correct the severe bleeding that people with haemophilia have to endure.
Hepatitis C attacks the liver and is potentially 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 and liver cancer. More than 50 of those infected by contaminated NHS blood products have already died and the death rate is accelerating.
Deaths caused by "new" Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease— CJD—cases are running at the rate of five a year. That is fewer than the deaths from hepatitis C caused in the past year by NHS treatment. In the case of CJD, there is no suggestion of NHS involvement; but if those infected with hepatitis C by contaminated NHS blood products had received even a thousandth of the media attention given to the CJD cases, there would be an insistent public demand for Ministers now to meet their plea for help.
This huge 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 there had been mass infection among them with hepatitis C. In recognition of the scale of the tragedy, the Haemophilia Society launched a campaign in March 1995 for financial and medical help for those infected.
It is much to the credit of this House that there were right hon. and hon. Members of every party who immediately pledged their support and, as the Leader of the House will know, more than 260 Members of Parliament have now signed my early-day motion backing the campaign. Anyone who looks at its list of signatories 210 will see that the issue is treated by the motion not as one between right and left in this Chamber, but of right and wrong. Of very special help in promoting the motion has been the active involvement of the hon. Members for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—who co-chairs with me the all-party group of Members of Parliament now assisting the campaign—and of my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) and for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). I want to emphasise here that no one could possibly have done more to promote the cause we have espoused than the hon. Member for Hendon, South.
To sustain its campaign, the Haemophilia Society recently published the results of in-depth research into the problems and needs of people who were infected but are not yet seriously ill. The report, sent to the Department of Health, documents the damaging impact of hepatitis C not only on individuals but on whole families. It focuses on medical, social and financial problems and makes frightening reading. In case study after case study families are seen trying to cope with sickness, loss of income, loss of jobs and loss of independence. Individuals with the disease, while trapped in an uphill struggle to maintain their families, have to live day by day with what they know could soon become a terminal illness.
One of the most urgent needs now is financial help to loosen the vice of reduced earnings and increased costs. That is why the Haemophilia Society is calling urgently for cash grants from the Government for those infected and the dependants of those who have already died.
The society's plea does not, however, stop there. It seeks funding for appropriate treatment and counselling as well as clear guidance from the Department of Health on the management and treatment of hepatitis C. Again, more research by the Government is requested. While £1 million has been put aside for research into the prevalence, transmission and natural history of the virus, the Haemophilia Society also wants to see research into treatment therapy, more particularly combination therapy.
Other pressing needs are for a public education programme to explain the facts and dispel the myths about hepatitis C; and for the funding of recombinant clotting factors to replace plasma-derived products that caused not only the hepatitis C infection but the HIV infection among people with haemophilia. It is emphasised by the society that recombinant products are free of the risk of blood-borne viruses and would thus exclude any third tragedy for the haemophilia community.
The call for help from those with hepatitis C has to be seen in the context of what was done to assist the 1,200 people with haemophilia who were infected with the HIV virus by NHS treatment. The hepatitis C infection took place at the same time as the HIV infection. The cause was the same: contaminated blood products used in their treatment. The effect can be equally deadly. Yet those infected with hepatitis C and their dependants now receive nothing from a Government who provided £70 million in financial support for those infected with HIV and instituted a hardship fund—the Macfarlane fund—to give continuing support. The Government accepted their moral responsibility in the case of HIV. Now they have the same responsibility in the case of hepatitis C.
The fate of three brothers says it all about the depth of the injustice to the 3,100 people with haemophilia who were infected with hepatitis C. All three brothers had 211 haemophilia. Two were infected with HIV by NHS treatment and the other with hepatitis C. All have subsequently died from the infections. The brothers with HIV received financial help from the Macfarlane trust and so were able to make some provision for their families. The brother who died from hepatitis C went to his grave having been denied financial help. He was thus unable to make any provision for the future well-being of his family. All three brothers became terminally ill. All died as a result of infection through NHS treatment, yet only two received help. For anyone to call that fair or even tolerable is to bark not just up the wrong tree, but in the wrong forest.
It may be argued that compensating the people infected with hepatitis C would take money away from patient care in the NHS. But in the case of HIV the payments made to those infected came from contingency moneys and this is what the Haemophilia Society is asking for now in the case of hepatitis C. It simply wants the terms of reference of the Macfarlane trust to be extended to include those infected with hepatitis C. Its claim is an extremely modest one measured against the pain and suffering inflicted on those for whom the contaminated blood products were prescribed and their families.
While representatives of the Haemophilia Society have been given a sympathetic hearing at a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), the Government have still to respond to its report about the damaging effects of the contamination on its victims. But Ministers can no longer claim not to know what needs to be done and it is now their bounden duty to act. If they will not do so and the campaign for recompense has to go on, then go on it will and with renewed urgency until justice is done.
§ Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
Before the House rises for the Whitsun recess, we need to be reassured that the Government fully appreciate what the European Court of Justice has done, is doing and will—unless stopped— continue to do to the powers and laws of this justifiably proud nation state.
At last, the extent of the powers that we have allowed the court to have is being brought home to us all. We are to pay £30 million in compensation to Spanish fishermen who took and used British quota through the simple device of buying British-registered ships, which this British Parliament specifically said should not happen when we passed the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. We are threatened with an absurd 48-hour limit on the working week, which nearly all of us will have to follow despite the Prime Minister's specific and conceded opt-out of the social chapter at Maastricht. The ban on our worldwide export of probably the safest beef in the world is said by our European partners to be in accord with powers vested in them by the treaty of Rome, which they expect to be upheld by the European Court of Justice, which overwhelmingly supports the European Union against the nation states throughout Europe, not only Britain.
It is now becoming clear, although the matter does not receive much coverage in the media, that we have acquiesced in the creation of a power-hungry mechanism that appears programmed to destroy our national 212 sovereignty widely, deeply and permanently. This is not the thing we thought it was, and it is certainly not the thing we expected or wanted it to be when we voted to join, and when we voted to stay in, the Common Market.
We were told in the judgment of a court case in 1992:As the Court of Justice has consistently held, the Community treaties established a new legal order for the benefit of which the States have limited their sovereign rights, in ever wider fields, and the subjects of which comprise not only the member-States but also their nationals. The essential characteristics of the Community Legal Order which has thus been established are in particular its primacy over the law of the member-States and the direct effect of a whole series of provisions which are applicable to their nationals and to the member-States themselves.That is news to most of us.
Of course we knew when we joined, and when we decided to stay in, that we had surrendered some sovereignty to a trading bloc, and we knew and accepted the need for a court to ensure that there was an even application of Community law and to protect the nation states from abuse of power by Community institutions. But we did not realise that we were subjecting ourselves to a court that practised what the former warden of All Souls, the distinguished lawyer Sir Patrick Neill, called "creative jurisprudence"—interpreting conflicts expansively instead of restrictively, as our courts are accustomed to do.
The European Court of Justice has been steadily interpreting the treaty of Rome so that it is made to say what no one thought it said. The reason is that it has been acting less like a court of justice and more like a court with the political mission of political union. The court set out its new status in the passage to which I have already referred. The role of the court has changed: it used to operate in "a limited field", but it is now operating in "ever-wider fields". The European Court of Justice believes that the treaty has empowered it to become the engine of a federated super-state, a united states of Europe to be served by a supreme court. The purpose of a supreme court is to serve the written constitution of a state. It has become the powerhouse of that united state.
Sir Patrick Neill QC, in an address to the European research group—which is led by my hon. Friend the Member for South Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer)—said:A court with a mission is a menace. A supreme court with a mission is a tyranny.That prompts the question: do we need such a court? The European Economic Area treaty achieves free movement of goods and services, competition and deregulation without the need for a supreme court. The general agreement on tariffs and trade functions without the need for a supreme court. It is enough to have a simple procedure for settling disputes.
It is no surprise—with the philosophy of a supreme court to serve the constitution of a political union operating over and above nation states—that the European Court of Justice, which consists mainly of civil servants and academics from different political cultures and traditions, has been overruling our courts. It has been telling our courts what they must do and it has even been trying to overrule our democratically elected Parliament. Like pac-men, the European Court of Justice has been busy gobbling up the powers of nation states.
How has that position been developing? I shall give some examples. First, the European Court of Justice has altered the powers allocated to it—it operated in "limited 213 fields", but it is now operating in "wider fields". Secondly, the court has said that the treaties make rights and duties directly applicable to individuals without any need for national laws to authorise them—there was nothing about that in the treaties. Thirdly, it has ruled that a treaty has to be interpreted not merely according to the wording of its provision, but by reference to what it considers to be the spirit of the provision. That is dangerous and we pointed out that reliance would be placed on the preamble, which is a process that we do not accept in this country. We had long debates about Maastricht in the Chamber.
Fourthly, the European Court of Justice has held that directives, which the treaties do not make binding, must also have direct effect without the need for legislation to be passed by national legislatures. Fifthly, it has invented an action for damages against any state that is impertinent enough to fail to implement a directive—there is nothing in the treaties about that. Sixthly, the European Court of Justice now asserts a power to limit the retroactive effect of its judgments—again, there is no such power in the treaties.
Seventhly, the European Court of Justice is not satisfied with all that law making, and it is hungry for more power: it has extended its jurisdiction so that it can review the legality of decisions made by the European Parliament— there is nothing about that in the treaties. Eighthly, the European Court of Justice now allows the European Parliament to challenge the acts of the Council of Ministers—if that is not changing the law while pretending to interpret it, I do not know what is. As a result of that, the powers had to be enshrined in the Maastricht treaty.
Ninthly, the European Court of Justice has expanded its jurisdiction to rule on the decisions of the body that decides on association agreements between the European Union and other states, such as Turkey—there is nothing about that in the treaties. Tenthly, it has decided that it could assist in criminal investigations by national courts— there is nothing about that in the treaties. In 1992, it decided that national courts could be allowed to declare Community actions valid, but that they could not declare Community actions invalid. And so it goes on.
It appears that we must now be bound by a retrospective law, contrary to our traditions, and that we must pay ship money to those who, by any test of common sense, are not entitled to it. If we do not act, that will continue to go on and on.
What can be done? The Government's White Paper recognises that change is necessary, and I suspect that it has the complete support of every hon. Member.
The few Europhiles in the Chamber and in the country often say that the Euro-sceptics—who overwhelmingly want to see Britain remain in the European Union; there are very few Euro-sceptics who want to see Britain pull out of the European Union—are a minority. That is rubbish. The Euro-sceptics are an overwhelming majority not only on Government Benches and, I suspect, on Opposition Benches, but in the country at large.
There will be support for the Government's White Paper recommendations. There is reference to the functions of the court being further improved, to judgments giving cause for concern and to the European Court of Justice interpretation sometimes going beyond what was intended. The White Paper suggests that 214 damages should be only for serious breaches, that retrospectivity should be limited and that time limits should be introduced for the bringing of cases. It suggests that an internal appeals procedure should be introduced, subsidiarity clarified and procedures streamlined.
But limiting the expansion of powers is one thing; we need to cut back on the current powers of the court. On 24 April, the Prime Minister said to the Institute of Directors:I can tell you … I have no intention whatsoever of going down the route to a federal Europe.On 11 May, the Prime Minister told the Scottish party conference:Yes, Britain must be a part of Europe and a partner of Europe, but a Europe of nations, not a united states of Europe, not a federal Europe. Once again I make this pledge: while I am Prime Minister, if others should opt for such a Europe, Britain will not be part of it.Hon. Members will be heartened by those statements and their application to the European Court of Justice. We look forward to the memorandum that will set out in detail the proposals laid down in the White Paper. However, we must go further than the Government envisage. We should be able to see which judges are being too political or are acting in the national interests of their country, so the court's proceedings and the judges' reasons should be published. Why is that not being done already? We should require judges of the European Court of Justice to be more than just civil servants and academics. They should have experience as judges in their countries—only four out of the 15 present judges have such experience.
We should ensure that European law is no longer directly applicable to individuals and businesses within the European Union unless the nation states so legislate. Such a rule would prevent the European Court of Justice from extending European Union competence without the consent of the nations. If that extension is not halted, we shall not prevent the march towards a federal Europe to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is so opposed. The European Court of Justice must be denied all legislative functions. We must amend the 1972 treaty—by agreement if possible—to restrict the court's powers and to stop future expansion. We must do all that we can to ensure that the powers of the nation states are restored.
A great deal of work must be done in order to restore Britain's powers. Harsh conclusions must be drawn not just by lawyers, but by politicians. The agreement of our European partners—who are rooted in different legal cultures and have different political aims—may not come easily, and action by Britain alone may put at risk our membership of the European Union. However, it is clear that the British people are angry about the loss of national power and control. They require their democratically elected representatives to do something about it, and the political party that acts to protect national sovereignty will be more likely to benefit from their gratitude.
There is no clearer starting point than limiting the pac-man tendency of the European Court of Justice. Before the Whitsun recess, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to give an assurance that the Government are contemplating precisely that sort of action.
§ 10.1 am
§ Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) began this morning's debate 215 by raising a matter of injustice. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) has spoken—I thought somewhat unconvincingly—about restoring power to nation states and reducing the influence of the European Court of Justice. I, too, wish to raise a case of gross injustice but, regrettably, it concerns an area where injustices are the norm rather than the exception and where the majority of people are desperate for the services of a free court of justice.
I refer to a case involving my constituent Adefolahan Mokuolu, who is a British citizen. On 23 April, he visited Nigeria for the first time and he was abducted from his father's home in Anthony village, Lagos, by members of the Nigerian special security forces. He has been held virtually incommunicado from that date, at what I believe are the forces' headquarters at 2 Park lane, Apapa. An appalling case becomes doubly so when one learns that my constituent is 13 years old.
When my constituent's mother alerted me of the incident on 9 May this year, I immediately contacted the Nigeria desk at the Foreign Office, and the officers were extremely helpful in contacting consular officials in Lagos. I also alerted the acting high commissioner at the Nigerian high commission in London, Mr. Okeke. As yet, I have received no positive response from him other than confirmation that he sent a copy of my fax to headquarters in Lagos.
My constituent was born on 1 March 1983 at St. Mary's hospital, Hackney. He attends a school in St. John's Wood. He is passionate about football. He is a British citizen who was on his first visit to Nigeria. He loved the country. He met his mother's relatives for the first time and he enjoyed the company of a large, extended Nigerian family. The Nigerian Government argue that, because both of his parents are Nigerian citizens, my constituent has dual nationality and they have therefore twice denied British consular officials access to him. That is absolutely appalling.
On the first occasion that British consular officials presented themselves at 2 Park lane, Apapa, the special security forces denied that my constituent was being held. On the second occasion, consular officials arrived at the same time as one of the uncles of my constituent who had taken food to the boy during his incarceration. Access was again denied to British consular officials, and my constituent's uncle was warned that if he made any attempt to approach those officials, his life would be in danger.
When I inquired of my constituent's mother why she thought that her son had been abducted in that heinous manner, she said that it was because his father is the cousin of a previous Nigerian President, Major-General Odasanja. It is totally unacceptable that a 13-year-old boy who probably has no interest in the politics of his own country—the United Kingdom—could be deemed to be interested or active in the politics of Nigeria. It is also totally unacceptable that he is still being held virtually incommunicado.
On 16 May, the boy's uncle was allowed to see him. I have since heard that the special security forces are feeding my constituent, who has his own room, and I understand that they are washing his clothes. However, no one is allowed to see him without a guard being present.
216 It is not acceptable that a 13-year-old British citizen, who has been raised as a British citizen and who regards Britain as his home—which it is—should be incarcerated in that way. I am grateful for the assistance that I have received from the Nigeria desk and the Foreign Office. I have alerted the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to the conditions in which my constituent is being held.
I felt initially that British consular officials in Lagos were not responding as energetically and persistently as I desired. However, they are now pursuing the case. I appreciate the difficulties faced by all consular departments in attempting to deal with a regime that has little or no regard for human rights or civil liberties. I urge the Leader of the House to make even stronger representations to his right hon. Friends, that the case be placed at the top of the list for action by consular officials in Nigeria. Representations about the case should be made not only to other Commonwealth Governments, but to our European allies.
When I received information that my constituent's uncle had been threatened by the special security forces and warned not to attempt to contact British consular officials, I was doubtful as to whether it was wise to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. We are a long way from Nigeria, but it would be entirely possible for that brutal regime to punish my constituent's relatives if it so chose. Therefore, I attempted to obtain as much impartial advice as I could.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who put me in touch with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association secretariat. I cannot speak too highly of the assistance that it gave me in contacting other members of the Commonwealth and introducing me to expatriate Nigerians. They all advised me to speak out in the House and alert hon. Members to the gross abuses that are being visited upon a British citizen of such a tender age, who is so far from home and on his first visit to that country. I am sure that everyone will find the painful story that I have related this morning both shocking and unacceptable.
I hope that the Leader of the House can reassure me that every effort will be made by the Foreign Office and consular officials to restore my constituent to his home in the shortest possible time. His mother, Mrs. Christine Mokuolu, flew out to Nigeria last Sunday so that she could be closer to her son. As yet, I have no news that she has been allowed to visit him, but I sincerely hope that that will be the case—and that such pressure as can be brought to bear on the Nigerian authorities will ensure that Mrs. Mokuolu and her son will be allowed to return to their home as soon as possible.
§ 10.9 am
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
I want to raise two unfinished pieces of business before the House adjourns for the spring bank holiday recess. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will recall that my speech last Thursday on the beef crisis was—for reasons that I perfectly understand— terminated mid-sentence by you, as I was reflecting on the consequences of the ban on British beef for our relations with the European Union. Happily, I not only have the opportunity to return to that subject this morning but do so in the light of the important statement yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
217 Nye Bevan said 40 or 50 years ago that Britain was an island built of coal and surrounded by fish. If he had been more of a countryman, he might have said also that it was a nation of beef eaters, and coal, fish and beef have dominated this Parliament well beyond the point of representing the interests of the communities immediately affected. When we dealt with the coal issue four years ago, I received several hundred letters from my constituents, many of them Conservative supporters, even though there is not a coal mine anywhere near Taunton or Somerset. That response reflected the fact that coal was a traditional industry. Similarly, my constituency is landlocked but my constituents have a considerable interest in the way in which this country appears to have been done down over the handling of the common fisheries policy.
Concern about the beef industry extends far beyond the people in farming or the food industry, who are most affected. The public realise that, even though we are about to enter the third millennium, our traditional industries are still established sources of British strength and economic power. When my speech was terminated last Thursday, I was about to reflect that the sole casualty of, in part, the beef ban would be support by Conservative Members and the public, particularly in the countryside, for Britain proceeding in the foreseeable future to European monetary union. The point would be crudely put that, if we cannot trust our European partners to take account of our interests in such a limited matter—but important to us—as the beef industry, surely we cannot allow Europe's collective thumb to be placed across our economic windpipe.
My view is reinforced by arguments that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has used in private and in public as to the difficulties inherent in a speedy, and perhaps botched and limited, monetary union; by the impressive article in The Times yesterday by Professor Nöolling, who served on the Bundesbank council between 1982 and 1992; and by not only small firms—which have always been aware of the risks to this country of proceeding to monetary union and a single currency—but larger companies.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government have been unjustly accused in the press of dithering in respect of the beef crisis. I said yesterday to my right hon. Friend that the Government have exercised great patience with our European partners. British Ministers wanted time and again to let our European partners resolve the issue by diplomacy and negotiation. Our hopes have been raised at least six or seven times, only to be dashed a day or two later. I understand the legal restraints on Britain taking trade or financial reprisals, so I welcome yesterday's statement as being within the bounds of law—and it seems from today's reaction that it will have a suitably disruptive effect on European Union procedures over the next month. That will give our partners a considerable incentive to resolve the matter in a sensible and civilised way. It was clear yesterday that the Leader of the Opposition was uneasy about how to respond.
Some people argue that the intentions expressed in yesterday's statement will make matters worse, but I do not agree. If it does make matters worse, that will be largely up to our European partners. If they settle in for a long siege, so be it. They must remember the strong political feeling engendered in this country over the past 218 eight weeks in addition to the existing discontents with the European Union—one of which was spelt out this morning by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in his impressive and scholarly speech. Fisheries policy is another. I find that, in my constituency—and I suspect that my hon. Friends have similar experiences—supporters who have worked hard for Conservative Members of the European Parliament and for the European cause in the past are joining the ranks of the most critical.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
Has my hon. Friend seen the report in today's Financial Times that the European Parliament's administrative budget has risen from 596 million ecu in 1994 to a proposed 934 million ecu in 1997—an increase of 56.7 per cent? Does not my hon. Friend regard that as grossly extravagant and demonstrating that there is no desire in that organisation to control costs?
§ Mr. Nicholson
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and leads me on to my next point.
Our European partners must not only take account of indignation with the way in which our European partners have handled the beef issue over the past few weeks, and of strong support for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but of the facts that the UK has for years run a sizeable deficit on trade with Europe in food and drink, and on wider trade; that we pay more into the European Union than we get out of it; and that the UK pays more in than any other country except Germany. Those financial points, in sheer cost, must be taken into account as we proceed with these matters.
A couple of days ago, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, claimed in a speech that a spate of xenophobia is rushing through the Conservative party and that the Prime Minister is exploiting that xenophobia. My hon. Friends must speak for themselves. I do not think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton is xenophobic—I certainly am not. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, a majority of EU countries backed our attempt to end the ban on beef products. That does not exactly seem like the fruits of xenophobia to which the leader of the Liberal party referred.
We welcome the help that France has given us in recent days, following the highly successful visit to this country of President Chirac. He made an impressive speech to both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery; I did not agree with every word of it, but given that France and Britain have had a long rivalry, it was a friendly speech too. Of all the countries in the European Union, France and Britain are the most similar in terms of history and tradition. But that similarity often produces intense competition, politically, militarily, economically and commercially. The pressure in France to lift the ban on British beef derives from the fact that the French want to buy it and thus have an interest in importing it.
Moreover, the French people and, increasingly, French politicians are as suspicious of federalism and centralisation in Europe as we have become. In 1992, before the difficulties arose with the Maastricht treaty debate and before the French referendum, a group of mayors and other dignitaries from a part of Normandy— les sept villages rln Vexin—that had been hotly disputed 219 by England and France in the days of King John came to my constituency, to North Curry, for a twinning ceremony. During the celebrations, one mayor, speaking of the Maastricht treaty, told me that the French expected the English to "stop this sort of thing". For a long time now, that has been our experience in the European Union. People in other countries dare not put their heads above the parapet but expect us to fight their battles for them.
A colleague told me the other day that, at the time of the Maastricht treaty, he met a group of doctors in France and asked them what they thought of the treaty. They said that they were against it. My colleague asked whether they had made their position clear. "Oh no," they said, "if we did that, the Government would cut off all funding to our organisation." Of course the Government at the time were the socialist Government of President Mitterrand.
So this country does not need to resort to xenophobia, because even in this commercial matter of beef we increasingly find that we have allies in Europe.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of twinning, he might like to comment on a case highlighted in this morning's paper. A village in his county, near Wellington, is expecting German visitors next week as part of the twinning process. The Germans are insisting that they must not be served British beef during their visit. As my hon. Friend represents that county, I am sure that he shares my anger and disappointment at the Germans' attitude to what should be a friendly visit.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I was coming to the Germans. I will look into the matter; it is outrageous that they should refuse to eat one of our healthiest and most staple products. I gather that the German players who will take part in the international football tournament here in a few months' time are insisting that the beef they eat be imported from Germany. They are not prepared to eat ours—
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Before the hon. Gentleman takes off on a flight of fancy, I might point out to him that most national football teams take their own chefs and food with them, for a variety of good reasons. The eating habits of a football team are often reflected in the way the team plays on the pitch—which is probably why our football team plays crap.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I defer to the hon. Gentleman's greater knowledge of the subject.
On Radio 4's "World at One" programme on Monday, there was an interesting discussion of the Germans and how they differ from other Europeans. They are obsessed with health. Perhaps that might be justified by cartoon depictions—and sometimes the reality—of Germans on the beach. But it is their obsession with health that has led them to adopt their extraordinary position on British beef—and on German beef and on all kinds of meat. It has caused them considerable problems along the way.
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we had been a little more obsessed with health in the early 1980s, we would not be faced with the BSE problem now?
§ Mr. Nicholson
Like many of his hon. Friends, the hon. Gentleman cannot extricate himself from the warped thinking which has led his party to contribute so much to our continuing national difficulties on this matter.
I want to issue three cautions in this debate. First, I urge Ministers to make it clear—the Prime Minister did yesterday, but the point must be repeated over and over again—that we are interested not just in lifting the beef products ban, which accounts for only a few million pounds' worth of exports, but in a speedy and businesslike timetable for lifting the ban on the whole beef export trade, which is worth about £500 million.
Secondly, Ministers must be absolutely clear in their own minds what they plan to do following the intentions announced yesterday. There is no need to broadcast the details continually, which is why the Prime Minister was wise not to respond specifically to some of the questions asked yesterday; but there must be no backsliding. If we do not get fair treatment, we must act accordingly.
Thirdly, Ministers must not use the European row as a figleaf to cover up deficiencies in the way the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the bodies aligned with it sort out the problem in the United Kingdom. I refer of course to the beef cull. Yesterday hon. Members representing the south-west received a briefing from the south-west branch of the National Farmers Union. I ensured that my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Agriculture, the Members for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) and for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), had copies with them yesterday on the Front Bench when the statements were being made. The briefing does not make easy or happy reading. The leader of the Liberal party, whom I have on occasion criticised, referred to the deficiencies affecting the abattoirs in the south-west, whose throughput has been halved in the past few days, apparently because of the need to bring another abattoir on stream in south Wales.
These problems need sorting out. I know that the Leader of the House heads a Cabinet Committee on this matter, and I stress to him that if, when the House returns after the recess, we are still encountering the same sort of difficulties as farmers, abattoir managers and others have faced in the past week, Conservative Members will strongly criticise the officials concerned, and we will draw our own conclusions about the control and responsibility being exercised by Ministers. I hope that those warnings are heard.
The second unfinished matter to which I shall refer relates to the Housing Bill. My right hon. Friend will recall that the debate on the homeless provisions of that Bill was attenuated the other week and that I raised the matter at business questions. The issue has interested many of my constituents who are not and do not expect to be affected by homelessness or homeless provisions. That demonstrates the ability of the British people in general, and my constituents in particular, to take a reasoned interest in matters that do not directly affect them-—whether it is in the interests of the country or the interests of compassion and the decent treatment of others.
The changes in the legislation that is now in the other place should be clear and justifiable and should not penalise people who have no alternative but to seek help from local authorities or housing associations. It is a complex matter and I was not proposing to oppose the Government's measures—I wanted to clarify them and debate them.
221 I feel strongly that young people in particular should live at the family home, if that is possible. We have to use our existing housing stock more effectively rather than consistently building on green-field sites, whether for owner-occupation or for housing associations. I am aware of much stronger resistance to such housing development than existed in previous years. On Monday, the Western Daily Press devoted a full page to housing developments on green-field sites being earmarked for major housing expansion throughout the south-west—in Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset. Those developments will encounter considerable difficulties as they go through the planning process.
Some young people clearly cannot live with their parents, but they should not always expect to be housed by the public sector if they come to Taunton, which is a major railway and road focus, to Somerset or to the south-west. The south-west seems to attract many young people—possibly as part of the traveller cult or because the area is so attractive. I do not believe that that can be justified by economic factors as unemployment levels in the north and the south have drawn closer in recent years. We no longer have a pattern of people moving from unemployment black spots in the north to fill job vacancies in the south. That is regrettable for those of us who live in and represent the south, but it is an economic factor that also has certain benefits.
I make those provisos to assist Ministers in proceeding with the Bill. Local people deserve suitable priority on housing lists, which should not be interrupted or replaced by the pressure of so-called homeless people from elsewhere. At the same time—as I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration during our brief debate on the matter—I appreciate that in my constituency, and no doubt elsewhere, there has been an unsatisfactory provision of private rented accommodation which means that the presupposition in the Bill that homeless people should first be housed in the private rented sector should not always be followed through too rigidly.
I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration has agreed to see me and one or two of those involved from Taunton Deane borough council and from the local office of Shelter who have been extremely helpful to me.
I have long wanted to revive the private rented sector. I lived in quite satisfactory private rented accommodation in London from 1966 to 1976. However, I realise that the private rented sector—particularly the traditional little old lady who rents out rooms in her house—has declined over the past 20 years, partially because of Government policy, and that although it has revived somewhat, it is predominated by absentee landlords owning bed-sitters that are not always satisfactorily managed and do not always attract satisfactory tenants into the neighbourhood. We need to get those matters absolutely right before the Bill proceeds finally into law.
I emphasise that public concern for decent treatment for homeless people is greatly met by the Government's rough sleepers initiative, which has been successful in London and has been expanded into other centres all over the country. It requires proper co-ordination between central Government, local government and various voluntary organisations.
Most homeless people do not just have the problem of absence of a secure home. Many of them have been involved with drugs or alcoholism or come from disrupted 222 homes. There is work for all organisations involved in helping those young people—whether they are voluntary or social organisations or simply provide housing. I would like it no longer to be necessary for such young people— I saw them again last night in the west end of London— to have to sleep rough and beg. We all regret that the cult of begging is increasing, and it is not justified. I would like those issues to be challenged by further successes for the rough sleepers initiative in London and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)
I shall intervene briefly in today's adjournment debate to raise my constituents' objection to the proposed privatisation of the Port of Tyne authority. Before I do so, I should say to the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) that Nye Bevan did not include beef in his famous statement about being surrounded by fish and living on coal, because many of the people he represented could not afford to buy beef.
The fact that I am raising an issue during a Wednesday morning Adjournment debate brought about by the Jopling changes does not mean that I agree with the Jopling changes. I opposed them when they were introduced, I am still against them and I certainly do not condone them. In my view, the implementation of the Jopling recommendations and the clean feed to Members' rooms has made the Chamber virtually redundant. However, I shall not press my views on the Jopling recommendations, bearing in mind that the senior salaries review committee is still sitting.
Privatisation is raising justifiable fears in my constituency. I do not believe that the proposals are in the best interests of my constituents or of our region, and they are opposed by the Port of Tyne authority, local authorities in the area and many of the port users.
Having been born within a thousand yards of the banks of the River Tyne and having spent most of my working life working in shipyards there, I should draw the House's attention to the importance of the port of Tyne.
The River Tyne once had a shallow entrance that became troublesome as ships steadily grew in size during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Tyne improvement commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 1850. Its task was to carry out such schemes and works to make the river safe and accessible for modern ships, and to provide facilities for increasing seaborne trade.
In the first 20 years, the commission had 50 million tonnes of spoil removed from the river. Anyone who knows anything about rivers will realise the scale of dredging for that amount of spoil. The Tyne improvement commission's works have proved to be far-sighted. When it laid its plans, virtually all the vessels using the port were sailing craft of less than 1,000 tonnes.
Today, the Tyne regularly accepts ships of more than 45,000 tonnes in dead weight, and dry dock vessels weighing up to 100,000 tonnes. Indeed, hon. Members may have seen on television last night the giant 80,000-tonne bulk carrier Solitaire being taken to the Swan Hunter shipyard. That will provide some work for those who were made redundant when Swan Hunter unfortunately closed some time ago.
The commission built the Northumberland dock and the north and south piers. Within 50 years of the setting up of the commission, the port as we know it today was 223 mainly in place. The commission continued to manage and improve the river as an engine of economic growth until 1968, when it handed it over to its successor. The Port of Tyne authority was set up under an Act of Parliament as a trust port to control the facilities that were previously operated by the commissioners.
The earliest trade on the River Tyne was in grain and forest products from the low countries, Scandinavia and the Balkans. Those areas are still important today, but the port's interests now also extend to the far east, Australia, south-east Asia, India, the middle east, Canada and the Americas—in fact, all over the world. The port regularly handles valuable metals, vehicles, offshore equipment, foodstuffs, machinery, clothing, chemicals, oil, scrap metal, and, of course, coal.
Last year, the port exported more than 1.8 million tonnes of coal and coke, and of course we sent Andy Cole to Manchester United. The port also exported more than 28,000 tonnes of chemicals, 180,000 tonnes of grain, 175,000 cars and other vehicles and 316,000 tonnes of general commodities. Its cargo handling facilities dealt with exports and imports in excess of 3.7 million tonnes. With its royal quays in North Shields, the port of Tyne provides the most northerly terminal on the east coast for passengers using sea routes to Scandinavia. Last year, more than 360,000 passengers and almost 60,000 cars used the port.
The port of Tyne is now one of the most efficient and flexible ports in Europe, and is engaged in a further investment programme to increase its capacity and quality of service to port users. In the past 12 years, the Port of Tyne authority has invested more than £45 million in berths and equipment. That investment has been complemented by facilities built by port users and industrialists in the area. The port authority has played a major role with developing agencies such as the Tyne and Wear development corporation and others to attract investment and new industries.
The port of Tyne has large capital reserves. I am informed that trading produces a current annual profit of £5 million from a turnover of £15 million. It has no outstanding debts. Such healthy figures are likely to make the port attractive to asset-stripping bidders. We are used to asset strippers in my area. In fact, on the riverside of Jarrow, a statue of Charles Mark Palmer looks over the River Tyne. Charles Mark Palmer set up the old Palmers shipyard, which at one time employed more than 10,000—mostly skilled—men.
The asset-stripper Shipbuilding Security Ltd. was set up by shipbuilders, shipowners and merchant bankers in the 1930s. It came to Jarrow, decided to close Palmers shipyard and sell off the assets, and placed a 40-year embargo on the building of ships. So we have experience of asset stripping, and are concerned that it might happen to the port of Tyne if some company comes along with an asset-stripping bid. Purchase by another port is also possible. That would of course mean rationalisation of the port's services, and the port of Tyne could again lose out.
I am also informed that the proceeds of any privatisation would go to central Government. As the port of Tyne was formed as a result of locally generated investment in trade and by local subscriptions, such a process would be an unfair extraction of regional 224 resources by central Government. There has been a decline in the export of coal and coke—between 1990 and 1995, it fell by more than 600,000 tonnes—so there is a great need to invest in new facilities.
A recent example of such investment is the construction of the Nissan car handling facility and container sites. The capital resources of the Port of Tyne authority are needed for further investment on that scale. Privatisation could lead to a reduction in developments, mainly because the maximising of profits in the short term could replace longer-term development as the priority of any new owners and shareholders.
Originally, a number of trust ports were to be privatised by the Government, including Dover. I believe that even Vera Lynn became involved in the public outcry about the proposed privatisation of Dover, and it was dropped from the scheme. One wonders whether Government policy is determined by such public outcry. If Vera Lynn had sang about fog on the Tyne instead of bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, perhaps the Government would have changed their policy and dropped the port of Tyne from their privatisation scheme.
Since such privatisation will pass through the House by means of a negative resolution, this may be my only opportunity to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. I appeal to the Government not to privatise the Port of Tyne authority. It is important to the revitalisation of our area, it is doing a good job, and it should be allowed to get on with it.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
The House will have listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), recognising that, because of his position in his party, he has little opportunity to speak. I found his speech informative. I know the port of Tyne. Indeed, in the halcyon days when I did a proper job before I entered the House, I used to ship a great deal of grain from the port. He is right to bring the very important subject before the House.
Other ports that have been privatised and have taken the private capital from the process, which the port of Tyne desperately needs, have been extremely successful. I personally hope that the port of Tyne goes down that road, but I bow to the superior knowledge and wisdom on the subject of the hon. Member for Jarrow.
On a somewhat grey May morning, when the House is about to adjourn for what I think is known as the spring recess, one's thoughts turn to summer. Hopefully, it will be a summer of sunny days, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, cricket at Lords and elsewhere—indeed, the test series starts later this week—and holidays and pleasure for most people. Regrettably, residents in parts of my constituency look forward to summer with a somewhat different attitude and some misgivings. Inevitably, in parts of my constituency, as in parts of many others, the summer brings an invasion of one of the greatest scourges of modern time: the new age traveller or gipsy.
There is nothing romantic about such people, despite the fact that they hide behind a fairly romantic title. The House will know that very few, if any, people would have any objection to those who choose a nomadic form of life that is honourable and respectable and goes back many generations—not only in this country but throughout the 225 world—on the basis that Romany families and the genuine traveller or gipsy, as he was then known, is part of our history.
Regrettably, that romantic image has been shattered by several hundred and possibly thousands of people who decide basically to opt out of society and the responsibilities which the majority of the population abide by and accept, to follow a way of life that is an infernal nuisance, especially during the summer months, to those in and around the countryside and, unfortunately, also in our towns.
The travellers are, on the whole, a dirty and aggressive set of people with strong criminal links. They present a health hazard when they arrive on a site and leave a rather worse health hazard when they go. They are scroungers in the worst sense of the word, in that they willingly take every state benefit available to them, and, indeed, to other citizens. They are probably the most uninvited of guests whom no one would wish to see in and around his area.
A constituent, Mr. Armstrong, wrote to me last year when we had a particular problem in Luton. His words are worth recording and will, I am sure, strike a chord with hon. Members on both sides of the House. Mr. Armstrong writes:We are all very disturbed by the recent High Court ruling regarding 'travellers'.I shall come to that matter later. Mr. Armstrong continues:It is all very well claiming rights but in having rights there are also obligations. Also someone has to pay for rights and it would seem that 'travellers' avoid the liability of making any payment.They contribute nothing to the wellbeing of an area—quite the reverse. They cause disturbances, always leave a mess behind and usually cause a health hazard by using some part of their area as a lavatory. They regard the land as theirs by right and have been known to tell residents to 'get off our"'—there is now an expletive which I am not allowed to repeat—'land.' After they have left, the local authority has to clear up the site at the council taxpayers' expense. If they want rights they should pay for them.These people are a trouble when they come and a trouble when they go. Only last year, in a very respectable part of my constituency—all parts of my constituency are very respectable, but this area may be a little more genteel than others—it fell to the local vicar to act. Here one can perhaps applaud some of the Church's actions, which it has been difficult to do over the past few years. He got together a band of helpers to clear up the mess that the travellers had left adjacent to people's homes.
At 10 am on Saturday 22 July last year, the vicar and his friends circulated in the Bushmead area of my constituency a leaflet which urged people tojoin us at the tractor and trailer on the common.The vicar offered free refreshment vouchers for the first 50 helpers and—this is the rub—the leaflet said:Gloves will be provided … This may be a dirty and hazardous job. You may help clear up at your own risk.These people are enjoying the protection of the law and, possibly unwittingly, of local authorities. They are an enormous nuisance to our constituents. This is just the time of year when they begin to arrive. We have already had problems with them in the Luton area, and I am fearful that we shall suffer a further invasion during the summer months.
§ Mr. David Nicholson
My hon. Friend assisted me with my speech by giving an example from my constituency. Perhaps I can assist him with his speech by giving another example from my constituency.
Last week, the Liberal Democrat-controlled Somerset county council passed various provisions to assist new age travellers in Somerset. It was attacked by Conservative opposition councillors who said that it would make Somerset a honeypot for travellers because no other county council—most county councils in the area are Liberal Democrat, Labour or jointly controlled—has taken such measures. My hon. Friend may like to reflect on that point and relate it to begging and to the housing matters that I raised earlier.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Indeed. My hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge. He represents an area that has suffered more than most from new age travellers. Around Stonehenge, there have been raves and all that goes with them, to which I shall refer later. My hon. Friend is right to point out to the House that there are local authorities, controlled by the Liberal Democrats or, in my case, by Labour, which seem to wish to give comfort and succour to these people, much to the distress of nearby residents.
The travellers cost us an enormous amount. They know about the state benefits and they insist on taking them. In my hon. Friend's area, they travel in such numbers that they take with them experts on social security who know exactly which benefits are available. Indeed, things have come to the point that officials from the local benefits office often visit sites, ensuring that travellers claim the rights to which they believe they are entitled. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had long experience in the Department of Social Security. He will know only too well the problem I am talking about.
New age travellers also cost local authorities and individuals an enormous amount in terms of legal fees, which run to several hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not more, throughout the country. They cost the council time and resources in removing them and removing the mess. They cost the local taxpayer an enormous amount in terms of police costs because in most cases, the police are involved when the travellers arrive. There is also the enormous cost of clearing up the damage and mess they leave once they have gone.
Some might say that these travellers are almost above the law. I must tell my right hon. Friend that I am somewhat disturbed by the fact that, although we passed the massive Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, part of which had the specific purpose of dealing with this problem, the guidance from the Department of the Environment does not reflect that fact. I have discussed this personally with the Ministers involved. The Department's attitude has been tolerant rather than, as it should be, somewhat vindictive.
In recent correspondence, my hon. Friend the Minister for Construction, Planning and Energy Efficiency talks about genuine travellers and how local authorities must be reasonable with them, especially in terms of not harrying them too much to leave if their vehicles have broken down and allowing them time to mend them. Every right-thinking citizen fully understands that that is just one of the many and varied methods these people use to prevent others from moving them. I must confess that I am somewhat disturbed to hear the Government almost giving these people help and succour.
227 The travellers also seem to be protected by the courts. Recent High Court decisions, which are referred to in the letter from my constituents, the Armstrongs, which I quoted earlier, gave the travellers greater protection and prevented local authorities, in some cases, from ridding their areas of this nuisance. In a recent case, Lincolnshire county council's decision to try to remove travellers was overturned in the High Court. The travellers also enjoy protection under the Children Act 1989, under education legislation and under housing legislation, which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) mentioned.
One begins to realise that for some travellers, it is not a bad life. People opt out into a caravan or vehicle of some sort and park on somebody else's land in the full knowledge that they will be able to stay there almost as long as they choose. Their children will have every protection under the law in terms of education and health care. If members of the tribe—I think that that is probably the best description of them—are expecting a child, heaps of help is given and no one can touch them.
In certain areas, according to reports, police forces are very reluctant to act, both because of the costs involved and because they know that, whenever these people arrive, there will be trouble. In many cases, that involves physical violence against officers of the council who try to move the travellers on and against individuals who remonstrate with them about their behaviour, often in their own gardens and on their own land. The police have been somewhat reluctant to go forward—possibly, again, because Home Office guidance has not been as strong as it might be.
All that has happened since the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is that local authorities are now hiding behind the statement that—since the Caravan Sites Act 1968 was repealed, whereby authorities were bound to provide sites for gipsies if they were a problem in their area—there is very little they can do about the problem, because they cannot move them on to sites.
The trouble in my constituency came to a head last year, to such an extent that a petition of 1,200 names was presented to the council to try to ensure that some action was taken against the gipsies. Bollards were erected in one area to prevent them from going on to private land, but they had to be removed because of a right-of-way problem during a local by-election. Obviously, a way was then open for them to go in.
The estimate of cost to the Luton council taxpayer last year was £60,000. I think that that was an underestimate of what we had to pay to move the gipsies on, and in getting rid of them altogether.
The cost of such actions to private landowners is considerable. It costs up to, and probably exceeds, £2,000 in legal fees to go through the proper process to get people off land on which they have absolutely no right to stay. Not the least cost is the misery and fear that those people cause to nearby residents, who are unfortunate enough to live in areas that have wide and open fields beside them, which would normally be an asset to their property. They now live in fear that travellers will appear, usually during the summer months, to make life a misery for them.
The travellers are almost above the law. Some two or three years ago, I was faced with a similar problem in another part of my constituency. I objected to them being 228 there, and, on behalf of my constituents in the village of Harlington, said that I did not think that they were in a suitable place for a site. As my hon. Friends may know, my language then was perhaps somewhat extravagant, because I was cross and angry on my constituents' behalf.
I received a letter from the Commission for Racial Equality stating that I was stirring up trouble, and asked whether I would appear at a magistrates court about a week or so later to answer those charges. That was in relation to a Member of Parliament performing his duty on behalf of his constituents, who perhaps unwittingly expressed his opinion outside the confines of this place.
Fortunately, the Commission for Racial Equality dropped the charges, which were then taken up by the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis that I should be prosecuted because of those—I thought somewhat mild— remarks suggesting that the gipsies should be driven out of my constituency, into a land I do not know where. Luckily, after various police investigations—costing an enormous amount of money to them and legal fees to me—the case was dropped. Again, perhaps that gives the House an idea why some might feel that those people are above the law.
That is where the problem lies. As I said earlier, we quite rightly passed a massive Act in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which, among many other excellent measures, was designed to try to prevent the problem of raves, hunt saboteurs and gipsies. We have had problems in my area with raves. I think that the Act, on the whole, has worked quite well, and there has been some control over those.
On hunt saboteurs—I talk as an unashamed supporter of field sports and as a member of the British Field Sports Society—there is no doubt that the Act has been a considerable bonus to those of us who enjoy country sports. The hunt saboteurs' activities have been considerably reduced because of the Act. On gipsies, however, I must tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the action in overturning the 1968 Act and giving local authorities new powers has been a complete disappointment.
The 1994 Act has brought its own problems, such as problems of identification: one must now identify people to get them moved on. Apart from saying that their name is Smith—which in Luton is, of course, almost an unusual name, with so many friends now of ethnic origin—as most of them do, identification is extremely difficult.
There are also difficulties with changing numbers of people, now that magistrates' warnings must be laid at the foot of individuals rather than at the foot of groups of people. Once one individual receives a court order, and possibly moves on—but, in many cases, stays and waits his full time—others move on to the same site. There are obviously difficulties there.
There are difficulties also with police action. The police have been told to use their powers in a discretionary manner. Local authorities are inevitably asking the police to back them up, because those people are often vicious and violent, and the public need to be protected from them. There are dangers to council staff who are asked to go on to those sites to ask people to move. They ask them to move in as civil a manner as they can, while receiving abuse, and sometimes physical intimidation.
There are also difficulties with the Act in that it allows fines of up to £1,000, which of course are totally laughed at by those on whom they are levied. I tell my right hon.
229 Friend the Leader of the House that, in his consultations with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, he must point out to him following this debate that, under section 77 of the 1994 Act, there are many and various difficulties. Local councils across the country are now saying that this law is defective in terms of their needs. A recent survey of the Association of District Councils showed that 89 per cent. of councils thought that the law was inadequate, ineffective and "poor" in addressing their problems.
There are now, of course, difficulties in that designated areas have ceased. In Luton we have one designated area left over from the old legislation, which is still not full but is available for gipsies to be moved on to. The difficulty now is that local authorities are almost saying, "Perhaps we should have more designated areas because of our problems and the ineffectiveness of the law." That, again, is causing problems.
Again reflecting the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton, that response is a cop-out, which Labour-controlled councils are beginning to go for. They are saying, "We have this problem; therefore, we will designate another area and have another site in the town." The difficulty then is: where does that site go? Inevitably it must go into an open space; and, wherever it goes, there will be a problem. Labour-controlled authorities are not standing up to the problem, and are not being strong enough; but, obviously, I have some sympathy with the difficulties that they face.
My own council is now boasting that it will shortly be proposing a new site, and other local authorities are watching it to see what it will do. If the Labour-controlled council in Luton puts another site into the Luton area, there will be massive resistance—quite rightly so—from the constituents. Again as my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton said, Luton could become a honeypot for those who feel that they have nowhere else to go, because that is the life they have chosen. It will attract more travellers into the town rather than to dissuade them. I think that the Labour-controlled authority is totally wrong on this issue, and massive opposition is building up in the constituency against it.
Today, my message to the House and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—and, in turn, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment— is that this law has not proved effective. The Department has promised that it will examine the law and monitor its effectiveness. It is a fact that it is not working. Some of the guidance and advice that the Department has given is flawed, and it has not taken the strong attitude that I believe the majority of Conservative Members want— bearing in mind that most of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was vehemently opposed by Opposition Members, a fact which must never be forgotten when they boast about how effective they are on law and order.
There is no doubt at all that this law is worth re-examining. The attitude of the police needs to be re-examined, on the basis that they seem to be almost reluctant to act in these cases. They must go in not with velvet but with iron gloves to sort out the problem. I think that council action has to be re-examined, particularly in cases in which Labour-controlled councils, such as that in Luton, are hiding behind the law, putting in extra sites and making it attractive for those people to carry on their way of life.
230 I fear that the problem may get worse as the summer wears on, and we must remember that the victims of this sorry tale are the people—our constituents. I told my constituents at a public meeting the other day that, in addition to the power of the ballot box—they elect their Member of Parliament—they have the power to lobby that Member of Parliament and their local councillors to try to rid their area and, we hope, the country of these unwanted people. We must look carefully at the laws we have passed, and strengthen them with some force.
§ 11.9 am
§ Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West)
I shall try to observe what I understood to be the custom in these debates and make a fairly brief speech on one or two urgent matters that require the attention of the House. There is little Government legislation to debate but there is certainly much unfinished business to be considered.
The first matter that I wish to raise will, I believe, be dear to your heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it relates to an incident in Yorkshire as reported in today's press. It involves Mr. and Mrs. Milnes, whose car was wheelclamped and removed. They were told that it would cost £450 to have it returned and an extra £20 for each day that payment was delayed. The total now seems to have risen to £1,000. Such licensed robbery and banditry has been allowed to continue for far too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has been investigating incidents in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, where cars are left on empty sites to entice unwary parkers whose cars are subsequently clamped—sometimes even with their owners in them.
Let me make it clear that I am not talking about clamping by the official authorities in London of cars parked on the street but about off-street clamping carried out by private operators, many of whom are extremely dubious. The penalty being imposed by such operators— £95 to have the car released and £450 to have it returned after it had been towed away—is way in excess of those imposed under the law for illegal parking on the street. Furthermore, clampers are acting as judge, jury and enforcer. In many ways, the word "enforcer" is apposite.
The Government's delay in acting has been scandalous. It is more than three years since the Home Office finished its consultation on clamping on private land. The Minister of State, Home Office has continued to dither and delay and will not propose a solution, despite the fact that, since a ruling by the Scottish High Court four years ago, private wheelclamping has been illegal in Scotland. That has not led to a breakdown of parking controls. The Home Office should introduce legislation urgently so that companies such as LORE clampers based in Leeds are no longer able to intimidate decent ordinary citizens.
Another matter that has come into focus this week and requires urgent legislation is the funding of political parties—in particular allegations made at the weekend of donations by Serb business men to the Conservative party. In the previous four Sessions, I have introduced a private Member's Bill to try to regulate the funding of political parties. My most recent attempt was on 19 April and it is a fairly modest proposal. It would ban foreign donations to political parties and provide for a register of donations of more than £1,000. Had the Bill been law, The Sunday Times would not have had to make inquiries about 231 donations; it would have been able to read the register and ascertain who had been contributing to the Conservative party.
The Government's reluctance to introduce legislation or, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) yesterday, to refer the matter to the Nolan committee must lead us and right-thinking people outside to believe that, if those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear, the Conservative party must accordingly have a good deal to hide and a good deal to fear. I have written to the Leader of the House, asking for parliamentary time to be made available to debate my modest proposal, which would be regarded as quite unremarkable in most other western democracies.
I refer now to the continuing saga of the millennium exhibition. I do not want to get involved in the basic question whether there should be a major millennium exhibition, but, as the decision has been made, let us consider the choice of location. The final choice was narrowed down to two possible locations—Greenwich in London and Birmingham.
Birmingham has the experience of operating a large site—the national exhibition centre—and handling huge numbers of people. It had a site available and ready for construction. It also has the personal infrastructure in the form of NEC staff, and equally important—possibly even more important—the transport infrastructure. Birmingham is situated at the junction of Britain's motorway network and has an international railway station and a major and expanding airport. Birmingham also had the group, Imagination, draw up plans for the exhibition. The plans were so good that, when the Government decided to take the scheme to London, they asked Imagination to take over the running and planning of it.
All those factors should have weighed in favour of Birmingham yet it was decided that the London bid should have priority, even though it was unclear where the London funding was to come from. The Birmingham scheme was properly funded but there was great uncertainty about the London scheme—a fact bome out by events as company after company has bailed out of funding the scheme. Indeed, extension after extension has had to be given to London while it tries to get its act together.
The only conclusion that reasonable people can come to—especially people in the midlands—is that the decision was made by the cultural establishment, based on its unremitting metropolitan bias and its refusal to consider sound, sensible and workable schemes outside London because it does not want to travel to Birmingham or elsewhere.
I suspect that the decision was also related to the long-term ambitions of the Deputy Prime Minister to expand London along the estuary. We witnessed another example of that bias in yesterday's report by the Select Committee on Transport, which examined the possibility of an estuary airport for London instead of considering the expansion of regional airports.
The millennium scheme is now in crisis. The months are ticking by but not one sod of earth has been turned. Indeed, construction cannot start until the Greenwich site has been decontaminated. The time scale crisis is partly the result of the Government's lack of forward planning 232 and their not making decisions sufficiently early so that there was time to get the construction under way. Incidentally, the same appears to be happening with the commemoration of the bicentenary of Trafalgar day— preparations will be put off until the event is upon us.
The problem is that Greenwich was the wrong choice and we have daily proof of that. The Millennium Commission should recognise that it has made a mistake. It should not, as reported in the press, be talking petulantly about scrapping the scheme. Instead, it should be talking about giving the project to the one area that will bring it in on time and make it a success—Birmingham.
Finally in this connection, there is some uncertainty about what will be done with the millennium exhibition buildings on the Greenwich site. In Birmingham, such buildings would become part of an integrated NEC. It would do much for Britain and for areas outside London if the correct choice was made.
The midlands is also home to a considerable section of the Sikh community, which has made an enormous contribution to the industry and commerce of this country. That community will shortly be remembering the appalling attack by Indian security forces on the Golden temple in Amritsar. It will be an opportunity for them to express their deep concern at the continuing abuse of human rights in the Punjab. Such abuse consists of disappearances, torture and the arbitrary arrest of citizens and the removal of their civil rights. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should raise this issue with our Commonwealth partners in the Government of India, and must state our belief that human rights should be restored as soon as possible.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar), who suggested that the millennium celebrations should take place in Birmingham. As a Member representing a London constituency, he will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with him. London is a mecca for tourism, and if the celebrations are designed partly to attract people from other parts of the United Kingdom and from overseas, London is a far more logical choice than Birmingham. In 1951, the then Government decided to hold the Festival of Britain on the south bank rather than in the midlands.
§ Mr. Marshall
On this occasion, the hon. Gentleman and I form a holy alliance. We represent the city of London, our tourist capital. If the celebrations are held in London, they will be of great benefit to the whole country. I suspect that if they were to be held in Birmingham, they would receive much less support from the people of this country and from overseas.
Earlier this week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had to revise its economic forecasts for this year and next year. It pointed out to the people of Europe that the provisions of the Maastricht treaty were squeezing growth out of the economies of continental Europe, particularly those of France and Germany, which are obsessed with creating a single currency by 1999.
233 Britain is in the fortunate position of having the strongest economy in western Europe. We can look forward to good growth this year and next year, and the Bank of England has confirmed that the Government's inflation targets are being achieved. We have much lower unemployment than other European countries, and we have received significant inward investment. That is not due to some accident of history.
We can all recall the magic words of Jacques Delors during the Maastricht discussions, who forecast that the fact that Britain was exempt from the social chapter would act as a magnet for inward investment. I do not often quote the former President of the European Commission with approval—nor does my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), the Whip on the Front Bench— but on this occasion he was 100 per cent. right. If we were to reverse the policies that attracted companies to the United Kingdom, we could say goodbye to inward investment, low unemployment and the rapid economic growth that is enabling the Government to improve our social services.
Earlier this week, a number of hon. Members were able to meet the parents of an Israeli, Zachary Baumel, who went missing in Lebanon in 1982. His parents have no idea what has happened to him, although there are suggestions that he is still alive. Surely any parent has a right to know after 14 years what has happened to his or her son. Some of us have met the mother, brothers, wife and daughter of another missing Israeli, Ron Arad, who was captured nearly 10 years ago. He will shortly have spent a longer time in captivity than the duration of the first and second world wars. It is surely wrong that any prisoner of war should have to spend 10 years in captivity without being allowed to send or receive letters for most of that time.
When Mr. Arad was captured, his daughter was a year old. What sort of people prevent a young girl from seeing her father between the ages of one and 11? What sort of captors prevent a prisoner of war from receiving letters? What sort of people prevent a man from being with his wife for 10 years? What sort of people prevent an elderly mother from seeing her eldest son? That is what is happening in the middle east to the Arad family and to the parents of Zachary Baumel.
It is ironic that Israel kick-started the release of western hostages in the middle east by allowing many Palestinian prisoners to leave prisons in Israel and go to other countries, but Israel has received no reward for that humanitarian act. The parents of the Israelis who are missing in action do not know what has happened to their sons, who may still be alive. Some believe that Zachary Baumel is alive, and there is evidence that Ron Arad is still alive.
When Mr. Arafat visits Britain shortly—no doubt to ask for money—the Government should ask him to provide information to the parents of the missing Israelis. The failure to do so is an international scandal and a fundamental denial of human rights.
The most pressing problems facing the United Kingdom are the low education standards, achievements and—in some places—expectations in our inner cities. In London, many children aged 11 have a reading age of nine. Education is the escalator of opportunity that allows children from deprived inner cities to live, work and use their talents to the fullest elsewhere. If the education 234 services in inner London fail to give children the basic building blocks of a decent education—the ability to read, spell and add up—we will fail a whole generation. The late and unlamented Inner London education authority failed to provide those building blocks. The results for inner London that have been published, thank goodness, by the Government show that it is a national scandal. I hope that the Government will continue their policies of ensuring that the basics of education are taught.
If we do not teach the basics of education in our primary schools, it will make it almost impossible for the head teachers of secondary schools to enable children to develop their talents fully. Everyone supports the Government's policies to make secondary education more diverse, and everyone welcomes the announcements made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, but it is essential that we examine the basics of education in our primary schools to ensure that children are not deprived of their basic right—the ability to read, write and add up.
An issue raised at Question Time on Monday, which will no doubt be raised from time to time, is the problem of the legal aid fund. Under this Government, expenditure on legal aid—[Interruption.] I see that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) is about to leave. Expenditure on legal aid has risen from £100 million to about £1.5 billion. Many of us are concerned that the legal aid fund is providing funding for cases that should not be funded by the taxpayer.
For example, in what is known as the Sony case a German resident sued Sony in the British courts over a patent dispute. The German had no intention of living in this country or paying a deutschmark in British tax, but he received £500,000 in legal aid from the British taxpayer. Some hon. Members will have seen in the Daily Mail on Saturday that an old Etonian received £200,000 in legal aid while suing Clifford Chance, a well-known firm of solicitors.
Many of us are concerned about the fact that worthless cases are being financed by the taxpayer. Many of us are concerned about the fact that overseas residents can obtain money to fight cases in British courts when they will never pay any British tax. Many of us are concerned about the fact that the legally aided party in a civil case has an advantage over the other party. It is, after all, extremely rare, when a legally aided litigant loses a case, for the legal aid fund to pay the costs of the successful party. That is unfair: one party knows that the case can continue and he will not have to pay anything towards his costs, while the other knows that if he loses he will pay the other party's costs, and if he wins he will have to pay his own.
I believe that, when the legal aid fund backs a case and that case is unsuccessful, it should then pay the costs of the successful party. At present, we are placing an unfair burden on those who are fighting legally aided litigants.
§ Mr. Marshall
I fear that my hon. Friend may be right.
235 It is traditional for one or two local issues to be raised in debates such as this. Let me mention some that are of concern to my constituents. One is the London fire and civil defence authority's recommendation that fire cover in the capital should be reduced, although its finance director has told it that its reserves of £27 million are too high. Surely it is wrong for the authority—dominated as it is by the Labour and Liberal parties—to recommend a reduction in fire cover in London, and in my constituency in particular, when it has been told that its reserves are too high. Those reserves should not be stashed away, no doubt in an attempt to produce a lower council tax rate in election year in London; they should be used now, to provide fire cover for my constituents and those of other London Members.
Let me raise two more local issues. One concerns the future of an institution called College farm—an oasis in north London that is deeply loved by my constituents and those of other Barnet Members. It is visited by many thousands of children and others each month, but the Department of Transport has decided that it is surplus to requirements. I hope that, when he decides its fate, my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will heed the representations of thousands of my constituents and thousands of other people in Barnet, and the campaign run by the Hendon and Finchley Times, and allow the farm to remain a farm rather than being sold for commercial or residential development.
Finally, let me briefly raise an issue that concerns many residents of the London borough of Barnet. It will not surprise my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to learn that I refer to developments at Edgware hospital. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst) for the way in which he has led the parliamentary campaign. He has tabled a parliamentary question on the issue, which is to be answered on 6 June.
Barnet health authority has suggested that the minor accident and treatment unit that it wants on the site should operate for only 12 hours a day. I feel that that proposal should be re-examined. It is unacceptable to the people of Barnet, to those whom I represent and to people elsewhere that there should not continue to be a medical presence at the hospital to deal with all the cases that currently go to the accident and emergency department. Hon. Members such as my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley (Mr. Booth) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) will want to return to that issue when the House reconvenes in June, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be able to give the people of Barnet good news rather than bad.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I was waiting for the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) to get round to the Schleswig-Holstein question. Next time he wishes to raise 10 issues, perhaps he will bring out a little book and we can all buy it when it is duly remaindered.
At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Gentleman referred to the choice of London as the millennium site. As he rightly supposed, I agree with him about that, but the way in which the choice was made does not befit the 236 millennium and the way in which we should celebrate it. The Greenwich site still looks like a bomb site; no wonder hon. Members representing constituencies outside London are complaining so bitterly. I might point out to the hon. Gentleman that, if we had had a strategic authority in London, all the dithering over the development of the site would not have happened—but we shall return to that anon.
I wish to raise two issues. The first relates to the vexed problem of Norway's resumption of commercial whaling yesterday. Early-day motion 889, which appears on today's Order Paper and has so far been signed by 143 hon. Members from all parties, refers to Norway's decision to slaughter some 425 minke whales, as well as an unspecified number for what it refers to as scientific whaling purposes. That decision was made in defiance of the International Whaling Commission. Norway declared a unilateral resumption of commercial minke whaling in 1993, but the IWC rates the minke whale as a protected species. Minke whales are migratory creatures, and they belong to us all; they certainly do not belong to Norway.
I will not tax the House by describing the method of destruction, but a penthrite grenade is fired into the body of the whale and then explodes, releasing a huge volume of gas and inflicting enormous pain and suffering. When the whales do not die swiftly—within, say, 10 seconds— Norwegian whalers finish them off with large hunting rifles. That is barbarous, and it is scandalous that it should done by a neighbouring country with which we have close relations. When I raised the matter during business questions, the Leader of the House said that he would protest, or at least pass on the comments that were made—not just my comments, but those of all 143 Members of Parliament—to the Norwegian authorities. I hope that he will tell us exactly what he has done.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
My hon. Friend has pursued this matter diligently, both here and in Strasbourg, where Mrs. Brundtland, the Norwegian Prime Minister, boasted that half the whales had died instantly. We pointed out that the other half had not.
§ Mr. Banks
That, too, was an all-party attack on Gro Harlem Brundtland, which resulted in her complaining to the then leader of the Labour party that she had been attacked by a fellow socialist. I feel ashamed to describe Gro Harlem Brundtland as a socialist—particularly one who goes around the world boasting of her green credentials, and saying that Norway is at the cutting edge of environmental and ecological concern. That is rank hypocrisy, and I cannot wait to tell Mrs. Brundtland so again next time our paths cross.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), very appropriately, raised the question of how long it takes whales to die. Whales are sentient beings—sensitive creatures with a social grouping system. They have feelings, many of which we do not fully understand. We should be studying these marvellous creatures, not slaughtering them for whale meat and blubber, much of which ends up on plates in Tokyo. It is unnecessary, and it is done mercilessly.
Let me inform my hon. Friend that, in Norway's 1995 catch, according to Norwegian records 62 per cent. of whales were killed instantly, 11 per cent. were still alive after 10 minutes and 4 per cent. were still alive after 237 15 minutes. The average time for death was three minutes 24 seconds and the longest recorded time was nothing less that 43 minutes and 20 seconds. Unfortunately, in many cases, the whales were pregnant, so the infant was killed as well as the cow. It is monstrous that that is being done by a European nation—or by any nation. The strongest possible protest must go out.
What is the result? According to the Norwegian figures, the 1995 catch resulted in the landing of 327.5 tonnes of meat worth 10 million Norwegian krona, which is about £1 million. All that suffering for £1 million—it seems monstrous.
I raise that matter because the plenary session of the IWC takes place in Aberdeen on 24 June. I hope that as many people as possible will be there to protest against the Norwegians' conduct and defiance of the IWC. They must be in no doubt about the intense anger throughout this country—not just in Parliament—about the way in which the Norwegians are flouting the international whaling convention.
The second issue relates to dogs. Yesterday, the Prime Minister cried havoc and unleashed the dogs of war. I found many aspects of that surreal. The one thing about declaring war and delivering an ultimatum is that one must ensure that one has an escape route, and I do not think that the Prime Minister has. I do not intend to go into the matter too deeply, but it seems entirely appropriate to me that we should go to war over semen; it is an appropriate thing for a Government of onanists to go to war over.
I want to concentrate on the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was a rotten piece of legislation. It was passed in haste. I remember standing in this very spot to warn the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who has now moved on to other things. The warnings were ignored. Everything was done in a rush. There was a public reaction, we legislated in haste and we are now repenting at some leisure.
The operation of the 1991 Act defies common sense and denies normal and compassionate treatment for animals and human beings alike. We all know why it came about—because of the attacks by pit bull terriers. Section 1 of the Act defines a pit bull terrier, but it is a confused definition. At times, one does not know what such a terrier is, as so many crosses are involved. Under section 10(3), dangerous dog activity might merely be threat or intimidation. No actual damage may be inflicted on a human being, but the Act can be brought into operation if someone feels intimidated by a dog. The Act is confused and imprecise.
Court cases are costing an average of £10,000 and an enormous amount of police time is involved. None of that makes sense. The courts have no discretion on sentencing, other than to order the destruction of the dog. We should not be proud of that. The Act has taken any discretion on the part of magistrates away, which does not seem fair in law and certainly is not fair to the dogs and their owners. It has resulted in appalling cases of suffering and heartache for dogs and owners. I know of thousands of examples of the way in which the Act has operated, but I shall give only two.
The first example relates to Mr. Bates and his dog Otis. In 1992, the police stopped him on the motorway—there was a dog in his car. The court decided that Mr. Bates' car was a public place. He appealed, but the High Court 238 also decided that it was a public place and that Mr. Bates should have had a muzzle and a lead on the dog while he was driving. That shows the level of absurdity that we have reached under the Act. He appealed and went to the European Court, but was turned down and Otis was destroyed on the same day as the IRA exploded a bomb in docklands. That was an absurd case, and the legislation is absurd.
The second case is still before the Home Secretary and concerns Jessie—an inoffensive, toothless dog, thought to be suffering from motor neurone disease. When Jessie was found by Southwark Crown court to be a type of pit bull terrier and condemned to die in June 1995, she had never put a paw wrong. When she was brought before the court, the judges removed their wigs in case they frightened her. In court, she limped pathetically and dragged her left leg because she is lame. Indeed, there were tears in the court room. That was the last time that her owner saw Jessie and it was a painful scene for anyone to behold.
Jessie had accidentally been lost in Hyde park when her owner, Mr. O'Brien, had had an argument with his girlfriend and they had gone their separate ways. The dog is suffering from paralysis of the lower limbs and clearly needs to live out what is left of its life in some sort of comfort, but is still on dog death row. People have been writing to the Home Secretary about the case. Even though a destruction order has been made under the Dangerous Dogs Act, it does not state when it has to be implemented, so Jessie could be allowed to live out what few days she has left. The Home Secretary can make a judgment and could even exercise clemency if he so wished.
I hope that when the Leader of the House sums up, he will tell us what he can do about that case, as I think that today is the last day for any form of appeal or stay of execution to be allowed for Jessie. It is a pathetic case and it demonstrates that if we legislate so rapidly, we are likely to make big mistakes. I am sure that the Leader of the House will find that there is agreement for amendments to the Act on both sides of the House and that those could be passed very quickly indeed. There is good will on both sides of the House on the matter, and I hope that he will give us an opportunity to demonstrate that good will, because he will be thanked not just by hon. Members, but by dog owners and dog lovers throughout the country.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
A number of hon. Members have referred to the millennium location at Greenwich. I want to add my support. I am not a London Member of Parliament, but my constituents look forward to that improvement of the Greenwich site, which has good access to the entire country, as it is close to the Blackwall tunnel and the motorways connecting to it to the north and south. The site is of particular interest to my constituents as it is right alongside the River Thames, so there will be river access for tourists and those visiting from central London. More important to me, there will also be direct river access from the port of Gravesend in my constituency.
The House should not rise for the Whitsun recess without considering the over-government of the people of Kent and of so many other counties. This weekend, we read of the Labour party's national policy forum in Manchester, which decided to impose regional 239 government on England without even the benefit of a referendum. For my constituents in Kent, that would mean yet another tier of government—this one located at the far end of Surrey, in Guildford. For Kent people, that would mean more politicians, more bureaucracy and more tax.
In many ways, this country is already one of the most over-governed in the world. We have the European level, the fount of power here at Westminster with its adjunct in Whitehall, the county councils—in our case, county hall, Maidstone—the borough councils—in our case, the borough of Gravesham—and the rural parish councils. The Labour party is proposing to add a regional government, based in Guildford.
§ Mr. Arnold
I will not give way as I want to press on with this argument.
A quick calculation shows that that means that Labour proposes six levels of government. The result will be paralysis, complexity and a field day for lawyers. I shall briefly consider each level.
The beef ban has shown the European level at its worst. The morass of bureaucracy and committees in Europe has impaled it well and truly on a meathook from which it cannot escape. Despite the best scientific advice to the European Commission, which has assimilated it and put proposals to the standing veterinary committee, the committee cannot get off the hook. It has imposed all sorts of disastrous restrictions.
What sort of voice do we have in Europe? This is the most serious crisis to affect the people of Kent for many years. Kent has many beef farmers and other people who are involved in trades linked to the beef industry. We have not heard a squeak from the two Labour Members of the European Parliament who are supposed to represent Kent in Strasbourg. They have said nothing either in Strasbourg or in Kent. They are too busy enjoying the gravy train that Strasbourg seems to have become.
We heard earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) of the consequences for the British people of European policies. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) gave chapter and verse on how the so-called European Court of Justice is steadily extending the powers of European institutions way beyond what was envisaged in the treaties that were signed and approved by the House. The European level is costly, bureaucratic and a drag on my constituents.
At county council level, my constituents resent the remote county hall in Maidstone. This year, the Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition that runs it has imposed a 5.6 per cent. increase in council tax—way above inflation. What have we got for that increase? There has been no such increase in the resources available for schools and the council conducts trench warfare against Kent's numerous grant-maintained schools. Rural roads are inadequately repaired; potholes and ruts such as we have not seen for many a year are appearing because the Lib-Lab pact does not give that a high enough priority. There is also the shambles in the road programme, but I have not the time to consider that now.
240 Gravesham borough council, no doubt under instructions from its Labour party headquarters, had to raise its council tax despite the fact that it did not need any more money. My constituents may be interested to learn that its reserves contain £1,000 for each of the 37,000 households in the borough. Yet it had the gall to ask my constituents for an increase in their council tax. Finally, there are the parish councils, which I strongly support because they are in many ways closest to the people, the most directly responsible and the least expensive.
Despite all those levels and the paralysis, the Labour party wants to impose regional councils on England. How would that affect my constituents? A regional council would be run from Guildford, miles away on the other side of London. We already resent that so many local government services are run from county hall in Maidstone. The idea of Guildford is a joke.
What will regional councils do? We have not been told, because the Labour party does not tell us the details of its policies. It has not got round to deciding what services such councils will provide. Will they take powers from borough or county councils? Will they run the schools or colleges from Guildford? We have an excellent college— the North West Kent college of technology, which is doing well under local autonomy. Would they suddenly decide to run that from Guildford? Would they manage the roads from there?
Will regional councils take control of the local NHS? I congratulate the Government on dismantling tiers of government in the NHS. In the past few years alone, we have got rid of the vast top-hamper of the regional health authority at Bexhill, with its masses of bureaucrats who used up money. We have got rid of the district health authority with its bureaucracy at the Darenth park site. Has anyone noticed that we have lost those tiers of the NHS and therefore been able to redeploy the money to care for the health of our constituents? No one noticed them go any more than people noticed when the Greater London council went. People no longer have to watch the antics of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but no services for the people of London disappeared.
We know that the Labour party favours reversing the NHS reforms, even though we have local management through the NHS trusts and power is in the hands of the GPs, who serve the public either through fundholding practices, which have been a great success, or by purchasing through the health authorities, in my case from West Kent health authority, which respond to GPs' needs. I do not think that a new NHS tier at Guildford would do anything for my constituents except absorb vast sums of money that would otherwise go into their health care.
We have not heard from the Labour party what regional government would do, but we can be sure that it would have a full set of councillors who would exercise Parkinson's law and create more bureaucracy and interference. What would it cost? Of course, the Labour party will not tell us. It would be immensely expensive, but it will not say how it will pay for it. Will it be by an additional levy on the council tax or a purchase tax on local people? How will it raise the money? It will not say, but we know that regional government imposed by the Labour party will mean more tax or the diversion of funds away from education and the social and other services that we want.
241 I do not believe that the people of England want regional government—we already have too much government. Why then, does Labour propose it? It is because of its rash proposal for an assembly for Scotland, which would involve more politicians and a tartan tax. That proposal is important to the House because Scotland is consciously over-represented here. If there were an assembly in Scotland, there would be no justification for that over-representation. Indeed, there would be a strong argument for under-representation. The Labour party will not face up to that fact because, to get a majority in the House, it would depend on Scottish Members. We have had no response to the West Lothian question raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Labour is imposing regional government on England to offset the West Lothian question.
Labour's plan is not new—it has been a long-term plot. In responding to that and the problem of having six tiers of government, the Labour party set the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to work to knock out as many county councils as he could. On two separate occasions, speaking for the Labour party at the Dispatch Box, he proposed the abolition of Kent county council. The trouble is that he did not speak to his party about it. The Labour party group on Kent county council spent £1 million of council tax payers' money to fight the abolition proposal. Gravesham borough council's Labour party did a spectacular U-turn to oppose it. I suspect that it opposed abolition of the county council because it never expected to run either council; it runs them now, and two Labour leaders into one council does not go.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras tried to get rid of Kent county council and failed. He had to report to the party leadership that he had failed, but Labour will go ahead anyway; if it has to impose six tiers of government on the people of Kent and elsewhere in the country, it will be happy to do so. Labour originally said that it would do so with the proviso that a referendum be held before any regional council was set up in England.
I understand that, over the weekend, Labour has backed away from the referendum proposal, and we do not need to look far to see why it did so, because regional councils in England are immensely unpopular. We understand, from reports in the press, that the deputy leader of the Labour party has said that Labour should go ahead anyway and impose regional government.
My constituents would give a clear answer. They would say no to another layer of politicians, no to more bureaucracy and no to more tax to pay for all that. The general election will give them the opportunity to say no emphatically to Labour.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) has the solution in his own hands. The gist of his speech was that Labour policies are unpopular and Tory policies are popular. The remedy is simple—that he meets the Prime Minister and suggests that he holds an early general election, so that we may discover what the public think.
The hon. Gentleman, being a shrewd lawyer, has the sense not to do so. Presumably, one of the reasons why he made a lengthy speech was that he realises with nostalgia that he will not be with us much longer. That is one of the things that will no doubt motivate him in the few months remaining to him.
242 I want to speak about three aspects of public sector decision making in my constituency. Although I do not expect the present Government to be around for much longer, they can do a great deal of damage in the time that remains. One aspect concerns the railways, one concerns the Post Office and another concerns the health service.
I would have spoken of this with anger some time ago, but this week no one who cares about institutions in Britain feels anything but sadness that the great national asset of our rail network has been sold by the Government. That asset was acquired by a Labour Government after the war, not for reasons of dogma, but because it was obviously in the national interest that a rail network should be planned nationally, and it was ludicrous to try to pretend that one could have competition in a rail network in the way that one can with ordinary consumer goods.
Perhaps I should declare an interest. For at least three generations, my family has made a living working for the railways, and I remember how proud my father was when the railways were taken into public ownership in 1948.
When I think of the money spent on privatisation— £287 million on reorganisation costs within British Rail alone, reducing the network to 100 different individual companies—I think of what might have been done if only a fraction of that money had been spent on services locally, regionally and nationally. Why, four years ago, did British Rail remove the InterCity network link between Telford and London? Why could it not have spent a fraction of the costs of privatisation on electrifying the line from Wolverhampton through to Shrewsbury?
One would suppose that decision making in the rail network was fairly simple, but let me take an example of the lunacy of what has happened to the rail network. For some months, I have been trying to find out about the improvement of access for people with disabilities to Wellington railway station. I still have not discovered who is responsible for ensuring that disabled people have proper access to a specific railway station. Is it Railtrack? Is it the train operating company? Is it the franchising director? Is it the Government? Who is it? The answer is that we have returned almost to the bad old pre-grouping days—almost pre-1923, not even pre-1948—when everyone was in competition and no one was clearly responsible for crucial services such as access for disabled people.
The Government have taken another bad decision related to the railways. Why do a Government who claim that they want to transfer freight from road to rail act contrary to that claim in the one area where they have power to take decisions—defence transport? The Ministry of Defence has been closing rail links to defence depots at an alarming rate of knots, including that to Donnington depot in my constituency. That Government Department is obviously taking decisions to transfer freight from rail to road, because it is closing the rail links, at a time when the Secretary of State for Transport is saying that it is crucial to move more freight on to the railways.
I have found those aspects of rail decision making bewildering, and I have no confidence that the newly privatised rail network will make any development in those crucial areas.
I now move on to my second point. Although I may be being unfair, because the decision has not yet been made, for some months it has been mooted that Post Office 243 Counters Ltd. wants to close Wellington post office. As one would expect, that has met massive opposition from Wellington town council, from Wrekin district council, from myself and from my colleague and friend Peter Bradley—the prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for the neighbouring new Wrekin constituency. Despite the opposition, all the signs are that Post Office Counters will go ahead and close the post office.
What does that tell us about whether the postal service should exist in the public interest to serve the public good or be operated on the basis of private interest and private gain? I know which answer my constituents give to that question—they have given it loud and clear, but I fear that Post Office Counters will not be listening.
Finally, I wish to mention the fact that, despite a massive public campaign to establish a consultant maternity unit at the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency, the Shropshire health authority has failed to acknowledge the strength of the case and the fact that the structure and distribution of the population of Shropshire have changed. The new town of Telford, which I am proud to represent, has been growing and expanding, and needs a development in key medical areas—and a consultant maternity unit is one of the most important I can think of. I have no confidence that the health authority is logically considering the needs of the whole county, and especially not those resulting from the growth of Telford.
Those three public sector areas—the railways, the Post Office and the health service—are all crucial to the livelihood of the people we represent. I have drawn attention to four bad decisions taken by the Government in those areas—decisions that they will start to regret when they face the electorate at the next general election.
§ 12.7 pm
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)
Briefly, I endorse the points that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) just made. I also mention the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is right to seek the amendment of the Bill. It is unjust and flawed, and can be costly and brutal. Hon. Members on both sides of the House accept that the Bill should be amended. The only thing that prevents it from happening is the Government's unwillingness to confess that they made a serious blunder.
I shall briefly mention two matters. The first concerns national health service pensions. Constituency experience has led me to believe that there is a continuing injustice. A person retiring from the national health service early on health grounds may expect to receive a pension, but that person must prove that there is no prospect of recovery. In pursuing a specific case, I learned from the National Health Service Pensions Agency that that was the requirement, but at least the agency then spelled out that the employer must not lead the employee to expect that the pension will follow.
I will not mention names, because I have not consulted my constituent—nor is it appropriate yet. In my constituent's case, the trust that employed her said that it had not led her to believe that she would receive a pension, but she was able to give me a document showing the estimate of the pension that she would receive if she 244 accepted termination of employment, as she did. That is an injustice. I suspect that it has happened before, and it needs to be examined.
I refer also to hedgerows, which I have long sought to protect. Hon. Members with an interest in this matter were persuaded not to pursue private Members' initiatives, because the Government took power to introduce regulations to protect hedgerows in 1994. However, it is now 1996, and patience is running out.
We need progress in this area, if only to resolve the continuing and historical problem of hedgerows that are already lawfully protected under the 4,000 private Acts of Enclosure that were passed by Parliament before 1840 and which have never been repealed. We need to resolve this matter. I take it that, when a test case occurs—as is likely in Yorkshire shortly—the Government will consider its implications.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
This morning there have been only 12 Back-Bench speeches, which is somewhat fewer than normal. A number of themes have emerged in the speeches of hon. Members, including beef and the siting of the millennium exhibition—four or five hon. Members referred to these issues.
I was not present in the House yesterday during the statement on BSE, but I read Hansard this morning. We have a major catastrophe on our hands, as I am sure the Leader of the House is aware. Farmers have been damaged, farm supplies have been damaged, the value of farm land has been damaged, the road haulage industry has been damaged, auctioneers have been damaged, meat manufacturers have been damaged, butchers have been damaged, consumers have been damaged, and taxpayers will be damaged. All because of what?
On 20 March, two Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and made statements on the same issue. Clearly, the Government did not undertake an analysis of the risk of the statements. The Ministers told us that people were dying, perhaps as a result of the transfer of BSE from cattle. What did they expect the reaction to be? The Government did not consult our European partners or the farm industry before the statements were made.
The Government's policy on BSE is unclear. Following the initial statements, we were told that no cull was planned, then we were told that a cull was planned, then the number of cattle to be culled was planned, then the age of the cattle to be culled was in dispute, and now we have learnt that 67 per cent. of the known BSE cases in cattle were born after the feed ban came into force. There has been confusion from the day that the two Ministers made their statements. There have been continual statements, and a lack of clarity in the Government's policy.
The Government have flatly refused to talk about the fact that British beef was banned by the United States in 1987–88—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was interviewed on the "Today" programme this morning, is an exception. A change in the European ban will not alter the American ban. We have not heard a succession of Ministers claiming that the Americans are being unfair.
This morning, the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the American ban at least twice. He is quite right—he knows the game plan. It is to use this issue—which is of the Government's making—to turn the country to its side 245 by being anti-European. Hon. Members should forget the beef issue—it just happened to come along. It will not work. The farmers do not agree with the Government's current policy.
This major problem is affecting a whole range of people in this country. It may be argued that not all Members of Parliament represent farmers. However, there is a connection to the beef industry in all constituencies— there are consumers, taxpayers and suppliers. The factories of Birmingham are still manufacturing goods and equipment used by farmers. The road haulage industry is also being affected. We have a major catastrophe on our hands, because no one in the Government analysed the potential risk and consequences of the two statements.
The millennium exhibition was mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), and by the hon. Members for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst) and for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). I will have to tread delicately, but I think that the result was 3:1 in favour of the millennium exhibition being in London. I shall try to redress that imbalance slightly. Without wishing to abuse my position at the Dispatch Box, I believe that the millennium exhibition should be held in the midlands.
The millennium exhibition is moving towards being the major 1990s example of a breakdown in the accepted standards of conduct of public administration in this country. Massive public funds are involved—at least £200 million—from the lottery fund via the Millennium Commission. I say to London Members—regardless of their political persuasion—that, if it was desired to have a major exhibition in the capital city, why was the issue ever raised and why were invitations ever issued to any site in the country to put in a bid to launch the exhibition?
There were 61 applications for 57 sites, which were reduced to two in London, one in Derby and one in Birmingham. At that point, it could have been said that the exhibition would be held in the capital, but that was not said. Last December, when the two full applications were received—one for Greenwich and one for the national exhibition centre—the rigging of the system started. Imagination, which put in the bid for the NEC site, did not submit a bid for the Greenwich site to start with. It was later asked to do so, because it was clear that its plans were superior.
The real problem arose on 28 February, when the Secretary of State for National Heritage said that the exhibition would go to Greenwich, subject to the money being put together by Sir Peter Levene's team by May. It is now May—there is no money, and there is no scheme. We are running out of time. London is clogged and the Greenwich site is a shambles—it is unclean and unhealthy. The City of London has shunned the issue, business has shunned the issue and leading entrepreneurs have shunned the issue—only the spiv element of British society is left. Do we want the spiv element to fund this massive exhibition? Of course not.
The London-based Government and the London-based Millennium Commission are biased against any initiatives from the regions and provinces, to the extent that leaks have emerged to the effect that, if the exhibition is not held in London, it will not be held at all. The country should have a millennium exhibition. The NEC management has shown commendable professional skill, and, even though there is a prima facie case for a judicial 246 review, it has not sought one. The NEC remains available to carry the exhibition for the whole of the country, as it is quite clear that it will not be a success at Greenwich.
I ask the Leader of the House to comment on the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about haemophiliacs. I cannot go into the detail, but hon. Members know that there is a major unfairness—to put it politely—in relation to people suffering from hepatitis C and people suffering from HIV as a result of contaminated blood products from the national health service.
They should be treated the same. The House should decide this issue, not the Government. I believe that, if this issue were put to a free vote, they would be treated the same. It is unfair. It is a moral issue. There would not be any arguments about this across the Floor of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) referred to a 13-year-old British citizen who is incarcerated by secret police in a Commonwealth country—albeit one that has been suspended for the time being, but I presume that it wants to get back into the Commonwealth's good books. Foreign Office Ministers are not jumping up and down about this issue. I am not knocking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because, when I deal with cases, the consular officials in London do a good job.
Pressure must be exerted on the Nigerian Government to ensure that the 13-year-old British-born British citizen returns home as quickly as possible, goes back to school and is with his family. I hope that the BBC World Service will make use of my hon. Friend's speech to shame the Nigerians into doing what any civilised Government would do to redress something that should never have happened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), in one of his rare contributions, talked about the Port of Tyne authority's fight against forced privatisation. We do not know whether the changes will be beneficial in the long term. However, my hon. Friend referred to the huge contribution that the authority makes to his local economy, and that should not be affected by a Government who seek to privatise everything that moves. The case must be examined on its merits. If it is found that the authority should continue to exist, my hon. Friend's argument should be accepted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West referred to the scandal of the private sector wheel-clamping companies and the Government's failure to introduce legislation three years after first considering the matter. There are problems all over the country—it is not confined to any one area—where the spiv element are seeking to make a quick buck. In some cases, cars are left in prohibited areas as decoys to encourage other people to park there and be taken to the cleaners. That is totally unacceptable behaviour.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I have lost count of how many of these debates I have replied to in my capacity as Leader of the House in the past four years. I thought that today's debate began a little slowly. My usual practice is to avoid saying much about anything as there is not enough time, but today I thought that I may have to make up time.
247 Therefore, I went to the trouble of securing a copy of the intergovernmental conference White Paper so that I could read from it as much as proved necessary in order to satisfy my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence). However, I am once again in the position of having to rattle away and say as much as I can before the debate concludes at 12.30 pm.
I turn briefly to the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I shall not revisit the millennium issue. I do not accuse the hon. Gentleman of abusing his position on the Front Bench, but no one is in any doubt that he represents a midland, rather than a London, constituency. However, London Members of Parliament also put their oar in this morning, so they can continue the dispute between them.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was not present yesterday to hear the statement about beef. That was clear from his speech, because he repeated the points raised by the Leader of the Opposition, whose performance has received the reverse of rave reviews in today's newspapers. The Leader of the Opposition got it wrong. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has no doubt read the Hansard report, but I shall remind him of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said.
My right hon. Friend made it clear that his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture spoke to Commissioner Fischler before the statements were made to the House. He went on to point out that the issue was leaked in a Labour-supporting newspaper on the morning of 12 March. He said:We spent hours that morning discussing the matter with scientists"—I can vouch for that, because I attended those meetings—before doing what he"—that is, the Leader of the Opposition—would have condemned us for if we had not done—coming straight to the House to report on precisely what was happening".—[Official Report, 21 May 1996; Vol. 278, c. 103.]If the Government had sat on the information for any great length of time, the hon. Gentleman would have made the worst kind of rabble-rousing speech from the Opposition Dispatch Box accusing the Government of a cover-up, of failing to provide information and of misleading the public. I shall not listen to too much more about that.
I turn now to some of the other issues upon which hon. Members have invited me to comment. I turn particularly to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who raised the issue of haemophiliac patients who contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood products before the heat treatment began in the late 1980s. He appropriately paid tribute to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) in that area. I am familiar with that tragic problem, as I was Minister for Health for part of that time.
The right hon. Gentleman knows—and was kind enough to acknowledge—that there is little that I can add this morning to the comments made on earlier occasions about the difficulties that the issue presents. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), met representatives of the Haemophilia Society in March to describe the action that the Government are taking.
248 There are continuing discussions about developing good practice in the treatment of those patients and ensuring that they have ready access to treatment centres. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends will examine carefully the right hon. Gentleman's comments, as well as those of one or two other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Perry Barr.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton read out a formidable list of charges, as he saw them, against the European Court of Justice. I think that I counted 11.
§ Mr. Newton
I am sorry, I have missed three. It was a lengthy list of charges.
My hon. and learned Friend kindly adverted to the fact that the Government make clear in the White Paper— which I have already brandished in the House—their concern that the court's interpretation sometimes seems to go beyond the intentions of laws as framed originally. The White Paper sets out in broad terms the proposals that we expect to discuss at the IGC, and those matters are being worked up.
My hon. and learned Friend said that a memorandum is due for publication, but he will understand that it is not sensible or practicable for me to comment on it this morning in advance of its publication. However, I am sure that his words will be examined with appropriate care.
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) raised a matter to which the hon. Member for Perry Barr also referred from the Dispatch Box. In view of the hon. Gentleman's comments, I make it clear that the British Government are doing—and will continue to do—everything we can to assist with the case. The British High Commission is pressing the Nigerian authorities for access to Adefolahan Mokuolu on humanitarian grounds, particularly as he is a minor.
I understand that the hon. Lady is in daily contact with the consular division on behalf of her constituent. The acting high commissioner raised the matter with the director general of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs only yesterday, and it undertook to investigate the situation. I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do all they can to assist the hon. Lady's constituent who is in that awful position.
My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) referred to the beef ban. I recognise the importance that he and his constituents attach to ensuring the smooth operation of the slaughter scheme for cows aged more than 30 months. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture made it clear yesterday that we are now operating at close to current capacity. I am sure that he will look carefully at my hon. Friend's comments about continuing problems in his area, and I shall ensure that he sees the piece of paper that my hon. Friend passed to me on behalf of the Somerset branch of the National Farmers Union. We are serious about ensuring the smooth operation of the scheme, but we should remember that it is a big task.
My hon. Friend overcame the frustration of recent weeks by adding to a 10-minute speech about beef that he said was terminated mid-sentence and returning to a subject that he raised with me via a question on the Housing Bill. He has shown his usual ingenuity and 249 dedication to his constituents' interests, and I shall ensure that his remarks are drawn to the attention of my colleagues in the appropriate Departments.
The most engaging speech from my point of view was delivered by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), the mostly silent former deputy Chief Whip. Somewhat ominously, he has moved to what I call the "trouble-making Bench" below the Gangway. I hope that is not an augury of future difficulties. The last time that he moved from the Front Bench to the Bench behind it— an unusual manoeuvre for a deputy Chief Whip—he suddenly burst into song, and denounced the Leader of the House for attempting to improve the procedures in this place. He made it clear that his views about that were unchanged.
I hope that we shall hear more from the hon. Gentleman in the new, responsible role that he fulfilled this morning on behalf of the Port of Tyne authority. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government believe that the privatisation of ports produces more efficient, competitive and accountable operations, and offers greater opportunities to the people who work in the ports and benefit from their activities.
I do not have time to elaborate that argument or to comment on any of the other speeches, much as I might wish. I will certainly make sure that the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) are communicated to those of my colleagues who will be seeing the Norwegians at the international whaling conference.
I have just about run out of time—I am not sure when that will happen. I will just try to complete this next sentence. I hope that everybody—not least you, Madam Deputy Speaker—has a happy holiday.